One Nation Under God

Shapira's Award-Winning Volume Recounts Israel's History

Our Historian: Anita Shapira won a 2012 National Jewish Book Award for her comprehensive narrative of the history of Israel.
Omri Shapira
Our Historian: Anita Shapira won a 2012 National Jewish Book Award for her comprehensive narrative of the history of Israel.

By Jerome Chanes

Published February 05, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 4)

A chapter that has a lot of trees but in which the forest is clearly discerned is the one in which Shapira retells the story of Milchemet Tashach — the 1947–49 War of Independence. The reasons for Israel’s victory were, as Shapira reports, more than the standard narrative of heroic Jews protecting a beleaguered new nation, overcoming with indomitable spirit venal Arab nations intent on carving up the new state.

This version, which is celebrated by “Exodus” and has limited merit, ignores crucial dynamics: the lack of unified Arab war aims; the closing of the ordnance gap between Israel and the Arab states, especially after the first truce, in June 1948 (fighting resumed on July 9, not on Shapira’s June 9), and — curiously missing in Shapira’s analysis — the role played by the Yishuv’s superior agricultural technology and distribution system.

The point: After the first month of fighting in mid-1948, these factors enabled the newly constituted Israel Defense Forces to gain the upper hand while Palestinian Arab society was disintegrating. Shapira’s narrative is insightful in its analysis and gripping in its telling.

And there is culture, the interstitial tissue of political history. Shapira’s discussions of literary trends — from the early literature of the Yishuv through the Dor Ha-Palmach, the “Palmach Generation,” of the 1950s and ’60s, through the 1980s fear of chaos, to the return to family, community and nation that characterizes current Israeli fiction — neatly contextualizes larger questions facing Israel.

At bottom, “Israel: A History” is for everybody: scholar, student, and general reader. The book will be most valuable to those readers who already know something, and some scholars will yearn for more comprehensive annotation. But Shapira has done something that most surveys do not accomplish: Shapira’s “How?” and “Why?” put us right there, in the historical moment, and answer for us not only “How?” and “Why?” but also, “What was it like?”

Jerome A. Chanes, a Forward contributing editor, is the author of four books. He is a senior fellow at the Center for Jewish Studies of the CUNY Graduate Center.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.