Yigal Allon, Native Son: A Biography

University of Pennsylvania Press  2008


During Israel’s War of Independence, no commander had more consequential successes than Yigal Allon. Yet all the other major military figures of 1948 eclipsed Allon in both military and political life— notably his Palmach counterpart Moshe Dayan, and his protégé Yitzchak Rabin. Anita Shapira aims to restore Allon to the picture. She depicts a figure rooted in the Yishuv, whose instincts and values no longer fit the new era of the state.

The book is anchored by the story of the Palmach in the 1940’s. Shapira describes the many institutional contradictions built into this new regular, mobile armed force, and she puts Allon at the scene of all the major conflicts over the mission and character of the Palmach from its inception to its merging into the IDF. She argues that the outlook of Allon and many others was formed in small settlements, where security and defense were ever-present local issues and where Arabs were often but not always part of the economic life of the village. Thus Allon and the Palmach more generally were a different culture from the political and institutional leadership, who were more rooted in the idealism and ideology of the kibbutz movements, and who thought in terms of the global stage.

Shapira doesn’t illuminate the depths of Allon the man, in his family or military life. Yet her account adds some interesting angles to familiar history. Though most known today for his post-1967 “Allon Plan,” which would have returned much of the West Bank to Arab jurisdiction, Allon advocated the conquest of the West Bank for Israel in 1948. Shapira returns on several occasions to the rivalry between Allon and Dayan in the ‘40s and illuminates the very different leadership styles of the two men. She also discusses Allon’s post-war reflections on the still-controversial operation that led Arabs to leave the Lod-Ramle area en masse. While Shapira’s main analysis of Allon sometimes contradicts itself, she succeeds—as in her earlier work on the Labor Zionist movement—in evoking the texture of the Yishuv and focusing attention on a figure whose significance was far greater than we recall today. Bibliography, index, notes.

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