Cite: Masalha, A Critique of the New Historians

Masalha, Nur. “New History, Post-Zionism and Neo-Colonialism: A Critique of the Israeli ‘New Historians’.” Holy Land Studies 10 (2011): 1-53.




Ever since the 1948 Palestinian Nakba a bitter controversy has raged over its causes and circumstances. While the Palestinian refugees have maintained that they were driven into flight, Israeli historians claimed that the refugees either left of their own accord, or were ordered to do so by their own leaders. This essay explores the emergence of an Israeli revisionist historiography in the late 1980s which challenged the official Zionist narrative of 1948. Today the ‘new historians’ are bitterly divided and at each other’s throats. The essay assesses the impact of the ‘new historians’ on history writing and power relations in Palestine-Israel, situating the phenomenon within the wider debates on knowledge and power. It locates ‘new history’ discourse within the multiple crises of Zionism and the recurring patterns of critical liberal Zionist writing. It further argues that, although the terms of the debate in Western academia have been altered under the impact of this development, both the ‘new history’ narrative and ‘Post-Zionism’ have remained marginal in Israel. Rather than developing a post-colonial discourse or decolonising methodologies, the ‘new historians’ have reflected contradictory currents within the Israeli settler colonial society. Also, ominously, their most influential author, Benny Morris, has reframed the ‘new history’ narrative within a neo-colonialist discourse and the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis. Justifying old and neo-colonialist ideas on ‘transfer’ and ethnic cleansing, Morris (echoing calls by neo-Zionist Israeli politicians) threatens the Palestinians with another Nakba.

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