Palestine Betrayed

By George Polley

(Efraim Karsh. Palestine Betrayed. Yale University Press, 2010.)

Howard Sachar, author of A History of Israel, calls it ‘A work of meticulous, even exhaustive scholarship which must be taken with great seriousness and respect by historians of diverse points of view.’ Indeed, any student of modern Israel will ignore at their peril its sheer cornucopia of factual revelations’ (from the dust jacket) … and the sheer abundance of its factual exclusions.

The following two quotations, one from the first page, the other from the last page of the text (257) establish the parameters of Professor Karsh’s study. “For Jews all over the world, this was the fulfillment of a millenarian yearning for national rebirth in their ancestral homeland. For Arab political elites, it was a shameful surrender of (a however minute) part of the perceived pan-Arab patrimony to a foreign invader.”

“And so it goes on. More than six decades after the Mufti and his followers condemned their people to statelessness by rejecting the UN partition resolution and waging a war of annihilation against their Jewish neighbors, their reckless decisions are still being re-enacted by the latest generation of Palestinian leaders… Only when Palestinian and Arab leaders change these dispositions and eschew their genocidal hopes will the refugees and their descendants be able to leave the squalid camps where they have been kept by their fellow Arabs for decades, and will the Palestinians be able to look forward to putting their self-inflicted ‘catastrophe’ behind them.”

To Professor Karsh there is no need to present the Palestinian point of view, because to him the Palestinian point of view is not valid. Yet there is no evidence from his research that he ever tried to assess it, and he excoriates those historians (like Ilan Papé, Shlomo Sand and others) who have. “It is indeed a historical irony that, since the late 1980’s, much of the Palestinian historiography has been written by Israeli ‘new historians’ … younger, politically engaged academics and journalists who claim to have discovered archival evidence substantiating the anti-Israeli case. These politicized historians have turned the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors transformed into hapless victims and vice versa” (page 4). He goes on to claim that these “new historians”, instead of unearthing “new facts or offer[ing] new novel interpretations”, they have “recycled the standard Palestinian Arab narrative of the conflict” (page 5). His evidence? A Survey of Palestine. Prepared in December 1945 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry (repr. 199) in full with permission from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office by the Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, D.C), Vol. 2, pp 570-80; the Peel Commission Report, p. 91; and Aharon Cohen: Israel and the Arab World (London: W. H. Allen, 1970), p. 228. No mention of the sources they have used, no questioning of same, just dismissal of them as “politicized historians” who, being “politicized” are biased whereas he, somehow, is not.

From the simple exercise of reading the modern history of this region, the following things have occurred to me, but not to Professor Karsh: that large numbers of new, mostly European immigrants would have seemed invasive to Palestine’s indigenous population … that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the UN’s declaration in 1947 to create a Jewish State in Mandated Palestine would have caused alarm bells to go off in the Middle East … that it is normal to expect that Palestine’s Arabs and their supporters would have fought against what they viewed as another in a long line of European colonialist adventures … that the continued expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories and Arab East Jerusalem is a problem … and that Israel’s Arab citizens are treated as second class citizens. All of these things are extensively documented, but not by Professor Karsh. Does this represent “meticulous, even exhaustive scholarship”? I don’t think so.

Is the book worth reading? Oh, definitely. His disrespect for Palestine’s Arabs is as crystal clear as his pro-Israeli bias. It is so clear that it is propaganda: stern, dismissive of other points of view, and very much interested in convincing its readers that what it presents is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But it isn’t. Even the title, Palestine Betrayed gets it wrong.

To have peace in the Middle East or anywhere else, one must quit propagandizing and engage in peacemaking. Propaganda perpetuates conflict and suffering because, being dismissive, it refuses to listen to points of view other than its own. And that is as sad as it is troubling.

Professor Karsh has an undergraduate degree in Arabic and Modern Middle East History from Hebrew University (Jerusalem), and an MA and PhD in International Relations from Tel Aviv University (Tel Aviv). He is currently Professor and Head of the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies Programme, King’s College, London.

– George Polley is a Japan-based American writer. He contributed this article to

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