The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities

Reviewed by Norman Finkelstein in Against the Current, with the title “Palestine: the truth about 1948” (Pantheon Books, New York, 1987, 277 pps.)

“The 1982 ISRAELI invasion of Lebanon prompted a spate of “revisionist” scholarship in both Israel and the United States purporting to radically question received truths about the Middle East conflict. In both cases, the findings were widely publicized and acclaimed in the media. But in spirit, methodology and consequences, they couldn’t have been more different. Israeli revisionism bears close comparison with that 1960s U.S. revisionist scholarship that, in the harsh light of U.S. aggression against Vietnam, questioned the mainstream consensus that the Soviet Union bore sole responsibility for the Cold War.”

“In contrast, the closest analogue to the post-Lebanon U.S. scholarship on the Middle East is the German revisionism that aims to tidy up the national image and salve the national conscience, even to the point of alleging that the Nazi holocaust never happened. The high (or low) point of U.S. revisionism was reached with the publication of Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial (New York, 1984). The ground was cleared for Peters’ enterprise by such virtuoso performances as The New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz’s “eyewitness account” from the Lebanon battlefield, in which he reported: “Much of what you have read in the newspapers and news magazines about the war in Lebanon – and even more of what you have seen and heard on television – is simply not true” (Aug. 2,1982).”

“It is, after all, only a small step from claiming that what we had read, seen and heard about the devastation in Lebanon never happened to claiming that the Palestinian people never happened either. That, of course, was Peters’ novel thesis, which catapulted her book into best-sellerdom and won her the unstinting praise of the entire spectrum of respectable opinion in the United States. So felicitous was Peters’ message that its authenticity was beside the point. For Peters had succeeded in exorcising the Palestine Question from the American Jewish conscience. If the Palestinian people were indeed a “fairy tale,” as Peters enthusiast Barbara Tuchman opined in The New York Times, then not only the “history of the future” (Martin Peretz) but also our perception of the past and present would perforce drastically change.”

“If a Palestinian people does not and never did exist, then the casualties of the Lebanon War were wanton impostors, undeserving of human sympathy. (Indeed, to judge by Times Jerusalem correspondent Thomas Friedman, the non-Jewish souls that perished during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon do not even count as part of its “human cost.”[1]) Further, if the Palestinian people are but a phantasm of the anti-Semitic imagination, then Israeli rejectionism – that is, its steadfast refusal to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination, a right the Palestine Liberation Organization long ago conceded to Israel, is fully justified. Indeed, it ought to be encouraged.” (read more)

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