A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Strug­gle for the Mid­dle East, 1914 – 1948

James Barr
  • Review
By – July 23, 2013

Barr’s book on the Anglo-French strug­gle over the Mid­dle East dur­ing 1914 – 1948 is of spe­cial inter­est for those study­ing the his­to­ry of Israel and the Arab-Israeli con­flict, because of the author’s use of new­ly declas­sified doc­u­ments and his view that this rival­ry aggra­vat­ed today’s con­flict between the Arabs and the Jews.” His aim in this work is to show that Britain cre­at­ed the prob­lem in the first place, by enlist­ing the Zion­ists as a way to thwart French ambi­tions in the Mid­dle East. But it was the French who played a vital part in the cre­ation of the state of Israel, by help­ing the Jews orga­nize the wide-scale immigra­tion and dev­as­tat­ing ter­ror­ism that final­ly engulfed the bank­rupt British man­date in 1948.” 

The study is based on exten­sive use of British and French archival sources as well as numer­ous books and arti­cles, but the book’s style is very live­ly and an easy read, avoid­ing aca­d­e­m­ic jar­gon, and using end­notes. The book is divid­ed into four parts: The Carve-up, 1915 – 1919; Inter­war years, 1920 – 1939; The secret war, 1940 – 1945; and Exit, 1945 – 1949. Choos­ing dra­mat­ic chap­ter titles (e.g., Enter T.E. Lawrence”, I Want Mosul”, Revenge! Revenge!”, etc.), Barr leads us through the var­i­ous British nego­ti­a­tions which result­ed in con­flict­ing doc­u­ments dur­ing World War I. He then shows us the var­i­ous ways in which Britain and France achieved their ambi­tions in the region, and the manip­u­la­tions and force which they used for this pur­pose, as well as how Arabs, Druze, and Jews react­ed in order to strength­en their own position. 

Much empha­sis in the last two parts is put on how Britain was help­ing Free French forces dur­ing World War II, yet how the lat­ter, once over­com­ing the Vichy regime, were help­ing the Jews (“Jew­ish ter­ror­ists” is the term often used) in the strug­gle over Pales­tine, in order to weak­en Britain as a region­al pow­er in the Mid­dle East, to coun­ter­act the dete­ri­o­rat­ing posi­tion of France there. While based on an impres­sive amount of pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources, read­ers should be well aware of the author’s goals while read­ing this live­ly book with its dra­mat­ic style. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes, photographs.

Rachel Simon, a librar­i­an at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, does research on Jews in the mod­ern Mid­dle East and North Africa, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to Libya, Ottoman Empire, women, and education.

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