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Hebrew University
BARUCH KIMMERLING (sociology): The Hebrew University's Leading anti-Zionist

The Hebrew University's Leading anti-Zionist
by Steven Plaut
21 September 2004The Palestinian People

A review of Baruch Kimmerling's two books on Palestine, The Palestinian People and Politicide.

Baruch Kimmerling, a sociologist at the Hebrew University, has long been identified as one of the leading figures in the "post-Zionist" movement, better called the anti-Zionist movement -- a trendy, small group of tenured far Leftists, including Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Oren Yiftachel, Uri Bar-Joseph, and, until recently, Benny Morris). He has gone so far as to endorse Palestinian terrorism against right-wing Israelis and more broadly against Israelis in general. He has also openly endorsed the use of violence.

Two books by Kimmerling appeared in 2003, one of them with a co-author, and both are getting plenty of attention. They have been widely reviewed, especially by magazines and web sites that are hostile to Israel, and have been produced in Arabic in the West Bank.  Even Foreign Affairs gave sympathetic reviews to both of these books.

One of the two books, The Palestinian People, is an update of a study first released in 1993 and subsequently translated into Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages, as well as lauded on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)'s web sites.  The 2003 version is slightly amended.  His co-author, Joel S. Migdal, is a political scientist at the University of Washington.

No one, of course, doubts there are Arabic-speaking people who have lived in what was once called Palestine ever since the Muslim empire arose, and there were Arabic tribes around even earlier, some mentioned in the Bible. By the 1800s, some Arabs in Palestine were participating here and there in rebellions and turf battles within the Islamic world. The authors think this constitutes proof of nationhood, and by the same litmus test, the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion were a nation.  When the local Turkish pasha revolted against the suzerainty of the Egyptian overlord Mohammed Ali, he was backed by some local sheikhs and effendis in Palestine.  For the authors this constitutes evidence of emerging Palestinian nationhood even back then, but by the same litmus test, the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion were a nation.  On page 78 the authors declare that local Arabs had developed a Palestinian self-definition by 1908; the citation for this remarkable finding turns out to be an old book that actually went out of its way to emphasize that Palestine was regarded by Arabs in the early part of the 20th century as Southern Syria.  The authors here forgot to cite that.

While Kimmerling and Migdal insist that Palestinians are an ancient people, existing as a nation for centuries, no one bothered to inform the Palestinians. While there was some talk as far back as 1920 of creating an independent Palestinian state, there is no evidence that any grassroots Palestinian nationalism existed before 1967. [For more information, see "The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine." Middle East Review, Summer 1989, pp. 37-44]

At most, Palestinians were a minor and unimportant subgroup within Arab civilization and within Arab nationalism (which is itself also a modern contrivance).  Before 1900, Palestine was a sleepy underpopulated backwater within the Ottoman world (see David Landes, "Palestine Before the Zionists," Commentary, February 1976).   It was a sparsely populated area with a heterogeneous population.   Local Muslims in Palestine in the nineteenth century were a hodgepodge of Arabs, Turks, Circassians, Bosnians, and others.  Local Christians of Palestine were probably even more heterogeneous.

While Jews had trickled in and out of Palestine all along, Jewish immigration began to pick up towards the end of the nineteenth century. Along with the financial and higher-skilled human capital being brought in by Jews came one other thing: Arabs. Arabs from neighboring countries migrated into Palestine where job opportunities were to be found and amenities, such as hospitals, were built. By 1948, the bulk of those later to be labeled Palestinians were members of families who had been in Palestine for three generations or less, exactly the same as the Jews. But that is another set of facts conveniently missing from this history book. [See Roberto Bachi, The Population of Israel, Jerusalem: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University, 1974 and also Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, HarperCollins, 2001]

The attempt by Kimmerling and Migdal to fabricate an ancient Palestinian nationhood is not the first time "nations" have been invented out of whole cloth.  The dubiousness of Palestinian nationhood should be clearly evident to all, in the fact that when the West Bank and Gaza were under the illegal rule of Jordan, from 1948-67, there never emerged any Palestinian independence movement there, nor in the Egyptian-ruled Gaza Strip.  I doubt one can find reference to a single Palestinian before 1967, demanding that those areas be relinquished and converted into a Palestinian nation state.

The fact that the population of Jordan itself is predominantly Palestinian raises other questions.  If the Palestinians are indeed a people, why has there never been a Kurdish-style independence movement or a set of Palestinian organizations inside Jordan, demanding the exercise of Palestinian sovereignty there?   Do Palestinians only develop the need for self-determination when they happen to fall under Israeli control?   Why were Palestinians not in need of self-determination on June 4, 1967, but desperately in need of it a week later?   The answer is that Palestinians "self-determination," like Sudeten self-determination, was an invention to provide a figleaf for a campaign of aggression and war, launched by aggressors intending to destroy a sovereign state.

In the first edition of the book, there was no mention at all of the Grand Mufti and of Palestinian collaboration with German Nazism in World War II. (In the new edition there is only the briefest passing mention.)  This is highly relevant; as allies of the Axis, Palestinians had far less moral claim to self-determination after the war than did others, even if they might have been regarded as a "nation" in the late 1940s.  There is almost no mention at all in the book of the wave of terrorist atrocities carried out in the 1950s by fedayeen terrorists; the Maale ha-Akrabim massacre is never mentioned at all.  It never occurs to the authors that Palestinians might just have forfeited any legitimate or moral claim to statehood in the decades of mass atrocities, a bit as did the Hutus.

There is no citing of many of the important works on the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, such as those by Efraim Karsh. There is no discussion at all of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and its human rights atrocities committed against Palestinians. The authors are willing to take things at face value, especially when that makes Israel look bad. They claim that between 500,000 and a million Palestinian Arabs became refugees in 1948-49, most of them victims expelled by Israel, this on the basis of nothing more than what apparently is common knowledge that everyone knows.  In fact, even the 500,000 number may be too high; some Arab sources put it as lower, and a large segment of the actual refugees were permitted subsequently to return quietly to Israel.   Even Abu-Mazen, the erstwhile Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, has confirmed that the cause of Palestinians becoming refugees was the order by the Arab leadership that they flee the battle zones.

There is no mention at all of the million Jews expelled from Arab countries, most of whom moved to Israel.   This is disingenuous; one cannot discuss "Palestinian demography" in isolation from Israeli Jewish demography.

While at first posturing as balanced critics of both the Palestinian Authority and of Israel, the authors' mask of neutrality falls very quickly.   They make it quite clear they consider Israel the main reason why Oslo has failed and they even fault Israel for obvious PLO violations and atrocities.  For example, the authors assert that the Tunnel Pogrom of 1996 started because Israel opened up a tunnel that ran under the Temple Mount -- except the tunnel in question does not run anywhere near the Temple Mount. The authors refuse to refer to the Temple Mount, by the way, because that might indicate that Jews have some legitimate rights to it, and so instead regularly refer to it as haram al-sharif. The two authors assert, without proof, that Israel expelled most of the Palestinian refugees, whereas the bulk were simply people seeking to escape battle zones at the direct instructions of the Arab leadership. The level of objectivity of the book is revealed in the frequent use of the term Naqba to refer to Israel's creation.

The second half of the book is mainly a discussion of the Oslo years.  From these chapters you will discover how Israel was the obstacle to a peace accord with the PLO, and even Ehud Barak's offer to Arafat at Camp David II was little more than a sham. You are unlikely to learn that Arafat signed the early peace accords simply to gain access to the "occupied territories" from which he planned to launch a campaign of terrorist atrocities. You are unlikely to discover that Arafat began ordering terrorist strikes on Jews almost as soon as the Oslo ink was dry.

In the second book, Politicide, Kimmerling -- on his own this time -- takes the ideas from The Palestinian People and carries them to new extremes. Blessedly shorter than the other book, this time Kimmerling's message is that Israel has been transformed into a single-purpose country, whose raison d'etre is "politicide," by which Kimmerling means the destruction of the Palestinian nation. Israel is nothing more than a "Herrenvolk Republic," a state based on presumptions of Jews being a master race, something morally equivalent to Nazi Germany.

While purporting to be an analysis of the Middle East conflict, this book is little more than a blustering ad hominem attack on Ariel Sharon.  For Kimmerling, Sharon is the epitome of all that is evil, a Middle Eastern Richard III.  Kimmerling's demonization of Sharon is so wild that it is doubtful anything of value about Sharon's actual failings and shortcomings can sensibly be extracted by anyone reading the book.   Sharon, according to Kimmerling, is nothing more than an "agent of destruction" (p. 4), quietly or openly endorses ethnic cleansing of Arabs (p. 29-30), has a history of committing unjustified acts of wanton violence as part of personal vendettas against Arabs (p. 52).  He pooh-poohs Sharon's military achievements (pp.54-68).  He considers large numbers of Israeli leaders to be "war criminals," including of course Sharon (p.101).

Kimmerling is only mildly less venomous when it comes to the Israeli Left, which he regards as cowardly and insufficiently militant.  I suspect he finds them insufficiently anti-Zionist for his tastes.   He denounces the leftist Meretz party for remaining inside the "holy national consensus" (p. 5).  He takes the Left to task for being too moderate, for not using civil disobedience enough (pp. 167-181), and lacking an "up-to-date political agenda" (p. 181), by which he no doubt means Kimmerling's own anti-Israel agenda.  Kimmerling sees Palestinian atrocities and terrorism as legitimate acts of protest against the desperate condition and injustices of Palestinian life (p. 74ff.)  He denounces Israel as a "Thatcherist and semi-fascist regime" (p. 5).  He regards any two-state solution to be worse than the Bantustans South Africa once tried to set up (p. 209), raising suspicion that the only thing he would accept as a real solution would be Israel's liquidation.

But the most important reason to pass over this book is its Orwellism.  There is indeed a political entity in the Middle East whose entire raison d'etre is the "politicide" or destruction of another nation: the PLO.  The Middle East conflict is indeed all about attempted annihilation of a n
ation, but Kimmerling -- characteristically -- has things exactly in reverse.

The Palestinian People is available on Amazon.com.

Steven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa

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