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Douglas Carpenter's Journal
Posted by Douglas Carpenter in Israel/Palestine
Thu May 07th 2009, 11:29 PM

There Were No Indians

Published: January 13, 1986

Has the life of the mind been so politicized in this country that intellectuals who welcome a book's political conclusion will shrug off challenges to its truth? That is the troubling question raised by the controversy over ''From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine,'' by Joan Peters.

The Peters book, published in 1984, makes dramatic assertions on the basis of what it calls fresh historical evidence. It says that Palestine was essentially ''uninhabited'' by Arabs before the Zionist movement began toward the end of the 19th century. The Arabs came in large numbers after that, from nearby countries, drawn by the economic effects of Jewish settlements.

Miss Peters concludes that those who call themselves ''Palestinian Arabs'' - she puts the words in quotes - are mostly recent arrivals and hence have no real moral or historical claim to the land. She argues this in 600 pages of text, footnotes and appendixes.

snip:For example, Miss Peters asserts that in 1893 the western area of Palestine, where Jewish settlement had begun, had a population of 59,431 Jews and 92,300 non-Jews. That shows, she says, that the Zionist settlers were hardly intruding into a land full of Arabs.
But an 1893-94 census by the Ottoman Empire, which then controlled the area, showed a total of 9,817 Jews in all of Palestine and 371,969 Moslems. How did Miss Peters get her results? She used the census only in part, relying also on an estimate by a French traveler of the time, regarded by experts as worthless.

For her claim that immigration from nearby countries greatly swelled the number of Arabs in Palestine, Miss Peters cites scattered statements -often leaving out key words or misrepresenting them. Thus she cites a 1930 British report's mention of ''pseudo-travelers'' who stayed in Palestine to live as if it were referring to Arabs, when the reference was evidently to Jewish travelers.

In small ways as well as large the book is slippery. Miss Peters says a report by the Institute for Palestine Studies found that 68 percent of the Arabs who became refugees in 1948 ''left without seeing an Israeli soldier.'' The report was actually about refugees in the 1967 war, and the percentage was of just 37 refugees who were studied.

It is impossible to detail the character of ''From Time Immemorial'' in a newspaper column. It has been fully explored in criticisms by, among others, Norman Finkelstein, a Princeton graduate student; Bill Farrell, a Columbia law student; Sir Ian Gilmour, a British M.P., and his son David, and Albert Hourani, an Oxford historian who called the book ''ludicrous and worthless.'
The criticisms are unanswerable, or at least they have not been answered. That is the extraordinary thing. So far as I know, neither Miss Peters nor any of her supporters has answered a single one of the charges of distortion and fraud made against it.

Instead, it is said that the critics are from the political left, as a few are, or have been identified with the Palestinian cause, as some have. In other words, only politics matters, not facts. That from intellectuals.

The latest criticism is going to be hard to dismiss even on such grounds: a piece by Prof. Yehoshua Porath of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, in the current New York Review of Books. It is devastating on Miss Peters's methods. And it is moving on the courage and loneliness of the early Zionist settlers, surrounded as they were - and as they wrote - by Arabs.

Israelis have not gushed over the book as some Americans have. Perhaps that is because they know the reality of the Palestinians' existence, as great Zionists of the past knew. Perhaps it is because most understand the danger of trying to deny a people identity. As Professor Porath says, ''Neither historiography nor the Zionist cause itself gains anything from mythologizing history.''


ABROAD AT HOME; There Were No Indians
By ANTHONY LEWIS (NYT) 775 words
Published: January 13, 1986



Fred M. Donner
Professor of Near Eastern History
The Oriental Institute
The University of Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

link: ...

The population of Palestine (west of the Jordan river) in 1880 was under 590,000, of whom 96 percent were Arabs (Muslim or Christian); roughly 4 percent of the population was Jewish.

By 1914, the population of Palestine was about 650,000. Of this, the Jewish population was about 80,000, or a little over 12 percent. Of the 88 percent remaining, 570,000 people, Israeli and non-Israeli scholars estimate that at least 550,000 were Palestinians (Christian or Muslim) who were descendants of families in Palestine already in the 1840s — or almost 85 percent of the total 1914 populaton of Palestine. The great majority of them, in other words, were not recent immigrants.

There was a lot of immigration to Palestine between 1880 and 1948, of course, but most of it was by European Jews, who came in several well-defined aliyot ("waves"), drawn to Palestine by the Zionist dream or fleeing economic hardship and persecution in Europe. The first aliya (up to 1903) brought 25,000 new Jewish immigrants, roughly doubling the Jewish population of Palestine.

The second aliya (1904-1913) brought another 35,000 Jews. The third aliya (1919-1939) saw the arrival of 350,664 Jewish immigrants, according to British Mandate statistics.

In 1945, the Jewish population of Palestine stood at about 554,000, or about 30.6 percent of the total population of Palestine at that time, which was 1.8 million. Mr. Schell is absolutely right: Some Jewish communities have existed in Palestine for hundreds of years. But, as the figures above make clear, most Jews in Israel today are, in relative terms, newcomers — descendants of people who arrived during the past three or four generations; to call them "colonists," as Professor Doran did, is not inappropriate.

On the other hand, Mr. Schell is absolutely wrong to hint that Palestinians are generally newcomers: As we see, most Palestinians of today can trace their ancestry to families who have been resident in Palestine for hundreds of years. The debate over immigration figures is, of course, merely part of the broader effort by Palestinians and Israelis to delegitimize each other by claiming the other side to be interlopers. Mr. Schell's evident desire to cast doubt on the historical roots of the Palestinians' claim to their land suggests that he has been taken in, like many other people, by such works as Joan Peters's tract "From Time Immemorial," which popularized for obvious political purposes the myth that many Palestinians were descendants of recent immigrants.Such a view is simply not supported by the evidence. "

Mrs. Peters's Palestine

By Yehoshua Porath ( of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem,)

snip:" all the research by historians and geographers of modern Palestine shows, the Arab population began to grow again in the middle of the nineteenth century. That growth resulted from a new factor: the demographic revolution. Until the 1850s there was no "natural" increase of the population, but this began to change when modern medical treatment was introduced and modern hospitals were established, both by the the Ottoman authorities and by the foreign Christian missionaries. The number of births remained steady but infant mortality decreased. This was the main reason for Arab population growth, not incursions into the country by the wandering tribes who by then had become afraid of the much more efficient Ottoman troops. Toward the end of Ottoman rule the various contemporary sources no longer lament the outbreak of widespread epidemics. This contrasts with the Arabic chronicles of previous periods in which we find horrible descriptions of recurrent epidemics—typhoid, cholera, bubonic plague—decimating the population. Under the British Mandate, with still better sanitary conditions, more hospitals, and further improvements in medical treatment, the Arab population continued to grow.

The Jews were amazed. In spite of the Jewish immigration, the natural increase of the Arabs—at least twice the rate of the Jews'—slowed down the transformation of the Jews into a majority in Palestine. To account for the delay the theory, or myth, of large-scale immigration of Arabs from the neighboring countries was proposed by Zionist writers. Mrs. Peters accepts that theory completely; she has apparently searched through documents for any statement to the effect that Arabs entered Palestine. But even if we put together all the cases she cites, one cannot escape the conclusion that most of the growth of the Palestinian Arab community resulted from a process of natural increase .

The Mandatory authorities carried out two modern censuses, in 1922 and 1931. Except for some mistakes committed in 1922 in counting the Negev Bedouins, which were corrected in 1931, the returns showed the strength of the "natural process" of increase. The figures for the last years of the mandate are based on continuous collection of data by the department of statistics. These figures showed that in 1947 there were about 1.3 million Arabs living in Palestine.

The strength of the process of natural increase was finally proved not elsewhere but in Israel itself. In 1949 there were about 150,000 Arabs in Israel within the 1949 armistice lines. To that number, one has to add the 20,000-odd refugees who returned to the state as part of the government's scheme for the "reunion of families." The Israeli authorities cannot be blamed, as the British "imperialists" were, for helping the Arabs enter the country. And despite the strict control of Israel's borders, the number of Arabs living in Israel proper has more than trebled since. The rate of the Israeli Arabs' natural increase rose sharply (between 1964 and 1966 it reached the world record of 4.5 percent a year) and brought about the remarkable increase in the size of that community. No Egyptians, Bedouins, Syrians, Bosnians, etc. were needed.

No one would doubt that some migrant workers came to Palestine from Syria and Trans-Jordan and remained there. But one has to add to this that there were migrations in the opposite direction as well. For example, a tradition developed in Hebron to go to study and work in Cairo, with the result that a permanent community of Hebronites had been living in Cairo since the fifteenth century. Trans-Jordan exported unskilled casual labor to Palestine; but before 1948 its civil service attracted a good many educated Palestinian Arabs who did not find work in Palestine itself. Demographically speaking, however, neither movement of population was significant in comparison to the decisive factor of natural increase."

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