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Last update - 23:06 27/03/2008
An anti-history historian
By Tom Segev
Alon Confino is a professor of modern German and European history at the University of Virginia and an expert in the culture of memory. In an article he published in the periodical Alpayim - A Multidisciplinary Publication for Contemporary Thought and Literature (in Hebrew), Confino calls for eliminating history from the discourse between Jews and Arabs in Israel, "to get rid of the arrogance of the past" and to overcome it. The debate as to what did and did not happen in the past only deepens the rifts, in his opinion.
"It may be strange that a historian, whose craft is to construct
representations of the past, posits such an argument," writes Confino, "but I don't think that the role of the historian is always to recommend a recipe that includes another dosage of the past in order to reinforce identity [preferably three times a day]."
At the same time, he also calls for suspending the debate on the question of whether the State of Israel should be "Jewish and democratic" or "a state of all its citizens." This is a call in favor of pragmatism: "The Jews must desist from the obsessive need to turn the Palestinians into Zionists, to be loved by them, and to hear how wonderful, justified and humane Zionism was [as a whole]. It certainly was not so for the native Palestinians. The Palestinians must get used to the Jewish nation-state that is supported by 80 percent of the country's inhabitants." Confino is talking about the Israeli Arabs, not those in Gaza and the West Bank.
Both Jews and Arabs do in fact draw their identity from history, as do most of the nations of the world. The conflict over the Land of Israel is anchored in the past, as are many conflicts between nations. But "the past is not necessarily the best tool for shaping the present," says Confino. "We must exist in the present, we must dream, build, create. We must live." There is no need to forget everything, he says, but neither is there a need to remember everything.
Confino does not spell out what should be remembered and what forgotten, but asserts that holding on to the past exacerbates the tension,
especially in conditions of inequality. Instead of arguing about history, he suggests therefore that we concentrate on creating political, civic and cultural equality between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel, including the payment of compensation to the Arabs for property that was confiscated from them, and a recognition of their right to return to the villages they were forced to leave, "insofar as possible." In his opinion, more equality will reduce the tension between Jews and Arabs, will improve the
integration of the Arabs into Israeli society, and then it will also be easier to work on shaping memory, in order to harness it for everyone's benefit.