On Israel's 60th anniversary, one of the country's revisionist "new historians" looks back on how their work changed the debate over 1948by Avi Shlaim / June 29, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
Nationalist movements generate their own historical narratives in the struggle for statehood. These are, of course, usually distorted and self-serving. The official or semi-official history of the Zionist movement is no exception. Sixty years after the proclamation of the state of Israel, the origins of the state continue to preoccupy professional historians as well as the public.
The debate initially focused on 1948, on the birth of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war. This debate is not so much between Arab and Israeli historians as it is between different groups of Israeli historians. And it has excited intense interest outside as well as inside universities, because it cuts to the core of Israel’s image of itself.
Zionist historians have tended to portray Israel as the innocent victim of Arab aggression, as a peace-loving nation that resorts to military force only in self-defence. According to this school, the cause of the long-running conflict has been not Israel’s occupation of Arab land, but the implacable hostility of the enemies of the Jewish state.