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Book Review

Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel

By Stephen Green.
New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1984. 370 pp. $14.95

Reviewed by Donald Neff

January 23, 1984, Page 7 There is probably no area in the world of comparable size that has been the subject of so many studies, commissions, reports, scholarly dissertations and journalistic articles as Palestine. There are literally hordes of basic and reliable (and some not so reliable) data about Palestine readily available in archives and libraries throughout the U.S., and especially in the Presidential libraries which harbor the raw reports and communications of America's diplomats. Beyond that, there is a mountain of generally reliable reports undertaken by the U.N., the archives of the British Mandate and endless biographies and memoirs left by the colorful parade of characters who have trod the ancient land. Yet, with all this, the history of the emergence of the State of Israel in Palestine remains shrouded in myth and misinformation.

Myth and Reality

Now, with the publication of Stephen Green's engrossing and illuminating book, the gap between myth and reality is decisively narrowed in a number of areas. Taking Sides is a tautly written, carefully researched expose of some of the greater myths surrounding Israel. One reason why those myths have continued to be perpetuated into the present is revealed by Green at the beginning of his book by a stunning anecdote involving the author's request in 1981 to see the 1948 Consular File of the U.S. State Department at the National Records Center at Suitland, Maryland.

For anyone writing on the emergence of Israel, these documents would, of course, be indispensable source material-since they originated in the vortex of a turbulent period that included the ending of the British Mandate, the proclamation of Israel's existence, the uprooting of three-quarters of a million Palestinians and Israel's war with five Arab states. Yet, Green reveals, no researcher in the 33 years since Israel's birth had bothered to examine the file.

Instead of relying on the essential data in such files, writers about Israel's creation-such as Leon Uris (Exodus), Dan Kurzman (Genesis 1948) and Collins and Lapierre (0 Jerusalem!) -have largely foisted on a credulous reading public romanticized myths that have nothing to do with Israel's reality. Green's book shatters many of these myths.

For instance, a foremost myth perpetuated by many writers is that the new Jewish state was dangerously short of weapons, ammunition and men. By relying mainly on military intelligence and diplomatic reports of the period, Green convincingly shows it was the reverse that was true that it was the Arabs who were out-manned and outgunned. Jewish manpower came partly from overseas volunteers but mainly from a careful selection of male Jews in Europe's displaced persons camps for immigration into Israel at the end of World War II. Thus, although there were 1.3 million Arabs in Palestine and only 600,000 Jews in 1948, the difference between the two communities of men in military age was insignificant- 149,000 Arabs against 121,000 Jews.

In weaponry, Green reveals in detail Israel's massive secret purchases of arms in Europe and the U.S., as well as Israel's secret relations with Czechoslovakia, which allowed Jews to receive essential military training on its soil as well as use it as a base for transshipment of weapons into Palestine.

As a result of these activities, a Defense Department intelligence report of the time concluded that the Jews enjoyed "the advantage in strength, training, discipline, leadership, combat experience and reserves in arms and ammunition." While Collins and Lapierre were still writing as late as 1972 that Israel's armed forces were limited in 1948 to only 18,900 fully armed men, the same intelligence report cited by Green reveals that Israel had 40,000 fulltime troops supported by 50,000 reserves. Another report adds that they were all fully armed.

Nuclear Textiles?

So disappear like autumn leaves the myths confronted in Green's highly readable book. Other areas Green illuminates: how the Dimona "textile mill" became the site for Israel's nuclear arsenal; how Lyndon Johnson turned his back on the policy of three presidents and openly chose sides with Israel; and how the Pentagon received an astonishing prior warning that Israel was about to attack the U.S. Navy spy ship Liberty-and how the whole sorry matter was swept under the rug.

Taking Sides is a book of surprising twists and turns, of revelations and convincing documentation. There are a few mistakes, not crucial enough to be misleading but which should be set right for the historical record. For instance, the United Arab Republic did not include Syria in 1967, nor did Israel that year celebrate its anniversary in Jerusalem by parading its military might. There was a parade, but it had become controversial precisely because Prime Minister Eshkol refused to flaunt Israel's heavy weapons.

Despite these minor caveats, this is a book of powerful conviction and astonishing revelations, a long over-due corrective to the myths that have befogged Americans for so many years about the Middle East. It deserves a wide audience and careful study.

Donald Neff is the author of Warriors at Suez and the forthcoming Warriors For Jerusalem.

(c) Copyright 1995-1999, American Educational Trust. All Rights Reserved.

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