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Modern Jewish History:

Traditional Narratives of Israeli


and Palestinian History
by Paul Scham

TRADITIONAL
TRADITIONAL
PALESTINIAN
ISRAELI NARRATIVE
NARRATIVE
(1882-1949)
(1882-1949)
a) Judaism is a religion of revelation,
a) The legitimacy of the Zionist
like Christianity, and has no inherent
enterprise of returning Jews to Eretz
tie to a particular land. Jews are not a
Yisrael is based on Jewish descent
nation but rather a community of
from the ancient Israelites. The
believers. In any case, any Israelite
Jewish people has inherited their
presence was a short period in the
right to the land, religiously, legally,
long history of Palestine. Ultimately,
and historically. Jews have always
religious myths, without presence
looked and prayed toward Zion
and possession, are incapable of
(Jerusalem), never relinquished their
creating an ownership right.
relationship to the land, and have
Palestinians are in fact, descendants
always maintained a presence since
of all previous inhabitants, including
ancient times, despite expulsions.
Israelites. Those Jews living in
Jews were treated as foreigners and
Palestine and the Muslim world
persecuted wherever they were
before 1882 were well treated by
during their long Exile.
Muslim neighbors and rulers.
b) Zionism was an authentic b) Zionism was a European
response to the persecution of Jews colonialist enterprise like many in
over millennia around the world. the late 19th century and was a
Jews did not come as colonizers, but European ideology superimposed on
rather as pioneers and redeemers of the Middle East. Moreover, it is an
the land, and did not intend to disrupt ideology of expansion directed
the lives of the current inhabitants of towards robbing Arabs of their
the Land of Israel. All land for ancestral land. Arabs were
Jewish settlement was legally bought systematically expelled by Zionist
and paid for, often at inflated prices. settlers from the beginning.
c) The Arabs of Palestine were not a
national group and never had been. c) The ancestors of today’s
They were largely undifferentiated Palestinians (Canaanites, Jebusites,
from the inhabitants of much of and others mentioned in the Bible)
Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. They had were there before the Israelites, as
no authentic tie to the Land of Israel. shown by both biblical and
Many only came for economic archaeological evidence. Palestinians
opportunity after the Zionist have lived continuously in the land
movement began to make the land since then. Certainly by the 1920s
fruitful and the economy thrive. In and likely much earlier, there was a
all the years of Arab and Muslim Palestinian identity and nationality
control from the 7th century, that differed fundamentally from
Palestine was never a separate state other Levantine Arab peoples.
and Jerusalem was never a capital.
d) Zionist diplomacy legitimately
d) The British foisted Zionism on the
sought a Great Power patron since
Palestinians beginning with the
Herzl, and found one in Great
Balfour Declaration as part of their
Britain. True, Britain had its own
imperial strategy, with no right
imperial agenda, but this does not
whatsoever in international law, and
detract from the righteousness of the
this was illegally ratified by the
Zionist cause. The Balfour
League of Nations.” He who did not
Declaration was ratified by the
own gave a promise to those who did
League of Nations, constituting a
not deserve.” Zionists worked hand
statement of inter national law
in glove with Britain to subjugate the
approving a Jewish homeland in
Palestinian people.
Palestine.
e) The riots of 1920, 1929 and 1936 e) All the disturbances were justified
were instigated by unscrupulous and spontaneous revolts by the
Arab leaders for their own nefarious Palestinian people against the
purposes, particularly the Mufti of British/Zionist alliance and
Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al Husseini. increasing immigration. The
The “Palestinian” population had increasing Jewish immigration,
increased rapidly through facilitated by the British, created the
immigration of Arabs who were resentment that led to the revolts.
attracted by Zionist economic The British backed the Zionists, who
successes, and the Arab population’s were responsible for and had
living standards rose rapidly during provoked the disturbances, and
this period. The British frequently punished Palestinians harshly and
stood aside when Arabs murdered illegitimately.
Jews.
f) The British were always pro-
f) The British, who had been initially
Zionist, except when occasionally
supportive of the Zionist enterprise
forced otherwise by Arab pressure.
through the Balfour Declaration and
They conspired with the Zionists to
the early mandate, began to
destroy Palestinian leadership in the
backtrack early, as reflected in the
1936-39 revolt, thus making it
splitting off of Transjordan in 1922,
impossible for Palestinians to
the Passfield White Paper of 1930,
prepare for the coming war with the
and many other incidents. They
Zionists. The White Paper of 1939
definitively repudiated the Balfour
had no effect as it was not enforced.
Declaration with the White Paper of
The British deliberately trained
1939, and were unabashedly pro-
Zionist soldiers during the 1936-39
Arab after that point.
revolt and World War II.
g) The Zionist movement accepted
the UN partition resolution of 1947
g) The UN partition resolution of
in good faith, albeit reluctantly, as it
1947 was illegitimate, as the UN had
had the 1937 Peel Commission
no right to give away the homeland
Report recommending partition. War
of the Palestinians. The Palestinians
was forced on the Yishuv (Jewish
cannot be blamed for trying to hold
national community) by the Arabs.
on to what was rightfully theirs.
Solely in self-defense, the Haganah
Compromise was out of the question.
(later the Israeli Army) took over
The Jewish leadership never
more land than had been allotted in
genuinely accepted the idea of
the Partition Resolution and was
partition; in any case, expulsion
justified in holding it, as it would
(transfer) was always the plan.
have inevitably become a base for
attacks on Israel.
h) The Yishuv was numerically h) The Jews had planned for the war,
vastly inferior to the combined Arab had organized both politically and
population, and it bordered on a militarily, had strong support abroad
miracle that Israeli survived the war and were in a much more favorable
(“the few against the many”). All position when war came. Their
Jews realized they would be armed forces outnumbered all the
massacred if they lost, and fought Arab armies. Palestinians had no
with absolute determination to infrastructure and no military
prevent another Holocaust. Arab training, and were attacked and
atrocities proved they had no other massacred repeatedly by Jewish
choice. gangs. Arab “aid” consisted
primarily of attempted land grabs by
other Arab countries of Palestinian
land.
i) The Palestinians were not
i) Beginning soon after the adoption
expelled. They fled, in most cases,
of the partition resolution in
because they were ordered and
November 1947 the Zionists began
cajoled by their leaders and the Arab
to expel Palestinians from their
states, in order to make room for
homes, almost certainly according to
conquering Arab armies. In many
a plan (Plan Dalet). Deir Yasin was a
cases Jewish officials pleaded with
planned massacre that succeeded in
the refugees to stay. The Israeli
stampeding Palestinians to leave.
decision to prevent refugees from
The Nakba was planned and carried
returning was justified, as otherwise
out as ethnic cleansing. The Zionists
Israel would be destroyed by a
recognized that a Jewish state could
hostile Arab internal majority.
not exist until most Arabs were
Ultimately, the responsibility and
expelled, and history proves this was
blame rests with the Arab leadership
the plan that was carried out.
for rejecting the partition resolution.
j) The Palestinian people have never
ceased to protest against the
j) The refugee issue was artificially illegality and immorality of their
kept alive by the Arab states, who expulsion, and Palestinians continue
deliberately used the refugees as to identify themselves as belonging
pawns against Israel. The real reason to their real homes in Palestine. The
for the continuation of the conflict Arab states have repeatedly betrayed
was the refusal of the Arab states to the Palestinians, and only grudgingly
recognize Israeli’s existence. Israel gave them space in refugee camps.
has repeatedly offered peace, but not There can never be a settlement
at the price of the destruction of without Israel recognizing its guilt
Israel as a Jewish state, which has and providing appropriate redress.
been the Arab goal since 1948. Palestinians in other Arab countries
are as much in exile as anywhere
else.

Sources: Revised and excerpted from “Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli


Dialogue,” edited by Paul Scham, Walid Salem and Benjamin Pogrund. Chart © 2005
by Paul Scham