This study is a forensic examination of Israel’s official narrative of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba and the emergence of the fallacious claim that Palestinians left “of their own free will.” Preliminary findings suggests that Ben-Gurion himself spearheaded the efforts to craft this narrative starting in the late 1950s because he feared Israel would be compelled to repatriate Palestinian refugees. To convince the international community that Israel was not culpable in creating the refugee problem, Ben-Gurion sought to use the skills of Israeli academia. The study he commissioned was supposed to be leaked to a reputed international broadsheet newspaper to be published as their own findings. However this research was not merely propaganda. Israeli intelligence agencies collected hundreds of documents around the world, and the academics involved (including some who became prominent scholars) believed they were engaged in objective research. As a result, they sometimes destabilized the research in unexpected ways. Yet, this study is far from being only an Israeli story: the impetus for Israel’s concocting this narrative to begin with was Palestinian activism a decade after the 1948 War, and particularly the work of historian and political activist Walid Khalidi (along with others). Moreover, the crafting of Ben-Gurion’s study on the Palestinian exodus also inadvertently created one of the first “Palestinian archives” of 1948, including the first documented attempt to collect oral testimonies of the Nakba from Palestinians themselves.
Shay Hazkani is associate professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Dear Palestine: A Social History of the 1948 War (Stanford University Press, 2021), nominated for the Cundill History Prize and the recipient of the Korenblat and Azrieli-Concordia book awards. He is also the co-creator of The Soldier’s Opinion, a documentary based on his research. Shay received his PhD in History and Judaic studies from New York University, his Master’s in Arab Studies from Georgetown University, and his BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Tel Aviv University. Prior to his academic career, Shay worked as a journalist covering the West Bank and Israeli military.
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin teaches at the department of Jewish history, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He was a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2003-2004), and a founding member of the Collegium of EUME. Among his publications are: The Censor, the Editor and the Text: Catholic Censorship and Hebrew Literature in the Sixteenth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); Exil et Souverainete (Paris: La fabrique, 2007); Exile and Binationalism: From Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt to Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish (Carl Heinrich Becker Lecture 2011, Berlin 2012). His recent book in Hebrew is entitled “Mishnaic Consciousness, Biblical Consciousness: Safed and Zionist Culture” (Hebrew, Van Leer Institute and Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Meuchad, 2022). He is completing now a manuscript entitled Jewish History as a Counter-History. In the academic year 2022/23, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin is a Senior Associated EUME Fellow.
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