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Review Essay

Anonymous No More

The Real History of Israel's Independence Movement

In This Review

Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917–1947
Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917–1947
By Bruce Hoffman
Knopf, 2015, 640 pp. $35.00 Purchase

Bruce Hoffman does his book something of an injustice with his opening question: “Does terrorism work?” An important topic, no doubt, and the book offers an interesting answer to this query in one particular case, but Anonymous Soldiers is more than another evidentiary brick in the wall of terrorism studies. Rather, it is a major contribution to the historical account of Israel’s founding. Along the way, Hoffman, the director of the Center for Security Studies and director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown, paints a portrait of the United Kingdom as a blundering superpower, one that is at once too hard, too soft, and deeply incompetent at handling an admittedly impossible task.

Hoffman is not merely a gifted writer and a thorough scholar but a dispassionate and insightful student as well. He has sympathy with some of the characters of his tale—the beleaguered Zionist statesman Chaim Weizmann, for example, and the browbeaten British high commissioner and retired general Alan Cunningham. For the most part, however, Hoffman writes his story in an old-fashioned way, neither condemning his subjects nor making excuses for their actions. The result is a magisterial history that is indispensable to anyone wishing to understand how and why the State of Israel came into existence. 

Hoffman argues that the British decision to dissolve the Palestine Mandate resulted chiefly from the successful terrorism campaign waged by the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (National Military Organization, more commonly known as the Irgun) and its more radical offshoot, Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, more commonly known as Lehi or the Stern Gang, after its charismatic founder, Abraham Stern). The Irgun arose in the 1920s as an offshoot of the Haganah paramilitary organization, becoming an independent group by the early 1930s. The Haganah was a semi-covert militia created initially to help defend against Palestinian Arab rioting in the early 1920s, and re-formed in 1929. The group consolidated during the Arab Revolt beginning in 1936, when Britain’s forces were stretched

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