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January 31, 1986 - Image 52

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-01-31

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

7-39991
CATERING FOR ALL OCCASIONS

25290 GREENFIELD North of 10 Mlle Rd.

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The Literiry Debate Is Continuing
Over Joan Peters' Book On Palestine

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ORCHARD MALL, Orchard Lake Rd. N. of Maple

Gourmet Oriental-American Food

BY JESSE ZEL LURIE

Special to The Jewish News

This is an unusual story of a
continuing controversy over the
book From Time Immemorial:
The Origins of the Arab-Jewish
Conflict Over Palestine, by Joan
Peters, which was published.by
Harper and Row in May 1984.
The book merited a two-column
report last month by Colin
Campbell in the New York
Times, even though the hard-
cover edition has already been
remaindered.
It is also the sad story of how
a number of American Jewish
liberals — Elie Wiesel, Barbara
Tuchman, Martin Peretz, Jus-
tice Arthur Goldberg and sever-
al others — who, I am certain,
support the peace initiatives of
Shimon Peres — were bamboo-
zled into effusive praise on the
dust jacket of a book that would
deny the basis for any settle-
ment with. Jordan's King Hus-
sein and the Palestinians.
And it is also a mystery: flow
and why did the JWB Jewish
Book Council award the Peters
book first prize in the Israel
category shortly after the Coun-
cil had sent its subscribers a
review I wrote of the Peters
book, together with another of
a book on a similar subject by a
kibbutz historian, in which the
kibbutznik was praised for his
fairness, objectivity and scholar-
ship — all of which were lacking
in the Peteis bbok.
The theme of the Peters work,
which the American Jewish lib-
erals find so attractive, is that
there is no such thing as a Pal-
estinian people. The author re-
discovers the fact that there was
considerable Arab migration in-
to Palestine, a fact first pub-
lished 50 years ago in the Jewish
Agency testimony before the
Peel Commission.
The Turks brought in hun-
dreds of Egyptian laborers to
build a railroad. The British
brought in thousands of impov-
erished Syrians to construct
Haifa port. Other Arabs infil-
trated Palestine individually in
search of work in Jewish devel-
opment areas.
Peters concludes that the so-

53

Deli. OM

FOLLOW-UP

Joan Peters

^31i It, n' I'

111'

Friday, January 31, 1986

called Arab refugees are really
descendants of migrants who
have returned to the lands of
their ancestors. Therefore, she
reasons, there is no reason to
worry about them, and all
claims by so-called Palestinians
to the land of Israel are false and
should be disregarded.
This is irrelevant nonsense.
Here is one recent example. The
press reported that the Israeli
governor of the West Bank will
appoint a member of the Al
Masri family as mayor of Nab-
lus. The Al Masris are the larg-
est clan in Nablus, numbering
several thousands.
Al Masri is Arabic for "the
Egyptian." At some point in the
recent or distant past the Al
Masris arrived in Nablus from
Egypt. Does their ancestry
remove them from the ranks of
Palestinians? Am I less of an
American than a Navajo Indian
because my father was born in
Lithuania 101 years ago?
Nine months after the book
was published, I was asked to
review it by the JWB ',Jewish
Book Council, I found the book
to be a revisionist polemic pos-
ing as history. One hundred and
twenty pages of footnotes give
the unwary the impression of
careful scholarship. But as the
few historians who have review-
ed her book have noted, Peters'
scholarship does not stand.up to
examination. Here are two ex-
amples:
Peters repeats in several
chapters the false charge that
British restrictions on Jewish
immigration forced Jewish em-
ployers to employ Arabs. She
never heard of the lengthy
struggle by the Histadrut for
avoda Ivrit, Jewish labor in
Jewish establishments. In fact,
she seems never to have heard
of the Histadrut. The organiza-
tion of Jewish labor, which, as
• Barbara Tuchman told the
Times, built up Palestine, can-
not be found in her voluminous
index and bibliography.
Peters claims in her text that
there were Iraqi soldiers in Deir
Yassin when it was overrun by
undisciplined Irgunists and
Sternists. A footnote cites as her
authority Menachem Begin's The
Revolt. While the commander of
the Irgun may not be the most
objective authority, Begin
makes no such claim in his book.
In fact, according to the of-
fiCial history of the War of In-
dependence, The Edge of the
Sword (retitled Israel's War of
Independence 1947-1949), by
Netaniel Lorch, the Iraqi sol-
diers were occupied elsewhere at
the time.
Again, Lorch's book cannot
be found in Peters' 12-page bibli-
ography.
Now comes the mystery.
Several months after the Jewish



Book Council mailed out my
critical review to its subscribers,
it awarded the book first prize
as the best book on Israel by an
American author in 1984.
The controversy over this
book will continue. The editor of
the New York Review of Books
told the Times that he was
publishing a lengthy essay by
Professor Yehoshua Porath of
the Hebrew University. In a tel-
ephone interview, Porath tqld
the Times that in Israel "the
book was almost universally dis-
missed as sheer rubbish."
But Peters' supporters, who
normally favor the Peres
government, will not admit that
they have been taken in by a
'revisionist propagandist.
In The New Republic of Nov.
11, Leon Wieseltier ably de-
scribes the revisionist attempts,
which began when Begin came
to power in 1977, to rewrite the
history of the Jewish state.
Peters' book fits into this
pattern.
In 1947, the Yishuv and the
, World Zionist Organization ac-
cepted the fact that there were
two peoples in the Land of Israel
and that the only. solution was
partition. The Arabs and the re-
visionists on the Jewish side re-
lused to accept partition.
Since 1967, the anti-partition-
ists have grown in strength.
Peters book furthers their de-
signs by trying to prove that the
basic premise of partition was
wrong. There were not two in-
digenous peoples in the land of
Israel, she suggests, only Jews.
Barbara Tuchman, Martin
Peretz, Elie Weisel, Paul Cowan,
Justice Arthur Goldberg and
others who support the Labor
Prime minister in his efforts to
review partition as the only road
to peace have been taken in by
a clever propagandist. But they
won't admit it.
Peretz, editor of The New
Republic, told the Times that all
of the criticism of the Peters
book came from the "political
far left."
On behalf of Wiesel, I should
add that after I sent him a copy
of my review he replied that po-
litical science was 'not his forte.
But his encomium still appears
on the jacket of the paperback
edition.

"ig.' • Cocktails

magazine.

Somerset Mall
Hosts Lecture

The Center for New Thinking
will host a discussion based on
the book, Superforce by Paul
sday in
Davis at 10 a.m. Thur
the Somerset Mall auditorium.
Rabbi Sherwin Wine, director of
the Center, will speak. ,

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