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Israel, the 'Accidental Empire'

Mar 7, 2006 (Fresh Air)

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The Six-Day War of 1967 left Israel with a dilemma: what to do with the land it had taken in the process of winning a conflict that also involved Egypt, Syria and Jordan. A new book, The Accidental Empire, looks at what came next.

Journalist Gershom Gorenberg is a former associate editor and columnist for The Jerusalem Report. He is the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. The book details how idealism and political agendas came to shape Israel's settlement policy that is at the center of arguments today.

In recounting the first 10 years of Israeli settlements, Gorenberg, a former associate editor and columnist for the Jerusalem Report, depicts many of the leaders of the day, both Arab and Israeli.

Read a Short Excerpt:

Eytan Sat went from kibbutz to kibbutz, asking for volunteers. Young people did not enlist in droves. The effort was a failure, Sat felt, but he signed up one here, two there.

One was Carmel Bar, a shepherd at kibbutz Mahanayim, just released from his reserve paratroop unit. Romanian born, Bar had spent part of his childhood in a Cyprus detention camp where the British kept Jews who tried to enter Palestine illegally. When Bar was five, his family reached Israel. He eventually came to Mahanayim with a group from a leftist youth movement. It was a schoolbook Labor Zionist biography; if there were an Israeli Norman Rockwell, he would have painted Bar. After Sat's recruiting stop, someone dropped by Bar's room and asked if he was interested. He agreed, though, "for my sins, I can't say why. I was a bachelor... with hot blood."

One day Bar got a call, telling him when to be out on the road. At the appointed time, an open jeep pulled up and took him to the former Syrian base at Aalleiqa in the Golan Heights. For practical purposes, Carmel Bar was the first Israeli settler in occupied territory.

The date was July 16, 1967. It was five weeks after the end of the war, less than a month after the cabinet had voted that Israel would withdraw from the heights for peace. There was no ceremony, no speeches by officials, no news coverage. For a day Bar was alone. Then others came, in ones and threes, men back from war, lost in what had been routine and looking for something new.

Excerpted from 'The Accidental Empire' by Gershom Gorenberg, published by Times Books. Copyright (c) 2006 Gershom Gorenberg.

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