Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Jonathan Schneer has produced an extremely detailed study of the events leading up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration. It is packed with fascinating material surrounding one of the most turbulent yet formative moments in modern Jewish history. Schneer’s thesis is that the root cause of the current Arab-Israeli conflict is that the British government promised Palestine to both the Jews and the Arabs. The book is unecessarily complicated, and is poorly written and oddly edited in places (there are some irritating and amusing infelicities in the English), and I found some sections hard to follow; it is overly long and jerky in its narrative direction. Yet I learned a great deal from the book, enjoyed it and feel that its thesis is cogent and important.
Martin Gilbert, In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands
Thanks to Rabbi N.S. Liss, Highgate Synagogue
Celebrated author and historian Sir Martin Gilbert’s latest book is an interesting and enlightening read. Adorned with photos, maps and appendices, the book is essentially divided into two – the first half deals with pre-19th century history (i.e. pre-Zionism and Jewish aspirations to return to the Land of Israel), the second from the late 19th century to today. It covers every facet of Muslim-Jewish interactions from the inception of Islam and the dhimma to the fate of Jews in Arab lands post 1948. While Gilbert certainly includes accounts of awful persecution and intolerance towards Jews, he also refers to touching episodes of mutual co-operation and friendship between Jews and their Muslim hosts. As with the other Gilbert books I’ve read, he packs lots of information into a readable and accessible text. Recommended, particularly for those Ashkenazim like me whose knowledge of pre-State Muslim-Jewish relations is rather fuzzy.