Modern History and Politics: A Blood-Dimmed Tide: Dispatches from the Middle East

By James, Alan | The Middle East Journal, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Modern History and Politics: A Blood-Dimmed Tide: Dispatches from the Middle East


James, Alan, The Middle East Journal


A Blood-Dimmed Tide: Dispatches from the Middle East, by Amos Elon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 311 pages. Index to p. 332. $24.95. Reviewed by Alan James

This book consists of 21 articles published between 1967 and 1995, but mostly since the mid 1980s. In the main they appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. Such a reprinting enterprise is often rather risky; but, probably because of the enduring nature of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the various pieces rarely feel dated. They are also a good read, as Amos Elon has a fresh and lively style anddepending on one's point of view-has sharply perceptive or provocative things to say. The articles fall under three broad headings.

The first, and chief, focus of the book is, not surprisingly, on the issue of peace. Elon is no friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (1996-) who, "less than four months after his election ... [had] pushed Israel back into the black hole of history" (p. 16). But the author takes the view that, "in the long run [his emphasis] the peace process [is] irreversible" (p. 6). This belief reflects, at least in part, two themes which recur throughout the book. One is the impotence (at least in the Israeli context) of military power. Elon quotes approvingly Shlomo Avineri's observation that "[a]n army can beat an army, but an army cannot beat a people" (p. 141). In support of this statement, Elon cites Israel's problems in southern Lebanon and the Occupied Territories. The other theme which Elon believes makes the peace process irreversible is conflict weariness. In a 1991 article he stated that "[m]any [Israelis] are worn out by the endless tension and disgusted by a banal, uninspiring government and by an often equally unappealing opposition" (p. 203). Similarly, in the introduction he describes the 1993 Oslo agreement as "a peace of the tired" (p. 16). One hopes his overall optimism on this matter is proved right.

Second, the book offers-largely through asides-a commentary on the condition of Israel. As one would expect of a liberal-minded journalist, Elon's commentary uncovers the warts and all. …

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