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National Observer Home > No. 63 - Summer 2005 > Book Reviews

Book Reviews: Herzl's Nightmare: One Land, Two People

R.M. Pearce

Melbourne: Scribe Publications, 2004, pages 130

Peter Rodgers is a former Australian ambassador to Israel and is a frequent commentator on Middle Eastern affairs.

His book Herzl's Nightmare contains a profound analysis of the relations of the occupants of Palestine with each other over the past two hundred years. Towards the end of the nineteenth century Palestine's population was some 460,000, of whom approximately 400,000 were Muslim Arabs, 40,000 were Christian and 20,000 were Jewish. But at this time an increasing number of Zionists in the West were pursuing a plan of taking over Palestine, to the exclusion of non-Jews. Theodore Herzl, who is described as fathering Zionism with his 30,000 word pamphlet Der Judenstaat published in 1896, promoted a taking over of Palestine which would be shown to have a cynical disregard for the future of that land's non-Jewish inhabitants.

Rodgers shows how by the early 1920s the Jewish population had increased from 20,000 to 100,000. The Jewish policy was to increase these numbers further, in part by concealing information as to the number of Jewish immigrants. Meanwhile Jewish militias formed, and they engaged in terrorism and in a process of the ruthless killing of Arabs: Rodgers notes for example their attack on the village of Deir Yassin, in which scores of Palestinians, including women and children, were massacred.

Meanwhile the non-Jewish Palestinians were irresolute and, as Rodgers shows, were not aware of the magnitude of the threat to them or of the ruthless and carefully planned attempt that was being made to displace them. In the event, by 1950 some 700,000 Palestinians had been expelled from Israel, many at gunpoint, fearing for their lives.

The value of Herzl's Nightmare is that it sets out the recent history of Palestine – which has been a history of Jews driving out Palestinians – in such a way that the intense resentment and distress of the Palestinians are made understandable. If the Israelis had behaved with humanity, and permitted the Palestinians to remain in the country that was their home, the criticisms of Israel that are now so widespread would not have arisen.

R.M. Pearce

National Observer No. 63 - Summer 2005