Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ilan Pappé: Neo-Zionists Recapture the history of 1948


An abridgment of Ilan Pappé’s 2009 article, “The Vicissitudes of the 1948 Historiography [i] of Israel,” in the Journal of Palestine Studies  is available on the DESIP website at:


Pappé’s article describes the two-fold transition from the original Zionist myths to the New Historians, only to culminate in the relatively quick re-emergence of the neo-Zionists. Pappé observes that the neo-Zionists view the catastrophe of the Palestinians as an essential element making possible the State of Israel.


Selections from the abridgment follow.


Ilan Pappé

“The Vicissitudes of the 1948 Historiography of Israel”


History is more than a simple sequencing of events. It’s a way of extracting a plot out of collected facts. Current political realities inevitably influence the agendas of historians--especially when the subject involves a disputed land and when the narrative is seen as playing a crucial, even existential, role in that land’s ongoing struggle and self-image.


In view of the political demands, it should not be surprising that the case of Palestine and particularly the narrative of the 1948 war has undergone two major transitions in less than two decades. First from the classical Zionist narrative of a heroic Jewish struggle for survival that ended in the voluntary flight of the Palestinians, to the ‘New History’ narrative of the 1980s. This new narrative fundamentally challenged the earlier version, but around the year 2000, it gave way to what I will call the “neo-Zionist” narrative that re-embraced the spirit, if not the details, of the original Zionist version. This two-fold transition encompassed the movement from adherence to the national consensus, to recognition by certain elites of its many contradictions and fabrications [the post-Zionist phase], to the current phase of a rejection of the post-Zionist questioning of the national consensus.


The time that elapsed between the challenge posed by the New Historians/post-Zionists and their disappearance was short, less than two decades. The reason for this brevity is doubtless because the 1948 war is not only a story closely linked to current politics but is also a foundational myth.


Foundational myths provide the narrative that justifies the existence of the state, and as long as they remain relevant to the existing social order, they retain their force. Since the social order had not essentially changed since 1948, society quickly reverted to its long held beliefs. And because the history of the 1948 war is linked to the future direction of the country, conclusions about it remain extremely relevant to the political scene.


The new neo-Zionist historiography didn’t exactly repeat itself. …The difference from the neo-Zionist version lay in the response or interpretation of the facts. What the New Historians saw as human and civil rights abuses or even atrocities and war crimes are treated in the new research as normal and sometimes even commendable behavior by the Israeli military. First and foremost was the categorical rejection of the New Historian view that the dispossession of the Palestinians was an Israeli crime. The neo-Zionists attacked them on moral grounds for dangerously undermining the legitimacy of the state. Succinctly articulating this approach is a quote from an article in the journal Techelet: “No nation would be able to keep its vitality if its historical narrative were to be presented in public as morally defunct.”


Testimony of a Palestinian POW from the 1948 war.


We were loaded into waiting trucks…Under guard we were driven to Um Khalid…and from there to forced labor. We had to cut and carry stones all day. Our daily food was only one potato in the morning and half a dried fish at night. They beat anyone who disobeyed orders. After 15 days they moved 150 men to another camp. I was one of them. It was a shock for me to leave my two brothers behind. As we left the others, we were lined up and ordered to strip naked. To us this was most degrading. We refused. Shots were fired at us. Our names were read: we had to respond ‘Sir’ or else. We were moved to a new camp in Ijlil village. There we were put immediately to forced labor, which consisted of moving stones from Arab demolished houses. We remained without food for two days, then they gave us a dry piece of bread.


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[i] Wikipedia defines historiography as the study of the history and methodology of the discipline of history.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Walid Khalidi: Reconquering Palestine

A summary or précis of Walid Khalidi ‘s article “The Hebrew Reconquista of Palestine” in the Autumn 2009 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies has been posted on the DESIP website at:

Professor Khalidi’s article, about twice as long as the précis, addresses some of the myths regarding the transformation of the former Palestine into the State of Israel.

Here are a few selections from the summary.

Since the issue [of who should inherit Palestine was divine right], questions of who fired the first shot, and who did or did not accept partition are mere diversions and irrelevancies.

The genius of the Zionist narrative is its ability to depict the Palestinians’ resistance to this plan to dispossess them as Palestinian aggression, and the Zionist drive to impose this revolutionary status quo on the Palestinians by force of arms as Jewish self-defense.

Aggression and offensive action were built into the very concept of the UN partition resolution. The area of the proposed Jewish state was 15 million dunams (1 dunam = 1,000 sq meters) while Jewish land ownership in 1948 totaled 1.7 million dunams. The UN was effectively saying to the Yishuv: go seize those additional 13.3 million dunams that you don’t own from those who do.

The outcome of the [1948] regular war was already sealed in favor of Israel by the time it began. The “existential threat” supposedly posed by the Arab armies, like the ostensible equity and moral viability of the UN partition resolution, is a myth. Ben Gurion was without doubt the most capable political leader operating in the Middle East in the 40s and 50s. He had his priorities right. Unlike the leaders of the Irgun and Stern gang who fought the British, Ben Gurion understood that the real enemy was the Palestinians and Arabs. (Although one could argue that it came down to a question of shared responsibility: Stern and Irgun would fight the British-–with discreet help from Ben Gurion–-and so Ben Gurion could devote the bulk of his energies to uprooting the natives.)

Perhaps the mother of all ironies is that Ben-Gurion spent 1916 researching the history of Palestine in—of all places—the New York Public Library. One of the conclusions of his research was that the Palestinian peasantry were the real descendents of the ancient Hebrews.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Don Peretz, 1958: Abandoned Arab Property Critical to early days of Israeli State

"'Abandoned' Property"  insert from "Original Sin" by Zachary Lockman. in Middle East Report, May-June 1988,  Review Essay.

from Don Peretz, Israel and the Palestine Arabs (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1958), p. 143

"Abandoned property [belonging to Arabs who had become refugees] was one of the greatest contributions toward making Israel a viable state. ... Of the 370 new Jewish settlements established between 1948 and the beginning of 1953, 350 were on absentee property.  In 1954, more than one third of Israel’s Jewish population lived on absentee property and nearly a third of the new immigrants (250,000 people) settled in urban areas abandoned by Arabs.  They left whole cities like Jaffa, Acre, Lydda, Ramleh, Baysan, Majdal; 388 towns and villages and large parts of 94 other cities and towns, containing nearly a quarter of all the buildings in Israel.  Ten thousand shops, businesses and stores were left in Jewish hands. ... In 1951-52, former Arab [citrus] groves produced one-and-a-quarter million boxes of fruit, of which 400,000 were exported.  Arab fruit sent abroad provided nearly 10 per cent of the country's foreign currency earnings from exports in 1951.  In 1949 the olive produce from abandoned Arab groves was Israel's third largest export, ranking after citrus and diamonds.  The relative economic importance of Arab property was largest from 1948 until 1953, during the period of the greatest immigration and need.  After that, as the immigrants became more productive, national dependence upon abandoned Arab property declined relatively."