Israel’s “New Historians”

Since history is so important to the Israel/Palestine conflict, I intend to focus on it seriously for my next posts. I will try to alternate between historical posts and posts similar to my previous ones on the current situation.

The New Historians are a group of Israeli historians that from the late 1980s onwards began to challenge traditional versions of Israeli history.

Basically they succeeded in changing Israeli history from propaganda, apologetics and chronology (at best), to a real critical history.

I will start by focusing on three of them in particular: Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe.

I hope to cover the following books:

  • 1948, A Hisotry of the First Arab-Israeli War – Benny Morris
  • Righteous Victims, A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 – Benny Morris
  • The Iron Wall Israel and the Arab World – Avi Shlaim
  • Israel and Palestine, Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations – Avi Shlaim
  • The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine – Ilan Pappe
  • The Forgotten Palestinians Ilan Pappe

In my view, Benny Morris is the most Pro-Israeli of the bunch, although no less critical of Israeli history. Avi Shlaim, to me, represents the moderate view and favours a two-state solution. Ilan Pappe seems to me a bit of an idealist and favours a one-state solution.

I will leave you with some explanation of the differences between New and Old/Official history/historians (thanks to Wikipedia):

Avi Shlaim described the New Historians’ differences from what he termed the “official history” in the following terms. According to Shlaim:

  • The official version said that Britain tried to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state; the New Historians claimed that it tried to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state
  • The official version said that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own free will; the New Historians said that the refugees were chased out or expelled
  • The official version said that the balance of power was in favour of the Arabs; the New Historians said that Israel had the advantage both in manpower and in arms
  • The official version said that the Arabs had a coordinated plan to destroy Israel; the New Historians said that the Arabs were divided
  • The official version said that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the New Historians said that Israel is primarily to blame for the “dead end”.[4]

Pappé suggests that the Zionist leaders intended to displace most Palestinian Arabs; Morris believes the displacement happened in the heat of war. According to the New Historians, Israel and Arab countries each have their share of responsibility for the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian plight.

Furthermore according to Benny Morris (again from Wikipedia):

  • The “Old Historians” lived through 1948 as highly committed adult participants in the epic, glorious rebirth of the Jewish commonwealth. They were unable to separate their lives from this historical event, unable to regard impartially and objectively the facts and processes that they later wrote about.[14]
  • The “Old Historians” have written largely on the basis of interviews and memoirs and at best made use of select batches of documents, many of them censored.[14]
  • Benny Morris has been critical of the old Historians, describing them, by and large, as not really historians, who did not produce real history: “In reality there were chroniclers and often apologetic”,[15] and refers to those who produced it as “less candid”, “deceitful” and “misleading”.[16]
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