"Many books go out of date and few remain iconic and critical to understanding an issue. The book in hand belongs to the latter category, the true classics. Simha Flapan was born in Poland 27 January 1911 and immigrated to Palestine as an idealistic “socialist Zionist” in 1930. He was national secretary of the Mapam party and head of its Arab Affairs department. Simha Flapan unfortunately died while his book went to press in 1987. However, the book was really revolutionary and hence it is now in German."
I wrote this forward but never shared it with the readers of my blog. I highly recommend for English speakers to read the original book and for German Speakers to read the German translation published in 2015 with my forward. Anyway here is the forward I wrote to the German version of this remarkable book.
Forward/Vorwort (in German) to Simcha Flapan, "Die Geburt Israels. Mythos und Wirklichkeit," Semit edition bei ZAMBON, Frankfurt/M. 2015 http://zambon.net/index.php?id=23&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=16&cHash=b31f316288177a61c0f7b3d7a8757a25
Forward By Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh, Professor and Director, Palestine Museum of Natural History, Bethlehem University, Occupied Palestine
Many books go out of date and few remain iconic and critical to understanding an issue. The book in hand belongs to the latter category, the true classics. Simha Flapan was born in Poland 27 January 1911 and immigrated to Palestine as an idealistic “socialist Zionist” in 1930. He was national secretary of the Mapam party and head of its Arab Affairs department. Simha Flapan unfortunately died while his book went to press in 1987. However, the book was really revolutionary and hence it is now in German. I am sure had Flapan been alive, the publisher would have gotten him to write a very relevant forward in a form of a new edition. I am sad I never met Flapan but I am honored to reflect on why this work is so critical. The well-chosen title “The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities” immediately draws attention to perhaps one of the most astounding historical events of the 20th century that still shapes conflicts in this part of the world and even beyond.
The tragic history that was unleashed here with the idea of Zionism was not unforeseen. Every Zionist leader knew that their project to colonize Palestine will create misery and mayhem because no colonization can be done nicely or with the support of the native people who will have to be expelled. Flapan does not give his opinions but he shows by documentary evidence how this tragedy happened. Palestine was to be transformed from multireligious and multi-cultural society (Jews represented less than 5% of the population in 1897) to the monolithic “Jewish state”. Ethnic cleansing achieved this goal and today 7 million Palestinians are refugees or displaced people (of a total Palestinian population of 12 million). This is the “miracle” of the Birth and growth of Israel. This miracle took a combination of military might, collusion by leaders near and far (including Arab leaders), and a lot of propaganda. Flapan exposes the myths that many Zionists told to justify their crimes. Flapan successfully tackles the biggest seven lies (myths) that Zionists used to create and perpetuate the state of Israel. The myths include things like the acceptance of partition by the Zionist leadership paralleling rejection by Arab leaders, the myth of a small Israel fending off large Arab armies (David vs. Goliath), the myth that Israel is looking for peace, and more. The most devastating myth is that of Israeli lack of responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee “problem”. He demolishes these myths with irrefutable sources, most of them are actually from Israeli leaders themselves. This was a pioneering achievement and Flapan’s book opened a section of the wall of lies and myths to be followed by many Israeli honest writers such as Hillel Cohen, Baruch Kimmerling, Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, and Israel Shahak. Earlier many Palestinian historians have written extensively on the real history that is not the mythologized history of zionism (e.g. Aref Al-Aref, Walid Khalidi, Sami Hadawi, Emil Tuma, Nur Masalha etc).
The most important figure (the midwife) in the “birth of Israel” was David Ben-Gurion and the current book reviews extensively the record of this founding figure. We learn from Flapan things like what Ben-Gurion said in 1937 as to explain why a small state will help consolidate power “for the gradual conquest of all of Palestine”. We can trace this consistent thinking ten years later when Ben-Gurion explained that “After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.” We learn in this book of Ben-Gurion’s statement that he sees transfer as moral and we read his orders to remove inhabitants in many places and we learn about his creation of a “transfer committee”. Members of this transfer committee (Dannon, Weitz, Lipshitz) are exposed as racist ideologues who made many incriminating statements. In a fair world such individuals who led or participated in these actions would have been tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. But Zionists were well placed in western countries and managed much misinformation as well as used the world sympathies after WWII to hide horrors committed to create the Jewish state.
But it is not just these amazing quotes that are relevant, but the nuances of wheeling and dealing reminiscent of the novel “The Godfather” that we become privy to by reading Flapan. We learn much about negotiations that ensured a declaration of independence that lacked any relevance to borders of the new state and from the wrangling between parties not about the morality of transferring population but merely about how to do it. We learn about the policies and practices that emanate from the Zionist maxim of maximizing geography (Palestinian land for the Jewish state) while minimizing demography (of the native Palestinians). We learn how international politics and local maneuvering were done with sophistication and cunning to hide the massacres and the ethnic cleansing. We learn about the collusion between Zionists and King Abdullah of Jordan to thwart the formation of a Palestinian state, a collusion that was crucial in the devastation inflicted on the local Palestinians in 1948-9. We learn that the Zionists, intoxicated with their power, even abandoned the favorable agreement made with Abdullah and moved forward with expansions. This is not unusual in colonial histories (e.g. in the Americas). Abdullah was assassinated for his collusion by a young Palestinian nationalist in 1951.
I find it remarkable that the insights that were revealed by Flapan in this book are echoed by previously classified and now declassified assessment from Western Intelligence agencies. For example, on 28 November 1947, the US Central Intelligence Agency correctly predicted the mayhem that would arise because of President Truman’s support for creation of a Jewish state. They also accurately predicted that “In the long run no Zionists in Palestine will be satisfied with the territorial arrangements of the partition settlement. Even the more conservative Zionists will hope to obtain the whole of the Nejeb [Naqab], Western Galilee, the city of Jerusalem, and eventually all of Palestine. The extremists demand not only all of Palestine but Transjordan as well. They have stated that they will refuse to recognize the validity of any Jewish government which will settle for anything less, and will probably under-take aggressive action to achieve their ends.”(document declassified 16 Jan 1978).
Flapan’s meticulous research shows the remarkable extent of the efforts to destroy native Palestinian civilian lives, drive people out, and create an ethnocracy with apartheid laws. Flapan uses the term population transfer (which Ben-Gurion found desirable) rather than the term ethnic cleansing which Ilan Pappe and others used. In this book we find a very good discussion of Plan Dalet, adopted in March 1948 and implemented on the ground to drive the natives out. We find good discussion of how the plan was put into force by forces under Yitzhak (break their bones) Rabin to drive the residents of Lydde (Lod) and Ramle out not in a heat of battle but to “cleanse” the area.
Why is demolishing these myths still as relevant today (2015) as it was in 1987 when Flapan died? It is because these myths provided and still provide useful justification for continued injustice. They basically create the fog that allows Israel to be both an apartheid racist state while claiming western values and “democracy”. It allows the state with the fifth strongest army in the world to be the only state with undeclared stockpiles of hundreds of nuclear weapons to claim its “vulnerability” and push other states to fight wars on its behalf. The current book is thus relevant even as some of its details may have become outdated. For example, Flapan mention Israel’s rule over 1.5 million Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza in 1987 (the number is now 4 million).
As I discussed in my book on “Sharing the Land of Canaan”, abandoning myths helps us get correct diagnosis leading to applying appropriate therapies and a better prognosis. The sobering assessment bolstered by the declassified documents of the historians such as Flapan is that political Zionism is a racist colonial ideology built on myths and is incompatible with peace. This is perhaps not what Flapan wanted us to conclude. In his earlier book “Zionism and the Palestinians’ (1979) he wrote that “To dispel misunderstanding, I want to make it clear that my belief in the moral justification and historical necessity of Zionism remains unaffected by my critical reappraisal of the Zionist leadership. The history of Zionism demonstrates the extent to which the urge to create a new society, embodying the universal values of democracy and social justice, was inherent in the Zionist movement and responsible for its progress in adverse conditions.” Towards the end of this book, we hear a slightly different Flapan put much of the burden for change on Israel (especially considering the asymmetry of power). Flapan apparently remained a Zionist though distraught at the (predictable) shift to the right in the Zionist discourse. This is different than the trajectory of other historians like Ilan Pappe or politicians like Avraham Burg who moved farther away from the Zionist narrative. But political opinions aside and no matter how Flapan would have evolved his thinking, his contribution to debunking the myths of Zionism ultimately also chip away at the ideology itself and thus help us get closer to peace with justice.
Burg, Avraham 2008. The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From its Ashes. MacMillan, New York.
Flapan, Simha 1979. Zionism and the Palestinians. Croom Helm, London.
Kimmerling, Baruch 2001. The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Culture and Military in Israel. University of California Press, Los Angeles and Berkeley.
Kimmerling, Baruch 2003. Politicide: Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians. Verso, London.
Kimmerling, Baruch and Joel S. Migdal 1993. Palestinians: The Making of a People. Free Press, New York.
Pappe, Ilan 2006. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oneworld, London and New York
Pappe, Ilan 2011. The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT
Qumsiyeh, Mazin 2004. Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle. Pluto, London.
Qumsiyeh, Mazin 2015. Kanaan: Ein Gemeinsames Land: Menschenrechte und der Israelisch-Palestinensische Kampf. Zambon Verlag, Frankfurt am Main.
Shahak, Israel 1997. Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies. Pluto Press, London
Shahak, Israel 1994 (New edition 2008). Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The weight of 3000 years. Pluto Press, London.
Shahak, Israel and Mezvinsky, Norton 1999 (New edition 2004). Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Pluto Press, London.