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Aug 1, 2005 5:54 pm


Historical Accuracy Shouldn't Be Left at the Door of the Public Sphere



Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming books: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil; and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948. He is also a contributor, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, to Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. Click here to access his homepage.

A recent roundup of "Historians' Take on the News" offered by HNN caught my eye for its inclusion of an article by Victor Hanson titled, "And Then They Came After Us," which was originally published in the National Review. Readers are invited to check it out by clicking here before proceeding with this posting.

Now that you've returned let's see what we can make of this article. Hanson is a military historian, so his prism is clearly one of war and battles. His basic premise is that whereas the Left (I assume he means the Left, he never really indicates precisely who the "we" is he's talking about) once castigated Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, now that we are being forced to act in Falluja in much the same manner as Israel did in Jenin such criticsm is a bit harder to make. Specifically, Hanson argues that:

"First the terrorists of the Middle East went after the Israelis. From 1967 we witnessed 40 years of bombers, child murdering, airline hijacking, suicide murdering, and gratuitous shooting. We in the West usually cried crocodile tears, and then came up with all sorts of reasons to allow such Middle Eastern killers a pass."

Again, I have no idea whom the "we" is that he's talking about. Surely no one I know shed "crocodile tears" at the terrorism suffered by Israel during the last two generations. Maybe he's using "we" as a synechdote for the Left, but he doesn't make this clear so perhaps he's castigating his neighbors growing up, or co-workers, or whomever. But let's assume he really means all of us in the "West" when he writes "we." In this case his language is very telling and even prescient. "We" in the West witnessed Arabs/Muslim doing a lot of bad things to us or our friends, the Israelis. That's true. What's also true is that "we" in the West didn't witness—not because we couldn't but because we chose not to—all the bad things "we" and our friends the Israelis, along with all our other allies (the Saudis, Saddam, etc. etc.) did to other Arabs/Muslims. "40 years of bombers, child murdering, gratuitous shooting…" We can substitute a few methods of murder here and there and in fact the number of people in the region killed by our allies (whether their own citizens or those under their control) far exceeds the number killed by our enemies. But since we didn't have to "see" these deeds, they didn't matter—until, of course, we decided they were a good excuse to invade our former friend in Iraq,

Hanson continues by explaining that "When some tried to explain that Wars 1-3 (1947, 1956, 1967) had nothing to do with the West Bank, such bothersome details fell on deaf ears." Well, Prof. Hanson, they fell on deaf ears because Wars 1-3 had everything to do with the West Bank, and the rest of historic Palestine/Eretz Israel as well. This is not to say that Palestinians would have liked Israelis had it not been for these wars; the whole point is that the conflict is a territorial contest between two competing national movements, in which the Zionist/Israeli side often--especially in 1956 and 1967--precipitated violence in order to achieve political and/or territorial ends. Surely you as a military historian know this; so why are you arguing otherwise? If you don't know this, I'll be happy to put you in touch with Israel's leading historians of these wars who can help you get a better grasp of the relevant history.

I don't have time or space to go over every sentence, although each one warrants at least a few paragraphs; but let's move down a few to the following: "We in the United States preened that we were the 'honest broker.' After the Camp David accords we tried to be an intermediary to both sides, ignoring that one party had created a liberal and democratic society, while the other remained under the thrall of a tribal gang."

Very nice; but why exactly did the "other" side "remain under the thrall of a tribal gang?" Actually, before you answer that, Prof. Hanson, can you define what exactly is a "tribal gang"? Are you insinuating that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority was structured similarly to the Ba'ath party in Iraq, which was dominated by clans from the Tikrit region related to Saddam Hussein? That's news to me; not that clans--not really tribes in the case of Palestine--don't retain some symbolic importance in contemporary Palestinian society, especially outside the main towns, or that some of the corruption goes through clan affiliations. But such a generalization is exaggerated, unless you are just assuming that all Palestinians are by definition "tribal", even though the PLO is an explicitly nationalist movement, while its main competitor, Hamas, is both nationalist and Muslim universalist?

But back to the sentence; who said that we tried to be an "honest broker" after Camp David? Whoever told you this, I'm sorry to say, lied. In fact, President Clinton, after dragging Arafat to Camp David against his wishes (Arafat knew it was a set up and in fact the Israeli press was reporting in the weeks leading up to the summit precisely that Barak would make sure it failed and then blame the collapse on Arafat) with the explicit promise that he wouldn't blame him if it failed, turned around and blamed Arafat when it failed. Not very sporting, that was. We can criticize Arafat from a million sides for his atrocious leadership in general and his lack of diplomatic skills at CD but that doesn't change the fact that the US was in no way an "honest"—i.e., fair and unbiased—broker during the talks, or at any time during the peace process. Not to mention that the CIA worked hand in hand with Israeli intelligence to destroy the nascent Palestinian democracy in the form of the Legislative Assembly almost as soon as the 1996 elections were concluded.

The second half of the article is devoted to critiquing the idea that it was the US that was the sole target of Islamists' wrath, by demonstrating how radical Islam was allowed to spread in a Europe that was "pacifist, socialist… and guilt-ridden about former colonialism." Hanson's point would seem to be that with 7/7 it should be clear that all of us in the "West"—whatever that is, and whoever "we" are—are now in the same boat and should therefore stop criticizing each other for whatever our governments do in the prosecution of their war on terrorism.

But since when is "Europe" pacifist"—perhaps he's never heard of NATO? And since when is Europe "socialist" in any meaningful sense? And when and where has Europe—by which Hanson can only mean European states since they are the actors in the foreign policies he's discussing—display any sense of being "guilt-ridden" over colonialism? Perhaps if European governments really were pacifist, socialist (in the social democratic sense, not the Stalinist version) and guilt-ridden Muslims would have been more welcomed into their societies, instead of most often being left on the margins—which as almost every major US and British newspaper is now reporting, was a core reason for the radicalization of the youth that were behind the recent terrorist actions (even if they individually where from middle class, seemingly assimilated families).

None of the above should be thought to justify or excuse the terrorism committed by Muslims in the name of their religion and/or in revenge for the actions of Western governments. Nor should it detract from his important point that Europeans for too long gave radical Muslims "a pass" as long as they spewed hatred against the US and Israel and not their host countries. But if we're going to gain an accurate understanding of the dynamics underlying contemporary, globalized Muslim terrorism we need to be as self-critical and honest about our own role in creating this mess as we attempt to be (with varying degrees of success) about "what went wrong" in the Muslim world. And in this sense historians have a unique burden to be as accurate and multidimensional in their analyses as possible. Simplistic arguments and feel-good logic aren't going to cut it if we want to win the war—sorry, "struggle" (which, by the way, President Bush, in Arabic is jihad)—on terror.

I should hasten to add here that the problem I'm alluding to goes way beyond the National Review, however problematic that journal might be in terms of its empirical accuracy (and I don't want to pass a general judgment because I don't read it regularly). Such liberal dailies as the LA Times also regularly feature stories that are filled with historical inaccuracies and ideological convictions masquerading as historical data. Let's just take one day in the life of the paper's Op/Ed page, July 31, 2005. The lead Op/Ed was titled "A Faith Vacuum Haunts Europe," and was by the British history Niall Ferguson (presently at Harvard University).

Ferguson has won wide acclaim for several books with titles such as Empire and Colossus that applaud empires in general and the Anglo-American model in particular and go so far as to argue that a return to the era of more robust American-Anglo rule of the dark peoples of the world would likely be beneficial to them as well us.

Needless to say, Ferguson, who writes of the possibilities and even necessity of "empire without apology" (I don't recall the British Empire ever apologizing for its actions the first time around) has no idea what he's talking about. Indeed, in his Colossus he describes the United States as having “difficulty imposing its will on other nations because it is uncomfortable with imperialism.” Perhaps given how much time it must have taken him to learn all there is to know about British imperialism Ferguson never had the chance to get around to reading during his years at Cambridge and Oxford about America's dozens of invasions and occupations of countries from the Philippines to Cuba during the 19th and 20th centuries (not to mention Southeast Asia), and the—literally—millions of deaths they caused.

In his current article he argues that the "current loss of [religious] faith" by the vast majority British subjects has in fact made the country a "soft target… for the fanaticism of others." So that's it! If only the Brits went to church as regularly as Americans (whom he points out are several orders of magnitude more religious than his countrymen and women) 7/7 would have been just another uneventful day. Of course, if that were true, then how come 9/11 happened in the US? By his logic the fact that Americans go to church so much more often than our Anglo allies should have immunized us against foreign religious fanatics. But no matter, for today's celebrity historians, the historical analogies only have to make sense within the confines of the paragraph in which they're written.

Moreover, Ferguson assumes that what he describes as the "de-Christianization" of Britain was just some force of postmodern nature. How about the fact that British Christianity was so intimately tied to British imperialism and racism? Maybe the generation beginning in the 1960s felt that such a religious tradition didn't—shouldn't—speak to their desire for social justice and equality that was a defining concern of that era? Perhaps they found other ways of satisfying their spiritual needs. Indeed, Ferguson implicitly argues that if you "de"-Christianize you automatically become an "atheist," as if there is no other valid form of religious expression outside of the parish church. And so he patronizingly describes Shamanism, a practice—not a religion, by the way—that has a deep and profound history among tribal societies from Northern Siberia to Southern Chile—is nothing more than "mumbo jumbo." I sure hope no shamans read your article, Prof. Ferguson…

Finally, and most interesting, Ferguson explains that "it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me as much as the moral vacuum that de-Christianization has created. Sure, sermons are sometimes dull and congregations often sing out of tune. But, if nothing else, a weekly dose of Christian doctrine helps to provide an ethical framework for life. And it is not clear where else such a thing is available in modern Europe."

It's not clear to Ferguson because he doesn't know where to look. But if he had attended even one of the many massive anti-war demonstrations of the last few years he would have seen it in spades. Or Perhaps the European Social Forums? Or numerous other gatherings which are "providing an ethical framework for life" for a generation that is sick and tired of the costs of colonial capitalism-as globalization, and in fact for which Catholic and other religious communities have played perhaps the pivotal role in shaping the movement?

Perhaps he's been in America too long to know that his Prime Minister is a devout Christian and has been since the 1960s—no doubt this is one reason he gets along so well with President Bush. And that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was clearly motivated by the same sense of Christian imperial triumphalism in Blair that motivated his predecessors in the heyday of the Empire a century ago. If this is the quality of moral sense that religion brings, I'll take the local shaman... although in fact the intellectual leadership of the Anglican Church has been fairly unanimous, as far as I can tell, in their opposition to Blair and Bush's war.

A similar problem appears with the publication the same day of an Op/Ed by one Haim Watzman, titled "Detours on the Road to Paradise." The author is an American who served in the Israeli army and is now writing a book about his experiences. Watzman discusses a fascinating episode in the pre-1948 history of the Jewish community—an anarchist settlement bordering the Dead Sea whose land was apportioned to the Arab state carved out of Mandate Palestine in the 1947 UN partition resolution. He explains that however important was the reclamation of the poisoned land by the settlers and their attachment to the land that they had settled (which, by their ideology, specifically had to be land that was not previously settled or used by Palestinian Arabs), the residents grudgingly agreed to leave their kibbutz on the even of the 1948 war and despite their sadness at their loss went on to establish two new settlements in the Galilee.

This is a lovely story and is clearly intended as a lesson for the Jews who are fighting so hard to retain the Gaza settlements, but Watzman misses two crucial points that raise troubling questions about the possibilities of the withdrawal leading to any kind of peace. First, he doesn't mention what should be obvious to any scholar of Israel—if a settlement was founded after 1948 in the Galilee, the likelihood is overwhelming that it was built on the ruins of or simply took over an "abandoned" Palestinian village (if anyone has the time to research where the members of Beit HaArava were resettled exactly in the Galilee, and then can triangulate it with the documentation on Arab villages collected by Walid Khalidi and others to determine if I'm right here, please let me know what you find). Assuming I'm right, in what way is this episode actually encouraging? In that a Jewish group that went out of its way to avoid buying land that would require it to evict the existing Palestinian inhabitants, and which unlike most Jewish settlements (which refused to hire Palestinians) actually employed Arab "proletarians" from the region, was forced off its utopia and wound up just another cog in the post-1948 settlement machine that erased the existence of some 500 Palestinian villages?

This is a tragedy, not an example to be followed—unless, and this is key, one is arguing that Ariel Sharon is, or should be, planning to withdraw from Gaza in order to strengthen Israel's permanent hold on the West Bank. In fact, the HaArava kibbutz serves as a sad yet logical premonition of such an eventuality. According to the Jewish National Fund's official history of its activities, "As a result of the 1967 war, the community was revived and JNF picked up where it had left off, continuing its efforts in soil desalination." In other words, once Israel conquered the land it didn't get in 1948, settling Palestinian land (which after all was the primary function of the JNF) "picked up where it had left off," only this time without the utopian anarchist pretensions that motivated the original settlers of Beit HaArava to attempt to live as equals with the surrounding Palestinian Arab population.

I'm beginning to think that before op-eds and articles on the Middle East are published by magazines and newspapers they should go through the same refereeing process that historians' articles go through in professional journals. The stakes are too high today to leave sound scholarship at the door of the public sphere.




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Sergio Ramirez - 8/15/2005

I'd like to ask Mark LeVine if he still supports Benny Morris's history, now that Morris has come to his senses?


N. Friedman - 8/15/2005

Mr. Chapman,

Professor Morris does not quite agree with you. In fact, he does not agree with you at all.

A couple of quotes and statements:

"I revealed to the Israelis the truth of what happened in 1948, the historic facts. But the Arabs are the ones who started the fighting, they started the shootings. So why should I take responsibility? The Arabs started the war, they are responsible."

And:

"Yes, the Palestinians are to blame. And this is true not only because they rejected Ehud Barak's generous offer but also because they are unwilling to come to terms with Israel's existence here. They want to throw [the Jews] into the ocean, and anyone who holds a different opinion is mistaken. These are the words of the Historian."

And:

Y.A.: "Shuld we ignore this issue in a permanent agreement?"

Morris: "We need to give some kind of a solution to the Palestinians but we must not recognize the right of return. Arafat and his generation cannot give up on the vision of the greater land of Israel for the Arabs. [This is true, because] this is a holy land, Dar-al Islam. It was once in the hands of the Muslims, and its inconceivable [to them] that infidels like us would receive it. And besides, even if Arafat will sign an agreement, I find it hard to believe, in view of his behavior during the last two years, that he or his heirs will abide by it."

Y.A.: "Is that because they are Arabs?"

Morris: "Not because they are Arabs, but rather because they don't understand that justice exists on the other side as well. We do understand that justice exists on the other side. Have you ever heard a senior Palestinian official who says that the Jewish demand for the State of Israel is justified? I have never heard that being said..."

"We will not reach a compromise in this generation, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we will never reach a true and permanent agreement. In the heart of every Palestinian exists a desire that the State of Israel will not be here anymore. For many of them this translates into more than just a desire. As far as they are concerned, all of their misfortunes are a consequence of our deeds, and our destruction will bring about their salvation. Their salvation is the whole of Palestine ."


http://www.shaml.org/ground/Nusseibeh/reactions/Benny_morris.htm


N. Friedman - 8/15/2005

Professor,

No doubt the Israelis sought a state that would have as many Jews as possible and as few Arabs as possible. But, your argument that the Arab side did not seek to prevent the creation of Israel or to drive the Jews away is a fantasy.

No doubt, the surrounding Arab states had cross goals which led to them having difficulty fighting on the ground. However, the opposition to Israel was rather complete and was perceived by the Israelis as being complete.

And, to note: a war that kills 1% of a country's population and results in 85,000 refugees on the winning side (i.e. Israel) is, by definition, a war of annihilation. So, frankly, I do not agree with what you state.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 8/15/2005

i appreciate all the discussion the posting has generated. i think that both arguments, in terms of the dates, have merit and in another sense aren't that relevant--who fired the first shot is not that relevant for the start of world war one and nor is it here. the simple fact is that by the 1940s there was clearly two fully formed nationalist movements that were unwilling to come to an agreement with the other because each felt it had full rights to the land.

depending on your political/religioius/ethnic orientation you will choose who was the victims and who was the agressor. clearly zionism was a colonial movement, a settler colonial movement to be precise, and clearly the palestinians, like every other colonized people, were not about to roll over and just leave. on the other hand, their leadership made it basically impossible that any viable resistance or accommodation would be reached. the nationalist leaders were riddled with class and other interests/antagonisms that made it very difficult for them to adequately represent their people. the fact that the 70,000 or so palestinians who fled before may 15, 1948 constituted a large share of the middle and upper classes, which in turn left the majority of the people without a political leadership, demonstrates how bad the political leadership and the bourgeoisie was in comparison to the solidarity--built of absolute necessesity for there was no beirut or alexandria to go to and sit out the war--in the yishuv.

but this doesn't change the fact that the zionist/israeli leadership was committed to having an israel with as small an arab/palestinian population as possible, and that their forces engaged in numerous ethnic cleansing operations--the word 'cleansing' was actually used in the contemporary discussions--to secure a heavily jewish majority state.

nor does it change the fact that the surrounding arab forces had neither the intention nor the ability to annihilate israel no matter what the public propaganda said (this is a very important point that some commenters doesn't seem to appreciate in quoting arab propaganda on various issues, as if it represents the true intentions of these regimes). the british put an embargo on the egyptians and jordanians that prevented them from having adequate ammunition, while their leaders were in no way prepared to risk anything other than a token force to palestine, which is why despite a demographic advantage of immense proportions when the population of the entire arab world (or even just surrounding countries) vis-a-vis israel is considered, the zionist/israeli forces in fact had roughly the same number of men in arms, and certainly a larger force of true, trained soldiers, than the total arab forces.

it should be pointed out, however, that arab forces did bomb jewish targets such as tel aviv, within the un-apportioned territory of the jewish state...


Sergio Ramirez - 8/14/2005

You might want to check on what Benny Morris has said since that 1986 piece!


John Chapman - 8/13/2005

Mr. Friedman,

I thought we were debating.

Of course the fighting began earlier, but my facts and sources are correct (and straight even) concerning the dates of those eight invasions just before the Arab attacks. And, you must have forgotten, those areas which the Arab states purportedly "invaded" were areas that just happened to be allotted to the Palestinian Arab state proposed by the UN Partition Plan. And the roots of the 1948 war go way back, to the moment the Palestinians realized that the Zionists wished to establish a Jewish state on their land.

David Ben-Gurion in an address delivered to American Zionists in Jerusalem on 3 September 1950 said:
"Until the British left, no Jewish settlement, however remote, was entered or seized by the Arabs, while the Haganah, under severe and frequent attack, captured many Arab positions and liberated Tiberias and Haifa, Jaffa and Safad" (Ben-Gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1954, p. 530).

That the Arabs started the 1948 war was also refuted by Benny Morris, an Isreali historian in an uncovered report from the Israeli Defense Force Intelligence Branch (30 June 1948). It reveals a deliberate Israeli policy to attack the Arabs should they resist and expel the Palestinians (Benny Morris, "The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Branch Analysis of June 1948", Middle Eastern Studies, XXII, January 1986, pp. 5-19).

As a poster on this site I’m not a published or self-anointed expert who effects a tone of disdain if someone disagrees with me. My point here was not only to gleefully go against the grain on this argument but to point out there are many histories written about this situation which, no doubt, you will disagree with. And no doubt your facts are true but you left an important part of the puzzle out, as I stated earlier. It was their land the Arabs "invaded" which, to me, makes a difference.


N. Friedman - 8/13/2005

Mr. Chapman,

In fact, the Arab side actually started the fighting.

The fighting began almost immediately after the November 29, 1947 partition declaration (UN 181), when Arabs began to riot, resulting in the deaths of 62 Jews. Larger scale fighting began on January 9, 1948 when about 1,000 Arabs attacked Jews in what was then Northern historic Palestine.

Note that your version of fighting begins after my version. Which is to say, you are mistaken as the fighting I refer to occurred. And note: I did not say that the Jewish and Druse side did not fight back. They clearly did.

In any event, the Arab side was not shy about their intentions. Jamal Husseini, Arab Higher Committee in Palestine 1936-37 and its representative to the UN 1947-48, stated to the Security Council (April 16, 1948):

The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.

And Arab League Secretary General Azam Pasha is quoted as saying on May 15, 1948:

This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacare which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacares and the crusades.


Now, even if the Israelis started the fighting - which is demonstrably untrue (unless you insist on making things up) -, the fact is that the Arab side treated the war as a war of annihilation. That, frankly, is a fact (as they stated their intentions clearly) and it does not depend on who started the fighting.

Another important fact supporting what I say about annihilation is the casualty numbers, namely, the Jewish/Druse side lost a full 1% of the population which came to live in Israel. And by definition, a war which causes a side losses on that scale - which are truly staggering losses (look it up, you will find that I am correct) - is a war of annihilation.

Which is to say, what you have written is demonstrable nonsense. Anyone can make facts look like they like if they leave important facts out. But clearly, the fighting began earlier than you state and, in fact, the Arab side made its intentions crystal clear and the losses on the Jewish/Druse side qualify as staggering such that the war was clearly one of annihilation.

Do you care to debate? If you do, come to the table with your facts straight.


John Chapman - 8/13/2005

Mr. Friedman,

Sorry but I forgot to address post 66524 to you.


John Chapman - 8/13/2005

You state that "the 1948 war was a war of annihilation started by the Arab side " This is a completely biased assumption.

That the Arabs "invaded Israel" in 1948 is a myth. Israel didn’t exist at the time (in January 1948). Zionist leaders established Israel on 15 May 1948 and did not declare the bounderies of the new state because they had in future expansion in mind.

Evidence that Israel started the 1948 war comes from Zionist sources (The History of the Palmach, 1950, Kibbutz Menchad Archive, Palmach Archive, Efal, Israel, Qurvot 1948, p. 16, which covers the operations of Haganah and Palmach, see also Ha Sepher Ha Palmach, The Book of Palmach).

Operation Nachson, 1 April 1948
Operation Harel, 15 April 1948
Operation Misparayim, 21 April 1948
Operation Chametz, 27 April 1948
Operation Jevuss, 27 April 1948
Operation Yiftach, 28 April 1948
Operation Matateh, 3 May 1948
Operation Maccabi, 7 May 1948

These indicate that operations carried out before the entry of the Arab forces inside the areas allotted by the UN to the Arab state.


Sergio Ramirez - 8/9/2005

LeVine's strategy, and surely that's what it is, now seems to have advanced to appearing to answer charges (as Mr Friedman notes by listing non-historians to back up his historical assertions) and then claiming to be too busy to respond in more detail. He's repeatedly showed contempt for the intelligence of his audience, so why is he on this board?


N. Friedman - 8/9/2005

Professor,

I have checked out the various sources you claim support your views among which there are names I know and some I did not. Very, very few of the names on your list of scholars are historians. Some are sociologists.

While non-historians may write history, it is interesting the lack of historians on your list. I am not sure the basis for relying on their wisdom but, no doubt, you can divine for me their brilliance in agreeing with your position. What most interests me is that you attempt to defend by appeal to authority - non-historian names for the most part -, not by an appeal to any evidence or analysis.

I note that Benny Morris appears to accept quite a bit of what I have written, including the fact - and it is a fact - that Jews were driven out of many villages as well as from Jerusalem. Moreover, he accepts my basic contention that the Arabs did set out to drive the Israelis out - i.e. that there was a war of annihilation, exactly as the Arabs proclaimed at the time and exactly like I said.

So, I am awaiting an explanation of how anything I have written is far from the mark - taking into consider that I have posted a comment, not written a detailed history.

By contrast, your article is filled with error. I appeal to the expertise of writers like Michael Oren and Ephraim Karsh, both, so far as I know, historians, who see things basically my way. You see, we can both play at the name dropping game.

And, if you would like, I can write a long list of non-historians who agree with me, just like you did!!!


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 8/9/2005

please see my lasted posting for a response to all comments as of 8/9. i'm sorry that i will likely not be able to respond to subsequnet comments about this post in the same detail or timeliness as this response.


N. Friedman - 8/8/2005

Professor,

I have checked out the various sources among which there are names I know and some I did not. Very, very few of the names on your list of scholars are historians. Some are sociologists.

While non-historians may write history, it is interesting the lack of historians on your list. I am not sure the basis for relying on their wisdom but, no doubt, you can divine for me their brilliance in agreeing with your position. What most interests me is that you attempt to defend by appeal to authority - non-historian opinion for the most part -, not by an appeal to any evidence.

I note that Benny Morris appears to accept quite a bit of what I have written, including the fact - and it is a fact - that Jews were driven out of many villages as well as from Jerusalem. Moreover, he accepts my basic contention that the Arabs did set out to drive the Israelis out - i.e. that there was a war of annihilation, exactly as the Arabs proclaimed at the time and exactly like I said.

So, I am awaiting an explanation of how anything I have written is far from the mark - taking into consider that I have posted a comment, not written a detailed history.

By contrast, your article is filled with error. I appeal to the expertise of writers like Michael Oren and Ephraim Karsh, both, so far as I know, historians, who see things basically my way. You see, we can both play at the name dropping game.

And, if you would like, I can write a long list of non-historians who agree with me, just like you did!!!


Edward Siegler - 8/8/2005

"Hanson is a military historian, so his prism is clearly one of war and battles."

If you'd like to make judgments about Hanson's work based on his resume, it would be helpful to look at more than what's offered at the top of the article. He is also a historian of the classical world and has written about many episodes throughout history. He is a registered democrat and a farmer. These things have also influenced his views.

"His basic premise is that whereas the Left (I assume he means the Left, he never really indicates precisely who the "we" is he's talking about)"

Wrong. He makes it very clear that he is talking about those of us who live in the western world, not the Left.

"once castigated Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, now that we are being forced to act in Falluja in much the same manner as Israel did in Jenin such criticsm is a bit harder to make."

Wrong again. Hansen is saying that it is harder for the Europeans to blame America for Islamic terrorism after 7/7.

"Specifically, Hanson argues that:

"First the terrorists of the Middle East went after the Israelis. From 1967 we witnessed 40 years of bombers, child murdering, airline hijacking, suicide murdering, and gratuitous shooting. We in the West usually cried crocodile tears, and then came up with all sorts of reasons to allow such Middle Eastern killers a pass."

Again, I have no idea whom the "we" is that he's talking about."

Doesn't "we in the West" explain anything to you?

"Surely no one I know shed "crocodile tears" at the terrorism suffered by Israel during the last two generations."

Then they were either ignorant or indifferent to it, or more upset about the reprisals for those attacks undertaken by Israel.

"We" in the West witnessed Arabs/Muslim doing a lot of bad things to us or our friends, the Israelis. That's true. What's also true is that "we" in the West didn't witness—not because we couldn't but because we chose not to—all the bad things "we" and our friends the Israelis, along with all our other allies (the Saudis, Saddam, etc. etc.) did to other Arabs/Muslims. "40 years of bombers, child murdering, gratuitous shooting…" We can substitute a few methods of murder here and there and in fact the number of people in the region killed by our allies (whether their own citizens or those under their control) far exceeds the number killed by our enemies."

How do you draw this conclusion? Does the fact that, in Hansen's words "we gave billions to Jordan, the Palestinians, and the Egyptians" make us responsible for everything these governments did to their own people or others?


"But since we didn't have to "see" these deeds, they didn't matter—"

It didn't matter that, as Hansen writes, "Afghanistan was saved from the Soviets through US aid. Kuwait was restored after Saddam's annexation, and the holocaust of Bosnians and Kosovars halted by the American Air Force?"


"until, of course, we decided they were a good excuse to invade our former friend in Iraq,"

What was a good excuse to invade Iraq - the 23 reasons named in the congressional authorization to use force against Iraq that included plotting to assasinate a former US president and violating the 1991 cease-fire accords?

"Hanson continues by explaining that "When some tried to explain that Wars 1-3 (1947, 1956, 1967) had nothing to do with the West Bank, such bothersome details fell on deaf ears." Well, Prof. Hanson, they fell on deaf ears because Wars 1-3 had everything to do with the West Bank, and the rest of historic Palestine/Eretz Israel as well. This is not to say that Palestinians would have liked Israelis had it not been for these wars; the whole point is that the conflict is a territorial contest between two competing national movements, in which the Zionist/Israeli side often--especially in 1956 and 1967--precipitated violence in order to achieve political and/or territorial ends. Surely you as a military historian know this; so why are you arguing otherwise?"

He's not arguing otherwise, he's obviously saying that the Arab's purpose in those wars was not to retake the West Bank but to exterminate Israel. Why are you arguing otherwise?

"I don't have time or space to go over every sentence,"

Thank God.

"although each one warrants at least a few paragraphs;"

...of your distortions.

"but let's move down a few to the following: "We in the United States preened that we were the 'honest broker.' After the Camp David accords we tried to be an intermediary to both sides, ignoring that one party had created a liberal and democratic society, while the other remained under the thrall of a tribal gang."

Very nice; but why exactly did the "other" side "remain under the thrall of a tribal gang?" Actually, before you answer that, Prof. Hanson, can you define what exactly is a "tribal gang"? Are you insinuating that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority was structured similarly to the Ba'ath party in Iraq, which was dominated by clans from the Tikrit region related to Saddam Hussein?"

Are you insinuating that the Palestinian authority was not run in a brutal gang-like manner? Hanson has another word for the Palestinan authority which you fail to quote - "thugocracy." Explain, if you can, why this is an innacurate term.


"But back to the sentence; who said that we tried to be an "honest broker" after Camp David?"

You've failed to notice that Hansen puts honest broker in quotation marks - indicating that he doesn't necessarily believe the claim himself.

"The second half of the article is devoted to critiquing the idea that it was the US that was the sole target of Islamists' wrath,"

No. He's critiquing petty European anti-Americanism, which is really a form of racism.

"by demonstrating how radical Islam was allowed to spread in a Europe"

You're ignoring the part of the article where Hanson points out that radical Islam was allowed to spread in America as well - "Americans welcomed thousands of Arabs to our shores and allowed hundreds of madrassas and mosques to preach zealotry, anti-Semitism, and jihad without much scrutiny".

"that was "pacifist, socialist… and guilt-ridden about former colonialism." Hanson's point would seem to be that with 7/7 it should be clear that all of us in the "West"—whatever that is,"

Consult a basic history of Western civilization texbook. Remember that "western civ" thing you slept through during freshman year?


"and whoever "we" are—are now in the same boat and should therefore stop criticizing each other for whatever our governments do in the prosecution of their war on terrorism."

You're reading an awful lot into the words "but now?" that comprise the conclusion of the article and its entire last paragraph.

"But since when is "Europe" pacifist"—perhaps he's never heard of NATO?"

After countless attempts you may have finally caught Hanson in an exaggeration. Congratulations! I think he's referring to the rampant anti-Iraq war sentiment there but that's not made clear.

"And since when is Europe "socialist" in any meaningful sense?"

Since when is Europe NOT socialist? With major parties in just about every European country calling themselves socialist and the widespread and massive social programs, worker protections, the near-universal anti-capitalist sentiment, etc. Surely you must be joking.

"And when and where has Europe—by which Hanson can only mean European states since they are the actors in the foreign policies he's discussing—display any sense of being "guilt-ridden" over colonialism?"

The governments may not be but the people are. They demonstrate this by accusing America and Israel (but never Muslim nations)of "imperialism" at every opportunity.

"Perhaps if European governments really were pacifist, socialist (in the social democratic sense, not the Stalinist version)"

What?

"and guilt-ridden Muslims would have been more welcomed into their societies, instead of most often being left on the margins—which as almost every major US and British newspaper is now reporting, was a core reason for the radicalization of the youth that were behind the recent terrorist actions (even if they individually where from middle class, seemingly assimilated families)."

As Hansen wrote, London is referred to as "Londonistan" because of its hospitality to Muslims from across the globe.

The most humorous thing in LeVine's article is his statment that "an ethical framwork for life", or a substitute for religion, could be "seen in spades" in "even one of the many massive anti-war demonstrations" of the last few years. That's a good one, dude. Thanks for the laughs.






N. Friedman - 8/8/2005

Professor,

The one major difference of consequence between Pappe and Morris - two historians I do not generally quote but, in this case, you did -, is that Pappe opposes Israel as a country while Morris does not. Both, however, are revisionist. And their histories mostly focus on what Israelis did to Palestinians, not what the Arab side did to Jews.


Sergio Ramirez - 8/8/2005

Better yet--why not ask LeVine to address Ralph Luker's characterization of him!


Sergio Ramirez - 8/8/2005

LeVine has been lying about Israel on these pages for quite a while now, and has yet to rise above the ad hominem in his responses. He never engages with critics, when called on outright fabrications he says he will "look into it." He never does, or at least he never informs us of his investigations.
Given all this,what exactly is there to do, but ignore him?


N. Friedman - 8/8/2005

Which part of my view is wrong? And how?


Mike Schoenberg - 8/8/2005

Mr. Levine, I have another question for you. Thomas Friedman has been writing quite a bit about the rise of the Chinese and Indians as far as their economies are concerned. Can you tell me if someone has been writing about the dearth of similar progress in the Arab world aside from their well known corruption. I know they come to the US to get PHD's and then can't do anything at home but still there should be more information out there.


Mark A. LeVine (UC Irvine History Professor) - 8/8/2005

sir, you have no idea what you're talking about. of course, i don't expect you to accept this and get a better grasp of the history of Israel/Palestine during the last century. so i can only hope readers of this site will judge for themselves by read the most well-respected histories of the country written during the last twenty years by israeli, palestinian and other scholars, as well as works on its sociology, geography and political science. those who do will see that the your view of the country's history is about as close to reality as "intelligent design" is to an accurate description of the history of the universe.

but don't trust me, go read the works of gershon shafir, zachary lockman, oren yiftachel, yoav peled, joel migdal, baruch kimmerling, david newman, dan rabinowitz, simona sharoni, sara helman, ella shohat, beshara doumani, salim tamari, rema hammami and on and on and on and on. each one of these people is recognized by their peers as perhaps the top representative of their respective field. each one of their scholarly credentials is impecable. even if you read ilan pappe and benny morris, whose politics are as opposed as two israelis can be, the substance of their work reveals enough similarities to demonstrate how strong the consensus is about the history and contemporary dynamics that you describe as 'fantasy'.


of course, in george bush's america, fantasy has become reality since those with power 'create history' while the rest of us just get to watch. but as far as i understand it, at least on this website, it's not supposed to work that way.


N. Friedman - 8/8/2005

Professor,

Regardless of your attempt to re-write the history of Israel, the setting of the 1948 war was a war of annihilation started by the Arab side in which Israel lost 1% of the country's entire population (which, you will note, is considered, by war standards, to be an extraordinarily high casualty rate), with the bulk of the losses being of the country's Jewish and Druze population so that, for the Jewish and Druze population, the percentage of people lost was really much higher, closer to 2 to 3% - and such are, by any standards, staggering losses.

Moreover, tens of thousands of Jews were ethnically cleansed from their homes, not just Palestinian Arabs. I believe, all told, the number of displaced Jews was 85,000. About twenty Jewish villages were destroyed in that war as well and large numbers of Jews were massacred. And, to be fair and as a result of that war, all told 856,000 Jews ended up fleeing from the various surrounding Arab countries, despite their alleged glorious tolerance of other peoples.

Unless you view history as only the history of exploitation of the Arabs, the above facts are important. Which is to say, the Arabs have a lot of blood on their hands from that entirely unnecessary war that they started. They were not angels.

Also important but left out of your fantasy, was the setting of the Six Day War. Most historians I have read disagree with your account, agreeing basically with Michael Oren's Six Days in War that Egypt set out to - in fact, was, along with much of the Arab regions, obsessed with - destroying Israel.

Now, I would only make this note regarding the comparison between Fallujah and Jenin. In Jenin there was a battle. Most of the casualties were of soldiers on both sides.

Dishonest reporters attempted, early on until it became obvious they were playing politics on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs, to claim a massacre had occurred. And Israel was widely condemned for things that never happened.

In Fallujah, large numbers of civlians did, in fact, die, over 300 so far as I know in the first attack and maybe a thousand or more in the next attack. In the operation in Jenin, maybe 15 Palestinian Arab civilians died - and, obvious, any deaths are bad - but the numbers pale in comparison to what occurred in Fallujah.

While you quote others to make your points, you manage to link entirely unlinked and dissimilar events conducted in very different ways. The Israelis were clearly meticulous in avoiding casualties as is shown by the low number of casualties - such that the US military now uses Jenin as a model for humane urban warfar -. The US may also have been meticulous but their familiarity with the battle field perhaps was not equal to Israel's knowledge and Israel had a lot more practice with urban terrorists and urban battles.

And no, I do not think that most reputable historians view the early Arab Israeli conflict as a conflict of two national groups although, at this point, it has become that. Such view is contradicted by the lack of a serious second nationalist movement. In 1948, there were not really many Palestinian nationalist groups or a people or a nation as such. There were Arabs local to Palestine who viewed themselves largely as Syrians or simply "Arabs."

And, as you know full well, the Palestinians managed, for the most part, not to know themselves that they were a people even in the 1960's (and one need only read the PLO Charter and its reference to Palestinian Arabs being part and parcel of the great Arab people and nation to realize that), largely in reaction to Israel. Which is to say, the notion of a Palestinian national group has no serious pre-Israel identity in the Muslim regions, no serious pre-Israel identity in Arab history as, in fact, the notion of nation states and peoples - as opposed to religious groupings - has a short history given the span of the Muslim Arab regions and their concepts of empire under the banner of religion.

Now, your history of the negotiations overlook entirely the December 2000 negotiations where the Israelis met - in the words of Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar - Arafat's red line. An offer was on the table that even the Saudi crown prince called avant garde. Yet, Arafat, in Prince Bandar's words, committed a sin against the entire region by basically walking out on the negotiations - lying to the entire world, according to Bandar, about the nature of the offer on the table.

Now, after all the unnecessary bloodshed - all, in Bandar's view, on Arafat's head -, let us say you are correct, namely, that Sharon hopes to hold onto as much of the West Bank as possible. But, maybe the truth is that there is no settlement anytime soon to the dispute no matter if the Israelis were angelic or devils. In any event, why should the Israelis be generous after all the bloodshed, bloodshed which, to note, was Arafat's doing for turing down the December 2000 offer - the offer you conveniently leave out of your fantasy account?

In life, when people make unjust choices - which is what opting for massacres as the tactic of first choice when, in fact, there are serious proposals on the negotiating table, as there were in December of 2000 -, there ought to be serious consequences because any life spilled in such a circumstance has no justification. One of them is that people will fight back, which the Israeli did and did justly. Another consequence is that the stronger side may decide that generosity is a bad policy, which the Israelis also did. If you ask me, the Palestinian Arabs, given their self-evident unwillingness to accept any deal that leaves Israel intact - which is the truth, as Judea Pearl has noted with some evidence -, made their own bed. And, if the world is to encourage people to negotiate, one good way to start is to punish those, like the Palestinian Arabs, who prefer Jihad.