Gartman, Eric. “Return to Zion: The History of Modern Israel”, Jewish Publication Society, 2015.
“The Ingathering of The Exiles”
Modern Israel’s history is like no other nation in that it is not only the history of a physical place but it is also the story of ambition, violence, and survival. In his new book, Eric Gartman shows how a people who were scattered and who had no country were able to rebuild themselves in a land of which many had no concept of before living there. Israel was the homeland of those who had no home and it became the place where people were able to reach full potential without threats of anti-Semitism from without. However, there were problems and we see how those that came to land had to face threats by those who, during the many years of the dispersion, had come to regard the land as their home. This is one of the major problems of the modern Jewish state— who has the deed to the land? Yet is also the story of the coming together of the Jewish people, “the ingathering of the exiles” from Europe and form other place where Jews had settled during what has come to be known as the Diaspora. It is also the story of perseverance and courage, of tragedy and reinvention. It is the story of the nation called home by many who had never been there and the country that is still called home by many who will never go there.
Gartner writes with two main themes—reconstitution and survival. To build a nation in a place that is torn by different groups who also want to call it hone is very problematic. The citizens of Israel have to face constant challenges from neighbors who are hostile to the fact that Israel was created where it stands today. There are also challenges from foreign governments with divided support and the fact that citizens of the state have been and continue to be attacked by large armies (three times in the first twenty-five years of existence). The land is one of turmoil because to protect it means to sacrifice life and to be in an almost war of independence yet the Israelis know what they have to do to maintain their and do so. When we consider that in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 statistically every family in the country lost someone, we see the strength of a people determined to keep their home.
Gartman also looks at the leading figures in Israeli history and these include Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yitzchak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon. We see them here as they stand alongside of the way events were perceived after the horrors of the Second World War. We have a chance here to read of declassified CIA, White House, and U.S. State Department documents that detail America’s involvement in the 1967 and 1973 wars, as well as proof that the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was a case of mistaken identity. What the importance and uniqueness of this book is that it pulls together the threads of history and in doing so we get a look into the modern state and a true picture of Israel.
Granted that this is an overview of history and therefore is very general but even in that, there is much here that is new and important. It is, of course, pro-Jewish and pro-Israel and some may find these to be limitations but if we considered the real reasons for the creation of the State of Israel we see that these are, in effect, prerequisites. This is a very readable history of Israel and an excellent look at what happened and why it happened.
It is interesting to see that as Israel has come of age so many opinions about Israel have changed. I must say that having grown up in the Zionist youth movement and going on aliyah when I did, opinions of the state were very different. Living in Israel for many years let me see how these opinions changed yet even today after having returned to America, I still see Israel with the same idealistic eyes I had as a youth. So let me say that this is a book for non-specialists and for younger readers who want to get an introduction to the rise of Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel. For those who want more about the internal workings of the state and its relations with the rest of the world this is probably not the book they are looking for. Do I recommend it? I do whole-heartedly but with the reservation that this is just part of the story. The heroes remain the heroes, basically unscathed and larger than life.
“Eric Gartman is an intelligence analyst for the United States Department of Defense who has lived and studied in Israel and traveled extensively throughout the Middle East”.