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Israel's Occupation
Israel's Occupation
Neve Gordon
University of California Press, 2008
344 pp., $34.95

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1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War
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Yale University Press, 2009
544 pp., $24.00

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Paul C. Merkley


Honorable Revisionism

In the archives of the Israeli-Palestine conflict

When I was a graduate student and the crust of the earth was still warm, we looked forward every week to an announcement by our professor of American history of some brilliant "revisionist" book demanding our immediate attention. If the topic of today's seminar was the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, then what we must read first was the work of Charles Beard, in which we would learn that not the disinterested patriotism of "the Fathers," but rather profit-making opportunities available to the insiders through the upcoming assumption of the debts of the States, was the driving force in the creation of that document. If our topic was America's entry into World War II, we should at once get familiar with the literature outlining the hidden history behind Pearl Harbor. As budding scholars, it was essential that we not be duped by the unexamined assumptions that informed popular history and the high school textbooks.

A lifetime later, nobody reads Charles Beard or has even heard of him. Meanwhile, most of the assumptions that Beard and all the other revisionists undertook to overthrow are back in place. George Washington still stands as the father of his country, his reputation, if anything, improved. Franklin Roosevelt—whose name, we were given to understand, would be forever blighted by the Truth about Pearl Harbor—stands higher than ever.

We should never regret or resent the exercise of revisionism. The honest and tenured scholars never tire of hearing about new evidence, and they welcome excuses to go back to the archives. When the latest revisionist spasm has passed, the result is usually reinstatement of the hoary generalities, more confidently stated because tested against the challenges of the revisionists.

The more passion is aroused by a subject, the more likely it is to attract revisionism, and few subjects generate as much passion as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Neve Gordon (a Senior Lecturer in Politics and ...

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