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November 6, 2010

A New History or A New Mirage

A recent reading of an old article written by the late Edward Said, the well-know Palestinian author, writer and cultural critic, revealed a rare meeting in Paris to discuss the core issues of the Palestine/Israel conflict. The participants were Israel’s rising ‘new’ historians at the time (professor Ilan Pappe, Benni Morris, Itamar Rabinowitch and Zeev Sternhell) and their Palestinian counterparts (Elie Sanbar, Nur Masalha and Said himself).

In the article, Edward Said noted that during the informal discussions which took place, the Israeli side (with the rare exception of professor Pappe) spoke of ‘the need for detachment, critical distance and reflective calm’, while the Palestinian was ‘much more urgent, more severe and even emotional in its insistence on the need for a new history’.

Said’s article touched on the core subject of the meeting: the need to look at the history of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict from the Palestinian point of view and to bring to the fore the events that lead to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. Despite the attempt by some of the Israeli historians to admit that ‘an injustice’ may have been committed by the Israelis in 1948, the belief amongst most of them was that it was ‘a necessary conquest’. Only professor Pappe spoke with powerful eloquence delivering, in Said’s words, ‘an espousal of the Palestinian point of view and…[providing] the most iconoclastic and brilliant of the Israeli interventions’.

Yes, the Israelis in Paris said, they wanted peace, but, no, they did not inflict the Nakba of 1948 on the Palestinians.

Again, Edward Said wrote, with the exception of professor Pappe, the rest of the Israeli team members, showed a ‘profound contradiction, bordering on schizophrenia that informs their work’. They seemed to hesitate ‘when pushed hard by either Pappe or by the Palestinians’.

The Paris meeting took place in early May 1998. The Oslo euphoria was still in the air and (hold your breath) Benyamin Netanyahu was enjoying his first term as Israel’s Prime Minister (1996-1999). Under him, Israel held all the Palestinian territories occupied by force in 1948, 1949 and 1967 (and for those who need a reminder, that’s ALL of historic Palestine); it had the most formidable military power in the region; it dictated all the rules of occupation on an occupied civilian population in the OPT and it had the luxury of time and space at its disposal.

Slow forward seven years to May 2005, when George W Bush was claiming the mantle of yet another failed peace process (on the back of his criminal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan) and Sharon was bulldozing his way through the Palestinian Territories with his Apartheid Wall. Professor Pappe wrote a devastatingly insightful article entitled: The Palestine Peace Process: Unlearned Lessons of History. This article echoed the failures of all the previous peace processes since Oslo, but, predictably, all later peace processes launched since his article was written. A lot of processes, it seems, and no peace.

In his article, professor Pappe, with the vision of a sharp historian, warned that ‘unless the US can now begin to pay attention to the lessons of history [read 1948], this new round of peace talks will not only end in failure, but the hopes currently aroused will turn once again into despair, fury and a renewed wave of violence and devastation’. We now know what happened to Bush and to his peace process.

Fast forward to the present day, November 2010, (twelve and a half years after the Paris meeting), and we have Benjamin Netanyahu again as Prime Minister, the illegal occupation of the OPT still continues with even more devastation across the whole landscape of Palestine, the Israeli military machine is pumped up by more nuclear arsenals and (hold your breath again) a new peace process launched by Barak Obama, the U.S President riding high (at the time of his election) on the biggest public support of any previous American president. Yet, no sooner had Obama’s peace process been launched than the quick sands of the Middle East began to swallow it without mercy. Across the Palestinian landscape, and especially in occupied East Jerusalem, more demolition of Palestinian homes, more confiscation of farms, olive groves and more outright property theft of private houses by right-wing Zionist settlers under the protection of Israeli law and its military machine take place as the international community watches helplessly.

What does this all show?

It confirms what we have always believed: that the Zionist project of occupying and holding on to all of historic Palestine was, is and continues to be the prime and sole objective of the Zionist leadership in Israel. For this to happen and in an effort to smooth the path infront of such a colonial juggernaut, Israeli media has been put to sleep and the Israeli military leadership was made the only news outlet spurting out the sanitized version of the news to an indifferent Israeli public.

Since the Paris meeting and since professor Pappe’s prophetic article, the only bright light shining out of Israel (and now out of the UK) remains professor Pappe’s consistent and brave call for a debate on the 1948 Nakba. The other ‘new historians’ who met in Paris, remain mysteriously silent and surprisingly elusive about this issue.

It is clear to the informed reader and observer of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that nothing will move on any future process to achieve a just and lasting peace in historic Palestine unless the 1948 Nakba, the Return of the Palestinian Refugees and rule of International Law have been embraced and made the basis for the next peace process.

Finally, it is also clear that the Zionist leaders occupying the Israeli Knesset have now become aware that their colonial juggernaut is running out of fuel. So, in order to pump more colonial life into it, they have come up with the racist “Oath to the Jewish Nation”. Its twin tank has been filled with the illegal call to punish all those who commemorate the 1948 Nakba.

A new mirage or a new reality?

Antoine Raffoul

Israel: Jews must breed with Jews only to keep the chosen race pure or face prison

My Encounter with a Zionist in Crisis with Her Beliefs

It is true that I am ‘much, much more invested’ in ‘all of this’ than she is.

By Susan Abulhawa*

I received a lovely letter from a reader who identified herself as a Jewish American. To preserve her anonymity, I’ll call her ‘Sally’. She wrote that she loved Mornings in Jenin, even though the historic backdrop of the narrative did not reconcile with what she learned about Israel growing up. It seemed a heartfelt letter and thus worthy of a similar response. I did not see Sally as a Zionist or even as a Jew. I saw her as a woman, a mother, and a fellow writer. So, I was delighted when she came to my panel debate with Alan Dershowitz at the Boston Book Festival, and when she asked if we could talk more after the event, I was happy to invite her to lunch with a group of friends. She was soft spoken, with a gentle demeanor and through the course of the table conversation, I realized that we also shared similar beliefs regarding some matters of spirituality.

Sally and I continued to correspond occasionally, both privately and with a group of people who were at lunch that day.  Soon, she let me know that one of her friends was now questioning her own Zionist beliefs because of something she heard at her Temple. As a result, Sally’s friend had chosen a list of documentaries to watch. Naturally, I asked what those documentaries were and she sent a list of about 12 or so films that were made 1) to show how awful Arabs are, 2) to present rosy pictures of normalization of Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, 3) to show what Israel’s aggression against Lebanon was like from an Israeli paratrooper’s perspective!, or 4) to depict mixed Arab and Israeli towns as a paradise where everyone is equal.

I find that when people are truly searching to understand, they can find the right sources, especially in this information age. Likewise, when people are confronted with an uncomfortable reality that jars an existing belief, they can turn around and find what they need to prove that they were right all along. Reading the list that Sally sent to me, it was easy to see what category she fit into. Here is the response that I sent to Sally:

“If I were trying to get a better view of something, i’d at least look for ones made by third party sources who don’t have their own personal beef in the situation. Although with this list, she’ll be able to put her head back in the sand and say she did her research and it all proved she was right before.”

Sally’s response was immediate and indignant. I’ll spare you the full email, but suffice it to say that she was offended that I had “insulted” her dear friend, and she closed with this:

“I know you are much, much more invested in all of this than I and therefore more passionate than I, but please give me the benefit of the doubt before writing words that insult my friend. You may not realize it, but we are two people who will spread our knowledge with others and that can only help you. I am also getting ideas for my next book that can include this message as well.”

Let me start here: “I know you are much, much more invested in all of this than I and therefore more passionate than I.”

It is true that I am “much, much more invested” in “all of this” than she is. How much more? I’d say at least a few centuries more, several generations of grandparents more, many acres of family property more, and one shattered and dispossessed family more. And what is “all of this”? That would be my country. My history. My family. My countrymen. My only heritage and only inheritance. The place where I belong. The place to which I am not allowed to return because of my religion. “All of this” is a collection of refugee camps where people have lived their entire lives in destitution – honorable people, of nobility and peasantry alike, who have been stripped of everything for the sole crime of being born into their own skin.

Now: “but please give me the benefit of the doubt before writing words that insult my friend.”

As if it is not insulting to me that an American woman, with absolutely no ancestral, historic, cultural, or biological ties to the land, should announce to me that she needs to do more research to determine whether or not I indeed have a right to inherit my grandfather’s farm, reserving, of course, her own right to my grandfather’s farm.

But the most egregious insult is this: “You may not realize it, but we are two people who will spread our knowledge with others and that can only help you. I am also getting ideas for my next book that can include this message as well.”

I suppose she misunderstood my intentions in corresponding with her in the first place. Perhaps she thought I was trying to win her over, to “help [me]” spread the word. So let me make one thing very clear, to her and to anyone who isn’t sure if they should maintain that they are entitled to keep Palestine as their summer home away from their own home. You are standing on the wrong side of history. That’s why the ground feels shaky beneath your support of Israel. You are standing on the side of a military occupation that daily strips people of their belongings, of their livelihoods, of their dignity and cuts off the very food they eat, the water they drink. You are on the other side of Nelson Mandela’s legacy. The other side of every native people’s struggle for self-determination, for human rights and for basic human dignity. It is not for me that you educate yourself. It is for your own soul. For your own conscience. I am comfortable on solid ground. It is physically defenseless, but morally impenetrable ground. Whatever research you chose to do and what you choose to learn is for you and only for you.  My correspondence was with you, as a woman I thought I could be friends with. I was not asking for your help. But one day you will be asked for something else. Perhaps your children or grandchildren will want you to explain what you did when Palestinians were being wiped off the map so you and every Jew around the world could have dual citizenship, a summer home, if you will, on top of my grandparent’s graves.

* Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin, a Palestinian story. She contributed this article to

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