By Shimon Z. Klein
Nearly sixty years have passed since the establishment of Israel. Surely enough time has passed whereby one can review the history of Israel’s establishment and examine new sources of information in an objective and honest way. This is very important in order to gain a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict which is fraught with tragedy and excessive bloodshed on both sides. So many lives have been lost over this conflict. Both Palestinians and Israelis seem no closer to peace despite, the numerous attempts by outside parties to bring the two peoples to negotiate a settlement.
Many attempts have been made by various Israeli academics (also known as the “New Historians”) to reexamine the archives and review the history of Israel’s establishment. Some academics who have attempted this are Dr. Ilan Pappe (from Haifa University, presently a lecturer at Exeter University in England), the late Dr Baruch Kimmerling, a sociologist-anthropologist turned historian, Benny Morris, Tom Segev and Avi Shlaim.
 The main arguments of the new historians were summarized by Avi Shlaim as follows:

  • The official version said that Britain tried to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state; the New Historians claimed that it tried to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state
  • The official version said that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own free will; the New Historians said that the refugees were chased out or expelled
  • The official version said that the balance of power was in favor of the Arabs; the New Historians said that Israel had the advantage both in manpower and in arms
  • The official version said that the Arabs had a coordinated plan to destroy Israel; the New Historians said that the Arabs were divided
  • The official version said that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the New Historians said that Israel is primarily to blame for the dead end. [1]

The New Historians’ publications present the Zionist movement as aimed in such a way that Jewish statehood could only be possible through the displacement of at least some Palestinian Arabs. This is in line with the prevailing Palestinian view – the traditional Israeli view is that the displacement was neither necessary for Israel’s establishment nor desired by those establishing it. In particular, the New Historians claim that a majority of the Palestinian refugees were driven away from their homes during the 1948 war, rather than fleeing of their own free choice, as traditional Israeli histories had claimed. Nevertheless, not all of the New Historians see this process as the result of a pre-determined policy of expulsion.
New Historian Ilan Pappé claims [2], in sharp contrast to the recollections and myths of both sides, that the military events of 1948 were not decisive. The victory of the Zionist organization and the fate of the Palestinians were determined by politicians on both sides—in the discussions and decisions of the United Nations in 1947–8 and in the Arab League—long before a shot had been fired. Pappé argues that Israel’s failure to take advantage of the genuine opportunity for peace with the Arabs at the UN-sponsored Lausanne Conference in 1949 resulted in the prolonged and tragic conflict between Israel and the Arab states still very much alive today.
According to the New Historians, Israel and Arab countries have therefore each their own share of responsibility for the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian plight, though larger the responsibility for the present impasse lies with Israel. [3]     From Wikipedia.    
The findings of these academics created great controversy in Israel and are widely unacceptable. Despite the general attitude of the Israeli public towards their revolutionary findings, the truth of what happened in 1948 and prior to that lies somewhere in between the two versions – the official Israeli version, which somehow does overlook and underplay the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem to a large extent in the attempt to justify Israel’s establishment as a homeland for the Jewish People and the Palestinian version of events which are viewed as Al Naqba or catastrophe.

In a way, the new historians are now making some impact on the way history is to be taught in schools. Prof Yuli Tamir the Minister of Education has decided to introduce the Palestinian interpretation of what happened in 1948 to the Arab school curriculum. However she does not go far enough. It should be introduced into the Israeli Jewish school curriculum as well alongside the official version. This means that Israel’s educational policy is showing signs, despite widespread opposition of the right wing, to come to terms with Palestinian sentiments and this is very significant. It is a positive development. This could help to promote understanding of the Palestinian people. Most of what is happening between Israel and the Palestinians is due to ignorance and an inability to come to terms with the Palestinians’ tragic history. Both sides need to meet and discuss each other’s pain and ask forgiveness from each other for the wrongs that both sides have committed towards each other. A parallel to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa under the auspices of Archbishop Desmond Tutu could perhaps be applied here even though the situation is different.

However, over the years, especially since the victory of Israel in June 1967, there has been an erosion of human values especially towards the Palestinians living in the occupied areas. There was massive encouragement of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Golan Heights and the Gaza strip. The latter was returned to the Palestinians unilaterally resulting in a total fiasco and the strengthening of Hamas which eventually took over from Fatah in Gaza.

A solution to the situation has become more complex now with the rise of extremist Islamic elements coming from Iran under the notorious Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinajad, who has expressed his intention of destroying Israel. Iran is developing its nuclear capability, which is a threat not only to Israel, but also to all the moderate Arab states in the region. Al Qaeda remains a threat and nobody knows when and where it is going to strike again. Syria and Sheik Nasralla’s Hezbollah in Lebanon are Iran’s proxies in the region. They are uncompromising in their attitude towards Israel. This could be the reason why the Saudis have expressed their willingness to Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, to attend a peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The date for this conference and its venue is still to be decided.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not only a conflict of land but also of religion. The fiery, rabble rousing speeches of imams, expressing hatred for Jews, is further evidence of their uncompromising attitudes towards Israel.  These sentiments expressed by religious extremists are so uncompromising and intolerant. It proves the insurmountable difficulties in order to come to terms with Israel’s existence as illustrated by Hamas attitudes. Fundamental Islam views Israel as non-Moslem entity that has occupied Moslem land. This is unacceptable from their point of view and this is one of the reasons for the uncompromising attitudes and stalemates in peace negotiations. An extremist mindset will be hard to overcome.

Despite these obstacles, the path for peace and negotiation must remain open. The ordinary Israeli and Palestinian are concerned with an end to war and bloodshed and the striving for peace. If the Palestinian and Israeli people could find paths of communication between each other and this could be done by making greater use of the internet for communication between each other by discussing each other’s pain in an open and honest way. This could be done by exchanging historical material on the net. On both sides of the conflict there are moderate Palestinians and Israelis who do have an attentive and sympathetic ear for genuine dialogue.

Israeli society has become demoralized and this can be seen in the number of young people who refuse to serve in the IDF.  Gush Shalom has put it briefly as follows:

“To Return Pride and motivation
To service in the army!”-
Demand the Chief of Staff
And the Defense Minister.
Pride and motivation-
To guard the settlers?
To steal the land of the villagers?
To run after stone-throwing children?
To harass inhabitants at the checkpoints?
To carry out “targeted killings”?
The IDL must become again
An Israeli Defense Force!

                                Gush Shalom (Haaretz 3rd August 2007)

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