Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Making Israel First Edition Edition by Benny Morris (University of Michigan Press)

The title of this book should have been Making Israeli Historiography instead of just Making Israel because that is a more accurate description of this book. This book is not really a history of Israel per se, but more of a discussion about how that history has been rendered over the years, and about the various people and schools of thought that are interpreting that history.

This is a highly academic work, and is one designed for the edification of academe. For that reason I do not highly recommend this work for everyone. Those with a casual interest in this subject will be better served reading other books. Because of the topic and the intended audience of this book the language used is very dense and academic. It can make the reading very tedious for even the most intrepid of souls.

This is one of the areas that irritates me about academia today. These scholars are getting off into highly specialized fields that narrow topics enormously, and these academics develop what amounts to their own language and vernacular to discuss their areas that are inaccessible to all but a select few colleagues that specialize in the same fields or similar ones. I hope any readers will forgive me this digression, but it is an irritant. This book is not that dense, but the language is such that this book will be inaccessible to some potential readers.

Now for some positive criticisms. This book does an excellent job bringing together a nice range of scholars, and the essays here were a testament to level headed academic discussions. The essays were enlightening, and completely void of the usual vitriol that accompanies any discussion of Israeli history. Benny Morris has done a terrific job bringing together these essays.

My favorite contribution was from Mordechai Bar-On. In his essay he discusses how our limited perspectives guides how we remember our history. He discusses how at times he felt as though he and his men were confronted by a much more numerous and powerful enemy (and many times he very much did) than his army. This led him to believe in the prevailing myth after the Israeli War of Independence that Israel was a David confronted by the Arab Goliath even though, for the majority of the war, Israel fielded more men with better equipment than their Arab counterparts. While Israel may have had the stronger army, many times Mr. Bar-On and his men faced elements of the Arab armies that were indeed stronger than his unit, so for him the David and Goliath analogy was not a myth at all, but was instead his very real experience. He does a great job articulating how perspective affects one's memory and interpretation of events. This to me is the crux of the situation. Everyone is seeing the issue from their own perspective, but for whatever reason I have an inability to see the same situation from a different perspective. I found this essay to be very well done.

Yossi Ben-Artzi's contribution over the recent strides made in the realm of Historic Geography were also very enlightening. I was basically unaware that so much effort was being put into this field. A lot of the work he described being done in this field sounds very promising, and I hope that some will be translated into English (perhaps I should just study Hebrew).

I was actually disappointed in Avi Shlaim's contribution. I didn't really feel he had much to say that was new.

Two other contributors that deserve mentioning (even though they all do) is Yechiam Weitz and Mustafa Kabha's. Mr. Weitz's look at the historiography surrounding the Holocaust and the Yishuv was very well done. That essay was an even handed look at all sides of what is an extremely contentious issue. I feel as though my understanding of the interpretations and the controversies between the differing interpretations of these events were greatly enhanced. Kabha's contribution is nicely done as well, giving the reader the Palestinian perspective of the "New" Historians along with the other schools of thought.

Once again, I reiterate that this book is not going to be for everyone, but if you want to know where the academic currents are taking Israeli Historiography today and into the future then this book is a must.

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