Aaronsohn's Maps: The Untold Story of the Man Who Might Have Created Peace in the Middle East

Overview

Scientist, diplomat, and spy, Aaron Aaronsohn was one of the most extraordinary figures in the early struggle to create a homeland for the Jews. Born to Jewish settlers in Palestine, he ran a spy network that enabled the British to capture Jerusalem during World War I and made him the rival of his contemporary, T. E. Lawrence—who may also have been his flamboyant sister Sarah’s lover. A rugged adventurer, Aaronsohn became convinced during his explorations of the Middle East that water would govern the region’s ...

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Overview

Scientist, diplomat, and spy, Aaron Aaronsohn was one of the most extraordinary figures in the early struggle to create a homeland for the Jews. Born to Jewish settlers in Palestine, he ran a spy network that enabled the British to capture Jerusalem during World War I and made him the rival of his contemporary, T. E. Lawrence—who may also have been his flamboyant sister Sarah’s lover. A rugged adventurer, Aaronsohn became convinced during his explorations of the Middle East that water would govern the region’s fate. He compiled both the area’s first detailed water maps and a plan for Palestine’s national borders that predicted and—in its insistence on partnership between Arabs and Jews—might have prevented the decades of conflict to come. And he paid for his devotion to the new nation with his life. A history that speaks directly to the present, Aaronsohn’s Maps reveals for the first time Aaronsohn’s key role in establishing Israel and the enduring importance of Aaronsohn’s maps in Middle Eastern politics today.

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Editorial Reviews

San Diego Union Tribune
"How we got to the Middle East of today is at the heart and soul of "Aaronsohn's Maps" by Patricia Goldstone. Goldstone has dug deep to come up with the bio of the agronomist, diplomat and spy who helped found Israel. There's more than a touch of T.E. Lawrence in this child of Jewish settlers in Palestine: Aaron Aaronsohn's spy network helped the British take Jerusalem in World War I; he compiled the first maps of water in the arid region; his sister, also a spy and possibly Lawrence's lover, was captured and tortured to death. Aaronsohn died in a plane crash in 1919; his vision for a peaceful Middle East died as well."
Winnipeg Free Press
"Aaron Aaronsohn's fascinating story will come as a major surprise to most students of Middle Eastern history... a tour de force."
San Diego Union-Tribune
How we got to the Middle East of today is at the heart and soul of "Aaronsohn's Maps" by Patricia Goldstone. Goldstone has dug deep to come up with the bio of the agronomist, diplomat and spy who helped found Israel. There's more than a touch of T.E. Lawrence in this child of Jewish settlers in Palestine: Aaron Aaronsohn's spy network helped the British take Jerusalem in World War I; he compiled the first maps of water in the arid region; his sister, also a spy and possibly Lawrence's lover, was captured and tortured to death. Aaronsohn died in a plane crash in 1919; his vision for a peaceful Middle East died as well.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR MAKING THE WORLD SAFE FOR TOURISM
 
"Original and fascinating."—Dennis Judd, coauthor of The Tourist City
 
"[A] creative, witty, and insightful look at the ruthless underpinnings of international tourism."—Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
 
author of THE ILLICIT ADVENTURE H.V.F. Winstone
"[A] well-researched, resourceful, politically balanced... account of the life of the man who made the fatal mistake of taking issue with the leaders of the Zionist movement... Hers is the first true biography."
Publishers Weekly

Journalist Goldstone (Making the World Safe for Tourism) puts scarce Mideastern water resources front and center in this flawed biography of Aaron Aaronsohn (1876-1919), a founder of NILI, a group that spied for the British in Palestine during WWI, and a pioneering agronomist and hydrologist. Goldstone is best at depicting British diplomacy and intra-Jewish politics leading up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine-a British declaration influenced, she shows, by a 1916 memo from Aaronsohn on Palestine's potential to absorb million of Jews. Goldstone makes errors (such as stating that Israel lost the Sinai Peninsula in the 1973 Yom Kippur War) and offers the tendentious, unsourced claim that in 2003, "right-wing Jewish lobbyists" hoped that a defeated Iraq would be "used as a haven for persecuted Palestinians run out of Israel." Above all, she never makes a case for her thesis that Aaronsohn's plan for regional sharing of water resources could have prevented the longstanding Arab-Israeli conflict. (For another account of Aaronsohn's life, see Lawrence and Aaronsohn,reviewed on p. 46.) 8 pages of b&w photos. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
"[A] spry scholarly detective story... Goldstone honors both Aaronsohns, closing with notes on how Aaron's plans for equitable water rights in Palestine might have led to peace today."
Library Journal
"[O]ffers the intriguing notion that, had Aaronsohn lived, his unique survey of Palestinian water sources could eventually have facilitated a peaceful boundary with Lebanon and Syria."
Library Journal

There seems little doubt that Aaron Aaronsohn (1876-1919)-pioneering Zionist, agronomist, cartographer, and British spy-richly deserves a proper biography. Aaronsohn's astonishing abilities and historical importance are matched by the tragic scale of his untimely death in a plane crash en route to the Paris Peace Conference. These two books tell slightly different stories of a man who left abundant personal sources that nicely mesh with official documents and memoirs. The challenge is to insert biography within a complex of subordinate themes: decaying Ottoman authority, the brutality of "Young Turk" leader Djemal Pasha, the emerging Palestinian YishevZionist leadership and diplomacy, American involvement, and the strangely opaque agendas of those responsible for Britain's wartime strategy. Both books include treatment of T.E. Lawrence and, as Goldstone describes it, the "parallel lines" of Aaronsohn's "dreaming...[of ] Jewish independence...[and Lawrence's of] Arab independence." Of the two books, Florence's more detailed discussion of Lawrence adds little that is not known but gives readers a broader context for the British policy Aaronsohn sought to shape. Florence is at his best in expressing a deep sympathy for the personal details of Aaronsohn's life: his critical decision to align Zionist objectives with the British campaign against Ottoman rule by creating a source of military intelligence crucial to Allenby's 1917 invasion of Jerusalem; the torture and suicide of Aaronsohn's beloved sister and companion spy, Sarah; and especially much of official Britain's shoddy treatment of Aaronsohn and his relations with Zionist leaders, including Chaim Weizmann. Goldstone'semphasis on wartime diplomacy reveals that the British Declaration in favor of a Jewish homeland was partly motivated by concerns of a rival "German Balfour Declaration." She also offers the intriguing notion that, had Aaronsohn lived, his unique survey of Palestinian water sources could eventually have facilitated a peaceful boundary with Lebanon and Syria. The respective strengths of the two books do not offer one obvious choice for libraries. Goldstone's book is somewhat better focused, but Florence's is more clearly written. Academic and larger public libraries may benefit from either or both.
—Zachary T. Irwin

Kirkus Reviews
Whatever happened to Aaron Aaronsohn, scientist, ecumenical patriot and spy? Felix Frankfurter muttered that a "bloodstained hand" had silenced him, as it had his spy sister. And thus opens journalist/historian Goldstone's spry scholarly detective story. Aaronsohn, an emigre to Palestine, recognized that only with the help of the native Arabs would the Jewish people be able to make a homeland. He busied himself working on agriculture improvement projects and puzzling out the mysteries of the region's hidden waters, all the while tucking away all sorts of useful information into his capacious mind. When World War I broke out, he began to deliver that information to the British, eager to help free Palestine from its Ottoman masters; the information he provided was of as much material use as were T. E. Lawrence's raids in the eastern desert, which may have brought the two into the same orbit: Goldstone speculates, intriguingly, that the "S. A." to whom Lawrence dedicated Seven Pillars of Wisdom was Aaronsohn's sister Sarah. (As for Lawrence of Arabia's version of history, Goldstone notes that Robert Graves insisted that Lawrence was straight.) Though their perils, too, "seemed made for the big screen," the Aaronsohns operated with quiet efficiency throughout the war; as Goldstone writes, though courageous, Aaron "relied on his scientific knowledge as the basis for his intelligence" and used water as a weapon in the campaign to take Damascus, all the while maneuvering carefully to further the emergence of a Zionist state. Sarah was caught and tortured to death "without having revealed a thing to the Turks" while her brother was in London awaiting the Balfour Declaration; the victim of amysterious airplane crash over the English Channel, he would soon disappear not just from the world, but from history. Much superior to Ronald Florence's Lawrence and Aaronsohn (2007). Goldstone honors both Aaronsohns, closing with notes on how Aaron's plans for equitable water rights in Palestine might have led to peace today. Agent: Julia Lord/Julia Lord Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151011698
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/10/2007
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

PATRICIA GOLDSTONE has been a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and has written for the Washington Post, Maclean's, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, among others. She is the author of Making the World Safe for Tourism. She lives in New York.

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Read an Excerpt

1. The Jew in the Bathchair
The Jew is everywhere, but you have to go far down the backstairs to find him. But if you’re on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are brought up against a little whitefaced Jew in a bathchair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, sir, he is the man who is ruling the world right now and he has his knife in the empire of the Tzar, because his aunt was outraged and his father flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga.
—John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps
 
           In the autumn of 1882, a tattered delegation of Romanian Jews arrived in Constantinople and landed in front of the American minister, Lew Wallace, a Civil War general famous as the author of Ben Hur. They were led by an Englishman, Laurence Oliphant, a gentile Zionist who petitioned Wallace to intercede with the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II to allow the Jews to settle in that part of Abdul Hamid’s empire called Palestine. Among the convoy were Ephraim Fischel Aaronsohn, an entrepreneurial farmer from Falticeni, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and his pious young wife, Malkah. Eager for a home that would allow them to realize their ambitions, they had made the long, dangerous journey by train, diligence, and ferry with their only child, a robust and curious six-year-old boy named Aaron.

           The Aaronsohns’ journey was set in motion by the great turning point in the modern history of the Jews, the pogroms of 1881. Imperial Russia’s revival and extension of the Ignatieff Decrees, stifling Jewish economic activities in the Pale, created a tidal wave that sent Russian Jews spilling over the border into Romania, Romanian Jews pouring into Austria, and Jews from all parts of Eastern Europe crowding into the slums of the cities of the West. Hundreds of thousands of Jews in the isthmus of Europe between the Black Sea and the Baltic were driven from areas they had inhabited for years by Romanian and Serbian nationalist peasant leaders engorged with new liberties and power as their provinces slipped away from Ottoman control. The Aaronsohns became part of the wave of predominantly bourgeois Zionists who came to the Holy Land before 1885 that was known as the First Aliyah. Like the word haj in Arabic, aliyah means pilgrimage.

           Unique among the arrivals of the First Aliyah, Ephraim Fischel was not only skilled at agriculture but modestly knowledgeable about hydrology as well. In his native Romania, he had parlayed his success as a farmer into owning a prosperous inn and had managed the holdings of a number of great landowners before his prosperity invited persecution. The pious Malkah was a beauty, not without a streak of coquetry, and her upwardly mobile husband was inordinately proud of her. Malkah could claim a lineage going back to King David. Her revered father, Rabbi Samuel Galatzanu (who fled Russia for Falticeni, which lies close to the Russian border), had been tortured by the Romanian authorities when a Christian child in his community disappeared during Passover. The child was later found safe and the accusations of child sacrifice retracted, but Galatzanu died of his injuries and his death hastened the Aaronsohns’ departure. They sought opportunity as well as sanctuary. With the notable exception of the BILU, a small but impassioned group of young intellectual nationalist pioneers from Russia who were dedicated to the concept of tilling biblical soil with their own hands, the vast majority of European Jews at that time viewed the Holy Land as an extension of America and would have settled in the United States—or any place that would let them live free of the strangulations of the Pale—as happily as in Palestine.               
 
           General Wallace, a militant evangelical, was touched by their plight and cabled U.S. Secretary of State F.T. Frelinghuysen: “Refugee Jews starving here. Delegates ask good offices with Sultan to colonize Syria. May I act?” Frelinghuysen gave him leave to use his good offices in an unofficial capacity, as the United States government was reluctant to be perceived by the Turks as encouraging independent colonization.

           Laurence Oliphant’s Zionism only thinly concealed an imperial streak. Oliphant had been one of the most celebrated agents for Queen Victoria’s Secret Service, a career cut short by his publicly denouncing the British Foreign Office’s betrayal of nationalist aspirations throughout Europe in the illustrious pages of Blackwood’s Magazine. His associate in acting as agent for societies of Romanian Jews—described by Wallace in his dispatches as a “respectable gentleman,” though he was known only as “Mr. Alexander”—was also acting as agent for Sir Edward Cazalet, a British railway entrepreneur. Like Wallace and Oliphant, as well as other hardheaded British military men such as General Edmund Allenby, Richard Meinertzhagen, and even future prime minister David Lloyd George, Cazalet was a gentile Zionist who professed the belief that returning the world’s wandering Jews to Palestine, their biblical homeland, would hasten the Second Coming of the Messiah and a new Christian dawn. However these men were also stimulated by commercial interests. Oliphant was a commercial adventurer. Cazalet had already invested considerable money and effort in railway networks in Romania, which, until the opening of the Persian oil fields, was Europe’s chief petroleum source. Now, like many other would-be railway kings in Europe, he was eager to expand the railway network, which already stretched from London to Bucharest, to include Turkey, Palestine, and the rest of what imperial geographers called the “historic highway” connecting Europe with Asia, in what we now call the Middle East. Cazalet was keen to protect his investment by returning friendly Europeans, i.e., Jews, to Palestine to settle alongside his railroad tracks and thus provide a buffer against potentially hostile Arabs. Oliphant’s plan to settle the Romanian contingent in the rich agricultural area of western Syria, where the Jordan rises, would give the colonists a solid economic base as well. Cazalet and Oliphant lobbied the British Parliament to make Zionism a political reality, a convenient packaging of purposes not uncommon in the annals of British imperial policy. When bundled with the Admiralty’s voracious need for oil as it converted its battleships from steam power to outstrip Germany’s in an increasingly vicious naval race, it would shape the course of the twentieth century.

           The Aaronsohns were fleeing the frying pan for the fire by applying for asylum to Abdul Hamid, a melancholy man (bearing an unfortunate physical resemblance to Rasputin) who was placed on the throne when his older brother succumbed to insanity. At least early in his reign, Abdul Hamid was a perspicacious economic planner who wished to see his country benefit from modernity, and ushered in the development of modern telecommunications, transport, and women’s education in Turkey. As his rule progressed, however, his dependence on Europe drew increasing hostility from nationalist groups. He retreated into paranoia and the seclusion of his palaces, where his spies furnished his only link to the outside world, and became known as the Red Sultan for presiding over the slaughter of almost 2.5 million Armenians between 1894 and 1908.

           For the greater part of four centuries, the Ottomans had treated non-Islamic populations with relative tolerance, allowing them to practice their religions as long as they paid their poll taxes, and to govern their own communities as long as they reported to the local bey. In their dispatches to the State Department, American envoys to the Near East described Jews under the old Turkish rule as fortunate compared to those subjected to the caprices of Romanian and Serbian nationalists in the Balkan Ottoman provinces. But Turkey was still crushed under a debt incurred during the Crimean War in 1854, when France and England came to Turkey’s aid against Russia. Foreign investment was the most expeditious way out, and had to be courted with liberal concessions. As Abdul Hamid’s foreign debt spiraled out of control, he came under increasing attack from Islamic nationalists already enflamed by the Capitulations, a series of trade agreements enacted by Europe earlier in the century, which had handed a near monopoly to Armenian Christians, Jews, and other European minorities residing in the Ottoman Empire in such choice areas as banking and import-export: the slaughter of the Armenians in part originated in their favored status. Granting concessions to build Turkish railroad infrastructure, Abdul Hamid’s best means of courting foreign investment, fueled the nationalists’ other chief source of irritation—the growing invasion by Western, primarily female, tourists, led by the British travel giant Cook’s Tours.

           After the British conquest of Egypt in the 1870s, the Turks were opposed to foreign control of Turkish land. Zionism, though it would not fully emerge as an organized worldwide political movement until the Basel Congress of 1897, already presented a threat. Although they were officially prohibited from settling in Palestine, it was not unusual for Jews to enter under the guise of making aliyah, and then to disappear into existing settlements. When General Wallace called on the Turkish minister of affairs to espouse the Jewish cause, he was told that the Aaronsohns and their coreligionists could come whenever they wanted and settle in groups of two hundred or two hundred and fifty families in any unoccupied lands in Mesopotamia, around Aleppo or around the Orontes River in Syria—as long as they became Ottoman subjects.

 
Copyright © 2007 by Patricia Goldstone
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents

Contents
preface  1
 1.            the jew in the bathchair      11
 2.            the spies of moses 28
 3.            flying the zionist kite in america       55
 4.            minuet    76
 5.            the locust hunter                95
 6.            felix krull, confidence man              118
 7.            he who writes the dispatches             147
 8.            “our people”         169
 9.            the sacrifice          201
10.           icarus falls from the sky   226
11.           inconvenient heroes            260
12.           aaronsohn’s road map        285
acknowledgments               321
select bibliography on source notes    323
index      337

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2007

    Besmirched memory

    Aaronson¿s Maps¿ is a misleading and confusing book. It claims to be a biography of an unsung hero of the Zionist revolution in the Land of Israel - Aaron Aaronsohn. A brilliant and versatile man, he won worldwide fame as a discoverer of wild wheat. During WWI, convinced that the British victory over the Turkish army was vital for the Jewish future in Palestine, Aaronsohn organized the NILI group, a spy ring which provided the British army with important information facilitating British victory over the Turks. In 1919 Aaronson joined the Zionist delegation to the Paris Peace Conference where the case for Jewish independence in Palestine was presented to ¿The Big Four¿. He died in a plane crash on his way to Paris to present maps of the future Jewish state. His arguments, used by the Zionist delegation, convinced the world that Palestine had enough water resources to sustain large Jewish and Arabs communities. Unfortunately, ¿Aaronsohn¿s maps¿ fails the memory of Aaronsohn and lets down many in Israel who sincerely cooperated with Patricia Goldstone providing her with documents about Aaronsohn and the NILI group. The author, not being a professional historian, displays a cavalier attitude toward historical facts. She reshuffles them with dexterity of a gossip columnist ill-prepared to deal with complex historical situations. The heroic image of Aaronsohn is besmirched by unfounded conclusions. His dreams and ideas of the Jewish revival in the Land of Israel are corrupted by insinuations of Zionist intrigues which allegedly precipitated WWI in Europe and, later, the intervention of the USA in that war. Goldstone fails to present her main claim that Aaronsohn is ¿a man who might have created peace in the Middle East¿. Instead she is rehashing the current events in the Middle East trying to prove that the wars between Arabs and Jews are about sharing water resources, not about the attempts of Islam to eliminate the state of Israel. The reader who is interested in an intellectually honest book on Aaronsohn and his times should read ¿Lawrence and Aaronsohn¿ - a compelling account written by professional historian Ronald Florence.

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