- Israel: The First Hundred Years. Vol. I: Israel’s Transition from Community to State
This volume, edited by the Director of the Mediterranean Studies Program, King’s College, London, with its somewhat expansive title (100 years?), is a thoroughly researched collection of specialized essays. A concluding section with abstracts is a welcome addition. The contents are conveniently divided into major themes—Nations, Nationalism and State Building, The Making of the Yishuv, and The Struggle for Independence.
Anthony D. Smith’s “Sacred Territories and National Conflict” is scholarly and thorough, operating in a quite theoretical framework which deals with other peoples and places more than Israel.
David Vital’s “From ‘State within a State’ to State” and Donna Robinson Divine’s “From Civil Society to Sovereign State: The Israeli Experience and the Palestine Quest” ably examine the transition of the Jewish Community of Palestine to the State of Israel and the organizations critical to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Divine sees many common links between Zionist state building and the situation facing the Palestinians— the role of the Histadrut in Israel and Hamas (!) and other voluntary bodies in the Palestinian “entity.” She asserts that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza “have created a more vibrant civil society than at any other time in their history” (sad commentary on that history past and present!).
Ruth Kark and Joseph B. Glass in their study “The Jews in Eretz-Israel/Palestine: From Traditional Peripherality to Modern Centrality” assert that they are filling a research lacuna, state an ambitious set of objectives, and basically fulfill them. (We are informed that the word Palestine came from the Hebrew word “Pleshet”—what happened to “land of the Philistines”?) The essay is divided with clarity into major sub titles and tables; pictures add to the reader’s interest. Continuity and change between different generations are spelled out ably, with relationships within the Yishuv vis-à-vis economic, cultural, and political matters well delineated.
Gideon Biger in his “The Boundaries of Mandatory Palestine: How the Past Influences the Future” describes in intricate detail the shifting versions of where boundaries were perceived and modified under competing claims. It is a very thick forest for which no maps are offered; other authors are able to do so.
“Zionism and Jerusalem—The Conflict of Priorities: Changes in Zionist Settlement in the Jerusalem Vicinity, 1937–48” by Yossi Katz notes that there was limited settlement activity in the vicinity of Jerusalem before the mid 1930s. Katz explains the number of factors involved in such neglect with particular emphasis on Zionist thinkers and movement leaders having “displayed an attitude of contempt, derision and estrangement toward Jerusalem” (toward the “Old Yishuv” with its ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community). The pragmatic Zionist establishment in the aftermath of World [End Page 147] War II had come to terms “with the fact that within the framework of a solution to the Palestinian problem and the attainment of the Jewish State, Zionism could not avoid concessions on Jerusalem.”
“Railways in Israel: The Past and the Future,” by Walter Rothschild, which consciously has no footnoting, may be of marginal interest to many readers, although materials on reasons for railroad building in World Wars I and II are of somewhat more interest.
One of the most intriguing studies is Na’ama Sheffi’s “The Hebrew Absorption of German Literature in the Yishuv.” Sheffi’s work delineates the striking influence and volume of German literature as a leading source of translation into Hebrew through 1948 (the author traces almost 800 books translated from the late eighteenth century until 1948, along with several hundred short stories, poems, and essays). Sheffi argues that through the years translation from German “helped revive the dying Hebrew language and make it more flexible; it assisted in the creation of a respectable repertoire . . . and finally—during the 1930s and the 1940s—it was used to combat the Nazi attempt to destroy the publications of Jewish and anti-Nazi writers.” After a rejection of former favorite cultural...