Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict by Norman G.
Finkelstein (Verso Books, Revised Edition, 2003)
No ideology can survive acceptance by its adherents that its origins are less than noble or that it mandates behavior incompatible with contemporary norms. Disguising Zionism's origins and ongoing reality requires frequent innovations in historical engineering - to whitewash both the steadily worsening violence against the indigenous people of the area and the sordid episodes of mass dispossession and mass killing that are being exposed as more and more state archives are opened to examination. Zionism is an exceptional ideology, not least because its heavy mythological baggage is carried by plenty of willing porters.
Prof. Norman Finkelstein's book debunks several of the historical myths. Some of the these concern the origin of the state of Israel, whose most ignominious episodes were the ethnic cleansing and destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages in 1948. Other myths concern the nature of Palestine before the arrival of Zionist settlers, which Zionists try to portray as “a land without a people.” To debunk these myths Finkelstein analyses in detail Benny Morris's Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem and Joan Peters's From Time Immemorial. In a few pages Finkelstein manages to prove that Peters is an intellectual fraud. One must admire his stamina for plowing through a mediocre text replete with distortions and fabrications. Most mortals would throw the book away after a few pages, but Finkelstein didn't stop until the last footnote - and there are 120 pages of these!
The mythology spun by Benny Morris is more subtle - as proof, note the fact that some Palestinian intellectuals have used his book uncritically. Morris doesn't deny that there were Palestinian inhabitants and that they were driven off the land. He has realized that it is untenable to claim otherwise - only the likes of Peters (or Alan Dershowitz, whose recent book, The Case For Israel, borrows heavily from hers) are willing to defend the old canard of “a land without a people.” Instead of denying the expulsion of the Palestinians, Morris contends that this came about only because of the chaos of the war (“Born of War, Not by Design”). However, Finkelstein safely dispatches this notion. Finkelstein's demonstration of the logical inconsistencies in Morris's book is a tour de force.
Zionism must not be revealed as a colonial or truculent ideology and thus several mythologies are created to paper over the repugnant facts of the conquest and its driving ideology. In an important chapter, Finkelstein debunks Anita Shapira's Land and Power. Here Finkelstein shows the parallel between apartheid, other conquering colonial ideologies, and Zionism. He masterfully demolishes such myths as the “purity of arms” and the claim that Israel's aggression has been in “self-defense.”
The remaining chapters deal with the history surrounding the 1967 war and the Oslo “Peace Process.” In the eyes of Zionists Israel cannot be portrayed as an aggressor or a country that spurns peace initiatives. Finkelstein spends considerable effort debunking Abba Ebban's and Michael Oren's accounts of the period leading up to the 1967 war and after. He shows that both these authors paint a dishonest picture of the events leading up to the war, where peace initiatives were spurned and negotiated outcomes sabotaged, all leading the way to war. From Finkelstein's debunking of these authors' accounts, one learns many new aspects of this important period's history.
The book ends with an overview of the true implications of the Oslo “Peace Process.” The Palestinians have been offered and have partly accepted an apartheid outcome. It is for this reason that Finkelstein revisits the implications of apartheid in South Africa, and the pitfalls to avoid in fighting it. This is a very important chapter for all activists seeking to obtain a just outcome for the Palestinians. The lessons of South Africa's struggle against apartheid are relevant to the current Palestinian struggle.
There is a further reason why this book is important. The conflict in the Middle East is affecting the lives of many millions of people; it is likely to entail endless wars; it has also produced an attack on civil liberties, democracy and other benefits that most Americans and other Westerners had taken for granted. Anyone opposing this scenario must realize that Zionism is a driving force putting Israel and the US on a collision course with hundreds of millions of people - the US is being dragged into Israel's wars. Neocon ideologues are behind the “clash of civilizations,” the urge to wage war on Iraq, and the possible future wars against Syria, Iran... To understand these scheming ideologues, it is important to understand Zionism, and to combat them it is important to demolish their ideological foundations. Finkelstein's book chips away at the foundation stones of this most pernicious ideology.
Finkelstein also reveals the hydra-like nature of Zionist mythology -- when one head is chopped off, a replacement springs up somewhere else. Although Joan Peter's work was thoroughly discredited years ago by Finkelstein's blistering analysis, it didn't disappear. It is of some concern to see her fraud being retailed under a different cover, i.e., Alan Dershowitz's recent effort, The Case For Israel. The difference now is that, thanks to Finkelstein's analysis, it will be easier for us to expose Dershowitz's recycled mythmaking, a recurrent fraud.
This is an excellent book, but there is one proviso: while it is a most rewarding read for those with detailed knowledge of the subject, readers who are new to the history of the area should prepare themselves by reading some of the work of Edward Said, Michael Palumbo or David Hirst.
Paul de Rooij is a writer living in London, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (NB: all emails with attachments will be automatically deleted). © 2003 Paul de Rooij