Struggle for the Holy Land: Arabs, Jews and the Emergence of Israel

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Struggle for the Holy Land: Arabs, Jews and the Emergence of Israel, by William Hare. Lanham, MD and London: Madison Books, 1995. viii + 464 pages. Notes to p. 479. Bibl. to p. 484. Index to p. 497. $29.95 Reviewed by Kenneth Cragg

Described in the blurb on the book jacket as "a sweeping, historical saga of the Middle East," Struggle for the Holy Land presents an interesting perspective on the story of the rise of modern political Zionism but indulges in excessive romantic sentimentality, descending at times to tedious journalese. It is an over-inflated account that could have been handled with more rigorous discipline.

Opening with a eulogy of Albert Einstein, William Hare applies Darwin's `survival of the fittest' to his analysis of Arabism, and weaves the prowess of the boxer Muhammad `Ali into his treatment of the rise of Islam. He misreads the Shi`ite belief in the importance of `Ali, the fourth caliph, and describes it as fulfilling "the need for an incarnate manifestation of God, selecting Ali as that vessel" (p. 76). Hare also writes about the early disciples of the Prophet Muhammad, who "were forced to flee to Abyssinia" (p. 62), and that "the pilgrimage to [the] Kaaba [was] authorized" well before the actual recovery of Mecca by the Prophet (p. 65). After a 75-page discussion of the "mysterious warrior" T.E. Lawrence, which could have been much abridged to focus on the Arab revolt, it is not until p. 171 that we reach the meat of the story promised in the book's title.

However, once Hare moves to the politics and battles of the 1930s and later, the narrative becomes replete with intriguing details and insights for which general readers will be grateful. For instance, he gives a vivid description of the maneuvers between the Jewish Agency and the Irgun around the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, prior to the exodus of the British Mandatory power (p. 412 f.), and of the bitter disputes around the UN vote for the partition of Palestine. He also examines the circumstances of the British withdrawal and writes about the Truman administration's (1945-53) reaction to the abortive Trustee Proposal which alarmed Israeli president Chaim Weizmann as, from his perspective, it put all things in jeopardy. …