The Emergence of the State of Israel 5/15/2012 2:54:00 PM
Today were going to speak at length about a particular trend of Israeli
historiography. It is a trend that was developed by a contingent of historians
known as The new historians.
We will speak about this new historians at length not because were
agreeing or disagreeing with their findings, nor because there is the
most important or the most compelling or even the most interesting
contribution to the literature about the emergence of the state of
Were going to speak about the new historians because
o Theyre the ones who had really set the concourse for debate
as it exist at the moments.
Debate about what happened in 1948.
o And whether you disagree with them or not, you cant really
as historians afford to ignore there work because, as we say,
no creditable historian of 1948 can.
o A knowledge of there work is one of those tools, that we
mentioned earlier, that youre going to need to devise a
position for yourself in this, which is really one of the most
controversial debates that were going to encounter in this
In an article that was called the debate of the 1948 Oxford professor Avi
Shlaim, one of the four most new historians, provides a brief sketch of what
he calls the traditional view of the 1948 for in the Israeli historiography
Keep in mind that this is a view that Avi Shlaim and the rest of the
new historians themselves vehemently apposed.
But here he is simply describing what that view consist of. The infant Jewish state fought a desperate, heroic, and ultimately
successful battle for survival against overwhelming odds. During the
war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled to the neighbouring
Arab states, mainly in response to orders from their leaders and
despite Jewish pleas to stay and demonstrate that peaceful co-
existence was possible.
o Now, as we say, this is how Shlaim and new historians
generally would sketch the traditional historiography as it
existed in Israel.
o The most influential attach on this historiography, on these
traditional premises was made by a historian called Benny
Morris in a book that was called the birth of the Palestinian
refugee problem 1947-1949.
With that one book, Morris really managed to shake the
foundations, not simply of the Israeli academic
establishment, but really the political establishment as
Because in birth, what Morris does, is questions
That is attributed to the position of Israel in 1948 by
this traditional historiography.
Notably he emphasizes the political origins, as he sees
them, of this traditional account.
In very provocative terms this is what Morris tells us. o He says, in very provocative terms
The Israeli official version, that the Arabs fled
voluntarily (not under Jewish compulsion) and/or that
they were asked/ordered to do so by their Palestinian
and Arab states leaders, helped leave intact the new
states untarnished image as the haven of a much-
persecuted people, a body politic more just, moral and
deserving of the Wests sympathy and help than the
surrounding sea of reactionary, semi-feudal, dictatorial
o Now Morris venture so far, as to claim, that the official
version that we presented doesnt even merit the label of
In another essay Morris explains
Israels old historians (those who wrote the
traditional account), by and large, were not really
historians and did not produce a real history. In
reality, they were chroniclers, and often
apologetic interested chroniclers at that. They did
not work from and upon a solid body of
contemporary documentation and did not
normally try to paint a picture that offered the
variety of sides of a given historical experience.
They worked from interviews and memoirs, and
often from memories. They had neither the
mindset nor the materials to write real history
o we quoted these comments because they offer, as much
insight to the operation, the methodology of the new
historians as of the old historians.