SPIES OF NO COUNTRY
Nonfiction, Algonquin, 2019
In his third nonfiction book, Matti Friedman introduces us to four young men who are caught up in the fraught events surrounding the birth of Israel in 1948 and drawn into secret lives, becoming the nucleus of Israel’s intelligence service.
The tiny, amateur unit known as the “Arab Section” was conceived during WWII by British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine. Consisting of Jews from Arab countries who could pass as Arabs, it was intended to gather intelligence and carry out sabotage and assassinations.
When the first Jewish-Arab war erupted in 1948 and Palestinian refugees began fleeing the fighting, a small cadre of Section agents disguised as refugees joined the exodus. They fled to Beirut, where they spent the next two years undercover, sending messages back to Israel via a short-wave radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline. Of the dozen men in the unit at the war’s beginning, five were caught and executed.
Espionage, John le Carré once wrote, is the “secret theater of our society.” The Arab Section is not just a spy story, but a surprising window into the nature of Israel – a country that sees itself as belonging to the story of Europe, but where more than half of the population is native to the Middle East. Starring complicated characters with slippery identities moving in the shadow of great events, The Arab Section tells a very different story about what Israel is and how it was created.
Canada: Signal/McLelland & Stewart; Czech: Vysehrad/Albatross; France: Editions Liana Levi; Germany: Hentrich & Hentrich; Hungary: Gabo; Italy: Giuntina; Romania: RAO; Russia: Knizhniki; Israel: Kinneret; USA: Algonquin;