A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples

By Tachau, Frank | Shofar, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples


Tachau, Frank, Shofar


A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, by Ilan Pappe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 333 pp. $60.00. $22.00.

This is an extended essay which purports to merge the histories of Israel and Palestine. The author immediately puts his readers on notice as to his perspective when he suggests in his Foreword that "the heroes of this book are . . . the victims of . . . calamities: women, children, peasants, workers, ordinary city dwellers, peaceniks, human rights activists. The 'villains' . . . are the arrogant generals, the greedy politicians, the cynical statesmen and the misogynist men" (p. xix). It soon emerges clearly that the former are predominantly Palestinians, along with Mizrahi Israelis (Pappe consistently uses this term rather than the alternative Sefaradim), while the latter are Ashkenazi Israelis, particularly the political and social elite. The result is an impassioned indictment of the Israeli government and political elite, dressed in scholarly format. One would have hoped that a prestigious British university press would have chosen to publish a somewhat more balanced account.

The author uses very broad brush strokes in painting his portrait of the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the past century or so. In the process, he indulges in several questionable interpretations. For example, when discussing the Young Turk regime of the early 20th century, he narrows the term "Ottoman" to refer strictly to the royal family, enabling him to describe the regime as "anti-Ottoman," which it was nor. He ignores the desperate attempts of the Young Turks to salvage what they could of the multi-national Ottoman Empire, leading them to posit the option of an ethnically dual state composed predominantly of Turks and Arabs, on the model of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Instead, he describes the Young Turks as unbridled ethnic purists bent on suppression of Arab subjects. He conflates the policies of the Young Turk regime of 1908-1918 with those of the nationalist regime established by Kemal Ataturk in 1923. It was Ataturk who launched an uncompromising policy of secularism, and it was he who abolished the Sultanate in 1922, not the Young Turks. By this time, however, the Arab lands, including what was to become Palestine, were separated from the remains of Ottoman Turkey, meaning that these extreme revolutionary measures had no direct impact on Palestine. Certainly, the Young Turks oppressed Arab nationalists throughout the Fertile Crescent, especially in the 1910s, as the Ottoman Empire entered its death throes. There was, in fact, a public execution of a number of young Arab nationalists in Damascus during these years, which is often cited as one of the sparks which set off the so-called Arab Rebellion of 1916, in which Lawrence of Arabia played a role, and which the British avidly sought to exploit for their own purposes. Similarly, Pappe distorts when he describes Russian aims in World War I as including "the occupation of Anatolia," without ever mentioning Istanbul, the real heart of the Empire and a strategic city which had been the object of diplomatic rivalry among the Europan great powers for most of the 19th century. …

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