Weathered by Miracles: A History of Palestine from Bonaparte and Muhammad Ali to Ben-Gurion and the Mufti

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9781566632690: Weathered by Miracles: A History of Palestine from Bonaparte and Muhammad Ali to Ben-Gurion and the Mufti

Canaan, Land of Israel, the Holy Land, Bibleland―Palestine. Many names for a small speck of earth, no bigger than Wales or Massachusetts. This land has suffered most of the world's conquerors, from the Babylonians to the British, only to brighten its aura of sanctity for millions of Muslims, Christians, and Jews to the present day. In Weathered by Miracles, Thomas Idinopulos tells the story of that one explosive moment in Palestine's long history that began with Napoleon's invasion of the Middle East in 1798 and concluded with the founding of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948. Here was the dramatic confrontation of world empires for possession and profit, the clash of Islam with the Christian West, and the pioneering zeal of explorers and excavators, diplomats, merchants, and missionaries. Here were the last days of Turkish and European imperialisms and the first breaths of Arab and Jewish nationalisms. Concentrating on the fateful ties between politics and religion, Mr. Idinopulos describes the extraordinary transformation of Palestine from wasteland to a dynamic country, and traces the origin of the violence that continues today between Arabs and Jews.

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Review:

Though the current religious conflicts in Israel can be traced back two millennium, the past 150 years have certainly determined the current political reality. Beginning with Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt in 1798 and extending to the birth of modern Israel in 1948, Weathered by Miracles is a concise and uncommonly balanced history of one the world's most complex regions.

In a sense, Napoleon could be blamed for this mess. Though his bid for control of the region was thwarted at the Palestinian town of Acre in 1799, his attempt opened a channel between the East and West that had been largely cut off since the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries. The British came to the aid of the Ottomans to halt Napoleon, and in doing so, entrenched themselves in Palestine, a move that would have long reaching political and nationalistic consequences.

A second invasion of Palestine, this time successful, further cemented a connection with the West. In 1831, Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali conquered Palestine, drawing Russia, Britain, and France into a delicate power play with the eroding Ottoman Empire. He also encouraged foreign investment to raise needed revenue, and he drastically altered the culture by granting Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims the same protections under the law. Though Ali was soon driven out, his policies remained, and the creation of a British vice-consulate in Jerusalem in 1838 (followed soon after by consulates from other nations) signaled the beginning of substantial Western political influence within Palestine, a shift that would manifest itself most vividly in coming decades when Britain began to encourage a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, and Zionism took firm root. As a result, Palestinians and neighboring Arabs began to view the West with suspicion and hatred--sentiments that were soon transferred to the incoming Jews.

The history of Palestine is a complicated mix of nationalistic, religious, and political aspirations by numerous competing factions, and Idinopulos chronicles this explosive period with admirable clarity and a colorful eye for detail. "Its smallness mocks the enormity of the ambitions that collided there," he writes. If both sides are ever able to make peace, it would be a miracle indeed. --Shawn Carkonen

About the Author:

Thomas A. Idinopulos, who teaches religion at Miami University in Ohio, is also the author of the widely praised Jerusalem.

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