Records of Dispossession: Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Michael R. Fischbach

By Golan, Arnon | Shofar, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Records of Dispossession: Palestinian Refugee Property and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Michael R. Fischbach


Golan, Arnon, Shofar


New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 467 pp. $39.50.

Records of Dispossession is the fifth publication of the Institute for Palestine Studies series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although sponsored by an institute committed to the Palestinian cause, Fischbach's work is a thorough academic research based on ample Israeli, Arab, U.N., and other primary and secondary sources. It deals with a key issue regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its resolution, the evaluation of the property left behind by the Palestinians in 1948. The importance of this issue derives from the key role the question of the compensation of refugees and their decedents played in the efforts to bring a stable and just peace solution to this conflict.

Fischbach presents detailed, although conflicting, estimates of Palestinian property lost in 1948, made by Israelis and Arabs and by the experts of the UNCCP. However, his work lacks a professional economic evaluation of contrasting and conflicting data included in different reports on this matter. His detailed research of the work of the UNCCP in the 1950s and 1960s provides a most authoritative narrative of the effort made by the U.N. to promote Arab-Israeli reconciliation through the channel of Palestinian refugees' compensation. His overview of the fall and rise of the question of the refugee property issue since 1967 and until recent exposes its prevailing importance for the achieving a peace solution to the conflict.

Like any student of the history of different aspects of the Middle East conflict, Fischbach was obliged to deal not with conflicting and contradicting data, but with conflicting historical narratives, Arab and Israeli- (post- and anti-) Zionist, while locating his subject in context. The short introduction chapter seems the only place he attempted to do so, and not very successfully. Fischbach also avoids dealing with another context crucial for his work, the rather similar cases of population exchange, deportation, and resettlement in Europe and South Asia that took place during and following both world wars, consequent to the disassembling of European and colonial empires.

Missing a discussion of both contexts, the book is essentially a narration of the history of the refugee property question. The first chapter of this narration is the most problematic one. Fischbach seems to avoid existing research done on refugee flight and Israeli policy toward Palestinian-Arab abandoned property in attempt to present original research on the matter. This might seem plausible, although not very realistic, regarding the ample of archival and other material relevant to such a research, which was not used by Fischbach. …

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