Aaron Aaronsohn’s Maps
By Ben Cohen
Well-known author Patricia Goldstone has written a fascinating book on the life of Aaron Aaronsohn, a pivotal figure in the history of Israel, and one of its least understood contributors. ‘Aaronsohn’s Maps’ delves into the underlying problems of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a unique perspective told through the story of a unique man. Water rights, geo political control, conspiracy and war, this book is a must read for anyone interested in truly understanding the current crisis in the Middle East.
We are pleased to have Patricia Goldstone contribute to The Daily Banter as she explains in her own words why she wrote the book, and what it means to her both as a Jewish woman and a historian.
By Patricia Goldstone
I’m often asked why I chose to spend three years of my life resurrecting a dead spy who is thought of, if at all, as an icon of the Israeli far right. But the dead spy was a historical figure with far greater importance, and far greater complexity than standard history would have us believe.
I was researching a book on water and conflict in the Middle East when I first ran across a mention of him. The note suggested the outlines of a very large and important figure, whose unique achievements in science, espionage, and diplomacy had been obscured by the generals writing the history books. As I researched further, it seemed to me that a great historic injustice had been done to both Aaron Aaronsohn and to his sister, Sarah, the sacrificial lamb for the Balfour Declaration (the British partitioning of the Ottoman Empire that supported a Jewish ‘national home’ in Palestine).
I am an underdog fighter by nature, and the very shabby treatment of these two very brave people excited my crusading instinct. But, more than that, their story reawakened my dormant sense of connection to what had once made me proud to be a Jew. Like many American Jews, I felt very alienated by the “Who is a Jew?” debate that broke out in the 1990s and by the aggravated ill-treatment of the non-Jewish population of Israel that seemed to accompany it. But here was Aaron Aaronsohn, who did not fit into any of the narrow confines of the politics of identity – a deeply educated, cosmopolitan, dissenting intellectual who remained deeply patriotic to the end of his short life. At the same time that he loved his country enough to sacrifice both his own and his sister’s life for it, he was deeply committed to making it a better place for all of its inhabitants. That tolerance, to my mind, embodied the heart and soul of being Jewish. Aaronsohn had within himself the depth and breadth to unify the warring elements of the Jewish experience. In connecting with him, I could connect not only with my own past, but with a larger world.
Aaron Aaronsohn was not a perfect hero – far from it. His tolerance towards humanity was coupled with an intolerance to people who disagreed with him. More than any of his many other foibles, this essentially conspired to defeat him. But there is something to admire even in his stubborn refusal to march to any drumbeat other than his own. He may not have succeeded in pulling off the miracle of a broad based solution in the Middle East, but he died trying. It is the test of a good subject that, even after three years of living with him, his biographer is still in love with him.
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A review by HVF Winstone of the book ‘Aaronsohn’s Maps’ by Patricia Goldstone.
“Aaron Aaronsohn. The name is misleading in its overtones of rabbinical fundamentalism. He was born at Falticeni in Rumania in 1876, a few years before the family escaped the European progroms and established its home in the small, predominantly Jewish town of Zichron Ya’akov in the Ottoman Sanjak of Jerusalem, known to the rest of the world as Palestine.”
“Scientist, spy, man of destiny, a massive presence both physically and intellectually, there was something at once fascinating and sinister about his short life and untimely death.”
“On the afternoon of 15 May 1919, a French fishing vessel making its routine way into Boulogne harbour witnessed an airplane floating on the water. Several parcels protected by waterproof sheets bobbed on the sea around it. Officially, what they saw remains to this day an accident that never happened. It might indeed have been dismissed with a shrug by men accustomed to strange goings-on in their waters had it not been for subsequent reports in two local newspapers, the enquiries of an insurance company and the persistence of a few outsiders with a heightened sense of political conspiracy.”
“The Times of 20 May carried a dispatch from its Paris correspondent dated 18 May, three days after the accident, the headline of which contained the gist of a story that clearly came from an official source. ‘Eminent Zionist Killed: Dr Aaronsohn in aeroplane accident’. The newspaper made no mention of the strange circumstances surrounding the accident.’
“On 27 May the Central Zionist Office in London ’s Piccadilly issued a statement quoting The Times’ report. It also failed to mention the unusual circumstances of what it called a ‘tragic accident’. On the same day as The Times account, the Jewish Chronicle reported the incident, again without reference to the unusual circumstances.”
“Aaronsohn’s Swiss life assurance company refused to pay out on his policy, declaring that it was not satisfied with a subsequent War Ministry inquiry into the matter which, it said, contradicted itself and the evidence of eye witnesses. In those days air accidents were routinely recorded at Lloyds Registry. No record was made of the Boulogne incident. The Israeli historian Shmuel Katz, a former member of the Likud party in the Knesset, asserted that the pilot of the second plane shot Captain Jefferson ‘through the heart’ as the two British planes jostled in mid air, causing the first plane to plunge into the sea.”
“There to this day the story rests, though it has taken on a new significance in view of the central role of Israel in what has come to be called ‘the war on terror’.”
“Now, Patricia Goldstone, a well known American writer, has come up with a well researched, resourceful, politically balanced – and inevitably inconclusive – account of the life of the man who made the fatal mistake of taking issue with the leaders of the Zionist movement, especially Chaim Weizmann its most distinguished and powerful figure, the socialist scientist who had made a significant contribution to the country’s armament industry in the war. Hers is the first true biography”.
To find out more about Patricia Goldstone, please visit www.patriciagoldstone.com
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.