Book Review: The Reckoning – How the Killing of one man changed the fate of the Promised Land

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The Reckoning, by Patrick Bishop

In “The Reckoning”, British military historian Patrick Bishop tells the story of Avraham “Yair” Stern, a leader of the Jewish underground (Irgun) in Palestine who eventually split and formed his own group (Lehi, or Stern Group as the Mandate referred to them as) and his eventual death at the hands of Palestine Police Force Assistant Superintendent Geoffrey Morton in Tel Aviv in 1942.

Starting with a introduction to Zionism and explanation of events leading up to World War 2, Bishop sets the scene for the battle between Stern and Morton.  Utilising official records, previously published writings as well as the introduction of newly discovered information, Bishop gives a richer understanding of the actions of both the Jewish resistance and the Mandate.  Despite an attempt to offer a balanced view of the story, there are moments when his favour of the British colonial authorities shines through.  On the whole, though, Bishop guides us through the facts in a nuanced way after his presentation of the background, and tests the logic of the varied statements and testimonies with that backdrop firmly set.

At the end of the day, Stern gained a form of posthumous victory over Morton, with his position gaining strength following his death, leading eventually to the end of the Mandate’s rule in 1948.

In death, he achieved the status of prophet and martyr he had yearned for when alive, and his spiritual presence shaped events in a way that  his physical one could never have. Yair’s analysis — that British defeat was essential if the Jews were to have a state — became the prevailing wisdom.

Bishop has done a fantastic job of portraying a mostly balanced view of a complex situation, offering a sense of the stakes for both men as he alternated between each of their stories.  The exploration of the impact that Stern had on the final years of the British Mandate and the birth of Israel creates a novel view of an often one-sided story.

Title: The Reckoning – How the Killing of one man changed the fate of the Promised Land
Author: Patrick Bishop
Publisher: William Collins (February, 2014)
Edition: eBook, Version 2014-02-26
ISBN: 9780007518272