on April 19, 2004
Gershon Shafir published this book in 1996 through University of California Press. Certainly it is a major contribution to undersatnding the fundamental problems of any attempt at a settlemen in Israel/Palestine. Working in the same vein as Benny Morris, Tom Segev, Ilan Pape, and other "new" historians (the name is used in both praise and derision), Shafir crafted an impressive work that attempted to cut through Zionist and Palestinian myths and examine what truly happened from 1882-1914. However, after all his impressive research, readers feel like there may be more to the story than written.
After a comparison and contrast of different styles of colonialism (he asserts that Zionism can best be understood as a form of colonialism), he reviews Zionist land policies. For Shafir, agriculture and the land is the root of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While this is certainly a hugely important issue, he neglects the urban roots of conflict in favor of his agricultural theories. Ironically, this only furthers the myth of Israelis returning to the land, whereas most future Israelis lived in cities. Without examining the urban aspects of the conflict, he only tells part of the story. Also, his work is Ashkenazi-centric (European Jewish). True, the leaders of Zionism were mostly Central/Eastern European during this period, but he virtually marginalizes the story of other Zionists.
Nevertheless, Shafir's contribution to the academic literature as it offers a glimpse into the agricultural roots that contributed to the modern conflict.
on April 27, 2015
This was one of the lesser-known revisionist historical works released in Israel in the late 80's, challenging its founding mythology. As opposed to the political myth-shattering histories written by Shlaim, Pappe and Morris, Shafir provides a detailed history of the political economy of the early Zionist settlements in relation to the local Palestinian Arab peasantry and laboring class. Also, while the other writers dealt with the war of the independence and the Nakba, Shafir deals with the period between 1882 and 1914, just before the first World War, during the earliest days of the Zionist project in Palestine when the first Jewish settlers came streaming in to Ottoman Palestine. In contrast to the romantic pseudo-leftist tale of egalitarian pioneering socialist communes in a blooming desert, Shafir provides ample empirical evidence of their function as typical settler colonial fortifications that primarily enriched their members at the expense of the local Arab population, displacing them and leaving them increasingly landless, stoking the fires of unrest and discontent that would permanently drive a wedge between Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine, resulting in the riots of the 20's, the Zionist terrorist attacks and Palestinian Arab revolts of the 30's and 40's, culminating in the brutal war of 1948 which saw the mass ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Arabs from their historic homeland, resulting in the conflict we have today. Also of particular interest is his discussion of the New Yishuv's drive to replace Palestinian labor on the Kibbutz with "Hebrew labor", importing Yemeni Jews to serve replacements for the Palestinians in providing hard labor for the kibbutz. Not only was this another example of the economic displacement of the Palestinians, this was also a grim portent of Mizrahi/Palestinian relations to come, when the Zionist movement recruited Jewish immigrants from across the Arab and Islamic world during the 40's and 50's to come to Palestine to settle emptied lands and replace the Palestinian peasants it had just expelled during the war. A process that turned the Arab Jews into functional lower tier first class helot citizens in a settler colonial project, citizens set in opposition to the indigenous Palestinians they were taught to hate as part of the dreaded "Arab enemy", along with their own cultural heritage. All of this graced with detailed maps and numerical data about the economic services and finances of the early kibbutz project. This is social history at its finest, outdoing even the classics of Israeli "New Historians" in terms of breadth of facts and depth of argumentation. While it is common among many anti-Zionist activists to say the problem begins in 1948, Shafir takes us further back to the key period when the stage was being set for what would happen during the 20's, 30's and 40's. The conflict began then and only a full understanding of what happened then give us the conceptual tools necessary for imagining a different structural future for Jews and Palestinians in Palestine.