Reviewed by Deborah Shatz
(AJNews) – The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine: From Zionism to Intifadas and the Struggle for Peace by Michael Scott-Baumann is the latest title in The Shortest History Series published this month by The Experiment Publishing Company. While it is true that the book is easy to read and understand, and it does cover both viewpoints in the conflict, I wouldn’t quite call it balanced.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most bitter struggles in history, with profound global consequences. In The Shortest History, author Michael Scott-Baumann describes its origins and charts its history to present day. At its core, he identifies the conflict as a struggle between Jewish immigrants and their descendants and the Arabs among whom they settled. Not to belabour the point but the first flaw of the book is that although the author recognizes the biblical attachment of the Israelis to the land, he does not identify them as indigenous to the area. This is a sticking point for Jewish people.
Besides that, he does move on to say that the heart of the conflict is that “both sides claim the right to live in and control, some or all of Palestine.”
The book outlines the pre-1914 origins of the conflict and describes the unique circumstances that led to the creation of the State of Israel. It identifies key turning points and shows how history, leadership and decision-making on both sides has shaped the present.
Each chapter starts with some key political questions to be answered and ends by giving perspectives and testimonies from both sides. Scott-Baumann examines the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Six Day War of 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, two Intifadas and up to former US President Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ in 2020. At the end, he looks at the nature of Israeli control of the Palestinian territories and the Palestinian resistance.
The book purports to be “an accessible, balanced chronicle of how the Israel-Palestine conflict originated and developed over the past century.” I did not find the narrative to be balanced or comprehensive. First it minimized the Jewish ancestral connection to the land and then it presented a skewed version of wars and skirmishes, consistently emphasizing Israel’s actions and downplaying the preceding actions of the Palestinians. Words matter – and while the book mentions that Israel was reacting to acts of aggression, each time that seems to be glossed over. The provocation is repeatedly diminished.
However, although the historical account is neither balanced nor comprehensive in describing the Israeli side of the conflict, the book’s conclusion is sound. “Palestinians and Israelis will always be neighbours and an agreement based on equality and justice could enable both sides to live in peace and security. At present, however, that seems a distant prospect.”
Regardless of its inadequacies, I found the Shortest History to be a valuable read in that it humanizes the Palestinian struggle. In isolation that would be inadequate but if you are already well versed in the history of Israel, it is definitely thought provoking.
The path to the present has been turbulent and for a long time Israel’s claim that there was no reliable partner for peace seemed to be valid. However, in today’s climate and likely since the rise of Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is equally true that Israel is also not a reliable partner for peace.
The book’s message is that we have to keep talking – and on that I would hope we all agree.