The Israel-Palestine Question is the ninth volume in the Routledge Series of Rewriting Histories. The series "focuses on historical themes where standard conclusions are facing a major challenge." The historiography of the Arab-Israeli conflict with a critical reassessment of Israel's past are the focus area of this volume, presenting the most recent developments pertaining to them. Palestinians are brought back into the pre-Mandate history of Palestine, whereas Israeli and some Western sources have traditionally neglected them and their presence in the country. Some of Israel's and of Zionism's myths of early Jewish immigration and those surrounding the establishment of the state come under serious examination that calls for a new approach to understanding Israel's past in light of the present.

The Significance of Rewriting History

As a collection of already published articles and papers on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and on Palestinian and Israeli perspectives, this volume provides a framework for understanding the debate that goes on with respect to the rewriting of history in Palestine and Israel. Rewriting history is a challenging undertaking because it forces us to look at the past, knowing what we, at present, know about ourselves and our adversaries. It motivates some to undertake the rewriting or to posit new approaches and methodologies that challenge old narratives and ideologies.
Among the Palestinian contributors, Beshara Doumani seeks to "Rediscover[ing] Ottoman Palestine: Writing Palestinians into History." Doumani searches for the roots and sensitizes the reader to them as he explores the economic and cultural life of those inhabitants of the land who would eventually identify themselves as Palestinians. By doing this, Doumani shows that communal and national identification are not dependent on outsiders and their selective definition, but rather on the experiences and shared economy and culture that lie at the base of the common identity of Palestinians.
Butrus Abu Manneh in "The Rise of the Sanjak of Jerusalem in the Late Nineteenth Century" illustrates that boundaries of an administrative nature, such as the rise of the Sanjak of Jerusalem in 1872, affect group definition and the identification of the people with Jerusalem as their center. As such, the rise of the Sanjak of Jerusalem under Ottoman rule accelerated the process of Palestinian communal identification in all parts of the country. Thus administrative measures helped shape or mold communal identities and prepared the ground for the eventual emergence of the Palestinian national identity. Both Doumani's and Abu Manneh's articles poignantly argue that the roots of Palestinian national identity were there prior to the arrival of Jewish immigrants and the Zionist movement. This argument goes counter to those Israeli and Zionist historians who see the emergence of the Arab national movement in Palestine as simply an answer to the Zionist movement.

Zionist Origins

A central theme of the volume has to do with the reconsideration of the origins of Zionism in Palestine. While the Palestinians have argued that the Zionist enterprise in Palestine has been colonialist from its start, Israeli historians and scholars have discounted this argument. Uri Ram, among other scholars, has applied a daring methodological and theoretical approach to look at how Israeli sociology views the colonization perspectives. This approach would not have been possible before the nineties with the coming of age of Israeli society, especially as a result of the occupation of Palestinian lands, the settlement policies of various Israeli governments in the West Bank and Gaza, and the Intifada.
Gershon Shafir argues in "Zionism and Colonialism: A comparative Approach" that early Zionism was a colonialist phenomenon. He relates Israeli colonialism post-1967 to pre-1948 Zionism. This is a novel and radical departure from standard Israeli interpretation of the Zionist movement and its beginnings. Shafir comes very close to the Palestinian perspective on Zionism as colonialism. While this can provide common grounds for rewriting history or for writing an encompassing history of the land, the overwhelming majority of Israelis are far away from even the contemplation of such a proposition.
Rewriting history is not simply challenging to official myths and interpretations, it also questions the elitist perspective on history. "Forgotten communities" of workers, women, peasants and youths are brought into history. Zachary Lockman in "Railway Workers and Relational History" analyses the relationship between Jewish and Arab railway workers in the twenties and shows how the Zionist trade unions were not for class and worker solidarity between Jews and Arabs.
Writing history "from below," as Doumani calls it, is also espoused by Ted Swedenburg as he explores "The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt (1936-1939)." Swedenburg sees the Great Revolt of 1936 as an anti-elite movement that forced family elite notables to follow suit. It was also an anti-colonialist expression, par excellence, similar to the role that Palestinian youth played in mounting the Intifada in the late eighties. The accomplishments of peasants and youth may be harvested by others, but any rewriting of history must take their revolt and uprising into serious consideration to be accurately reflective of the history of Palestine, its tribulations and achievements.
Avi Shlaim's "The Debate about 1948" shows that, on basic themes surrounding the war and the eventual establishment of Israel, the presentations by official Zionist bodies lack grounds and hence amount to myths rather than facts. Among these myths, the pro-Arab British policy that aimed at encouraging the Arab allies, particularly Jordan, to invade Palestine upon the termination of the British Mandate is definitely discounted. The Israeli victory in the face of insurmountable military odds, i.e., the imbalance between the Arab Goliath and the Jewish David, was put into perspective. It turns out that "at each stage of the war, the IDF [the Israel Defense Forces] significantly outnumbered all the Arab forces ranged against it and, by the final stage, its superiority ratio was nearly two to one" (p. 181).
A third question pertains to the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem and revolves around whether they left of their own accord or were forced to leave. Shlaim reviews Benny Morris's work on the topic that principally argues that "the Palestinian refugee problem was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab" (p. 182). As Shlaim points out, Palestinian and Western reviewers of Morris's work feel that the evidence found in his book implicates Israel in the creation of the refugee problem in a more serious manner than Morris cares to conclude.
A fourth issue is that of Israeli-Jordanian relations and, here, contrary to official Israeli accounts, Shlaim points to collusion rather than adversity. His book Collusion across the Jordan was, at the time, sharply criticized by the old Israeli historians and was certainly not well received east of the River Jordan.
A fifth topic is that of Arab war aims. Whereas the old historians argued that the Arabs wanted to destroy the newly created Jewish state, Shlaim sees the reality as more complex. In fact, he states that "there was no single Arab plan of action during the 1948 war. On the contrary, it was the inability of the Arabs to coordinate their diplomatic and military plans that was in large measure responsible for the disaster that overwhelmed them" (p. 187). This statement by Shlaim would not surprise Palestinian and Arab historians and certainly not the Arab and Palestinian masses who have been arguing this since 1948.

The Cost of Peace

The last issue that divides old and new Israeli historians is that of the elusive peace. The official Israeli position advances Arab intransigence as the greatest obstacle to making peace between the new state and the neighboring Arab states. Shlaim, however, argues that Arab leaders were more willing to make peace with Israel than the Israelis officially credited them with. Ben-Gurion himself showed signs of intransigence since he felt that the cost of peace with the Arabs could be so exorbitant, especially on the question of the return of Palestinian refugees, among other things. Hence Shlaim's agreement with the argument of the new historians that "Israel's intransigence was the much more serious obstacle on the road to peace" (p. 189).
Benny Morris examines "The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine." While this selection is from Morris's second book on the war of 1948, his first, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, is the better-known work. Morris chooses to reflect through a multi-causal analysis of the flight an understanding of what happened. It rejects, on the one hand, "the Israeli claim of voluntary flight and, on the other hand, the Palestinian narrative of mass expulsion" (p. 193). Israelis do not subscribe to the narrative of mass expulsion and insist that Palestinians left of their own will and at the behest of their leaders. Morris dismantles this latter perception and shows, in his first book, how the expulsion of Palestinians "was accompanied by massacres and brutal conduct" (p. 193). Clearly, Palestinian historians, as well as Ilan Pappe, reject Morris's conclusion that is essentially of the "flight of Palestinian refugees by mere war rather than by preplanned design."
Nur Masalha presents "A Critique on Benny Morris." He does not accept Morris's conclusion that the flight in 1948 was not the result of "Zionist ideology or the implementation of a master plan" (p. 211). Rather, Masalha sees what transpired in 1948 with the expulsion of the Palestinians as the fulfillment of Zionist transfer plans from as early as 1882. Nur Masalha's article points to the wide gap that still exists between Israeli and Palestinian historiography. Hence, to Masalha, expulsion did not occur spontaneously as a result of the war, but was rather a planned event that sought to empty the land of as many Arabs as possible.
Both Nadim Rouhana and As'ad Ghanem address "The Democratization of a Traditional Minority in an Ethnic Democracy." Their argument is that the Palestinians in Israel have struggled throughout their minority history for democracy and national identity. They posit that the process of democratization did not reduce the national commitment and cultural outlook of the Palestinians in Israel. In fact, democracy among the Arabs in Israel, at least until 1993, when the book from which this selection was taken was published, proved to be a cementing block for community development. As such, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Israelis, may learn relevant things if they examined more intensely the Palestinian experience within Israel.
Finally, Islah Jad focuses on another forgotten group as she spans "From Salons to the Popular Committees: Palestinian Women, 1919-1989." Jad seeks to point out the similarities and dissimilarities in women's participation in the Palestinian national struggle throughout the crucial years. She notes the shift in attitude towards women and their participation in public life, especially, under the Intifada. And yet, the currents in Palestinian society that seek to contain women and their participation remain varied. Hence, the struggle for the affirmation of women's role in society continues.

Reading History Anew

The challenge of Ilan Pappe's edited work is twofold: First, it delineates the evolving historiography on both sides of the divide that seeks to present a different authenticated narrative, on the one hand, and that puts emphasis on the forgotten groups, on the other. Second, rewriting history, as the collection of articles in this work suggests, points to the existence of scholarly trends in both societies that examine the potential of reading history away from a narrow dualistic perspective that necessarily pits one side against the other.
These two challenges force one to assess the potential of a new historiography on both sides that would bring historians, sociologists and other scholars and intellectuals to narrowing the gaps that divide them in their historical analyses and interpretations. The task is not a simple one and, I fear, it will have to await transformations in the two societies that would eventually push towards greater convergence in the assessment of the present and the understanding of the past.