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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Bible and Sword"

Having a strong (and maybe inexplicable) interest in all things having to do with Palestine, both the Palestinian and the Israeli parts of it, I just finished reading another of the always remarkable books by the late Barbara W. Tuchman.

The theme of her "Bible and Sword" (1984) is the identification of the inhabitants of the British Isles with the many Hebraic leading figures in the Bible's Old Testament over many hundreds of years, and how this, along with a few other factors, especially Britain's relentless drive toward empire, inevitably led to the English taking over Palestine with thoughts of protecting the Suez Canal and incidentally also protecting their trade routes to the East, and also incidentally  providing a homeland for the Jews, who had been collectively experiencing some hard times ever since the Romans had expelled them from Judea at around the same time that Christianity got its start, and culminating with the Germans exterminating nearly all the Jews they could get their hands on in Europe during the Second World War.

I was disappointed in the book, though not at all by what Tuchman presented there.  Instead I thought that she had stopped short, with the end of World War I, --way short of what I had expected.

The state of Israel got going the year I graduated from high school and therefore started looking around more, in 1949.   And in all the 62 years since then there has been a continuous effort to establish a lasting peace between the Israelis and not only the Arabs they had displaced, called "Palestinians" but also all the surrounding Arabs.   (Tuchman mentions quite often, as if the Arabs should be completely satisfied with what they have, that the Holy Land part of Palestine, or Israel proper, the part west of the Jordan River, is only 1/100th as large as all the other Arab lands that were wrested from the Turks by the British and others and redistributed after World War I.)   And despite all these peace efforts, nothing much has changed except that rhe Israelis are sitting on somewhat more of Palestine than in 1949 and the Palestinians on considerably less.   Plus there are a great many high and ugly walls snaking over the West Bank that weren't there before, with more Israeli "settlements" going up on Palestinian territory all the time, while notions of peace sit all but forgotten, in the seeming reality that the Israelis are winning both the war and the peace, though whether they actually are or not, in the long run,  is in question.

I had heard of the Balfour Declaration and I knew, vaguely, that it had something to do with clearing the way for the founding of Israel, but I didn't know the Declaration's date, which was around 1920, much earlier than I had thought.  And so, though it said right on the front cover that the book was about "England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour," I had overed that, expecting Tuchman to cover events well past not only 1920 but also 1949 and at least into the 1980's.   And maybe she intended to, in a follow-up study, though nothing in this book says as much.  And whatever the case, mortality stepped in first.

So she left us just a few glimpses into the future, though not once does she mention that great overriding factor in the Middle East today, the oil!   Nor does she ever speak of "Palestinians."  Instead she just mentions, once or twice and then just briefly, that there were nomads, Bedouins, passing through and some Arabs who, in English eyes, had done a very poor job of farming the land, a situation that the return of Palestine's rightful people, the descendants of the expelled Judeans and mainly city dwellers, would be sure to correct (with a lot of money and other help not only from Jewish people left behind in other countries and from those other countries themselves), so that once again the Holy Land would overflow with milk and honey, just as in Biblical times.

She might have added, "and also with a lot of strife."   (As also in Biblical times.)

Toward the end of her Preface, dated 1983, Mrs. Tuchman does show her perfect awareness of that likelihood, when she says of Israel's experience thus far, "To become like other nations has become the tragedy of statehood,  the price of the greater tragedy of disappearance."  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This book was originally written in 1956. A lot of the information you wish to know wouldn't have even been released for research that soon after the war.

10:12 AM  

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