News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: The Iron Wall of Israel: A History of Lies and Deceit

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Iron Wall of Israel: A History of Lies and Deceit

The following link provides a rather rambling account of "new Israeli historian" Avi Shlaim. It is interesting because it provides some point-counterpoint between Shlaim's own hetreodox views and those of another hsitorian who disagrees with some of his main points.
Avi Shlaim: No peaceful solution
Ha'aretz, 13 August 2005

And apparently, despite his very innocent appearance, with his curls and his slow speech, Avi Shlaim - the third and least familiar member of the group of new historians - knows that he is a sort of enemy of the people, and even enjoys it with refined British enjoyment. And now he has come to Israel, armed with his book, "The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World."

After reading the 573 pages of the book, one can understand why Sharon and Livnat do not want Shlaim to be taught here: in very readable prose, based on facts, he surveys the history of Israel's contacts with the Arab world from 1948 to 2000, and states decisively ("The job of the historian is to judge," he says) that the Israeli story that Israel has always stretched out its hand to peace, but there was nobody to talk to - is groundless. The Arabs have repeatedly outstretched a hand to peace - says Shlaim - and Israel has always rejected it. Each time with a different excuse.

. . . . . . . . .

At the start of his academic career, says Shlaim, he made a deliberate decision not to deal with the Middle East conflict. Slowly but surely, however, he was pulled into it. An article here, an article there. In 1982 he came to Israel with a stipend to write a study on the influence of the Israel Defense Forces on Israeli foreign policy. Just then the archives dealing with the 1948 war were opened, and Shlaim found himself sitting in the State Archive for days on end. "Then my eyes were opened," he says. "I had the knowledge acquired in childhood, and I believed in Israel's purity of arms, I believed that Israel was the victim. I discovered documents that showed me other things."

Benny Morris once told me that when he found a document that proved an act of massacre or murder, he was happy about the historical discovery, but felt shame as an Israeli. What did you feel?

"I didn't sit in the IDF archive and I wasn't exposed to documents about acts of murder or rape. I worked with diplomatic papers. I didn't feel shame, but I was astonished. I knew that in every country there's a gap between rhetoric and practice, but I don't know of any country where the gap is as great as in Israel. All the leaders speak about peace, Golda Meir used to say that she was willing to travel anywhere in the world to make peace. But these were not truthful words. In the archive, in the Israeli papers, I found that all the Arab leaders were practical people, people who wanted peace.

"Take, for example, Hosni Zaim (the Syrian chief of staff who took over the government in 1949 and was deposed a few months later - M.R.). He said that his ambition was to be the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel. He proposed an exchange of ambassadors, agreed to absorb a quarter of a million Palestinian refugees in Syria, but demanded that the border pass through the middle of Lake Kinneret. He didn't issue any ultimatum about the rest of the refugees. I was astonished by the Israeli reaction. Ben-Gurion said: First we'll sign a cease-fire agreement with Syria, then we'll see. That destroyed my childhood version. It's not that Ben-Gurion didn't want peace, he wanted peace, but on the basis of the status quo. Israel said at the time that there was nobody to talk to. The truth is that Israel was actually saying that there was nothing to talk about."

Based on this statement, which took shape among the shelves of the State Archive in Jerusalem, Shlaim wrote his book "Collusion in Transjordan," which was published the same year as the books by Morris, Pappe and Flapan, those same famous - or infamous - "new historians," depending on the eye of the beholder.

In an article by Shlaim a few years ago, he summarized what seemed to him the five main arguments of the new historians:

* The official version said that Britain tried to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state; the "new historians" claimed that it tried to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state

* The official version said that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own free will; the "new historians" said that the refugees were chased out or expelled

* The official version said that the balance of power was in favor of the Arabs; the "new historians" said that Israel had the advantage both in manpower and in arms

* The official version said that the Arabs had a coordinated plan to destroy Israel; the "new historians" said that the Arabs were divided

* The official version said that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the "new historians" said that Israel is primarily to blame for the dead end.

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