The Soviet Union, the leader of the world Marxist Left, took the Arab side in the conflict to the dismay of many sympathetic Israelis. However, after the Soviets were rejected from the Middle East in 1973, Buber’s influence once again began to grow.

 

By the early 1980s the left once again began to take a foothold on significant if not a majority of the Israeli electorate. Mostly university students these were some of the most important people in Israeli society since they made up the bulk of not only the army but very soon the workforce as well. Outside of Israel the left took the cue from this Israeli perspective and  began to take the cause of  the Palestinians as a common mantra. The left in Israel was encouraged by this development. The strength of the support for the Arab interpretation of its side of the history was exponentially advanced by the growth of the international left wing feeding off the Isareli left wing and vice versa.

 

The growth of Palestinian support among the Left in Israel and the rest of the Western world seemed to feed off of each other’s successes no matter how small they might be. Resembling each other in an ideological “leapfrog” their numbers began to grow. The more vocal European and American leftists became the more support the Israeli left sustained in Israel and vice versa.

 

 

 

 

 

This all changed in the 1980s. The release of classified documents created a groundswell of new accounts of the 1948  war. New information, new facts, new stories…The “new” historians were off and running.  Their interpretations, mostly negative, had a huge impact on Israeli culture. Because of the new evidence Israelis began to question exactly what happened in 1948, and a new set of debates about that time were set in motion. Tom Segev, one of these “new” historians rewrote the history of the 1948 war with the benefit of these documents. The data he and others accumulated more or less confirmed what the historians had written in the years subsequent to the end of the war. However, his interpretation of those events was drastically different. As I have posed in my thesis, left wing influence is responsible for the view that Segev and others take toward the creation of the State of Israel. Consequently, it is mostly negative.

 

Society responded by gaining adhearants mostly through the university system, and in turn encouraged more of this negative interpretation, showing Israel to have committed serious mistakes during the \time of its birth. society and how the society encouraged the history in kind of a sociological leap frog that has come to view the war in some Israeli circles as anything from unfortunate to a disgrace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing history about a particular event is driven by the circumstances that surround it. This is no less true in the conflict between Israel and the Arab States.

 

 

 

 

This historiography is replete with these points stated over and over again. If I may for a moment offer a personal opinion, it seemed like the more the Arabs protested on these issues the stronger Israel’s support grew and the more one sided the historiography became. Several examples of these works include,

 

Publications presenting the Arab side are very scarce for the reasons I described. Two that might be looked at were “Violent Truce,” by E.H. Hutchinson, the American general who headed one of the Israeli Arab Mixed Armistice Commissions, and whose insights and observations clearly dispel an anti-Israeli bent. However, this is not about the war in question but Hutchinson does offer some views on what happened. The other book would be Sami Hadawi’s “Bitter Harvest,”   written during the 1950s while in a refugee camp and published in 1963. It is a clear presentist view of the Arab side, however, it is filled with inaccuries and conjecture which any scholar could refute. These works are more diatribes than history. Hadawi is angry and puts the blame totally on the actions of Israel. This colors his view and can hardly be taken as a serious work. The difference between Dunner’s book and Hadawi’s is that Dunner does not demonized the Arab side, he only extols what he considers a miracle on the part of the Israelis. Hadawi on the other hand, cannot seem to get away from every atrocity, every UN violation and every illegality that Israel posseses by existing.

 

carried on a history of its own. The history in reporting this war has changed drastically over the last five decades. There are several reasons for this. One, Israel considered a westernized country, drew naturally sympathies when it was created by other western nations. The watershed of World War II strengthened demorcratic values through the defeat of Fascism, the horrors committed against Jews during that war, and the belief in the Jewish state by some European powers that the creation of  Jewish State in the middle east might delay the demise of a rapidly fading colonialist ethic.

 

One, data available at the time of reporting determines much of what is being reported. The time in which it is written can often skew the view of history to the writer. Politics often plays a role either internal or external. And, finally the writer him or herself who is presents the data with their own biases seeping in. The Arab Israeli conflict for the last fifty five years has many issues which sometimes seem so futile that they were has seen changes in the way

 

. If we as historians consider the beginning of this conflict in 1948, it can then be said that this is an area which was besieged by four major wars within the first twenty-five years since its inception, 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973.

 

One, and probably the most outstanding, was the other side’s own fault. Arab historians refused to write about it, at least in English, thinking it would somehow give some legitimacy to the Jewish state, recognized the Zionist cause as just in the Arab world, and possibly promote peace between the two parties, which would defeat their objective of removing the Jewish State from Palestine.

 

That war was treated by historians as somewhat of a “miracle” through the personification of writers like “A New Star in the Near East,” by Kenneth Bilby, “My Mission in Israel,” by James G. Mcdonald, and “The Republic of Israel,” by Joseph Dunner. All three were published and in circulation by 1951. They all use the information I have described. For the purposes of this paper I will look at only the Dunner book as it is indicative of the history I described earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

the release of previously military classified material, the decision of one side to engage or not engage in the process of reporting the history and the wars that have been fought have all acted to infuse new interest and information about the complex issues that drive the conflict. These issues can be as simple as naming wars. For example, the 1948 war between Israel and the Arab States, the principal subject of this paper, today has two names depending on the historian’s point of view. The Israelis have always referred to this war as their War of Independence. From their point of view that is logical, it was fought at the country’s birth and indeed gave the Jewish State life. The historiography from that time confirms this belief. However, to the Arabs it is known as “al-Nakba,” loosely translated means the “catastrophe” or “calamity.” However, since the Arab world did not engage in recording their side of the war until much later, the war of 1948 was only known as Israel’s war of Independence until after the Six Day War in June 1967.

 

also called Israel’s War of Independence, by 1950s historians is a good case study to understand how the changes over time have affected the way the history is interpreted. From that time to 1967 the history was heavily weighted toward the Israeli side of the story. There are several reasons for this..

 

After Israel’s victory, in late 1948 The Arab world fell silent on the issue of Israel’s victory during the war. Thinking that interpreting the war from a historical perspective might somehow add legitimization to Israel, give it credibility, and worst of all lead to a peace treaty which would allow Israel to remain a reality, influenced the Arab side to say nothing. It was almost as if there was an unwritten law not to talk about it in English, for public consumption, anything that had to do with Israel or its birth. Even in negotiations to separate forces in 1948, Arab participants during armistice negotiations refused to discuss details with Israeli negotiators directly or even sit in the same room with them. No Arab country ever refered to the State of Israel by name until Egypt signed its peace treaty at Camp David in 1979, always referring to the Jewish State as the “Zionist entity.” Consequently, pro-Zionist writers had a clear field to write with impunity any thing they wanted. With no challenge coming from the other side, the historical interpretation weighted heavily toward the Jewish State.

 

 

 

 

 

The politics of the area has seen a shift over time. As argued previously Historians before 1967 had a traditional, almost an apolitical viewpoint when writing about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Elements that created the one sided Israeli interpretation seemed to change after 1967. The passage of time, the inclusion of Arab writers defending their positions and infusion of the political left taking a definite side  began to influence how historians viewed the history. Left wing political slants interpreted the data differently. Consequently, a particular event written about in 1950 would have been supported by data uncovered in 1985, but the interpretation of that data might have been different when written about in the 1990s because of the bias that classically accompanies political inspired historical writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all of the historians who wrote histories backing the Arab side were necessarily leftist or Marxist inspired. They might have been but especially in the Arab world where there is an abhorrence of Marxism because of its denial of God based religions. However, even if these writers were not leftist their work was embraced by the left because Anti-Israel, anti-Zionist writing was anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-American, which was easily understood by the peoples of the middle east.

 

Finally, there were elements of European and American society in which the Arab world could voice an opposition to Israel and receive some sympathy for their cause.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without a balance coming from the Arab side, the Jewish accounts went unchallenged. This is not to say what was written was not true, only that there was no answer to it, polemical, presentist, intellectual or in any other fashion during that war. In twenty years of seriously researching this conflict I have never experienced a book , or journal article  written by a historian that interprets the history for the Arab side in the war, written within the first ten years of the war’s finish. That is not to say there is absolutely nothing written about it. There are published memoirs of Arab leaders of the time who were participants, not historians, Glubb, Azm Pasha etc. . However most of those writings did not become translated into English until after the Six Day War, when it became fashionable to do so. Therefore, Israelis, Americans and Europeans all writing historical accounts of the first twenty years of Israel’s history, the War of Independence experienced no opposition from the Arab side. There was no debate and consequently Israel’s image became brighter as the Arab image fell in the west.

 

 

 

The actual physical data used to write the history until 1967 was incomplete. And, the histories reflect this disadvantage. Most historians relied on personal observation, interviews with participants, and newspaper headlines of the day  Primary documentation while not non-existent was extremely rare. The Israelis had sealed and classified almost all of their material after the war, a common occurrence for modern countries involved in warfare.

 

Franz Fanon and Jean Paul Sartre identifying their perceived support for the downtrodden and disenfranchised of the earth with the Palestinian cause rather than the Israeli. There was a switch in Psychological roles. Almost overnight Israel became the victimizer and the Palestinian became the victim.

 

 

Two, Arab historians refused to write about it because of a prevailing feeling in the Arab world to publically acknowledge their defeat in 1948 would somehow recognize the existence of sovereign non-Muslim entity in their midst.

 

So little evidence given on the Israeli side and no opposing viewpoint from the other side influenced the history in a profound fashion. Zionist historians acquired a clear field to treat the subject as they saw fit with no scrutiny from the other side. This created a strong mythology of the war, creating heroes and villains where none existed and glorifying the war for western consumption when in fact it was quite bloody and as tragic as most wars.

 

 

 

 

 

Although Said is not a Marxist he found sympathy for his writings among the left. He is a force to be considered in the struggle for Palestinian rights in large part because Left wing thinkers have popularized his cause. For example, when Said passed on recently, he was eulogized in many places in the literature and academic world, one of which was the International Socialist Review.

 

The Palestinians will never know a greater polemical champion—Alexander Cockburn

He spoke of his debt to the English Marxists E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams who replaced bourgeois history—Helen Scott

Said was in fact not a Marxist, self-proclaimed or other wise. Although he drew significantly and intelligently on Marx and the Marxist tradition in developing his critique of imperialist culture—Bill Keach[1]

 

These works all published after 1985, reveal a changed view of both the way the historian looks at the war and also a rather large audience absent in the past which is willing to accept his or her assessments. The focus generated here is not always anti-Israel, although that is definitely an element of the time, but it reflects a sea change from the 1950s interpretation of the war and its results. The question one must ask is why? How can such a paradox develop over the years from one viewpoint to the other while assessing essentially the same data? Certainly the growth of intellectual outlooks of the world in general must play a part, the death of European colonialism, the realization and correction of an exceptionalist view of “otherness” taken by western peoples, and the birth of postmodernist thought. But, the main reason for the change in interpretations really points to the growth of left wing politics seeping into the historical narrative.

 

 

 

Up until 1967 the Arab side in the conflict was almost mute in comparison to the Israeli contribution. The English-speaking world had almost no history to oppose the Zionist perspective. In the last thirty years Arab writers have contributed appreciably more than they did before that time. But Arab writers alone would have had a harder time being accepted into the mainstream over the Zionist point of view. Along side the growth of Arab scholarship after the Six Day War was the input and support from left wing political ideological groups. Arab writers found a willing participant in their cause through sympathetic Marxist groups in Europe and to a lesser extent in the United States. The Marxist influence along with Arab writers worked at breaking down what both groups perceived as an imperialist society in Israel. Within a decade more or less this opposing point of view became strong enough to break the hold of the Zionist influence of the 1950s and 1960s.

 

The state of Israel stole 80 percent of privately owned Palestinian land. More than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes, with Jews moving into them. Palestinian society was destroyed.[2]

 

Arab-Israeli conflict historians after 1980 with Marxist influence were diametrically opposed to the authors of the 1950s. The resulting historical interpretation of the same events produced a vastly different analysis with approximately the same data.  Tom Segev is one of Israel’s “New Historians,” a group of Israeli and American Jewish writers devoted to reassessing Israel’s position throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict vis a vis the Zionist perspective.[3] Walid Khalidi, a former university professor of some repute is the founder of the Institute for Palestine Studies, an intellectual think tank designed to promote the Arab Palestinian perspective in the English speaking world. He edited “Selected Documents on the 1948 Palestine War,” published in the Journal of Palestine Studies in 1998.[4] The work contained translated documents from the Arab side covering troop assessments before the war began, the fall of  Kastel, Haifa and Jaffa, three key military victories for Israel and devastating losses for the Arabs. Benny Morris, an Israeli professor and colleague of Tom Segev in the “New Historian”  camp, wrote The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem one of the first looks into the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue, and its effects on the war of 1948.[5] The piece discussed here is an excerpt from that book published in the Reference Shelf: The Palestinian Problem, an edited reader that publishes on a variety of political and historical subjects. These authors and their contemporaries ushered in a shift in the scholarship.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Alexander Cockburn, Helen Scott, and Bill Keach, “Remebering Edward Said” Internationalist Socialist Review, Issue no. 32, November-December,  2003.

[2]    Lance Self “Zionism: False Messiah “International Socialist Review, Issue 4, Spring 1998.

 

[3] Tom Segev, 1949: The First Israelis, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.

[4] Walid Khalidi, editor,  “Selected Documents of the 1948 Palestine War, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, (Spring, 1998).

[5] Benny Morris, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem,” The Reference Shelf: The Palestinian Problem, Andrew C. Kimmens, editor, Volume 61, No. 1, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1989.

Jewish community examiner

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field