A DEATH IN JERUSALEM: The Assassination by Jewish Extremists of the First Arab/Israeli Peacemaker by Kati Marton

A DEATH IN JERUSALEM: The Assassination by Jewish Extremists of the First Arab/Israeli Peacemaker

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An intriguing examination of the circumstances surrounding the 1948 murder in Israel of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte. Marton (The Polk Conspiracy, 1990, etc.) interweaves two stories as she traces the paths that led to the killing of Swedish nobleman and diplomat Bernadotte on September 17, 1948. The first story is about Bernadotte himself, who, Marton contends, was a well-meaning amateur in over his head. He had been sent by the UN to end the war that began when Arab armies invaded the newly declared state of Israel. Bernadotte's diplomatic fumbles, such as his proposal to turn Jerusalem over to Jordan, she writes, were misperceived as a mortal threat by Israelis, especially by the militant Stern Gang. The second story is about the Stern Gang, whose members, according to Marton, were driven by an understandable but misguided post-Holocaust paranoia; the resulting kill-or-be-killed attitude blinded them to the ineffectuality of Bernadotte and the UN itself. Marton has done a remarkable job of reconstructing the events leading up to this largely forgotten incident, which seriously threatened Israel's standing among its supporters. If Marton falters slightly, it is in her attempt to draw larger cautionary tales from the assassination. One has to do with the UN's continued inability to end conflicts because it lacks the will to apply meaningful force. The other involves Yitzhak Shamir, the leader of the Stern Gang and eventually Israel's prime minister. Marton contends that the mentality that justified the Stern Gang's terrorism remains a significant factor in Israeli society. She may be right on both counts. But these are highly complex issues, and her generalizations remain superficial in the absence of far more analysis and corroboration. Still, a rare glimpse behind the curtains of a terrorist act, instructive both for the light it sheds on a 46-year-old assassination and for the issues it raises relevant to today.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1994
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Pantheon