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The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 [Hardcover]

Gershom Gorenberg


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Book Description

March 7 2006
The untold story, based on groundbreaking original research, of the actions and inactions that created the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories
After Israeli troops defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in June 1967, the Jewish state seemed to have reached the pinnacle of success. But far from being a happy ending, the Six-Day War proved to be the opening act of a complex political drama, in which the central issue became: Should Jews build settlements in the territories taken in that war?
The Accidental Empire is Gershom Gorenberg's masterful and gripping account of the strange birth of the settler movement, which was the child of both Labor Party socialism and religious extremism. It is a dramatic story featuring the giants of Israeli history--Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Levi Eshkol, Yigal Allon--as well as more contemporary figures like Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres. Gorenberg also shows how the Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations turned a blind eye to what was happening in the territories, and reveals their strategic reasons for doing so.
Drawing on newly opened archives and extensive interviews, Gorenberg reconstructs what the top officials knew and when they knew it, while weaving in the dramatic first-person accounts of the settlers themselves. Fast-moving and penetrating, The Accidental Empire casts the entire enterprise in a new and controversial light, calling into question much of what we think we know about this issue that continues to haunt the Middle East.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (March 7 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507564X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805075649
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16.3 x 4.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 794 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,487,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Signature]Sarah F. GoldMidway through Gorenberg's revelatory account comes a striking irony, one of the many that emerge from this troubling history of Israeli settlements in the territories occupied after the 1967 Six Day War. In 1970, army commander Ariel Sharon said settlements would "wean the Arabs of the Gaza Strip from the illusion that we will eventually get out of there." Who could foresee that 35 years later, Prime Minister Sharon would bow to reality and spearhead the dismantling of those settlements and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza? The power of another illusion—the Israelis' belief that "creating facts" by establishing settlements, could cement their sovereignty over contested lands and help guarantee its security—is a defining element of this tragic tale. It's an illusion that led to Israel's knowing violation (despite the warning in a top secret legal memo that Gorenberg cites) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It led to the eviction of peaceful Bedouin from their land to make way for Israeli settlers. It led, according to Gorenberg, to the awakening of militant Palestinian nationalism. Ultimately, says Gorenberg, the settlements fed the escalating passions and violence that created the stalemate we know today. Militant, messianic nationalism was also the motivating force of the Israeli settlers, and Gorenberg dramatically describes this fervor's spread. Awakened by Israel's stunning 1967 victory, it led young religious Israelis to defy a government crippled by internal conflict over what to do with the occupied territories, and to settle in what the activists called "Judea and Samaria." The first settlement in the Golan Heights, however, was not founded by religious extremists, but by secular followers of socialist nationalist Yitzhak Tabenkin. One of Gorenberg's strengths is his deep knowledge of Zionist history and his skill in illuminating the emotional and ideological roots of all the settler factions.These emotional roots also help explain the paralysis of Israel's leaders in the face of defiant settlers. While brutally honest about the failings of Golda Meir (intolerant of dissent), Moshe Dayan (who thought occupation could be benign) and other Israeli figures (as well as those of their Arab opponents), Gorenberg, an associate editor of the Jerusalem Report, understands their secret sympathy for the settlers. Leaders like Yitzhak Rabin and Levi Eshkol were among Israel's founders, and the settlers' love of the land evoked their own pioneering youth and the heroic struggle to create a Jewish state. Nostalgia for the past clouded their vision and prevented the formulation of a sound policy for Israel's future. Today, with Ariel Sharon critically ill after a massive stroke, that future remains very much in question, and Gorenberg's book is an even more essential guide to understanding Israel's own contribution to its current tragic pass. 8 pages of photos; maps. (Mar. 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Most empires are not built by way of a conscious, planned, systematic execution of a policy of territorial expansion. Goren-berg, a journalist in Jerusalem, examines the evolution of the Israeli policy of settlement of the territories conquered in the Six Days' War, of 1967. He convincingly illustrates that the policy was the result of myriad small decisions and actions by both major and minor players on the Israeli political, military, and religious landscapes. At no time could one speak of a clear, coherent, and constant government policy that contemplated massive settlement and eternal control of these territories. Rather, Gorenberg describes a series of spasmodic efforts, sometimes led by religious zealots, sometimes led by secular, left-leaning Zionists, and sometimes by military pragmatists. At times the government encouraged these movements; at other times, the government seemed a semiparalyzed bystander. It was only with the fall of the Labor Party and the emergence of the Likud under Menachem Begin, in 1977, that settlement and retention of the West Bank and Gaza were crystallized as government policy. Given recent developments in both Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled areas, this is a timely, vital, and even riveting analysis of how the current territorial and ethnic Gordian knot developed. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
One day in early May 1967, General Uzi Narkiss stood in the shade of pine trees on the breeze-stroked hilltop of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, at the edge of Israeli West Jerusalem, and looked out past the armistice line at Bethlehem and the Judean Desert in the Jordanian-held West Bank. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
47 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original and neccesary March 8 2006
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Israeli settlements have never been given a history of their own, rather they have been part of the polemic of 'conflict'. Leftists, liberals, Islamists, kahanists, all of them have talked about the settlements, but no one has bothered to explain them by themselves, which is what the world of academia and those interested in Israel have needed all this time. Finally this history, which tragically covers only the first ten years of 'occupation' in an immense 480 pages finally does justice to the settlements. The settlements were not some vast worldwide Jewish conspiracy, as the left of Europe claims, but rather they were some sort of mistake, accident and convoluted plan, facts on the ground without planning or logic. Some were religious, other secular. Some were built on ground already owned by Jews before 1948, such as Gush Etsion and Kfar Darom they were merely reclaimed, whereas some were built on 'crown lands' or government land and thus on 'stolen land'. Some were purely for religious reasons such as Kiryat Arba, some for strategy, some to stop infiltration(such as the Jordan valley), some to establish facts.

This is a brilliant and insightful book by an author who actually knows Israeli and Zionist policies and has real insights into the personalities of the men involved from Dayan to Allon and others. This is not the typical "Israeli greed for others land caused the settlements" that pretends the settlements were established in some logic by all of Israel and with a clear conspiratorial policy, rather this is a fair account that tells the real, honest, history behind what happened.

A wonderful contribution.

Seth J. Frantzman
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full, in depth, information Feb. 12 2007
By Eric Maroney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Accidental Empire is a wide ranging book, but a wonderfully focused and well researched account aftermath of the Six Days War, the capture of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. TAE appears to be a wider treatment of Gorenberg's far less successful (though very interesting) first book, The End of Days, about the growing power of religious Zionists. Instead of focusing on the Temple Mount, TAE provides an account of the religious settlement movement, primarily Gush Emunim, and their attempts to create illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Perhaps the strongest point of the book is how muddled the thinking of the Labor leadership was about the new settlements. As aging revolutionaries, they were still wedded to the idea that settlements meant security; that creating facts on the land would lead to a more secure Israel. But they were equally drawn to the idea that land was a negotiating chip with surrounding Arab states. The pull between both impulses led to a sustained paralysis.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a superb contribution to understanding what happened and why! May 8 2006
By Sidney Bernstein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a meticulously researched, penetrating and fluidly written analysis of a decade of decision by indecision that is at the heart of today's Israeli-Palestinian conundrum. An adherent of Carlyle's dictum that history is biography, Gorenberg's description of the "players" in middle eastern politics is fascinating. But due respect is also paid to Tuchman's acknowledgement that historical forces have an imperative of their own. This somewhat revisionist history is indispensable reading for anyone wishing to understand how what happened, happened.

If I could have read only one book on the middle east published in the last decade, this would be it.

Sidney Bernstein

Retired publisher, Harcourt Brace Professional Publishing
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Important Piece to the Puzzle April 2 2006
By Baracas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Don't let negative critics scare you from reading this book. Read this unique perspective to a complicated relationship involving religious dogma and secular factions within Israel and the US to assist your understanding of the larger picture. The author's research and opinions are not designed to support the proposition that settlements are collectively an "empire". His conclusion is simple: the settlements and the ideology supporting them are a significant aspect of Israeli politics and driving the scope of the relationship with the US, Pal Authority, etc.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adds much to a better understanding of the historical context of the current strife in the West Bank and Gaza July 8 2006
By Douglas Thorpe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is essential in reading this book, and perhaps more significantly in reading reviews of this book, to separate the views of religious expansionists from those of the secular government and of by far the highest portion of the population of Israel throughout its existence regarding the settlements. It is also important to compare the strong emotional, almost messianic, attachment to the land of Samaria and Judea felt and espoused by the settlers with the need of the government to "create facts" on the land that supposedly distinguished its own internal legal opinions, and those of most of the rest of the world, regarding the "legality" of the settlements. Whatever personal views you may have on these and other core issues raised by Gorenberg's thoroughly researched, well documented and extensively footnoted work, his dispassionate, well written report of the events is an invaluable reference work that helps define the significance of the settlements as contributing to Middle East unrest. Moreover, Gorenberg's fascinating report of the inner workings of the Eshkol, Meir and Rabin cabinets, and the arrogant disregard of official government policy by cabinet members who represented a small but powerful portion of the population, provide insight into the intrigues that seemingly drive many national decisions in Israel because of the need to form coalition governments that direct the policies of the country.

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