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A splendid example of Shapira’s writing of history is her chapter on the Six Day War, a tour-de-force of 12 exceptionally concentrated pages in which the antecedents to the conflict are clearly explained. And the war story itself is told grippingly. But that’s not all the chapter manages to accomplish. In my reading of Shapira’s moving account, I relived the anxiety of the weeks leading up to the conflict, a period in which few Jews were not aware that the survival of Israel and perhaps the Jewish enterprise was at stake.
This is not to say that “Israel: A History” is without flaws. There are curious omissions. Arthur Ruppin, largely forgotten today except for some street names in Israeli cities, was more than just another early Zionist leader, as one would think from reading Shapira’s book.
Ruppin was the visionary who was the first to articulate the need for a majority of Jews in Eretz Yisrael; was the first to insist that land purchase was crucial to the survival of the Yishuv in Palestine — a “no-brainer” later, but radical when it was first asserted by Ruppin, and was the pre-eminent architect (together with Berl Katznelson) of the socialist-agricultural model that became known as the kibbutz. But Ruppin merits all of one short paragraph in “Israel: A History.” He deserves more, and better.
As does early Zionist leader A.D. Gordon, the spiritual mentor of Labor Zionism, who merits a scant one sentence. And Shapira’s discussion of the post Six Day War “settler movement” has it that it was all about the Mizrachi-generated Gush Emunim, “Greater Israel” activists who came out of the Religious Zionist community.
In fact, the “settler movement” was generated in 1967, right after the Six Day War, by territorial-maximalist Ahdut Ha’avoda; Gush Emunim did not get off the ground until the early 1970s.
These and other omissions and errors are hardly quibbles. More important, however, is Shapira’s account of the genesis of the all-important Palmach — “Plugot Machatz,” the military striking force of the Yishuv — which is of a piece with her discussion of British-Jewish cooperation in the late 1930s to early ’40s. According to Shapira, the Palmach was organized to work with the British in intelligence gathering and in sabotage of Arab installations. Entirely accurate, as far as it goes.