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Hebrew University
[HUJ, Rothberg] Creative Memory as Selective Memory: Efrat Ben-Ze'ev "Remembering Palestine in 1948"

BEN-ZE'EV Efrat (Enlarge)

Efrat Ben Ze'ev, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Graduate Studies, Rothberg International School, Hebrew University. E-mail: msebz@mscc.huji.ac.il

Creative Memory as Selective Memory

Book Review:

Efrat Ben-Ze'ev, Remembering Palestine in 1948. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Dr. Efrat Ben-Ze'ev ( Hebrew University and Ruppin Academic College) has joined a list of Israeli anthropologists who use creative memory to shed new light on the 1948 war. In a 2009 article “National Trap” Ben- Ze'ev writes that the Israeli theater Cameri staged a play based on a story by Ghassam Kanafani, “Return to Haifa,” with an added dialogue between an Arab and a Jewish family. Ben Ze'ev disapproves of the invented dialogue because, in her opinion the two families are “trapped” in a “national narrative,” caught in a “stifling symmetry,” each engaged in a “competition over victimhood.”

To break this “stifling symmetry,” Ben- Ze'ev calls for a more creative way of using memory to shine a new light on the 1948 events. This seems to be a laudable goal that can broaden our understanding of historical events seen from the perspective of individual actors. However, to produce a historically accurate portrait the research has to be grounded in scientific methods and objective. But Ben Ze'ev’s book violets these rules on a number of ways.Her selection of the interviewees is biased against Israel. A Palmach veteran recalls how he learned to shoot in the village of Kabri. “An Arab came out of the house because of the dog’s barking… and I shot him and probably killed him and the rest of the company joined in.” Similar recollections create a picture of casual, matter of fact violence against civilians.

Even positive recollections serve Ben Ze'ev’s goal of depicting a negative reality. She relates a story about looting by quoting soldiers from one company where looting and robbing of refugees was prohibited. “All the interviewees emphasized that the company officer had a clear rooted norm against looting. They recounted how they would take nothing- ‘a needle to a shoelace,’ as one of them termed it.” Ben- Ze'ev notes that the “rejection of taking booty would later become a ritual,” when commenting on a depiction of another incident in the town of Lydda. By choosing the term “ritual” Ben- Ze'ev clearly fails to recognize the individual morality of the soldiers who shunned looting. In any event, she hastens to add that “while expulsion seemed somewhat acceptable while looting did not;” all this to drive the larger point that the ritualized morality of shunning looting pales in comparison with the larger immorality of expulsion.

Ben-Ze'ev’s tendentious language is quite evident in the book. Her self-reference as “a Jew from Palestine,” a political signifier popular among radical post-Zionists, speaks to her ardent identification with the Palestinian cause. The description of her book speaks to her bias- producing method; the “small scale truths which were collected from people at the dusk of their lives” are said not only to “shed new light on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as it was then” but also “on what is has become.” In this permissive methodology, present politics dictate the selective but politically appropriate memories of the past.

It is hardly surprising that Ben- Ze'ev violates the rules of objective inquiry. Like her post-Zionist peers, Ben Ze'ev is part of a cadre of neo-Marxist, critical scholars who view academic research as an extension of their political activism. Indeed, Ben-Ze'ev is an activist in Taayush, an NGO that campaign for a Palestinian narrative and uses language that delegitimizes Israel such as “apartheid wall,” as part of its campaign of BDS. Ben-Ze'ev is also known as a passionate advocate for the Palestinian narrative and wants a greater Israeli exposure to the Nakba.Ben- Ze'ev has appeared in conferences whose organizers promise a robust academic discourse but in fact feature some of the most virulent anti-Israel activists, advocates of one state solution and leaders of the BDS campaign.


Remembering Palestine in 1948

Witnesses to War, Victory and Defeat

Series: Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare (No. 32)

Efrat Ben Ze'ev

University of Jerusalem


(ISBN-13: 9780521194471)

The war of 1948 in Palestine is a conflict whose history has been written primarily from the national point of view. This book asks what happens to these narratives when they arise out of the personal stories of those who were involved, stories that are still unfolding. Efrat Ben-Ze'ev examines the memories of those who participated and were affected by the events of 1948, and how these events have been mythologized over time. This is a three-way conversation between Palestinian villagers, Jewish-Israeli veterans, and British policemen who were stationed in Palestine on the eve of the war. Each has his or her story to tell. These small-scale truths shed new light on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as it was then and as it has become.

An alternative perspective of one of the most significant events of the twentieth century covering 1948 and the lead up to Israel's foundation • An important contribution to the study of the memory of cataclysmic events and how these events become mythologized • For students in social anthropology, Middle East history and warfare


Part I. Constructing Palestine: National Projects: 1. A guide for the perplex; 2. The British cartographic imagination and Palestine; 3. Cartographic practices in Palestine: British, Jewish, and Arabs, 1938–1948; Part II. Palestine-Arabs Memories in the Making: 4. 1948 from a local point of view: the Palestinian village of Ijzim; 5. Rural Palestinian women: witnessing and the domestic sphere; 6. Underground memories: collecting traces of the Palestinian past; Part III. Jewish-Israeli Memories in the Making: 7. Palmach fighters: stories and silences; 8. The Palmach women; Part IV. British Mandatory Memories in the Making: 9. Carrying out the mandate: British policemen in Palestine; Conclusion and implications.

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