Broth­ers at War: Israel and the Tragedy of the Altalena

Jerold S. Auerbach
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
The tragedy of the Altal­e­na affair still hov­ers over Israel more than six decades lat­er, rais­ing vital issues of polit­i­cal legit­i­ma­cy that have yet to be resolved in the Jew­ish state.” Jerold S. Auer­bach, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Welles­ley Col­lege, has com­piled a suc­cinct and inter­est­ing account of this affair as well as its antecedents and long-term affects. 

The book begins with a dis­cus­sion of the ancient roots of Sinat Hinam, the con­cept of base­less or ground­less hatred, that relates to the destruc­tion of the Tem­ple in 70 CE. The Zion­ists drew vital lessons from Jew­ish antiq­ui­ty,” among them the sto­ry of the Zealots and Masa­da. The author argues that the sto­ry of the Altal­e­na, when Jews turned guns on each oth­er, has its echoes in the Bib­li­cal and clas­si­cal past. 

The bulk of the book is tak­en up by the third chap­ter, which details the his­to­ry of the pur­chase of the Altal­e­na and its long cir­cuitous route to France, where it picked up weapons and peo­ple, and thence to Israel. The book then details the well-known sto­ry of the bat­tle that erupt­ed when the boat arrived, after Israeli leader David Ben-Guri­on declared, a polit­i­cal coup is being delib­er­ate­ly aimed against the army.” The event trau­ma­tized the ear­ly state; one poet wrote of broth­ers in arms we dreamt, but encoun­tered the can­non blast.” 

The author com­bines both pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources in this well writ­ten book, one of the only Eng­lish lan­guage accounts devot­ed to this inci­dent. He also pro­vides a chap­ter ana­lyz­ing the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the event. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, photographs.

Seth J. Frantz­man received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem where he cur­rent­ly holds a Post-Doc­tor­al Fel­low­ship. He is a colum­nist for the Jerusalem Post and Fel­low at the Jerusalem Insti­tute of Mar­ket Studies.

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