Courtesy Reuters

State of Grace? Rethinking Israel's Founding Myths

In This Review

Israel: A History

By Martin Gilbert
William Morrow, 1998
748 pp. $30.00

Israel's first 50 years, friends and foes would have to agree, have been extraordinary. No state of equivalent size -- indeed, few states of any size -- have as consistently commanded world attention. Israel has been involved in almost every type of U.N. activity, beginning with the 1947 U.N. Special Committee on Palestine, followed in November of that year by the General Assembly resolution calling for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. From 1948 on, actions or reactions by Israel have produced cease-fire regimes, truce supervisions, refugee administration, and mediation efforts by U.N. secretaries-general, special envoys, or multiparty conferences. Israel has even been singled out in the infamous 1975 General Assembly resolution depicting Zionism as "a form of racism," repealed only in December 1991 in the wake of the Gulf War.

Israel's first 50 years have brought six wars: the 1948-49 War of Independence, the Suez war of 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, the 1969-70 War of Attrition, the October (Yom Kippur or Ramadan) 1973 war, and Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. These wars set in motion some of the most important and dangerous Cold War confrontations, including a limited U.S. nuclear alert during the 1973 fighting.

In May 1948 Israel had a tiny population of some 650,000 Jews. Even with the impressive ninefold increase over the following 50 years, its present 5.4 million inhabitants (almost 20 percent of them Arabs) give Israel the modest world population ranking of 200th. Not including the occupied territories, Israel is about the size of New Jersey, ranking 152nd. Yet this small state fought a tank battle against Egypt in 1973 that was larger than all but one of the World War II battles between those two behemoths, Germany and the Soviet Union.

In 50 years Israel has become a dominant Middle Eastern power, the only regional nuclear power, and the close ally of the world's sole remaining superpower. Since the June 1967 war, Israel has been engaged in a military occupation over Palestinian Arabs. Israel seemed like it might get out of

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