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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fisking Khalidi's "Iron Cage" - part two

Part one here.

Rashid Khalidi admits in the introduction to his book that he provided very little original research in writing it, and mostly relied on the works of other historians. This does not invalidate a book as a work of history, of course, but it does give the author a little more burden of proof as to which facts he chooses to highlight and which he chooses to ignore.

Arab historians, for understandable reasons, love Benny Morris. As one of the earliest post-Zionist historians, Morris broke new ground in demolishing the prevailing Zionist narrative of the events leading up the establishment of the State of Israel, using primary source materials as they were declassified by the Israeli government. Khalidi is no exception, as he praises Morris' "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem" as one of the best sources on the topic.

Yet one must wonder why Khalidi only cites Morris when his facts support the traditional Palestinian Arab narrative and he ignores him when he proves the opposite. Morris, by exploding myths on both sides, proves to be intellectually honest; one cannot say the same about Khalidi.

The most obvious example is the fact that Morris re-wrote his classic work in 2004, based on far more archival material that became available in the 1990s. Israel's laws seal classified material for fifty years, so anything declassified in the 1990s would be directly relevant to the issues that Khalidi is writing about. Yet Khalidi never references Morris' newer work - which is far harsher on the Arab narrative - and instead stubbornly sticks with his earlier work, something that Morris himself would argue is not as accurate anymore. Why would a scholar writing in 2006 (and referencing events that occurred in 2006 as well) ignore this updated information? Indeed, it appears that Khalidi is selective when referring even to Morris' earlier work, at at other times he offers the same slipperiness that we have already seen. (The following quotes of Morris comes from a New Republic article he wrote in 2005.)

While Khalidi blandly - and consistently - uses neutral terms like "fighting broke out" when describing Arab attacks, in 1948 as well as earlier, his revisionist hero Morris describes things as they were:
[T]he U.N. General Assembly voted by more than a two-thirds majority in favor of partition and the establishment of Jewish and Arab states. The Palestinians and the Arab states rejected the resolution and vowed to prevent its implementation. Throughout the Arab world the cry went up for "jihad." On November 30, 1947, the day after the partition vote, Arab gunmen ambushed two Jewish buses near Petah Tikva, killing seven passengers and wounding others, and Arab snipers began firing from Jaffa into Tel Aviv's streets, killing a passerby and wounding others. These attacks marked the start of the war. The Arab Higher Committee, the Palestinian Arab community's "government," called for a general strike, in the course of which an Arab mob poured out of Jerusalem's Old City and looted and torched the New Commercial District. The civil war had begun.
Similarly, Khalidi spends much time describing how poorly equipped and organized the Arab armies and Palestinian Arabs were compared to the Zionists:
Although it was not initially apparent, in the fighting during the first phase of the war between the Hagana and its Arab opponents, the former were considerably superior to the latter in weaponry, numbers, and organization. Their most important assets, besides these advantages, was unity of command.
Morris, the only one of them who is a true historian of primary sources, describes things quite differently:
In truth, the forces in Palestine during the civil war half of 1948 (November 1947 to mid-May 1948), were more or less evenly matched in terms of armed manpower. The roughly eight hundred Arab villages and towns of Palestine had, between them, some 25,000 to 30,000 armed men (albeit with inadequate ammunition stockpiles). Add to this the reasonably well-armed roving bands and the ALA, and one gets a force about equal to the Haganah's. The Haganah probably had fewer arms, but they were better munitioned.

But the real difference lay in organization and mentality. The Jews were relatively well organized, and thought and acted like a nation. The Palestinians were not organized, and mostly acted out of a village-centered mentality: there was no national mobilization; each village fought alone, and fell alone, and those not engaged kept their distance from the trouble. The Palestinians had only themselves to blame for their poor preparation and performance in 1948.
This next section shows Khalidi's biases and disregard for truth - while trying to be technically accurate - even more starkly:
For the first few months of the fighting, until March 1948, the Palestinians nevertheless appeared to be holding their own. They maintained control over most Arab-inhabited regions of Palestine, and managed repeatedly to cut the roads linking major cities and some of the isolated Jewish settlements, including at the end of March the critically important road from the cost to Jerusalem. However, as soon as the Haganah and its allies went on a nationwide offensive early in April 1948, on the basis of a military plan for linking up most of the major Jewish-inhabited regions of the country, known as Plan Dalet, they rapidly showed their overwhelming superiority. By the end of their offensive, they had overrun the major coastal cities with large Arab populations, Haifa, Acre, and Jaffa, as well as Tiberias, Beisan, and other cities and towns, and scores of villages, and set hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the road to exile.
Compare with Morris' much more complete and accurate narrative:
...This hodgepodge of irregulars managed by late March 1948 to halt Jewish convoy traffic and to besiege, and to mortally threaten, isolated Jewish communities, notably Jerusalem. By then, tens of thousands of Arabs and Jews, fearing war's fury, had moved out of embattled or vulnerable urban and rural areas. For the Palestinians, this marked the start of the refugee exodus.

Between November 1947 and March 1948, the Jews remained strategically on the defensive, and did not conquer or destroy Arab villages. (There were two exceptions, Qisariya and Arab Sukrir.) Things changed radically in early April 1948: the Haganah, with its back to the wall, especially in Jerusalem and along the roads, and facing imminent invasion by the Arab states' armies, switched to the offensive, and within six weeks overran Arab areas, including Jaffa and (Arab) Haifa, and defeated the Palestinian militias, inducing chaos and mass flight.
Morris accurately describes how the fighting began - how the Zionists remained on the defensive while the Arabs attacked at will, starting the day after the partition vote. Khalidi describes the Hagana's defensive posture against brutally aggressive Arab attacks as the Palestinian Arabs "holding their own."

Khalidi mentions a number of times the "myth" of powerful Arab armies attacking Israel in May 1948, that "only" four armies set foot in Palestine in 1948, and he implies that they never stepped foot beyond the original boundaries of the partition:
...the only Arab armies that actually entered Palestine were those of Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, and Syria." Moreover, by prior agreements between King Abdullah ant the Jewish Agency, and between 'Abdullah and Britain, the most powerful and combat worthy of these armies, the Transjordanian Arab Legion and the Iraqi forces that were under'Abdullah's command and control), never crossed into the territory allotted to the Jewish state. These two armies fought Israeli troops only in the area originally assigned to the Arab state, or in the area of Jerusalem —which according to the partition plan was supposed to have been an international corpus separatum -and thus they never invaded the territory of the Jewish state.
Notice how the impression one gets from reading this is that no Arab army invaded the Jewish state, although he doesn't really say it - Khalidi's hallmark of giving impressions at odds with the facts.

Now read what really happened:
The Syrian Army, after invading Israel and before being bested at the Deganias, conquered and destroyed two kibbutzim, Masada and Shaar Hagolan, on May 18, inside Israel; the Iraqi Army invaded Israeli territory and unsuccessfully assaulted Kibbutz Gesher and nearby positions before moving to the northern West Bank; and the Egyptian Army, while halting, or being forced by the IDF to halt, at Isdud (Ashdod) in early June 1948, invaded and conquered Israeli territory between the Gaza Strip and Beersheba and between Majdal (Ashkelon) and Beit Jibrin. Lastly, while the Jordanian Army did not invade Israeli territory, it did much more than take up "defensive positions" in the Old City of Jerusalem. It conquered, and razed, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and took up positions in Latrun, Lydda, and Ramle, blocking the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road and laying siege to the holy city. And on May 12- 14, before the pan-Arab invasion began, the Legion attacked and destroyed the settlements of the Etzion bloc.

In short, the neighboring Arab states (save for Lebanon) and Iraq simultaneously, on May 15, attacked Israel, its settlements, and its territory. One of their aims was to destroy, or at least to mortally wound, Israel, if not to eradicate the Yishuv. The documentary proof is abundant. The Arab armies' actions in mid-May speak louder than a thousand atlases. That the Arab armies were "ill-prepared" and incompetent does not diminish the fact of their aggression. And there can be little doubt that had the invading armies, including Jordan's, encountered no or weak resistance, they would have pushed on to Tel Aviv.
Perhaps Khalidi's greatest misrepresentation is with regard to the comparative amount of land that the Jews and the Arabs owned:
[The Zionists] knew full well that as late as 1948, Jewish-owned land in Palestine amounted to only about 7 percent of the country's total land area (and only 10.6 percent of its privately owned land, including much of the country's best arable land), that the vast bulk of the country's privately owned land and much of its urban property was in Arab hands.
Again we see a combination of choosing convenient sources and purposefully ignoring salient facts. Morris again:
In reality, Jews owned about 6 to 7 percent of Palestine's land surface, and the Arabs owned around 20 percent, and the rest was public or state-owned.
Notice how easily one gets the impression that 90% of the land belonged to Arabs from Khalidi's description, as he ignores the amount of public land that shows that Arabs didn't own most of the land of Palestine - exploding one of the biggest and most pervasive myths there are from the Arab narrative.

Khalidi doesn't have any regard for the truth, except in the sense that he is too clever to say too many explicit lies. He clearly knows the truth because of the wordplay he employs to get his point across, and his failure to mention these topics that he so assiduously avoids is the best proof of his mendacity.

Here we see how selectively and dishonestly Khalidi uses his secondary sources. Morris is a good source for him only when he supports Khalidi's preconceived notions; when Morris disagrees Khalidi will ignore those facts or selectively use them. This is a fundamental methodological flaw in Khalidi's work and it shows his disregard for truth, even as he takes pains to portray himself as being fair.

These quotes prove the contrast between a true historian and a very good propagandist.