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.