By Michael Scott-Baumann
Review by Prof. Menachem Klein
The History Press, 2021, hard cover. 258 p. £14.99
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the oldest active national conflict in the world. It has raged without cease since the late 19th Century. The conflict is multi-dimensional and has regional and international consequences. As such, it attracts authors ranging from those documenting personal experiences to military, diplomatic and social historians, as well as to global theory-based perspectives among which settler colonialism is currently popular among social scientists.
The huge library on the conflict and the massive information it contains requires that authors write books that effectively transmit that knowledge to a wide public. This includes books that create order and introduce the subject to high school and university students, an area that has been lacking. Now comes Michael Scott-Baumann, who does just this excellently. His 35 years’ experience as a teacher and lecturer in history is felt on each page of his book. In addition to clarity of style, the author has structured the book so as to introduce the conflict to the general reader.
The book is reader-friendly. It is not long, or heavy. It has a detailed index, a chronology of major events from 1882 to 2021, maps, and a glossary of key terms that the author uses in his text where they are printed in bold letters. Each chapter opens with three-to-four basic questions and ends with personal testimony. For instance, in Chapter Four the author presents the following questions: why did the British decide to withdraw from Palestine? Why did the UN Partition Plan lead to civil war? What caused the exodus of Palestinian Arabs? How and why did Israel win the war of 1948-49? These are basic, factual-based questions fundamental to any discourse on that crucial even, the 1948 war. This chapter sets out both the old and the new-revisionist historians’ answers to those questions. The personal testimony part of this chapter includes Menachem Begin’s writing on the impact of World War Two; the reflections of Mordechai Bar-On, an Israeli officer during that war, and Abu Arab, a 12-year-old refugee from the village of Saffuriyyeh in 1948, now a shopkeeper in Nazareth, recalling his war experience. Thus, unlike books that aim to provide the reader with a complete history of the conflict, Scott-Baumann’s is an appetiser, urging the reader to delve deeper.
The book starts with the origins of the conflict prior to World War One, and ends, in its 10th chapter, on Palestinians and Israelis in the age of Netanyahu, 2009 – 2021. In 10 chapters, each about 20 pages long, including personal testimony, the author encompasses more than 130 years.
Surely, Scott-Baumann faced hard choices as to what to exclude from each chapter. Sometimes the selection raises questions. Also, why does he devote only two pages to Israeli-Palestinian economic relations?
But I guess that these kinds of omissions are unavoidable given the type of book that the author is attempting, and it should be judged for what it aims to do: to provide a road map to students and an entrance gate to whomever wants to go beyond it.
Menachem Klein is professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University. He was an adviser to the Israeli delegation in negotiations with the PLO in 2000 and was one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative. His most recent book is Arafat and Abbas: Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed.