Alex Rose
Alex Rose

Two Books and a Few Reviews

“The Arabs in Palestine would never be a minority as they were part of the Arab World—-” David [Ben Gurion]”that man sitting next to Knesset  Member Bader” [David Ben-Gurion, referring to Begin on  numerous occasions]

Tom Segev’s “A state at any cost: The life and legacy of David Ben-Gurion” was published on September 24, 2019 and from the standpoint of the present day American democracy, has definite relevance. So does Jillian Becker’s, 2014 “The PLO – The rise and fall of the Palestinian Liberation organization”. Both authors are Jewish. Segev, born and raised in Israel, Becker born in South Africa, lived in England and is currently resident in the US.

One has to wonder the need for yet another biography on Ben-Gurion. Segev’s effort is highly acclaimed. Renowned historian David Pryce-Jones Nov. 2019 review entitled,”Ben-Gurion’s  Reality “is highly complementary. Given his 1989 superb, “The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs” described by Elie Kedourie as making “senses of, a bewildering and seemingly kaleidoscope”, his detailed review speaks volumes for Segev’s work.

Francine Klagsbrun’s New York Times review of Sept. 25, 2019, has a rather apt title, “Israel’s First Prime Minister Was Complicated. So is This Book About his Life.” Having read the book, I am inclined to agree with her fully.

The London Review of Books published, “We Are Conquerors” by Adam Shatz on October 24, 2019. This is undoubtedly the most detailed review. From it, we learn the following.

*David Ben-Gurion , the founder of the state of Israel, was brooding, explosive, often on the verge of collapse: every obstacle he faced was a ‘catastrophe’. He dabbled in mysticism, consulted fortune-tellers, claimed to see flying saucers, and lived according to his whims. At one point he went on an unannounced holiday from his duties as prime minister to take driving lessons on the French Riviera; on another occasion, he spent a week studying Buddhism in Burma, and tried to persuade his teachers that he’d stumbled on a contradiction in their doctrine no one else had unearthed. He offered the presidency to Einstein who didn’t live in Israel  or speak Hebrew.

Segev is inclined to fill many pages with “lashon hara” while condensing major segments of history. As one works through 600 pages laboriously, one gains a perspective of Ben-Gurion being bipolar. A consideration of a few quotes supports this belief.

* Ben Gurion referred to Weitzmann”loathsome carrion” and” a trampled corpse”,

*”Blessed be the canon that bombed that ship” [Ben Gurion about the Altelena]

* Ben-Gurion likened Begin to Hitler and called his followers “Nazi -Jews”.

* Ben Gurion stated that “Israel is a Jewish Ghetto with a modern army.”

By way of illustrating a severe condensation of history, one can examine the following:

[a]Chapter 15 on the “season”, pages 365- 387

On Monday, July 22,1946, more than 90 people were killed when a bomb went off in the southern wing of the King David Hotel. Most of the dead were Britons, Jews and Arabs. Lehi on Nov. 1940 assassinated Lord Moyne [P381/2]  followed by “Saison” – the Hunting Season – 700 names handed over to the British plus 300 people arrested. In July 1945 Etzel and Lehi joined together, and blew up a railroad bridge. Both organizations also held talks with the Hagana. BG introduced the Hunting Season with the words, “either terror or an organized labor movement.” Oct. 1945 Jewish Resistance  Movement born.[382/3]

In Mid-June 1946, Etzel operators abducted 5 British officers in response to a death sentence the British had imposed on 2 of its men. [P384] On June , 29, 1946, the British sent, 17,000 troupes on a search and seize operation aimed at crushing the Jewish Resistance Movement. This included arresting several Jewish Agency leaders, among them Moshe Sharett, Yitzhak Gruenbaum, and David Ramez. The Jews called the operation the Black Sabbath. Ben Gurion, then in Paris, was at the top of the British wanted list.[385]

To be able to carry on his work, Ben-Gurion had to place the full blame on Begin, and this is what he did. Page  [P387]

[b]Chapter 17 on the Altelena, pages 430 – 433 and P435].

“The effort to save Jerusalem would lose  the rest of the country, ” Ben Gurion claimed. [P430]

During the cease-fire, a ship carrying several hundred immigrants  and a large quantity of arms and ammunition approached the country’s shores. Its name was the Altelena, Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s pen name: it arrived under the auspices of Etzel. The [sad] story began on the day after the Declaration of Independence, when Begin proposed to sell  the boat to the government. The deal did not go through, but in the weeks that followed, negotiations were held with Begin over the allocation of arms the ship would bring – 80% for the IDF, 20% for Etzel in Jerusalem.[P432]

The negotiations reached an impasse just a few hours before the ship arrived, Ben Gurion said, ” I am prepared to act and that means to shoot”, but he was willing to do so only with the Cabinet’s approval. The ship first anchored across from Kfar Vitkin. A web of contacts attempting to resolve the problem failed and shots were exchanged.  Passengers were removed, as were most of the arms. Begin boarded and the ship set sail  for Tel Aviv

At 2:00 a.m., Ben-Gurion was waken and informed of the fact. “It is an attempt to destroy the army.[432]  It is an attempt  to murder the state.” He told his ministers that there had been dead and wounded on both sides in the exchange of fire on the beach at Kfar Vitkin. Yadin drafted an order for military action against “the enemy” as he called the ship. The aim was “unconditional  surrender, by all means and by all methods.”[432]

Yitzhak Rabin commanded  the operation itself. “Jews shooting Jews for many hours, Jews wounded and killed by the bullets of other Jews”. Ben- Gurion wrote “Day of Etzel—-the ship is in flames.” [P433] The morning after the attack on the Altelena, he said, “Blessed is the cannon  that bombed that ship. The cannon is worthy of standing in the Temple if it gets built.” [P435]

[c]Chapter23 on the Lavon Affair, pages 615 – 621

In the first years after his return from Sde Boker, Ben-Gurion managed to take his distance  from the collapse of the Israeli spy ring in Egypt. On May,1960 Lavon  learnt that an officer from the IDF intelligence  had lied to the Olshan -Dori committee that had been set up to investigate the affair. He claimed that Lavon had given the order , and backed up his testimony with forged documents . Lavon immediately went to see the Prime Minister and Defense Minister.

Ben -Gurion  ordered a thorough inquiry and on the basis of its findings forced Gibli out of the army. Lavon was not satisfied. He demanded that Ben-Gurion clear his name by issuing a statement  that he had been accused falsely. [P622] Ben-Gurion rejected his demand. His reply “Lavon did not give an explicit order  to Gibli to carry out the “nasty  business”, but  spoke to him in a way that led Gibli to presume that that was the Defense Minister’s will.

Ben Gurion told Lavon, “I never accused you, and if others did so, I am not a judge who can acquit you .” [P623]

For comparison of the given important subjects, in the same order, consider the following detailed versions:

[a] “Brothers at War” by Jerold S. Auerbach; “Determined that his own policy must prevail, Ben-Gurion launched the notorious “Saison”, the hunting season, to pursue and arrest Irgun leaders. It was necessary to act, he asserted, “not jus t to talk.” The Season triggered what Begin described as “an all out crusade by Haganah and the Jewish Agency for our destruction ” [4 Chapters]

“The Revolt” by Menachem Begin “To avoid bloody civil war at all costs- this principle, tempered in the sufferings of the ‘season’, we observed later—“[P154].”In Eretz Israel, the hounding of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, which would neither surrender nor retaliate, went on.”Ben Gurion drafted his “4 point plan for the liquidation of the terror.'[P146] Menachem Begin, “The British Government never again whipped anybody, neither Jew or Arab, in Eretz Israel.[P234]” Further, “Our decision was clear from the moment the shadow of the gallows began to loom over us.”At the 3rd night watch, they clasped each other in a last brotherly embrace, placed the grenade between their  hearts, released  the pin, and squeezed [P274]—-.

Menachem Begin continues, “As it is human to believe that ‘everything, will be alright’, rather than to face the facts with open eyes, there is a danger that hands will be palsied, and that when the decisive events overtake us we shall be unprepared ,morally, in organization, and in equipment, to meet them.”

[b] “Days of Fire – the secret of the making of Israel” by Samuel Katz. “After the terrible events of the past 2 days, with the Altelena and its cargo destroyed, with 16 of his young comrades dead and scores wounded, exhausted, physically and nerves strained to breaking point, he [Begin] was obsessed  with one thought: the truth must be told for the people to realize the magnitude of the crime committed not only against the Irgun, but against the  security of the people.”  [2 Chapters]

[c] “The Iron Wall – Israel and the Arab World” by Avi Shlaim.”The order to attack was given by the acting Defense Minister, Pinhas Lavon, following the murder of an Israeli mother and her 2 children by infiltrators  who had crossed the armistice line near Qibya.”[October 1953] Ben Gurion was against admitting that the IDF carried out the action and proposed issuing a statement to say that it was the irate Israeli villagers whose patience had been exhausted by the endless murders who took the law into their own hands. This was not Ben-Gurion’s 1st lie for what he saw as the good of his country, nor was it to be the last, but it was the most blatant.” [Chapters 5,6,7]

As a contrast to “A state at  any cost”, Jillian Becker’s 1984, “The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestinian Liberation” is rather enlightening. The subject author has an entirely different background to Tom Segev. She is best known internationally as a writer, researcher and an authority on the subject of terrorism, born in South Africa, on June 2, 1932, daughter of prominent Dr. Bernard Friedman a South African surgeon  and politician who co-founded the anti-apartheid Progressive Party. Her paper is neatly packaged in chronological order, Part 1:1915 to 1948, Part2:1964 to 1967, Part 3:1968 to 1970, Part 4, Part 5:1968 to 1976, Part 6:1976 to 1982, Part 7: 1982 and after. The summary:

The Palestinian Liberation organization was created by the Arab states as a weapon against Israel, but most of its victims have been Arabs. In Jordan, it established itself as a rival power to the state and was forcibly expelled. Its building of an army up in Lebanon led to civil war and Israel military intervention until it was again expelled in June 1982.

In 1982 and 1983, the author took herself into the midst of war to write this book, journeying for many days on roads known to be mined and ambushed, spent nights in rooms with glassless windows while shells exploded on all sides, and explored the ruins of PLO strong holds in the wake of bombardments, in order to find documents, testimony and clues of all kinds to the history of the organization. She interviewed members of the many different sides involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The result is a powerful book which explains the structure, aims, tactics and role in Middle Eastern and world politics of the PLO.

Daniel Pipes review of the subject book closely resembles that of this writer. He says, “On one level, Jillian Becker  successfully achieves her aim in the PLO. The book provides  a straightforward , factual survey of the PLO’s remarkably extensive activities from its founding in January, 1964 to late 1983.

Miss Becker captures the organization’s frenetic pace during those years: its involvement in inter-Arab politics, the challenges it directed to established Arab governments, its role in the founding of contemporary  terrorism and as the linchpin of an international terrorist network, its close relations with the Soviet Union, the crisis it provoked between the United States  and Israel, its long period of control over southern Lebanon, its impact on politics in Israel. Becker’s accomplishment, and the power of her book, lie in this fast paced, cogent, accurate and full account of the PLO’s far raging record.”

Jillian Becker clearly abhors the PLO, and her book is intended as a monument to its evil and turning public opinion against the PLO. “It is in this regard that MS. Becker’s work does not succeed – in large part because she ignores the audience she should be addressing.” Earlier in the paper, Jillian Becker states that, “President Nasser of Egypt  invented the idea of the PLO and persuaded the Arab League to bring it into existence.” This is the most common belief.

However, there are others who believe that the PLO originated through Soviet efforts. A few opinion pieces testify to this. e.g.:

* Soviet Russia, the creator of the PLO and the Palestinians by Wallace Edward Brand.[]

*Tablet – The Cold War’s Arab Spring: How the Soviets created Today’s Middle East by Clair Berlinski.

* Wall Street Journal – The Arafat I knew by Ion Mihai Pacepa.

*Ynet – The KGB’s Middle East Files: Palestinians in the service of mother Russia by Ronen Bergman.

No matter, as long as Israeli officials and other Jewish leaders harp on the infamous “Two State Solution” as opposed to the rightful Jewish claims to our being the only indigenous Land of Israel populous , no progress will evolve.


About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.