Review: The Story Of Israel From Theodor Herzl To The Roadmap For Peace

By Colin Shindler, May 23, 2008

By Martin Gilbert
Carlton Books, £30

This celebratory book, covering events from the endeavours of Herzl to the erection of the separation barrier, is all of 64 pages long. Yet it is replete with maps, detachable posters, illustrations and pull-out facsimile documents. It tells the remarkable story of Israel’s 60 years — an achievement recognised in the Arab world and beyond.

Sir Martin Gilbert’s expertise in producing popular books for the general reader is certainly up to scratch in this stunning publication. It certainly is a worthy teaching tool for schools. The pull-out imitation of Herzl’s diary would alone be interesting for students of the German language.

Flying the flag with posters

Gilbert also includes the last letter of 22-year-old, British-born Esther Cailingold, written as she lay dying in a Jordanian field hospital: “I have tasted hell, but it has been worthwhile, because I am convinced that the end will see a Jewish state and all our longings. I have lived my life fully, and very sweet it has been in our land.” Such were the idealism and hopes of 1948.

There is a spread devoted to the Soviet Jewish exodus, depicting such heroes as Natan Sharansky and Ida Nudel as well as a wonderful photograph of a 1970s refusenik demonstration in Moscow.

Several pages bring back the trauma of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, following a campaign of incitement by the far right. Contrasting photographs of the Peace Now demonstration before the killing, the drawn faces of the assembled dignitaries next to the coffin and ordinary citizens lighting yahrzeit (memorial) candles bring home the terribly poignant quality of that time.

Little is said about the Palestinians. There are few black spots in this book. As Israel moves forward, Palestine has stood tragically still. Too many plans have been buried in the cemetery of good intentions and the conflict continues, unabated. 

Most Jews believe Israel is at the forefront of Jewish history. Martin Gilbert’s short work vividly encapsulates that belief.

Colin Shindler’s History of Modern Israel has just been published by Cambridge University Press

Last updated: 3:17pm, February 18 2011