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The New History and Sociology of Israel: A Challenge to the Old Version
In the last decade or so, Israeli academia has been shaken and excited by a scholarly debate on Zionism. Lately, this debate has been brought into the public arena through a number of articles in the leading press; on several occasions, it was even the subject of heated discussion in the electronic mass media. My aim here is to try and present the essence of this debate and explore its possible implications and developments.
The debate reflects a challenge to the official historical version of Zionism by a group of young scholars. The roots of these university chal¬lengers are twofold: political and academic. Let us begin with the political background. Ever since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the offi¬cial Zionist historiography has had to face competing historiographical versions. From without, there was always the counter Palestinian version: a historiographical version of the events in Palestine since 1882 until today, expressed in academic writings, literature, poetry and in the official politi¬cal stances. There was also a challenge to the Zionist version from within, one which emerged in the radical Israeli left (with the Communist Party at its center). In these leftist circles the competing version considerably resembled the Palestinian side of the story. From within, too, the right wing (Herut and Likud) had their own reservations about the official histo¬riography emplotted by the Labor Zionist movement. It had its own histo¬rians who glorified the role of the Revisionist underground movements, the IZL and Lehi, in the struggle against the British and the Arabs in Palestine.
After 1967, different challenges were voiced by political groups. From an ethnic and socioeconomic background, a protest movement came out with criticism against the Ashkenazi establishment and Israel's social poli¬cy. This group developed its own historical version and what happened in the early years of statehood, mainly one of exclusion and deprivation.
The Palestinians who had been left under Israeli rule in the wake of the 1948 war - the Arab Israelis - had similar grievances. They also became more insistent on their version after the 1967 war.
Finally, under the influence of American feminism, a local feminist movement was established in Israel in the early 1970s. Its claim was that women were excluded altogether from the official historiographical version.

Outside the Mainstream

What is common to the claims of all these political challengers is that they were excluded from the Zionist historical narrative and that their chroni¬cles were distorted in schools and university curricula. Their share in the national ethos - the one which is conveyed through official ceremonies or through literature and poetry - was blurred. Until the 1970s, these claims of exclusion and deprivation were expressed through poetry and literature or within the platforms of political parties; however, they were not pre¬sented as scientific claims or as based on scholarly works. Since the 1970s, quite a considerable part of these claims have been examined by researchers in the Israeli academia and the result was the espousal of many of them by young scholars.
But the scholars, as mentioned, were not only working in the context of political changes. They were also impressed by the global theoretical and methodological developments in the human sciences. Ever since the 1960s the definition, role and territory of the human scientist has been radically transformed, this being particularly evident in the field of history. A new historian emerged, a scholar who is more skeptical towards the accepted historical data or "truth," one who does not pretend to be objective and recog¬nizes the influence of his or her prejudices on the historical story. The new historian was required to be conversant with all methodological tools which the social sciences can offer. With the help of these tools, he or she was able to come out with a version which included all those groups which were left in the dark by national, religious or ethnic hegemonic historiographies.

Two Contenders

The Israeli academia is an integral part of the global academic system and thus it is not surprising that historians and sociologists in it adopted the same inter¬disciplinary, skeptical and subjective view towards their own history. Such a methodology will naturally reflect their wish to represent the Palestinians, the Sephardis and the women's side of the story, just as American scholars wished to do the same for different groups in American society.
Within the Israeli academia we can discern two groups of contenders against the official historiography. One consists of those who challenge the official version about the early years of Zionism. The second group, and so far the most known outside Israel, is the one which has revised the official version of the 1948 war. The debate still goes on, and a third group which contests the official version about the early years of statehood is nowadays emerging. This last group will not be discussed in this paper, but in due course it should be included in a summary of the new history in Israel. For the time being, we will discuss the first two groups.

The New View on the Genesis of Zionism

The sociologists in Israel were the first scholars to adopt a critical view on early Zionism. With the help of neutral methodology, and putting aside the nationalist ideological paradigms, they examined Zionism not only as a national ideology but also as a system of domination and control. Yonathan Shapira, for instance, delved into the early roots of the Labor movement and found there dominance and aggressiveness, along with very little trace of pure socialist ideology or an innocent Zionist vision void of narrow interests. A dictatorial regime and an atmosphere that prevent¬ed the emergence of a suitable cadre of successors characterized the histor¬ical Mapai of Yonathan Shapira.
Baruch Kimmerling employed a neutral methodology as well when he examined the Zionist movement in 1976. He looked at it as a colonialist phenomenon. By this he diverted sharply from the official historiography's habit of looking at terms such as Geulat Hakarka (the Zionist redemption of the Land), Aliya Gewish immigration into Palestine) and Tebuma (the renaissance of the Jewish people in Palestine) as neutral and professional terms rather than viewing them for what they are - an ideological lexicon. Kimmerling did not write as a recruited historian but rather took the his¬tory of the Zionist movement as an interesting case-study - a successful case-study of a combination of colonialism and nationalism. He attributed the success of Zionism to a fruitful alliance between British and Jewish colonialism on the one hand, and Jewish nationalism, on the other. Kimmerling pointed to the importance of the military umbrella provided by the British Empire to the Zionist project's principal mission - attaining demographic dominance in Palestine.
Gershon Shafir was even more blunt. In his historical version, Zionism is a colonialist movement par excellence, albeit one with particularist characteristics. But not a particularism with no parallel or one which stems, as claimed by Anita Shapira in her last books Herev Ha-Yona and Halichah al Kav Ha-Ofeq, from a unique moral standard, but one which is the conse¬quence of the particular conditions in which the Zionist movement operat¬ed. For Shafir, Zionism is a unique case-study in the history of colonialism since the movement succeeded in creating a state, despite the absence of any substantial military and financial means. And thus, in his account, the kibbutz and the moshav are not the implementation of a socialist ideology but rather pragmatic economic solutions in the face of the hardships encountered in Palestine. These were instruments of a colonialist move¬ment which wanted to take over the labor and land market in Palestine.
Shapira, Kimmerling and Shafir do not agree with one another on cru¬cial points, and are not the only ones to deal with these subjects. But they do share a neutral employment of sociological theories in order to try and understand important chapters in the history of their own society and state. They expose a far more "normal" picture of the past when compared to recruited historians who wrote on the same period, under the commit¬ment to the nation or under the motivation of the "Chosen People" myth. They could have done that when the first rifts appeared in the self-complimentary image of the "Chosen People" in the wake of the 1973 war.
This erosion in the self-complimentary image was accelerated by the beginning of direct negotiations with the PLO. The negotiations produced a less paranoiac and more professional perception on the national past. Unpleasant, and at times shocking, chapters in the national history were exposed. As a result of these new revelations, more and more scholars became aware of the basic contradictions between the Zionists' national aspirations on the one hand, and their implementation at the expense of a living and thriving Palestinian population, on the other. A local population that submitted to the power of force, and not to justice; a population that had succumbed to the overwhelming Jewish immigration that eventually led, in 1948, to a war in which many Palestinian villages and towns were lost, and its inhabitants were scattered throughout the Arab world. Indeed, it seems that it was this last chapter, the chapter of 1948, that attracted most of the public attention in Israel. It was, thus, not so much the debate on the origins of Zionism that seemed relevant, but rather the debate on the ori¬gins of the state that stirred and aroused the public conscience.

The New History of the 1948 War

A number of scholars in Israel and abroad flocked around the doors of the archives in Jerusalem, London and Washington in the late 1970s when the first bunch of declassified material concerning the 1948 war became acces¬sible to the public. A few years later, it transpired that from these docu¬ments emerged a new historiographical picture of the war which stood in stark contrast to the one portrayed by the educational, communicational and political systems in Israel. The new picture contradicted the collective national memory of Israel of the year 1948: a mythological and a formative year for most of the Jews in the State of Israel.
The new portrayal of the war challenged the mainstream historiograph¬ical claim that the Jewish community in Palestine was under the danger of annihilation on the eve of the 1948 war. The documents revealed a divided Arab world and a militarily-impotent Palestinian community unable to seriously threaten the existence of the Jewish community. The Arab world was mainly engaged in warlike rhetoric and less in proper military prepara¬tions. When the Arab League had eventually decided to send forces to the bat¬tlefield, they did not transcend the number of Jewish troops, and certainly were of a lower operational ability compared to the Jewish army facing them.
The myth of annihilation is also challenged by the prominent role attrib¬uted by the new historians to the tacit understanding between the Hashemites and the Jews on the eve of the war. The two sides had agreed to divide between them post-Mandatory Palestine and only failed to reach an agreement on the future of Jerusalem. The Arab Legion was the strongest and ablest of the Arab armies, and its neutralization on the Jerusalem front had tipped the balance in the Jews' favor even more.
Moreover, a new interpretation of the danger of annihilation is based on an analysis of the positions taken by the two superpowers, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. Although the Cold War had already broken out, the two super¬powers adopted a similar policy towards post-Mandatory Palestine. They both supported the idea of a Jewish state. Thus, contrary to the Israeli per¬ception, the whole world was not against us. On the other hand, the world was against the Palestinian demand to establish an Arab state in all of Palestine. Even Britain was neutral in this conflict, and not hostile, as repeatedly claimed by Israeli historians. Britain supported the Zionist alliance with the Hashemites in Transjordan as the best means of safe¬guarding its own interests in the area and saw the alliance as the best solu¬tion to the conflict.
This sympathetic international atmosphere owed much to the Holocaust and thus, when the claims of the two sides were heard for the first time in the U.N., the moral and political claims of the Palestinians could not withstand the competition with the guilt and shame felt by the international community towards the Jewish people. And so the parity on the battlefield, the understanding with the Jordanians, and the international support are the main "new" explanations to the success of the Jewish community in the war: explanations which challenge the mainstream Zionist historiographi¬cal treatment of the Jewish success as a miraculous event.

Refuting Myths

The new history also challenges two other myths connected to the war. One is the myth of the Palestinian flight. The new historians write about mass expulsion, and report on massacres and atrocities committed by the Israelis, apart from the infamous Deir Yassin massacre. They also refute the allegation that Arab and Palestinian leaders encouraged the population to leave and wait until victory came.
The second myth challenged is the intransigence of the Arab world after the war, while Israel was offering peace to its enemies. According to the works of the new historians, Israel was not seeking peace while quite a substantial number of Arab leaders were willing to negotiate peace with it.
The new historians point to the zeal with which Israel erased the aban¬doned Arab villages and turned them either into Jewish settlements or agricultural land, thus preempting any chance for peace with the Palestinian people. They also stress Israel's refusal to recognize the right of return granted to the Palestinians by the U.N. in Resolution 194, and Israel's rejection of that resolution's recommendation to internationalize Jerusalem and partition Palestine.
Important chapters in the Palestinian historical narrative about the ori¬gins of the war, its course and consequences are thus now accepted by Israeli historians - although some of the new claims also contradict the Palestinian official historiography (such as the peace chapter). But all in all, there is certainly legitimization to some of the fundamental claims of the other side in this new historiographical enterprise.

In Conclusion

The debate still goes on. It reflects not only an academic dispute but also a crisis of identity for a society on the eve of peace with its neighbors. Israel is entering an era where the national consensus, based in the past on the danger of annihilation and security problems, is gradually substituted by a debate over the future face of the society and its culture.

Bibliography

Genesis of Zionism:

Kimmerling, Baruch Politics. Zionism and Territory: the Socio-Territorial Dimensions of Zionist Berkeley, 1983.
Shafir, Gershon. Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914. Cambridge, 1987.
Shapira, Y. The Historical Ahdut Ha-Avoda: the Power of a Political Organization (Hebrew). Tel Aviv, 1975.
- Elite with No Successors (Hebrew). Tel Aviv, 1984.

The New History of the War of 1948:

Bar-Joseph, Uri. The Best of Enemies: Israel and Transjordan in the War of 1948. London, 1987.
Flapan, Simha. The Birth of Israel. New York, 1987.
Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. Cambridge, 1988.
Pappe, Ilan. The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1949. London, 1992. Shlaim, Avi. Collusion Across the Jordan. Oxford, 1988
the U.S.S.R. Although the Cold War had already broken out, the two super¬powers adopted a similar policy towards post-Mandatory Palestine. They both supported the idea of a Jewish state. Thus, contrary to the Israeli per¬ception, the whole world was not against us. On the other hand, the world was against the Palestinian demand to establish an Arab state in all of Palestine. Even Britain was neutral in this conflict, and not hostile, as repeatedly claimed by Israeli historians. Britain supported the Zionist alliance with the Hashemites in Transjordan as the best means of safe¬guarding its own interests in the area and saw the alliance as the best solu¬tion to the conflict.
This sympathetic international atmosphere owed much to the Holocaust and thus, when the claims of the two sides were heard for the first time in the U.N., the moral and political claims of the Palestinians could not withstand the competition with the guilt and shame felt by the international community towards the Jewish people. And so the parity on the battlefield, the understanding with the Jordanians, and the international support are the main "new" explanations to the success of the Jewish community in the war: explanations which challenge the mainstream Zionist historiographi¬cal treatment of the Jewish success as a miraculous event.
Refuting Myths
The new history also challenges two other myths connected to the war. One is the myth of the Palestinian flight. The new historians write about mass expulsion, and report on massacres and atrocities committed by the Israelis, apart from the infamous Deir Yassin massacre. They also refute the allegation that Arab and Palestinian leaders encouraged the population to leave and wait until victory came.
The second myth challenged is the intransigence of the Arab world after the war, while Israel was offering peace to its enemies. According to the works of the new historians, Israel was not seeking peace while quite a substantial number of Arab leaders were willing to negotiate peace with it.
The new historians point to the zeal with which Israel erased the aban¬doned Arab villages and turned them either into Jewish settlements or agricultural land, thus preempting any chance for peace with the Palestinian people. They also stress Israel's refusal to recognize the right of return granted to the Palestinians by the U.N. in Resolution 194, and Israel's rejection of that resolution's recommendation to internationalize Jerusalem and partition Palestine.
Important chapters in the Palestinian historical narrative about the ori¬gins of the war, its course and consequences are thus now accepted by Israeli historians - although some of the new claims also contradict the Palestinian official historiography (such as the peace chapter). But all in all, there is certainly legitimization to some of the fundamental claims of the other side in this new historiographical enterprise.

In Conclusion

The debate still goes on. It reflects not only an academic dispute but also a crisis of identity for a society on the eve of peace with its neighbors. Israel is entering an era where the national consensus, based in the past on the danger of annihilation and security problems, is gradually substituted by a debate over the future face of the society and its culture.
Bibliography Genesis of Zionism:
Kimmerling, Baruch Politics. Zionism and Territory: the Socio-Territorial Dimensions of Zionist Berkeley, 1983.
Shafir, Gershon. Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914. Cambridge, 1987.
Shapira, Y. The Historical Ahdut Ha-Avoda: the Power of a Political Organization (Hebrew). Tel Aviv, 1975.
- Elite with No Successors (Hebrew). Tel Aviv, 1984.
The New History of the War of 1948:
Bar-Joseph, Uri. The Best of Enemies: Israel and Transjordan in the War of 1948.
London, 1987.
Flapan, Simha. The Birth of Israel. New York, 1987.
Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949.
Cambridge, 1988.
Pappe, Ilan. The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1949. London, 1992. Shlaim, Avi. Collusion Across the Jordan. Oxford, 1988.

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