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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History written by the victors -the best account we have, but it totally ignores Palestinian oral testimonies, 25 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge Middle East Studies) (Paperback)
the reviews of 'Danny the Arabian' hits the mark, but i will add just a few additional remarks. While, Benny Morris maintains the was no systematic plan to expel all the Palestinians, he does acknowledge some villages were razed and Palestinians expelled, while other villages left intact and others fled in fear after hearing about Deir Yassin. However, Morris tries to attribute some of these atrocities to 'rogue elements' and responses to 'Arab attacks' that he claims were not dictated policy from the top. A major criticism of Benny Morris is his sole reliance upon Israeli archive sources, in the last few years he has publicly justified this by claiming oral testimonies are unreliable. As such, he tends to take Israeli archives at face value, and in this sense 'Jewish studies' remains light years behind other areas of serious historical enquiry.

Would we accept only German archives to document the Holocaust and deny the importance of oral testimonies from survivors? i hope not, granted there are little or no official 'Arab' - that is Palestinian documents available, but oral testimonies from Palestinians have been increasingly documented and should be used to cross reference Israeli state archives, to gain a fuller picture of events.

see for example, Susan Slymovic 'the object of memory' and Ahmad H. Sa'di & Lila Abu-Lughod (eds) 'Nakba: Palestine, 1948 and the claims of memory'
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Mar 2010 23:55:44 GMT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2010 22:39:01 BDT
you have a very selective view of history, the history, like i say written by the victors. Don't simply take my word for it, there are many oral testimonies you can read like those i listed, plus if you see Walid Khalidi (1992) 'all that remains' he details the remains of Palestinian villages depopulated by Israel in 1948, and much of this evidence matches with Benny Morris book.

Plus regarding Arik Sharon's involvement in Sabra and Shatilla, i think you will find that even according to the official commission of inquiry, which forced the sacking of Sharon as Minister of Defence in 1983, the commission found Sharon was responsible. Also on the topic of Sabra and Shatilla, i would recommend Robert Fisk's 'pity the nation' in which he details his first hand experience of being in Lebanon as the massacre unfolded

In reply to an earlier post on 31 May 2010 16:12:57 BDT
Actually the Israel commission DIDN'T find him responsible, they found him indirectly responsible because he was in charge of the IDF which didn't do enough to prevent and then halt the massacre which is different from saying he was actually responsible. The people responsible were the Lebanese christians although that somehow has been airbrushed out of the history. Pity the Nation is a pretty mediocre if fun "history" of Lebanon in the civil war period but he needs to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

Fundamentally, oral testimony is always a poor replacement for documentary evidence, especially when dealing with contraversial, highly politicised events long after they occured. Documentary evidence written at the time gives a snapshot view of what people thought AT THE TIME, not their airbrushed recollections after 60 years of suggestion.

As for victors writing the history, the books on the Arab-Israeli conflict show that simply not to be true. It was the aggressors and losers who have ended up writing a topsy-turvey history where they magically become the victims. Bit like Germans who claimed they were hard done by after 1918.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 May 2010 16:16:36 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Jun 2010 09:08:12 BDT
By the way there is copious contemporary documentation from Arabs, one can see captured military and civilian documents in the Israeli archives. They are of course in arabic which Morris doesn't speak but to date I am unaware of any actual evidence that changes in any fundamental way his thesis.

Also he indirectly uses oral testimony such as what Naffez's work on the exodus from the Gallilee.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jul 2010 20:12:12 BDT
George says:
Danny

If you read 'subaltern studies' you will see that 'documentary evidence' as you call it, that is written at the time also has bias inscribed in the documentation. Especially in colonial/nationalist accounts which subaltern studies explores, you cannot assume primary documentation to be 'true' and 'oral testimony' false, this is a simplistic and incorrect assumption. Every account is written from a situated perspective. Plus you claim that 'Pity the Nation' is to be taken with a pinch of salt, the author spent significant amounts of time in Lebanon and was there when the massacre took place, SO THIS SEEMS TO CONTRADICT YOUR EARLIER ARGUMENT THAT PRIMARY EVIDENCE WAS BETTER. Perhaps you are just dismissing accounts that you don't politically agree with

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jul 2010 20:12:15 BDT
George says:
Danny

If you read 'subaltern studies' you will see that 'documentary evidence' as you call it, that is written at the time also has bias inscribed in the documentation. Especially in colonial/nationalist accounts which subaltern studies explores, you cannot assume primary documentation to be 'true' and 'oral testimony' false, this is a simplistic and incorrect assumption. Every account is written from a situated perspective. Plus you claim that 'Pity the Nation' is to be taken with a pinch of salt, the author spent significant amounts of time in Lebanon and was there when the massacre took place, SO THIS SEEMS TO CONTRADICT YOUR EARLIER ARGUMENT THAT PRIMARY EVIDENCE WAS BETTER. Perhaps you are just dismissing accounts that you don't politically agree with

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jul 2010 20:13:10 BDT
George says:
Danny

If you read 'subaltern studies' you will see that 'documentary evidence' as you call it, that which is written at the time also has bias inscribed in the documentation. Especially in colonial/nationalist accounts which subaltern studies explores, you cannot assume primary documentation to be 'true' and 'oral testimony' false, this is a simplistic and incorrect assumption. Every account is written from a situated perspective. Plus you claim that 'Pity the Nation' is to be taken with a pinch of salt, the author spent significant amounts of time in Lebanon and was there when the massacre took place, SO THIS SEEMS TO CONTRADICT YOUR EARLIER ARGUMENT THAT PRIMARY EVIDENCE IS BETTER. Perhaps you are just dismissing accounts that you don't politically agree with

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Aug 2010 10:40:20 BDT
I had to read enough post-modernist, "post colonialist" nonsense at uni so don't intend to waste my time reading it again. For those who want the Cliff Notes version, this theory says anything the "oppressors" write which doesn't fit in with your views can be dismissed and that the "oppressed" or "other" always tells the truth except where it doesn't fit in. In the later case you can subject the statements to power analysis until it gets distorted to say what you want. There you go... you know all you need to know to get a phD in Middle East Studies.

Fisk's book is not primary documentation. His notebooks from the time are. His books are a classic example of the issues with working from recall especially when the person in case is notorious for being economic with the actualite....

But they don't even have to be liars. The fact is that there is pyschological study after study showing the malleability of memory and the power of suggestion.

Decent history doesn't retroactively impose a posteri knowledge on the participents at the time. Decent history takes peoples views and attitudes AT THE TIME of the history to analyse their decisions and it is why decent history is hard to write.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Aug 2010 18:05:28 BDT
George says:
Perhaps Danny you should have read a bit more 'postcolonial' stuff then perhaps you would have understood it a little. In fact all the sublatern studies and other postcolonialist historians accept is that colonial archives, documentation and discourse should not be assumed to be a 100% accurate and reliable account, instead they also use oral history and other documents, rather than accepting all colonial documents at face value.

Colonial documentation may be 'primary' source, but it is also subject to bias, if we take the example of the British in India, the colonial documents alone, cannot be considered an accurate representation of all of India at this time, plus the British played down the impact that their policies had on the suffering of the Indians, such as the famine in Bengal that was totally caused by the British continuing to export rice.

returning to your point, you seem a bit delusional, all documentation is bias in a way, if you accept Fisk memory affecting his writing, then you must also dismiss Holocaust survivors accounts as similarly 'altered through the process of time and memory'. Though clearly to do this would be ridiculous, as these oral testimonies reveal important information.

No account is 100% objective, as everyone writes or recalls from a position, nevertheless, Morris is basing his account totally on Israeli military reports, and this would be considered problematic by many historians, as it only shows a partial picture and does not accurately reflect the realities of this period.

Tom McCaskie's 'Asante Identities' is another good book and a example of the use of oral testimonies alongside colonial court archives to understand Asanti during the colonial period. I suggest you take a look. I am not endorsing all 'postcolonial' literature merely saying you can't be realistic if you accept all colonial documentation at face value

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Feb 2011 17:24:00 GMT
a five second flick through the sources Morris quotes shows that he most certainly does not base his account "totally on Israeli military reports".

I don't think Fisk's memory affects his writing, I think his fundamental mendacity affects it. I also have no doubt that time has altered Holocaust victim's recollection too and that given the things that people would have had to do to stay alive during that time that most are not telling the unvarnished truth either.
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