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Righteous Victims, by the noted historian Benny Morris, is a comprehensive and
objective history of the long battle between Arabs and Jews for possession of a land they both call home. It appears at a most timely juncture, as the bloody and protracted struggle seems at last to be headed for resolution.
With great clarity of vision, Professor Morris finds the roots of this conflict in the deep religious, ethnic, and political differences between the Zionist immigrants and the native Arab population of Palestine. He describes the gradual influx of Jewish settlers, which was eventually fiercely resisted by the Arabs during the decades of British Mandatory government following World War I.
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1947 - 48 gave the Jews a homeland in the wake of the Holocaust, but the ensuing flight of the Palestinian Arabs shattered their society and led to the birth of a festering refugee problem. Morris describes these epic events and the Arab onslaught that followed, as he does each of the subsequent wars (in 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982 - 85); the Intifada of 1987 - 91, when the Palestinian populace of the West Bank and Gaza Strip rebelled against Israeli rule; and the rise of fundamentalist religious movements on both sides of the barricades. Tracing the successes and failures of politicians, generals, and diplomats in both camps, he regards their actions and plight with accuracy and empathy, drawing on archival materials, memoirs, and secondary works to give a vivid account of each major military encounter--and of the vicissitudes of peace efforts from the post-1948 negotiations through the Camp David (1977 - 79), Oslo (1993 - 95), and Wye River Plantation (1998) accords. Mr. Morris offers sharply etched portraits and illuminating anecdotes about the charismatic leaders who have been the chief protagonists of this contentious history, including Theodor Herzl, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, David Ben-Gurion, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin, to name only a few.
Righteous Victims ends with Mr. Morris's analysis of the current state of play, when the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister (May 1999) has opened the door to a renewal of negotiations between Israel and its Palestinian and Syrian neighbors. As the denizens of the Middle East set out to write the next chapter in this long and difficult struggle, Righteous Victims is essential reading: a monumental work of narration and explication for all who seek to understand the history of the conflict and the prospects for peace.
Like Avi Shlaim (see above), Morris is a revisionist historian working to deflate the heroic-romantic Zionist view of Israeli history. A professor of history at Israel's Ben-Gurion University, Morris (The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem) offers readers a more scholarly, rigorous book than either Shlaim or the authors of The Fifty Years War (see above). He also takes a longer and a deeper view, detailing relations between Israel and the Arabs since the beginning of the modern Zionist movement in the late 19th century and digging beneath politics and diplomacy to get at the broader social and cultural history of Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. One of his central points is that the very success of Israel as a state has allowed the Palestinians to appropriate the identity of history's victims--an identity once central to Israelis' view of themselves. Morris makes very clear how Israel's military and economic successes have slowly forced most of the Arab world to accept a Jewish state. At the same time, he notes the irony that the triumph of Zionism helped create a distinct Palestinian national identity that didn't previously exist. His view of Zionism is almost detached as he documents its successes. He has no trouble calling Zionism a "colonizing" movement, but he doesn't strongly condemn it for being so. His harsh judgment that a "fragmented, venal political elite" retarded the Palestinian cause does not make him deny the merits of the cause. Crisply written, balanced and comprehensive, this is an indispensable work of history. History Book Club alternate selection.