on February 23, 1997
Dr. Norman Finkelstein has written a brilliant and scholarly expose of
the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is not a dispassionate historian/scholar
nor does he pretend to be. He dedicates the book to his parents,
survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi extermination camps:
"May I never forget or forgive what was done to them."
Finkelstein's keen intellect is breathtaking. His painstaking research
which supports the evidence how the "reality" of the causes of the
conflict is vastly different than the "image" presented to us by the media
is a marvel to behold.
My favorite chapters in the book are chapters 2 and 4.
In Chapter 2, he discusses Joan Peters book "From Time Immemorial"
and masterfully exposes it as a hoax. The crux of Peters' thesis was
that "Palestine was, literally, 'uninhabited' on the eve of the Zionist
colonization; and that if the Arab population did not materialize, literally,
ex nihilo in Palestine, it did surreptitiously enter to exploit the economic
opportunities that the Jews created when they made the 'desert bloom'." By that logic, most Palestinians were not even there in 1948 to be expelled from their homes.
The fact that such a threadbare hoax can be published in this country
is not surprising. But the fact that this book received accolades from
journalists and scholars alike, from such luminaries as Daniel Pipes,
Sidney Zion, Holocaust historian Lucy Dawidowicz, and Nobel
peace prize laureate Elie Wiesel, speaks volumes about the American
commissar culture. After the book went through several printings and
was exposed as an utter fraud in Britain, it finally prompted Anthony
Lewis to write a column for The New York Times aptly entitled "There
Were No Indians."
Perhaps the most illuminating part of the book is Chapter 4 entitled
"Settlement, Not Conquest." Finkelstein's dissection of how the
historical rhetoric and justifications for conquest are strikingly
similar -- "from the British in North America to the Dutch in South Africa,
from the Nazis in Eastern Europe, to the Zionists in Palestine" --
is both enlightening and comical.
Finally, it is noteworthy to mention Finkelstein's poignant observation
for those of us who want to see justice done to the Palestinians and
to all people who are suffering as a direct result of America's
diplomatic and military support to the darkest and most oppressive
regimes around the globe: "The plea of 'not knowing' cannot in
good faith be entered at history's bar. Those who want to know can
know the truth; at all events, enough of it to draw the just conclusions."
To buttress his point, he quotes Albert Speer's mea culpa at
Nuremberg: "Whether I knew or did not know, or how much or little I
knew, is totally unimportant when I consider the horrors I OUGHT to
have known about and what conclusions would have been natural
ones to draw from the little I did know . . ."
Thus, Finkelstein concludes: "Indeed, the [ordinary] Germans could
point in extenuation to the severity of penalties for speaking out
against the crimes of state. What excuse do we have?"
Perhaps, we may want to do some genuine soul-searching
as we ponder that question.
on June 24, 2002
Every time an Arab speaks of truths that don't agree with the official Palestinian line, we must take notice and pay attention. We must do the same when a Jew speaks of truths that don't agree with the official Israeli line. Norman Finkelstein does proud the Jewish tradition of scientists and reserachers, by being outspoken, assertive and totally stubborn.
Norman Finkelstein provides in his book a meticulously researched debunking of the many myths and false perceptions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Anyone who wants to be better informed, and by a passionately impartial voice as well, would be well advised to read this book. We can no longer ignore reality, and understanding the reality in that particular drama begins here.
on November 2, 2007
Un chef-d'oeuvre d'auto-défense intellectuel. Un traité par excellence pour comprendre comment décortiquer la propagande et les essais biaisés sous tout leurs angles.
on May 10, 2004
Norman Finkelstein is a first rate scholar -- and a brave one. If you read one book about the conflict, let it be this one.
on September 7, 2002
This is a book by Norman Finkelstein who is a left wing academic teaching at New York University. Although he is Jewish his reputation is that of being a strong supporter of the Palestinians. This rather short book is no exception.
Finkelstein?s main thesis is that Zionism arose in the 19th century in response to nationalist ideas that were fashionable at the time. These ideas stressed that the basis of a nation state was a population that had a common identity and strong cultural links. (This contrasts with the modern idea of a country as having citizens who may be different but who have common rights which derive from their citizenship) The 19th Century notion of nationalism was one of the main reasons for the rise of anti-Semitism as a political idea. Jews were seen to be foreign to the identity the various national states in which they lived. Finkelstien has suggested that the idea of Zionism springs from this idea and as a result suggests that a Jewish state should be established to be a home to the Jews as they will be rejected by other states. Further that the character of this state should be defined as being Jewish, that is consisting of a majority of one group. In Europe this idea has been rejected and the notion of citizenship and acceptance of diversity means that modern countries are more polyglot in nature. Finkelstien sees Israel as a curious survival of a bygone age and mode of thought.
The book is very short and consists of six essays which deal with topics based on the idea of Israel and also aimed at exploding some of its foundation myths. The essays do not contain much in the way of new material but are examinations of some of the existing literature which suggest an interpretation of Israeli history which is very different from what we have come to expect.
The first essay is about the notion of nationalism and fleshes out the ideas outlined above. The second essay is a demolition of Joan Peters book From Time Immemorial. Peters book has now been subject to so much criticism it is probably requires no further attacks as it is pretty much discredited as a serious work. This book was written in 1994 and at that time people probably did not know as much about Peters work.
The second essay is a discussion of Benny Morriss book on the Origin of the Palestinian refugee crisis. Finkelstien does not produce any new material but contrasts Morriss conclusions with the evidence he presents. Finkelstien suggests that force was used in a systematic way by the IDF to move Palestinians out of what was to become the state of Israel. Interestingly Morris in an Essay published last year has come to some extent to accept this.
The most interesting essay is a critique of another book by former Israeli ambassador Abba Eban. In this essay Finkelstein suggests that the 1967 Arab Israeli war was not provoked by the Egyptians as usually suggested but a clear case of Israeli aggression. His basis for suggesting this is the fact that Israel made a number of high level threats to invade Syria early in the year. Egypt was an ally of Syria and the movement of its troops into the Sinai in 1967 the thing which is usually credited with setting of the war was in Finkelsteins view a measured response to assist its ally. Recent material which has been released suggest that the orders given to the Egyptian troops were consistent with a defensive arrangment of their troops. It was also clear to all parties that the Arab nations would be defeated easily if it came to war.
The book is interesting but it is written in a rather dry academic style and it is based largely on interpreting material rather than producing more material. Yet it is interesting to compare what it says with other material on the conflict.
on January 7, 1999
The best thing I can say about this book is that it is well written. Finkelstein approaches his analysis with a definite agenda, and never loses his focus. His analysis of From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters seems objective but since I haven't read Peters yet, I'm probably not the best judge. It seems that all too often, rather than looking to actual historical events for substantiating his thesis, he often resorts to whatever random quotes of Zionist theory (sometimes quite obscure) that happen to fit his argument. If he focused more on what people actually did rather than what some people said, his task of dispelling Zionist "myths" would be much more challenging. One should not touch this book with a ten-foot pole without having read a more comprehensive historical text such as Howard Sachar's A History of Israel.
on August 22, 2002
[Note: This review refers to the 1994 edition.]
This is a book dedicated to the proposition that Zionism and the state of Israel are evil incarnate. The author makes no bones about his intent from the start, so people who call this book 'balanced' are going to have to explain what they mean by that.
In and of itself, the book is of little value, often resting on anti-Israel secondary sources such as the works of Avi Shlaim, Simha Flapan, Alexander Cockburn, with at least one reference to Alfred Lilienthal.
Finkelstein mostly brings only such evidence as supports his view of things, while ignoring or belittling contradictory evidence. For example, in mentioning the numerical estimate of Palestinian refugees, he mentions sources which support very high estimates, yet he doesn't mention Walter Pinner's study, which arrived at a much lower estimate, and incidentally called into question the accuracy of the UN estimates which Finkelstein presents. Even Yehoshua Porath, whom Finkelstein quotes to debunk Joan Peters, in his own critique of the book in the New York Review of Books, unequivocally disagrees with Finkelstein on this point, stating that:
"Most serious students would accept that the number of Arab refugees from Israel during and after 1948 claimed by Arab and UN sources ' some 600,000 to 750,000 ' was exaggerated. It is very easy to refute this estimate and many have already done it".
Finkelstein doesn't mention him or Pinner. Consequently, you would never know from the book that there was anyone except the easily dismissed "Israeli government" who disagreed with Finkelstein.
Finkelstein grasps at any hint of a massacre committed by Jews, yet not a word is made of massacres committed by Arabs against Jews (more on that below).
Many of the other "facts" he states have long since been debunked or challenged. For example, the standard account of Deir Yassin, which Finkelstein faithfully presents, has been called into question by Dr. Uri Milstein's study and ZOA's "Deir Yassin: History of a Lie". The discussion of "transfer" in 1937 among the Zionist leadership, which Finkelstein cites as evidence of the Zionist's evil intentions to expel the Arab population, has long since been put in its proper (very limited) context by Efraim Karsh in Fabricating Israeli History. Finkelstein quotes from Theodor Herzl's diary to prove that the Zionists wanted to "spirit away" the Arab population (and this was probably out of context), yet Aryeh Avneri's book The Claim of Dispossession demonstrates that this was not so in practice. The list goes on, as one can clearly see.
The author pooh-poohs the existential threat (i.e. threat of massacre) that the yishuv and its members faced during the war of '48, ignoring the conduct of Palestinian units toward Jews, such as during the massacre of over 100 prisoners of war at Kfar Etzion or the Hadassah convoy massacre , events (and others like them) which Finkelstein would apparently prefer to ignore. These acts, and the fact that Arab-held territory became "judenrein" , are a clear indication of what probably would have happened had the Arabs had the upper hand (expulsion or massacre).
Finkelstein apparently can't abide by the notion that the Palestinians were anything other than helpless victims, instead of active participants in a disaster of their own making. That there would not have been a war or a refugee problem if the Palestinians had accepted the Partition plan instead of rejecting it and threatening to 'drive the Jews into the sea' seems not to have crossed Finkelstein's mind.
One could write a book just listing Finkelstein's selective mention of facts and numerous omissions. It is a poor work, bordering on outright propaganda, and cleverly disguising itself as dispassionate scholarship.
The author's work is mostly dedicated to demonstrating that works on Zionism (and sympathetic to it) are biased, factually inaccurate and apologetic. In light of Finkelstein's own performance, however, the author's malevolent attacks seem to resemble that of the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.
 Porath, Yehoshua, War and Rememberance, Azure no.13
on July 5, 2003
Norman Finkelstein practices the worst type of historiography. He uses each chapter to selectively pick out quotes from single authors and state them out their proper and greater historical context thereby distorting the record. He selectively ignores or severly downplays any evidence against his arguments. For example he never mentions the vitriolic hatred coming out of the greater Arab world during this time period, severly downplays terrorism and its effects on Israel and never mentions directly the cold war context during the years of the conflict. His comparisons and extensive quotations of Hitler and Himmler with Israeli officials and soldiers was obviously written for effect and was a revolting abuse of the written word. He seems to me to be an author with no real first hand experience or feel for this area of history. The incredibly one sided bulk of his narrative discredits any legitmate points he tries to make throughout the work.
The history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is complex and there are legitmate grieviences on both sides with some very good impartial books and sources of information. Mr Finkelstein's is not one of them.
on October 6, 2003
I opened this book expecting to enjoy a cogent critique of Israel that would jibe with my prejudices. However, i was shocked to find a troublingly inaccurate portrayal of Benny Morris' position. NF claimed that Morris said things that i could not find in reading Morris. There were no citations just inaccurate claims. I would welcome some evidence that Morris said what is claimed. Until then i am very suspect of this authors honesty and usefulness. [see pages 29-30 of intro--he grossly mischaracterizes Morris' position}
on October 20, 2002
In Chapter 5, an essay on the Six-Day War, Norman Finkelstein attempts to dislodge historical facts. He tries to prove that Israel did not start the war in self-defense, to forestall an Arab attack aimed at Israel's destruction. As Israel explained at the time, its "Government ascertained that the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan are deployed for immediate multi-front aggression, threatening the very existence of the state."
Finkelstein argues that this danger did not exist because Egypt, then the strongest Arab power, did not intend to strike, and that had Egypt stuck first, even Egypt's generals knew the Arabs would lose. But like everything else in this very bad book, this is false.
In Six Days of War by Michael B. Oren, readers will see that Egypt did intend to strike Israel, and had an attack plan in motion, which was called off only hours before its execution because the US told Egyptian officials that it knew of the plans. Oren had interviews with Egyptian, United Nations and US commanders and diplomats, compared with secondary citations used by Finkelstein
Israel knew that war was afoot, because Nasser made this clear by his actions. Finkelstein should be aware that Nasser blocked the Straits of Tiran, which was an open act of war. On May 21, Nasser told two top generals and his vice president that by closing the Straits of Tiran, he would increase the chance of war to 50%. But he closed the Straits of Tiran anyway. Nasser said that "closing the Gulf of Aqaba meant war," and that his objective in that war was to destroy Israel.
Finkelstein says the Arabs did not plan to strike, because they knew they would lose. But Oren's readers learn that Arab commanders were actually oblivious to the fact that they would lose. They thought they could win, and Nasser thought so too!
I don't like the fact that Finkelstein did not discuss Israel's intense vulnerability. Israel is very small and in 1967 it was only nine miles wide at the narrowest point. The biggest city, Tel Aviv, was minutes by air from Egypt's Sinai desert, and the Egyptians had forced the United Nations peace keeping forces out of the Sinai (a point Finkelstein also forgets to tell his readers) with no protest whatsoever from the international community.
Egypt marched 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks and armored personnel carriers into the Sinai right to Israel's southern border. Meanwhile, Syria massed troops at the northern border. This looked like a major threat, particularly since it followed by only 22 years the destruction of one third of the world's Jews and more than 66% of the Europe's Jews. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol feared for the state's existence. So did General Moshe Dayan. Israel took the state's potential annihilation hands very seriously, particularly since Arab leaders promised its destruction quite loudly. Arab plans were not a big secret.
Finkelstein makes a big point at the beginning of the book that his parents were Holocaust survivors. I think he should also have recognized the real dangers to Israel. Finkelstein makes big assumptions about Arab intentions, but did not prove them through his research at all. Norman Finkelstein's version of events in 1967 does not even come close to the reality.
This is a terrible book.