A Strange Death

Hillel Halkin, Author . Public Affairs $24 (388p) ISBN 978-1-58648-271-8

This promises to be about a mystery relating to a pro-British spy ring in WWI Palestine; in the end it delivers both more and less. Halkin, who delightfully explored another historical mystery in Across the Sabbath River , looks at the dramatic early history of Zichron Ya'akov, one of the first Zionist settlements in Palestine. During WWI, Yosef Lishansky and Sarah Aaronsohn, young locals who favored the British over the ruling Ottomans, led the spy ring, called Nili, bringing internecine conflict and Ottoman retribution to the town. Caught by the Turks, Aaronsohn was tortured and committed suicide; Lishansky was hanged. This much is generally known. But Halkin, poking around local ruins and interviewing old-timers after moving to Zichron in the early '70s, pursues two linked mysteries: was Nili betrayed by a Zichron resident, Perl Appelbaum, and was Appelbaum in turn poisoned in revenge? In exploring these questions, Halkin vividly portrays the Nili protagonists, the rough life in early Zichron, ideological divisions among various Zionist groups, the easy relations between settlers and native Arabs, and the buried secrets and passions of an average town. But the tale gets hijacked by one of Halkin's main sources, whose dramatic but digressive—and, it turns out, heavily fabricated—accounts of his own youth in Zichron detract from the narrative's momentum and coherence. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/16/2005
Release date: 05/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 307 pages - 978-1-59264-280-9
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