In this section, we will not focus on the chronology of the Palestinian-Israeli issue since 1948: such chronological description is easily accessible, whether in books or in in-depths articles,regularly published in quality publications such as Le Monde Diplomatique 5 . However, forthe sake of precision, a brief chronology of the main stages of the conflict is available at theend of the report. The aim of this section is to give an overview of the different narratives ofhistory presented by the different parties involved: these divergent narratives have had adramatic influence on past and present practical developments of the conflict. Simply put, wewill present first the “new historians”’ research on the establishment of the State of Israel thatis today increasingly acknowledged by the international community as the most validreference. Then we will consider the major issues that are at the heart of the Israeli andPalestinian narratives.
a) The “New Historians” 6 In 1978, archives were declassified in Israel, thus becoming accessible to academicand public scrutiny. Among the historians who worked on these archives, some of thembecame known as the “new historians”, offering a revised version of the historical narrative ofthe, until then, dominant view of Israel’s victory over its enemies. Avi Shlaïm in his latestbook entitled The Iron Wall, briefly presents the official Zionist version of the 1948 war: “Thenew born Jewish State engaged in a desperate battle, heroic and finally victorious, againstoverwhelming forces. In this war, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians sought shelter inneighbouring Arab states, mainly following their leaders’ orders and awaiting a triumphalreturn. At the end of the war, the Israeli leaders strove for peace but could not find anyinterlocutor to talk to.” 7
Avi Shlaïm and other new historians such as Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev and BennyMorris present quite a different narrative, according to which the expulsion of the Palestiniansthat took place in 1948–49 was pre-planned by the Zionist leaders and implemented through aseries of military offensives against Arab towns and villages in the weeks preceding theestablishment of the Jewish state. David Ben Gurion, who proclaimed the State of Israel onMay 14 th 1948, refused to comply with the borders as defined by the 1947 UN Partition Plan. He sought to expand the territory allocated to the Jewish state and also to secure a minimum80% Jewish population. This implied a military strategy of driving out 500 000 to 800 000 Arabs from their towns and cities. On May 15 th, war was declared by the neighbouring Arabstates opposing the Partition Plan. Contrary to the accepted Israeli narrative, the armed forcesof the surrounding Arab States were on an equal footing only in the first three weeks of the war; Israeli troops gained superiority quite rapidly. The historians’ studies have been highly controversial in Israel, although their individual political positions vary significantly 8 . The practical impact of their work on Israel public opinion is difficult to evaluate. However, their work can be considered as a major milestone for Israel, insofar as we admit that peace may only come once historical injustices are acknowledged.
A handful of persons in Israel have been working for some years to bring about anIsraeli acknowledgement of the Palestinian narrative of the nakba, the catastrophe that befellthe Palestinians in 1948: ZOCHROT is one of the oldest and most respected one. Accordingto Eitan Bronstein, “we believe that knowing this narrative is essential in order toacknowledge the loss imposed on the Palestinians by Israeli Jews, and this recognition is anessential step for any future reconciliation. Even if we have peace tomorrow, realreconciliation between the two peoples will not happen until the Israelis recognise thePalestinian loss.” 9...