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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Confronting the Past|
|04/17/02 at 00:18:03|
A thesis which alleges that Jewish militias slaughtered unarmed Arab fighters during the war of Independence is at the centre of a fierce debate about Israel's approach to its history, writes Suzanne Goldenberg
Monday December 10, 2001
He is a rather unlikely candidate for academic celebrity - or notoriety - depending on which way one looks at it.
But the debate over the MA thesis of Teddy Katz, a kibbutznik in his late 50s, has consumed Israeli academics for the best part of two years.
The saga of Mr Katz began unfolding in January last year when an Israeli newspaper published excerpts from a thesis submitted to Haifa University on the fate of the Palestinian village of Tantura, which was destroyed in the battle for Israel's independence in 1948.
In his research, Mr Katz collected testimony from Palestinians who alleged that Jewish pre-state militias slaughtered 200 Arab fighters who laid down their arms after the village surrendered in May 1948.
Researchers have unearthed other massacres in Israel's bloody war of independence in 1948 - most notably at Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, where some 120 unarmed villagers were killed in the event that came to symbolise the Nakba - literally the catastrophe of Palestinian flight, and dispossession when the Jewish state was created in 1948.
And there were earlier accounts in Arabic of the episode at Tantura. The coastal village was razed in June 1948 to make way for a kibbutz, and a swimming pool.
But the effect of Mr Katz's research was explosive. The Jewish veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade, the battalion Mr Katz alleged to have carried out the killings, sued for libel. The suit set off a train of events in the legal and academic arenas.
In the early stages of the legal battle, Mr Katz recanted his thesis - and then retracted 12 hours later, saying his judgment had been impaired by a stroke. The lawsuit moved upwards to the supreme court.
Meanwhile, an academic committee at Haifa University reviewed Mr Katz's work and this month ordered the suspension of his thesis, giving him six months to submit a revised version.
For Mr Katz, whose 1998 thesis, was awarded with unusually high grades, the controversy has been personally devastating.
For Israeli social scientists, who have been wrangling over the thesis on academic websites for months, the furore over the findings cuts to the core of a struggle over the portrayal of the history of the Jewish state.
The first histories of modern Israel were guided by Zionist ideology, and dominated by memoirs of the generals who participated in the battles for the state.
These were stories of Jewish war heroes, not of the Palestinian civilians who were purposely driven from their homes in acts of ethnic cleansing, or who fled after hearing of massacres in other villages.
A few historians have emerged during the last decade to set the record straight - including those like Mr Katz or Benny Morris, who is the best-known of the so-called new historians abroad, from outside the academic establishment.
But after more than a decade, the majority of their colleagues continue to cling to the old shibboleths.
Though buried for five decades, the stories of Tantura and the more than 400 other Palestinian villages destroyed with the creation of the Jewish state are deeply threatening to present-day Israeli society.
The fate of such villages is central to the Palestinian demand for the right of return of some 3.8m registered refugees to what is now Israel - a prospect most Israelis view with horror as the beginnings of the destruction of their state.
The pressures to conform have grown stronger since Israel executed a collective shift to the right after the eruption of a bloody Palestinian revolt 14 months ago.
The current atmosphere has made it even more uncomfortable for Israeli academics to challenge the founding myths of the Jewish state.
Mr Katz's academic work was problematic in other ways. He based his thesis on oral testimony from surivors of Tantura village, which is near his hometown of Haifa.
The accounts were dismissed out of hand as unreliable by some Israeli academics, specifically because he relied on Palestinian sources.
Unfair, wrote Ilan Pappe, a political scientist at Haifa University, who has emerged as Mr Katz's champion, and who has been at the vanguard of the re-evaluation of Israel's history.
"The oral testimonies by Palestinians on the Nakba - like the testimonies of Jews on the holocaust - will have to be treated as a legitimate source, both in court and scholarly debate."
The academic committee which reviewed Mr Katz's work found seven discrepencies between the tapes of interviews, and conclusions he made in his thesis.
Other academics have faulted Mr Katz for amateurish methodology. In turn, he regrets his early recantation of his thesis, which was made to ward off heavy court costs following the libel suit.
However, despite such flaws, several academics believe the essence of Mr Katz's findings has not been challenged.
"The question of whether the Alexandroni Brigade troopers did indeed murder residents of Tantura and the place of the entire episode in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians still remains," the historian Tom Segev wrote in the Ha'aretz newspaper.
"Israelis and Arabs committed war crimes both before and after 1948. The Tantura affair is not the point.
"The point is that most Israelis have yet to internalise their share of the responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian tragedy, and until they do so, there is no chance for peace."
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