May 19, 2012
Study Finds Wide Acknowledgment among Israeli Jews of Responsibility for 1948 Expulsion of Palestinians
Research is first to examine how seven Israeli Jewish institutions portrayed
Palestinian refugee problem from 1949 to 2004
NEW YORK, NY May 17, 2012 –The contrasting explanations offered by Palestinians and Israeli Jews for the Palestinian exodus during the 1948 War are often cited as a central stumbling block to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians have claimed they were expelled in 1948, while it has been widely assumed that most Israeli Jews subscribed to a Zionist narrative claiming that Palestinians left willingly due to fear and in response to calls by Arab and Palestinians leaders.
Now a Ph.D. dissertation written by Rafi Nets, a former pre-doctoral fellow at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College, Columbia University, finds that most main Israeli-Jewish institutions acknowledge a balanced narrative: that the exodus was not entirely volitional, but was also caused by Jewish/Israeli expulsion. Nets, an Israeli Jew who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote his dissertation for the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, and received the 2012 award for best dissertation from the Association for Israel Studies. His findings have been published or accepted for publication in leading academic journals, including the Journal of Peace Research, The Middle East Journal, Peace Review, and Peace and Change.
In 2009, Nets and Daniel Bar-Tal, a faculty member at the School of Education at Tel Aviv University, published a representative public opinion survey they had conducted which found that 47 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed believed expulsion by Israel was among the factors leading to the exodus. Only 41 percent accepted the Zionist narrative. The survey was supported by a grant to Nets from the IPRA Foundation. Now, through the analysis of all the memoirs of 1948 war veterans, newspaper articles, publications of non-governmental organizations, and scholarly studies, Nets finds that the balanced narrative has in fact been widely endorsed by Israeli-Jewish societal institutions since the late 1970s (and especially since the late 1980s). In addition, since 2000, all history textbooks approved by Israel’s Ministry of Education have also included the balanced narrative.
Palestinians have long called for Israelis to acknowledge the expulsions of 1948. The recent findings indicate that such acknowledgement has taken place widely for several decades.
“Typically, societies involved in an intractable conflict like the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict adopt a significantly biased, unrealistic and self-serving view of the history of the conflict,” says Nets. “The Zionist narrative of the 1948 exodus is such an example. That Israeli-Jewish society has largely adopted a less biased narrative suggests it has transformed to become more critical, open and self-reflective – a change all the more noteworthy because it has occurred in the midst of an ongoing conflict.”
Peter Coleman, ICCCR Director at Teachers College and an internationally recognized authority on conflict resolution, calls Nets’ findings “important research that could have a powerful impact on future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and on the research on the collective memory of conflicts.”
“When one party in a conflict sees that the other side has developed a more nuanced understanding of events, that in itself can be a predisposing factor toward conflict resolution,” Coleman says.
Nets specializes in the socio-psychological aspects of conflicts, such as reconciliation and healing, with a focus on the collective memory of conflicts and published extensively on these topics. His dissertation addresses the way in which official memory of a conflict (that is, how state institutions present a conflict’s past) either stays fixed or transforms, as well as the way in which this memory is influenced by societal institutions. To that end, he examined all the publications produced by seven main Israeli-Jewish institutions – 1948 war veterans’ memoirs, scholarly studies, newspapers articles of the five main dailies, and NGOs’ publications – during the period of 1949-2004. In addition, he examined throughout that period history and civic textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education, and publications of the Army (IDF) and the National Information Center. (The two latter institutions continued to present the Zionist narrative until at least 2004.) Nets also conducted some 100 interviews with key people in each of these institutions. The dissertation also explored many new phenomena regarding the dynamics of the memory realm.
For details regarding Dr. Nets and his dissertation see: http://www.collective-memory.
Teachers College is the largest graduate school of education in the nation. Teachers College is affiliated with Columbia University, but it is legally and financially independent. The editors of U.S. News and World Report have perennially ranked Teachers College among the nation’s leading graduate schools of education. The College’s ICCCR (International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution) is committed to developing knowledge and practice to promote constructive conflict resolution, effective cooperation, and social justice.
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