The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World


updated and expanded edition

reviewed by Jose Vericat, Global Observatory, April 16, 2015 (updated and expanded edition) Avi Shlaim is Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, and a signatory of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. 

“The history of the conflict and, more specifically, an individual school of thought that has dominated Israeli political leadership is tracked in a new edition of Oxford University history professor Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, which was first published in 1999 and covered events through the first 50 years of the state of Israel. Broader than Shlaim’s previous works both in terms of the period of time and the geographical area it covered, it was more of a popular work of history and appealed to a wider audience than just academics. This, combined with the intense interest the Oslo peace process generated in the late 1990s, helped to make it a bestseller. The intense drama inherent to the history of Israel and Shlaim’s flowing narrative style, weaving together a disparate cast of characters and variety of events, are certainly also responsible for its high readability. However, it is the simplicity of its basic argument, and its high explanatory power, that make the book stand out.”

“Shlaim traces the history of the principle of the “iron wall,” an idea seared deep into the Israeli psyche, particularly the political class. The original concept was developed in a 1923 article by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the spiritual father of the Israeli right, and can be summarized as supporting the erection of a figurative iron wall of Jewish military force against the Arabs. Shlaim traces both implicit and explicit reference to this idea throughout Israel’s history, in both words and actions. His strongest argument is that members of the Israeli leadership, with rare exceptions, have misinterpreted the concept, or at least not fully understood it.”…

“At the end of the period covered by the first edition of The Iron Wall the peace process was faltering, with the accession to power of the rightist Benyamin Netanyahu, who reneged on the historic compromise Rabin had struck with the Palestinians and reverted to unilateral action. The book has now received a significant makeover through the updated edition, which contains material from dozens of new publications, in particular memoirs, as well as new archive material.” (read more)

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