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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

Correcting the new historians about 1948

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About Maurice Ostroff

mosidandsmokey2.jpg

Two of the founders of the Israel Air Force, Smoky Simon,  deputy Chief of Air Operations on the left and Sid Cohen who commanded 101 Squadron on the right. Maurice Ostroff, commander of radar station Gefen  in the center.

 

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Address by Maurice Ostroff at MACHAL FUNCTION ON NOVEMBER 2, 2005

(Machal is the Hebrew acronym for volunteers from abroad who served in the 1948 Israel War of Independence)

Smoky Simon has often reminded us that Machalniks are becoming an extinct species. It is for this reason that I believe that our job has not yet been completed. We who were there and know the facts have an urgent duty to correct the damaging distortions of our 1948 history being perpetrated by Israel's new historians.
For example, Ilan Pappe of Haifa University,[1]accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing in 1948. Noam Chomsky [2], portrays Israel as a terrorist state with points of similarity to Nazi Germany and Norman Finkelstein, is described by The Washington Post as a writer celebrated by neo-Nazi groups for comparing Israel to Nazi Germany [3]

There are others, such as, Avi Shlaim and Benny Morris - and I emphasize, - it is not their claims to reveal the truth, which are objectionable. It is their unbalanced distortions. Incidentally, the expression new history was introduced into the Israeli academic lexicon in the late 1980's[4] by Pappe and Morris.

The influence, which these academics exert on a very wide range of opinion makers cannot be overestimated. The Guardian ranks Chomsky with -  believe it or not  -  Marx, Shakespeare, and even the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities[5].  Shlaim's book The Iron Wall" sold over 45,000 copies, an achievement for an academic publication and it has been translated into several languages. Finkelstein's best-known book[6] was serialized in both the Guardian and Daily Mail, it was translated into 17 languages and it was number five on the bestseller list in Switzerland

Pappe was one of the instigators of the recent attempt by the British Teachers Union to enforce a boycott of Israeli universities. He strongly supported Teddy Katz whose MA thesis centered on a fictitious massacre at Tantura in 1948 - even after it was proved to be a falsehood.

To illustrate how these new historians are used as tools by our enemies I refer, to that celebrated voice of the Palestinians, the late Prof. Edward Sai'd, of Columbia University. You will remember him as the guy who was photographed throwing stones into Israel across the Lebanese border?

In an interview [7] Sai'd said that as he had become convinced that a military victory over Israel was not possible, he looked to these new historians, the academics I am talking about, to do the job. Referring to voices in Israel that will seek its liquidation through internal transformation, he said, "We must find freer, more creative, more inventive means" .

Dr. Yoram Hazony, in his well-documented book,[8] describes how these "new historians" blame all the suffering of Palestinians on Jewish aggression, Jewish terror, and Jewish hunger for power. Hazony writes  ''the state need not be defeated militarily to be defeated utterly. The entire job may be done on the battleground of ideas.'' 

The new historians teach that in 1948 Israel was the Goliath with superior numbers and weapons. This theme was even reflected in a history textbook [9], introduced into all our secular schools in 1999. This is what our kids have been taught and I quote from the book.
"On nearly every front and in nearly every battle, The Jewish side had the advantage over the Arabs in terms of planning, organization, operation of equipment and also in the number of trained fighters."

We, who were here in 1948, know how absurd is that statement. We know we were invaded by five armies in a Holy War to drive us into the sea - that the invaders included the British trained Jordanian Legion, the well equipped Egyptian army, navy and air force[10] and the armies of Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. We remember how the Egyptian Air Force bombed Tel Aviv and the Egyptian Navy bombarded Naharia as well as Tel Aviv.

And we know how desperate and badly equipped we were. That our total population of only 600,000 included women, children and the elderly and that tragically 6,000 were killed in the War - i.e. 1% of our entire population, not to mention the seriously wounded.

I quote from a May 1948 article in the New Republic[11] soon after the state was declared.
At dawn the bombing began, and along the roads and through the strategic passes the warriors of Islam began to move forward in what appeared to be full-scale warfare against Israel. Their slogan was "Be ready to die for Allah." The small army of Israel said it was ready on all fronts. Numbering about 65,000, it faces at this point almost twice that many troops from the five Arab states in arms against it.

We know that many of our troops were untrained newcomers, who had survived the death camps, only to be thrown directly into battle. On a note close to home, - Zvi Liebman is a popular volunteer who helps out with Beth Protea s Meals on Wheels. When he arrived on a DP ship in 1948, he was sent straight to the Jerusalem front where he was wounded.

On page 7 of his latest book, Benny Morris[12] explains that in that book
        What Jews did to Arabs, including massacres, played a role;
        What Arabs did to Jews was barely relevant.
In other words, Arab actions, which may have triggered Israeli responses, were ignored as irrelevant.

In my opinion this is unforgivable.  I believe that historians of integrity are obliged to examine and record ALL relevant source materials no matter where they may lead, so that events may be seen in their proper context.

These new historians also show their bias by omitting any discussion about how Israel reacted to Arabs who stayed neutral in 1948 - such as the village of Abu Ghosh. Ironically it was not a professional historian, who described this highly relevant aspect of Israel's birth. It was left to popular journalist, the late Sam Orbaum,  Some of you will remember him. In an article in the Jerusalem Post in 97, Orbaum quoted Mohammed Abu Ghosh as saying  "What we did, we did for Abu Ghosh, for nobody else." "Others who lost their land, hated us then, but now all over the Arab world, many people see we were right. "If everyone did what we did, there'd be no refugee problem." "And if we were traitors? Look where we are, look where they are."

In an unguarded moment Prof. Avi Shlaim, told Haaretz,[13]  the job of the historian is to judge .
A simple sentence - but with serious implications.

I believe that rather than impose judgment, the task of the historian is to present the facts and let the reader judge.  Sure, the historian will deduce certain conclusions, but he owes it to his audience to distinguish between substantiated fact and mere conjecture, which may be influenced by preconceived prejudices.  By preconceived, I mean opinions formed before examining the relevant facts.

For example, when Shlaim, tells the world that Dayan and Ben-Gurion were the source of all evil and that Ben-Gurion was a wicked man, we must ask to what extent Shlaim's judgment is clouded by the fact that, since his childhood in Baghdad, Israel has looked to him like an "Ashkenazi trick" of which he doesn't feel a part. Yes, that is exactly what Shlaim recently told Haaretz.[14]

Chomsky s work is equally prone to being colored by psychological baggage. He told the Guardian[15] that he has opposed a Jewish state since his childhood, a preconceived view that must inevitably prevent an unbiased interpretation of historic events.

Nor can Finkelstein's background instill confidence in his objectivity or his reasoning ability. He relates  "The tales of Holocaust survivors - all concentration camp inmates, all heroes of the resistance - were a special source of wry amusement in my home " and that his mother (a holocaust survivor herself), would ask "if  everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?"[16]

Shlaim, Chomsky, Finkelstein  and the others are entitled to their opinions. Their sin is to present these opinions as factual.   They also present as fact, their opinions that Israel never wanted peace and that the Arab leaders are the ones who remained with outstretched arms .   Incredibly, their strong prejudices influence them to ignore not only Israel s attempts to negotiate peace, but even the infamous three noes resolution of Arab
leaders in Khartoum in August 1967; "no peace, no recognition of Israel and no negotiation?"

In view of the substantial influence, which these academics exert, one can readily understand the hostile reaction of well meaning persons whose perceptions of Israel are based on the damming MIS-information, which they are fed by by the new historians.The consequences are that even erstwhile friends become motivated to support divestment and boycott programs.

It is unforgivable that none of these experts who researched the 1948 war, have bothered to interview people like Henry Katzew, author of SA s 800, who recorded dozens of interviews with participants in the 48 war and the contents of many of their diaries of the war, or Joe Woolf our thorough researcher who edited that book, and many others who are still around and able to tell about 1948 as it was.

We ignore the new historians at our peril.   We Jews are often accused of being paranoid but there is much truth in the maxim.

"Just because you're paranoid - doesn't mean they aren't after you".                 

I rest my case

ENDNOTES
[1] Israeli Jewish myths and the prospect of American war. Interview by Greg Dropkin, 13/09/02 (
http://www.labournet.net/world/0209/pappe1.html)
[2] Pirates and Emperors, Old and New : International Terrorism in the Real World by Noam Chomsky
[3] Harvard Law School newspaper The Record October 20, 2005
[4] "Humanizing the Text: Israeli "New History" and the Trajectory of the 1948 Historiography"
        Radical History Review - Issue 86, Spring 2003, pp. 102-122 - Ilan Pappe
[5]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4120040,00.html
[6] "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering" Norman G. Finkelstein
[7] Lebanese Journal - L'orient  le Jour July 5, 1999 (MEMRI - Special Dispatch Series - No. 38, July 8, 1999)
[8] The Jewish State The Struggle for Israel's Soul Dr. Yoram Hazony
[9] The Twentiieth Century, on the Threshold of Tomorrow".Eyal Naveh
[10]
http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_271.shtml
[11] New Republic, THE WEEK  MAY 24, 1948
[12] "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited" Benny Morris
[13] Haaretz Magazine Aug. 12, 2005
[14] ibid
[15]
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4120040,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4120040,00.html
[16] The Dream-Jew of The Antisemites Edward S. Alexander
http://www.intellectualconservative.com/page1042.html

 

 

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