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Nakba 1948: Classic Studies of the Nakba
June 2, 2020

III: Classic studies of the Nakba

This third and final installment of our series of Journal of Palestine Studies articles on the Nakba features some of the landmark studies of the events of 1948. The Journal of Palestine Studies has been the premier journal for serious scholarly studies of Palestine since it was first published by the Institute for Palestine Studies in 1971. Perhaps some of the most important work featured in the Journal is that which dismantles the myths about 1948 that have been propagated for decades since the Nakba. Although Palestinians face formidable obstacles in presenting their narrative, studies like these and others featured in this series provide irrefutable evidence of the true nature of the events that transpired during the Nakba, and can help chart the path for justice and reconciliation.

The classical Israeli perspective on the Nakba blames the Palestinian people for simply resisting their own forcible displacement by violent Zionist militias through false tropes like “their leaders told them to leave.” Walid Khalidi’s entries, “Plan Dalet: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” “Why Did the Palestinians Leave, Revisited,” and “The Fall of Haifa, Revisited” all directly engage the work of Israeli historians and propagandists that skews and obscures the real history and the actual experiences of Palestinians during the Nakba. The meticulous archival work in each of these articles issues vitally important correctives to the historical record and provides some a foundation for the work of others that helped to dismantle the standard Israeli historiography of 1948. These seminal articles – whose initial versions originally appeared between 1959 and 1961, decades before publication of the work of Israeli “revisionist” historians -- clearly demonstrate why Walid Khalidi, one of the co-founders of the Institute for Palestine Studies, remains such a towering figure in the historical record of Palestine.

Simha Flapan’s “The Palestinian Exodus of 1948” bolsters the findings of Walid Khalidi in proving how Palestinians were not only driven out as part of a coordinated plan but also prevented from ever returning to their homes in order to minimize as much as possible the Arab presence in the new state of Israel. Flapan carefully navigates the gap between statements of Zionist leaders and their plans for expulsion, ultimately determining that Israeli forces were indeed responsible for driving Palestinians from their homes, and in fact encouraged their displacement.

“Britain and the Arab Israeli War of 1948” by Avi Shlaim buttresses all of the above studies by tracing the “inexcusably abrupt and reckless fashion in which the British government chose to divest itself of the Mandate for Palestine” and left the Palestinians particularly vulnerable. In taking an impartial look at the available archives, Shlaim finds that “the motives and aims of Britain's policymakers in 1948 were utterly different from those attributed to them in either Zionist or Palestinian historiography” and that in fact “in 1948, Britain did not pursue either an anti-Zionist policy or an anti-Arab policy but a pro-British one.” Shlaim’s contribution provides a more comprehensive understanding of the conditions that resulted in the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948.

This is the third of three selections on the Nakba from the Journal of Palestine Studies.

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