From Israelites to war in Lebanon, Holy Wars captivating
July 3, 2012 | Atara Beck - Israel Correspondent
Holy Wars, By Gary L. Rashba, Casemate, 2011, Hardcover, $32.95 Cdn.
JERUSALEM – So much has been written about the history of the land of Israel since ancient times up to and including the modern state of Israel.
Nevertheless a recent work – Holy Wars: 3,000 Years of Battles in the Holy Land by Gary Rashba – offers a unique and valuable account of centuries of history since the Israelites conquered the land until the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
The author manages to make the book a page-turner even for those who aren’t necessarily history buffs.
Several photographs of pivotal events are included and an epilogue summarizes more recent conflicts up to the book’s publishing in 2011.
Born and raised in the US, Rashba has been living in Israel since the early 1990s and works professionally with the country’s defence industries. It took him about 13 years to complete the book; he hadn’t originally intended to put it all together into a unified volume.
“I didn’t sit down to write a book. I was writing for Military Magazine…. I wrote about what interested me.”
This explains why each chapter could actually stand on its own.
His favourite section chronicles the era of the Maccabees, who fought against the Hellenization of Judea after the ascent to power of new Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV in 175 BCE.
“One of the things I like is the timelessness,” Rashba said. “It’s a story of insurgents, or rebels – whichever you call them – fighting against one of the most modern armies and winning. It’s the same story today, only change the uniform. The old story repeats itself.”
Indeed, much of the story, as explained in the book, bears remarkable similarity to current Israeli society, particularly the intense divisions between ideologically opposed groups such as religious versus secular and nationalist versus post-Zionist.
After finishing the episode of the Maccabees, Rashba took a two-year break and wrote a screenplay about the era, mixing in modern-day issues. For instance, he compared “the Hellenization of Judea to the Americans bringing democracy to Iraq.
“It’s the same idea of bringing their ideas to a different nation. It’s a foreign concept and not necessarily what they want.”
The well-researched book has garnished praise, although one reviewer commented that it was missing the Arab side of the story in the modern-day conflict. According to Rashba, every historian writes from his or her own perspective.
“I believe the Israeli side is mostly right. I don’t have an agenda. I present it the way I see it.”
Asked whether it was depressing to write about 3,000 years of bloodshed in his beloved country, with no end to the conflict in sight, he said, “I found it fascinating. I’ve never looked at it from that direction, otherwise I might not have written about it. The country came alive for me as a new immigrant.”
Researching the battles and interviewing people who helped fight for Israel’s independence was an exciting experience for the military-history enthusiast. He recalled in particular discussions with the elderly Munio Brandvein about the fighting at Yad Mordechai, a southern kibbutz, in 1948. Brandvein described so many details, including the exact time of day that Egypt invaded; Rashba was spellbound.
Rashba recognizes the irony of the name ‘Jerusalem,’ which means ‘city of peace,’ while the “slaughter of so many of the greatest empires throughout history” happened there.
“Peace is in our hopes and prayers. Yet I don’t see our neighbours suddenly changing.”
He explained the difference in attitude between the Middle East and Vietnam, where he visited a few years ago.
The Vietnamese are “looking forward. There’s no hostility towards the Americans; the past is the past. I could only dream of that type of mentality here to reach the great potential of the Middle East.”