Hillel Cohen’s “Year Zero Of The Arab-Israeli Conflict” is an intentional effort to present the 1929 Jerusalem riots with a non-biased viewpoint. Cohen examines the riots using both the Jewish and Arab perspectives. Cohen is an Israeli professor, who has published extensively about Arab and Israeli relationships. This book stands out from his previous works like “Good Arabs” by Cohen (2009, Cohen) because Cohen considers 1929 the highest point in the Arab/Israeli conflict. “Good Arabs” compared this to a more extensive time frame on the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
This intricate and detailed account of the riots can be hard to understand. This is not because Cohen’s words aren’t necessarily true. Cohen deliberately tells Cohen’s story using a narrative with no identifiable victim or perpetrator. This storytelling style is difficult for an individual like myself who has embedded views on the conflict. The 1929 riots were ultimately responsible for a new level of conflict between Arab and Israeli. The riots, despite the title, were not responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict in its entirety. Anyone who doesn’t know the history of this conflict may be confused. However, it left a mark on the lives of both Jews and Palestinians. It also revealed how each group views and interacts with one another. Jumping between periods and back to the present, the book discusses important events from the riots. It was also possible to use small subchapters to talk about different stories. This can be distracting for the reader. Cohen claims that it is an intentional act but it disrupts the flow of his book.
Cohen looks at the different perspectives of the same event from Palestinian and Jewish sources. This is the strength of the book, but it doesn’t give a definitive right-or-wrong answer to the conflict. That may make the book difficult for some.
Cohen emphasizes that the two groups are very different, and although they have many stories to tell about 1929, Cohen paints very different pictures. Jews considered it a Monstrous slaughter’ of innocents who were legally seeking refuge within their God-given country. It’s striking to notice the depiction that ‘Arabs want Jewish blood’. They are inherently savage. Palestinians considered themselves victims to colonization and imperialism. Another attempt by Zionists and Europeans to depossess them of the land they had cultivated and lived on for hundreds of years was the 1929 riots. They reacted rationally to the decades of violence they had endured. Cohen is right to highlight the differences in both narratives regarding the riots. Both provide contradictory accounts and unverified stories, which may prove difficult for some viewers. Cohen also shows that both stories have similar beginnings. Both saw only their own deaths and not the deaths for others. Both refused to hear criticism that would have suggested they were at fault. What is most significant is the way that both groups saw their actions and acted in self-defence.
It is a good thing to appreciate the contradictions in the book’s narratives, but it can also be disadvantageous. Cohen would sometimes ask Cohen questions he was unable to answer. Cohen was unable, for instance, to explain why Arabs killed Jews when he discussed Safed and Hebron. Instead, contradictory explanations were offered. First, there is no explanation for why. This, as we already know, contradicts the Jewish belief that Arabs are innately violent. Second, he says that the Arab belief was that Jews were trying steal their land and identities to justify the actions of the Arabs. It is unclear for the reader who is the victim or perpetrator.
Cohen states that “studies in mass psychology have shown that we can commit deeds when we are part of a group action”. Cohen doesn’t discuss them in detail and these studies aren’t mentioned at all in Cohen’s book.
The book’s central feature, the Cohen-Memory link, is worth mentioning. Forgery is used by sources to recreate this event and their historical representations. This information has relevance for today’s Arab/Israeli crisis. Cohen uses both primary as well as secondary sources, both in Arabic and Hebrew, to discuss the topic. This is why it is so surprising that this book does not attempt to assess the contribution of these sources to the creation of the memories. Cohen suggests that Jews as well as Arabs recall the riots with their own national lenses. “People’s fundamental and overarching view determines how people see historical details.” Cohen claims that massacres are not “imprinted automatically on the national mind”. This statement makes it clear that we must ask who or what etched these memories of the riots.
Cohen was not criticized for his impartial view of events. He wanted to give a multi-dimensional view of the past. Cohen fulfilled his stated objective by providing a two-way perspective of the riots. While the book contains obvious gaps and numerous contradictions it still shows us how complex this event is and will continue to be. Cohen uses his skills to examine both primary sources and secondary information to unravel the complicated weave of the 1929 riots.
Cohen, H. (2009). The Israeli security services and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967. University of California Press in Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Cohen, H. (2015). Year Zero of Conflict between Arab and Israeli 1929. Brandeis University Press
Waltham,MA. (2016).https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ajs-review/article/hillel-cohen-1929-year-zero-of-the-arabisraeli-conflict-waltham-ma-brandeis-university-press-2015-312-pp/CB9DD922C400230722C7495F8D82AAC5/core-reader, viewed 13 October 2019.
The Hebrew University located in Jerusalem. (2012) http://pluto.huji.ac.il/~hilcoh/, Viewed 11 November 2019.