THIS IS THE FIRST ISSUE of JPS since Yasir Arafat’s death in November 2004 marked the end of an era in Palestinian politics. Already change is evident, although the basic existential conditions of the Palestinian people—dispersal, occupation, geographic fragmentation within the territories themselves—remain. The Journal will examine aspects of Arafat’s complex and contested legacy in subsequent issues.
In the current issue, Arafat’s death and the likely revival of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations give veteran Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper’s searching reflections on appropriate strategies for the international peace movement particular relevance. A more dominant theme in this winter issue, however, is the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which is approached from three different angles. British military historian Matthew Hughes examines the role of Lebanon and the Arab Liberation Army in the 1948 war within the context of the work of Israel’s “new historians,” while Stanford’s Joel Beinin criticizes the treatment of the war by these same historians—notably Benny Morris—for its similarities with traditional Zionist categories of knowledge, particularly the exclusion of Arab evidence. Since a significant aspect of this exclusion is the failure to acknowledge serious Arab scholarship on 1948, and because of the persistence in some circles of Israel’s version of the causes of the Palestinian exodus, the Journal is running as a “Historical Reprint” Walid Khalidi’s seminal article “Why Did the Palestinians Leave?” Published in 1959, more than two decades before the emergence of the new historians, the article anticipates a number of their key findings.
Two special features in the current issue deserve close attention. The first is a special document file providing background to the current controversy over Columbia University’s Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department. While at first glance the furor could appear to be an internal academic matter, in fact it has wider implications not only for U.S. Middle East studies but also for academic freedom and indeed the wider freedom to express minority views. The second special feature is a “Resource File” bringing together data pertaining to the four-plus years of the al-Aqsa intifada. Publication of this material—which includes a concise overview of Israeli military operations, a comparative statistical table of losses (deaths, injuries, house demolitions, areas of agricultural land destroyed), and listings of suicide bombings and assassinations—seemed particularly appropriate at a time when the intifada appears to be winding down under the impact of apparent exhaustion on both sides as well as the post-Arafat upheaval in Palestinian politics. It makes for grim reading, but provides in statistical and capsule form an explanation of much that is happening today in both Palestinian and Israeli societies, and in the politics and policies of both sides to the conflict.
—Rashid I. Khalidi