An authoritative history, and glib patriotic defense, by a veteran historian of Israel.
Van Creveld (The Culture of War, 2008, etc.) provides a no-nonsense survey of the establishment of Israel, continually reminding readers of the “amazing” success story of the country and its need to stand up in the face of “endless and often highly unfair criticism.” Without getting bogged down in details, the author fashions five sweeping chapters in which to group the great events of the nation’s founding. “Forged in Fury” moves from the rise of Zionism both as a growth of Jewish self-identity in the West and a reaction against anti-Semitism, especially after the Dreyfus Affair. Pogroms in Russia prompted the first migrations, often by young socialists, while the Balfour Declaration of 1917 assured a “national home for the Jewish people” as a bulwark against Ottoman rule. Van Creveld charges briskly through the early clashes with the Arabs as Jewish emigration grew, the strengthening of the military into the Israel Defense Forces and the defeat of the combined Arab armies in 1948, which gave rise to the great myth of Israel’s fight for existence, “a miracle beyond compare.” In “Full Steam Ahead,” the author explores the rocky consolidation of government especially in terms of the place of religion and the creation of a viable economy. “The Nightmare Years” ensued when Israel’s attempted transformation of the Middle East after the 1967 war rendered it a world pariah, until the Camp David Accords opened prospects for peace. The final two chapters, “New Challenges” and “Tragedy, Triumph and Struggle,” delineate the failed reactions to subsequent Palestinian uprisings and changes in leadership, and consider important currents in the economy, feminism, education, cultural life and Americanization of society. In concluding remarks, van Creveld admits frankly that if Israel wants a “to lead a ‘normal’ life in accordance with its own basic values,” it has to deal with the Palestinians. However, the author lectures readers rather gallingly that Israeli Arabs have it better in Israel than in most Arab countries.
A concise history by an author confident with his scope and authority—but beware that van Creveld has a considerable axe to grind.