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Book Review

Concise history of Arab-Israeli
conflict good, but already outdated
,  April 19, 2005


The Rape of Palestine and the Struggle for Jerusalem by Lionel I. Casper; Gefen Publishing House; no price listed.

Reviewed by Norman Manson

So quickly do events move and situations change, especially in a region as volatile as the Middle East, that this book, published about two years ago, seems outdated in its approach to present-day issue.
Turn the clock back to the spring of 2003. Yasser Arafat is very much alive, even if he is restricted to his compound in Ramallah, and he is orchestrating repeated terrorist attacks on Israel. Meanwhile, U.S. forces appear poised to win an overwhelmingly decisive victory in Iraq, and are still searching for Osama Bin Ladin in the wake of the Sept. 11 catastrophe.
We indeed are living in a fast-changing time, for better or worse.
Still, this study is valuable as a work of 20th century history. Starting with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Lionel Casper traces the rapidly changing attitude of British officialdom in the interwar period, the diplomatic wrangling that led to the establishment of the State of Israel, and the virtually constant intransigence (with very few exceptions) of the Arab world toward the Jewish state.
He does write at some length about two of the exceptions - instances when Arab leaders were willing to accept the existence of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. At the end of World War I, the Emir Faisal, a leader of the Hashemite clan and a major Arab figure, actually signed an agreement with Chaim Weizmann providing for both Jewish and Arab states in Palestine (which then included what later became Jordan). Alas, the rest of the Arab world quickly repudiated this accord.
Much later, soon after Israel gained its independence. King Abdullah of Jordan held a series of secret talks with Moshe Dayan and other Israeli leaders. But these too came to naught, and in the summer of 1951, Abdullah paid for his moderate stance with his life - he was assassinated just outside the Al Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.
Their abortive efforts, however, belong in any history of Jewish-Arab relations, as they show that the story in not entirely bleak - perhaps there is a long-term hope of a rapprochement.
Casper focuses largely on the controversy over Jerusalem, as the title indicates, but perhaps the most provocative chapters portray the 180-degree turn in British policy, from the Balfour Declaration to the infamous White Paper of 1939 which, if fully implemented over a long period, would have ended all Jewish hopes and aspirations for a homeland in Palestine. And, ironically, he points out that it was a British Jew, Sir Herbert Samuel, the first high commissioner under the British mandate in the early
 1920s, whose policies began the erosion of Britain's promises to his fellow Jews.
Although Casper goes into considerable detail on the relatively abrupt change in British policy, he gives little explanation for the motivations behind the change. Arab pogroms, and their negative results for the Jews of Palestine in the 1920s and 30s, are discussed at length. But only in his discussion of the World War II era and later does he stress the use of the oil weapon, which
 apparently accounted for President Roosevelt's sudden shift from a pro-Jewish to a pro-Arab position. Oil had been a key issue,  and continued[ as  such in Arab anti-Zionism as supported by British and U.S. interests.
The book contains a few historical inaccuracies. For example, the bombing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel did not occur in 1948, as Casper indicates, but in the summer of 1946. And the book obviously was not well edited - there are sentences which can only be described as unintelligible.
Still, as a concise, relatively readable summary of a troubled time in the Middle East - mostly especially Palestine and especially Jerusalem- the book makes worthwhile reading. And, while written from an Israeli viewpoint, it is not a polemic and does not advocate extremist views.