New Historians
The New Historians are a loosely-defined group of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

i historians who have challenged traditional versions of Israeli history, including Israel's role in the Palestinian Exodus in 1948
1948 Palestinian exodus
The 1948 Palestinian exodus , also known as the Nakba , occurred when approximately 711,000 to 725,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the Civil War that preceded it. The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute...

 and Arab willingness to discuss peace. The term was coined in 1988 by one of the leading New Historians, Benny Morris
Benny Morris
Benny Morris is professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Be'er Sheva, Israel...

. According to Ethan Bronner
Ethan Bronner
Ethan Samuel Bronner has been Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times since March 2008 following four years as deputy foreign editor.-Biography:...

 of The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

, the New Historians sought to advance the peace process.

Much of the primary source
Primary source
Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied....

 material used by the group comes from Israeli government papers declassified thirty years after the founding of Israel. Morris
Benny Morris
Benny Morris is professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Be'er Sheva, Israel...

, Ilan Pappé
Ilan Pappé
Ilan Pappé is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK, director of the university's European Centre for Palestine Studies, co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies, and political activist...

, Avi Shlaim
Avi Shlaim
Avi Shlaim FBA is a British/Israeli historian. He is a professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and a fellow of the British Academy.Shlaim is especially well known as a historian of the Arab-Israeli conflict...

, Tom Segev
Tom Segev
Tom Segev is an Israeli historian, author and journalist. He is associated with Israel's so-called New Historians, a group challenging many of the country's traditional narratives.-Early life:Segev was born in Jerusalem in 1945...

, Hillel Cohen
Hillel Cohen
Hillel Cohen is an Israeli scholar who studies and writes about Jewish-Arab relations in Palestine/Israel. He is a Research Fellow at the Harry S...

, Baruch Kimmerling
Baruch Kimmerling
Baruch Kimmerling was an Israeli scholar and professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Upon his death in 2007, The Times described him as "the first academic to use scholarship to reexamine the founding tenets of Zionism and the Israeli State"...

 and (retrospectively) Simha Flapan
Simha Flapan
Simha Flapan was an Israeli historian and politician. He was the author of The Birth of Israel: Myths And Realities.He is probably best known for his book The Birth of Israel: Myths And Realities, published in the year of his death....

 are counted among the "new historians." Many of their conclusions have been incorporated into the political ideology of post-Zionists
Post-Zionism refers to the opinions of some Israelis, diaspora Jews and others, particularly in academia, that Zionism has fulfilled its ideological mission with the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948, and that Zionist ideology should therefore be considered at an end...

. The political views of the group vary, as do the periods of Israeli history in which they specialize.

Main arguments

Avi Shlaim described the New Historian's differences from what he termed the "official history" in the following terms. According to Shlaim:

  • The official version said that Britain
    United Kingdom
    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

     tried to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state
    Jewish state
    A homeland for the Jewish people was an idea that rose to the fore in the 19th century in the wake of growing anti-Semitism and Jewish assimilation. Jewish emancipation in Europe paved the way for two ideological solutions to the Jewish Question: cultural assimilation, as envisaged by Moses...

    ; the New Historians claimed that it tried to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state
  • The official version said that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own free will; the New Historians said that the refugees were chased out or expelled‎
    Palestinian refugee
    Palestinian refugees or Palestine refugees are the people and their descendants, predominantly Palestinian Arabic-speakers, who fled or were expelled from their homes during and after the 1948 Palestine War, within that part of the British Mandate of Palestine, that after that war became the...

  • The official version said that the balance of power was in favour of the Arabs; the New Historians said that Israel had the advantage both in manpower and in arms
  • The official version said that the Arabs had a coordinated plan to destroy Israel; the New Historians said that the Arabs were divided
  • The official version said that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the New Historians said that Israel is primarily to blame for the dead end.

Pappé suggests that the Zionist leaders aimed to displace most Palestinian Arabs; Morris sees the displacement happening in the heat of war.

According to the New Historians, Israel and Arab countries each have their share of responsibility for the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian plight.


The writings of the New Historians have come under repeated criticism, both from traditional Israeli historians who accuse them of fabricating Zionist misdeeds, and from Arab or pro-Arab writers who accuse them of whitewashing the truth about Zionist misbehaviour. They are accused of ignoring four critical questions: Who started the war? What were their intentions? Who was forced to mount a defence? What were Israel's casualties?

Early in 2002, the most famous of the new historians, Benny Morris, publicly reversed some of his personal political positions, though he has not withdrawn any of his historical writings. Morris says he did not use much of the newly available archival material when he wrote his book: "When writing The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947–1949 in the mid-1980s, I had no access to the materials in the IDFA [IDF
Israel Defense Forces
The Israel Defense Forces , commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym Tzahal , are the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the ground forces, air force and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and has no civilian jurisdiction within Israel...

 Archive] or the Haganah
Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948, which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.- Origins :...

 Archive and precious little to first-hand military materials deposited elsewhere."

Anita Shapira
Anita Shapira
Anita Shapira is an Israeli historian. She is the founder of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, a Ruben Merenfeld Professor of the Study of Zionism and head of the Weizmann Institute for the Study of Zionism at Tel Aviv University...

 offers the following criticism:
Israeli historian Yoav Gelber
Yoav Gelber
Yoav Gelber is a professor of history at the University of Haifa, and was formerly a visiting professor at The University of Texas at Austin....

 criticized New Historians in an interview, saying that aside from Benny Morris, they did not contribute to the research of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War in any way. He did however note that they contributed to the public discourse about the war.

Post Zionism

Some commentators have argued that the historiography of the New Historians has both drawn inspiration from, and lent impetus to, a movement known as post-Zionism. Generally the term "post-Zionist" is self-identified by Jewish Israelis who are critical of the Zionist enterprise and are seen by Zionists as undermining the Israeli national ethos. Post-Zionists differ from Zionists on many important details, such as the status of the law of return
Law of Return
The Law of Return is Israeli legislation, passed on 5 July 1950, that gives Jews the right of return and settlement in Israel and gain citizenship...

 and other sensitive issues. Post-Zionists view the Palestinian dispossession as central to the creation of the state of Israel.

Zionists and old Historians argue that Post-Zionism is a total denial of the Zionist project and endangers the very legitimacy and existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish nation state, by viewing Zionism as a colonial phenomenon and not as a national movement. Shlomo Avineri in "Post-Zionism doesn't exist" printed in Ha'aretz has said that "post-Zionists are simply anti-Zionists of the old sort."

Benny Morris's critique of the Old Historians

  • The "Old Historians" lived through 1948 as highly committed adult participants in the epic, glorious rebirth of the Jewish commonwealth. They were unable to separate their lives from this historical event, unable to regard impartially and objectively the facts and processes that they later wrote about.
  • The “Old Historians” have written largely on the basis of interviews and memoirs and at best made use of select batches of documents, many of them censored.
  • Benny Morris has been critical of the old Historians, describing them, by and large, as not really historians, who did not produce real history: "In reality there were chroniclers and often apologetic", and refers to those who produced it as "less candid", "deceitful" and "misleading".

Major debates

On a few occasions there have been heated public debates between the New Historians and their detractors. The most notable:
  • Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim versus Shabtai Teveth
    Shabtai Teveth
    Shabtai Teveth , is an Israeli historian.Shabtai Teveth began working as a journalist for Haaretz newspaper in 1950, eventually becoming its political correspondent...

    Teveth is best known as a biographer of David Ben-Gurion
    David Ben-Gurion
    ' was the first Prime Minister of Israel.Ben-Gurion's passion for Zionism, which began early in life, led him to become a major Zionist leader and Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization in 1946...

    . Teveth: Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 26 (1990) 214–249; Morris: 1948 and After; Teveth: Commentary; Morris and Shlaim: Tikkun.

  • Benny Morris versus Norman Finkelstein
    Norman Finkelstein
    Norman Gary Finkelstein is an American political scientist, activist and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. He is a graduate of Binghamton University and received his Ph.D in Political Science from Princeton University...

     and Nur Masalha
    This took place in three articles in the Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. 21, No. 1, Autumn, 1991. While acknowledging that Morris had brought to light a vast quantity of previously unknown archival material, Finkelstein and Masalha accused Morris of presenting the evidence with a pro-Zionist spin. Finkelstein wrote "Morris has substituted a new myth, one of the "happy medium" for the old. ... [T]he evidence that Morris adduces does not support his temperate conclusions. ...[S]pecifically, Morris's central thesis that the Arab refugee problem was "born of war, not by design" is belied by his own evidence which shows that Palestine's Arabs were expelled systematically and with premeditation." Masalha accused Morris of treating the issue as "a debate amongst Zionists which has little to do with the Palestinians themselves", and of ignoring the long history that the idea of "transfer" (removal of the Palestinians) had among Zionist leaders. In his response, Morris accused Finkelstein and Masalha of "outworn preconceptions and prejudices" and reiterated his support for a multifaceted explanation for the Arab flight.

  • Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappé versus Efraim Karsh
    Efraim Karsh
    Efraim Karsh is professor and head of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, and director of the Philadelphia-based think tank, the Middle East Forum...

    Efraim Karsh of King's College, London, is a founding editor of Israel Affairs. Starting with an article in the magazine Middle East Quarterly
    Middle East Quarterly
    Middle East Quarterly is a peer reviewed quarterly journal, a publication of the American conservative think tank Middle East Forum founded by Daniel Pipes in 1994. It is devoted to subjects relating to the Middle East and Islam and analyzes the region "explicitly from the viewpoint of American...

    , Karsh alleged that the new historians "systematically distort the archival evidence to invent an Israeli history in an image of their own making". Karsh also provides a list of examples where, he claims, the new historians "truncated, twisted, and distorted" primary documents. Shlaim's reply defended his analysis of the Zionist-Hashemite negotiations prior to 1948. Morris declined immediate reply, accusing Karsh of a "mélange of distortions, half-truths, and plain lies", but published a lengthy rebuttal in the Winter 1998 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies
    Journal of Palestine Studies
    The Journal of Palestine Studies is an academic journal established in 1971. It is published and distributed by University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine Studies. The current editor is Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University....

    . Morris replied to many of Karsh's detailed accusations, but also returned Karsh's personal invective, going so far as to compare Karsh's work to that of Holocaust deniers. Karsh also published a review on an article of Morris, charging him with "deep-rooted and pervasive distortions". Karsh systematically rejects the methodology of new historians such as Morris in his book Fabricating Israeli History: The 'New Historians' (Israeli History, Politics and Society) (2000).

  • Teddy Katz
    Tantura was a Palestinian Arab fishing village located 8 kilometers northwest of Zikhron Ya'akov on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. It was built on the ruins of the ancient Phoenician city of Dor.-Antiquity:...

     versus Alexandroni Brigade
    Alexandroni Brigade
    The Alexandroni Brigade is an Israel Defense Forces brigade that fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Along with the 7th Armoured Brigade both units had 139 killed during the first battle of Latrun - Operation Ben Nun Alef .The unit is currently a reserve unit.-Katz controversy:In 1998, Teddy Katz...

    In 1998, Teddy Katz interviewed and taped Israeli and Palestinian witnesses to events at Tantura in 1948 and wrote a master's thesis at Haifa University
    University of Haifa
    The University of Haifa is a university in Haifa, Israel.The University of Haifa was founded in 1963 by Haifa mayor Abba Hushi, to operate under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem....

     claiming that the Alexandroni Brigade
    Alexandroni Brigade
    The Alexandroni Brigade is an Israel Defense Forces brigade that fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Along with the 7th Armoured Brigade both units had 139 killed during the first battle of Latrun - Operation Ben Nun Alef .The unit is currently a reserve unit.-Katz controversy:In 1998, Teddy Katz...

     committed a massacre in the Arab village of Tantura during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war
    1948 Arab-Israeli War
    The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known to Israelis as the War of Independence or War of Liberation The war commenced after the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of an independent Israel at midnight on 14 May 1948 when, following a period of civil war, Arab armies invaded...

    . The veterans of the brigade sued Katz for libel. During the court hearing Katz conceded by issuing a statement retracting his own work. He then tried to retract his retraction, but the court disallowed it and ruled against him. He appealed to the Supreme Court but it declined to intervene. Meanwhile a committee at Haifa University claimed to have found serious problems with the thesis, including "quotations" that were contradicted by Katz's taped records of interview. The university suspended his degree and asked him to resubmit his thesis. The new thesis was given a "second-class" pass. The Tantura debate remains heated, with Ilan Pappé
    Ilan Pappé
    Ilan Pappé is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK, director of the university's European Centre for Palestine Studies, co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies, and political activist...

     continuing to support allegations of a massacre.

See also

  • Historiography
    Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

  • Historical revisionism
    Historical revisionism
    In historiography, historical revisionism is the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event...

  • History wars
    History wars
    The history wars in Australia are an ongoing public debate over the interpretation of the history of the British colonisation of Australia and development of contemporary Australian society...

     (comparable Australian phenomenon)

Further reading

  • The Jewish Past Revisited: Reflections on Modern Jewish Historians, co-edited by David N. Myers and David B. Ruderman ISBN 0-300-07216-3.
  • Fabricating Israeli history: The 'New Historians', Efraim Karsh, ISBN 0-7146-8063-X.
    • Refabricating 1948, Benny Morris, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol 27, Issue 2 (Winter 1998), 81–95. (Morris' rebuttal to Karsh.)
  • The making of the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1947–1951, Ilan Pappé (1994), ISBN 1-85043-819-6.
  • The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappé, Oneworld, Oxford: 2006 ISBN 1851684670
  • Benny Morris
    Benny Morris
    Benny Morris is professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Be'er Sheva, Israel...

    , 1948, Yale University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780300126969
  • The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, co-edited by Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim

External links

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