Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel
Allen Lane, pp.606
If books about the Israeli-Arab conflict were building blocks, the Palestinians would have their own state already and then some.
Most volumes bring little that is fresh or challenging, so selectivity is key. Daniel Gordis and Benny Morris are essential, Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev unavoidable. Take time on unsexy stylists like Mustafa Kabha or Anita Shapira; they will reward you. Anything by John Pilger or Ilan Pappé should be tossed aside like an iffy shawarma wrap, and for the same reason.
Disconcertingly, Ian Black defies this framework. Enemies and Neighbours, his history of a century of blossoming and bloodshed in the Holy Land, is not revelatory and yet it is quietly compelling. No major paradigms are exploded and few minds will be changed, but it merits close reading for its rich detail and rare subtlety.
Black, former Middle East editor of the Guardian, takes as his linchpin the British government’s declaration, made in a letter from the foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, that ministers ‘view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object’. The undertaking, although not as comprehensive as the Zionists had hoped, nonetheless recognised Jewish national rights in the Land of Israel. To the Arabs it was a double betrayal, lending an imprimatur to a usurping movement and pledging to their enemies territory already sworn to them. This ‘twice-promised land’ has not known peace since.