Sir Jason honors the Round Table with this intriguing review of
by Larry Colins and Dominique
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king-Fellowship of
"They have taken crafty counsel against Thy people,
and consulted against Thy hidden ones
They have said, "Come let us cut them off from
being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no
more in rememberence."...The tabernacles of
Edom and the Ishmaelites; of Moab and the
They are still there. Wrecks in the desert, wrecked trucks, wrecked pickups, wrecks of any vehicle that the ingenuity of desperation could obtain. Preserved as a memorial like the crosses in Flander's Fields. Wrecks marking the road to Jerusalem, marking the price that was paid. The price that is still being paid. The wrecks that once carried their cargo to save the beleagured city. Cargos of food, cargos of arms which were then as valuable as food. And both more valuable than gold. And as the wrecks indicate, more valuable than life. But then life was at a cheap price then. And Jerusalem was selling at a premium.
Few of them pondered that at the time. When the news came it was a time for joy and dancing in the streets. A miracle had occured. For the first time in thousands of years there was a Jewish state. The subjugated were restored to the throne of their fathers. The conquered were to become the conquerors. But mixed with the joy was sorrow. The world might cheer with them (the same world that had spat upon them a few years ago).
However the world was to weary itself to give help. If there was to be a Jewish state the Jews would have to prove their right to it. And in an age proud of it's technical achievement, the test chosen would be the oldest and most primative of all. In 1947-1948 few gamblers except the quixotic and sentimental would have placed a wager on the Jews. Everything seemed to be in the Arabs favor. The Arabs had more firepower, and greater numbers. And yet it was the intangibles that would decide the issue of the War of Independance. The Arabs were not ready. The Arabs hadn't the slightest idea that they would need to be ready. They really expected a pogram rather than a war. Their armies, even the proud Arab Legion, were really constabularies more suited to chasing rustlers than to subjugating the desperate and fierce. In
Palestine itself the Arabs had neglected to form an organization, or even a proper political lobby. If they had done the later their rights would have been
protected. Unfortunately, they refused all compromise and appealed to the "judgment of Mars". As many had before they would find his judgments harsh. As the saying goes "Woe to the Vanquished".
The Jews by contrast had been preparing for years. Zionism was one of the few successful social experimentation projects. It had taken tradesmen, artisans, scholars, even refugees from the corners of the world and taught them how to be yeomen and warriors. It had taught city folk how to dig in the soil, and how to rush to the barricades at a signal. Or how to go into the night pursuing bandits. And they had among them men who had known the battlefields of Europe, where Westerner fought Westerner, where weeks could go by of continuous battle. In the Middle East war was camel rustling. This kind of thing was new here . It was one of the great ironies of the Zionists that if they revived Israel they also revived those who had once scattered them. If Zionism was the rebirth of Israel it was also the rebirth of Rome.
They also had a thing that the Arabs could not comprehend. Organization. For fifty years they had been preparing a state that would take the placewithout a heartbeat when the British left. Prowess will win a battle. War needs dilligence, patience, and even humility-the willingness to do seemingly degrading things for the cause. Most prosaic of all it needs money. The Jews did not have arms. But(as every anti-semite knows) they most definitely had money. Money to purchase arms, money to inspire the idealistic, when required money to bribe the greedy. And they had knowledge, the knowledge of how to marshal what resources they had. The Jews had never had a modern state but they knew what it took to make one. Money is power and knowledge is power and the Jews had both. But money and knowledge must go together. The Arabs had money too, perhaps more than the Jews. But they did not know how to use it. The Jews did.
The effects were seen right away. When the British left the Arab areas a power vacuum took place. Those petty functions which make up a modern society crumbled. Mail was not delivered, electricity went down. Worst of all emergency services crumbled. In the Jewish areas these things did not happen. The Jews had been managing those functions all that time anyway. All that was needed was to go through the formalities.
Finally, the Jews had one advantage the Arabs didn't. Motivation. Arabs are stereotyped as fanatical. At that time fanaticism was more on the Jewish side. Not the fanaticism of ideology so much as the fanaticism of desperation. The Arabs had again and again made bloodthirsty speeches as was their wont. They never stopped to think that they might actually be taken
seriously. As the Arabs advanced every village captured had to be payed for, every house, every street, every room. Every man had a weapon, almost every woman. Today we normally associate "suicide missions" with the Arabs. In those days it was rarely but not unknown for immigrants to be grabbed straight off their ships, given rifles and sent into the slaughter. When the road was finally cut by the Arabs the Jews would carry food around the roadblock, sometimes by porter. It has been said that the Arabs proclaimed a holy war but the Jews fought one.
So it was. Zionism is a mixture of ancient Jewish identity and modern nationalism. The Arabs fought for religion, for hatred, for plunder, for politics and sometimes because they had nothing better to do. Their identity was more to the tribe then to the nation, they were divided and incoherant. The Jews also fought for religion. But they were also fighting for national survival, the way the Briton, the Russian, the Finn, even the German had fought just a few years before.
In an ironic way the War of Independance is proof that love is stronger then hate. And the desire to live stronger then the desire to destroy. Ironically it was those among the Arabs that knew that best that proved most effective. King Abdullah of Jordan knew the Jews better then his fellows, and desired to live at peace. But he was pushed by his fellows, and more creditably by the fear that the Arab section of Jerusalem would fall. The pragmatic soldier of fortune John Glubb, father of the Arab Legion, knew what would happen to his beloved bedouin army if he
tried to face desperate and vengeful folk in the alleyways of Jerusalem. The land did not hold the same meaning to him as it did to others. His pride and joy was the Legion. But he was a good soldier and he followed orders. Originally the orders were to make a show. But his men were more enthusiastic then he. And the Legion, the gallant unlucky, marched into it's finest momment into the streets of the city and enacted an irony that has been seen elsewhere. For
while the boastful and braggart fled before the vengeful Jews, ultimately it was the cool professional Legion that was the only ones to stand. And in that tormented city, two traditions of warfare met face to face. The Jewish citizen-soldiers and the professional Arab Legion stood there and fought for weeks on end. And neither gave place. And when it was finally done
the ceace-fire line was drawn to mark how the Legion had stood where lesser men had feared to go.
O Jerusalem, tells of the war. It tells of the ingenuity of the Jewish gun-runners and ad-hoc arms makers. Of cruelties like the vicious mutual terrorism that so marked that war. Of tragic moments like the Arab who stood in the firing line only to discover that his fiancee was across from him, pointing a rifle at him. Or of the children who threw stones at each other imitating their parents hatreds. Of friendships split and loyalty divided. And once or twice a humorous moment as when some hungry Yeshiva students-turned-soldiers went a-foraging and found in
the ruins piles of bottles which they innocently drank-only to be found by their officer stone drunk.
Other tales include the Jewish commander at Jerusalem. An irreligious man and a classic European aesthetiscist, fond of fine wines and fine living, he yet took the time to set aside a lamb to sacrifice at the hoped for momment when he should take the Temple Mount. Or Tal the Arab commander in Jerusalem. An enthusiastic Arabist he yet retained enough
perspective to abide by his professional-soldier chivalry. And in his joy at repulsing the final
attack on the Arab quarter he was able to have pity on his enemies failure. And the meeting between Shaltiel and Tal who without question respected each other's word even in such a vicious war.
O Jerusalem is a dramatic book and well worth the read. It is a reminder of the birth pangs of a nation.
Sir Jason the Royal Reviewer