Revisionism on the West Bank

For many, Israel’s founding is shrouded in mysticism. But there is a battle raging among the historians of the Holy Land. The current stalemate is a story of bad actions on both sides. Beware those who rewrite narratives.

Issue: July-Aug 2010

Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 336 pp., $32.50.


[amazon 0300127278 full] EFRAIM KARSH’S title is, of course, ironic. For close on a century, Palestinians and other Arabs have accused Britain of “betraying the Arabs” and, particularly, the Arabs of Palestine. In the wake of World War I, the British (“Perfidious Albion”), so the charge went, failed to uphold their wartime promises to Hussein ibn Ali, the sharif of Mecca and leader of the anti-Ottoman revolt in Hijaz, regarding Arab self-determination and independence. More specifically, according to this interpretation, in a letter from October 1915, Britain promised Palestine to the Arabs—and then went ahead and gave it, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to the Jews. The British went on to conquer Palestine and in 1920, to establish a mandatory government that promoted and protected the Zionist enterprise and suppressed Palestinian Arab nationalism, thus paving the way for the coup de grâce of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when the Jews trounced the Palestinians and established Israel over 78 percent of Palestine’s landmass, and the Jordanians, with British encouragement, took over almost all the rest (the West Bank).

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