Israel: A History
by Anita Shapira, translated by Anthony Berris,
(Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2012) pp. 502.

Reviewed by Prof. Wyndham E. Whynot, Professor of History and Political Science, Livingstone College, Salisbury, NC.

Since the Jewish Diaspora of the first and second centuries spread them throughout Europe, Asia, and elsewhere, the Jewish people have often hoped for a land where they could practice their beliefs, traditions, and customs for centuries. Anita Shapira’s book not only provides an analysis of the historical process leading up to the foundation of the modern state of Israel, but also a history of the nation since its founding until 2000.

Divided into five chronological sections, the first two parts examine the rise of the Zionist movement among the Jewish communities and Palestine during the British Mandate era. The latter three sections focus on Israeli history in three distinct periods: 1948-1967, 1967-1977, and 1977-2000. Rather than presenting a nationalistic, “Israel, right-or-wrong” view of the country’s history, Shapira discusses the policies and actions of Israel that have been criticized by other nations and observers. Without neglecting Israel’s military history, in both its triumphs and its defeats, much of this work focuses on the impact of Zionism and the domestic and social history of Israel.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Zionism became a growing movement within the Jewish community; however, as the author notes, not all Jews viewed this movement as beneficial. Secular and religious Jews had different views, while Herzl (the father of Zionism) saw the rise of anti-Semitism as requiring only one response: an independent nation where Jews could practice their religion and live their lives according to their own ideas. Shapira notes that even the idea of regaining Palestine was not necessarily the only option, as suggestions for establishing a Jewish state in Africa were also considered.

As Jews in the Diaspora eventually embraced an ideal of a Jewish state, some more quickly than others, the idea of returning to the Promised Land of Palestine became more ingrained within the Jewish consciousness. The author discusses the gradual build-up of a Jewish population in Palestine, from during the Ottoman and British Mandate periods. Shapira notes that Arabs, Ottomans, and the British all made attempts to limit Jewish immigration.

Much of Shapira’s focus during the book is on the various aliya or immigration waves that populated Palestine and Israel. She discusses the demographics of the various waves, noting that ethnic, geographic, and social aspects of immigrant groups played a role in how Israel came to be populated.