Sir Martin: Israel & Jewish History

Sir Martin’s inspiration

During my visits to Israel in the 1970s I met some of those who were to become my friends and guides in the years to come, among them then the President of the Hebrew University, Avraham Harman, the archaeologist Yigael Yadin, and the then minister of Transport and Communications, Shimon Peres. Each of them, in different ways, influenced me to see the history of Israeli life and society as a dynamic, creative, often tormented, sometimes misguided, but essentially uplifting story.

In 1973 I was about to embark on the Middle East research for the fourth volume of the Churchill Biography,Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: World in Torment 1916-1922, and was visiting Israel, when the Yom Kippur war broke out there: also known as the October War. I have never published my experiences of that time, although I did keep a detailed diary. One day, perhaps, I will publish it” Read an excerpt from the unpublished diary here: The Israel Diary

Sir Martin with a Soldier in Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973
Sir Martin with a Soldier in Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973

“As soon as the October War ended, and I returned to Oxford, I drafted more than a hundred maps, which I published a year later.  The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israel Conflict

After spending many months in Israel, teaching first at Tel Aviv University and then at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I researched two separate projects, one an atlas Jerusalem Illustrated History Atlas and the other a history, Exile and Return: The Emergence of Jewish statehood”



Sir Martin accompanies Sir John Major (Prime Minister between 1990 -1997) on a state visit to the Middle East in 1995.

Avner Shalev, the Chairman of Yad Vashem, shows Prime Minister John Major, accompanied by Sir Martin, through the Holocaust Museum, March 1995.

The Rt Hon Sir John Major “Martin was always very generous in providing quotes and material for speeches, and this led to him joining me on a visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine in 1995. Throughout the visit Martin was a constant source of historical notes and anecdotes for every place we visited and everyone we met. He sat in on meetings-notably with Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Later, his detailed report of the visit missed nothing-and highlighted opportunitie ,dangers, anomalies and ironies that were hugely valuable to policy making.” From : The Finest Hour the Journal of Winston Churchill  Autumn 2014

Sir Martin & Russian Jewry

Larry Arnn and Christopher Flannery interview Sir Martin:

“It was in the army that you learned Russian wasn’t it?” Martin replied “I began my reading of Russian history when in an army hospital following an accident. One of my jobs was to read the Russian provincial press, from which I became familiar with the flavors of Russian attitudes and life, and with the Russian view of foreign nations. I was already interested in Soviet imperialism, and in how the Soviet Empire had been acquired. From visits to the Russian zone in Austria, I had got a pretty clear picture of what this imperialism was like.” Claremont Institute in 1983

The Refusniks
Oksana Kholmyansky, Yuli Kosharovsky, Mikhail Kolmyansky, Alec Ioffee, Martin Gilbert, Moscow, November 1985, MG photo

Letter to the Editor, Jerusalem Post, 15 February 1987, about another photo taken at the same time.

To Jerusalem Post 150287

For many Russian Jews Sir Martin Gilbert remains first and foremost a champion for their right to emigrate and to join their people in Israel. We the former Soviet Refuseniks, were all very pleased when Martin was honored with a  knighthood, a sign of recognition for his outstanding contribution to British historiography. For us he was a Jewish Knight, our friend and protector”  Michael Beizer (Refusenik) Finest Hour 2014

A visit to the Soviet Union, in order to make a public report on the struggle of Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union led to one of the books that most affected me personally, Jews of Hope. I felt that many of those I wrote about had become my friends, even during a short visit, and I was to visit many of them again before they were eventually allowed to leave.”

“In the Soviet Union today there are more than 10,000 Jews who have applied to emigrate but whose applications have been rejected-some of them again and again. They are just a small proportion of the total of nearly 400,000 Jews who, over the past decade, have requested the documents needed before they can even ask to leave, but who have not been given an exit visa”  Read More… The Jews of Hope

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Natan Sharansky being welcomed by Sir Martin Gilbert, Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Avner, and Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits, 1987.

“While in the Soviet Union, I met many friends of the imprisoned Jewish activist, Anatoly Shcharansky.  They, and his wife Avital, who was in Israel, encouraged me to write about him, in the hope of adding yet more ammunition to the long battle for his release. The result was Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time.”

“He wrote articles in the Jerusalem Post which were syndicated worldwide. He tirelessly fought for the imprisoned, such as Nathan Shcharansky, Iosif Begun, Evgeny Lein, Vladimir Lifshits, Alexander Kholmiansky and others .

His book on the most famous prisoner, Shcharansky: Hero of our time, countered the charges against a man who was unjustly jailed for nine years. Martin worked with the tireless efficiency of an entire organization or institution” Michael Beizer (Refusenik, Finest Hour 2014)

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Alex Goldfarb farewell. From the left in front: Alexander Lerner, unidentified, David Goldfarb, Alexander Goldfarb, Dina Beilin, Yosef Beilin (behind Dina), Vitaly Rubin, Judith Lerner, Valentina Goldfarb, (behind Valya, Lucy Luntz, Vladimir Slepak) Maria Slepak, Anatoly Sharansky, unidentified, Moscow, 1974 or 1975. Photo courtesy of Masha and Volodya Slepak

In a letter Sir Martin writes, July 1995 ” There is no doubt that the tremendous effort of bringing 70,000 Jews, and more,each year could be undertaken but for the enormous collective work of the Agency, of which the JIA is a significant (and much respected)part” he continued” There are still a hundred refugees from Chechnya there, waiting for  their papers to be processed so they can leave for Israel. Their ages range from tiny babies to women over eighty. Many of these refugees had been injured or traumatised by the terrible events in their home town of Grozny. They depend on us for their journey to safety and freedom”

Sir Martin & Film

Israel: The Birth of a Nation ( ישראל לידתה של אומה )

The documentary shows the true history of Israel’s legitimate establishment . A History Channel documentary presented by Sir Martin; the documentary chronicles the events of the Israeli War of Independence (1948-1949) using archive film, photographs, and interviews with participants.

Martin Gilbert – Israel: A History (I)

Mr. Gilbert discussed his book, Israel: A History, published by William Morrow. The book traces the history of the Jewish state from the formation of the modern Zionist movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, through the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, and its subsequent fifty-year history. In his speech marking the fiftieth anniversary he focused on the achievements of Israel.

Martin Gilbert – Sowing the Seeds of Jewish Statehood: Britain and Palestine, 1909-1922

Sir Martin Gilbert delivered the Irene and Hyman Kreitman Annual Memorial Lecture on May 30, 2011 during the 41st Annual Board of Governors Meeting at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His lecture was entitled Sowing the Seeds of Jewish Statehood: Britain and Palestine, 1909-1922

The Defining Moments in the History of the Jewish People (1998)

Conferment of Honorary Doctoral Degree on Sir Martin Gilbert at BGU, May 2011

The ceremony took place during Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s 41st Annual Board of Governors.

Sir Gilbert: Jerusalem: A Microcosm of Jewish Rights

Date: March 26, 2008
Conference: “Israel at 60: Confronting the Rising Challenge to Its Historical and Legal Rights” hosted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Historian Martin Gilbert & the Israel British Mandate Foreseen in the 19th Century book Elpis Israel

Sir Martin’s Blog

… and for how long to rule?

Smashing Statues – the Biblical Precedent

Ben-Gurion Declares Statehood

The Story of Israel


Yitzhak Rabin in Churchill’s War Rooms with Sir Martin

“The Dilemmas Of Victory”

Five Hours on the Golan, Israel,19 October 1973

“Jerusalem Under Siege, 1948”

A History of Jews in Muslim Lands   

Sir Martin’s Book Talks

Buy Sir Martin’s Israel & Jewish History Collection

Explore the Index: find people, places and events Click Here

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