“Contested histories”, “contested narratives”: What kind of nonsense is this?
A war of words and concepts!
By Khalil Nakhleh • Jan 28th, 2010
Numerous books and articles have been written, guided by the main thesis that the reason for the prolonged and intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine, and which is constantly at an impasse, is that there are two “contested” histories (of Jews and Arabs in Palestine!), and two “contested” narratives. And one is directed to read and internalize that “contested”, in this sense, means that both narratives are equally valid and with equal legitimacy, and that all alternative reading and interpretation of it, and all attempts to question it are “subjective”, “very personal”, “emotive”, “irrational”, “not credible”, “unreliable”, and “removed from history” … This is, in my view, a total and utter nonsense.
Such an approach ignores actual historical developments and ignores origins of real versus mythical historical developments, and de-legitimizes the continued Palestinian presence in the land of historical Palestine.
Before the onslaught of the Zionist colonial attack on Palestine in the 19th century, there were no claims recorded that the history of Palestine was a “contested history”. The local history was clear and in sharp relief. The indigenous population in Palestine was largely Palestinian Arabs (Muslims and Christians), in addition to a small minority of Palestinian Jews. The majority and minority co-existed and interacted with each other, as they always do in other normal open spaces, through commerce, rituals and friendships, etc. This was in the entire region under Ottoman rule. All perceived themselves to be an integral part of that Palestinian history and geography. They lived under the general cultural umbrella prevailing in that space, while respecting each other’s specificity. The contestation was not different from the contestations among any group of people, with different or competing class interests, expressed through different values, traditions, languages, etc, co-habiting the same physical space.
The emergence of “contested histories” coincided with the imposition of a new foreign (and mythical) narrative, with European origins, that justified the control over the indigenous Palestinian Arab population, and their dispossession and alienation from their land, culture, language, and other sources, leading to depriving them of their humanity. This imposed colonial narrative eventually led to their physical decimation, their ruthless ethnic cleansing, and fragmentation of their social structure, history and culture.
Here, indeed, the new mythical claims by the Ashkenazi Zionist invaders were “contested” and challenged by the indigenous Palestinian Arab population and society. The subject of contestation was clearly and repeatedly the Zionist evil committed against the indigenous Palestinian Arab population. Prior to that, there is no evidence that co-existence of Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews in the land of Palestine was ever “contested”.
Those who try to explain the prolonged Israel/Palestine conflict in terms of two “valid” but “contested” histories, are simply trying to provide an untenable justification for the imposition of the Ashkenazi Zionist settler colonial system and structure. This is always contested by the Palestinian Arabs who have been, and continue to be until this day, victimized by this colonial structure and ideology, and by those Jews and others who came to realize and experience the colossal evil embedded in this colonial and racist ideology. This system does not carry any legitimacy, except that of brute power and ruthless mechanisms of suppression.
The legitimate history of Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews co-habiting the land of Palestine prior to the onslaught of Ashkenazi Zionist European colonialism on Palestine is never “contested”, except by those who usurped indigenous Palestinian basic human rights. The rest is sheer nonsense!
Khalil Nakhleh, Ph.D.
Independent Researcher and Writer