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

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"The untold story, based on original research, of the actions and inactions that created the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories." "The Accidental Empire is Gershom Gorenberg's account of the strange birth of the settler movement, which was the child of 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
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The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977

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Overview

"The untold story, based on original research, of the actions and inactions that created the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories." "The Accidental Empire is Gershom Gorenberg's account of the strange birth of the settler movement, which was the child of 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 - distracted by a military quagmire in Vietnam and a global conflict with the Sovet Union - turned a blind eye to what was happening in the territories." 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. 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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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan D. Tepperman
The book works powerfully on two important levels: as a deeply informative counterhistory and as a mournful reminder of what happens when a democratic government acquiesces in the face of its own militants.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Midway 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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Associate editor at the Jerusalem Report, Gorenberg recounts how Israelis came to settle the occupied territories and the governmental inaction-both Israeli and American-that allowed it to happen. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Of hard choices and strange bedfellows: an illuminating account of a current controversy that extends back many years, namely, Israeli settlements beyond the bounds of Israel. Well before there was an Israel, writes Jerusalem Report editor Gorenberg (The End of Days, 2000), there was a strong back-to-the-promised-land movement that urged that Jews "should return not only to the homeland, but to land itself, to the earth." Leftist and even communist, this movement resulted in an unintended perimeter of kibbutzes that bore the first shock of attacks in a series of wars. When, in 1967, Israel acquired a comparatively vast expanse of territory from Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan formulated a policy of "invisible rule," though there was no mistaking just who ruled the conquered lands. In time, some members of Dayan's circle alternately proposed giving the Gaza Strip back to Egypt and jointly ruling the West Bank with Jordan. Such magnanimity fell by the wayside with the massive sneak attack that was the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Israel lost 2,656 soldiers in 19 days-the equivalent, Gorenberg points out, of a loss of 165,000 Americans in the same period. Determined not to be caught short again, Israel established defensive positions that threaded through Arab territories, occupying the high ground and joined by roads that bypassed Arab towns and villages entirely; Gaza was effectively cordoned off, while Israeli civilian settlements punctuated occupied territory precisely "to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state." This development was spearheaded by some of the same leftist kibbutzim, though now allied with members of the religious right whose stock rose throughthe 1970s, culminating in the Likud victory of 1977-another unintended consequence, but one that has conditioned Israeli politics to this day. Thus, Gorenberg writes, the accidental empire. An exemplary history of a phenomenon that is still unfolding-for, as Ariel Sharon once urged, "Everything we don't grab will be in their hands."
From the Publisher
A thoroughly documented, pathbreaking analysis of Israel's disastrous settlement project in the occupied territories; it reads like a chapter in Barbara Tuchman's well-known book, The March of Folly."

Amos Elon, author of The Pity of It All and The Israelis: Founders and Sons

"The Accidental Empire is an extraordinary book. It offers insight and understanding into a period that has never been well understood. After the 1967 war, few in Israel recognized the inherent problems of building Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line, for they were torn between reason and spiritual attachment to the land. As Gershom Gorenberg shows in this wonderfully written history, the building of settlements took on a life of its own—too easy to do, too hard to stop, and too easy to simply let happen."

—Dennis Ross, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, and author of

The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace

"A groundbreaking investigation into the origins of one of the most contentious issues in Arab-Israeli relations—and in the Middle East—and a valuable reference for journalists, students, and scholars interested in the region."

—Michael B. Oren, author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the

Making of the Modern Middle East

"Gershom Gorenberg has given us a meticulously researched, dispassionate and highly readable history of how Israel slipped into the settlement of occupied lands. The Accidental Empire is an invaluable guide to one of the Middle East's most complex issues and will puncture illusions on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jackson Diehl, columnist, The Washington Post

"The Accidental Empire casts a stark light on Israel's settlement of the lands it gained in the Six-Day War. Gershom Gorenberg contends that the Israeli left, as well as the Orthodox right, backed a policy that, though born of a felt need for security, encumbered the quest for peace—and that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger also failed to foresee the long-term costs. This tragic tale suggests how a fearful nation helped foster the very threats it sought to escape."

David Greenberg, Rutgers University, author of Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805075649
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/7/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 1.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Gershom Gorenberg is the author of The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount and co-author of Shalom, Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin. The Jerusalem correspondent for the Forward, he has also written for The Jerusalem Report, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The American Prospect. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.

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Read an Excerpt



The Accidental Empire



Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977



By Gorenberg, Gershom


Times Books



Copyright © 2006

Gorenberg, Gershom

All right reserved.


ISBN: 080507564X



December 1975: North from Jerusalem
 
"We are divided," Haim Gouri's mother had taught him, "between those with meager spirits and those with torn souls." That night, more than ever, Gouri counted himself as one of the raggedly ripped souls, and he envied the other sort.1
 
A solitary Israeli army jeep growled north from Jerusalem on the road winding through the dark hills of the West Bank. A soldier drove, another carried a gun to protect Gouri and his wife, Aliza, who had insisted on coming along though she could not understand how he had thrust himself into this madness.
 
The moon, only a narrow crescent, an accidental pencil stroke of light on the December sky, had already set when the jeep pulled out of its Jerusalem base near midnight. They rode though Ramallah and past the shadowed Arab villages strung out along the mountain ridge, and on through Nablus, where by daylight Palestinian demonstrators had littered the road with burning tires, and headed on. Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, had insisted that Gouri--a poet and journalist turned negotiator on a moment's whim--could not go this way at night in his own car to carry a message from the government.2
 
Fifty-two years old, Gouri had a face made of sharp angles: sharp chin andnose, sharp brows above deep-set eyes. Eight and a half years before, on the third day of the Six-Day War of 1967, he had worn a uniform himself as he drove north in a convoy from Jerusalem toward newly conquered Ramallah, a platoon commander in the reserves called up for duty in a sudden conflict. That time, a June sun had drenched the hills. The land he passed through had been part of the British-ruled Palestine of his youth, but had lain, unreachable, beyond the frontier since Israel's establishment in 1948. "It seemed to me I'd died and was waking up, resurrected," he had written in June 1967. "All that I loved was cast at my feet, stunningly ownerless, landscapes revealed as in a dream. The old Land of Israel, the homeland of my youth, the other half of my cleft country. And their land, the land of the unseen ones, hiding behind their walls."3
 
The memory still shone, incandescent, whenever he came this way, though he had since concluded that the war had "liberated the land but torn the nation"--deeply dividing Israelis about whether the land taken in the battles against Jordan, Egypt, and Syria was liberated or occupied, about whether Israel must hold some or all or none of it, about how to see the "unseen ones"--the Arabs who lived there. On this cold night, Gouri feared the nation was on verge of brother fighting brother.4
 
North of Nablus, next to the village of Sebastia, the jeep turned onto a dirt road lined with pines and cypresses. A two-story stone building, an abandoned train station at which passengers had last alighted when the British ruled Palestine, overlooked a narrow valley splotched with the glow of campfires.
 
"The scene was surrealistic," Gouri would recall. Thousands of people waited in freezing cold. Most were Orthodox Jews, young men and women and teenagers, the armies of the night, camped out here in defiance of Rabin's government, aflame themselves with the passion of demonstrators anywhere who are many and certain. They were there demanding that Rabin allow Jews to settle on the outskirts of Nablus, to stake a claim that would keep Israel from giving up part of the ancient homeland in return for peace. They sought to shatter a policy that said the hill country should be set aside, to be conceded when the time came, in order to avoid permanent Israeli rule over its Arab population. For a week, the crowd in the valley had grown and shrunk and grown, tense with the possibility of confrontation and the improbable hope of victory. Around them waited soldiers, ready for orders to pull them, struggling, onto buses and--as Gouri noticed with sardonic fury--meanwhile protecting the law-defying settlement supporters from the Palestinians demonstrating against their presence.5
 
Gouri had come earlier that day as a journalist, to look and write. The would-be settlers conjured up passions he remembered from his own days in a socialist youth movement intoxicated with the land; and they conjured up fear of anarchy, the collapse of the state.
 
"Happy are the whole, and woe to the torn . . ." he wrote that week, describing his visit. "In my life, too, there have been times when I've been at one with a deed. Today, too, I'm utterly at one with a few principles. But this time I wander torn among people swept up in messianic fervor."6 He wanted this confrontation to end peacefully, within the rules; he feared the shock waves in a fractured nation if one pregnant woman were to miscarry as she was pulled to the buses. So he had stepped out of the role of journalistic witness and into the role of actor, proposing a compromise--to his old comrades-in-arms who now ruled the country, and now, with their approval, the handwritten terms scrawled by a senior cabinet minister, to the organizers at Sebastia. Inside the train station, the leaders of the Gush Emunim, Israel's most successful protest movement, argued through the night about whether Gouri's compromise meant victory, as Gouri and his wife shivered outside.
 
 
In the uncertain memory of many Israelis and Israel-watchers, the issue of settlement in occupied land began in the struggle between Yitzhak Rabin's first government in the mid-1970s and the young radicals of Gush Emunim. The story therefore becomes a simple one: On one side are the secular pragmatists of the left; on the other, the religious fanatics of the right. Or--in another telling that changes the labels without drastically changing the script--on one side are uninspired defeatists; on the other, the truest patriots.
 
In either telling, the confrontation at the Sebastia train station in the first week of December 1975 marks the point of departure for a long and contentious journey. Gush Emunim and its successors have gone on to build communities throughout the territories Israel overran in June 1967. Settlers have benefited from government support, especially after Israel's Labor Party lost power to the right-wing Likud bloc in 1977--and yet, again and again, some have also clashed with the state, at times violently. The question of whether the settlement imperative or democracy takes precedence has threatened to rip Israel apart.
 
In accounts of Mideast diplomacy as well, the settlements first appear in the mid-1970s, as if from nowhere, with no explanation of how they appeared on the landscape.7 Since then, Israel's settlements have seized an ever more prominent place on the international agenda. The most accepted approach to ending the entanglement of Israelis and Palestinians requires dividing the land that both consider their home. And the very purpose of settlements is to stand in the way of Israel forfeiting the land it took in 1967, or at the very least, to ensure that it will retain as much of that land as possible.
 
In his eighties, one of the most renowned poets in a country where poets achieve popular stardom, Haim Gouri says today that getting involved at Sebastia was "the greatest foolishness of my life." His hope that a compromise would restore "the rules of the game" of civil discourse and law has proven vain. Long after Sebastia, he has watched Israeli soldiers struggle with defiant settlers. He has been accused, he says with pain, of being "the father of the settlements," as if he will be remembered for that and his poems will be forgotten.8 The charge is unjust, and not only because he was badly used at the time, his compromise quickly twisted by politicians--particularly by Rabin's defense minister and chief rival, who was then known for his pro-settlement views, Shimon Peres.
 
In fact, Sebastia was not the beginning of settlement, but the end of the beginning. It was the culmination of a story that began even before the guns of the Six-Day War cooled. Religious radicals, convinced they were fulfilling God's plan for history, indeed played a central role--but alongside of, or even as understudies to, secularists identified with Israel's political left. Some had torn souls. Some were certain of what they were doing, were "made of exclamation points," in Gouri's phrase. Without intending to do so, they helped beget the religious settler movement, and then were stunned by it.
 
There are ironies inside ironies. Those who began the process of settlement beyond Israel's prewar borders believed passionately in the Jewish state. The older ones had helped create it. Yet they were inspired by the glory of their youth, the fervor of times before the state existed, when they were rebels, not officials. Now, impossibly, they tried to play both roles. The victory of 1967 represented a triumph of the state they had built. Yet it also yielded unplanned conquests, an accidental empire.
 
The process of settlement, of taking ownership of that empire, led to the state's gradual unraveling, blurring its borders, undercutting its authority. It pulled Jews and Arabs back into an older kind of conflict--instead of a battle between states, a struggle between two ethnic groups struggling for control of the same undivided land--the conflict that existed before the partition of Palestine and Israel's establishment. Victory faded into a tragedy of unending struggles, internal and external.
 
Sebastia was a crossroads, but the journey had begun years earlier, before anyone could drive north on the road from Jerusalem.
 
Copyright 2006 by Gershom Gorenberg


Continues...




Excerpted from The Accidental Empire
by Gorenberg, Gershom
Copyright © 2006 by Gorenberg, Gershom.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


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Table of Contents

December 1975 : North from Jerusalem 1
1 The avalanche 7
2 Creating facts 42
3 Silent cowboys on the new frontier 72
4 Settling in 99
5 The "invisible" occupation 129
6 Changing of the guard 163
7 The reign of hubris 187
8 All quiet on the Suez front 220
9 Mere anarchy is loosed 250
10 Confrontation 280
11 Last train to Sebastia 308
12 The fall of the house of labor 342
Epilogue : ephemeral, for the fourth decade 363
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