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Under the Cover of War: the Zionist Expulsion of the Palestinians

The Arab-Israeli conflict is central to any discussion of Middle Eastern history over the past few decades, and the fate of Palestinian refugees lies at the heart of problem. In her book, Rosemarie Esber examines the last few months of Mandate rule in the Holy Land, in order to discuss how Palestinians ended up leaving their homes. She concludes that they departed primarily as the result of a campaign of violent intimidation that could be termed ethnic cleansing, and describes this in some detail.

The major strengths of this book stem from the research that has gone into it. Esber clearly spent time recording oral histories and going through archival records in order to comprehensively document events throughout the area. The British government was hasty in its exit, and left behind a mess. One of Esber's more interesting arguments is that events on the ground were often the result of a focus on evacuating troops quickly and without major losses; preserving national prestige was a second priority.

London had an interest in such things as the functioning of Haifa's oil refinery and good relations with other Arab states. Nevertheless, it had relatively little concern for the people of the region, whichever side they of the conflict they were on. It was aware that its troop presence was ineffective, and could seldom be decisive. Esber uses primary sources to show this affected decision-making. She demonstrates why allegations of bias from both parties are largely unfounded, but points out specific that British actions, such as an imposing arms embargo and forbidding the entry of foreign forces, helped the Zionists more than the Arabs.

Still, if you are searching for a broad and unbiased overview of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict, you would do well to look elsewhere. While Esber is not afraid to criticize weak Palestinian leadership, the conflicting interests of neighboring Arab states, and the role of outside powers, she has clearly picked a side in this fight, and the Israeli side of the story does not get much of a hearing. Furthermore, this is a book with a fairly narrow chronological and geographic focus. It is therefore likely to appeal only to someone with a strong interest in the era, and greater sympathy for the Palestinians than their opponents.

Posted by dubaiwalla at December 13, 2008 09:01 PM
Filed Under: 18th - 20th century , Levant , MENA History

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"she has clearly picked a side in this fight, and the Israeli side of the story does not get much of a hearing".
Perhaps Ilan Pappe book "the ethnic cleansing of Palestine" concentrates on the zionists'side during the same period and come to the same conclusion: it was pure ethnic cleansing. He also documents much clearly the role of Britain in facilitating it directly and indirectly (by eliminating, for example, Palestenian leadership since the 1936 upraising at least).

Posted by: avemos at February 7, 2009 05:47 PM

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