There is a saying that “history is always written by the victors”, although the exact words and correct origin of this quote seem hard to locate accurately. Nevertheless, the inability to prove its origin does not negate the truth embodied in such a quote. Too often people become so wrapped up in establishing the bona fides of the ‘source’ of a saying that they fail to appreciate the essence of the message contained therein.
History by definition must contain narratives, memories and similar information, which will always contain a certain degree of subjective perception and thus not be totally objective. Such a subjective perspective does not, however, invalidate the information nor deny its applicability to the heading of ‘history’.
Neither would an external observer provide a truly objective perspective because as a human they would still be subject to their personal perspective of what they are viewing and thus recording.
There is of course a distinction that must be made between information that is based on a personal, subjective narrative and biased information specifically designed to mislead those of subsequent generations about certain events.
The historian worthy of the name will ensure inclusion of the former and not of the latter.
When writing ‘history’, an event will usually be recorded in a way that demonstrates that those who overpowered another group, and therefore were the victors, were justified in some way in undertaking their aggressive actions.
Wars are probably the most common events that create distorted history, because the victors always want to look like the ‘heroes’.
Killing people is not heroic!
An additional aspect of history is that it is not to be regarded as sacrosanct and untouchable, in a similar fashion that science must not be regarded as ‘settled’. They both can be enriched by further information that shines a new light on a subject.
This similarity between history and science must not be strained too far; in science a line of enquiry can lead to the complete abandonment of a theory, whereas in history new information will provide new material for a real event that then requires its reappraisal.
The event that requires such a reappraisal is the settling of a large number of Jewish people into Palestine soon after WWII.
The ‘new’ information that requires this reappraisal is the fate of the native Palestinian population, both at the time and subsequently.
Whilst this information is not ‘new’ to the Palestinians who used to live in Palestine before the ‘settlers’ arrived and many of whom are still living in refugee camps demanding that they be allowed to return to their homes, it will probably be ‘new’ to many people who have been fed the ‘mainstream’ view of the events that occurred during the late 1940s.
The ‘official’ version, from Wikipedia, states that “The British Mandate permitted the Jewish Agency to oversee immigration into Palestine and land purchases from the local Arabs”.
Wikipedia then claims, “Fighting between the Arab and Jewish communities of Palestine began soon after the adoption by the General Assembly of Resolution 181(II) in November 1947.”
This Resolution 181(II) aimed to create a partition of the land of Palestine into two states, effectively taking away a large part of their land from the native Palestinians.
However, in case you think that this may have been fair, consider the question that George Galloway raises to a caller on his radio programme, “what right did Britain have to grant you (the Jews) somebody else’s country?” (note below)
Further, and again from Wikipedia, “Arab-Jewish violence increased in the spring of 1948…..”
This is a significant date as it preceded the departure of the British from Palestine meaning that a great deal of the activity occurred under their jurisdiction, which means that they either turned a blind eye or condoned the fighting.
This is just an outline of the historical event under review, which is that the Jewish people had ‘escaped’ persecution in Europe only to be met with a continuing threat from within Palestine when they tried to re-settle in their homeland.
Therefore when it is a Jewish historian who was born in Israel and who writes with supporting evidence of a ‘new’ version of the events, it behoves us to at least listen to or read what he has to say on the subject, however controversial it may sound.
The Israeli historian is Ilan Pappe and the revised history he has written is called The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
Having researched the original documents of the time, the late 1940s, he discovered a completely different version of what he had understood to have happened, which made him determined to undo the collective denial that the ethnic cleansing, often referred to as the Nakba, had taken place.
Ilan Pappe rightly calls the real events of that period a crime against humanity and a gross wrong that needs to be addressed and redressed.
Referring to my earlier comments about discovering the distinction between personal narrative and biased reporting, we need to look at his sources of information and at some misinformation to discern where the truth lies.
Take for example the subject of land transfers. The official version refers to land purchases giving the impression of proper negotiations, whereas the Palestinian people claim they were forcibly evicted from their homes, often at gunpoint and with no opportunity to collect personal possessions.
Try to imagine how you would feel if someone arrived at your house and, pointing a gun at you, told you to leave immediately, without any more of your possessions than you can grab in a minute and leave everything else behind.
That is probably something you are likely to be able to remember!
Another great discrepancy arises over the subject of the ‘fighting’ between the two sides as if it were a war. Again according to the Palestinians this is untrue as they only fought, on the few occasions that they did engage in fighting, to defend themselves from forced eviction of homes that they and their families had owned for generations in many cases.
If this were just a question of whose memories were more reliable, the situation may be regarded as somewhat inconclusive.
However, this is not the case here!
There is abundant evidence supporting the Palestinian’s statements.
The information that Ilan Pappe refers to in his book has been gleaned from actual records and documents in the Israeli archives, including the diaries of the Zionist leader of the time David Ben-Gurion, and the book’s notes and references cover many pages.
The evidence that the official story is substantially untrue is overwhelming, as proved by these documents.
Furthermore, the ‘war’ was depicted as a clash between rival factions because the new Jewish settlers were constantly feeling under yet another threat of extermination, which was traumatic for them after the atrocities of WWII.
To quote Pappe in reference to David Ben-Gurion,
“His diary certainly does not betray any sense of a looming catastrophe or a ‘Second Holocaust’, as he proclaimed with pathos in his public appearances.”
In other words, the public appearances were pure propaganda designed to create sympathy for their apparent plight.
The other point that must be made absolutely clear is that the scale of the atrocities committed in the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinians by the Jewish settlers and their army is atrocious.
Again, quoting from Pappe,
“Once the decision was taken, it took six months to complete the mission. When it was over, more than half of Palestine’s native population, close to 800,000 people, had been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and eleven urban neighbourhoods emptied of their inhabitants. The plan decided upon on 10th March 1948, and above all its systematic implementation in the following months, was a clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against humanity.”
This statement does not include a reference to the many hundreds of mainly young male Palestinians who were killed, often in front of their families, by the troops carrying out the ‘cleansing’.
This was not a minor event.
Furthermore, it was clearly a planned event.
The Nakba is at the heart of the current problems that continue in that region and will continue until it is recognised as the true history and the desperately tragic wrongs are corrected.
It is time to listen to the ‘overpowered’ rather than those who overpowered them.
We must not allow history to remember one holocaust and forget a later one perpetrated by the very same people who had been the victims of the earlier one.
Let us also hope that Ilan Pappe’s book will soon find its way onto the required reading list for students of 20th century history.
That will indeed be a victory!