My Non-Zionist Narrative
by Ilan Pappé
Middle East Quarterly
September 1996, pp. 51-52
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Efraim Karsh challenges in "Rewriting Israel's History" (MEQ
, June 1996) the factual claims of the "new historians" and invites the reader to discover the "real facts" of the matter. Every factual claim is challenged by "facts." Yet the facts presented by Karsh are mostly claims made by mainstream historians (Itamar Rabinovich, Avraham Sela, and Shabtai Teveth) who saw the same documents and reached different conclusions from ourselves. Quite incidentally, argues the benevolent Karsh, these interpretations are compatible with the official Israeli historiography. If this is the case, who needs the archives? Let's just go to the politicians and learn from them the truth.
As to what Karsh refers to as "flat wrong" conclusions with reference to the outcome of the 1947-49 war: If the inevitability of wars is proven by the number of fatalities, as Karsh suggests, then the First World War would be the most justifiable act of violence. Karsh concludes from the fact that so many Israelis lost their life that this confrontation, contrary to my judgement, could not have been a "phony war." This argument makes no sense: a large number of people killed does not prove this was not a predetermined war. No less nonsensical is the association Karsh makes between the predetermined outcome of wars and the number of casualties they inflict: the higher the casualties, he argues, the less predetermined the war must have been. When Iraq faced the United States in the Kuwait war, no one doubted the predetermined, absolute victory of the United States and its coalition. Yet this was one of the bloodiest wars of the last twenty years, in terms of Iraqi loss of human lives.
Like many Zionist scholars, Karsh confuses reality and ideology. The Zionist historiographical perspective is one in which "few defeated the many" in an inevitable war. The new historians have proven that there was parity on the battlefield in the 1948 war and that before the fighting broke out, the two superpowers, international public opinion, and world Jewry provided the Yishuv (Jews in pre-state Palestine) with substantive political and economic advantages over the local Palestinian population. The Holocaust and cold war politics ensured the Palestinian cause would not have a fair hearing or any international support. This meant, compared to what the Jewish community in Palestine enjoyed, a lack of diplomatic, military, and financial aid. Any chance of equilibrium was lost owing to the Arabs' poor level of military preparation, their lack of strategic coordination, and the tacit understanding between King `Abdallah of Transjordan and the Jewish Agency to partition post-Mandatory Palestine. This imbalance explains the Jewish victory in the war not as a miracle but as a logical outcome.
This is not "flat wrong" -- it is a de-Zionized view on history, one to which Karsh cannot subscribe because he has taken upon himself the mantle of spokesperson for the Zionist narrative -- and anyone thus committed to a national narrartive cannot begin to accept the claims made by the counter-narrative, in this case, the Palestinian one.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, History, Israel & Zionism | September 1996 MEQ
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