Israeli-Jordanian Dialogue, 1948-1953: Cooperation, Conspiracy, or Collusion? By Yoav Gelber. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2004. 357 pp. $69.50.
Almost six decades after the U.N. partition of Palestine, ascription of blame for Palestinian refugees still resonates in Israeli academic discourse. Following the lead of Avi Shlaim, an Oxford University historian and "new historian," post-Zionists have exculpated the Palestinians for heeding Arab calls to leave. Shlaim argued in a 1988 book that King Abdullah I of Transjordan and Jewish leaders colluded to force the partition of Palestine and, therefore, bear responsibility for the refugee crisis that followed.
In Israeli-Jordanian Dialogue, 1948-1953, Haifa University professor Gelber decisively refutes Shlaim's thesis by showing that the Israelis and King Abdullah did not aim to conspire against the Palestinians. He argues, rather, that, for the Israelis and Abdullahâ€”who had deep-seated mutual interests and a long-standing bondâ€”partition turned out to be the most viable solution to a thorny problem.
Relying on documents from Israeli and British archives (the latter of which include records of broadcast statements from Arab leaders), Gelber details the Zionist-Jordanian dialogue from the waning days of the British mandate through the 1948 war, to the Israeli raid on Qibya in 1953, which marked the end of the Israeli-Jordanian bond and Jordan's reunion with the Arab coalition. Gelber explains the nuances of the diplomacy among representatives from Israel, the United States, Britain, the United Nations, Transjordan, and other Arab states. His analysis spans both the political and military issues that shaped the Israeli-Jordanian dialogue.
The coverage of Transjordan's 1948 invasion of Israel sets the scene for subsequent examination of the tenuous occupation of the West Bank and the collapse of the Palestinian government in Gaza, which Gelber suggests had to do more with military than political developments. Several chapters examine the diplomatic efforts behind the first nonaggression pact and other attempts at peace from the end of the war through 1953.
Gelber highlights King Abdullah's struggle in balancing his necessary relations with Israel with those he had with the broader Arab world, hostile to the Jewish state's independence, while at the same time posturing himself as a representative of the Palestinians following the Egyptian subordination of Gaza.
Israeli-Jordanian Dialogue, 1948-1953 sheds light not only on an important historical episode, but it has historiographic significance as well. Too often, professors subsume scholarship to their own political agendas. It has become fashionable among many historians to substitute theory for research or omit evidence that undercuts their thesis. Careful historical research such as Gelber's grounds the debate about the early years of the Palestinian refugee crisis.
Economic Relations between Egypt and the Gulf Oil States, 1967-2000: Petro-Wealth and Patterns of Influence. By Gil Feiler. Brighton, England: Sussex Academic Press, 2003. 407 pp. $69.95.
At the Khartoum summit in August 1967, when the Arab League rejected negotiations with Israel, three oil-rich statesâ€”Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libyaâ€”guaranteed to provide Egypt with US$260 million annually in aid "until the results of Israeli aggression have been eliminated." Feiler tells the story of what happened next, assembling a coherent tale from scattered and not always consistent sources. He shows that Egypt and the Arab oil states did have an intense economic interaction. In the eighteen years from 1967 until the price of oil crashed in 1985, the oil-rich states provided Egypt $14 billion in aid, $5 billion in investment (most of it politically motivated), and $22 billion in workers' remittances through official channels. At its peak in 1975-77, the aid alone averaged more than 15 percent of Egypt's national output.
Yet aid, investment, and remittances did not put Egypt on the path to sustained growth in the 1970s; to the contrary, Egypt's economy remained in desperate straits, and its dependence on aid only grew deeper. Feiler documents Egyptian disappointment with aid and its bitterness over bearing what it considered an undue burden in the conflict against Israelâ€”factors which played no small part in Sadat's decision to seek a peace treaty with Israel. These factors also led Egypt to turn to the West economically. Indeed, as the slow turn began in the late 1980s, Egyptian economic performance began to improve. The accelerating turn after the 1991 Kuwait war, rather than the Arab aid in wake of Egypt's role in that conflict, accounted for the country's strong economic showing in the 1990s.
Feiler also shows that for all the talk about Arab solidarity and a joint stand against Israel, the economic flows appear to have been much more motivated by the particular national interests of each oil-rich country. For instance, Saudi aid was aimed by the strongly anticommunist kingdom to reduce Soviet influence in Egypt. Over time, the flow of funds to Egypt came more and more from remittances by Egyptian workers, whose low-cost labor was so useful to the oil-rich states, which at the time, were desperately short of workers ready and able to work in modern enterprises.
A minor quibble: Arab oil donors to Egypt included both the conservative monarchies of the Gulf and two radical states, Iraq and Libyaâ€”the latter of which is not in the Gulf at all. Feiler's analysis would have benefited from more fully integrating into his story the two radical donors, which he only sometimes includes.
Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out. Edited by Ibn Warraq. New York: Prometheus Books, 2003. 471 pp. $28.
In Leaving Islam, Ibn Warraq has assembled a compelling list of writings from individuals of Muslim birth who renounced their faith. It serves as a companion of sorts to his own personal statement, Why I Am Not a Muslim, and opens a window into a usually hushed topic, revealing internal Muslim debates concerning history, faith, and culture.
The problem of dissent within Islam has been a troubling issue from the earliest moments of Muslim history. Although the Qur'an famously declares at 2:256 that "There is no compulsion in religion," apostasy (meaning, adopting another belief or non-belief) is a capital offence. Hence, Muslims' fear that dissent might be viewed as apostasy serves as an insidious weapon for political leaders. Often in collaboration with religious scholars, leaders use this tool to silence free thinkers and spread a blanket of totalitarian control over Muslim communities.
Despite the crucial importance of apostasy, it has not seriously been documented or investigated. Ibn Warraq's breakthrough collection of essays offers a compelling and vivid insight into the minds of those individuals who have struggled with the faith tradition into which they were born, eventually departing from the belief of their parents and ancestors to become free of what they considered as oppressive or demeaning to living as rational and independent individuals.
The phenomenon of Muslims leaving Islam is about as old as Islam itself. Ibn Warraq handily summarizes some of the most notable cases from the early centuries of Islam, such as those eminent freethinkers Ar-Rawandi (c. 820-830) and Ar-Razi (865-925), or skeptical poets such as Omar Khayyam (c. 1048-1131) and Hafiz (c. 1320-89), or Sufi (mystic) practitioners among whom the most notable victims of orthodoxy were Mansur ibn Hallaj (executed in 922) and As-Suhrawardi (executed in 1191).
But the testimonies Ibn Warraq collects of contemporary individuals from across the Muslim world make for particularly fascinating reading. They offer insight into the biography and psychology of Muslims contending with a faith that they find irreconcilable with the requirements of modernity. The voices are those of men and women from Bangladesh and Pakistan, India and Iran, Tunisia and Turkey, Malaysia and Morocco. They are intelligent, aware of their past and tormented by present realities of obscurantism, dogmatism, and intolerance within Muslim societies.
Ibn Warraq is a courageous writer on Islam and a passionate defender of reason who continues to struggle on behalf of reason with a culture that seems to be at odds with reason. In this respect, his work, as in the preparation of this edited volume, is an indispensable tool for Muslims themselves so they can wage their struggle for enlightenment and reform of their faith tradition.
And here, therefore, lies the conundrum for those, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, who are concerned about the world of Islam and its relationship with others: the act of leaving Islam, however courageous on an individual basis, amounts to abandoning the reformist struggle needed within Islam.
University of Western Ontario