Sunday, November 9, 2008

Open Archives - and Sealed Ones

Our comic commentator from Rosario, Faux-Ibrahim, has outdone himself today. As regular readers know, I never interfere with Faux-Ibrahim's right to be silly on this blog, but I mostly don't respond to him (nor, for that matter, do I generally respond to the other regular anti-Zionist contributor, the so-called Andrew R. Back in the Middle Ages, when I was taught manners, it was regarded as cowardly and low to express oneself anonymously, and in spite of all the generally beneficial changes wrought by the Internet, I still feel the same way). Sometimes, however, Ibrahim or Andrew unintentionally serve as a useful foil, convenient vehicles on which to make significant points. When that happens, I don't hold back merely because they're fakers.

Down in the comments to my recent post about the unaccessable Vatican archives, Faux-Ibrahim has posted the following:
Here's a suggestion for the Israeli democracy: open the archives of the Israel Defense Forces where the photographs of Deir Yassin on the day of the massacre are stored.

In fact you should be campaigning for them to be opened, because (a) you believe in open democracies, (b) you're a former archivist, and (c) you believe Israel is morally right.
He has additional thoughts, and you're all invited to go read them and judge their seriousness for yourselves. I'd like to concentrate on the archives issue.

1. Contrary to what Faux-Ibrahim seems to think he knows, the archives of the IDF, while not fully open for obvious reasons, generally do try to give access to researchers. All he needs to do is pick up any serious book of research on the relevant subjects and see how many footnotes can be found from the IDF archives - including, of course, in books whose authors are known to be critical of Israel. The degree of openness compares reasonably to other democratic countries.

2. I don't know if the IDF archives has secret pictures of Deir Yassin, nor if they're hidden there, but if so it would be rather surprising, given that the massacre at Deir Yassin happened before the State of Israel existed; it was committed by Irgun units; and even the Haganah forces nearby have their documents stored in the Haganah archives, not the IDF archives. Contrary to what Faux-Ibrahim seems to think, the leaders of the Yishuv didn't try to hide the massacre at Deir Yassin; they actually saw an advantage to besmirching the reputation of the Irgun and therefore played up the story.

3. As a general statement, Israel's archives are open. Don't take my word for it. Let's listen to Benny Morris:
There is a built-in imbalance in scholarly treatments of the conflict; this study is no exception. The Zionist side tends to be illuminated more thoroughly and with greater precision than the Arab side, and this applies to both political and military aspects. In part this stems from the fact that Zionist and Israeli archives, civil and military, local and national, are relatively well organized and have been open to researchers for many years. By in large, the documents contained in them were written by Zionists, in a Zionist context and from a Zionist perspective. This has almost inevitably affected the historiography based on these documents.

There has been no such access on the Arab side. There are no comparable Palestinian archives, and whatever exists in the archives of the Arab states has been and remains closed to researchers, save for the occasional and usually inconsequential document. Hence "the Arab side", more often than not, has also to be illuminated on the basis of Zionist-Israel and Western documentation.

Second, historiography, in the modern sense, has been far more developed on the Jewish-Zionist side than among the Arabs. Indeed, only in recent years have Arab historians - usually living in the West -begun to publish serious historical work connected with the conflict. Unfortunately most Arab historians still labor under the yoke of severe political-ideological restrictions that are characteristic of non-democratic societies. The same types of censorship and self-censorship have affected the writings of Arab memoirists. Though Jewish officials, generals, and politicians have often also been self-serving and subjective in their published recollections, and past generations of Zionist-Israeli historians have been less than objective, they have been substantially more accurate and informative than their Arab counterparts.

Lastly, there has been a marked quantitative gap between the two sides. The Arabs have simply produced far less historiography and related published materials (autobiographies, collections of documents, and the like) than the Jews.
Righteous Victims, New York 1999, p. XIV

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