Challenging Israel’s Myths

A carefully cultivated mythology sustains Israel’s territorial claims to Palestine and rationalizes Israel’s ethnic cleansing of millions of Palestinians from the land. Challenges to those myths are typically met with fierce counterattacks, as Lawrence Davidson discovered.

By Lawrence Davidson

Soon after my Nov. 4 analysis, “In Defense of Richard Falk”  was published by Media with a Conscience (MWC), the site editor forwarded to me an unusual chastising response.  Unusual because it came from a relatively well-known scholar and writer by the name of Fred Skolnik.

Mr. Skolnik is the editor in chief of a 22-volume Encyclopedia Judaica (second edition), a work that won the Dartmouth Medal in 2007.  He is also the author of numerous works of fiction all concerning life in Israel.  It is not rare for Zionists to take me to task, and Skolnik is most certainly a Zionist.  Yet it is rare that those who chastise are of Skolnik’s stature.  And so, a reply is in order.

The Flag of Israel

Mr. Skolnik does not like Dr. Falk who, the reader might remember, is the present United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories.  And, because I defend Falk, he does not like me either.  Indeed, as far as Skolnik is concerned I am part of “an army of Israel haters … churning out endless … venomous half truths” about the Land of Israel.  Nonetheless, Skolnik has taken the time to write a three-page commentary to set me and my readers straight.

He says,  “I will state Israel’s case in as few words as possible, though you of course may not choose to publish this in order not to lose the effect you are aiming at.”  Well, that is silly.  I have no objection to my readers seeing Mr. Skolnik’s response.  Here is how you can do so: go to the MWC site; search for Davidson; go to “In Defense of Robert Falk;” and scroll down to Skolnik’s comment.

That being said, here is my analysis of elements of Mr. Skolnik’s case for Israel.

1.  Skolnik: “There is no historic Palestine that has anything to do with the Arabs, nor is there an “indigenous’ or native Muslim population there.”  Skolnick’s assertion is a very old fantasy or myth that has been developed over the years to allow radical Zionists and violent settlers to rationalize their historical absorption of Palestinian land.

Quoting from the Wikipedia entry for Palestinian People, an entry which reflects the latest research into this subject of who was where and when, including genetic analysis, we find that Palestinians are the  “modern descendants of those who have lived in Palestine over the centuries and today are largely culturally and linguistically Arab. … Genetic analysis suggests that a majority of the Muslims of Palestine, inclusive of the Arab citizens of Israel, are descendants of Christians, Jews and other inhabitants of the southern Levant whose core reaches back to prehistoric times.”

Furthermore, “a study of high-resolution haplotypes [DNA sequences] demonstrated that a substantial portion of Y chromosomes of Israeli Jews (70%) and of Palestinian Muslim Arabs (82%) belong to the same chromosome pool.”

What all this means is that the ancestors of those Palestinians who are now culturally and linguistically Arab have been in Palestine for time immemorial.  Over the ages, the population fragmented, acquired differing religious, linguistic and cultural traits. Indeed, those indigenous Palestinians, Jews and local Christians as well, are basically the same people gone in somewhat separate cultural ways.

Poor Mr. Skolnik. It is a shock that he is so ardently supporting the ethnic cleansing of his own cousins.

2. Skolnik: “Most of the Arabs with ‘roots’ in the Land of Israel migrated there from other parts of the Arab world in the 19th and early 20th centuries while the Jews have been continuously present in the Land of Israel for well over 3000 years.”

This is another myth that was most prominently put forth in a book by Joan Peters, published in 1984, and entitled From Time Immemorial.  Her argument and evidence were meticulously taken apart and shown to be false by Norman Finkelstein in his Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (1995).

3. Skolnik: “The displacement of the Arabs in the Land of Israel during Israel’s war of Independence … was paralleled by the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab lands at the time whose lives were made unbearable under vindictive Arab rule.” Subsequently, the Israelis “received their Jewish brethren with open arms” while the Arab countries that received Arab refugees “herded them into camps and treated them like animals.”

For an editor of a 22-volume encyclopedia Skolnik shows a deplorable tendency to slip into generalizing, stereotyping and lumping together multiple events with multiple outcomes. Here are some counterpoints:

–Actually, the exodus of Arab Jews from their countries of residence went on over an extended period of time and in some cases, such as Algeria, had nothing to do with the events in Palestine. In other cases where the Arab country found itself at war with Israel, as with Egypt, Jewish immigration was a direct result of the Zionist expulsion of Arabs.  And in the case of Morocco, the government tried hard to assure the Jews safety and prosperity to counter Zionist propaganda urging them to leave.

–Sometimes the “displacement” was hastened, as in Iraq, by Zionist agents committing violent acts of sabotage against local Jewish communities.

–The reception the Arab Jews got in Israel wasn’t quite the “open arms” picture Skolnik paints.  They were received by their European Jewish “brethren” with racial prejudice. Even today, Ashkenazi and Sephardic/Mizrachi relations in Israel are strained.

–As for the Arab refugees who were allegedly “treated like animals” by their fellow Arabs, this is an exaggeration.  The situation differed country to country. For instance, treatment in Lebanon was bad; in Jordan it was good. In none of the refugee camps in Arab countries were conditions worse than those in the tent cities and “development towns” in the Negev Desert into which the Israelis herded 80 percent of the Arab Jewish refugees.

4. Mr. Skolnik has other points which time and space do not allow me to address.  The interested reader can find them in his response to my essay on Dr. Falk. If you read and consider them please take the time to follow up with other sources of information, such as the works of the Israeli historians Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris as well as the journalistic pieces of Amira Hass and Gideon Levy (both of whom work for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz), and the reports of Israel’s human rights group B’Tselem.  These are all Israeli sources, but they tell a very different story than does Skolnik.

From Skolnik to Gaza

As Mr. Skolnik so aptly demonstrates, we all live within our own world. These are usually constructed for us by our upbringing:  our families, our peers, our schools, our friends and the level of attachment we develop to the community.  This attachment is usually sustained and deepened by the reinforcing information environment that the community provides for us.

These environments at once transform us into “good” citizens and simultaneously narrow our views of the world so they conform to acceptable political and cultural paradigms. The process usually works quite well. Nevertheless, it is still true that in any community you get a continuum of acceptance and devotion ranging from the skeptic to the true believer. For the latter, the community can do no wrong and its behavior can always be rationalized. When it comes to Israel, Skolnik is a true believer.

In a country like Israel, one that has armed itself to the teeth yet feels perennially insecure, and where the true believers are in charge, the situation is made dangerous in the extreme. Over the years Israeli leaders, generally believing the same things that Fred Skolnik believes, have dispossessed and ethnically cleansed the Palestinians, pushing them into ever smaller areas of concentration.

Gaza is the worst example of these cases.  It is a virtual “open air prison” of a million and half people squeezed into 139 square miles, the most densely populated place on earth. There, with the compliance of the United States and the European Union, the Israelis have proceeded to reduce most of the Gazans to abject poverty.

When, periodically, these people strike out at their tormenters, usually in ineffective ways, they are labeled terrorists and, again with Western blessing, attacked furiously and disproportionately by the Israelis.  You can now witness the latest onslaught live on the web.

Under these circumstances Skolnik’s assertions that the Jews were in Palestine first and the Arabs only came later as interlopers is really besides the point. Let us say, just for the sake of argument, that he is correct, that the Jews, even in their European guise, are the real indigenous Palestinians, having come back to the homeland after an extended absence of a couple of thousand years.

Even granted this fiction, does any of that give today’s Israeli Jews the right to treat the Palestinians as they do? Does it justify the creation of an apartheid environment in the occupied West Bank? Does it give them the right to reduce a million and half Gazans to a calculated impoverishment and then provoke them until they respond, whereupon Israelis indulge themselves in self-righteous mass murder?

I don’t believe any of Skolnik’s pseudo-history. I also don’t give a damn who lived in or controlled Palestine 3,000 years ago.  The ones who control it now are, by their actions, no better than barbarians. And the leaders in the West who back them have Palestinian blood on their hands.

When it comes to behaviors like ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide, the claim of self-defense is ludicrous. Nor can the fantasies of Fred Skolnik justify such on-going crimes.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.


13 comments for “Challenging Israel’s Myths

  1. Rehmat
    November 19, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Yes, there are dozens of myths created by European Judeo-Christian Zionists to legitimize their colonial outpost in the heart of Muslim world.

    I had discussed six of the following in my January 2009 post.

    1. “Jewish people have God given right to the land known as Canaan,” – Bible.

    2. “Jews were expelled from Arab lands for Arabs’ hatred of Jews.”

    3. “Land without people for a people without land,” – Zionist motto.

    4. “PLO and Israel’s neighbour don’t accept Israel’s right to exist.”

    5. “Every religious community has its homeland. Why not Jews.”

    6. “Judaism is not based on racism.”

  2. Steve Naidamast
    November 19, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Pro-Israel historians such as Fred Skolnik have failed to keep up with recent archeological evidence in addition to their other short-comings. About a year or so ago new archeological evidence came to light where it is now believed that the original peoples of the Southern Levant were the Phoenicians.

    In Israel, “minimalist archeologists”, those who only use actual facts to guide their investigations, as compared to “biblical archeologists” (those who begin their research with biblical premises), have consistently found evidence that continuously disproves current claims of Jewish ancestory in Palestine.

    Though I agree with everything Professor Davidson has written, his points on the following should have been better sourced.

    As Wikipedia may be completely correct regarding the history of the Palestinian People, it has little credibility among serious researchers of history whether they be professionals, students, or avocational historians. Wikipedia is know to have many inaccuracies.

    Second, the impetus for Iraqi Jews emigrating from Iraq in the 1950s has still not been substantiated to my knowledge as it regards Zionist “scare tactics” to encourage such movement. The promotion of such Zionist intrigue has been made on many occasions. However, the serious research on the subject has still not been able conclude with any certainty that it occurred. I believe the two leading sources on the subject are a former Hagannah agent and a British military investigator.

  3. Steve Naidamast
    November 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

    In addition to my previous comments I also have to take issue with the poster, Borat, who I have begun to see around the Internet discussions on this subject, as it regards the Joan Peter’s book, “From Time Immemorial”, and Alan Dershowitz.

    Before Dr. Finkelstein reviewed this book in and around 1995, UK researchers on the subject, soon after the book was published, demolished the author’s credibility and substantially so.

    As it regards Dr. Dershowitz, anyone who uses him in any way to substantiate anything historical has no credibility whatsoever. Dr. Dershowitz has been also demolished by not only Dr. Finkelstein but by many others as well in terms of his historical accuracy. In addition, he is the leading “Zionist Windbag” in the United States, which should be more than enough to disqualify him as a credible source…

  4. Allan Yorkowitz
    November 19, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    For an article written by an educated man, who quotes another educated man, the old adage holds true – a little education can be a dangerous thing.
    To even write that Israel wants an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, is a morally wrong,yes, ignorant statement. How many Palestinians live in Israel- over 10,000? Is Israel throwing them out? Or have they been given citizenship, and equal rights under Israeli law?
    The radical Palestinians in the Gaza are another issue. These are Israeli haters who care nothing for their own people in the Gaza.
    I had to smile when I read this “intellectual” article quoted from Wickipedia about the Palestinian people. You intellectuals I guess need an education to what this site is…it’s people posting their OPINIONS on issues that change constantly.
    In my school district, we will not accept this site as a credible source. I guess academia feels differently – or simply does not know better.

    • incontinent reader
      November 20, 2012 at 9:35 am

      Mr. Yorkowitz, I suggest you read “The General’s Son” by Miko Peled, visit his website at and listen to the following book reading lecture, if you really want to understand how Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are treated. Unfortunately, there is discrimination built into the law, and into the educational system (including its textbooks) and the political reality is that the Likud has made Israel less of a democratic society. If you have an open mid about it, commit an hour to listening to: Miko Peled at:
      This is an Israeli who knows what is happening, has impeccable credentials and is not afraid of speaking blunt truths.
      If we want to see peace in the region we must address the reality of the situation and go from there.

    • John
      November 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm

      Mr. Yorkowitz, and anyone else should read the works of Jonathan Cook especially “Welcome to Nazareth” which touches the very subject of democracy in Israel. He was born in Britain and lives in Nazareth with his Palestinian Christian wife.
      As for Borat on an earlier subject on food in Gaza, they may have food but as the Red Cross, BMJ and others report, the food is high carbohydrate and lacking in essential nutrients and this is hurting all Gazans particularly children. He constantly comes up with foolish answers to dismiss wickedness.
      I don’t condone rocket attacks but when you treat a lot of people badly some are going to react violently. Most Palestinians want peace with equity and that is the only route for Israel’s salvation in the future. Too bad some don’t see that, many do.
      Borat doesn’t talk about the likes of Shimon Gapso who bans Christmas trees in public places in Nazareth, and avowing the city was for Jews only amongst other things. And it wasn’t long ago that Avigdor Lieberman was sounding off for the transporting out of Arabs from Israel.

      • paschn
        November 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm

        Another alarming act occurring in AmeriKa is the constant war on Christian/ Christmas icons displayed on public owned “Christian” property waged by Jewish organizations while gigantic menorahs grace lawns yards from the White house. A gaudy badge of ownership perhaps? Separation of Church and state simply means the governing body will NOT pass legislation giving favorable status, one religeon over another…. Using that as a guidline, it would appear that D.C. has already done that….just not showing the favoritism one would expect in a “Christian” nation, eh?

        All this “equality” in the hands of fewer than 3% of the population.

  5. hammersmith46
    November 19, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    The one state solution with one man, one vote is the only moral/ethical positon.

  6. John
    November 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    anti-Palestinian myths by the usual semites and their sick minions Borat

    • borat
      November 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      john is a typical pie in the sky eyed apologist for the medieval homicide bombers, abusers of women and children, and the so called palestinian “government” hamas which is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Like most antisemites, heaven forbid Jews should defend themselves, or fight to survive amongst the hordes of the medieval paradises in the sand.

  7. paschn
    November 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Interesting article on a bit of Israeli “tech”. Interesting I’m sure, to Iran’s plans of defense against the joined-at-the-hip dual world terrorist organizations referred to as Ameria and Israel. Now that Iran has duplicated U.S. drones and sent them on 30 minute “tourist trips” over Israel the pathetic performance of Iron dome will play well into plans to minimize Palestinian collateral damage when AIPAC gives the order in D.C. to send in the fools yet again.

    Long live countries w/o a blood-sucking Central Bank!

  8. paschn
    November 26, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Evil little “shill”… watch this short but succinct clip from a fellow israle, (your real home’s calling Bore), whom is obviously speaking from first hand experience…. One can say this is “from the horses mouth”;

    Central Banks not only victimize the Goyim, they use and abuse secular Jews as well. If you are a god-fearing Christian/Muslim/Jewish nation how can you justify a usurous monetary system enslaving all those it touches?

  9. paschn
    November 26, 2012 at 10:30 am

    ROFL. Ever hear of the very powerful Shamanistic nation of Khazaria? Located in the Caspian basin? they were of Turkic/Mongol heritage. before they met the same fate as that coming to AmeriKa, they decided to become Talmudic Jews…Around 740 A.D. So,…this “biblical chosen” w/o one iota of Semetic DNA had a leader who decided for political expediency, (Caspian basin lay right smack in between the Christian West and Muslim East), to have a mass “turtle-necking” of their sexual organs and become…TA DA!! Jews! Now, grasp this Bore….The descendants of this neo-judaic Shamanistic “tribe” are the modern day Ashkenazis…the “money Lenders”….fathers of the Central Banking international slave-trading cabal. Over 90% of the terrorists in occupied Palestine are Ashkenazi with +/- 5% Sephardic. Oops! so much for the land given to the seed of Abraham…

    “Israel”, (occupied/stolen Palestine), Is a gift from the thieving swine in Colonial “Great” Britain, (Balfour Agreement), to the Ashkenazi, (non Semite), Money masters/creators of the money from debt Rothschild gang, for suckering AmeriKa into entering the War to pull Britain’s LOSING ASS out of the fire THEY caused in Europe along with France to please their owners in The City of London.

    Ironic, don’t you think, Bore, that so much evidence of your rabid hatred and immoral/illegal existance of the nasty little nation of israel is being revealed by ex-members of “the tribe’ that realized the evil of their ways and joined main stream humanity, eh?

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