1948: Palestine Betrayed

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Zionist Jews were not interlopers in Palestine. The creation of the Jewish state was not an "original sin" foisted upon the Arab world. The tragic flight of the Palestinian refugees was overwhelmingly not the fault of the Zionists. To the contrary, at every momentous junction the Zionists opted for compromise and peace, the Arabs for intransigence and belligerency.

This, in summary, is how most people once understood the Arab-Israel conflict. Today, however, as Israel marks its Independence Day, an entire generation has come to maturity believing a diametrically opposite "narrative": namely, that the troubles persist because of West Bank settlements, because of Israeli building in east Jerusalem, because of the security barrier, because of heavy-handed Israeli militarism—in brief, because of a racist Zionist imperialism whose roots stretch back to 1948 and beyond.

The new view has been shaped by a confluence of factors: unsympathetic media coverage, an obsessive focus by the UN and others on Israel's alleged shortcomings, improved Arab suasion techniques, and the global Left's adoption of the Palestinian cause.  Added to the mix is the influence of Israel's own "New Historians," whose revisionist attacks on the older understanding have helped shape today's authorized academic canon.

Such attacks have themselves not gone altogether without challenge—and at least one prominent New Historian, Benny Morris, has since moderated his views. Outstanding among the challengers has been the scholar Efraim Karsh, head of the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies Program at King's College, University of London, and the author of a 1997 debunking of the New Historians entitled Fabricating Israeli History.

In his just-published book, Palestine Betrayed, Karsh zeroes in on the 1948–49 war, its background, and its consequences, in an analysis that re-establishes the essential accuracy of the once-classic account of the Arab-Israel conflict.  Basing itself on Arabic as well as Western, Soviet, UN, and Israeli sources, Karsh's is corrective history at its boldest and most thorough. Elliot Jager interviewed Efraim Karsh for Jewish Ideas Daily.


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