Memory and Historical Narratives of the 1948 War

Cover of Israel Studies 21.1A special issue of Israel Studies, Representations of Israeli-Jewish—Israeli-Palestinian Memory and Historical Narratives of the 1948 War, has just been released. Avraham Sela and Alon Kadish served as guest editors for the issue. Israel Studies editors Natan Aridan and Ilan Troen explain the importance of this issue below:

"The special issue of Israel Studies 21.1 consists of a collection of studies of Israeli representations, both Jewish and Palestinian, of memory and historical narratives of the 1948 War. The essays map and explain the ongoing evolution of Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Palestinian perspectives of the 1948 War as represented in literature, museums, art, visual media and landscape, as well as in competing official and societal narratives. There is a discussion on the dialectics of memory, historiography, and narratives as well as the main trends and characteristics of Israeli and Palestinian memory and historiography of the 1948 war in comparative analysis.

"The Palestine War of 1948 remains a defining event in the contemporary history of the Middle East, especially for the Israelis and Palestinians. The last three decades witnessed a major surge in the production by both parties of historical research and memory of the 1948 War along with the shifting focus of the Arab-Israeli conflict from one between Israel and its Arab neighboring states to its original inter-communal Arab-Jewish dispute within historic Palestine. Whether under conditions of intense conflict or peace negotiations, the dialectic of politics and self-legitimation accounted for mutually stimulating efforts to recover, rewrite, and disseminate particular historical narratives of the 1948 War concerned with issues of collective rights, justice, morality and guilt, revolving especially but not exclusively, on the Palestinian refugee problem. The discernible expansion since the late 1980s of memory and research literature on the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 and its tragic consequences for the Arab-Palestinian people coincided with the return to center stage of the inter-communal Jewish-Arab conflict within historic Palestine.

"The first Palestinian uprising (1987–93), and especially the Israel-PLO Oslo process, indeed brought to the surface the parties' contested histories about the origins of the conflict and the conditions for its resolution as never debated before. Whereas some Jewish groups and individuals challenged the standard Zionist version of the causes and consequences of the 1948 war, Palestinians largely adhered to their founding narratives albeit with more diversity of emphases and approaches. The intertwined Israeli and Palestinian discourse of memory and historiography of 1948 came in the form of documentary and feature films, oral history and internet records of personal memory, critical history, school textbooks, prose, and poems. Palestinian narratives of social and political history remained largely concerned with collecting and publishing memories of 1948 Palestinian refugees, aimed at giving them agency after decades of self-imposed silence. On the Israeli-Jewish part, the expanding historical research on the 1948 War and the birth of the state gave rise to a revision of founding narratives and memory of the War.

"The growing concern with remembrance and commemoration of the 1948 War and its myriad meanings has increasingly adopted forms of ‘privatized memory,’ emphasizing local, communal, and personal-familial dimensions while challenging the established elites, official institutions and professional scholars. This multiplicity of individual and group voices beyond national divides, however, hardly blurred each party's core historical narratives. Moreover, following the collapse of the Oslo process and the all-time violent al-Aqsa Intifada (2000–04), both Israelis and Palestinians resorted to their particular hegemonic narratives about 1948.

"The essays illustrate the impact of the fluctuations of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or lack thereof, on the parties' perspectives of the 1948 War before and during the Oslo process. As such, they examine continuity and change of perspectives of institutions and groups regarding the cataclysmic events of 1948. Seen from Israeli and Palestinian mainstream perspectives in its seventh decade, the legacy of 1948 reveals not only polarized national narratives about why and what had taken place then and since but, though to a lesser extent, also the variations within each of the two national communities, bestowing ever growing symbolic and moral values onto interpretations of the past."

Read Israel Studies 21.1, Representations of Israeli-Jewish—Israeli-Palestinian Memory and Historical Narratives of the 1948 War, online now at JSTOR.