Israel: A History

Ani­ta Shapira

By – December 18, 2012

In Israel: A His­to­ry Ani­ta Shapi­ra attempts to cre­ate an acces­si­ble one-vol­ume his­to­ry of the mod­ern state of Israel, begin­ning, as one must, in the year 1881.

Most gen­er­al his­to­ries are stymied by too many facts. They roll from fact to fact and­del­uge their read­ers with an over­whelm­ing amount of detail that, while impor­tant, is too dry to enjoy and elim­i­nates any pathos or real dis­cus­sion of the sig­nif­i­cance of the topics.

Shapi­ra bril­liant­ly weaves togeth­er her his­tory of Israel. She may be the nar­ra­tor, but she allows his­to­ry and his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters — lead­ers and the peo­ple — to speak for themselves.

In a way, this his­to­ry reads like a nov­el and is as com­pelling as a mys­tery. Any read­er to pick up this work knows how it ends. And yet, through her mas­tery of the sub­ject mat­ter and her pas­sion for the his­to­ry, Shapi­ra sus­tains her read­ers’ inter­est as she takes them along a road full of twists of des­tiny that unfold in the mirac­u­lous sto­ry called Israel.

Shapria specif­i­cal­ly did not want to write a his­to­ry that went from war to war, which is the way the his­to­ry of Israel is usu­al­ly recount­ed. Shapi­ra lays out a chrono­log­i­cal tale and while she can­not help but deal with the wars, the work does not devolve into a his­to­ry of the wars that Israel fought. The book becomes as much a his­to­ry of why the wars were fought as what hap­pened between the wars.

In short, this is a tru­ly cre­ative and excit­ing his­to­ry of Israel.

Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

Discussion Questions

  • Does Israel: A His­to­ry focus more on the cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal or mil­i­tary aspects of Israel’s past?

  • Is the Zion­ist ide­ol­o­gy described in the first chap­ter of Israel: A His­to­ry applic­a­ble to Israel’s sit­u­a­tion today? What do you sup­pose Theodor Her­zl would do if he were Israel’s cur­rent prime minister?

  • Did the mass immi­gra­tion that took place in the 1950’s strength­en or ulti­mate­ly hurt Israel?

  • In light of what Pro­fes­sor Shapi­ra writes about the chang­ing atti­tudes of Dias­po­ra Jews, does it seem like Jews out­side Israel will care more or less about Israel’s wel­fare in the com­ing years?

  • Is Pro­fes­sor Shapi­ra mak­ing any over-arch­ing argu­ment con­cern­ing Israel, or is Israel: A His­to­ry a pure­ly objec­tive sur­vey? Stat­ed oth­er­wise, does Pro­fes­sor Shapi­ra appear to take a spe­cif­ic posi­tion on Israel, and if so, what is it?

  • Which U.S. Pres­i­dents were most sym­pa­thet­ic to Israel? Which were the least? Which U.S. Pres­i­dents’ actions result­ed in the most good for Israel? The least?

  • Look­ing at Chap­ter 13 of Israel: A His­to­ry, could the Six-Day War have been avoid­ed? What had each side gained and lost by the end of it? Con­sid­er the same ques­tions about the Yom Kip­pur War (Chap­ter 15).

  • Is the growth of sec­u­lar­ism some­thing that should be resist­ed or allowed to hap­pen in Israel today? Accord­ing to Israel: A His­to­ry have sec­u­lar influ­ences done Israel more harm or good over the years?
  • Which Israeli Prime Min­is­ters were most will­ing to com­pro­mise with Israel’s ene­mies? The least?

  • Does Israel: A His­to­ry seem ulti­mate­ly opti­mistic about Israel’s future? Did you feel hope­ful or wor­ried after fin­ish­ing the book?