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Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel

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Award-winning writer Matti Friedman’s tale of Israel’s first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff--but it’s all true. The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewi Award-winning writer Matti Friedman’s tale of Israel’s first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff--but it’s all true. The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine. Intended to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations, the unit consisted of Jews who were native to the Arab world and could thus easily assume Arab identities. In 1948, with Israel’s existence in the balance during the War of Independence, our spies went undercover in Beirut, where they spent the next two years operating out of a kiosk, collecting intelligence, and sending messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. While performing their dangerous work these men were often unsure to whom they were reporting, and sometimes even who they’d become. Of the dozen spies in the Arab Section at the war’s outbreak, five were caught and executed. But in the end the Arab Section would emerge, improbably, as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel’s vaunted intelligence agency. Spies of No Country is about the slippery identities of these young spies, but it’s also about Israel’s own complicated and fascinating identity. Israel sees itself and presents itself as a Western nation, when in fact more than half the country has Middle Eastern roots and traditions, like the spies of this story. And, according to Friedman, that goes a long way toward explaining the life and politics of the country, and why it often baffles the West. For anyone interested in real-life spies and the paradoxes of the Middle East, Spies of No Country is an intimate story with global significance.


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Award-winning writer Matti Friedman’s tale of Israel’s first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff--but it’s all true. The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewi Award-winning writer Matti Friedman’s tale of Israel’s first spies has all the tropes of an espionage novel, including duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestine meetings, the bluff, and the double bluff--but it’s all true. The four spies at the center of this story were part of a ragtag unit known as the Arab Section, conceived during World War II by British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine. Intended to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations, the unit consisted of Jews who were native to the Arab world and could thus easily assume Arab identities. In 1948, with Israel’s existence in the balance during the War of Independence, our spies went undercover in Beirut, where they spent the next two years operating out of a kiosk, collecting intelligence, and sending messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. While performing their dangerous work these men were often unsure to whom they were reporting, and sometimes even who they’d become. Of the dozen spies in the Arab Section at the war’s outbreak, five were caught and executed. But in the end the Arab Section would emerge, improbably, as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel’s vaunted intelligence agency. Spies of No Country is about the slippery identities of these young spies, but it’s also about Israel’s own complicated and fascinating identity. Israel sees itself and presents itself as a Western nation, when in fact more than half the country has Middle Eastern roots and traditions, like the spies of this story. And, according to Friedman, that goes a long way toward explaining the life and politics of the country, and why it often baffles the West. For anyone interested in real-life spies and the paradoxes of the Middle East, Spies of No Country is an intimate story with global significance.

30 review for Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing. A history about Israel's first spies, who infiltrated the Arabs before the war that started the day Israel was founded, and then formed the legendary Mossad. Gripping reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    If you're spying for the CIA, you have Langley and the United States of America. You might not see them from your street corner or hotel room, but you know they exist, and their power is a comfort. These men had no such thing. They had no country – in early 1948, Israel was a wish, not a fact. If they disappeared, they'd be gone. No one might find them. No one might even look. The future was blank. And still they set out into those treacherous times, alone. In 2011, journalist and author Matti If you're spying for the CIA, you have Langley and the United States of America. You might not see them from your street corner or hotel room, but you know they exist, and their power is a comfort. These men had no such thing. They had no country – in early 1948, Israel was a wish, not a fact. If they disappeared, they'd be gone. No one might find them. No one might even look. The future was blank. And still they set out into those treacherous times, alone. In 2011, journalist and author Matti Friedman began a years-long interview with Isaac Shosan: a now elderly Israeli man with a unique story to tell about the early cloak-and-dagger days of Israeli Intelligence. Adding in information from others' memoirs, newspapers, and military reports, Friedman paints a picture of what life was like for these young men, sent out mostly unprepared and unsupervised into dangerous territory; the result is Spies of No Country. As their mission was to blend in and observe, this isn't a thrilling book about explosions and assassinations (although there is some of that), and as their unit was disbanded before the creation of Mossad, it would be unfair to call this a look at that famed organisation's genesis. What I liked best about Friedman's last book, Pumpkinflowers, were the parts that he processed through his own experience, but since this book isn't about him, that connection felt missing: what results is a stew of facts without a lot of flavour. Still glad to have read it. (Note: I read an ARC and quotes might not be in their final forms.) This isn't a comprehensive history of the birth of Israel or Israeli intelligence, or even of the unit in question. It centers on a period of twenty pivotal months, from January 1948 through August of the following year; on two Levantine port cities eighty miles apart, Haifa and Beirut; and on four young people drawn from the margins of their society into the center of events. I was looking less for the sweep of history than for its human heart, and found it at these coordinates. Essentially: In the aftermath of WWII, as the British were preparing to dissolve the Mandate for Palestine and the UN declared the area to be the new official homeland for Jewish peoples, surrounding countries became unstable, with Arab attacks on their Jewish neighbours and the Jews responding with counterattacks. In this instability, and even though the British forces were blockading Jewish refugees from entering the country, many Arabic Jews breached the border and joined life in the kibbutzes. In this period before the official declaration of statehood – in a time with no politicians, military, leaders of any sort – some men tried to establish order through unofficial means; and although the Brits had ordered the dissolution of a nascent intelligence service (which they had been training in case the Nazis entered the Middle East), that service's leaders began their own recruitment mission. Scouring the kibbutzes for native Arab-speaking Jews – those born in Syria, Jordan, Yemen – they pulled out the young men deemed most likely to pass as native Muslims and began to train them in the details of Muslim ritual, custom, and idiom. Once trained, they were sent to blend in in the neighbouring countries, and Friedman's telling focuses on the four young men who comprised the Beirut cell; men who posed as Jew-hating refugees, operating a kiosk and taxi service, listening for gossip and local sentiment and transmitting the details through a clandestine radio. Trapped behind hostile lines when Israel's War of Independence erupted, these men had no idea what was happening in the new Israeli state and less chance of getting information about the families they left behind in Aleppo or Damascus. This story is really about people who had been treated as “other” in their Arabic countries of birth, who were trained to erase what is other and non-Arabic about themselves, and who were then returned to a new country that was dismayed by the number of Arabic Jews streaming into their borders in the wake of the war and local reprisals in their countries of birth. When Isaac is eventually extracted, he doesn't know where or who he is: There was no hero's welcome. There was no welcome at all, just a clerk's voucher for a night at an army hostel if he didn't have anywhere better to sleep. He didn't. He thought someone from the Palmac might be there to hear his stories, but there was no Palmac anymore. He was in the same city he'd left two years before on the bus with the refugees – and in a different city, with new people in the old homes. It was the same country he'd left in the chaos of the war, and a different one, where he'd never been. He was the same person and a different person. There were some themes that I wished Friedman had gone into deeper: the widespread fear of Jews trying to pass as natives in order to destabalise countries (Friedman mentions Moses and the Dreyfus Affair) and the irony of a ragtag cabal accomplishing the ruse. And I wish he had gone further into the idea that Zionism was a European idea (which was essentially communist and atheist) and that these architects of the Jewish homeland were dismayed and disgusted by the influx of Arabic Jews (“Israel is more than one thing. It's a refugee camp for the Jews of Europe. And it's a minority insurrection inside the world of Islam.”) And the natural fallout of this mass migration of the minorities into Israel: the cultural loss to communities with ancient Jewish Quarters now empty of Jews; the fact that it's so much easier to “other” people when you no longer live alongside them. These ideas are all mentioned in passing as integral to understanding modern Israel, and I would have liked more on them. And yet, as Friedman writes, the big picture wasn't his focus here. He did a good job of describing the events of the twenty months he set out to relate, and his interviews with Isaac (the only member of the “Arab Section” still living) added some humanity to the base facts. I am left wanting more, but I suppose that only proves that I enjoyed what I got: an interesting little piece of a complex picture.

  3. 4 out of 5

    MH

    An engaging history of four young Mizrahi Jews and their undercover work for the pre-Israeli intelligence unit, the Arab Section. Using recently declassified documents, interviews with the few survivors, and numerous happy snapshots the men took (they were not the most professional of spies), Friedman paints a compelling picture of young, brave men, outcasts and idealists, and their struggles with their assignments, their identities, and each other, all building to the massive changes to the Mid An engaging history of four young Mizrahi Jews and their undercover work for the pre-Israeli intelligence unit, the Arab Section. Using recently declassified documents, interviews with the few survivors, and numerous happy snapshots the men took (they were not the most professional of spies), Friedman paints a compelling picture of young, brave men, outcasts and idealists, and their struggles with their assignments, their identities, and each other, all building to the massive changes to the Middle East as the idea of Israel becomes the state of Israel. He keeps a very narrow focus, staying on the street level with his spies and only going into the complicated history of the region when it directly impacts them (and even then very briefly, assuming the reader is familiar with the British partitioning of Palestine and the details of the wars that followed), and rarely looking outside of 1948 and 1949. This is a little disappointing - he refers to one spy raising his Jewish daughter as an Arab as "beyond the scope of this book" (79), and his one chapter solely devoted to modern Israel and its ongoing tensions between the European and Arabic world is absolutely excellent. I would have happily read more on both subjects, but his goal is to tell his story quickly and well, remembering these men in this time, and at that he's very successful. I was fortunate enough to win an ARC through a Goodreads giveaway.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rosann

    The story told by Matti Friedman of the young Jewish State is one that is not often told. I was riveted by the untold tales of the young Jews of Arabic origin and their relationship to the emerging country of Israel. Friedman ties together the lives of these young men as they went deeply undercover utilizing their unique cultural and language skills, inherent to people who were born and raised in Syria and other Arabic countries. Most importantly for the reader, Friedman shows us how their contr The story told by Matti Friedman of the young Jewish State is one that is not often told. I was riveted by the untold tales of the young Jews of Arabic origin and their relationship to the emerging country of Israel. Friedman ties together the lives of these young men as they went deeply undercover utilizing their unique cultural and language skills, inherent to people who were born and raised in Syria and other Arabic countries. Most importantly for the reader, Friedman shows us how their contributions and those of similar Mediterranean upbringing, were quickly cast aside by the prevailing stories of a young country whose narrative was one of European refugees, the holocaust, Hebrew instead of Arabic, and a cultural, not religious, form of Judaism. Truly, this is a history which needs exploring. Friedman's exploration does have some troublesome issues. He tends to jump backwards and forwards in time with little warning or segue. Also, I found that his sometimes conversation style of writing lessened the impact of his overall storytelling.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ron Wroblewski

    It was an interesting book. The book was written about the lives of 4 Israeli spies. Bur I would say that half or more than half of the book concerned the birth of the nation of Israeli 1948-49. And this was one of the problems of the book. A story would start about the exploits of one or more of the spies then it would discuss the political situation, then revert back to the story of the spies. I wish that the full story would be told continuously and either before or after cover the background It was an interesting book. The book was written about the lives of 4 Israeli spies. Bur I would say that half or more than half of the book concerned the birth of the nation of Israeli 1948-49. And this was one of the problems of the book. A story would start about the exploits of one or more of the spies then it would discuss the political situation, then revert back to the story of the spies. I wish that the full story would be told continuously and either before or after cover the background. The story of Hilter's Yacht was like this - should have been one chapter, yet it was covered in 2 chapters. I did learn some interesting things - Chapter 10 on Kim where the Arab Section was originally created to fight the Germans and not the British and the story about Hilter's Yacht in Chapters 15 and 16. I was sorry to learn about the 2 factions in Israel: those from Europe who were primirily secluar and those from the Middle East who were religious. And how those from the Middle East were marginalized. They were in it together and should have realized how much they needed each other. Overall, I wish there had been more stories of the adventures of the spies.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michaela

    ---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. --- So, here's the thing. I don't do spy stories, thrillers, or most political tales, nor do I gave a crap about Zionism. When this arrived I was somewhat trepidatious about what I had let myself in for by signing up for this book. I am happy to report that it all turned out well....quite well, in fact. This book is really more about a handful of characters who happened to occupy a certain spot on the planet, at a very unique t ---Full disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. --- So, here's the thing. I don't do spy stories, thrillers, or most political tales, nor do I gave a crap about Zionism. When this arrived I was somewhat trepidatious about what I had let myself in for by signing up for this book. I am happy to report that it all turned out well....quite well, in fact. This book is really more about a handful of characters who happened to occupy a certain spot on the planet, at a very unique time in the history of the area. They come from a land & culture, a way of living, that has quickly (& unexpectedly) completely morphed into something no one could have foreseen. They were not spies as we understand spies to exist. They are better described as free-range players for a movement, really more of an idea of a movement, that had no set boundaries, definitions, or hierarchy. It barely even existed. What was most fascinating about this story was 2-fold for me. Firstly, the characters themselves were men of a different time & mindset than currently exists. They represent the forgotten roots & origins of what has become a modern quandary. (Such as, what the idea of Zionism used to mean, as opposed to what it means now.) Second, the modern state of affairs as regards the Palestinian & Israeli countries, & the Arab, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, & just non-religious mix of people in the area, were made a less confusing conglomerate by reading ch. 18. According to a now elder spy guy, there was always going to be trouble in any mix that would refuse to acknowledge the Arab part of its citizenry & history. He explained that roughly 1/2 of the population of Israel has Arab-roots, (including Jews & Christians, not just Muslims) & the refusal to incorporate that cultural reality, the refusal to even acknowledge it, has led to no end of wounds, buried truths, cultural disconnects, & general unrest. When I read that ch., after having read the cultural lay of the land previously made known in preceding chapters, a lot of things about the area & its squabbles suddenly made sense. The people in this area are of many types. They might be wholly secular, from outside of the Middle East (or the product of those from outside the area), or perhaps they are of those best-defined as being deeply versed in the specific regionality of their cultural lineage….lineages which have very, very long memories. The identities of these various lineages are all about what they have survived as a people, and what they believe is their due as a member of their specific cultural group. Regardless, they all had/have ideas about this land & their place in it. That’s the thing about ideas, though. Ultimately, there is no telling what the differences b/w the idea & the reality will be when an idea is attempted to be manifested into the actual existence we all share. Humans have a way of being idealistically unrealistic, screwing up their opportunities good & proper, & then refusing to acknowledge their errors. The point being that birthing ideas into reality is like raising children. One can do their best, but in the end who (or in this case, what) they turn out to be is not entirely in one’s control. Inevitably, even the best of situations, problems will arise, & if not dealt with intelligently & honestly, they will always, always fester into an angry infection…..& nothing with any lasting desirability comes from that. The writing is often good, sometimes dry, but it is thorough & of a solid journalist background, while giving some leeway to breathe life into spare places where facts can not be fully known, or accounts disagree. The different groups & backgrounds can be easy to mix-up, but largely the important differences are not hard to keep straight. Overall it holds as a good read that serves to broaden an understanding of an area & it’s complexities, by focusing on the human roots from which it developed. I personally think there’s a decent movie that could be made from this. 4-stars only because the writing did sometimes prove a bit hard to follow or details difficult to keep clear, but given the nature of the material there really is only so much that could have been done about that. Fascinating characters, time-period, & subject matter, though. Oh, I nearly forgot! There is a chapter entitled Hitler’s Yacht. What?! Yeah, that’s what I said right before I ignored my pre-determined cut-off point & read 2 more chapters further than I had planned before going to bed. I found it to be a fascinating surprise. So that’s a thing you can look for in your reading. Good times. Sorry if some of that wording is unclear. I was having a hard time finding the right way to relay what I gathered from my reading. Better you should read it yourself. Hopefully someone will come along & lend better verbiage to what I was attempting to express.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Title : Spies of No Country By : Matti Friedman Genre: Nonfiction Pages : 245 Algonquin Books March 5th 2019 This was sent to me unsolicited by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion, which this will be , Book synopsis Four Arab Jews emigrate to Israel in 1948, at the birth of the new nation. Recruited almost immediately to spy for Israel, they are sent back to Lebanon and elsewhere to pose as Arabs (which they actually are) and collect intelligence. They operate out of a kiosk in Beirut. It Title : Spies of No Country By : Matti Friedman Genre: Nonfiction Pages : 245 Algonquin Books March 5th 2019 This was sent to me unsolicited by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion, which this will be , Book synopsis Four Arab Jews emigrate to Israel in 1948, at the birth of the new nation. Recruited almost immediately to spy for Israel, they are sent back to Lebanon and elsewhere to pose as Arabs (which they actually are) and collect intelligence. They operate out of a kiosk in Beirut. It is dangerous work and they don't know to whom they are reporting; they don't know whether their information is useful; and by the end, they don't know who they have become. The unit--called the Arab Section--will eventually become the Mossad, Israel's vaunted intelligence agency. Borderland is about the disguises and identities of particular spies, but it's also about how Israel itself has assumed a false or misleading identity. Israel presents itself as European country when in fact it's comprised of Middle Easterners like the men in this story. And, according to Matti Friedman, that partially explains the politics of the country and why it often baffles the West. With writing that is both stunning and journalist, Borderland gives us a window into the past and the future of the Middle East My thoughts Rating: DNF at only 55 pages in it Would I recommend it : No Will I pick any thing else up by this author : No Why : This book reads like it all about politics , not only that there was comments in it that was insulting and before anyone says anything I even showed those comments to a friend and she agreed with me on that.Not only was it insulting but it was also uneven with an irregular structure resulting from the mashing together of personal accounts, historical documentation, and the author’s occasionally inserted opinions that it mad it confusing to read and that was just in the first 55 pages I've read,if it like that in those first couple of pages then it'll be like that though out the book. just trying to figure out what was being said and try to get over the comments was giving me a headache and with that being said I'm DNF it 100% .

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    "Spies of No Country" is the story of four Jewish men who could pass as Arab and were able to move through the world assuming Arab identities. This book covers two different chapters: one when these men were spying back before Israel existed as a state and then after Israel became a state and they continued their spying in Beirut. This was a fascinating book that gives you just a taste of everything that these men went through. Spies are always interesting to me, especially when they are able to "Spies of No Country" is the story of four Jewish men who could pass as Arab and were able to move through the world assuming Arab identities. This book covers two different chapters: one when these men were spying back before Israel existed as a state and then after Israel became a state and they continued their spying in Beirut. This was a fascinating book that gives you just a taste of everything that these men went through. Spies are always interesting to me, especially when they are able to pass seamlessly into the environments that they find themselves spying in. I had never given much thought to what it would take for a spy to go unnoticed in a place such as Palestine during and just after World War II. The tension there would have been massive and the entire environment would have been so unstable. I enjoyed learning about these men and I appreciated that Friedman was able to count on firsthand interviews from one of the men (that research is absolutely priceless!!!). I did wish that the book included more detail. In many ways, the book is a collection of missions. I wanted to know a little more context but I always appreciate when a book whets my appetite to go do more research on my own. This was a solid non-fiction!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Charlie - A Reading Machine

    I was really interested in getting into this because of the almost legendary reputation of the Israeli spy system. On an entertainment level I've read a ton of books where the Mossad seems to know everything or seen in movies like WWZ where they begin building an anti zombie wall years because of everyone else because of their Tenth man policy. What I didn't realise it that not all of this is fiction. In 1973-1974, Israel Military Intelligence established a Control Unit that was expected to play I was really interested in getting into this because of the almost legendary reputation of the Israeli spy system. On an entertainment level I've read a ton of books where the Mossad seems to know everything or seen in movies like WWZ where they begin building an anti zombie wall years because of everyone else because of their Tenth man policy. What I didn't realise it that not all of this is fiction. In 1973-1974, Israel Military Intelligence established a Control Unit that was expected to play this role of the devil’s advocate. Its responsibility was to produce a range of explanations and assessments of events that avoided relying on a single concept, as happened in 1973. The writer of WWZ Max Brooks puts it a bit more dramatically: if ten people are in a room, and nine agree on how to interpret and respond to a situation, the tenth man must disagree. His duty is to find the best possible argument for why the decision of the group is flawed. Spies of No Country offers us a detailed look at the what can only be described as three of the founding members of the Israel spy system. There is no flashiness and high tech gadgets with information gleaned though high risk close proximity encounters. There is no long distance satellite surveillance, cameras need to be borrowed from acquaintances and every moment is fraught with danger and the real possibility that a single mistake could end their lives. It is much more about that man it woman sitting in the curb gleaning every snippet of information they can never knowing exactly what might be crucially important. With that the agents have an enormous sense of pride in what they are doing for their family and country with the knowledge that they are truly affecting the future. It is intriguing and emotive and a raw moving piece of story telling. Highly recommended

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    When Americans think of Israeli history, we fasten on a handful of names: Chaim Weizmann. David ben Gurion. Golda Meir. We think of kibbutzim, the Israeli Defense Force, the country's great universities, and its legal system. All these people, and many others whose names are prominent in the country's history, are of European origin. And every institution they created was a product of European thought and tradition. That simply reflects the fact that "in the 1940s, nine of every ten Jews in Pale When Americans think of Israeli history, we fasten on a handful of names: Chaim Weizmann. David ben Gurion. Golda Meir. We think of kibbutzim, the Israeli Defense Force, the country's great universities, and its legal system. All these people, and many others whose names are prominent in the country's history, are of European origin. And every institution they created was a product of European thought and tradition. That simply reflects the fact that "in the 1940s, nine of every ten Jews in Palestine came from Europe." Yet the persistent image of Israel today as a Western outpost in the Eastern Mediterranean is highly misleading. To understand how that changed and so deeply influences the nation's politics today, you can do no better than to read Israeli-Canadian journalist Matti Friedman's revealing new book, Spies of No Country. Four young Arab-speaking Jewish men were the first Israeli spies Friedman's book tells the tale of four young Arab-speaking Jewish men who became spies for the scattered forces working to establish the State of Israel. They had emigrated to join Jewish settlements in Palestine from their homes in Damascus, Aleppo, Arab-occupied Jerusalem, and Yemen. They were, in a word, Asian Jews, like millions of others who later fled the towns and cities of the Middle East and North Africa following Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. Though Friedman doesn't venture into Israeli political history, it's clear that long-neglected population rose into prominence in 1977 with the election of Menachem Begin. The country's rightward shift ever since then is one result. As Friedman points out, Asian Jews account today for half the country's population, and they tend to be poorer and less well educated than those of European descent. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's long term in office is only the most recent manifestation of the sea change they embody in the country's political orientation. "There was no state called Israel, nor did it seem likely there would be one." The four men who constitute Friedman's principal subject were among some ten Arab-speaking Jews recruited by the Palmach in the years leading up to the War of Independence. They were formed into an Arab Section that has received scant attention from historians. The men were sent, singly or in teams, to Beirut and other Arab capitals to gather intelligence, armed with their wits and only the most minimal training. "There was no state called Israel, nor did it seem likely there would be one. The United Nations had no way to enforce the partition plan" mandated by the General Assembly in November 1947. And war had immediately broken out following its passage. They were "the embryo" of the Mossad It's difficult to imagine how poorly trained and ill-equipped were the men of the Arab Section. As Friedman wrote, "there weren't any cars. At the time, the Arab Section didn't even own a radio. When they needed a camera for one surveillance mission . . . they'd had to borrow a Minox from a civilian they knew." And at first there was no money, either. "It wasn't just that the Palmach couldn't pay salaries. The unit couldn't always cover bus fare or a cheap plate of hummus for lunch, and on at least one occasion agents had to stop trailing a target because they didn't have money for a night in a hostel. "The men lived by their wits, acting on instinct that frequently led them to make mistakes. Yet they survived (unlike most of their fellows in the Arab Section), and they succeeded in feeding useful intelligence to their handlers in Palestine. "[A]fter hostilities began in 1948, the Section proved to be one of the only effective intelligence tools the Jews had." However, there is no earth-shattering revelation in Spies of No Country. The four agents's "mission didn't culminate in a dramatic explosion that averted disaster, or in the solution of a devious puzzle. Their importance to history lies instead in what they turned out to be—the embryo of one of the world's most formidable intelligence services." And one of the four men Friedman writes about became one of Mossad's most celebrated agents.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michael Rieman

    Matti Friedman brings his considerable skills as a journalist to this story of four young Jewish men of Middle Eastern backgrounds who left their former countries to live in the land we now know as Israel, only to be recruited to take up residence in Lebanon or Syria to gather information which might prove helpful for the Jewish State, before and for some time after the war which established Israel. We meet them in Haifa during the waning months of the British Mandate, when militias were being f Matti Friedman brings his considerable skills as a journalist to this story of four young Jewish men of Middle Eastern backgrounds who left their former countries to live in the land we now know as Israel, only to be recruited to take up residence in Lebanon or Syria to gather information which might prove helpful for the Jewish State, before and for some time after the war which established Israel. We meet them in Haifa during the waning months of the British Mandate, when militias were being formed in both Arab and Jewish areas of the city,a time in which identities were uncertain, and someone who might appear to be Arab or Jew could be considered an enemy. Friedman clearly describes the dangers of moving about in the city, where an overheard conversation or phone call could mean death. The narrative then moves to Beirut, a city not directly on the battle front, but one which could provide information on the temperament of Lebanon, and its potential threat to Israel. The men had to take on the lives of working class Arab men, usually as refugees from the fighting in Palestine, and to a large extent they succeeded in doing so, all the while sending messages home in very improvised ways, all the while hoping to elude capture and certain death. The book does detail certain "missions" which provide the kind of action we might expect in spy literature, but these actions are not always successful, and generally show less dramatic action than we might have come to see in films or TV programs. The men discover, and destroy, a Red Cross truck in Haifa fitted out to bomb Jewish sites such as a crowded theater. They report on and seek to assassinate a Lebanese cleric who fervently urges young Arabs to slaughter Jews, but do not achieve success in this despite some thoughtful planning. They identify a ship, formerly the yacht Hitler hoped to use on the Thames after conquering Britain. This craft, they believed, was intended to be refitted as a warship to attack Israel. The mission to destroy it is described with the author's characteristic realism, and truthfulness to fact. The stories of these men and their actions allow the author to delve into significant subjects of importance not only to Israel and the Middle East region, but to our own "Western" views of the continuing conflict. In the early days of the Jewish State, the prevailing political and social attitudes were formed largely from the Zionist beliefs of European founders and settlers. These beliefs looked to a socialist, egalitarian society which would not only be a new beginning for Jews, free from the shackles of prejudice and religious doctrine, but a society which could connect in peace with its neighbors. Some of those Zionists were puzzled by the ways of Jews from Arab countries, whose culture differed from their own. Middle Eastern Jews sometimes felt that they were held in less esteem. The creation of Israel, and the often brutal treatment of Jews by the Arabs of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, led to dramatic increases in the Israeli population from the Arab world. Friedman lets us see how these events produced dramatic changes for Israel itself. He also lets us understand that propaganda and ideologies on all sides differed from the reality of life. The spying and intelligence gathering that played a role in Israel's birth, and soon after laid the groundwork for the Mossad, had its losses, sorrows, and betrayals. The Arab beliefs that Israel was a "colonial venture" and a way for Europe to solve its problems with Jews to the detriment of the Arabs, fails to acknowledge the hostility to Jews in that Arab world, and the actual expulsion of Jewish families who had lived in the cities of the Middle East for centuries. In the last section of the narrative, Friedman views the lives of these men from the perspective of contemporary Israel. For some of those men, the land they had left as "spies" was not the same land they returned to a few short years later. I had wished that Friedman could have fleshed out the characters of the men a little more. Though he does note certain ways in which they differ, and even prove critical of each other later on, the fullness of character development did not come through to me. Perhaps that requires a novelist with Friedman's clear-eyed, sympathetic, and humanistic skills. By the time I finished this narrative, I was more moved than I had expected to be.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Appropriately, Friedman begins his book: “…time spent with old spies is never time wasted.” Interviewing members of a unique branch of the Palmuch during Israel’s War of Independence, Friedman focuses on four spies in particular. They are part of the Arab Section, and elite team of Mizrahi Jews who could pose as Arabs behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence and coordinating sabotage (more of the former than the latter). “The Arab Section was an outlier in the Palmach, a curious feature.” The Appropriately, Friedman begins his book: “…time spent with old spies is never time wasted.” Interviewing members of a unique branch of the Palmuch during Israel’s War of Independence, Friedman focuses on four spies in particular. They are part of the Arab Section, and elite team of Mizrahi Jews who could pose as Arabs behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence and coordinating sabotage (more of the former than the latter). “The Arab Section was an outlier in the Palmach, a curious feature.” The first half of the book didn’t give me a true sense of an Arab Jew’s unique position in Israeli culture until Chapter 18: The Jewish State made that very clear. “People trying to forge a Jewish state in the Middle East could be helpful. The newcomers might have been invited to serve as equal partners in the creation of a new society, but they weren’t. Instead they were condescended to, and pushed to the fringes. It was one of the state’s worst errors, one for which we’re still paying.” These four agents, who spent most of their time with the Arab Section in Beirut, had families still in Syria or Yemen. Eventually, the war would become personal: “The lives of a million Jews in Muslim countries would be jeopardized by the establishment of a Jewish state.” This spurred a mass migration of Jews in Arab countries to Israel. “…Israel is more than one thing. It’s a refugee camp for the Jews of Europe. And it’s a minority insurrection inside the world of Islam.” While I got a sense of the individual men characterized, it took a while for the narrative to gain momentum. Otherwise, it gave me a new perspective into the earliest intelligence endeavors of the infant nation. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

  13. 5 out of 5

    RMazin

    In the spring of 1948 Israel and the Arab world are engaged in war. The British have recently pulled out. The Arab countries are aligning against the emerging state of Israel. European survivors are coming into the land of Israel. They are survivors hoping to build a Jewish homeland, in spite of the threats around them. It is a perilous time. What is needed is information. What is happening in the adjacent Arab nations? What is the political threat? Which leaders are the people rallying around? In the spring of 1948 Israel and the Arab world are engaged in war. The British have recently pulled out. The Arab countries are aligning against the emerging state of Israel. European survivors are coming into the land of Israel. They are survivors hoping to build a Jewish homeland, in spite of the threats around them. It is a perilous time. What is needed is information. What is happening in the adjacent Arab nations? What is the political threat? Which leaders are the people rallying around? Are there armaments? Where will they strike? How can Israel (with few resources) stop them? Matti Friedman researches the lives of four spies, who served the interests of Israel, through great hardship and danger to themselves. These were not European Jews, but Jews whose families lived among the Arabs. Nor were they professional spies. They were young men. They spoke Arabic, knew its dialects and knew their customs. They were driven to be part of a new Israel nation, even though the incoming European Jews were sometimes at odds with them. These spies had few resources or means of communications to headquarters for further instructions or insight. They were cut-off from family and friends, and each other. If caught, they would be executed. Eventually, men of this caliber would become an agency like the Mossad. Friedman gives voice to these men and tells their stories through documents, interviews and witnesses woven into a fascinating and harrowing story. He also explores the Middle Eastern roots of Israel society, which is so often depicted as a European formed country in the Western press/ histories. This is an essential book for all those interested in learning about the past and how it echoes down to issues in Israel today. Highly recommended. Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for a copy of this title.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Aryn

    Spies of No Country makes good on the title, while diving into the political and ideological issues at the heart of the creation of the State of Israel. The style of Friedman’s work displays his training as a journalist, with narrative prose augmented by personal interviews. The result is a compelling assortment of portraits and anecdotes. The premise of Spies of No Country is a description of what it meant to be a spy for the Land of Israel while Palestine was still a British protectorate. With Spies of No Country makes good on the title, while diving into the political and ideological issues at the heart of the creation of the State of Israel. The style of Friedman’s work displays his training as a journalist, with narrative prose augmented by personal interviews. The result is a compelling assortment of portraits and anecdotes. The premise of Spies of No Country is a description of what it meant to be a spy for the Land of Israel while Palestine was still a British protectorate. Within the Palmach, a branch of the fighting forces for the hoped for state, was a group called the Arab Section. Comprised of individuals who were born in the Arabic-speaking world, the purpose of the group was to become “One who becomes like an Arab,” and pass as Islamic citizens. Essentially, these individuals were to assume deep cover and report on sentiment about the war over Palestine/the Land of Israel, and conduct operations as necessary. While extensive training was provided about the appropriate mannerisms and customs that relate to life as a Muslim in the Arabic-speaking world, these young men and women were not the spies of cinematic fame. They weren’t prepared for commitments of living a lie in hostile countries for years, and many of the safeguards the layperson may take for granted, such as not knowing the true identities of your fellow spies, were not in place. The book focuses on a cell within Beirut,and although a demolitions expert is among those profiled, this isn’t a story of high-octane adventure. As Friedman points out in a number of cases, this isn’t the story of a movie - this is the real world, and in the real world, intelligence work comes with periods where nothing exciting happens, aside from the pressure of living a lie every minute of every day. What I found more interesting and memorable than the exploits of the agents were the discussions around the internal politics of the nascent state, preconceptions about how the rest of the area would react to the creation of a Jewish state, and some of the roots of the conflict that still rages. Final verdict: Not a book for adventure junkies, but a winner for those interested in the people around historical events. I was provided with a review copy by the publisher via NetGalley.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Seth Isenberg

    *I was given a free advance copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review* This book was a quick and easy read, but tells an important and oft overlooked throughline of Israel's War of Independence and beyond. By explicitly skipping the meta-story of the war and focusing on four brave mostly untrained spies, Friedman dives into the lives of Jews raised in Arab cultures, as millions of Jews did at the time. These Jews are not the Israeli pioneers most people think of, and they managed to *I was given a free advance copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review* This book was a quick and easy read, but tells an important and oft overlooked throughline of Israel's War of Independence and beyond. By explicitly skipping the meta-story of the war and focusing on four brave mostly untrained spies, Friedman dives into the lives of Jews raised in Arab cultures, as millions of Jews did at the time. These Jews are not the Israeli pioneers most people think of, and they managed to be "double-othered" by needing to leave their birthplaces due to mounting persecution but not be totally accepted in to proto-Israeli society either. As spies, they barely had any idea what they were doing. But none of that diminishes their bravery and their determination to serve the nascent nation with all of their skills and talents. Friedman's portrayal of the chaos in the streets of Haifa, and the strange existential conflict of Sefardic Jews pretending to be Arab in Beirut and Damascus is engrossing and thoroughly empathetic. Highly recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    Matti Friedman, author of the Aleppo Codex, has done it again. Another brillantly written book that reads like a spy novel. Much is witten about European Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 40's but very little is know about Jews who came from Arab lands and their contribution to the founding of the State of Israel. We learn about the original Israeli spy network and its founding with the British becasue of the alliance the Arab countries had with the Nazis. Friedman uses actual documentation f Matti Friedman, author of the Aleppo Codex, has done it again. Another brillantly written book that reads like a spy novel. Much is witten about European Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 40's but very little is know about Jews who came from Arab lands and their contribution to the founding of the State of Israel. We learn about the original Israeli spy network and its founding with the British becasue of the alliance the Arab countries had with the Nazis. Friedman uses actual documentation from young Arab Jews who were willing to risk their lives in order to have a better life in the new State of Israel. Most of them were born into poverty and the concept of a county where thery were not second class citizens became a reality. A must read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brisni (בריטני)

    Quite possibly one of the most important books I've read regarding the origin of the nation of Israel to date. Vividly depicts a unique historical perspective and connects it to the present in a very mindful and observant way. Nonfiction that has the pace and prose of fiction. So glad I picked this up. Will re-read. Absolutely excellent.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Oren

    The Arab section of Israeli intel services before they formally existed. Built entirely from the ground up. Some went on to highly successful careers while others were arrested almost immediately after crossing the border into some Arab state. Quick read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Portia

    I won this book on Goodreads.. A story of the brave young middle eastern Jews at the very beginning of Israel. Worth reading!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Casey Wheeler

    This book is about four spies for the Isreali movement prior to the formation of the country after the war of 1948. It is not about the war, but about the four individuals - Gamiel Cohen, Isaac Shoshan, Havakuk Cohen and Yakuba Cohen and the role they played before there was an official spy network. It is a very short book and a quick read. I had high hopes for the book (based on reviews of the author on previous books), but it was disappointing. The author's writing style just did not resonate This book is about four spies for the Isreali movement prior to the formation of the country after the war of 1948. It is not about the war, but about the four individuals - Gamiel Cohen, Isaac Shoshan, Havakuk Cohen and Yakuba Cohen and the role they played before there was an official spy network. It is a very short book and a quick read. I had high hopes for the book (based on reviews of the author on previous books), but it was disappointing. The author's writing style just did not resonate with me. It read like a dull recitation of the facts and did not bring the four featured individuals to life for me. I received a free copy of Spies of No Country by Matti Friedman courtesy of Net Galley  and Algonquin Books, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook and Twitter pages.

  21. 4 out of 5

    BOOKLOVER10

    "Spies of No Country" is set during the twenty months between January 1948 and August 1949. No sooner was the state of Israel founded than its Jewish inhabitants faced annihilation by her neighbors. Matti Friedman focuses on a small band of Arabic-speaking Jews who risked their lives by going undercover in Haifa and Beirut in order to spy on Israel's enemies. Friedman focuses on Syrian-born Gamliel Cohen and Isaac Shoshan; Havakuk Cohen from Yemen; and Yakuba Cohen, who was born in Jerusalem whe "Spies of No Country" is set during the twenty months between January 1948 and August 1949. No sooner was the state of Israel founded than its Jewish inhabitants faced annihilation by her neighbors. Matti Friedman focuses on a small band of Arabic-speaking Jews who risked their lives by going undercover in Haifa and Beirut in order to spy on Israel's enemies. Friedman focuses on Syrian-born Gamliel Cohen and Isaac Shoshan; Havakuk Cohen from Yemen; and Yakuba Cohen, who was born in Jerusalem when it was under British rule. These volunteers were undisciplined amateurs who communicated using a primitive radio set. They paid close attention to the chatter around them, and sent reports about Arab morale, their foes’ military strength, and other information that might prove helpful. In addition, members of the Arab Section carried out acts of sabotage and attempted to assassinate a particularly dangerous antagonist. "They improvised, saw what worked, and used it." Friedman pays tribute to these and other individuals who risked their lives in an effort to tilt the odds in favor of Israel's existence. The Jews of the "Arab Section" were "drawn from the lower rungs of Middle Eastern society,” and had little experience in making life-or-death decisions. They were trained to behave like Arabs, took lessons on handling weapons and explosives, and were ordered not to speak to their families (not everyone obeyed). They did not know for sure whether their actions would have a significant impact on Israel’s ultimate fate. Friedman evokes the tense atmosphere in the Middle East during a time when Jews, with their backs against the sea, used the limited resources at their disposal to wage all-out war against the local Palestinian militia and the armies of five Arab countries. The author, who conducted extensive research, brings this historical period to life with excellent descriptive writing and a host of colorful anecdotes. His sources include material from Israel's military archives; published histories written in Hebrew by Zvika Dror and Gamliel Cohen; and lengthy interviews that Friedman conducted over a period of years with one of the aforementioned spies. This enlightening and engrossing account, which is enhanced by evocative black and white photos, sheds light on the struggles of a courageous band of brothers whose efforts have become a footnote in the history of Israeli espionage. In these pages are fascinating stories of human interest, an overview of the politics and deep-seated hatred that led to so much death and destruction, and passages of dark humor and irony. Matti Friedman sadly points out that the Israeli government has not always treated Middle Eastern Jews as first-class citizens. Instead, he informs us, "They [Jews born in Arabic countries] were condescended to and pushed to the fringes” when they settled in Israel. To set the record straight, Friedman tells the story of Gamliel, Isaac, Havakuk, Yakuba, and others in the Arab Section, whose contributions and self-sacrifice set the stage for what would later become one of the most sophisticated intelligence networks in the world--the Mossad.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hill

    I received a complimentary copy of this book from Algonquin Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book will be published on March 5, 2019. This is the story of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence told from the perspective of four spies from Israel’s “Arab Section” — a precursor of what would eventually become Mossad. Although the book includes a lot of background about the Middle East and the War itself, it is primarily a personal account of the exper I received a complimentary copy of this book from Algonquin Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book will be published on March 5, 2019. This is the story of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence told from the perspective of four spies from Israel’s “Arab Section” — a precursor of what would eventually become Mossad. Although the book includes a lot of background about the Middle East and the War itself, it is primarily a personal account of the experiences — both internal and external — of the spies. The spies were Jewish men of Arab descent who wanted to be pioneers in the new, experimental (Zionist, socialist, and paradisical) country. Instead they were asked to “live like an Arab” — far from family and friends and amidst people with completely antithetical views (such as “Death to all Jews”). They were given false Arab / Muslim identities and sent out to gather intelligence and sometimes engage in sabotage. When they were finally able to come back to Israel two years later, it was to a completely different place — the reality of the country was a stark contrast to the ideal which they had held. Drawn from interviews, personal writings, and historical reports, the book did a good job of detailing the time and place as well as the attitudes and activities of the spies and those upon whom they spied. The writing is uneven with an irregular structure resulting from the mashing together of personal accounts, historical documentation, and the author’s occasionally inserted opinions. A little more synthesis and coherence would have been very welcome. However, I did learn a great deal and appreciated the way the many details brought the time and place to life for me. While I’ve known the rough history of Israel for a long time, I had either forgotten or never had known many of the specifics that I picked up from the book. At the time Israel declared independence in May 1948, 90% of its Jews were European — and looked down on the “black” Jews of Middle Eastern descent. The creation of Israel was a solution to a European, not Middle Eastern, problem. The declaration of Independence caused a massive influx of Jews from the surrounding Middle Eastern countries — not because they were enamored with the idea of a Jewish state but because they were fleeing a sudden and drastic increase in persecution in their home countries. As an example, according to the book Baghdad was 1/3 Jewish prior to 1948 (pretty much 0% now). So the solution to a European problem resulted in a much more widespread and amplified problem for the same target population in the broader Middle East. Middle Eastern history is long and complicated and this book did not dissuade me from my largely pro-Israel stance. However, it certainly gave me a deeper comprehension of the experiences of the every-day people of the time on both sides of the fluid borders.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steven Langdon

    Israel has become noted for its effective intelligence service. As this interesting book shows, however, its beginnings were much more haphazard and frantic, as the newly declared state tried in 1947 and 1948 to overcome the hostility of Arab populations within the new country and in its neighbouring states. This book recounts the way that young Jews who had grown up in Arab communities were recruited to act as spies in the "Arab Section," a small group that penetrated Lebanon, Jordan and Syria t Israel has become noted for its effective intelligence service. As this interesting book shows, however, its beginnings were much more haphazard and frantic, as the newly declared state tried in 1947 and 1948 to overcome the hostility of Arab populations within the new country and in its neighbouring states. This book recounts the way that young Jews who had grown up in Arab communities were recruited to act as spies in the "Arab Section," a small group that penetrated Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to assess Arab military preparations and sometimes to carry out sabotage missions. Drawing on interviews years later with the people who carried out this dangerous work, as well as archival sources, Friedman provides a vivid account of the challenges faced, the missteps sometimes made and the ultimate integration of the Section into a more mature intelligence service once Israel had survived its early battle with outside Arab armies. Capturing the difficulties that the new Israel had to overcome to survive is one of the strengths of this book. We are used to considering Israel now to be a powerful military presence but that was clearly not the case in 1947-48 as the new country struggled to obtain weapons and had to fight for its right to exist against well-armed Arab armed forces. These "spies of no country," working underground before Israel was even proclaimed as a nation, helped to counter the Arab superiority in numbers and weapons. Of the twelve spies in the Arab Section, five were caught and executed -- so this was clearly not an easy task. Remembering their hazardous work, with all its complications -- and sometimes personality differences -- makes this a valuable book, very much worth reading. Nevertheless, I wish that Friedman had provided a somewhat wider framework, considering whether a more peaceful start to Israel could have taken place. The country has had to battle for its existence for over 70 years now. I wonder if those early years could have been resolved more peacefully, leaving fewer sources of recurring violent conflict in the future. Perhaps the "Arab Section" could have played a role in such a scenario.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Friedman's meticulous research and passion for the subject are obvious throughout this book. As he tells the story of Israel's first spies, sent out before Israel was even officially a country, the reader learns about one of the fascinating episodes in Jewish history. Despite having never heard this story before and being a fan of historical nonfiction, this book just didn't grab me. I found myself interested enough each time I picked it up, but not interested enough to pick it up that often. I Friedman's meticulous research and passion for the subject are obvious throughout this book. As he tells the story of Israel's first spies, sent out before Israel was even officially a country, the reader learns about one of the fascinating episodes in Jewish history. Despite having never heard this story before and being a fan of historical nonfiction, this book just didn't grab me. I found myself interested enough each time I picked it up, but not interested enough to pick it up that often. I began it on December 8th and finished it on February 21st, during which time I finished 47 other books - this speaks volumes! The publisher's blurb makes it sound like this novel is full of intrigue and suspense, a lot like a Tom Clancy or Dale Brown novel. Sadly, though the intrigue, betrayal, and danger are all there - there just wasn't any suspense. I felt no emotion while reading this book. Sure, the facts were interesting enough and I continued reading, but the only compulsion I ever felt to pick the book back up was guilt because I accepted the book in exchange for providing a review. Honestly, had I not felt obligated to complete a review, I may not have finished the book. But, I contrast that with the fact that each time I did pick it up, I read without boredom. So, I'm giving this one 3 stars: 2 for the actual book itself and a bonus 1 for the obvious research that went into making sure it was an accurate portrayal of a story that really needs to be told. Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of this ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chava

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The subject of the book is interesting: Jews from Arab countries living in Palestine in the late 1940s (who looked like Arabs and spoke fluent Arabic) were sent as spies to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. These men "became like Arabs" and worked or ran businesses, reporting back to the Palmach about what they heard on the street and what they read int he local newspapers and heard on Arab radio. They lived under constant tension, and many years later, when Friedman interview them, these men still had The subject of the book is interesting: Jews from Arab countries living in Palestine in the late 1940s (who looked like Arabs and spoke fluent Arabic) were sent as spies to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. These men "became like Arabs" and worked or ran businesses, reporting back to the Palmach about what they heard on the street and what they read int he local newspapers and heard on Arab radio. They lived under constant tension, and many years later, when Friedman interview them, these men still had vivid memories of their experiences then. While there is intrigue and the Arab Section did blow up an ambulance in Haifa, most of the story is about laying low and collecting information. It builds on two levels: the personalities of the spies and the history of the modern State of Israel. I picked this up because I really enjoyed the author's The Aleppo Codex, and he had encountered one of the men (Isaac Shoshan) while researching that book. The story is an important one, and the non-Ashkenazi contributions to the early years of Israel needs more attention. But the switching between reporting the facts, giving background, telling the stories of four of the men in the Arab Section, and finally reflecting on "what it all means," was rather disruptive in terms of natural flow of events.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Geof

    This was gifted to me in return for this review. It is an interesting glimpse into the lives of a handful of Jewish spies (they do not like being called spies) prior to and immediately after the creation of Israel. The focus seemed to be on the difficulties of passing yourself off as an Arab Muslim in a hostile state for an extended period of time. The implication is that this is now next to impossible as the Arab Jews no longer know the little details about what it is like to live in neighborin This was gifted to me in return for this review. It is an interesting glimpse into the lives of a handful of Jewish spies (they do not like being called spies) prior to and immediately after the creation of Israel. The focus seemed to be on the difficulties of passing yourself off as an Arab Muslim in a hostile state for an extended period of time. The implication is that this is now next to impossible as the Arab Jews no longer know the little details about what it is like to live in neighboring Muslim countries. All of the spies in this book were born and raised in places such as Damascus and Aleppo. They were amateurs doing their jobs through trial by fire. What this book is not and does not pretend to be is either a history of the war in 1948 or the creation of Israel or the Mossad. It is also not full of action packed espionage mostly because espionage is actually a mostly boring business. There are some stories of daring deeds, but the focus is as described in the above paragraph. It is short at 200 some pages so one does not have to invest a lot of time in the book. It was interesting as I did not know much about the subject.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    The author is writing an adult nonfiction book but it reads more like YA narrative nonfiction. That's not a bad thing, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was an adult book. What did annoy me more was the author's inserting himself into the story far too frequently, and some of the explanations of names could have been done in an author's note. This is also a very slim volume that attempts to both highlight the people involved in the Arab Section of the Palmach and what was going on pol The author is writing an adult nonfiction book but it reads more like YA narrative nonfiction. That's not a bad thing, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was an adult book. What did annoy me more was the author's inserting himself into the story far too frequently, and some of the explanations of names could have been done in an author's note. This is also a very slim volume that attempts to both highlight the people involved in the Arab Section of the Palmach and what was going on politically (and religiously) in what we now call Israel shortly before and after the country was founded. There is some discussion of the differences between the European Jews and those from the Middle East, as well as something about how the various Arab countries felt about what was happening due to the British pulling out but a fuller explanation might have helped those who don't really know about that era. ARC provided by publisher.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    Received this as a ARC from the Goodreads Giveaways. It was an interesting book describing the lives and events of 4 men who were considered spies for Israel. They started just before the British pulled out of Palestine and Israel was not yet an official country. They were from other countries in the region and were Jewish but could pass as Arab so they were sent into the Arab regions to gain intelligence to help Israel in its war for independence. The author interviewed one of the men when he was Received this as a ARC from the Goodreads Giveaways. It was an interesting book describing the lives and events of 4 men who were considered spies for Israel. They started just before the British pulled out of Palestine and Israel was not yet an official country. They were from other countries in the region and were Jewish but could pass as Arab so they were sent into the Arab regions to gain intelligence to help Israel in its war for independence. The author interviewed one of the men when he was in his 90s and uses his recollections along with information gathered from other sources. Their lives were not glamorous and at times quite boring and dangerous and they had to make do on their own quite a bit. It was interesting to learn about what was happening in the region at that time and how the "founders" of Israel had very different ideas about what the country should look like and become.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    I received this book as an ARC from Algonquin Books’ Goodreads Giveaway. I found the subject to be interesting and I learned a lot but I had some issues with the book’s organization. I didn’t feel like it had a good flow. Two things I found very helpful and kept referring back to were the Jan 1948 map of the Middle East, since I’m not familiar with the region, and the pictures of the four spies highlighted in the book. Throughout the book I kept thinking about 1) the challenges (physical and per I received this book as an ARC from Algonquin Books’ Goodreads Giveaway. I found the subject to be interesting and I learned a lot but I had some issues with the book’s organization. I didn’t feel like it had a good flow. Two things I found very helpful and kept referring back to were the Jan 1948 map of the Middle East, since I’m not familiar with the region, and the pictures of the four spies highlighted in the book. Throughout the book I kept thinking about 1) the challenges (physical and personal) that the spies faced as Jews “who become like Arabs” and 2) how differently people view spies, depending on the side you support. They are either traitors to be executed or heroes to be celebrated. I appreciate the opportunity to review this book in advance of it’s publish date. It was interesting enough for me to finish but not a compelling read so 3 stars.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Horton

    As I read this book, I kept thinking that it would make great fiction. It's important to distinguish that this is a factual account, so the writing is very dry. It reads like a textbook, but that was okay with me since I was reading it to learn. The Middle East—its history, tribal groups, and the divvying up of lands—fascinates me, so I enjoyed Spies of No Country. A series of interviews with Palmuch members form the foundation for the story. The author does a good job of weaving the birth of Isr As I read this book, I kept thinking that it would make great fiction. It's important to distinguish that this is a factual account, so the writing is very dry. It reads like a textbook, but that was okay with me since I was reading it to learn. The Middle East—its history, tribal groups, and the divvying up of lands—fascinates me, so I enjoyed Spies of No Country. A series of interviews with Palmuch members form the foundation for the story. The author does a good job of weaving the birth of Israel with the formation of her intelligence agencies, nesting both the country and the spies in the individuals who lived these days. Recommended for readers interested in the history of Israel and Palestine, or even for readers who enjoy thrillers set in the Middle East.

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