Ignoring Middle East History Makes Kasrils Incapable of Proper Analysis

Cape Times (South Africa), June 22, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Ignoring Middle East History Makes Kasrils Incapable of Proper Analysis

BYLINE: Milton Shain

Over 70 years ago, the British philosopher of history, Herbert Butterfield, identified the pitfalls of what he termed "presentism" when analysing the past.

"When we organise our general history with a reference to the present," he warned, "we are producing what is really a giant optical illusion." Ronnie Kasrils produces such an illusion in his crude and tendentious overview of a tragic conflict between two groups, the Jews or Israelis and the Palestinians ("Netanyahu sets out on a road to nowhere", June 17).

With a mind-boggling sweep of one-sided history, rooted firmly in a colonial settler paradigm and devoid of even a shred of historical sensitivity and sense of dialectic, the former minister of intelligence simplistically frames a 100-year-old conflict within an apartheid framework, an approach largely jettisoned by serious scholars of the subject today.

To bolster his arguments, Kasrils cherry-picks apposite quotations from our "Verwoerdian" past so as to confuse the uninitiated. If only the issue was so simple.

Historical problems evolve, with twists and turns, rooted in contingency and changing options. Kasrils fails to appreciate this.

He conveniently ignores an historical process that provided at once glimmers of hope, the foreclosing of options, and mistakes on both sides. No attempt is made to empathise with difficult choices facing Jews in the mandate period.

Reading Kasrils, no one would know that Zionist pioneers purchased (as opposed to conquered) land from Arabs, a fact even acknowledged by the post-Zionist scholar Ilan Pappe. Only Zionists are aggressive. One reads nothing of Arab opposition to Zionist settlement in the 1930s, led by the Nazi collaborator, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin el-Husseini.

Kasrils also fails to appreciate that Jews found themselves between a rock and a hard place in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1937 they accepted the Peel Plan which recommended partition of Palestine. An Arab insurrection followed.

Ten years later, decimated by the Holocaust, they supported the United Nations partition. The Arabs did not. One would not know from reading Kasrils that the Jewish state comprised less than 1 percent of the Arab lands originally under Turkish rule - the other 99 percent was carved up by the imperial powers into Israel's neighbours and those other countries comprising the Arab league.

One would not know from Kasrils that the Six Day War in 1967 was brought on Israel when Egypt's Nasser and his allies revealed plans to destroy the Jewish state. One would not know that the Israelis gave up the Sinai in a peace deal with Egypt. One would not know that the overwhelming number of Israelis accepted the Oslo peace process that collapsed in 2000, only to be followed by waves of suicide bombers targeting and killing dozens of Israeli civilians.

One would not know that in 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza which it had occupied in 1967. Thereafter hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza at the border town of Sderot in the wake of the election of Hamas to power in 2006.

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