I think I’m going to have to give up on Shlomo Ben-Ami’s Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (2006). Pity: I had been looking for a good, manageable history of modern Israeli history and I started this one with high enthusiasm. Indeed, Ben-Ami’s account is a model of clarity and persuasive judgment. Things hold up pretty well through the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but from there on out, the story gets harder and harder to follow.
You might say I have no right to complain here: anything is complicated once I get close to it, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be blown off with easy generalities. Surely Ben-Ami, who was deeply involved in the late stages of the story, his both the right and the responsibility not to make things any more simple than they really are.
But the purpose of writing a book like this is to reflect and reassess, and I am not sure Ben-Ami has done that job for himself yet—not beyond the frustration and dismay that he (quite understandably) feels at the collapse of the last (pre-W) chapter. When he gets to the numberless “roadmaps” and “processes” of recent years, I find myself encountering not so much as a roadmap as a trackless thicket, not so much the desert landscape of the Middle East as efflorescence of the Mississippi delta, with unknown somebodies (Louisiana national guard?) taking potshots at me from seemingly random directions.
But no question that I’ve taken a lot of profit from it anyway. Ben-Ami is pretty good at identifying critical strategic judgments—right and wrong, together with the tectonic shifts in world politics that shape them. He’s surely to correct to hold the Mufti at fault for a colossal blunder back in World War II when he threw his hand in with the Nazis—and to credit Ben Gurion with a masterstroke in recognizing that it was the Americans, not the British, who would be the center of gravity after the War.
Ben-Ami is not alone in seeing
I suppose every line of a book like this is bound to be controversial, but I must say he did raise my eyebrows in seeming to credit King Hussein of
I can see as a I look back over these notes that I must have gotten something out of the book, whatever my perplexity. It may be just that the Arab-Israeli (or, perhaps better, the Israel-Palestine) problem is the 21st Century version of the Schleswig-Holstein issue—of which, recall Lord Palmerston:
"Only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein Question. The first was Albert, the Prince consort and he is dead; the second is a German professor, and he is in an asylum: and the third was myself - and I have forgotten it.