He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Anonymous Soldiers is a good encapsulation of the epic struggle that unfolded between Arabs, Jews, and Britons over Palestine’s political future in the decades preceding Israel’s creation.Learn more about Anonymous Soldiers at the Knopf website.
It is September 1939. Germany has just invaded Poland and Britain in response has declared war. Confronted with the existential threat posed by a potentially victorious Nazi Germany, Palestine’s Jewish community throws its support behind the British war effort. But, the choice is not entirely obvious for a militant Zionist organization calling itself the Irgun Zvai Le’umi (Hebrew: National Military Organization). Only three months earlier, the Irgun had risen in revolt against Britain.
Indeed, one faction, led by a charismatic poet and visionary, named Abraham Stern, cites the Irish precedent from World War I—arguing that, with Britain now preoccupied with another European war, the time is ripe to continue the revolt and wrest freedom and statehood for the Jews.
The majority of Irgun members, however, side with their commander, David Raziel, and decide to conform to the decision of the mainstream Zionist political organizations to fight alongside Britain against Germany. Stern and a small group of followers leave the Irgun and form their own terrorist group. Meanwhile, Raziel and the remaining Irgun fighters begin to work closely with their former enemies in British intelligence and find themselves participating in clandestine commando raids behind German lines.
Implicit in the cooperation and support provided to Britain by both the Jewish community and the Irgun is the hope that their loyalty and assistance will be rewarded at the war’s end with independence and statehood. The chapter ends a page later with a quote from a senior British official. Reflecting the prevailing view of these expressions of Jewish fealty, this official bluntly observes, “They all seem to think that the defeat of Germany will necessarily entail the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine, which is unfortunate.”
Anonymous Soldiers goes on to tell the dramatic story of how the “anonymous soldiers” (the title is from a poem written by Stern) of the Irgun and its more extreme splinter, known to Jews by its Hebrew acronym Lehi (Hebrew: Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) and to the British as the “Stern Gang,” successfully challenged Britain’s rule over Palestine and thus played a critical, though hitherto poorly understood, role in the rise of Israel.