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Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2024

The New York Times Magazine (Feb. 4, 2024) asked a group of Middle East  
specialists to assess “the long shadow of 1948 and how decisions that led to the  
founding of Israel left the region in a state of eternal conflict.”  
Editor Emily Bazelon notes that, “For centuries, Palestine was an Ottoman  
province with no clear boundaries. Muslims were the majority, living alongside  
small Christian and Jewish communities. The Jews were almost entirely Sephardic  
and native to the region, with few nationalist aspirations. The relationships…  
began to shift in the beginning of the 20th century as a group of young socialist  
revolutionaries—-including founders of the future state of Israel…immigrated in  
waves from Russia and Eastern Europe. They believed that the only answer to…  
antisemitism was Zionism—-the vision of a Jewish home in the land of the Hebrew  
The League of Nations carved up the former Ottoman lands. The mandate for  
Palestine, written in 1920, stood out for its international commitment to “the  
establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”  
Derek Ponslar, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard, points out  
that, “Many Zionists wanted to believe that they represented progress—-they would  
come with their technology and electricity…and improve everyone’s lives. Ze’ev  
Jabotinsky,whose vision of Zionism was the precursor to Likud, the party of  
Benjamin Netanyahu, had a more realistic vision. He said: ‘Don’t condescend to  
the Arabs. They have every reason to oppose Zionism, and they will do so until  
they are met with overwhelming force.’”  
In Feb. 1947 the British Government announced that it wanted to end the mandate.  
The U.N. set up the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to recommend a  
solution. At this point there were about 600,000 Jews and 1.2 million  
Deena Dallasheh, a historian of Palestine and Israel who has taught at Columbia  
University, NYU and Rice University, states: “The Holocaust was a horrible  
massacre committed by Europeans. But I don’t think the Palestinians figure that  
they will have to pay for it. Yet the world sees this as an acceptable equation.  
Orientalist and colonial ideology were very much at the heart of thinking, that  
while we Europeans and the U.S. were part of this massive human tragedy, we are  
going to fix it at the expense of someone else. And the someone else is not  
important because they are Arabs. They’re Palestinians and thus constructed as  
not important.”  
Salim Tamari, a sociologist at Birzeit University in the West Bank, points out  
that, “Sending the Jewish refugees to Palestine was a byproduct of European  
guilt, but a hypocritical kind of guilt because they did not want to bear the  
social and economic cost of absorbing the refugees themselves. The vast majority  
of Jewish refugees who came were not Zionists. They did not have a choice about  
where to go.”  
In the view of Abigail Jacobson, a historian at the Hebrew University of  
Jerusalem, “It’s often argued against the Palestinians, how come you didn’t  
accept partition? But it’s important not to read history retrospectively. When  
you look at the demographic realities of 1947 and the division of the land, it  
was 55% for the Jewish state and 45% for the Palestinian state even though there  
were double the number of Palestinians as Jews at that point. If you were a  
Palestinian in 1947, would you accept this offer? One needs to remember that the  
Palestinian national movement was ready to accept the Jews as a minority within  
an Arab state.”  
Emily Bazelon points out that, “At the end of 1947, as fighting escalated,  
Palestinians streamed across the partition borders, leaving the Jewish state.  
For decades, the Zionist narrative was that Palestinians left their homes at the  
urging of Arab governments, which promised they could return after a successful  
invasion. Arab scholars said this was false. Since 1988, Israeli academics have  
also written a lot about the flight and forced expulsion of the Nakba, as it’s  
called. How did it happen?”  
Nadim Bawalsa, a historian of modern Palestine and Associate Editor of The  
Journal of Palestine Studies, provides this assessment: “In the early months of  
1948, Zionist forces terrorized Palestinians. They massacred more than 100  
people in the village of Deir Yassin. They destroyed Qatamon, an affluent  
Palestinian neighborhood near Talbiya…A couple of months ago my mother heard on  
the news that some of the radical Israeli settlers on the West Bank are dropping  
fliers in Palestinian villages and towns telling people to leave, to go to Jordan  
or face another Nakba. She was shaken because it reminded her of stories her  
parents told her of Zionists using the radio or loudspeakers to threaten  
Palestinians to leave Jerusalem or their fate would be similar to Deir Yassin.”  
Deena Dallasheh points to the fact that, “The Israeli authorities passed a law  
appropriating the property of people who left, destroyed their homes so they  
couldn’t return and used the stones to build new settlements. This was done with  
complete disregard for U.N. resolution 194, which provided for the right of  
return in 1948 to Palestinians who wished to go back, and in order to circumvent  
this possibility.” *

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