Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Correcting Corrections: De-Reifying the New Israeli Historiography

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Correcting Corrections: De-Reifying the New Israeli Historiography

Article excerpt

RE-WRITING HISTORY IS A UNIVERSAL act. Nations rediscover their past and rewrite their biographies. History is far from being etched in stone. This was neither accidental nor random. The world and nations change and historiography changes with them.

In the history of the state of Israel, it is possible to distinguish two regimes and ideologies that were products of local, regional, and global forces: 1. Ben Gurionism, characterized by state regulated militarized economy associated with a degree of collectivism; and 2. Market Zionism, characterized by a neo-liberal economic outlook entailing an outward expansionist deregulated economy, individualism and a highly conservative ideological outlook. Each regime is discerned in this synopsis as a complex matter of politics, economics and culture.

Each global, regional, and local structural change shaped Israel's class structure leading to political, economic, and cultural transformations. The transformation into the second Israeli regime is associated with the rise of a new Israeli elite group or ruling class, whose character and ideological conservatism, coupled with the neo-liberal economic outlook, shaped the second regime and provided the conditions for, among many things, the rise of the Israeli New Historiography.

For the purpose of explaining the new historiography, the following pages include a discussion of the major trends in Israeli economic history and the corresponding political transformations, as well as a discussion of nationalism and master narratives intended to illuminate the re-invention of Israel within the context of the new regime. At the end, an attempt will be made to consolidate these developments with the rise of new historiography and locate it within the second Israeli regime.


Starting with the late 1980s, the rise of the phenomenon known today as "Israeli New Historians," began correcting flaws that deeply saturated the official Israeli narrative, which profoundly shook the founding myths of Israel. (1) The rise of the new historiography suggests a variety of questions. In addition to the question of its political utility and implications, as an intellectual phenomenon, the study of the new historiography entails a philosophical issue as well. Both issues are necessarily related. Any view concerning the possibility of political implications is based primarily on a philosophical understanding of this phenomenon and vice versa. In addition to advancing a colorful account of history, the new historians illuminate the new historiography itself, which in turn offers a conceptualization of history.

The forceful expulsion of Palestinians, an early revelation of the new historiography, needed neither tangible verification nor decades' old archival evidence. To most Palestinians, they were the living proof of that Israeli past. However, the political utility of the new historiography was appealing: Israel was "confronting its past" (2) and the new historians were exposing Israel's original sins.

While the past cannot be undone, many thought that perhaps the new historiography could at least make Israel reconsider the future. After all, Israel's heroic image of the past, an Israeli David defeating an Arab Goliath, the purity of arms, and the founders' constant quest for peace with the Arabs, was shattered and replaced by the image of a colonizer outnumbering his victims, eager to expel, ethnically cleanse, and massacre the native Arabs, and rejecting every peace initiative to recognize his existence. If facts revealed by Israeli scholars cannot create a moral, if not a cultural shock that would at least weaken Israel's resolve and force her to make peace with the Arabs, nothing can.

The "Oedipus the King" finale-like scenarios where Oedipus takes responsibility for the knowledge he acquired (he took the shoulder-pins from his mother's dress and blinded himself) was not only optimistic but also rather unrealistic. …

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