Palestinian Studies

2017 Workshop

Salim Tamari

Professor of Sociology, Birzeit University

Narratives of the 1948 War Oral Historiography and Palestinian Revisionism

The contested interpretation of what happened in the war of 1948 gave rise to a major debate about the uses of official archives, and the absent voice of the Palestinian marginalized groups of peasants, women and the urban poor. The debate initially took the form of an ideological war between established Israeli historians and the critical New Historians, in which Palestinians were the objects but not the subjects of this debate.  The use of memoirs, diaries, and village memorial testimonials became the instrument of Palestinian historians to compensate for the absent archives—an absence basically caused by the institutional destruction of their society, the pillage of its records. I will argue that it is futile to look for Palestinian revisionist historians as equivalent to the Israeli New Historians, since there is not ‘official’ Palestinian history to respond to. Instead a historiographical tradition emerged since the 1967 war that attempts at providing documentation and interpretation at the same time. 

I will discuss major trends in the new Palestinian historical writings about the 1948 war. While they are not exactly ‘revisionist’ in the sense the New Israeli historians are revisionists, the Palestinians nevertheless contributed to the transcending of the fixations of earlier historians on issues of dispersal and exile in favor attempting to provide answers to deeper enquiries as to what happened in the Nakba. I discuss here five major works in this new tradition: Rashid Khalidi’s explanation the military debable as a consequence of the popular rebellion of 1936 and the subsequent destruction of the Urban economy; the alternate nationalist discourse developed by Rosemary Sayigh through a focus on the subaltern and the silenced voices of rural women; the investigation of local history as a means of explaining the event of '48 by focusing on the variety of local dynamics involng local resistance, defiance and collaboration, in which adaptation to superior force was a key to survival; the examination of military reports from Jaffa in the final days of the war (Ishkinta, Nazer, and Abu Jbein) reveal the dynamics of conflict between local militias (Najjadeh) and Arab volunteers that contributed significantly to the exodus of the civilian population during the final stages for the war; finally the study by Abbad Yehya show how dispossessed peasants were arming themselves and simultnatiosly engaged in class conflict with local landlords.

Salim Tamari is professor of sociology at Birzeit University and an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.  He has authored several works on urban culture, political sociology, biography and social history, and the social history of the Eastern Mediterranean. Recent publications include: Year of the Locust: Palestine and Syria during WWI (UC Press, 2010) Ihsan's War: The Intimate Life of an Ottoman Soldier (IPS, Beirut, 2008); The Mountain Against the Sea (University of California Press, 2008); Biography and Social History of Bilad al Sham (edited with I. Nassar,2007, Beirut IPS); Pilgrims, Lepers, and Stuffed Cabbage: Essays on Jerusalem's Cultural History (edited, with I. Nassar, IJS, 2005) and Essays on the Cultural History of Ottoman and Mandate Jerusalem (editor, IJS, 2005).

Tamari has served as visiting professor, University of California at Berkeley (2005, 2007, 2008); Eric Lane Fellow, Cambridge University (2008); lecturer in Mediterranean Studies Venice University (2002-present); among other posts.