Whatever happened to Aaron Aaronsohn, scientist, ecumenical patriot and spy? Felix Frankfurter muttered that a “bloodstained hand” had silenced him, as it had his spy sister. And thus opens journalist/historian Goldstone’s spry scholarly detective story.
Aaronsohn, an émigré to Palestine, recognized that only with the help of the native Arabs would the Jewish people be able to make a homeland. He busied himself working on agriculture improvement projects and puzzling out the mysteries of the region’s hidden waters, all the while tucking away all sorts of useful information into his capacious mind. When World War I broke out, he began to deliver that information to the British, eager to help free Palestine from its Ottoman masters; the information he provided was of as much material use as were T. E. Lawrence’s raids in the eastern desert, which may have brought the two into the same orbit: Goldstone speculates, intriguingly, that the “S. A.” to whom Lawrence dedicated Seven Pillars of Wisdom was Aaronsohn’s sister Sarah. (As for Lawrence of Arabia’s version of history, Goldstone notes that Robert Graves insisted that Lawrence was straight.) Though their perils, too, “seemed made for the big screen,” the Aaronsohns operated with quiet efficiency throughout the war; as Goldstone writes, though courageous, Aaron “relied on his scientific knowledge as the basis for his intelligence” and used water as a weapon in the campaign to take Damascus, all the while maneuvering carefully to further the emergence of a Zionist state. Sarah was caught and tortured to death “without having revealed a thing to the Turks” while her brother was in London awaiting the Balfour Declaration; the victim of a mysterious airplane crash over the English Channel, he would soon disappear not just from the world, but from history.
Much superior to Ronald Florence’s Lawrence and Aaronsohn (2007). Goldstone honors both Aaronsohns, closing with notes on how Aaron’s plans for equitable water rights in Palestine might have led to peace today.