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Common Knowledge 8.2 (2002) 422-423

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Book Review

The Battles of Armageddon

Eric H. Cline, The Battles of Armageddon (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 239 pp.

I do not believe that history ever repeats itself, yet reading Cline's comparison of the battles waged by Pharaoh Thutmose III in the year 1479 B.C. around ancient Megiddo with the assault on the same site by the troops of General Edmund Allenby in the summer of 1918 A.D., thirty-four hundred years later, I was almost convinced. The similarities are truly astounding. But then Cline goes on to tell us of thirty-two more battles, spanning more than three millennia, of which at least some features repeat themselves. I began to wonder: is it the traits of human nature or the essence of war that causes these repetitions? I then recognized that the true dramatis personae of Cline's stories are not generals and their tactics or great leaders and their wisdom, but a beautiful piece of landscape: hills, valleys, and passages I have known from an early age and seen many a time covered with gray thorns and thistles in the long summers and autumns, or else rejoicing in a carnival of flowers during the short winters and springs. Neither human nature nor the art of war remains constant over such long periods. It is the unique features of the terrain around the Valley of Jezreel and its geographic location that [End Page 422] have remained constant and will remain so at the end of days, compelling the generals of many generations to choose their battlefields and decide on their strategy in similar ways.

The fact that the Via Maris connected the two great civilizations of the ancient world should have called, logically, for peace and stability rather than warfare. Instead, the will to deprive others of the use of the route led to struggles to control the entire Middle East. Still, some of the battles Cline describes are of a different nature. The struggle between the Israelites and the Canaanites in biblical times, the struggle between Zhair al-'Umar against the opposing Nablus coalition late in the eighteenth century, as well as the battles between the Jewish and Arab forces in 1948 were waged between people who actually lived in and around the Valley of Jezreel and were fighting for the domination of Palestine and the preservation of its unity under their own control. A few days before these notes were written, yet another skirmish occurred in Jenin, at the southernmost corner of the valley. Israeli forces attacked Palestinian positions in retaliation for the murder of a sixteen-year-old girl on the hills of Gilboa, not far from the site where King Saul fell on his sword. These bloody events may vindicate Cline's conclusion that "given the military history of Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley over the past four thousand years, it is probably only a matter of time before the next battle does indeed take place in this region."

I refuse to agree. My refusal may claim rational grounds, but, being personally involved, I also have irrational reasons to resist Cline's conclusion. Just a mile to the north of Megiddo, about where Thutmose and Allenby defeated their enemies, a large field is covered every February by a stunning carpet of anemones of many colors; a steep hill astride the northern passage (the Abu-Shusha passage) cuts the Carmel range, through which part of the British army penetrated the valley in 1918, and it is covered every March by a sea of purple cyclamens; every April the hills above Ein Jalut, where Saladin defeated the Crusaders and the Mamelukes stopped the Mongol hordes, a unique specimen of large black irises covers the upper plain. Together with thousands of other Israelis, we take some of our grandchildren and travel every year to admire these wonders of nature. I cherish the hope and truly believe that the grandchildren of my grandchildren will take their grandchildren to see how these blood-soaked fields have turned at last into a...


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