Saturday, May 17, 2008

Contending Polemics on Palestine/Israel: Massad & Karsh plus Israel's New Historians

Columbia University Associate Professor Joseph Massad, a Palestinian academic from a family who fled to Jordan.

Resisting the Nakba
Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue 897 (May 15-21, 2008)

One of the most difficult things to grasp in the modern history of Palestine and the Palestinians is the meaning of the Nakba. Is the Nakba to be seen as a discrete event that took place and ended in 1948, or is it something else? What are the political stakes in reifying the Nakba as a past event, in commemorating it annually, in bowing before its awesome symbolism? What are the effects of making the Nakba a finite historical episode that one bemoans but must ultimately accept as a fact of history?

I will suggest to you that there is much at stake in all of this, in rendering the Nakba an event of the past, a fact on the ground that one cannot but accept, admit, and finally transcend; indeed that in order to move forward, one must leave the Nakba behind. Some have even suggested that if Israel acknowledges and apologises for the Nakba, the Palestinians would forgive and forget, and the effects of the Nakba would be relegated to historical commemorations, not unlike the one we are having this year.

In my view, the Nakba is none of these things, and the attempt to make this year the 60th anniversary of the Nakba's life and death is a grave error. The Nakba is in fact much older than 60 years and it is still with us, pulsating with life and coursing through history by piling up more calamities upon the Palestinian people. I hold that the Nakba is a historical epoch that is 127 years old and is ongoing. The year 1881 is the date when Jewish colonisation of Palestine started and, as everyone knows, it has never ended. READ THE FULL EDITORIAL HERE.

Buy a collection of Prof. Massad's seminal essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, including an essay on the Mizrahim ("eastern" Jews), The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, here.

Right-wing Israeli academic Efraim Karsh, professor at King's College, London

The 60-Year War for Israel's History
inFocus, a publication of the right wing Jewish Policy Center think tank
(Spring 2008)

Since Israel's founding in 1948, there have been two Arab-Israeli conflicts. The first one is military in nature. Played out on the battlefield, it has heroes, villains, martyrs, and victims. The second conflict, less bloody but no less incendiary, is the battle over the historical culpability for the 1948 war and the displacement of large numbers of Palestinian Arabs.

The Israeli narrative views the Palestinian tragedy as primarily self-inflicted, resulting from their vehement rejection of the 1947 United Nations resolution calling for two states in Palestine, and the violent attempt by regional Arab states to abort the Jewish state at birth. By contrast, Palestinians view the episode as one in which they fell victim to a Zionist strategy that dispossessed them from their patrimony. READ THE REST OF THE EDITORIAL HERE.

Comment: Notice how Karsh tries to dishonestly argue that New Historian Benny Morris' alleged mistake in one of his books somehow "disproves" everything that he has written and the work of the rest of the Israeli New Historians. Ironically, Morris is the New Historian who has remained closest to the founding Zionist narrative myth of the establishment of Israel, a modern state. Morris is also the most dismissive of the Palestinians. Although he acknowledges the Zionists' role in creating the Palestinian refugee crisis of 1948, Morris approves of their actions claiming inaccurately that they were the complete result of war. Today, Morris has basically become a right-wing Israeli academic, making his feud with Karsh all the more bizarre and entertaining.

Karsh, who basically steers the official line of the early Israeli state, is best viewed as a "state historian" in that he parrots the state's official founding myth. He also argues that the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians have not been suppressed by their Israeli occupiers. Karsh has even argued that the Palestinian Territories are not occupied.
Unfortunately for Karsh and his pals (and fortunately for everyone else), the work of the Israeli New Historians has proven to be a pathbreaking contribution to modern Middle East historiography. The New Historians, particularly those who have continuously challenged the official Israeli Zionist narrative (Ilan Pappé, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, and to a lesser extent Morris), are to be commended. Half of them (Shlaim and Pappé) teach in Great Britain and a third (Segev) does not work in the Israeli academe.

Seminal Works of Israel's New Historians

Ilan Pappé

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Buy here)

The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951 (Buy here)


The Iron War: Israel and the Arab World (Buy here)

The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, 2nd Edition, ed. (Buy here)


The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisted, 2nd Edition (Buy here)


The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust (Buy here)

1949: The First Israelis (Buy here)

Elvis in Jerusalem: Post-Zionism and the Americanization of Israel (Buy here)

1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East (Buy here)

*A welcome counterbalance to Michael Oren's book which steers much closer to the official Israeli state narrative of the 1967 war.

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