To the Editor:
“Whose Palestine?” by Erich Isaac and Rael Jean Isaac [July] is a valuable addition to the growing literature on Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial. Some of the exegeses of the book over the last year have unhappily had the appearance of a political witchhunt. Attention has thus been diverted, sometimes for motives unrelated to any concern for scholarly accuracy, from the main theses of the book and has been concentrated, for obvious tactical reasons, on a small number of population statistics about which demographic experts can legitimately disagree.
The main theses thus have disappeared from view and need to be reiterated as a healthy corrective. There was a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine. British governments after 1922 did not abide by the obligation of the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate to foster a Jewish National Home. Some British officials who wanted their government to honor its obligation suffered a sad fate. There was substantial Arab migration into the Mandate territory, especially into those areas settled by Jews. This was unimpeded and unacknowledged by the British who did, in contrast, impose severe restrictions on Jewish immigration. Britain did remove three-quarters of the total area from the Mandate by setting up the emirate of Trans-Jordan, which in its present form of Jordan can logically be regarded as the Arab state in Palestine. Some Arab leaders, especially the Mufti of Jerusalem, established a relationship with the Nazi regime and encouraged its persecution of Jews. The number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in the late 1940’s was at least equal to the number of Palestinian Arabs displaced from areas held by Israel.
Underlying these theses is the simple fact that the essence of the Arab-Israel conflict is the refusal of the Arab world, except now Egypt, to admit the legitimacy and reality of the existence of Israel. No solution is possible until that reality is acknowledged.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
To the Editor:
COMMENTARY is to be commended for opening its pages to a candid discussion of the controversy surrounding Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial and, in particular, for forthrightly addressing the very grave allegations of misrepresentation that have been leveled against the book. In this respect, the article by Erich Isaac and Rael Jean Isaac compares very favorably with, say, the New York Review of Books which elected to shield its readers from so “indelicate” a subject. . . . Furthermore, despite its evidently sharp disagreement with both the tone and substance of my charges, the Isaacs’ article fairly acknowledges my specific contribution to the controversy. . . .
The Isaacs do, however, take great exception to my findings. They purport that (1) my scholarship is flawed, (2) even if it weren’t, there is still no basis to my allegations of “fraud,” “hoax,” etc., and (3) even if everything I had written were true, the central theses of From Time Immemorial are, nonetheless, “generally sound.” I will discuss each of these points in turn.
1. The Isaacs cite two examples of my allegedly flawed scholarship. Let me note straightaway that if this is the best they can do, then Joan Peters’s book is, at the very least, a disgraceful piece of scholarship, since, in various periodicals during the past two years, I have identified dozens of gross misrepresentations in From Time Immemorial. (Much of this material will appear in a forthcoming collection to be published by Verso press.) But, as it happens, in neither of the instances cited by the Isaacs was I in error.
The Isaacs first allege that I “incorrectly” added 40,000 Arabs to one of Miss Peters’s demographic projections and then accused her of “not accounting for them properly.” Let me first briefly rehearse the argument. Miss Peters claims to plot the population movements of indigenous Palestinian Arabs between the years 1893 and 1947. She first takes the 1893 population figures for each of the five regions into which she has divided Palestine (Areas I through V) and then projects what the population in each of these regions would have been in 1947 had growth been exclusively the result of natural increase. She then compares these projections with the actual 1947 census figures for each of the five regions (minus all immigrants and nomads) to establish the magnitude of “in-migration” for each region, that is, the number of indigenous Palestinian Arabs who had migrated into (or out of) Area I, Area II, and so on (see p. 256 of Miss Peters’s text for an explicit account of her method).
For Area I, my calculations tally almost precisely with her own and also with those of Philip Hauser, the demographer who has certified Miss Peters’s finding for Area I in an appendix:
|× 2.7||(factor of natural increase)|
|249,210||(projected 1947 population)|
|417,300||(actual 1947 populational minus immigrants and nomads)|
|+168,090||(net in-migration to Area I)|
Yet if the same computations are made for Area IV, the resulting figure is 40,000 greater than the one listed in Miss Peters’s table. The Isaacs’ criticism is clearly misplaced. What is more, the Isaacs are deafeningly silent on the crucial context in which I took note of this discrepancy, namely, that Miss Peters ignored all the demographic changes in Area IV because, if taken into account, they would render her actual findings at best trivial. This point was the subject of a detailed communication, “The Strange Case of Area IV,” which I submitted some two years ago to the scores of periodicals, including COMMENTARY, that had acclaimed Miss Peters’s demographic study (none of which, alas, published it). Likewise, fully one-half of my In These Times review was taken up with an elucidation of this point. Yet the Isaacs curiously omit any discussion of it in their article.
The Isaacs also fault me with misrendering the findings of the Anglo-American Survey of Palestine on Arab immigration into Palestine during World War II. The document in question divides this Arab immigration into two categories: first, the 3,800 Arabs who were brought in under “official” arrangements and, second, the “considerable numbers,” of which “no estimates are available,” who were either recruited by private contractors or else “entered individually.” The Survey then suggests figures for the number of Arabs who remained in Palestine after October 1944, to which I will return presently. Miss Peters’s summary description of this section in the Survey reads as follows:
What the official Anglo-American Survey of 1945-46 definitively disclosed . . . is that . . . tens of thousands of “Arab illegal immigrants” [were] recorded as having been “brought” into Palestine. . . . In addition, other unestimated “considerable” numbers immigrated “unofficially” or as “individuals” during the war, according to the report (p. 379, all emphases in original).
The latter sentence refers unmistakably to the second category of Arab immigrant workers: note, for example, the quotation marks around “considerable,” “unofficially,” and “individuals,” and the italics in “unestimated.” The “tens of thousands” of Arabs “recorded as having been ‘brought’ into Palestine” must then refer to the first category—those who entered “under official arrangements.” Yet the Survey records only 3,800 such immigrant workers. Moreover, Miss Peters completely misrepresents the Survey’s tabulations of Arab immigration. For example, she first lists the 3,800 Arabs who entered Palestine with official permission (p. 378) and, further on, the roughly 4,000 illegal immigrants who were employed by the War Department and the Royal Air Force in Palestine (p. 379). But she also splices these two groups together and catalogues as a third, separate group “nearly 10,000 reported foreign workers. . . .” (p. 378). Astonishingly, the Isaacs credit Miss Peters’s handling of this document.
Finally, nothing in the Survey’s text supports the conclusion that substantial numbers of Arab immigrants remained in Palestine at the end of World War II. Indeed, the Survey explicitly (and consistently) concludes that “Arab illegal immigration for the purposes of settlement is insignificant.” Yet the Isaacs themselves make the pertinent point that Miss Peters’s thesis depends crucially on evidence that Arabs not only entered Palestine but also took up permanent residence there.
2. The Isaacs acknowledge that Miss Peters’s “handling of materials . . . is flawed” and that “even some of Finkelstein’s specific criticisms, setting aside his accusations of deliberate deception, are well taken.” Before taking up the evidence of “deliberate deception,” I should like to make a preliminary observation. The Isaacs rightly point out that all my findings were brought to the attention of Miss Peters’s publisher, Harper & Row, within months of the book’s publication. The Isaacs also readily concede that at least certain of my criticisms are “well taken.” Yet Harper & Row . . . steadfastly refused to correct, in either the seven subsequent hardback printings of From Time Immemorial or in the paperback edition, any of the dozens of egregious errors I spotted. (I will gladly make available to interested readers the relevant correspondence.) This was clearly not a “technical” problem, since both the seventh hardback printing and the paperback edition do contain “corrections.” The explanation . . . is not hard to find: if all the “errors” I identified were “corrected,” nothing would remain of the fabulous “scholarly” foundation on which Miss Peters built her “thesis.” The Isaacs practically admit as much. They describe Miss Peters’s nineteen (or more) falsifications of one paragraph in the Hope Simpson Report, for instance, as an uncorrectable “lethal systemic error.” What does this mean if not that this “error” goes to the very heart of Miss Peters’s argument, exactly as I wrote in my original In These Times piece?
Let us now turn to the matter of “deliberate deception.” The Isaacs offer an ingenious, if scarcely convincing, explanation of the above-mentioned “error,” repeated more than nineteen times in Miss Peters’s text. Yet they do not even attempt to account for the second “error” in From Time Immemorial that they concede—and with good reason.
Miss Peters writes that, according to an anonymous “thirty-year archivist—a specialist in the Foreign Office and Colonial Office records on the Middle East for the Public Record Office,” the British “fn]ever kept track” of Arab immigration into Palestine. To substantiate this extraordinary claim, she goes on to cite the 1935 annual Report to the League of Nations in which, she avers, “only ‘Jewish immigration into Palestine’ was catalogued; that was the only heading” (p. 275). In fact, the British report in question meticulously and exhaustively tabulated every conceivable aspect of Arab immigration into Palestine on nine consecutive pages. Miss Peters could hardly have overlooked these tabulations since the comparable statistics for Jewish immigration appear on the very same pages in parallel columns. Every annual British report on Palestine—and Miss Peters purports to have scrutinized thirteen of them—contains identical exhaustive tabulations of Arab immigration under the exact same chapter heading, “Immigration and Emigration.” The Isaacs breezily chalk up the “error” to “carelessness.” Personally, I much prefer Miss Peters’s defense. When I queried her on this point during a London radio broadcast, citing her text verbatim, Miss Peters, totally unruffled, replied: “I never wrote that.”
3. The Isaacs conclude their defense of From Time Immemorial on a singularly low-key note: “Despite its lapses, then, Joan Peters’s book offers a generally sound thesis.” We have clearly come a long way from those first heady days when From Time Immemorial was being touted as a “revelation” (Barbara Tuchman), “the historical truth about the Middle East” (Lucy S. Dawidowicz), destined to “change the mind of our generation” (Martin Peretz), and so on for two hundred reviews ranging from awe to ecstasy. But how sound is Joan Peters’s thesis? I have in front of me Haaretz‘s account (June 15, 1986) of an international conference at Haifa University, the focus of which was Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial. According to Haaretz, virtually all the participants dismissed Miss Peters’s demographic theses and the most authoritative scholar in attendance, Yehoshua Ben-Arieh of Hebrew University, denounced the Peters enterprise for discrediting the “Zionist cause.”
Even more to the point, the Isaacs seem unaware that Miss Peters’s own data stunningly refute all her demographic “arguments.” Consider the following:
- According to Miss Peters’s demographic study, Palestine’s Arab population expanded naturally by a factor of at least 2.7 between 1893 and 1947. Miss Peters puts Palestine’s Arab population at 466,400 in 1893. Multiplying 2.7 by 466,400, we get 1,259,280. Palestine’s total Arab population stood at 1,303,800 in 1947. Natural increase therefore accounts for all but at most 44,520 of the Arabs in Palestine in 1947. Yet Miss Peters contends that a minimum of hundreds of thousands of Arab immigrants settled in Palestine during these years.
- The case Miss Peters mounts for massive illegal Arab immigration into Palestine nullifies her “thesis” on Arab in-migration. Miss Peters’s own demographic study conclusively demonstrates that Arabs could not have both immigrated and in-migrated in significant numbers to Area I (the “main areas of Jewish settlement”), as she claims. (On this point, see my unpublished manuscript, Protocols of Joan Peters.)
- Miss Peters asserts that in 1893 some 60,000 Jews and 92,300 non Jews inhabited the “Jewish-settled areas” of Palestine. (For the pre-1948 period she uses the phrase “Jewish-settled areas” to designate the region of Palestine that later became Israel; cf. p. 264: “[W]hat is now Israel, i.e., Jewish-settled areas.”) Since 38,000 of the non-Jews were Christians, Jews were “perhaps” a “marginal majority.” But, according to Miss Peters’s own table in the back of the book, not 92,300, but fully 218,000 non-Jews resided, in 1893, in the slice of Palestine that became Israel.
Not too long ago, I described From Time Immemorial in the pages of the (London) Times Literary Supplement as “the most spectacular . . . disinformation effort ever mounted by Israel’s self-styled ‘friends’ abroad.” Nothing I read in the Isaacs’ article persuades me to reconsider or qualify that judgment. Permit me to suggest that, rather than indict the bearers for bringing the bad news, COMMENTARY would do better to reflect on what this extraordinary episode reveals about the state of American intellectual culture.
Norman G. Finkelstein
New York City
To the Editor:
“Whose Palestine?,” Erich Isaac and Rael Jean Isaac’s article in defense of Joan Peters’s book, leaves that book as exposed to criticism as it has ever been. I do not want to repeat my ideological debate with Miss Peters about the nature of Zionism and the parallel movements of population, although in opposite directions, which took place during the 1948 war. I would only like to stress once again that her presentation plays into the Arabs’ hands: if both Jewish immigrants to Israel from Arab countries and Palestinian Arab refugees left their traditional abodes against their will, as a result of pressure exerted upon them, the best solution to their plight would lie in the return of all of them to their original places. And, indeed, since the mid-70’s this has been the official position of Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Morocco, etc. Only by underlining the different character of the Jewish immigation to Israel, only by stressing that the Jewish immigrants were returning to their historic home (“Ascending to Zion”), will we be able to refute the equation of Arab refugees with Jewish immigrants.
From an ideological point of view I found that argument most disturbing, but from the angle of historical analysis, Joan Peters’s treatment of the demographic process which has taken place in Palestine since the late 19th century is even more misleading.
I would like to stress three points which were the kernel of my article on From Time Immemorial in the New York Review of Books (January 16, 1986) and of my letter replying to the correspondence on my article (New York Review of Books, March 27,1986). These points were not refuted by the Isaacs.
1. The Isaacs agree that Miss Peters’s figure for non-Jews living in the “Jewish-settled areas” of Palestine in 1893 (about 92,000) is neither an official Ottoman figure nor that of the French geographer Vital Cuinet but “Miss Peters’s estimate.” This is a most important confession. Furthermore, in a footnote the Isaacs add that, rather strangely, Miss Peters arbitrarily chose which subdistricts (kazas) of Ottoman Palestine should be included in her definition of the Jewish-settled areas. To that I would like to add that Miss Peters omits another subdistrict, Hebron, in which, according to the same Cuinet, 1,072 Jews lived. Miss Peters does not explain that omission, but one can rather easily guess the reason: the Hebron subdistrict contained 92,600 Muslims, and if she had included it, the number of non-Jews would have perforce been much higher than the figure stated in her book.
We are left, therefore, with a very weak foundation for the claim that in the “Jewish-settled areas” of Palestine the population up to 1947 quintupled whereas in other parts of the country it only more than doubled, because even Cui-net’s figures and the official Ottoman figures (and both, for different reasons, which I explained in my New York Review pieces, actually underrate the Muslim population) give us at least double Miss Peters’s figure for non-Jews living in “Jewish-settled areas” in 1893. The significance of this mistake was not fully appreciated by the Isaacs.
2. Miss Peters argues that since a great many of the Arabs living in these “Jewish-settled areas” were simply newcomers, they did not remain during the 1948 war but rather returned to their original places in the Arab parts of Palestine or even beyond the borders of Palestine. She also maintains that they were not forcibly evicted by the Israeli army, and she quotes several sources confirming this view. In my article I drew attention to the publication of the “Daled Plan” of the Haganah (the Jewish fighting forces in Palestine) in which the possibility of eviction was contemplated, but the Isaacs preferred to ignore it. Therefore, I would like to elaborate a little on that point.
In February and March 1948 the Haganah went through its most dangerous experience. The Arabs had succeeded in gaining the upper hand in the “battle for the roads,” by cutting the transportation and physical connection between the Jewish center in Tel Aviv and the areas to the north and Jerusalem and the areas to the south. The Haganah lost three big convoys—the Yehiram, Huldah, and Nebi Daniel—and with them the majority of its makeshift armored cars. Only toward the end of March did it succeed in relieving the situation.
To prevent a repetition of that dangerous state of affairs should the regular Arab armies invade the newly founded state of Israel, the Haganah’s high command then prepared a strategic plan designed to ensure the territorial linkage of the Jewish areas. It was learned from the bitter battles of February and March that a hostile Arab village along the road was a source of danger to the transportation system. Consequently, the plan provided that “each village must be surrounded and searched. In case of resistance the armed force [in it] must be destroyed and the population must be expelled beyond the borders of the state.” A similar provision was made for Arab urban quarters.
That document was published as Annex 49 to the third part of volume three of The History of the Haganah (in Hebrew, Tel Aviv, 1972, pp. 1955-59). Miss Peters does not deal with this but simply ignores it. Her defenders could at least have claimed that the actual developments of the war proved that the plan had not been carried out. But they, too, ignore the whole question. I think the Isaacs preferred to remain silent because an analysis of the actual developments indicates that the plan was indeed carried out. In order to assure the safety of transportation along the coastal shore (from Tel Aviv to Haifa) and thence to Jerusalem and to the Negev in the south, most of the Arab villages along these roads were destroyed and their population expelled.
These facts are not new, and Miss Peters could have dealt with them. She could not, of course, have known of the work of Israeli historians which has been published only recently, such as Tom Segev’s 1949—The First Israelis (1985) and Benny Morris’s articles in the Middle East Journal (Winter 1986) and Middle Eastern Studies (January 1986). These studies, based on Israeli archival material, prove what I argue above. But the Isaacs, having written their article not before the end of March 1986, should have known better.
It is impossible to maintain the traditional Israeli view that in 1948 there were no expulsions, even large-scale ones, of Arabs. It is much more useful in the long run to face the real situation and account for it than to deny the undeniable. The 1948 war (for Israelis, the War of Independence, of course) was launched by the Arabs who rejected the United Nations partition solution. Many Arabs, mainly town dwellers, left because they could not endure the worsening conditions in their towns. But many other Arabs were forcibly expelled by the Israeli army out of sheer military considerations. Those who began the war are responsible for its consequences, including the expulsion of Arabs from places where their continued presence could have constituted a mortal danger to the young state of Israel fighting for its survival against almost overwhelming odds. This to my mind is the true explanation.
3. The Isaacs still cannot believe that the Palestine Arab population could have doubled itself during the thirty years of the British Mandate by the sheer force of natural increase. Let me remind them that a population can double itself in thirty years if its average annual rate of natural increase is 2.45 percent. And the actual average annual rate was very close to that figure; it rose from 2.1 percent in 1923 to 3.1 percent in 1947. Furthermore, in my article I drew the readers’ attention to the fact that in Israel since 1948, during an equivalent period of thirty years, the Arab population not only doubled but more than tripled itself. And that phenomenon took place under Israeli control—in the absence of British authorities who, maliciously of course, would have encouraged Arabs to immigrate to the Jewish state. This point, a crucial one in my view, was totally overlooked by the Isaacs.
Many other small factual mistakes or false allegations made by Miss Peters have been exposed by many reviewers so that even some of her defenders have had to admit that she committed “numerous examples of sloppiness” or that she “quotes carelessly, uses statistics sloppily, and ignores inconvenient facts” (New York Review of Books, March 27, 1986). I wonder if the Isaacs would do the same.
To the Editor:
While Erich Isaac and Rael Jean Isaac have discussed the merits and demerits of Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial, they have not adequately dealt with the criticism of that book by Yehoshua Porath, professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which appeared in the New York Review of Books. The Isaacs say that his attack was long awaited by those eager to do in Miss Peters and her book. The purpose of this letter is not to defend or to attack Miss Peters’s book, its thesis, or its scholarship, but to ask whether Mr. Porath’s criticism is fair and meets the standards one would expect from a scholar damning an author’s work.
Miss Peters states in her book that in 1893 there were living in the “main areas” of Jewish settlement in Palestine 92,300 non-Jews at most and almost 60,000 Jews; and that if the first group were divided between Christians and Muslims, the Jews would outnumber each part—or, as she puts it, “the Jews were at least as numerous as the Muslims.”
In his article, Mr. Porath claims that Miss Peters’s “very tendentious reasoning on this point has already been exposed,” and he refers his readers to a criticism of Miss Peters’s book by one Bill Farrell in the Journal of Palestine Studies (Fall 1984), based primarily on an analysis of the 1893 Ottoman census.
Mr. Porath goes on to say:
What she [Miss Peters] has done, to put it briefly, is to compare the figures for non-Jews in the 1893 Ottoman census of Palestine with the estimate of the Jewish population proposed by the French geographer Vital Cuinet in 1895. She dismisses the Ottoman figures for the Jews because, she says, “the Ottoman census apparently registered only known Ottoman subjects; since most Jews had failed to obtain Ottoman citizenship, a representative figure of the Palestinian Jewish population could not be extrapolated from the 1893 census.”
This may sound plausible, until one discovers, first, that Cuinet’s estimates are generally considered to be unreliable, and, second, that Professor Kemal Karpat of the University of Wisconsin, whose analysis of the Ottoman census Miss Peters relies on, does not find the census estimate of the Jewish population to be inaccurate in the way she claims.
Thus in his article Mr. Porath in no way takes issue with the 1893 Ottoman census or with Farrell’s study based on that census, but rather implies that Miss Peters should have used it for Jews as well as for non-Jews. (I will not here argue the merits of Cuinet except to say that other demographers do not share Mr. Porath’s views of him. Justin McCarthy, for example, in his article “The Population of Ottoman Syria and Iraq, 1878-1914,” Asian and African Studies 15, No. 1, March 1981, calls Cuinet “the best known and most reliable European author on Ottoman population.”)
In turning to Farrell’s article, one finds that Farrell, using figures developed by Kemal Karpat, gives the 1893 Ottoman census figures for Muslims and Jews for all of Palestine as 371,969 Muslims and 9,817 Jews. After certain “corrections” have been made for “undercounting,” the figures become 419,311 Muslims and 10,746 Jews.
These statistics (particularly the comparison of Miss Peters’s figure of almost 60,000 Jews with the census figure of 9,817 Jews in 1893) were picked up and repeated by Anthony Lewis in his column in the New York Times for January 13, 1986, where he praises Mr. Porath’s article in glowing terms and states triumphantly that “Miss Peters’s evidence is cooked. That is what a growing number of scholarly critics have said. It is what I believe.”
Miss Peters also refers in her book to certain statistics by the sociologist Arthur Ruppin on the number of Jews in Palestine. In the article to which Mr. Porath directs his readers, Farrell calls Ruppin “unreliable” and dismisses him and his statistics saying:
Arthur Ruppin, upon whom Miss Peters also relies, was a Zionist who went to the Middle East around the turn of the century to scout out the territory. He wrote with a clear political purpose. Ruppin had no way of counting the population, and, as all European observers, he cannot be considered an objective source.
The New York Review subsequently published Mr. Porath’s letter answering critics of his article. In the course of this letter he rather surprisingly states:
I never claimed . . . that the 1893 Ottoman census figure of the number of Jews living in Palestine (9,817) is correct; nor do I accept that the Ottoman figure for the Muslims (371,959), also cited by Miss Peters from an article by K. Karpat, is correct.
In his letter, Mr. Porath now takes issue with the Muslim count, claiming that attention has not been given to the fact that in 1893 only Muslims were subject to conscription and thus Muslims would try to avoid the census. This, however, overlooks the fact that since the census was the principal means to obtain conscripts, the Ottoman authorities would, and did, take special pains to see that all Muslims subject to conscription were registered.
But it is with the figures for Jews that we are most concerned here. Mr. Porath in his letter now finds that “[t]he Jews were certainly undercounted in that  census . . .”—and for the very reason given by Miss Peters. She stated that she did not rely on the 1893 Ottoman census for the Jews because the census apparently registered only known Ottoman subjects and most Jews were not Ottoman subjects. Mr. Porath now asserts that the count for Jews was wrong because “all the Jewish newcomers were foreign nationals who cherished their privileged status under the capitulatory regime and would have refused to have anything to do with the census authorities.”
Thus, having first cast doubt on Miss Peters’s reasons for not using the 1893 Ottoman census for Jews, Mr. Porath now concedes that her reasons were valid. He himself gives no figures for Jews, but he also no longer suggests that Miss Peters’s figure of almost 60,000 Jews in 1893 is far off the mark.
In his letter, Mr. Porath moreover pays tribute to Arthur Ruppin, calling him “an outstanding demographer and sociologist” who cannot be accused of “superficial work” and whose estimates are “plausible” and based on “thorough analysis.” This is the same man disparaged by Farrell in the article to which Mr. Porath had previously referred his readers.
Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943) was a towering figure in the history of modern Palestine. He came to Palestine in 1907 and from that time until his death he directed Jewish settlement. He was a world-renowned statistician and sociologist and a full professor at the Hebrew University.
Mr. Porath’s comments on Ruppin are welcome. However, he uses Ruppin’s name for an odd purpose, namely, to lend authenticity to a total population estimate for Palestine of 689,275 persons. He gives no specific year for this estimate, but it happens to be a figure for the year 1915 (Ruppin, Syrien Als Wirtschaftsgebiet [Harz Berlin/Wien, 1920] pp. 11-16).
It is strange that Mr. Porath should use Ruppin’s name in connection with the estimate, because in that book Ruppin states that the figures come mainly from official Ottoman sources and that he makes no claim for their accuracy. In fact, they appear to be figures from the 1914-1915 Ottoman census as adjusted by Ruppin’s estimate for Jews. (According to the Survey of Palestine 1946-47, Vol. 1, p. 144, the figure 689,000 comes from “Turkish sources.”) But strangest of all is that Mr. Porath should have turned to Ruppin’s obscure, hard-to-come-by book for this information when the figure is on p. 425 of Miss Peters’s book, where she gives the 1915 population of Palestine as 604,300 non-Jews and 85,000 Jews, for a total of 689,300.
Ruppin might better have been quoted on the question of the alleged displacement of the Arabs by the Jews. In The Jews in the Modern World (1934) Ruppin wrote:
The Palestine census of 1931 has proved the remarkable fact that the Arab population has increased in the districts where Jewish immigrants have settled, and has remained stationary, or decreased, where there was no Jewish immigration. Obviously, so far from displacing the Arabs, the economic activities of the Jews have created additional possibilities for the Arabs also.
When Mr. Porath referred his readers to Farrell, he knew that Farrell’s statistics, at least as to the number of Jews in Palestine in 1893, were wrong, and that Farrell’s remarks about Arthur Ruppin were also wrong. Yet he directed his readers to Farrell without warning or qualification. The erroneous statistics as to Jews were then disseminated in Anthony Lewis’s widely-read column, together with Lewis’s comment that Mr. Porath’s article was “devastating on Miss Peters’s methods,” and with the nasty insinuation of fraud. On analysis, however, it is Mr. Porath’s methods that appear questionable. Subject to debate though Miss Peters’s book and its thesis may be, and though there may be justification for Mr. Porath’s criticisms on some points, the manner in which he sought to torpedo Miss Peters’s work in the respects noted here should, I believe, be unacceptable to any fair-minded person.
Lawrence R. Eno
New York City
To the Editor:
Erich Isaac and Rael Jean Isaac in “Whose Palestine?” have, like Yehoshua Porath in the New York Review of Books, begun to correct the unfortunate but growing impression that Joan Peters’s book From Time Immemorial is a legitimate work of scholarship with accurate findings. The Isaacs have correctly focused on Miss Peters’s piling-on of statistics, her misreading of source materials, and her biased interpretation of apparent fact. But the Isaacs are too gentle in their criticism of her book. Their limited censure only begins to scratch the surface of Miss Peters’s misuse and abuse of her sources.
Miss Peters’s main assertion is that approximately 36 percent of the Palestinian Arab population displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 were not Arabs of long-term residence, but Arabs who had taken up temporary residence in primarily Jewish-settled areas (p. 256). Thus, the massive numbers of Arab refugees created by the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 are much less than Arabs claim, according to Miss Peters, and they cannot be characterized as true refugees or Palestinian Arabs.
This is where From Time Immemorial misrepresents the social and political history of 19th- and 20th-century Palestine. First, Jews too immigrated to Palestine and ultimately created the state of Israel. Would Miss Peters suggest that the Jews who came to Pales-time after 1882, 1917, or 1948 had no right to settle there because they had not been permanent residents for a prolonged period of time?
Second, short of knowing the population of individual Arab towns and villages in Palestine in 1948 as compared to 1922 or 1931 when censuses were carried out, it is virtually impossible to state categorically how many Palestinians were temporary, semi-permanent, or permanent residents. Other scholars, like Martin Kramer (the New Leader, May 14, 1984), have already correctly questioned Miss Peters’s misuse of the tenuous 1893 Ottoman census figures. Her statistical acrobatics for determining the permanency of the Arab population in Palestine are not based upon a credible data base.
Third, when Jews immigrated to Palestine they purchased land from resident and non-resident owners, sometimes displacing local Arab peasants. Many Palestinian Arabs themselves sold land directly to Jewish immigrants. Palestinian Arab notables repeatedly lined their pockets quietly, but screamed “unfair” publicly to the British administrators in London and Jerusalem about the development of the Jewish National Home. The land-owning political leadership which led the Palestine Arab national movement in the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s was deeply and continuously involved in the land-sale process to Jews. Palestinians directly aided the fulfillment of the Zionist dream of creating a Jewish state. (See my recently published The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939, University of North Carolina Press, 1985.)
Arab land sales caused the displacement of Arab peasants from the lands they traditionally worked. Many of those displaced by Arab land sales, whether they sold land themselves or had land sold “over their heads” by large land owners, became migratory laborers and were attracted to Jewish capital and development. Many others who were agricultural laborers, tenants, manure carriers, plowmen, threshers, and shepherds who worked the land before Jewish land purchase later became per-diem workers, or Miss Peters’s migratory laborers in Jewish-settled areas and ultimately the state of Israel.
Besides these errors of interpretation and fact, the core issues for the historian are the research sources and methods employed. Miss Peters’s work reveals a startling lack of rigor in using the available source material. There are glaring errors of omission and perhaps commission. After hearing Miss Peters speak four times in a weekend to various Jewish communal organizations and gatherings in Atlanta in late September 1984, my opinion was reinforced that she lacked a familiarity with the key primary sources she claims to have used.
Though From Time Immemorial displays a bulging bibliography, more than 1,800 footnotes, and 400 pages of text, poundage alone is not a criterion for assuming excellence, accuracy, or proof of an author’s assertions. Miss Peters may claim that she has not written and had no intention of writing a scholarly book, yet she carefully “drops” the names of some of the most authoritative Middle East historians in her acknowledgments. She has cultivated the assumption that because individuals are helpful in the execution of research, they are, by extension, also automatically supportive of one’s findings. The adulation accorded her work by a raft of enthusiasts on the jacket cover of the book seems cleverly designed to imply that her findings have a cloak of legitimacy from very reputable individuals.
In general, Miss Peters has relied mostly on official published materials, selected secondary sources, archival materials (to a lesser degree), and on the archival findings of others. If one applies the criterion of sources used, the findings and scholarship of this book are unsound.
Miss Peters failed to use important and available archival sources. She failed to use critical non-English sources. She failed to use crucial English-language sources. The footnoting method and support of assumptions made are lackadaisical, careless, and unprofessional.
From what appears in Miss Peters’s bibliography and footnotes, there is very little evidence that either Hebrew- or Arabic-language sources were used extensively. She may have employed others to assist in translating foreign-language material, but to write on the origins of the Arab-Israel conflict with the authoritative nature of her assertive findings without an apparent ability to use the language of the region is a serious shortcoming for some, and for others just scholarly unacceptable.
If Miss Peters had used just-published Hebrew materials such as candid memoirs of the Jewish nation-builders, her distorted conclusions about the origins and movement of the Palestinian Arab population would have been clarified. She should have read the personal diaries of Chaim Arlosoroff, Moshe Sharett, David Ben-Gurion, Joseph Weitz, Arthur Ruppin, and others to understand the social dynamic causing Arab in-migration and internal migration within Palestine during the Mandate.
Miss Peters in her acknowledgments claims that she used the documentation at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. But her footnotes give virtually no indication that she utilized this vast and rich archive with source material in German, Hebrew, French, and Arabic. Miss Peters would have learned from reading these numerous, incredibly detailed, and secret internal memoranda of Jewish Agency departments and affiliated organizations about how Jewish land-settlement organizations planned to handle Arab populations displaced by Arab land sales and Jewish land purchases.
Jews purchased land mainly in the coastal and plains regions of Palestine in which Arab peasant cultivators were sometimes in residence. After a purchase, these cultivators and their families sometimes moved eastward where they settled their families, but more often than not they continued to work in the newly developing Jewish-owned areas, mostly in the valley and plains regions, commuting on a daily or weekly basis. This simple point would have been confirmed several times for her had she systematically used the files of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department and the Jewish National Fund which contain the copious assessments made by Jewish land and settlement experts during the Mandate.
The private candor of men like Menahem Ussishkin, Yehoshua Hankin, Yaakov Thon, Avraham Granovsky, Berl Katznelson, and others who engaged on a daily basis in the Jewish nation-building process in Palestine would have rounded out Miss Peters’s interpretation of how Arab tenants and agricultural workers displaced by Jewish land purchase were encouraged through monetary compensation to resettle far from existing or future Jewish settlements.
When Miss Peters does refer to sources in foreign languages she usually states in her footnotes that she is citing a source mentioned by another author. This is an acceptable convention except when done so frequently that one questions whether Miss Peters saw or read the original foreign-language source material herself, or merely relied upon another’s judgment. Throughout the book, Miss Peters selectively uses data culled by other researchers to support her assertions.
What is astonishing is the number of times in her footnotes Miss Peters uses a primary source in defense of an assertion, and then notes that the original source is cited in a secondary source which she employed. Of the more than 1,800 footnotes, hundreds of Miss Peters’s supporting claims are stated as “cited by” or “cited in.” There is no reason a writer cannot adopt such a procedure for accumulating information, but secondary sources and the existing body of literature must be utilized judiciously.
Miss Peters even failed to use the most important available English archival and secondary sources. And the ones chosen were used sparingly and selectively. Miss Peters very smartly protects herself against criticism for not using all the necessary source material when she says in her explanatory first footnote of Chapter 13: “The records reproduced in this book . . . are by no means all-inclusive.” If the records she used are not all-inclusive, then her findings must be treated in the same tentative manner.
The central British archival documentation for the Mandate period is the Colonial Office (CO) 733 series. This crucial correspondence from 1921 to the end of the Mandate reveals how British policy was made on virtually all matters concerning Palestine and the evolution of the Jewish National Home, particularly on the four major issues of constant tension: Jewish immigration; Jewish land purchase and Arab land sales; the Palestine Arab majority’s quest for self-determination; and Britain’s desire to maintain its strategic presence in Palestine at the least possible cost in manpower and financial burden to the British taxpayer. Of the more than 1,800 footnotes in From Time Immemorial, not more than 2 percent cite the CO 733 series! When Miss Peters does cite the CO 733 series for the 1940’s, she does so almost exclusively because another author cited this important record group.
More substance is added to doubt Miss Peters’s rigor and familiarity with the source material in her citations of the CO 733 series, which are often incomplete and therefore of no use to anyone who wants to check her assertions and thus her conclusions. For each file in the CO 733 series there is a number which follows CO 733 and then a reference number following that, so that an accurate and precise citation would read CO 733/191/77211, but Miss Peters on pp. 519 (fns. 7, 10, 12, 14) and 547 (fns. 4 and 10) gives us only two of the three components of the citation, such as CO 733/27137. With this information it is impossible to find the source she is citing. Similarly in her use of the Foreign Office Record Group 371 series on Palestine, she repeatedly gives only a partial listing of the files. On pp. 534 and 535 from fn. 45 to fn. 74, only one citation is in its complete form.
It is impossible to check Miss Peters’s claims and assertions or to reconstruct the use of her source materials because her footnoting is repeatedly inconsistent, inaccurate, and incomplete. By any standard of measurement, the author’s very intermittent use and inexact footnoting of these two sources is unacceptable even for popular literature. To omit or misuse such important source material is most glaring to any serious student of the Mandate period and the history of modern Israel.
There are other examples in the use of English sources where Miss Peters could have given a more complete and accurate picture. She underused the important 1931 Census for Palestine; she failed to read thoroughly the Chancellor Papers at Rhodes House at Oxford; and she did not read or understand the important research by Haim Gerber, Ylana Miller, Rachelle Taqqu, Alexander Scholch, and others on population and society in 19th- and 20th-century Palestine.
Miss Peters became too dependent on officially published British sources and insufficiently skeptical of their accuracy. The British, as others have often done, “cooked their statistics” to coincide with a predetermined conclusion for a particular purpose. The Isaacs very carefully point out how Miss Peters failed to read or understand clearly the 1930 Hope Simpson Report. Miss Peters should have been equally skeptical of the data collection and therefore the findings of the Landless Arab Inquiry, the French Reports, the Johnson-Crosbie Report, and the Survey of Palestine which are flawed, but nevertheless used by Miss Peters as benchmark assumptions for her conclusions. Data were repeatedly collected by all sides, sometimes published, sometimes “cleansed” of damaging evidence, and other times just quashed because of their political implications. Ulterior motives prevailed in this earlier period, too, to bolster historical legitimacy, national dominance, and strategic control of Palestine.
In the end, there is little evidence of scholarly fidelity in Miss Peters’s method. She does not demonstrate care or diligence in the treatment of official sources. Her book is shoddy both in its workmanship and in its attention to nuance. Miss Peters does not let either all of the available source material or all the facts get in the way of her conclusions. It is particularly troubling to see a research style accepted where chapters are seemingly written by taking carefully chosen chunks of previously accumulated information and then dexterously manipulating them for purposes of authenticity and desired outcome.
The danger that such a book has for scholarship and the enormous body of literature on the origins of the Arab-Israel conflict is that students and others seeking philosophical nourishment will cite her findings as conclusive evidence about the population of Palestine in the period before 1948. Rather than clarifying the complexities of the Arab-Israel conflict’s development, this book will add to the layers of meta-truths that already abound in the literature.
From Time Immemorial is not a serious book; its sources and conclusions are tendentious and incomplete. Those who read it should understand that from the outset.
Kenneth W. Stein
To the Editor:
Two years ago I was asked by the Jewish Book Council for a joint review of two books with a similar subject, From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters and The Claim of Dispossession by Arieh Avneri. I wrote that Avneri was a “must read” for anyone interested in the history of Jewish settlement in Palestine. He provided important and intelligible statistics on the migration of Arabs into areas of Jewish settlement. Joan Peters covered the same ground, I wrote, in convoluted, hard-to-follow tables. Her book, I said, was badly written and poorly edited. . . .
Daniel Pipes, who reviewed the Peters book in COMMENTARY, has described it recently as “an appallingly crafted book,” marred by “eccentric footnotes and a polemical, somewhat hysterical undertone.”
Eccentric footnotes is a polite way of saying that Miss Peters gives us no fewer than 120 pages of footnotes to impress us with her diligent “scholarship” but that many of the minor and most of the major citations, as the Isaacs and other critics have found, simply do not stand up to examination.
Several months after the Jewish Book Council published my critical review, it awarded the Peters book a prize in the Israel category. I was surprised. I asked one of the judges why she hadn’t voted for the Avneri book or for one of several other good books on Israel that I had named. All of them had been written by Israelis. I was told that only American authors are eligible for Jewish Book Council awards and that no other book of consequence on an Israeli subject had been published by an American author in 1984. I agreed that there was nothing else worth considering by an American writer. Under the peculiar conditions of the Jewish Book Council, Joan Peters received a prize by default.
The Isaacs take me to task for stating that the Peters book is a “Herut polemic.” My first hint of the anti-Labor bias of the book was the foolish assertion, repeated several times, that Jewish employers in Mandatory Palestine were forced to hire Arabs because of British restrictions on Jewish immigration. It was the word “forced” that hit me in the gut. I am not an expert on Jewish employment in Palestine, but I was a reporter on the Palestine Post from 1934 to 1937 and I have some knowledge of how Jewish employers acted then. There were pockets of Jewish unemployment. The Histadrut tried to find jobs for unemployed Jewish labor by carrying on a struggle for avodah Ivrit, the employment of Jews, and not Arabs, in Jewish enterprises. This campaign was sometimes violent and largely unsuccessful.
Those Jewish employers who preferred to hire lower-paid Arabs in order to save a pound or two were the financial backers of the anti-Histadrut parties, the Revisionists and the General Zionists. These parties have evolved into the Herut and the Liberals, now united in the Likud coalition. Miss Peters’s assertion that these Jewish employers were forced to hire lower-paid Arabs may be part of what Leon Wieseltier has described in a prize-winning article in the New Republic (November 11, 1985) as a Herut campaign to rewrite the history of Jewish settlement, eliminating or distorting the Histadrut’s major role.
In all of Miss Peters’s seven years of research, she could find no record of the campaign for avodah Ivrit, which was a major cause of strife in the Yishuv for many years. In her 120 pages of footnotes and her 36 pages of index, the word Histadrut cannot be found.
Miss Peters may have attempted to rewrite history. Two years after her book was fraudulently promoted into best-sellerdom and long after the hard-cover edition has been remaindered, the Isaacs have come along to rewrite Joan Peters. They attribute to her the statement that Jewish settlers in Palestine did not displace native Arabs. All that Miss Peters claims, according to the new interpretation by the Isaacs, is that about 100,000 Arabs (or fewer than 20,000 heads of families) were added to the native Arabs by migration in the Mandatory era. By way of substantiation, the Isaacs point out that Avneri comes to the same conclusion.
One hundred thousand Arab migrants is an insignificant percentage of the number of Arabs in Palestine when the British left in 1948. If that is all Miss Peters claims, what was all the fuss about? How could 100,000 Arab migrants “demonstrate,” as Saul Bellow bellows on the book jacket, “that, on the Palestinian issue, [the] experts speak from utter ignorance”? How could the news of Arab migration, first brought to light by the Jewish Agency evidence before the Royal Commission fifty years ago, “reformulate,” according to Paul Cowan on the book jacket, “the terms of the debate on the Middle East”? Above all, how could it “change the course of events in the Middle East”—the words of Barbara Tuchman on the book jacket and Martin Peretz elsewhere?
Contrary to what the Isaacs now say, the publisher’s blurb inside the jacket and the ads for the book tried to give the uninformed reader the impression that the number of “native” Arabs was negligible and that the Arabs have no legitimate rights in Palestine.
Would it be correct to say that the publishers, Harper & Row, and the galaxy of luminaries they collected for the jacket blurbs and promotional ads, have committed a fraud on the reading public?
The associates of the Isaacs in Americans for a Safe Israel, who vigorously promoted this book, would not agree. Harry Louis Seiden, to give just one example, wrote in the Washington Jewish Week: “In some 600 pages of diligently researched and meticulously documented narrative [Miss Peters] establishes beyond any doubt that. . . [the Palestinians] are nothing more than parvenu squatters.”
Miss Peters cannot escape the blame for Selden’s conclusion. She never calls the Arabs “squatters,” but this is the impression she tries to leave her readers with.
There are now close to four million Arabs who call themselves Palestinians. Over two million are under the jurisdiction of Israel. To deny them any legitimate rights to the land prohibits any basis for the settlement of the conflict.
Of particular interest to me as chairman of the American Friends of Neve Shalom are the 750,000 Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. Every sixth voter in Israel is a Palestinian Arab. In a few years, according to Israeli demographers, it may be one out of five. They will not be blown away by Joan Peters’s rhetoric or Meir Kahane’s racism. The Jews and Arabs in Israel must learn to live together in peaceful coexistence. The School for Peace at Neve Shalom, which is about five years old, has done yeoman work in bringing together Israeli Arab and Jewish youth, erasing stereotypes, and instilling the seeds of peaceful coexistence. COMMENTARY would do better to devote an article to a description of this pioneering school, which recently hosted Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland who came to Israel to learn about Neve Shalom’s innovative methods, than to publish an article on a poor and harmful two-year-old-book.
The Isaacs deny that the book is harmful. They write that despite Miss Peters’s egregious errors, her book has performed a valuable service. For a contrary opinion, may I quote Justin McCarthy, chairman of the history department of the University of Louisville? The Kentucky professor attended an academic conference on Palestinian demography at Haifa University in June. Miss Peters was invited, I am told, but did not attend. According to the Jerusalem Post, McCarthy said: “Her figures have been cited by American Zionists and now that they are being disproved they will hurt Israel because critics will say ‘you lied about this; you probably lie about other things too.’”
I would like to add a personal word to the Isaacs. I witnessed the invasion of Haifa by the Hauranis in the 1930’s, which, as Miss Peters points out, was condoned by the British authorities. Unskilled Hau-rani laborers were welcomed in the Jewish sector, notwithstanding Histadrut opposition, just as unskilled workers from the West Bank and Gaza are the construction workers, dishwashers, and garbage collectors in Israel today. The Hauranis squatted in tin shacks without water, sanitation, or municipal services on public land on the outskirts of Haifa. On a much smaller scale, the Haurani camp resembled Crossroads outside Capetown which the South African authorities keep trying to destroy.
The British finally bulldozed the smelly Haurani encampment as a health hazard, but only after the Syrian drought ended and most of the Hauranis went home to plow their fields. Those who remained in Haifa found better accommodations.
Today, over 100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza cross into Israel daily to find work. Many of them, for instance the waiters and chambermaids in Israeli hotels, have been working in the same place for many years. Some of them even have tenure. But none of them lives in Israel. There are no squatter camps on the outskirts of Israeli cities. Israeli law forbids workers from the territories to stay overnight in Israel. They must commute from their homes daily. The bus trip can add up to four hours to the working day and the fare can be a goodly slice of their wages.
Enemies of Israel have likened this regulation to South Africa’s apartheid law on controlled residence. They are wrong and will be wrong so long as Israel does not annex the territories, and the Arabs from the territories remain guest workers with no residence rights.
But annexation of the territories for security and national reasons is the chief plank of Americans for a Safe Israel, of which the Isaacs are leading members. If the territories were annexed, only an actual apartheid regulation could prevent these Arabs from living closer to their jobs. Only an apartheid regulation could prevent the rise of squatter camps of tin and plastic on the outskirts of Israeli cities.
This is the lesson I have learned from the Haurani invasion of the 1930’s that Miss Peters makes so much of. I recommend it to the Isaacs.
Jesse Zel Lurie
Pleasantville, New York
To the Editor:
“Whose Palestine?” by Erich Isaac and Rael Jean Isaac contains a superb analysis of the carefully crafted campaign of disinformation directed against Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial by a small coterie of political zealots led by Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. Dissecting the disingenuousness and speciousness of the smears, the Isaacs conclude, rightly, that Miss Peters’s book, with its nearly 2,000 citations, has exploded the myth of the Palestinian Arabs as a nation living on its soil “from time immemorial,” and is therefore a profound contribution to the current debate on the Middle East.
Still, one would have hoped that the Isaacs would have highlighted the fact that the screams of the book’s detractors and their arithmetical sleight-of-hand were deliberate diversionary tactics to present From Time Immemorial as a book only about numbers. By hewing to that numerical frame of reference for so much of their article, the Isaacs—unintentionally, to be sure—dance to the tune set by the smear campaign. Though stating at the outset that several themes of equal importance are set forth in From Time Immemorial, the Isaacs then focus on the population study, which constitutes only about one-fourth of the book. They devote an inordinate amount of space to numerical items, most of which make no fundamental difference—a discrepancy of two or three thousand in population, being of such small magnitude, is of no overall significance.
Moreover, before publication Miss Peters checked her demographics with Philip Hauser, one of the world’s most eminent demographers. One would have thought the Isaacs would have reported that From Time Immemorial contains demographic notes discussing and approving its demographic methodology, prepared and signed by Hauser.
One thing is clear from all the disinformational pieces about From Time Immemorial . . . and from the excellent article by the Isaacs: the very truth about what is in the book can be manipul