Friday, January 21, 2011

"Hidden Histories" of Israel (review)

Jews are portrayed in a despicable light by Muslims. But it is the CIA and ultra-nationalist Israelis that are promoting the extermination of the Palestinians with Christian support, not Jews. The backlash leads to antisemitism.

Wisdom Quarterly summary of book review by Jim Miles*
Hidden Histories: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean (by Basem L. Ra’ad, London, Pluto Press, 2010) is a groundbreaking read on Israel and the Bible.

The majority of modern works that examine the Palestine/Israel conflict do so with a strong emphasis on the catastrophe (nakba) of 1948, what led up to it and what followed.

Prof. Basem L. Ra’ad’s new book Hidden Histories adds a new component to the discussion. The catastrophe is minimized to explore other perspectives more fully. Two perspectives are developed, in spite of the fact that the dominant media discourse orchestrated by the US, Europe, and Israel would rather these perspectives were not heard.

Jewish ultra orthodox celebration of Rabbi Nachman in the Ukraine near Kiev on Rosh Hashana (Reuters/Konstantin Chernichkin).

The first is an examination of the region through archaeology and linguistics. The duality does not highlight the uniqueness of a "chosen people" in their exile or return. Instead, what is examined is the commonality of a stable and adaptive indigenous population.

The second perspective looks at the modern Israeli narrative -- an biased ethnic history used to justify the annexation of land and a declared intent to settle all of Eretz Israel as a "divine right" of Jewish people.

Ra’ad turns this perspective and focuses on the appropriation of cultural artifacts, heritage, language, and the beliefs of the indigenous Palestinians. This has happened to such an extent that Palestinians themselves are becoming unaware of their own heritage and unwittingly reflecting Israeli mythology about their background.

This is one of the most powerful ways in which a dominant society controls and culturally deletes another culture and its history. People become others, wanderers in the desert, true “Arabs” who arrived with the Islamic conquests of the seventh century, whose true home is beyond the borders of modern Israel.

It has been noted more than once in both revisionist and traditional historical writings on Zionism that “early Zionists did not shy away from seeing the Palestinians as rooted in the land from prehistoric times…. Up to the 1930s, many Zionist theorists saw the Palestinian farmers or fellahin as descendants of Judean peasantry, as Jews who converted to Islam to avoid taxation.”

Ra’ad argues that the Israelis paint themselves as the natives “and have relegated the Palestinians to cultural invisibility or active demonization within the Zionist system.” Jews then act like they are merely reclaiming their "divinely ordained" land. It's a powerful narrative, one that fundamental Christians buy into.

It makes sense to believers until they see the historical and archaeological evidence of the existence of a Canaanite culture. Its geography was widespread and a precursor to many of the myths and traditions of the region.

Ra'ad argues that “Hebrew is merely a script style that is known in Aramaic as square Aramaic” and is not the ancient language of the land.

Earlier languages, which are much more similar to Arabic, cannot be considered “paleo-Hebrew” or “ancient-Hebrew.” Arabic is shown to be “a native regional language,” not imported with the Arab Muslim conquest of the seventh century. It is the “live continuation and natural extension of the earlier languages as they were submerged.” In other words, it is not a foreign language to the region.

Shard of pottery used to suggest that the Bible, "ancient-Hebrew," and the "Kingdom of Israel" are all older than thought (MSNBC/Livescience).

It is one that naturally evolved with organic adaptations to the trade, commerce, and warfare prevalent in the region. Whether it is artificial changes on the region's map, “ancient names on the ground, or theories about ancient languages, there is a great deal of invention, guile, backdating, and fabricated justification.”

For the Israelis, if the God-covenanted land narrative falls apart, their whole universe disappears. They become just another group attempting to survive by way of dominance over a weaker group.

To prevent that, the narrative needs to be constructed both forwards and backwards: from biblical time lines to create a lineage, backwards from current times.

But Ra’ad’s work creates a discussion that poses huge problems for the narrative.

What needs to be decolonized are minds -- of Palestinians, Christians, and Jews. But given the media dominance of the US, Europe, and Israel, it will be a struggle.

Hidden Histories is an intriguing and challenging work leading toward a more honest understanding of the Eastern Mediterranean. It also serves as a warning showing how historical narratives can be manipulated or created to disown a weaker group. Source
*Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles' work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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