An astute, evenhanded study on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (1917) that rehashes the history of the Palestinian-Jewish divide.
Basing his book on “a synthesis of existing scholarship and secondary sources,” English historian and former Guardian European editor Black (co-author: Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services, 1991) patiently examines the 100-year struggle between the Jews’ dominant narrative of a land “redeemed” and the Palestinian sense of dispossession—both valid, nearly irreconcilable views. The year 1917 brought the fateful British document that would have a seismic, lasting impact on the Holy Land, and indeed the world, in the form of 67 typewritten words that “combined considerations of imperial planning, wartime propaganda, biblical resonances, and a colonial mindset, as well as evident sympathy for the Zionist idea.” While promising favor with “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” the Balfour Declaration also stipulated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”—e.g., the 600,000 Arabs living there. This was the beginning of a history of disfiguring segregation, misrepresentation, and violence. The author moves chronologically over the milestones of the decades, from the Jewish claim of the land and disparagement of the Arabs as “backward” to Palestinian resentment, splintering, and reprisals. It is a familiar story, but Black tells it cogently and evenly. He also considers the repeated attempts at real peace, continually undercut by violence, such as the Oslo Accords, which were sabotaged by Baruch Goldstein’s massacre at Hebron in February 1994. The two intifadas by the Palestinians focused attention on the unconscionable conditions of the oppressed, occupied people, yet there is scant consensus about whether there should be a two-state or a binational state solution. In his epilogue, Black pessimistically considers the options.
A lucid, fair-minded primer for the new generation of leaders.