Sunday, May 11, 2008

Contra Naqba

Efraim Karsh takes a second look at heaps of British documents from the end of their control over Mandatory Palestine, and learns that most Palestinians would have been willing to live alongside Israel, had it not been for an aggressive leadership that pushed towards war with the Jews, and forced its own people to get out of the way and come back once the Jews were gone.

Meanwhile, Shlomo Avineri takes a look at the Palestinian story from a different perspective, sees a different process, but essentially the same result. Avineri is further to the left than Karsh, and he's a political scientist to Karsh's historian. The way Avineri sees things, the Palestinian's problem is that they never managed to cobble together a responsible national leadership that would offer their people institutions whereby to execute any sort of national policy.

I liked his comparison of the Palestinian failure with the Algerian success: surely the Algerians faced a far more brutal foe than the Palestinians ever did, but the Algerians created a national structure that brought them ultimate victory. On second thought, however, before going agog about how successful the Algerian national movement has been it's worth keeping in mind that the numbers of Algerians butchered by other Algerians is significantly larger than the total numbers of Palestinians and Israelis together who have been killed these past hundred years or so.

Neither Karsh nor Avineri use the most important documentation: that of the Palestinians. Though I'm not aware of anyone else who has, either. Assuming it exists in any accessible form, which it may not, or certainly not fully.


aiwac said...

First of all, Karsh makes a lot of use of Israeli intelligence sources (click on the "annotated version" link at the end of the article). These reports were based on Palestinian informants, big and small, as well as real-time intercepts of phone calls and telegrams between Palestinian and other Arab leaders. He also makes use of Palestinian newspaper sources of the time. You can't get much more Palestinian than that.

Second, most direct Palestinian documentation, whatever's left, anyway, is located either in private archives or seized by Israeli forces.

Many have made use, along with other sources, of these sources. For instance, Tamir Goren in his book "Arab Haifa in Tashach", Mustafa Abassi in his somewhat slanted article in Kathedra 107 on Arab Tzfat in 1948 (see Alon Kadish's rebuttal as well) and others.

My point is that the partial Palestinian sources are but one of the areas to be mined for information on the Palestinians in 1948. They must be consulted in conjunction with others, as Karsh did in his article in Commentary.

Yaacov said...

I stand partially corrected. But only partially, since there are other collections of documentation reflecting the Palestinian story, beyond those you mention, including for example documentation in Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi archives (military and other), as well as elsewhere. My point being that this particular branch of history is not well researched, certainly no-where near exhaustively. Much of what we "know" about the Palestinians these past 100 years is at the level of journalism and punditry, if not outright ideology; very little of it is true scholarship. When dealing with events that happened more than, say, 40 years ago, this begins to be unacceptable.

aiwac said...

"...Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi archives..."

These are sealed shut, with next to no chance that they will ever be opened. If anyone is to blame for the dearth that you mention, it is the Arab states.

Yaacov said...

Indeed, this is the case.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Business as usual in Karsh's article. A few cherry-picked statements by Arab and Jewish leaders, taken out of context, are used to make absurd points. For instance, it is claimed that Arab refugees wanted to live under Israeli sovereignty. The attitude of present-day Jerusalem Arabs, who prefer to face enormous disadvantages rather than having Israeli citizenship, is a clear refutation to that ludicrous claim.

If you dig deep enough, you can find statements "proving" any point you wish to make. That's why you've got to look at the big picture. If Arabs were ordered to leave by their leaders, why is it that not a single radio broadcast was recorded with such orders?

(Not that the existence of such orders would justify denying the Arabs the right to return to their villages. "All people have the right to leave their birthplaces and return to them." Human rights... does that ring a bell?)

The villagers of Iqrit and Birim, Israeli Arabs who were expelled by the Israeli army, are evidence of all the love Zionists felt for the indigenous Arab population, Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky quotes notwithstanding.

aiwac said...

BTW, I believe that the past few years has seen the beginnings of "serious" research on the Palestinians. This includes:

1) Tamir Goren (Haifa Ha'Aravit BeTashach and Shituf Betzel Imut) and May Sieklay on Arab Haifa

2) Mustaffa Abassi on Arab Safed and Tiberias (Kathedra 99 and 120, respectively)

3) Mustaffa Kabha, who wrote a fine study of Palestinian newspapers (Itonut Be'ein Hase'ara), and according to Wikipedia (
is presently at work on a collabarative study on the Palestinian-Arab citrus industry from 1850 to 1948.

So it's not all doomed.

What I don't understand is why nobody has written a proper study of Jaffa during the Mandate...BTW, when I say study, I mean a factual study, not a "post-modern discourse "of Tel Aviv vs. Jaffa without recourse to facts, which has become a fashion of late...