Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ilan Pappé: Neo-Zionists Recapture the history of 1948


An abridgement 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.

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