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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hillel Cohen responds to my review of "Good Arabs"

The author of "Good Arabs," Hillel Cohen, responded to my review where I questioned whether the word Nakba was used in the 1950s:
Thanks for your review. Just one factual comment - the term Nakba was in use in Arabic in the 1950s. As you might know, the book of Constantin Zureik 'Ma'na al-Nakba' (the meaning of the Nakba) was published in Beirut in summer 1948 (!). It is true that Jewish Israelis (and the elders of Zion?) became familiar with it only in the 1990s, but one should bear in mind that there are discourses beyond the Hebrew one.
I asked back:
Thanks for writing, Hillel. My only question is whether the term was used in the 1950s with the "capital N" usage that it is used today, even in Arabic. In other words, would the average Palestinian Arab have used it in that context in that decade to the extent of saying that "May 14th is Nakba Day."

And, if you would be so kind as to answer whether you believe that the word "collaboration" is the correct, consistent translation of the term in Israeli documents you cite, or whether "cooperation" was closer to the authors' intent in some or most cases.
Cohen answered:
As far as i understand, the term Nakba was rather widespread in the internal discourse among the Arabs in Israel in the 1950s-1960s, and was the common word to refer to the war of 1948 and refugehood.

As about 'collaboration' - Arabs who were involved with the Israeli security agencies were usually considered collaborators by all involved parties (, i.e. the general Arab community, themselves and the security agencies). Political cooperation with Mapai was termed 'collaboration' by those who opposed it, and 'cooperation' by those who advocated it (and I tried to present their arguments according to my understanding). Anyhow, it was frequently the same people who were involved in politics and security matters. Police and Shabak officers in many cases looked down at the people who assisted 'the system': sometimes view them as traitors, but not always.

There were changes in this respect througout the years, and what was considered treason in one period was not necessarily considered so in other, what complicates the definitions even more.

Personally, I'd add, I have no political goals in writing my books, and I don't try to prove anything - but to present and analyse historical sources that I read. This is not to say, of course, that I am not influenced by my (ever-changing) political views that support Jewish-Arab cooperation.
I appreciate that he came here and explained himself, and from reading his books it is clear that Cohen is intellectually honest he does intend to portray things as accurately as possible.