One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate

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A landmark book, One Palestine, Complete explores the tumultuous period before the creation of the state of Israel. This was the time of the British Mandate, when Britain promised both Jews and Arabs that they would inherit the land, and thus set in motion the conflict that haunts the region to this day.

Drawing on untapped archival materials, Tom Segev reconstructs an era (1917 to 1948) of limitless possibilities and tragic missteps. He introduces an array of unforgettable ...

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A landmark book, One Palestine, Complete explores the tumultuous period before the creation of the state of Israel. This was the time of the British Mandate, when Britain promised both Jews and Arabs that they would inherit the land, and thus set in motion the conflict that haunts the region to this day.

Drawing on untapped archival materials, Tom Segev reconstructs an era (1917 to 1948) of limitless possibilities and tragic missteps. He introduces an array of unforgettable characters, tracks the steady advance of Jews and Arabs toward confrontation, and puts forth a radical new argument: that the British, far from being pro-Arab, consistently favored the Zionist position, out of the mistaken — and anti-Semitic — belief that Jews turned the wheels of history.

Rich in historical detail, sensitive to all perspectives, One Palestine, Complete brilliantly depicts the decline of an empire, the birth of one nation, and the tragedy of another.

Author Biography: Tom Segev is a columnist for Ha'aretz, Israel's leading newspaper. He is the author of The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust and 1949: The First Israelis. He lives in Jerusalem.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Tom Segev, who has made a name for himself among historians for his often controversial viewpoints, has done it again with his take on the history of this troubled region. This is a panoramic look at the three decades (1917-1948) when the Palestinian region was ruled by the British -- a time during which both the Jews and the Arabs were told that they would inherit the land. As we see in today's daily headlines, those promises continue to affect this volatile region. Segev claims that the British were, in fact, pro-Zionist, rather than pro-Arab as commonly thought.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"The British entered Palestine to defeat the Turks; they stayed there to keep it from the French; then they gave it to the Zionists because they loved `the Jews' even as they loathed them, at once admired and despised them, and above all feared them. They were not guided by strategic considerations, and there was no orderly decision-making process," claims Segev in revealing the thrust of his argument that the contemporary problems between the Arabs and the Jews over the issue of a promised homeland were exacerbated by the interventions of the British empire between the two world wars. Segev, author of the well-known and highly controversial books 1949 and The Seventh Million, is one of the "new historians" who have revised and demythologized the history of modern Israel. The reason the British feared the Zionists, Segev maintains, was that they believed that the Jews had inordinate political power around the world. Moreover, he suggests that the Arab rebellions of the late 1930s were instrumental in convincing the British to leave the reins to the Jewish Agency and even hypothesizes about how the British would have reacted if the Arabs had had a political infrastructure in place similar to that of the Jews. Although his argument would be more convincing had he given greater credence to the Palestinian perspective, Segev is an excellent historical writer who presents a compelling and timely discussion of a well-trodden subject--even if it does not stir as much controversy as his earlier work. (Nov. 14) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In the past 50 years, Arab-Israeli relations have been marked by several wars and internecine conflicts. Understanding the events in Palestine during the first half of the 20th century, which shaped the future of this conflict, is critical to understanding the contemporary obstacles confronting the Middle East peace process. Israeli journalist Segev (1949: The First Israelis) has written a detailed, evenhanded account of these events, which led to the establishment of the state of Israel and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. By relying on a wealth of archival material, the author demonstrates how and why the British ultimately favored the Zionist forces over the Arabs and how they helped the nascent Zionist movement defeat the Palestinians and other Arabs. Highly recommended for both academic and large public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/00.]--Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Omer Bartov
Reading Tom Segev's remarkable book just as another round of violence and frustration erupts in Israel and the Palestinian territories, one is instantly gripped by a powerful sense of déjà vu. Once again the region has succumbed to despair, and peace seems, at best, a distant prospect. And yet One Palestine, Complete is more than the tale of a historical tragedy in the making. For Segev is unusually attuned to the hopes and dreams that both Arabs and Jews have invested in this divided land. Instead of telling his story through the loud pronouncements of political leaders, he has woven a fine tapestry of individual portraits, curious anecdotes and penetrating insights. One is left with a faint hope that the current crisis is as much a convulsive reaction to an anticipated settlement as it is a compulsive return to old patterns of prejudice and violence...Segev has written an enormously important book, perhaps the best single account of Palestine under the British mandate.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A cogent, readable, and meticulously researched account of Zionism and British policy in Palestine under the British Mandate. Ha'retz columnist Segev (The Seventh Million, 1993) draws from a mind-boggling array of primary and secondary source material to illustrate the wide range of issues and individuals that affected the political climate of Palestine between 1917 and 1948. His primary claim is that the British government was sympathetic to the Zionists over the Arabs at the close of WWI, because certain key officials (e.g., Lloyd George) believed the world's Jews to be a great and powerful transnational force that he would be wise to befriend and foolish to alienate. To this end, the author paints Chaim Weizmann as the one-man propaganda machine and spin-doctor who was behind it all—a kind of magic-bullet theory that fails to solve the puzzle satisfactorily. More plausible than Segev's radical claims of conspiracy and cowardice is his emphasis on Zionism in its pre-WWII form: he manages, through careful documentation and the innovative integration of source material, to effectively debunk the popular myth of Israel owing its independence to the sympathies of an international community horrified by the Holocaust. Making good use of historical documents, personal correspondence, and private journals, Segev allows certain characters to tell their own stories—from Yefim Gordin (a young Jewish immigrant who changed his name for the cause) to Khalil al-Sakakini (a leading Arab intellectual, educator, and nationalist)—which add up, in the end, to an intricate portrait of the mottled, beautiful, deadly mess that is the Holy Land. A careful, thorough,andintelligent work of journalistic history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316648592
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication date: 8/1/1900

Meet the Author

Tom Segev is a columnist for Ha'aretz, Israel's leading newspaper, and author of two now-classic works on the history of Israel, 1949: The First Israelis and The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust. He lives in Jerusalem.

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Read an Excerpt

Under the Turks, the Jews were allowed to pray by the Western wall more or less undisturbed. Officially, they were subject to a whole series of prohibitions; in practice, a wink and a bribe eased relations with the Muslims, and on special days, the Jews were allowed to blow the ram's horn, or shofar, at the wall and set up an ark, benches, and even a screen to separate the men from the women. In the new climate, though, the sheikhs connected these things to the Zionist program, and feared that treating the wall as a synagogue was but a first step in expropriating it from the Muslims. For this reason, they refused to let the Jews install chairs at the wall on a permanent basis: first they'll put out chairs, they said to the governor, then wooden benches, then stone benches. The next thing would be walls and a ceiling to keep out the sun and the cold, and suddenly the Muslims would have a building on their property. This was the Palestine conflict in a nutshell.

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Interviews & Essays

Conversation With The Author

Was there an impetus, or more than one, that started you on the long road of research and writing that resulted in this book? How does this book follow from your earlier work?

The Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was my immediate impetus for writing this book. It occurred to me that for the first time since the days of the British, Jews and Arabs would now once again have to find a way to live with each other as equals, as two distinct nations, two national communities sharing the same country. This means that for the first time we also have to recognize each other's aspirations and fears, national traumas and myths. Unfortunately sharing the same country does not work very well, occasionally we shoot at each other, just like we used to when the British ruled. Indeed, it sometimes appears as if we are back in those days. As you know I am a journalist, I deal mostly with the present, but once in a while I take time off to try and explain, mostly to myself, what led us to the current situation. I first wrote about Israel's first year of independence in 1949, I then went back in time and wrote about the Israelis and the Holocaust in The Seventh Million, and I've gone further back, to find out how it all began, under the British. I try to understand history through the lives of individual people, using diaries, personal letters, etc. I feel as if I have just come back from a long trip into my own past, where I met a lot of people, many of them very colorful¾people of vision, courage, hope and success, uprooted and desperate people, romantics, dreamers, heroes and crooks. And they tell the story which, tragically, we are still living today.

You are Israeli, born and bred, you are Jewish, and the son of survivors and immigrants, so you are obviously personally invested in your chosen subject. How do you maintain objectivity and balance living in the middle of a conflict that you report on and chronicle?

I am not objective. We are all products of our own biographies and so am I. My parents had to leave Germany when the Nazis came to power. I say "had to" because they would have much rather stayed there. Like many of the Jewish immigrants who settled in Palestine, my parents came unwillingly, as refugees, not as Zionist pioneers. I think that they never intended to stay in Israel, but then my father was killed in 1948, during the first Arab Israeli war. My mother had no other place to go, and that's why I was born Israeli. You are absolutely right when you assume that it is difficult, sometimes it seems impossible, to write about a conflict when you live in the middle of it. I try not to think of what my potential readers might say or how they might use what I write for their own purposes. I try to stick to the story itself. Do I get myself in trouble? Yes, all the time.

When THE SEVENTH MILLION was published it raised a storm of controversy, but in the intervening years your revolutionary history of the role of the Holocaust in Israeli and Jewish life has become, for many, the definitive of that time. Do you think that the book's hard-won acceptance by Israeli's and Jewish people around the world indicates an openness, a willingness to reevaluate rigid positions in general?

History is an extremely sensitive issue in Israel, and very political, for the very existence of the state rests on the particular Zionist interpretation of Jewish history, and much of the conflict with the Arabs is about different understandings of history. The question is who was there first, the assumption being that he who was first there owns the land. Naturally history in Israel is very political. About fifteen years ago official Israeli archives were opened, and for the first time it was possible to study the real story of the country. Until then we had ideology, mythology, a great deal of national indoctrination. The opening of the archives gave us facts, which led to a psychological earthquake. For you come to an archive, you order a file, you take out a document and wow!¾this is not what we were taught at school. Our history is far less noble and heroic then we were taught. This all feeds a Israeli identity crisis, or as some people call it, a cultural war.

In the wake of escalating violence in Israel, what can the British Mandate era in Palestine tell/teach us about the likelihood of success or failure of the current Peace talks?

I'm afraid that as result of my work on ONE PALESTINE, COMPLETE I am much more pessimistic than I was before I started the book. One of the things the book clearly shows is that war between the Jews and the Palestinians was always inevitable, and no compromise will be satisfactory to both nations. The conflict can be managed¾perhaps on the basis of pragmatic arrangements and interim agreements¾but it cannot be resolved.

You argue in ONE PALESTINE, COMPLETE that the British¾far from being pro-Arab, as history has led us to believe¾were driven to support the Jews and specifically the Zionist cause because of the mistaken notion that "Jews turned the wheels of history." Can you explain the origins of this mistaken notion?

Israel owes its existence to the British. The Zionist movement would have been unable to achieve as much as it did in Palestine if not for the active support of the British. Their willingness to help the Zionists is quite surprising because they had nothing to gain from supporting them. The Zionist movement was quite weak and had no real influence; it's only source of power derived from the world's fearful image of the Jews. British policy during World War I and the 1920s was based on the eroneous belief the Jews rule the world, and the thought that Jewish support was essential for the success of the British war effort. In other words, the British role in Palestine rested largely on a fiction. It is an amazing story, but there is no other explanation for their policy in Palestine. This fictitious view constitutes a strange mixture of pro-Jewish and anti-Semitic feelings. The British both adored the Jews and despised them, admired and feared them. In many countries you still find a similar attitude today. People think that Israel is much more powerful than it actually is, again because of the demonic powers attributed to the Jews.

You have a deeply historical and personal perspective on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. What do you really hope for Israel, and for the Palestinian people?

ONE PALESTINE, COMPLETE is about people who lived in a uniquely charming and tragic period, but it is mostly about people whose personal lives were doomed by national and religious circumstances beyond their control. What I hope for both myself and for the Palestinians is that our individual needs, desires, and dreams take priority over our collective myths, so despite our national confrontations we may all just be ourselves.
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