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University of Haifa
Education Lecturer Ilan Gur-Zeev wants Israel to Stop behaving like Nazis

The Changing Historiography of the Arab-Jewish Conflict

In Israeli historiography, the new trends have focused on three major fields of Zionist ideological and political history: Its attitude to the Arabs, to the Holocaust and to the new immigrants who arrived in Israel after statehood. This combination assaults the justification of Zionism and Jewish statehood in three systems of relations: between Israel and its surroundings; Israel and its People, as well as Israel and its own allegedly discriminated citizens.
So far, the first of these issues - the history of the Arab-Jewish conflict - has been the most popular and complex. I know too little about the historiography of conflicts in the Balkans and the Caucasus to make any comparison. However, historians writing about other wars and conflicts during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can now detach themselves to the necessary degree from the objects of their studies because these encounters - such as the two World Wars, the Korea and Vietnam Wars and even the Cold War are over. Historians studying these wars and their repercussions are free of the enmity between Nazis and Communists, Britons and "Huns" or Americans and Japanese or Chinese. Hence, their writing and teaching are relatively relieved of the past's tensions and passions. By contrast, a historian writing on the Arab-Jewish conflict deals with a persisting confrontation. None of the problems involving Jews and Arabs that emerged before, during and after the War of Independence in 1948 have been solved. Every word on that war, or on the subsequent major military confrontations and endless skirmishing along and inside Israel's borders - written in a book or article and spoken in class or conference - may have actual ramifications and is often interpreted and discussed outside its historical context and in terms of the continuing struggle at the present time. In this sense, the historiography of the Arab-Jewish conflict is as unparalleled and unprecedented as the conflict itself.
Already during the 1970s, the academic circles in the West changed their attitude to Israel. The same Palestinian slogans that had made no impression between the World Wars and in the aftermath of 1948 gained popularity against the new backdrop of Europe's postcolonial guilt feelings. Arab donations and other forms of funding encouraged this process, which expanded also to American universities. Early signs that the transforming attitude in Western universities towards the Arab-Jewish conflict had penetrated Israeli historiography appeared in the late 1980s, with the emergence of the so-called "new historians." Their principal contribution to the study of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been the diversion of the focus of historical attention from Israel's accomplishments to the Palestinians' ordeal. They portrayed the Palestinians as the hapless objects of violence and oppression (Israeli), collusion (Israeli-Transjordanian) and treacherous diplomacy (British and Arab). Some of them have described the Israelis as intransigent, merciless and unnecessarily wicked usurpers who cynically used the Holocaust to gain the world's support for Jewish statehood at the expense of the Palestinians' rights to their country.
The emergence of this group has not brought about a scholarly breakthrough, neither in revealing new horizons nor in methodological originality. Benny Morris can be defined as historicist, strictly adhering to archival sources and belittling the significance of oral history and memoirs. Posing as a radical relativist, Ilan Pappe has recently demonstrated, during the debate on the Tantura affair, that under cover of his academic position he is merely grinding several personal and political axes. Avi Shlaim allows himself an immense freedom of interpretation that far exceeds his documentary basis. Characterizing the new historians, Anita Shapira has stressed the differences that have made any generalization difficult, if not impossible. She has suggested age (biological and scholarly) as a common denominator, but even this explanation is unsatisfactory: there are substantial age differences among them, while several "new historians" or sociologists are not much younger, if at all, than their colleagues who do not proclaim this title.
This self-proclaimed title "new historians" - implying possession of objectivity and openmindedness that was not the province of "old" historians, alleged to harbor partisanship and involvement - has been particularly irritating. The revisionist historians have indeed generated a questionable revision of the accepted standards of presenting the war of 1948 and its aftermath, but their (different) methodological approaches, practical performance and analysis have been open to criticism no less than those of their predecessors. Supposing the revisionists' posture to be impartial and free from ideological bias is equally unwarranted. Pappe and Shlaim have rendered the Palestinians' charge that Israel was "conceived in sin" a valuable service by sketching the Palestinians of 1948 and after as innocent victims of others' conspiracies and atrocities. This simplicity appears unconvincing to anyone familiar with the sources - unless the reader is utterly prejudiced. In his recent writings Pappe has relinquished the academic mask, joining the Palestinian propagandists openly and wholeheartedly.
When revisionist historians (and sociologists) appeared on the stage in the 1980s, they were outsiders attacking the historiographic and sociological "establishment" of the Israeli universities. At present, most of them belong to the academic "establishment" in Israel and abroad, and hold university positions and tenure. Thus, the polemics between "old" and "new" historians has expanded from research and writing to teaching and supervising. The scandal of Tantura may well be a forerunner of a wider trend in the forthcoming years.

Confronting Palestinian Historiography

After several decades of separate and independent development, the present fashion of positive discrimination in treating the "other" has confronted Israeli historiography with its Arab and Palestinian counterpart. During the 1950s and 1960s, Israeli early historiography and fiction exalted the War of Independence as a miracle, reminiscent of ancient models such as David and Goliath or the Maccabees. The writers described the war as the triumph of few over many, the weak successfully challenging the strong, the right cause winning against the wrong one. To amplify the heroic achievement, they blamed Britain for covertly directing the Palestinian onslaught on the Yishuv and the Arab states' invasion of Israel. Several Israeli scholars have devoted their careers to studying the Arab side of the conflict. However, very little parallel interest in the Jewish perspective has developed among their Arab colleagues.
Arab narratives of the war and its consequences - usually polemic or apologetic memoirs and rarely scholarly research - have concentrated on assigning guilt rather than on analyzing events and processes. Since it was inconceivable that the tiny Yishuv could inflict this defeat on the Arabs single-handedly, it was essential to mitigate the disaster by suggesting accomplices. The Arabs accused Britain of betraying them; blamed the United States for supporting its Zionist protege and finally vilified King Abdullah of Transjordan, who was the only Arab ruler that benefited from the general debacle.
A typical obsession of Arab historiography has been the question of justice and unfairness. Arab scholars have scarcely endeavored to find out what really happened, when, how and why. In place of this, they have elaborated on whose case was right and whose arguments were illegitimate. Hence, Arab scholars ascribe excessive significance to official documents of judicial and declarative character, such as UN resolutions, and disregard the huge corpus of the archival source material on the war. A partial exception to this rule - despite its apologetic character - is Arif al-Arif's six volumes of the war's history that were written in the 1950s. Unfortunately, this work has not been translated and is inaccessible to a wider Israeli audience. Recent Arab works on the conflict are more sophisticated and use the fashionable jargon of Western universities, but none of them approximates al-Arif's thoroughness, self-critical method and accuracy. Nur Masalha, as well as Walid and Rashid Khalidi, sometimes refer to the works of Israeli scholars, but their choice is highly selective and tendentious and usually confined to works in English edition. An interesting question is what would be the findings of Arab "new historians" should they ever emerge in the Arab countries and among the Palestinians.
Representing "the other," Palestinian historiography is now thought by certain Israeli historians to deserve treatment on an equal basis with Israeli historiography of the conflict. Having tried in vain to organize common discussions, I am afraid, however, that there is no common ground yet for such a parley. Any serious discussion of the evidence (or lack of it) behind the Palestinian "narrative" without accepting it in advance is promptly rejected. Objections rely on the argument that the demand itself is arrogant and reflects an "Orientalist" attitude. Arab historiography, as well as some Israeli revisionist historians and sociologists, draw heavily on Edward Said's theory that denies the possibility for a person born into one culture to understand intimately and profoundly "the other" culture. Coming from Said - an Egyptian claiming to be a Palestinian refugee who teaches English literature in an American university and has built his career on a Polish sailor by the name of Joseph Conrad who became a British writer - this argument appears peculiar, to say the least.

The Colonialist Paradigm of Zionism

Following in Said's footsteps, Palestinian scholars as well as some Israeli revisionist sociologists, jurists, geographers and historians, attempt to prove the colonialist nature of Zionism and all the more so of post-1967 Israel. Deriving from current theories on colonialism, this claim relies on very little historical evidence, which usually shows the opposite, and mainly on tendentious interpretation that confuses past and present and serves primarily as a propagandist and ideological weapon in the persisting Arab-Jewish conflict.
The association of Zionism with colonialism did not begin with "new" historians, sociologists or geographers. It is as old as the conflict, dating back to the first Palestinian congress in Jerusalem at the beginning of 1919, if not earlier - as Rashid Khalidi has recently shown. Presented simply, the essence of Zionism is indeed immigration and colonization - pure colonialism in the manner of the Spanish Conquistadors, the pioneer settlers in North America and a long succession of Europeans who occupied, immigrated to and settled in America, Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa. Similarly, Zionism was temporarily assisted by an imperialist power, Britain, though for more complex reasons than plain imperialist interests. Here, however, the similarity ends and when the colonialist paradigm confronts reality it fails to explain adequately the Zionist phenomenon.
Unlike the Conquistadors and their successors, the Jewish immigrants who came to Eretz Yisrael since the 1880s did not come armed to their teeth to take over the country by force from its natives. If we try a semiotic approach, until 1948 the Hebrew word Kibbush (occupation, conquest) related to wilderness, manual labor, grazing and at most to guarding Jewish settlements. Military terms such as gdud (battalion) or plugah (company) also related to labor and not to military units. Economic theories of colonialism and sociological theories of migration movements are also invalid or insufficient when applied to the Zionist experience. Palestine differed from the typical countries of emigration primarily because it was underdeveloped and poor. Contrary to their European contemporaries and predecessors who had emigrated to countries rich in natural resources and poor in manpower to exploit them, the Jewish immigrants came to a country that was too poor even to support its indigenous population. Natives of Palestine - Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims - emigrated at the end of the Ottoman period to America and Australia. Zionist ideology and import of Jewish private and national capital compensated for the lack of natural resources and accelerated modernization. Ideology - excluding the missionary that did not exist in Zionism - and import of capital were two factors that were totally absent in any other colonial movement. The imperialist powers usually exploited the colonies for the benefit of the mother country and did not invest beyond the necessities of exploitation.
Until 1948 - with no parallel among colonial movements - the Zionists bought, and did not conquer, lands in Palestine. The list of sellers included all the prominent clans of the Palestinian elite - al-Husayni, Nashashibi, Abd al-Hadi, al-Alami, Tabari, al-Shawa, Shuqairi and many others - who despite their radical political postures could not stand the temptation of the rising land prices in Palestine as result of the Jews' influx. Palestinian and "new" Israeli historians usually blame foreign landowners, such as the Sursuq family of Beirut, for the eviction of the Palestinian tenants and conceal the role of the resident elite families who led the Palestinian national movement. After statehood, state land was requisitioned and private lands were sometimes expropriated. Yet, the state compensated private owners and buying of tracts from individual Arabs continued. By the same token, during the Mandate period and the early years of statehood Jewish immigrants competed with the (Arab) natives in the market of urban and rural manual labor - a competition inconceivable in colonial countries.
Cultural examination also excludes Zionism from the colonialist paradigm. In contrast to the colonial stereotype, the Jews that immigrated to Eretz Yisrael severed their affiliation to their countries of origin and their cultures. Instead, they revived an ancient language and on the basis of Hebrew created a totally new culture that spread into all spheres. Furthermore, colonialist emigrants all over the world either escaped from a gloomy present or sought a lucrative future. Jews who immigrated to Eretz Yisrael shared these incentives, but were driven primarily by a unique motivation that distinguished them from all other colonial movements: reviving an ancient heritage.
This should be enough to refute the identification of Zionism with colonialism. However, this seemingly historical argument has significant ramifications for the present. Palestinian argumentation has always adopted the paradigm of a national-liberation movement (Palestinian) struggling against a colonial power (Zionism). After almost all other national-liberation movements have achieved their goals and ejected colonialism long ago, the Palestinians - who have enjoyed far greater international support - are still treading in the same place. This fact alone should have brought Palestinian intellectuals and their Western and Israeli allies to reexamine their traditional paradigm. However, by cultivating the Zionist-colonialist prototype, Israeli academics continuously provide the Palestinians with the excuse to dodge such reexamination and encourage them to proceed along a road that apparently leads to a dead end.

The Holocaust and Jewish Identity

The second major field of Zionist historiography since the 1970s has been the Zionist movement's and the Yishuv's actions during the Holocaust and their attitude to the plight of European Jewry before the Second World War and of the surviving remnant in its wake. An initially subsidiary field that gradually became a major issue has been the impact of the Holocaust on Israeli society, identity and even politics. In recent years, however, the issue of Zionism and the Holocaust has somewhat lost its central place in contemporary historical debates. Apparently, the issue has exhausted itself, or the critics of the Zionist movement's demeanor such as the psycholinguist Yosef Grodzinsky have failed to present a convincing and attractive case to sustain a serious public debate.
While Zionist leaders or the Yishuv were minor players during World War II, and could hardly do more than they did, the question of their attitude to and treatment of the surviving remnant after the war has been a domestic Zionist issue and has left no room for excuses. Tom Segev and, particularly, Idith Zertal have accused the Zionist leadership of manipulating the survivors for advancing Zionist political goals and of ignoring the survivors' sufferings. Zertal's book is an example of the damage caused by the formerly mentioned fashionable trends: good and well-written research spoiled by superfluous meditations, inarticulate jargon and baseless interpretations.
Having become a main pillar of Israeli distinctiveness, the Holocaust has been mobilized by critics of Israel to serve their campaign. In an anti-historical hindsight judgment that projects upon the past the concepts, values and realities of the present, they attribute to the leaders of the "state in the making" the values, powers and capabilities of the present Jewish state. Furthermore, they appraise the conduct and attitude of Ben-Gurion and his colleagues in the framework of our own rather the contemporary terms.
While the issue of the Yishuv and the Holocaust has become less attractive to scholars and new research in this field has dwindled, the problem continues to play a significant role in public debates in Israel and abroad. As the Holocaust has become a basic component of postmodern Jewish identity, Israelis and Jews outside Israel argue about its essence and lessons. Are they primarily universal or uniquely Jewish? humanist or nationalist? Striving to participate in and expected to contribute to this public debate, Israeli historians were drawn into the polemics. Sixty years after assimilated, emancipated, socialist and Orthodox religious Jews perished in the extermination camps, the axiom that the Holocaust was the ultimate proof justifying the Zionist solution to the modern Jewish Question could not be taken for granted as it had been hitherto. Zionism's prewar ideological adversaries, who had apparently disappeared into oblivion after the Holocaust, have reemerged under the fashionable mask of "post-Zionism" - religious, leftist-liberal or assimilationist. Both in Israel and elsewhere, they have severely disapproved of Zionist "monopolization" of the Holocaust and condemned the emphasis that Zionist leaders and historians have laid on its uniqueness.
Two elements have been prominent in this condemnation of the Zionist approach. One, dating back to Hannah Arendt in the 1950s, has portrayed the Holocaust as a crime against humanity rather than against the Jews. In terms of the Jews' relations with non-Jews, it was a German-Jewish - not European-Jewish or world-Jewish issue. The second refers to the Holocaust as one of several genocides that took place in the twentieth century, beginning with the persecution of the Armenians by the Turks in World War I and ending with the wars in Cambodia, Bosnia or Chechnya. The first element is conspicuous to every visitor at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where French, Dutch, Romanian, Hungarian, Croat, Slovak, Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian satellites, anti-Semites and collaborators hardly exist. This evasion, typical of a bestselling study such as Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners as well, is easy to understand. Living in a country with large communities of East European ethnic origin, most American Jews and Jewish historians feel more confident within the limited concept of the Holocaust. Israeli historiography, however, cannot and should not be content with this narrow interpretation and should continue to emphasize the crisis of emancipation and integration as well as that of the traditional Jewish society.
The second element is even more crucial. Treating the Holocaust as genocide among others and denying its uniqueness continues the assimilationist approach of concealing or blurring any Jewish distinctiveness. The genocide concept contradicts the widely accepted periodization of the Holocaust, placing it between 1933 and 1945. How many Jews were mass-murdered - or what genocide took place - in 1935, 1938 or even 1940? Indeed, the Holocaust was genocide, but it was much more than mass killing. It is precisely this increment that relativist historians in Israel and elsewhere strive to repudiate by comparing the Holocaust with other atrocities under the trendy slogans of "comparative" and "interdisciplinary" studies.
This comparative tactic has been particularly far-fetched when applied to Israel's attitude to the Palestinians since 1948, and particularly after 1967. The radical left in Israel and abroad introduced this link into its daily jargon as early as the 1970s, deriving from Yeshayahu Leibowicz's catchphrase "Judeo-Nazis" and similar pearls. Israeli historians joined this barrage for the first time in the summer of 1982, when Israel Gutman went on a sit-down strike at the entrance to Yad Vashem in protest against the war in Lebanon. Moshe Zimmerman's language while attacking Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria, calling their youth Hitler Jugend and comparing the Bible with Mein Campf, was another landmark in promoting an apparent analogy between Israel's policies towards the Palestinians and the Nazis' persecution of the Jews.
Pappe has been most extreme in making the link between the fate of the Palestinians and the Holocaust. Ignoring the pre-1948 phase of the Arab-Jewish conflict in order to avoid dealing with Palestinian violent opposition to Zionism and massacres of non-Zionist Jews in Hebron and Safed, he argues that the Palestinians have been victims of the Holocaust as the Jews were. Although Pappe does not adopt completely Said's assertion that Palestinian suffering has priority over the Jews' ordeal during the Holocaust, his apparently evenhanded treatment, degrading the Holocaust by the very comparison to a few isolated atrocities in the midst of mutual fighting in 1948 and after, is very close to a denial of the Holocaust. Similarly, Ilan Gur-Zeev defines the Zionist claim for uniqueness of the Holocaust as "immoral" because it denies others' (particularly the Palestinians') holocausts and genocides. Despite their differences, Gur-Zeev joins Pappe in a highly tortuous attempt to show that the Jews have transferred to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them. The ulterior motive behind these allegations has been to introduce the idea that the world, which under the impact of the Holocaust had deprived the Palestinians of their homeland to compensate the Jews, should now make up for its historical fault.

From "Melting Pot" to Multicultural Society

Research of the third key issue of Israeli history - the absorption and integration of the mass immigration that arrived in the country during the 1950s and shaped the post-Yishuv Israeli society - is still at an early stage. Sociologists such as Shmuel Eisenstadt, Moshe Lissak, Rivka Bar-Yosef and Reuben Cahana wrote several works in the 1960s and 1970s describing and analyzing the absorption of new immigrants and their integration into the veteran mainstream society. In recent years, a school of "new" or "critical" sociologists assaulted the older generation, blaming their teachers for concealing the ulterior motives behind the processes of immigration and absorption, and ignoring the cultural repression of the new immigrants. Revolting against the older generation, the "new sociologists" have turned the focus of sociological research from the mainstream of Israeli society to its peripheral groups, and accused the veteran nucleus of the Yishuv society of all possible crimes, from deliberate discrimination towards Jews to militarism towards Arabs. They have even suggested extending the colonialist paradigm of Zionism (see above) to its handling of Jews coming from Islamic countries.
Sociologists are not committed to historiographic methods of research and are entitled to their own professional views and conclusions. Their findings, however, are not "history," and the allegations about the absorption of the mass immigration are no exception. The outcomes of the few historical studies that have dealt with the same period and issues deny categorically any allegation of deliberate conspiracy against the new immigrants, whether survivors of the Holocaust or Jews from Islamic countries. These relatively new studies describe many mistakes that were done at the time, albeit innocently and under extremely dire conditions that those "critical" sociologists incline to ignore.
In historical perspective, the "melting pot" concept may appear a fiasco at the present moment, when "multicultural" is the winning catchword. However, the present quandaries of Israeli society prove very little about the past and nothing about its future. The multicultural characteristics are not the outcome of any failure of absorption but stem from various other processes that Israeli society has undergone in the last two decades: decreasing external pressure, additional immigration, influx of foreign laborers, strengthening of minorities and widening economic gaps.

History in Schools

Against the backdrop of this extensive and transforming research activity, the school system too has changed its programs and updated the syllabus of Zionist and Israeli history. Several prominent historians have been involved in shaping the policies of the state's Ministry of Education on teaching history as permanent advisers or members of ad hoc committees. As could be anticipated, the penetration of revisionist polemics into the universities has been followed by the intrusion of revisionism into the school system, where the teachers and pupils are far less equipped for the encounter than university colleagues and students.
Public attention to the way Israeli history has been taught in schools has focused mainly on the approval and contents of new textbooks. The controversial books, however, are just the tip of the iceberg of more fundamental changes. The issue of teaching history in school and the involvement of historians from the academe in monitoring the school syllabus deserve wider consideration, which is impossible in the framework of the present article. Briefly, the academic advisers of the Ministry of Education strove to integrate Jewish and world history in a joint syllabus and in the same textbooks. Nonetheless, the utility and necessity of this merger are highly questionable. This amalgamation may indeed be appropriate in universities, whose task is to train their students in the disciplines that they choose to study. Precisely in Israel, however, each university maintains three or four history departments practicing the same discipline, while everywhere else History is a single department embracing all histories.
Unable to unite the history departments of the universities, some historians attempted to make the experiment in the lower educational system. They ignored, however, the profound difference between teaching history in school and in the university. Although the name "history" is identical, the purposes are almost opposite. While the school systems should bequeath the present generation's pictures of the past to the next generation, the role of academic research and teaching is to review, reexamine and reconstruct these pictures.
The fierce discussions on the various historical pictures and interpretations take place mainly within the secular state education, which is indeed approaching disintegration. Unlike the university, however, the school should educate its pupils and has nothing to do with their disciplinary training. Everywhere in the world, the emphasis in the school system is laid on the national history. World history is taught as essential background to American, British, French, Italian or Polish histories respectively. The dubious Israeli innovation of concealing the national history by wrapping it inside an envelope of world history should be rapidly revised.

History and Memory

One aspect, however, of the debate over history in schools does belong to the comprehensive discussion of historical revisionism in Israel. This aspect is usually referred to as the shaping of "collective" memory. The school system fulfills a central role in forming this "collective memory" through various channels, from lessons in classes (not only history lessons) to excursions, ceremonies and celebrations.
Daniel Gutwein has defined the revisionist criticism of Zionist and Israeli historiography as "privatization of the collective memory" - a phenomenon that he rightly perceives in a broader framework of privatization processes that Israeli society has been undergoing. However, the definitions of the collective and, consequently, what exactly its shared memory is, are obscure. Is the collective Israeli - including Arabs, Jews, Bedouins and other non-Jews? Is it Jewish - excluding minorities but consisting of non-Israeli Jews as well? What about those who joined the collective later, such as younger people and new immigrants? Is collective memory an aggregate of private recollections or is it detached from individual remembering and has an independent essence? Who decides which memory is "collective" and which is not - the government? The media? The academe?
I know of no convincing answers to any of these questions. Historiography has not yet solved satisfactorily the problems emanating from individual memory - the proper handling of oral testimonies. Psychological research, too, has so far focused mainly on quantitative parameters of memory - how much people remember and for how long. Only recently, psychologists have resumed a systematic study of memory's qualitative properties such as accuracy, bias, foreign impacts, autosuggestion and many others. The outcomes of these studies are not encouraging as far as the links between memory and truth or accuracy is concerned. The problem of oral testimonies aggravates as historical research expands into micro-history - the recording and study of undocumented objects such as small settlements or military units, or of societies, tribes, clans and families having mainly oral traditions, or sometimes, clandestine activities that because of secrecy or security considerations were not documented. In these novel fields, individual memories and oral traditions are the principal sources and there are very little - if at all - other types of sources to compare and verify the stories. The practitioners and theoreticians of oral history speak of it in literary-narrativist rather than historical terms. They regard their practice as an independent discipline and place it in the areas of anthropology, folklore and literature rather than historiography.
Nonetheless, the phrase "collective memory" has become a common usage even when it is not clearly defined and should be treated accordingly. Apparently, its closest relative is the old and familiar "myth." Originally, myths were stories told by the ancestors to explain mystifying natural phenomena. Later, myths were concocted to support temporal or secular claims for status, power, jurisdiction, and so forth (i.e. medieval myths such as the presents of Emperor Constantine and King Pepin to the Church). Modern myths are what the undefined collective believes - or is led to believe - happened in its past. Usually, modern myths are instructive - seeking to teach lessons - and polemic or apologetic - excusing or explicating. Zionist and Israeli myths are no exception. Like other nations' myths they, too, cover up failures or exonerate fiascoes. True success and triumph speak for themselves and do not require myths.
Various agents shape the myths and propagate them: persons involved in the making of history who try to affect the way they will be remembered; chroniclers, biographers, poets, dramatists, journalists; writers of fiction; filmmakers; school curricula and teachers; radio and TV producers, etc. Recently, the Internet has become a significant facility of creating and disseminating old and new myths and its role in the empire of information will probably continue to grow in the future. When historians are breaking long-established myths, the role of creating them has become unpopular. Hence, instead of cultivating myths these agents now "shape collective memory."
The question, however, is what myths, alias collective memories, have to do with history. Postmodernist historians and thinkers assert that historiography is just another one of the many agencies that produce collective memory, shape and change it, and historians are, therefore agents of collective memories. This opinion is compatible with the postmodernists' general approach that reduces history to a collection of narratives. Regarding historiography as a scientific discipline I submit, however, that the historian is not - and should not be - a mediator echoing individual or collective memories. His task is precisely the opposite: to distrust, scrutinize and criticize the memories, not to endorse and repeat them.
History is not equivalent to memory - neither on the individual nor on the "collective" level. However, lack of access to official and personal archival material compels Israeli and other historians to rely on sources such as memoirs, oral testimonies, coverage by the media, fiction and arts. These categories of sources are valid for describing the manner in which events have been memorized, remembered, commemorated, conceived or represented, but they hardly tell how they happened. In a secular and individualist age such as ours, they may also contribute to an understanding of the way identities have been shaped. Yet, the affiliation between history and identity has not been explained satisfactorily. As much as history can contribute to the shaping of identity, people also escape from their history in the course of shaping a different or new identity.
Consequently, the research and study of the history of memory have been rapidly expanding. A growing number of scholars study the roots and development of Israeli myths, images and stereotypes. They research the background from which the myths emerged, the reasons for their emergence, the motives behind and methods of their cultivation. The study of myths belongs to cultural history. Significant as it is, this work should not be confused with researching the events - political, diplomatic, military or social. The virtual history, or history of the representation of history - through fiction, poetry, art, films or other popular methods - is not a substitute for the real history of people, nations, organizations, institutions, societies, ideas and other features of the human activity throughout the ages. Sharl De Koster's Till Eulenspiegel, or Henryk Sienkiewicz's Pan Zagloba are virtual fictions, yet the Netherlands' struggle for independence and the Poles' wars of the mid-seventeenth century were real - and different.

Concluding Remarks

In recent years, the means of disseminating information about and knowledge of the past have undergone profound changes. In the eyes of the public, books and articles, even popular, have ceased to be the principal channels of learning what happened, how and why. Watching audiovisual media such as films and TV documentary programs and surfing the Web are gradually replacing reading books and listening to lectures as the main avenues for gaining information and digesting it. In these respects, Israeli historiography lags far behind. We have no History Channel on TV as in America. The universities' Academic Channel is still poor and experimental, and the history of Zionism and Israel does not occupy a significant role in its programs. Even the flagship documentary series on the history of Zionism - Yigal Losin's Amud ha-esh (Pillar of fire) - is far from being free of shortcomings. Its equivalent on the history of Israel - the series Tkumah (Rebirth) - has been a spectacular fiasco to which, unfortunately, I was partner. The number of good and balanced documentary historical films on Zionist and Israeli history is abysmally small. My experience in Tkumah taught me that producers and directors ignore historical advice, and their attitude towards the historical issues - almost without exception - causes revisionist historians to look nearly orthodox.
The situation of Israeli historiography on the Internet is even worse. Preparation of computerized courses accessible through the Web is still in its inception. A few research institutes and university departments have websites, but excluding the Ben-Gurion Institute and archives in Sde Boker they are poor and primitive. While the PRO in London enables users to read on its website the list of documents in a file throughout 1,000 years of British and Imperial history, the Ben-Gurion archives are the only archives in Israel accessible through the Web. Most painful is the total lack of reliable and authoritative websites that provide information on Zionist and Israeli history, and on the historical background of current events in particular.
So far, the historical perspective of studying the history of Israel has been confined to the period ending more or less with the Sinai Campaign in 1956. Limitations and delays in opening significant archival material in the state and IDF archives have hampered research even in this restricted area beyond the necessary limits dictated by the continuation of the Israeli-Arab conflict. However, forerunners of the historical study of later issues such as the Lavon Affair and Ben-Gurion's retirement have already appeared. Scholarly works dealing with the road to the Six Day War and the background of the Yom Kippur War are already under way. In view of the excitement that critical examination of the first - and relatively consensual - decade (1948-1958) of Israeli history has exacerbated, it is easy to imagine the repercussions of a similar scrutiny of the second and third decades (1958-1978) - a period in which every measure, policy or expression has been controversial and a matter for public debate from the beginning, and whose events are masked by an ever-growing mass of irresponsible media coverage. However, precisely for this reason, the continuous debating from the events themselves to the time of their historical study may reduce the shock when historians publish the findings of their research.
The main quandary in tackling the anticipated disputes is not agreement or disagreement among historians or between them and colleagues of other disciplines. Harmony is no less dangerous than rivalry, and arguments may well increase scholarship. Israeli historiography, however, has already lost its joint disciplinary basis, in other words - its common language. It is impossible to conduct a reasonable and constructive debate without shared terminology, principles and ethics. These prerequisites have apparently disappeared in the heat of the recent destructive polemics on the history of the first decade.
I end where I began: the Tantura affair. What would have happened if a scandal like this had taken place in chemistry or in sociology? If major discrepancies had been found between the experiment and the chemist's published conclusions or the questionnaires and the sociologist's deductions - all the more so if the researcher had intentionally falsified the results - their academic colleagues would have unanimously condemn them as charlatans and expelled them from their ranks. In the Tantura case, Israeli historians have split: some - myself included - maintain that this has been an unprecedented disgrace, and others - such as Pappe or Kays Firro - retort that this is a new zenith of scholarship. To restore the status of Israeli historiography, we should primarily determine what historical scholarship is and what it has in common with other types of knowledge. Furthermore, we should shape the specific criteria by which we decide whether a historical work qualifies as a bona fide piece of knowledge - or as a piece of propaganda and historical fiction.


1. Amir Gilat, "Ha-tevah be-Tantura" (The massacre in Tantura), Maariv, weekend magazine, 21 Jan. 2000.
2. For all the polemics, legal documents, committees' reports, articles, letters to editors and other source material relevant to the Tantura affair, cf. the website http:// www.ee.bgu.ac.il/~censor/katz-directory/.
3. For an example of ulterior motives behind the campaign to defend Katz and his thesis, see Ilan Pappe, "The Tantura Case in Israel: The Katz Research and Trial," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Spring 2001), pp. 19-39.
4. A good example is Judge Eliahu Vinograd's verdict in the libel case of Moshe Svorai against Anschel Spielman in 1992. See Yoav Gelber, "Ha-mesugelet maarekhet ha-mishpat ha-yisraelit letapel be-mishpatim historiim?" (Can the Israeli judicial system handle "historical trials?), Ha-Umah, Vol. 35, No. 129 (Autumn 1997), pp. 27-36.
5. Cf. Israel Kolatt, "Ha-akademizatsiyah shel toldot ha-tziyonut" (The academization of Zionist history), in Yehiam Weitz (ed.), Bein hazon le-reviziyah: Me'ah shnot historiografiyah tziyonit (From vision to revision: A hundred years of Zionist historiography) (Jerusalem, 1997), pp. 89-95; and Yoav Gelber, "Ktivat toldot ha-tziyonut: Me-apoligetikah le-hitkahashut" (Writing the history of Zionism: From apologetics to denial), in ibid., pp. 67-76.
6. Yehuda Bauer, Diplonatia umachteret bamediniyut hazionit, 1939-1945 (Diplomacy and underground in Zionism, 1939-1945) (Merhavia 1966), p. 232.
7. Arthur Eisenbach, "Nazi Foreign Policy on the Eve of World War II and the Jewish Question," Acta Poloniae Historica (Warsaw, 1962), pp. 107-39; Tze'irei Agudat Yisrael (The youth of Agudat Israel), Srufei ha-kivshanim ma'ashimim (Those who were burnt in the crematoria accuse) (Jerusalem, 1965); Avraham Fux, Karati ve-ein oneh (I called and no one answered) (Jerusalem, 1981); Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (London, 1983).
8. Dan Michman, "Heker ha-tziyonut le-nokhah ha-shoah: Be'ayot, pulmusim u-munahei yesod" (The study of Zionism in face of the Holocaust: Problems, controversies and basic concepts), in Weitz (ed.), Bein hazon le-reviziyah, pp. 145-69.
9. Aharon Cohen, Yisrael ve-ha-olam ha-aravi (Israel and the Arab world) (Merhavia 1964).
10. Israel Kolatt, "Heker toldot ha-tziyonut ve-ha-yishuv" (On the research of the history of the Yishuv and the Zionist Movement), Ha-Universitah, Dec. 1972, and "Al ha-mehkar ve-ha-hoker shel toldot ha-yishuv ve-ha-tziyonut" (On the research and researcher of the history of the Yishuv and the Zionist movement), Cathedra, No. 1 (Sept. 1976), pp. 3-35.
11. Ibid., p. 23.
12. Ibid., pp. 24-5.
13. Ilan Gur-Zeev, "Sof ha-akademiyah?" (The end of the academe?), Ha'aretz, 15 June 2001, and Asa Kasher's response, ibid., 22 June 2001.
14. I am grateful to my research assistant Ms. Maya Dar for collecting the data from the various universities and building the database.
15. Not in his capacity as a historian, Yehuda Nini made a highly significant contribution to the awareness of the growing polarization in Israeli society by publishing his article "Hirhurim al ha-hurban ha-shlishi" (Reflections on the third destruction), Shdemot, Vol. 41 (Spring, 1971), pp. 54-61.
16. Ian Black, "Zionism and the Arabs, 1936-1939" (Ph.D. diss., University of London, 1978).
17. For a critical survey of historicism cf. Hans Meyerhof (ed.), The Philosophy of History in Our Time (New York, 1959), pp. 1-84; for a concise review of the development of the various historical schools until the middle of the twentieth century, cf. Fritz Stern, The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present (Cleveland and New York, 1956).
18. Stern, The Varieties of History, pp. 120-37.
19. Karl Popper, "Has History Any Meaning?" in idem, The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton, 1950), pp. 449-53; Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism (London, 1957).
20. Kolatt, "Al heker ha-historiyah," pp. 5-6.
21. Carl L. Becker, "What Are Historical Facts?" The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Sept. 1955), pp. 327-40.
22. Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power," in Paul Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader (London, 1986), pp. 51-75.
23. For opposing views on this issue, cf. Henri Butterfield, History and Human Relations (London, 1931), pp. 101-30, and Isaiah Berlin, Historical Inevitability (Oxford, 1954), pp. 30-53.
24. Francois Furet, "Quantitative Methods in History," in Jacques Le Goff and Pierre Nora (eds.), Constructing the Past: Essays in Historical Methodology (Cambridge, 1974), pp. 12-27.
25. Charles A. Beard, "Written History as an Act of Faith," The American Historical Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Jan. 1934), pp. 219-31.
26. Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore, 1987).
27. Anita Shapira, "Politics and Collective Memory: The Debate over the 'New Historians' in Israel," History & Memory, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 1995), pp. 10-11.
28. Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myth and Realities (London, 1987); Avi Shlaim, Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (Oxford, 1988), and The Politics of Partition (Oxford, 1990); Ilan Pappe, Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-1951 (New York, 1988); and Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge, 1988).
29. Ilan Pappe, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951 (London, 1992); and Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (London, 2000).
30. Shapira, "Politics and Collective Memory," p. 12.
31. Cf. Benny Morris, "The Eel and History: A Reply to Shabtai Teveth," Tikkun, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1990), pp. 19-22 and 79-86.
32. Shabtai Teveth, "The Palestinian Refugee Problem and Its Origin," Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1990), pp. 214-49; and Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History (London, 1997).
33. See Ilan Pappe, "Israeli Perception of the Refugee Question" in: Naseer Hasan Aruri (ed.), Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return (London, 2001), pp. 71-76.
34. Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, 1918-1929 (London, 1974), and The Palestinian Arab National Movement: From Riots to Rebellion, 1929-1939 (London, 1977); Avraham Sela, "Ha-ligah ha-aravit u-she'elat eretz yisrael, 1945-1948" (The Arab League and the Palestine question, 1945-1948) (Ph.D diss., Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1982); Haim Levenberg, Military Preparations of the Arab Community in Palestine, 1945-1948 (London, 1993); and Joseph Nevo, "The Arabs of Palestine, 1947-1948: Military and Political Activity," Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 23 (1987), pp. 3-38.
35. For an up-to-date survey of Arab historiography of the war, see Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (eds.), The War for Palestine: Reviewing the History of 1948 (Cambridge, 2001).
36. Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians (Washington, 1993); Walid Khalidi, All that Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington, 1992); and Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (Chicago, 1996).
37. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1978); On Said's faked Palestinian identity cf. Justus Reid Weiner, "'My Beautiful Old House' and Other Fabrications of Edward Said," Commentary, Sept. 1999. The reactions of Said and his admirers to this article have been furious and aggressive but did not contradict convincingly any of the points made by the author. Alon Konfino's response is indeed more sophisticated but he, too, relates to Said's narrative in literary and psychological criteria and does not refute Weiner's factual contentions. Konfino accuses Weiner of ignoring Said's subjective feelings of exile and dispossession, and reiterates that if Said says so and so he must be right because he believes it - an irrelevant and invalid historiographic argument. Cf. Alon Konfino, "Remebering Talbiyah: On Edward Said's Out of Place" in: Israel Studies, 5 (2), 2000, pp. 190-198.
38. Uri Ram, "The Colonization Perspective in Israeli Sociology," in Ilan Pappe (ed.), The Israel/Palestine Question (London and New York, 1999), pp. 55-80, and Gershon Shafir, "Zionism and Colonialism: A Comparative Approach," in ibid., pp. 83-96.
39. Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, pp. 39-63; Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, pp. 96-111.
40. Recently, Derek Penslar has tried an interesting comparison between Zionism and Indian and other movements of national awakening in Southeast Asia. See his article in this volume, "Zionism, Colonialism and Postcolonialism." In my opinion, however, the comparison is hardly valid. While in Southeast Asia a meeting between two separate societies took place, the Jews of Europe were part of European society and separated from it for different reasons.
41. An undated list (probably from 1944 or 1945) of more than 50 Palestinian notables who sold land to Jews, including the offices the sellers held and the location of the sold parcels, Central Zionist Archives (CZA), S 25/3472.
42. Nachman Tal, Tmurot Bimdiniyut habitachon klapei hami'ut ha'arvi, 1948-1967
42. (Changes in Israel's security policy towards its Arab Minority, 1948-1967), PhD Diss., the University of Haifa, 2001, pp.60-65.
43. Two random examples are Lev Grinberg's course in the framework of Ben-Gurion University's program of Israel Studies "Nationality, Ethnicity and Racism: The Case of Israel," and his colleague David Newman's course "Space and Politics in Israel and in the [Occupied] Territories."
44. Yosef Grodzinsky, Homer enoshi tov (Good human material) (Or Yehuda, 1998).
45. Idith Zertal, From Catastrophe to Power: Holocaust Survivors and the Emergence of Israel (Berkeley, 1998).
46. Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York, 1996).
47. Zimmerman's interview in the Yediot Aharonot network of local newspapers, 28 April 1995.
48. Ilan Pappe, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, pp. 12-13, and his interview with Yona Hadari in Yediot Aharonot, 27 Aug. 1993.
49. Ilan Gur-Zeev, "The Morality of Acknowledging/Not-Acknowledging the Other's Holocaust/Genocide", Journal of Moral Education, Vol. 27, No. 2 (1998), pp. 161-77, and Filosofiyah, politikah ve-hinukh be-yisrael (Philosophy, politics and education in Israel) (Haifa, 1999), pp. 79-98.
50. Ibid. pp. 99-123.
51. Uri Ram (ed.), Ha-hevrah ha-yisraelit: Hebetim bikortiim (Israeli society: Critical aspects) (Tel Aviv, 1993); Uri Ben-Eliezer, Derekh ha-kavenet: Yetzirato shel militarizm yisraeli, 1936-1956 (Through the rear-sight: The creation of Israeli militarism, 1936-1956) (Tel Aviv, 1995).
52. Cf. Dvora Hacohen, Olim be-se'arah: Ha-aliyah ha-hamonit u-klitatah be-yisrael, 1948-1953 (Immigrants in a storm: The mass immigration and its absorption in Israel, 1948-1953) (Jerusalem, 1994); Zvi Zameret, Idan kur ha-hitukh (The era of the melting pot) (Sde Boker, 1993), and Al gesher tzar: Itzuv ma'arekhet ha-hinukh bi-yemei ha-aliyah ha-hamonit (On a narrow bridge: Shaping the education system during the days of the mass immigration) (Sde Boker, 1997); Hanna Yablonka, Ahim zarim: Nitzolei ha-sho'ah be-yisrael, 1948-1952 (Estranged brothers: The Holocaust survivors in Israel, 1948-1952 (Jerusalem, 1994).
53. For a critical analysis of the issue cf. Yoram Hazoni, "Al ha-mahapekhah ha-shketah be-maarekhet ha-hinukh" (On the quiet revolution in the educational system), Tehelet, No. 10 (winter 2001), pp. 41-64.
54. Daniel Gutwein, "Historiografiyah hadashah o hafratat ha-zikaron" (New historiography or the privatization of memory), in Weitz (ed.), Bein hazon le-reviziyah, pp. 311-43.
55. Cf. Yoav Gelber, "Eduyot be'al peh ke-makor histori" (Oral testimonies as a historical source), Dapim le-heker ha-shoah ve-ha-mered, Vol. 7 (1987), pp. 165-71; Zvi Dror, "Ha-ed ve-ha-edut" (The witness and the testimony), ibid., pp. 173-92; Stephen E. Everett, Oral History: Techniques and Procedures, Washington 1992 (also on the website: http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/oral.htm).
56. Asher Koriat, Morris Goldsmith and Einat Pansky, "Toward a Psychology of Memory Accuracy," Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 51 (2000), pp. 481-537; Elizabeth F. Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony, London 1979, and Elizabeth Loftus and Kathline Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory (New York 1994).
57. For a very nice fictitious illustration of micro-history based on oral memories, cf. Alexandar Hemon's short story "Exchange of Pleasant Words," in idem, The Question of Bruno (London, 2000), pp. 95-116. For a comprehensive and illustrative discussion of the essence of oral history in the eyes of its devoted practitioners, cf. Alessandro Portelli, The Battle of Valle Giulia: Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (Madison, 1997). For the treatment of oral history in the framework of folklore studies, cf. in particular Barbara Allen and William L. Montell, From Memory to History (Nashville, 1981), pp. 67-87.
58. Cf. Yael Zerubavel, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israel (Chicago, 1995); and Nurith Gertz, Myths in Israeli Culture: Captives of a Dream (London, 2000).
59. For example: Ilanah Zur's Altalena (1995) and Dan Wolman's documentaries on Reuven Shiloah (1996), Yoland Harmer (1999), and Israeli Intelligence in the War of Independence (1999).
60. The reader is invited to surf the historical sites listed in the Ynet website and judge for him/herself.
61. Shabtai Teveth, Kalaban (Tel Aviv, 1992); Eyal Kafkafi, Lavon: Anti-mashiah (Lavon: Anti-messiah) (Tel Aviv, 1998).
62. Emmanuel Gluska, "Ha-derekh le-milhemet sheshet ha-yamim: Ha-pikud ha-tzva'i veha-hanhagah ha-medinit shel yisrael lenokhah ba'ayot ha-bitahon, 1963-1967" (The road to the Six Day War: Israel's army command and political leadership in face of the security problems, 1963-1967) (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2000); Uri Bar Yosef, Ha-tzofeh she-nirdam (The watchman who fell asleep) (Tel Aviv 2001).
63. For a forerunner of the anticipated debate on Israel's later political and military history and its obvious bias and shortcomings, see Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 (New York, 1999), and Shlaim, The Iron Wall, and Anita Shapira's review essay of these books, "The Past Is Not a Foreign Country," New Republic, 29 Nov. 1999, pp. 26-36.


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