- Paperback: 284 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (10 Jun. 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 071468063X
- ISBN-13: 978-0714680637
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 285,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians (Israeli History, Politics and Society) Paperback – 10 Jun 2000
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The book also contains an afterword, which further debunks popular myths, which are commonly believed in Marxist circles. This book is strongly recommended to any serious seeker of truth in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
You will find that much of what the "New" Historians had to say was actually old hat. Arabs weren't marching lock-step unified in defeating the Jews - well no one ever said that. The Yishuv talked to Abdullah? - well one of the earliest histories of the 1948 war has a discussion of this, as does pretty much every single history of that war. It also discusses how the Yishuv spoke to most of the other players in the war, ultimately to no effect. So we see Shlaim having built a reputation out of claiming he discovered something that was common knowledge.... nice work if you can get it!
Karsh is far less effective with Morris. One feels he is arguing more with what OTHER people have SAID about Morris than what Morris has said himself. For every slight misquote of Morris, there are hundreds that aren't and it would appear Karsh's attack on Morris's highlighting of Weitz would be better fought against Massalha who has made a career out of lying about Weitz.
Karsh doesn't deal with Pappe that much, mostly one assumes because Pappe is a caricature of a "historian" who - to give him his due - makes no bones about not wanting to relate the "truth". History is apparently much more fun if you don't bother with those pesky archives and facts and simply make stuff up.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
When I read it, I was a little surprised by the fact that Benny Morris had made an error that wound up with him saying that in 1938, David Ben-Gurion had said "We must expel Arabs and take their places." In fact, as Karsh pointed out, using the actual source would have confirmed a typo here: Ben-Gurion actually wrote, "We do not wish and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places."
Yes, that was a big mistake on Morris' part, not checking the original source. And it was a big mistake to get something like this wrong. But I still pondered about how Morris could write something so unusual without checking it. After all, wasn't he aware of Ben-Gurion's other statements in the previous and following years? Wasn't he aware of how far this would have been from the statements of most of Ben-Gurion's political allies and supporters? Wasn't Morris aware of how insane it would have seemed to most Jews to prescribe a policy of war towards the much more numerous Arabs?
What Karsh appeared to be telling me was that some extremely unlikely speculations had been presented as history. It would be as if some historian quoted John Kennedy as President claiming that the Earth was flat in an important speech, after proposing that we send a person to the Moon.
Karsh did a careful job of coming up with the actual history here. And he then demolished Avi Shlaim's claim of "collusion across the Jordan." Here again, Karsh showed a situation in which a supposedly serious historian made a highly dubious claim and supported it with a single piece of highly disputable evidence. And the story continues in the next chapter when we see Shlaim and Ilan Pappe's claims about Britain going along with this non-existent collusion, and saying that Bevin warned the Jordanians not to invade territory belonging to the Jews. Here was another surprise: I had read Glubb's original claim that Bevin had said not to invade those areas. Glubb said that Bevin said it twice! And it seemed possible to me that Bevin could have said such a thing. But was Glubb telling the truth? Karsh, after carefully examining several records of what happened at that meeting, shows that Glubb was basically not telling the truth here.
Another good job of investigation!
But the biggest shock was saved for last. I had not realized that Shlaim had said "Far from being 'the great ogre who unleashed Arab armies to strangle the Jewish state at birth,' Bevin 'emerges from the documents as the guardian angel of the infant state.'"
I had read quite a bit about Bevin, and I immediately recognized Shlaim's claim as completely and transparently false. It was like saying that the United States had fought in World War 2, but not telling the truth about which side we fought on: Germany's or the Soviet Union's.
Had Shlaim really said something this bizarre? He had. And that was a huge revelation for me. That we were not talking about a few mistakes by some "new historians." Nor even some very biased reading of a few documents to support some dubious ideas.
As Karsh had said in his title, this was indeed "fabricating Israeli history." We were discussing outright violations of acceptable academic behavior.
This book made me realize just how much some academics have opposed (not just abandoned) truth. And I think this issue is far bigger than just the Arab-Israeli conflict. At some point, for human society to function, there must be some respect for truth by our educational institutions. In my opinion, that is what this book is all about.
After reading this book, I no longer assumed that academic people would necessarily strive for truth. And recently, I have read and reviewed quite a few books about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I have given positive reviews to most of those which made serious attempts to tell the truth. And I've given negative ones to books which simply attempted to mislead their readers. I hope that in so doing, I am contributing, in my own small way, to improving human society.
Karsh relies on the diary of Ben-Gurion, intentionally misleading the reader. Ben-Gurion was deeply concerned with his legacy and knew that his diary would form the basis of his biographies. So his diary is perhaps the most sterile and least trustworthy source to quote when discussing the idea of transfer in Zionist thought. The author also attempts to frame Israel as the liberating third world nationalist movement, while painting a picture of the British as anti-semitic overlords of the inept, irrationally hostile Arabs. The British must've gotten over their Israel hatred quickly because 8 years later, Israeli troops served as foot soldiers for the Brits and French during the Sinai campaign. For Karsh, a former researcher for the IDF, national foundational myths are perhaps a little too near and dear for him to let go of.
Karsh favors only sources from brief periods of time that support his arguments, ironically what he charges with the New Historians of. For instance, he fails to look at the longue duree of relations between the Yishuv and the Hashemites. Avi Shlaim has demonstrated that after a few decades of talks and negotiations, there was indeed an understanding between the two parties. Shlaim even removed the word "collusion" from his updated works, appropriately easing up on his earlier claims.
I'm sure that this review will be attacked by the Hasbara folks on Amazon, but this book was honestly hard for me to take seriously because of the tone employed by the author. If your mind is made up on the issue of Israel and Palestine, this book will not change your mind either way.
Be intellectually honest.
Let evidence form the conclusions.
Any first-year history major should have that drilled into their heads. It's also a basic set of tenets for journalists, academics, and anyone else seeking truth among facts and fiction.
What I gain from Karsh's book is an objective perspective of the origin of the modern conflict in Israel. I am treated to primary sources, secondary accounts, and conclusions drawn directly from the evidence, and not wild imagination or heresay. The way it hangs together, and the way it is written, almost compels you to consider going through the bibliography to learn more. Presented in the context of an academic response to sloppy historiography, it is a scathing rebuttal that cannot be ignored.
Presented as an introduction to the conflict, it doesn't stand alone. More than basic familiarity with the facts of Israel's modern (re)birth as a nation is needed to understand a majority of the references. However, once a basic understanding is in place, this book should serve as the standard by which other accounts or works are judged.
Morris says that Karsh's earlier [prior to the current book] work "is a mélange of distortions, half-truths, and plain lies...." Morris fails to give a single example to support his accusation, but simply says, "It does not deserve serious attention or reply."
If all Morris can muster in his defense is an ad hominem attack on Karsh, reasonable persons can safely conclude that Morris is engaging in psychological projection.
'new historians', including Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe
and Benny Morris burst onto the scene, claiming to
have written the 'real' history of the beginning of
the state of Israel, a history that had ostensibly
been covered up and which they wished to expose.
According to the 'new history', Israel was guilty of
a multitude of sins, from direct or indirect
responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee
problem (Morris) and colluding with Jordanian monarch Abdullah
I to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by
secretly agreeing to divide the country between them (Shlaim
and Pappe). Morris also insisted that the idea of
'trasferring' the Arabs out of the Jewish state had been a
central tenet of the Zionist movement, at least from 1937.
They attracted criticism quickly, and for years the argument
over what exactly happened in the Israeli War of Independence
was THE hot topic, resulting in many
journalistic and scholarly articles and mutual accusations.
By far the most straight-forward, no-holds-barred attack on
the collective theses of the 'New Historians' is this book.
Karsh, professor of King's College, faces the 'new historians'
on their home turf-namely their claim that their research is
based on newly uncovered archival material, a claim that is
only partly true.
After first demonstrating that their 'ideas' are not new -
indeed, many of them have been staples of Arab propaganda for
years - Karsh takes a look at the evidence the 'new
historians' bring to support their ideas.
Repeatedly, whether it is the claim that the Zionist movement was obsessed with 'transfer' or that Britain under Atlee and Bevin, long thought to be anti-Zionist, was in fact a friend of Zionism,Karsh demonstrates that these historians ignored evidence that contradicted their thesis, blew the (slim and selective) evidence they had out of proportion, and at times even misread what the document actually said, such as the case where Morris claimed that a meeting discussing the future of the Negev actually discussed transfer. Worse, they completely failed to consider the historical context of various documents, thus jumping to conclusions not allowed when examining the whole picture.
Though Karsh may overreach at times with his rhetoric, it
is impossible to ignore his claims. Karsh's rebuttal is
not just important in the limited context of correcting a
distorted picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but is an
important warning against the dangers of forcing the facts
to fit the theory, rather than the other way around.
Historians the world over should take note.
This book is a must-read on the still controversial subject
of the fateful period of 1947-1949, whatever side of the
conflict you may be on.