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DR. URI MILSTEIN: "ISRAEL'S MOST CHERISHED AND HATED REVISIONIST MILITARY HISTORIAN"

By: Gad Nashon

Dr. Uri Milstein is the most active famous Israeli military historian. He himself loves to define his work as behaviorism. He is the most known authority on the Israeli War of Independence and the era in which around fifty years ago Israel was established (May 14, 1948). Dr. Milstein (Dr. M.) is also an expert on Israel's many wars and he published many books and leading articles. He is also a philosopher and a poet.

Many related to him as a genius. But it should be noted that Dr. M. is a fighter for academic truth. In Israel there are many who hate him and tend to ignore his works. Why? Because Dr. M. is Israel's first revisionist scholar. Dr. M. likes to destroy myths, legends and Israel's most sacred taboos. Dr. M. was the first scholar to openly attack the defense establishment as a military history.

Any observer of Israel's history knows that the attack on the past of our generals and commanders is synonymous to an attack on our political establishment, since so many generals have been political leaders or mayors of Israel's cities. So, Dr. M., the new revisionist, has antagonized half of Israel and became an "untouchable" or one who was stigmatized as an outcast.

Of course, the media and many Israelis love him. Dr. M. is not willing to compromise. Often he moves to the extreme in his writing or conclusions. Often he is the enemy of himself, but these tendencies have nothing to do with his unique, original contribution to the Israeli culture and intellect as well.

Thanks to the special efforts and talents of Mr. Alan Sacks, a translator and editor, and thanks to the University Press of America (Lanham, Maryland 20706), the American readers will have a chance to enrich themselves with the first work in English of Dr. Milstein: "History of the War of Independence - A Nation Girds for War" (475 pages). It is the first volume of the history of the Israeli War of Independence (1947-1948) and more volumes are going to be published for the first time in the English language. This work is a landmark of the history of the State of Israel. It is certainly a must read for anyone who wants to understand the essence of Israel. The roots of Israel's history are to be found in this war.

In 1989, Dr. M. decided, together with the publishers Zemora and Bitan, to publish a new history. And Dr. M., a prolific writer and scholar who loves the details, managed to publish few volumes. Each volume caused a sensation in Israel because Uri Milstein has revised history and destroyed many myths. Many historians were shocked. Many military leaders were exposed by Milstein as idiots, non- professionals or cowards, who run away in battles. Dr. Milstein was pitiless. Dr. Milstein essentially came to the conclusion that Israel's most legendary military special units, the famous Palmach, with its famous commanders such as Yigal Alon, Yitzhak Sadeh and Yitzhak Rabin, were only militia and not a real professional army. Furthermore, he has argued that the weakness of the Palmach, the Jewish Agency's defense organization Hagana, and later the I.D.F itself, was originated in the "Bolshevik fact" that the military elite was based on party loyalty rather than on professional standards. Well, the long range conclusion is that people with less qualifications have reached to the top of Israel's defense-military establishment as well as to the top of Israeli politics.

It is surprising to find that Dr. Milstein has antagonized himself from the elite in order to preserve his own scholarly integrity. But his volumes were welcomed even by Time Magazine which reviewed them despite the fact that they were written in Hebrew. It was an unusual Times' precedent! The Jerusalem Post, for example, responded as follows: "Nineteen forty-eight will never be the same again. The publication of the first three volumes (of a planned 12) of Uri Milstein's monumental 'History of the War of Independence' is a major event in Israeli military historiography." It was a justified revision of Israel's military history in 1948, which was written by officials of the Israeli Minister of Defense.

The first volume, which was recently published by "University Press of America", expresses Dr. Milstein's concept of history. He opted for a wide canvas and tried to capture, describe and analyze the full breadth of the Independence War.

In the first volume of the American edition (a must for any Jewish reader), Dr. Milstein discussed the following:

  1. The attempt to build a new army in Palestine.

  2. The resistance movement and the relations among Hagana, Palmach, Etzel (Irgun Ztsvai Leumi) and the Lehi (Freedom Fighters for Israel).

  3. David Ben-Gurion as the leader or leaders.

  4. The rise of the defense concept of the "Yishuv" (The Jews of Palestine before 1948).

  5. The structure of the Arab's military muscles and strategy.

  6. The Zionist diplomacy (1945-1947) of "Paupers Diplomacy".

  7. The building of the Israeli intelligence - the embryonic units.

  8. Was the Yishuv prepared for war.

  9. The establishment of the military secret industry - the "Taas".

Dr. Milstein has developed his own unique concept of history as a science. His tool is the Survival Research Institute which has published Milstein's many publications. He even tried to establish a "Survival Movement" in Israel, because he is very pessimistic as to the recent course of events. He is not a politician, but a scholar who preaches for his ideas: the military history of Israel is the history of Israel. Israel was and will be, according to Milstein, a military society which wants to survive and Dr. Milstein is looking to establish once and for all the iron laws of survival, unless Israel would disappear for good.

Dr. Milstein believes that when you read his works on the War of Independence, you will understand the fact that Israel's leaders of the past cut their linkage to the old Ben-Gurionist concept of defense and war and espoused a concept of defeatism. Why? Dr. M. has argued in his many writings that the late Rabin and Shimon Peres did not believe anymore in the military superiority of the I.D.F. over the Arab countries. What was their turning point? It was October 8, 1973 - The Yom Kipper War. Dr. Milstein caused a huge storm when he published his "Rabin File - How the Myth Swelled" (Survival, Golan, 1995). Some scholars blamed Milstein for what they described as an "historical contract" on Rabin. For Dr. Milstein, Rabin symbolized the deviation from Ben-Gurionism or the collapse of Israel's national doctrine. "...Yitzhak Rabin shares responsibility," argued Milstein. He also claimed that "...the I.D.F. did not perform as a professional army during the Six Days War and the Yom Kippur War was the result of this reality." Milstein believes that Israel must change its military structure and develop a special military elite and use the West Point Academy as its model. Dr. Milstein would like to reshuffle our defense-military establishment as a scholar. He wants to integrate his intellectualism to the army. Well, they do not agree, but some are listening.

The reader can get a more complete idea about the works of Dr. Milstein from the following list of publications:

  1. "The History of the Israeli Paratroopers" which is the only panoramic history of these Israeli fighters. It is the only documentation of their battles and achievements, such as Aviv Neurim volume. It is also a song for Israeli secret navy seals (untold stories).

  2. "Shaked Patrol" which is the most authoritative documentation of this special commando unit and its legendary commander "Amos Yarkoni" a Bedouin, Hader El Mazraiv, who dedicated his life to the I.D.F. and died recently.

  3. "The Lesson of Collapse - From Sadat to Arafat", in which Milstein analyzed the collapse of Israel's old defense-security national consensus (meaning a policy which was always based on the assumption of the I.D.F.'s superiority by all means over the Arabs).

  4. "An End to Life" (together with Colonel (Rev.) Aril Amit- Tepper. It is the most recent textbook and the personal manifest of Dr. Milstein's military philosophy. He explained to the reader the behaviorist laws of the military wisdom. Also, the reader will read about Milstein's sophisticated deep concept of "the general theory of survival".

Milstein's scope of writings is very wide. He wrote about the battles of the Bible and the battles of ex-president George Bush in 1991. He is an historian, sociologist and anthropologist. His writings are based on documentation and on oral history as well. He loves the soldiers and the fighters. He is always unsure about the degree of professionalism of the commanders. He is a populist, an historian of the fighting masses and he indeed cares for their future in the battle or the coming battles. He calls for change. He is not an easy person to deal with, but he is a person that is willing, also, to give. Often he is too extreme in his conclusions. Often his vision is a tunnel one, but his contribution to our knowledge is enormous and he is willing to suffer his devotion to the truth.


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