Magazine article Monthly Review

Background of the Palestinian Uprising

Magazine article Monthly Review

Background of the Palestinian Uprising

Article excerpt

The "Review ofthe Month" in the October 1988 'issue on the Palestinian uprising is certainly right in describing it as "bearing the familiar earmarks of a people's struggle for national liberation." And the brutal response of the Shamir government is a new phase in the national oppression of another people that has been the shame of Israel for more than two decades.

You cite the fact that "on the issue of the Israeli-occupied territories there is much confusion even among those troubled over the policies ofthe Israeli government." For light on these matters you point to the emergence in Israel of "a new revisionist history," which has had available new source material released by the Israel State Archives and the Central Zionist Archives, as well as War Diaries of Israel's first leader, David Ben-Gurion. "A prime example" of this revisionist history-and the only example that you cite-is the late Simha Flapan's Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (New York: Pantheon, 1987).

I share your high opinion of Flapan, a left socialist Zionist, who, as you put it, "for decades was engaged in working r a just and peaceful solution of the Israell-Palestinian conflict." I do not share your high opinion of his book.

Not all revisionist history is necessarily better or truer than the history it seeks to replace. It seems to me that a prime example of misperceived and distorted history is Birth of Israel. Of the seven myths that, according to Flapan, have falsified the true history ofthe events that led to the formation of the state of Israel-to each of which he devotes a chapter-you discuss two. The first of these is that Zionist acceptance of the United Nations partition resolution of November 29, 1947 was a compromise abandoning the concept of a Jewish state in all of Palestine and accepting the right ofthe Palestinian Arabs to their own state. You paraphrase Flapan by asserting that this was in fact "only a tactical move in an overall strategy that aimed at eventually obtaining a greater share of Palestine, and thwarting the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state in the rest of Palestine." Perhaps. But for all Flapan's labors, he was unable to dig up evidence ofsuch "an overall strategy." All he cites is a speech in which BenGurion expresses disappointment with the borders and the demographic composition ofthe proposed Jewish state and intimates that international arrangements were not necessarily final, and some public statements by Zionist parties affirming their continued aspiration for a Jewish state in all of Palestine.

Neither Flapan nor the editors of Monthly Review asked the question: How would Ben Gurion and his colleagues have fulfilled their aspirations or "overall strategy" if the Arabs had accepted the U.N. resolution and established an independent democratic state in the rest of Palestine?

The other of Flapan's seven "myths" that you discuss is the only one about which lie appears to be on solid ground. This is the charge ofthe Israeli authorities that the 1947-48 flight of 600,000 to 700,000 Arabs had been instigated by appeals ofthe Arab leadership. In the archives he consulted, Flapan found no evidence of such appeals; on the contrary, Arab broadcasts urged Palestinians to stay. Your own use of the term "expulsion" to characterize the cause of the Arab flight misrepresents Flapan's discussion. He states that this tragic exodus consisted of tens of thousands who left voluntarily, hundreds of thousands who fled in panic "and still others [who] were driven out by the Jewish army." At the same time Flapan denies the Arab contention that the Jewish authorities deliberately planned ousting the Arabs.

What you completely ignore is Flapan's central thesis that the Israel-Arab war of 1947-48 could have been prevented had it not been for the hawkish intransigence of the Jewish leaders, especially Ben-Gurion. In fact, Flapan maintains that the invasion of the newborn state by the armies of five Arab countries did not make the war inevitable since the Arab regimes were not aiming to destroy Israel, but ratherto prevent Jordan's King Abdullah from annexing the rest of Palestine as part of his Greater Syria plan.

Perhaps you failed to note this major element of the Flapan mythology because you considered it preposterous. It is. In a scathing review of Birth of Israel in the May issue of New Outlook, the Englishlanguage monthly of which Flapan was a founding editor thirty years ago, Meir Pa'il, a left socialist Zionist described as "a noted military historian who specializes in Israel's War of Independence," writes: "The section of the book dealing with this issue . . . is replete with serious factual errors." Pa'il asserts that "tends to attribute the evil, aggressiveness and rejection of peace of the Israeli leadership since 1967 to the Israeli-Zionist leadership of 1947-49. This is a big mistake."

Your sharp criticisms of reactionary Israeli policy and the outrages committed in its name are on target. But it is unhistorical to make that policy and criticism retroactive to the events surrounding a war of national liberation directed at British imperialism.


Magil complains that Flapan supplied no evidence for his description of an overall strategy to frustrate the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state. In view of the consistent pattern shown in the denial of Palestinian nationality and resolute opposition to the formation of a Palestinian state from the period of Israel's emergence to the present, one hardly needs secret records to detect an overall strategy. Nevertheless, the released archival material cited by Flapan documents attempts to frustrate the U.N. partition plan from its very outset. Based on a series of negotiations in 1946 and 1947, Zionist leaders and King Abdullah of Transjordan arrived at their own plan for the division of Palestine. Thus, while Ben-Gurion publicly announced the full acceptance of the U.N. partition resolution, a behind-the-scenes understanding existed for Transjordan to annex the Palestinian territory set aside by the U.N. for the Palestinian people. Flapan's historical analysis of the collusion to thwart the establishment ofa Palestinian state is supported with a great deal of additional archival material in Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordon: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). Contrary to Magil's statement that the "Review ofthe Month" cited only Flapan as an example of revisionist history, both Shlaim's book and Bennie Morrie, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988) were mentioned.

We are accused of using the term "expulsion" with reference to the flight of Arabs from territory occupied by Israel. There is nothing wrong with using this term to identify an important component ofthe flight, but on this occasion we didn't. Nor did we misrepresent Flapan, as Magil suggests, since the word appearing on p. 12 of our article is part of a quotation from Flapan's book.

Magil's primary dissatisfaction is with Flapan. This becomes clear when he finds it necessary to introduce an issue not covered in the article. According to Magil, Flapan thought the war between the Arab countries and Israel might have been avoided because the Arab regimes were not aiming to destroy Israel. What Flapan discussed was the truce proposal advanced and fostered by the United States. The invading Arab regimes agreed to the U.S. proposal on condition that Israel temporarily postpone its Declaration of Independence. Israel's provisional government rejected the truce by a slim majority. Based on the study ofthe diplomatic maneuvering on the truce issue, Flapan concluded that war was not inevitable, that a compromise might have been worked out during the truce period. In no way did Flapan overlook that antagonism of the Arab countries to Israel. What he had to say was more complex: "The Arab states invaded Israel not as united armies determined to defeat a common enemy but as reluctant partners in an intrigue-ridden and uncoordinated coalition, whose members were motivated by mutual suspicion and mistrust. It could not have been otherwise since the invasion was dictated as much by the aspirations of the Arab states to stop each other as by their undoubted hatred of the new Jewish state."

Finally, the concluding paragraph ofthe above correspondence is, if anything, an encapsulation of the myths built up around the birth of Israel. Were the wars of 1947 to 1949 a struggle of national liberation directed at British imperialism? Was it only a matter of Jewish national aspirations vs. Britain? Were there no Palestinians living in the land?

Full opportunity for full development is the inalienable right of all. He who denies it is a tyrant, he who does not demand it is a coward; he who is indifferent to it is a slave; he who does not desire it is dead. The earth for all the people! That is the demand. -Eugene Debs

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