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The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977

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Remarkably insightful . . . A groundbreaking revision that deserves to reframe the entire debate . . . It soars.--The New York Times Book Review

In The Accidental Empire, Gershom Gorenberg examines the strange birth of the settler movement in the ten years following the Six-Day War and finds that it was as much the child of Labor Party socialism as of religious extremism. The giants of Israeli history--Dayan, Meir, Eshkol, Allon--all played major roles in this drama, as did more contemporary figures like Sharon, Rabin, and Peres. Gorenberg also shows how three American presidents turned a blind eye to what was happening in the territories, and reveals their strategic reasons for doing so.

Drawing on newly opened archives and extensive interviews, Gorenberg calls into question much of what we think we know about this issue that continues to haunt the Middle East.

480 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

Gershom Gorenberg

7 books47 followers
Gershom Gorenberg is a historian and journalist who has been covering Middle Eastern affairs for over 35 years.
His latest book, War of Shadows, began with a conversation in Jerusalem that set off years of searching through archives for long-secret documents, though attics for lost papers, through streets in Cairo, Rome, London - endless days and nights of seeing facts unravel and new ones take shape in place of them, of following one lead to another to find someone who remembered the mysterious woman at Bletchley Park who discovered Rommel's source in British headquarters in Cairo - an obsessive hunt that led to the real story of how the Nazis came within an inch of conquering the Middle East.
Gorenberg was previously the author of three critically acclaimed books - The Unmaking of Israel, The Accidental Empire, and The End of Days – and coauthor of Shalom, Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
Gershom is a columnist for The Washington Post and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect. He has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, the New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and in Hebrew for Haaretz. He will return to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2021 to teach the workshop he created on writing history.
He lives in Jerusalem with his wife, journalist Myra Noveck. They have three children – Yehonatan, Yasmin and Shir-Raz.

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Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews
Profile Image for Robin.
8 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2007
The first third is a bit awkward. It took a while for the writing to become something more than just a vehicle for the listing of events, motives, history, ect., that propelled the first settlements after the Six Days War into existence. It got better. I don't know what or who is worse the secular nationalist/socialist/Zionists or the religious fundamentalist/nationalist/Zionists, but be prepared to finish angry.
Profile Image for Joe Stack.
678 reviews4 followers
June 23, 2021
This is a comprehensive, thoroughly detailed, multi-layered history of the Israeli settlements in occupied land. Sometimes the detail was too much, slowing down the narrative or created a brain fog, but the detail is necessary for the reader to understand and appreciate the complexity of the settlement movement. The settlements issue is not a simple one. It's complicated, affecting not just the Arabs who were being displaced, but all of Israel's neighbors, the U.S., and all the factions (political, military, religious, secularists, Zionists, etc.) within Israel. At the beginning, settlements were basically not in the picture, and at the end of this period, the settlements issue contributes to the toppling of Labor.

There is a large cast of individuals in this narrative. The first person accounts by settlers and other individuals who are not the historical figures, such as Dayan, Meir, & Sharon, gives this history more depth in revealing how the settler movement rose from the interplay of Labor Party socialism and religious extremism resulting in Israel slipping into the building of settlements in occupied lands.

The parts of this history that were, for this reader, the most riveting were the chapters on the 1967 War and its aftermath (how it affected the politics, and vision of the leaders and the public) and the Yom Kipper War and its aftermath (how it affected the politics, and vision of the leaders and the public).

This is a history of intended and unintended consequences, and of plenty of missed opportunities for peace, both by the Israelis and her foes.
29 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2009
I don't really know what to think of this book. It was interesting and painted a good picture of the origins of the settlement movement and why it wasn't stopped. Also it allows many parallels between the beginnings and what followed, specifically in the 21st century (which the author speaks to in the epilogue).

I have a couple of complaints that kept it from being a really good book though. One is that for a book that relies heavily on geography there is a dearth of maps (from my count there was only 1). Also the author seemed to jump around too much for my taste. I would have preferred that he go a bit more in depth on the few more of the symbolic settlements (he did on 1 or 2) instead of giving a little bit of information on most of them.

The high praise for this book from the likes of Michael Oren and Dennis Ross had me excited to read it, but it didn't quite live up to the lofty expectations.
4 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2009
Thorough, sobering, highly informative, and excellently written account of just how Israel let the settlement movement happen. Struck me as quite balanced.
Profile Image for Farrah.
27 reviews
March 27, 2011
Brilliant. The best book about Israel that I have ever read.
Profile Image for Matthew Petti.
54 reviews
April 28, 2021
Gorenberg is a great journalist-historian who tracks the growth of Israel's settlements through interviews and archival documents alike. The Israeli left and right both supported settlement because it was baked into Israel's founding, but the project was gradually taken over by the right.

Leftists imagined they could settle a limited amount of land with kibbutzes — just like their parents had — and trade away the rest for peace. Right-wingers, however, saw plenty of nationalistic and religious reasons to go for the whole thing. And when push came to shove, the left didn't really have a good argument for why they supported some settlement but not all the way.

Ultimately there is a cautionary tale for Democrats here. You have to stand for things and oppose things clearly. If you pretend to be for the same things as hardliners, but in a more moderate way, then a lot of people will just go with the hardliners — they're offering a more muscular version of what everyone "agrees" is good.
16 reviews
May 10, 2021
Excellent book that covers a critical period of Israel's history post Six-Day War and the beginnings of the settlement movement, starting in the secular, leftist camp (championed by Peres) and ending with religious, right-wing groups. The trajectory of this conflict seems to have been etched into its DNA, yet also seems strangely random.
567 reviews
January 24, 2021
Not completed. Well written and detailed - too detailed for me at this time. This would be great for someone who wanted to immerse into the minute by minute play of this time and events.
Profile Image for Benjamin.
20 reviews
December 31, 2014
I found this book very good. Unlike other reviewers I have a grasp of Judea and Samaria geography so the lack of maps didn't bother me.
Sometimes the narrative was too contrived and dry, as if the author was merely narrating history and its actors, but other times it was as if he was shedding light in very unknown yet important parts of Israel history.
My main reason to read this book though, is my main criticism against it: I wanted to understand how life really is in settlement-cities like Maale Adumim and Ariel, what kind of social and economic dynamics exist between Kyriat Arba and Hebron, what culture these settlements developed and how was the period when Begin rose to power. Sadly none of these was answered, only what context brought them.
While the author spends entire chapters in a single government of Rabin, he skim through all right wing governments as if they were an historical mistake not worth talking about. Ariel is mentioned only once in a brief passage, although it has the biggest university in Israel and one of the best documented attempts to settle land with a planned city. Maale Adumim is mentioned 3 or 4 times, but you can't understand what is happening. Were the houses already finished? Is it a ghost town? Who went to live there? Is it only a suburb? What so called and so mentioned industries are there? As again, it is as if the author speaks from the point of view of a Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem journalist who doesn't consider this world as worth of analysis or prose. Only the birth of it and the implications it had on politics is what matter. There is no discussion if Oslo accords were worth it, or if the land for peace mindset is a failure.
The sensation is that the book finished abruptly, as if he was tired of writing about the topic, leaving the most important settlement narrative, the one under Begin and Shamir outside.
87 reviews12 followers
February 15, 2010
Informative, but loses because there are no accompanying maps of Israel - Palestine or the Allon Plan, which is cited throughout. A good critical look at the beginning of the settlement movement, but a terribly misleading title, which makes me suspect that the author was afraid of what the reaction to his book might be. Follows individuals but doesn't give a good overall picture of the major settlements, and only spends a few paragraphs in the epilogue talking about the current manifestation of the settlements as commuter cities. Though seemingly balanced, does not do a good job talking about how the settlements constrict Palestinian movement.

Overall a good read, but I suggest further reading to round out what you might be missing as you go through Accidental Empire.
61 reviews5 followers
April 13, 2008
I got this because Amazon reccomended getting it with 1967. Good call Amazon. Interesting additional take on a very complex & troubling issue & gives a sort of follow on to what has happened since the '67 war. If you have already made up your mind about who is in the right & who is in the wrong in the Occupied Territories/Judea & Samaria, don't bother, but if you want to run the risk of actually LEARNING something, give it a try.
Profile Image for Daniel Frank.
265 reviews34 followers
May 10, 2016
Religious devotion, pioneering kibbutzniks, security concerns, incompetence - as Gorenberg correctly points, make up the primary factors for the birth of the settlement craze.

I wish the book was less a point by point recap of history (often, not about the settlements even), and more describing the zeitgeist of the time.
48 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2012
I read this soon after it was published in 2007 and couldn't help but think of it in recent weeks. Not sure how one wins the struggle against "their" religious extremists by further empowering "our" religious extremists...seems a little more sensible to stand against all religious extremists!
Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews

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