Book Review | State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel, by Thomas Suárez

Aftermath of the King David Hotel bombing by Jewish terrorists on July 22, 1946.

The dominant narrative of Western and Israeli media tends to portray Palestinians as the aggressors or instigators of terrorism, and not as the victims of state violence. So when Thomas Suárez titles his book State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel (Interlink, 2017) it might come as a surprise to some that he is referring to a vast array of Zionist terrorism carried out in the years leading to the establishment of Israel in 1948. By digging deep into the National Archives of the United Kingdom, Suárez details the history of the Zionist terror that affected Palestinian civilians, British officials and anti-Zionist Jews throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. These hundreds of acts of violence not only bullied the British government into complying with Zionist demands, but also built up a significant war chest of funds and arms that prepared the Yishuv to take more land by force than that stipulated in the 1947 UN partition resolution 181. Many of those responsible for the killing of thousands of civilians came to serve as prime ministers and in other high official positions in the Israeli government after 1948.

The first two chapters of State of Terror chronicle the history of the Zionist project from its inception in the late 19th century to the intensification of Zionist terrorism after the issuance of the 1939 White Paper, which sought to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. These two chapters, covering a period well documented by scholars of history, serve to contextualize Zionist terrorism from 1939 to 1957, Suárez’s primary focus. As Suárez exhibits, the Zionist project never limited itself spatially to a part of Palestine, but sought all of Palestine and beyond. The British Mandate was thus a transitional period during which the Jewish Agency could prepare to displace the Palestinian population by violence and massively increased Jewish emigration.

Suárez’s thesis is that “It was Zionist terrorism (…) that ultimately dictated the course of events during the mandate, and it is Israeli state terrorism that continues to dictate events today.” (11) Through a Herculean effort working with British archival material, he is able to substantiate this claim rigorously. What becomes evident from Suárez’s research is that the three major Zionist militias: Irgun, Lehi and the Hagana, utilized a vast number of different tactics to terrorize the Palestinian population, British officials and the Jewish population in the Middle East and around Europe that did not ascribe to the Zionist ideology. The number of tactics listed in Suárez’s work is substantial and includes assassinations of high ranking British officials, attacks on police and post offices, bombings of civilian targets such as markets and hotels, chemical warfare, attacks on Jewish refugees throughout Europe and indiscriminate killings of the civilian Palestinian and Jewish population in Palestine, to give a few examples. As Suárez demonstrates, these three Zionist terror organizations, the Hagana being the armed wing of the Jewish Agency, coordinated and worked together on major attacks, with the leaders of the Jewish Agency signing off on numerous bombings, like that of the King David Hotel in 1946. Just before the establishment of Israel in 1948, what had been a successful campaign of terror as part of an uneven confrontation between Arabs and Zionists, became the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

While State of Terror undoubtedly is a great contribution to the history of the British Mandate of Palestine, it unfortunately lacks structure and a flowing narrative, which, in turn, obfuscates the import of some of the incidents of violence it recounts. Suárez points out at the end of his introduction that “Some paragraphs in the period 1944-1947 are essentially recitations of attacks without further commentary.” (16) However, this characterization applies not only to the period he specifies, but to the majority of the work following the first 55 pages. Thus, the book would have benefited from more analysis of the events Suárez has covered, and subchapters with an introduction and conclusion. Many important findings and events are hidden in sections of the book that are “essentially recitations,” which as Suárez explains “some readers may find them tedious and may prefer merely to skim some paragraphs, without loss to the larger meaning.” (16). While the recitations of events does support his broader thesis, the lack of analysis obscures their individual significance and how they relate to one another. This is especially the case given the absence of a strong concluding chapter that summarizes Suárez’s findings and explicitly states how they connect to his thesis.

Nonetheless, with State of Terror Suárez has laid out an impressive archival foundation for other scholars to build on in writing about an immensely important theme that has all too often been forgotten, and that challenges the Zionist grand narrative of Israel’s inception.

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