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Reviewed by:
  • A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples
  • Alick Isaacs (bio)
Ilan Pappe , A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 356 pp.

Reading a book on Zionist history for little review in Common Knowledge is accompanied for me by the question: is this account of things conducive to peace? Unfortunately, while much of what Pappe teaches his readers is original and engaging, the answer is no. "Unhelpful to peace" is an unusual criterion to use in evaluating a scholarly work, but it is one that I think these pagesand perhaps these pages alonecan suffer.

It is worth observing that the recent boycott of Israeli academics, led by the British Association of University Teachers, was sparked by Pappe after he faced the threat of dismissal from his academic position at Haifa University. He came under attack for supporting the seminar paper of an MA student who uncovered controversial records of the Tantura Massacre in 1948. Pappe's line of defense has been a counterattack in which he has dubbed the dismissal hearings at Haifa a "McCarthyist charade" and has called upon the international academic community to boycott Israeli scholars. He has railed against the Israeli government's policy of "silencing" dissenters in the academy and has insisted that the myth of Israel as a democracy be dispelled.

Pappe begins this book with the announcement of a promising project: a response to the repeated demands of "eager Palestinian and Jewish students for . . . a narrative of their country's history that did not repeat the known versions of the two conflicting parties." Before the reader takes leave of the foreword, hopes of seeing this noble project come to fruition are dashed. Pappe (dubiously) promises to deliver a "humanist" rather than a "nationalist, ethnic or religious" perspective. It is hard at first to figure out precisely what he means, but it soon becomes clear that Pappe's strategy is to tell the story from a subaltern point of view. He seems to believe that the conditions in Palestine over the past century demand this approach and that it is thus the most objectiveor humanistline of analysis to follow. Pappe traces the gradual processes of modernization that have washed over the region's indigenous population, listing Zionism and colonialism quite comfortably together. Soon enough the reader learns that Pappe's point of view is that of a Palestinian social historian whose position is not new at all and is interesting perhaps only because the author is himself an Israeli Jew.

To my mind, taking sideseven the "other" sideis not enough to move conciliation along. It is precisely the myth of Israeli democracy that should be reinforced, reinforced to the point that all who violate it are put to shame. Israelis and Palestinians are in no need of newer and higher truths. Jerusalem has more than its fair share of those. What would be helpful is a polyphonic scholarly conversation that pays respect to differing historical perspectivesa conversation [End Page 519] awash in humility and patience. Pappe's contribution, like his call for a boycott, strikes this reader, simply and tragically, as more fuel for the fire.

Alick Isaacs

Alick Isaacs teaches medieval history and Jewish history at the Hebrew University and is a research fellow and administrator at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is associate editor of Common Knowledge for history, religion, and special projects and is currently writing a book about prophecy.



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pp. 519-520
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