The legacy of Joan Peters and ‘From Time Immemorial’

Israel/Palestine
on 58 Comments

Joan Peters has died.  She wrote, or at least inspired, a very significant chapter in the history of Israeli hasbara.  Thirty years ago, Peters, a formerly little known “journalist,” published her magnum opus, From Time Immemorial:  The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict over Palestine.  The book launched a wide-ranging controversy that involved Norman Finkelstein, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Alan Dershowitz, Barbara Tuchman, Saul Bellow, Daniel Pipes, and many others.  Even now, thirty years later, Peters is mourned by some and reviled by others.

Peters’s thesis, simply stated, is that prior to massive immigration of European Jews to Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the land was mostly barren and under-populated.  The newly arrived Jews brought great prosperity which attracted a large number of Arabs from neighboring lands who then moved to Palestine to share in the fruit of Jewish ingenuity and wealth.  As a result, many of the people who call themselves Palestinians today are descendants of these relatively recent economic immigrants, and their displacement at the time of Israel’s creation is much fairer, or at least much less unfair, than Palestinians and their supporters claim.

The book proved to be a godsend, particularly for those Zionists who were slightly troubled by the possibility that the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine might have been disadvantaged by the Zionist project of creating a Jewish State on their land.  Whatever minimal discomfort their consciences gave them could now be put to rest entirely, and their ideological adversaries who complained of forcible displacement and exile would be battered by the intellectual clarity of a 600-page heavily-footnoted scholarly tome.  “Palestinians,” who could now appear in quotation marks, were not victims of Zionism, but only nomads who recently had been squatting on Jewish land and seeking to mooch off the success of a superior culture.

Consequently, the book received rapturous attention and praise upon its publication in 1984.  World renowned historian Barbara Tuchman raved:  “This book is a historical event in itself, a discovery that has lain in the dark all along until its revelation by Joan Peters’s unrelenting research.  It could well change the course of events in the Middle East.”  Nobel Prize winning novelist Saul Bellow and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg also gushed their enthusiasm over this ground-breaking book, as did Elie Wiesel.  There was little serious criticism of FTI in the U.S. until Norman Finkelstein, then a graduate student at Princeton, started methodically picking it apart, with the cautious encouragement of Noam Chomsky, who presciently advised him that such heretical activities might derail his budding academic career.  Finkelstein’s preliminary findings were published in In These Times, and he subsequently expanded them in his book a decade later, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

When Peters’s book was published in the UK in 1985, it received a much more hostile response.  For example, in the London Review of Books, Ian Gilmour, a Conservative who served in the Heath and Thatcher governments, along with his son David, savaged the book in great detail.  The New York Review of Books then gave space to Israeli history Professor Yehoshua Porath’s extremely critical review.  Soon, even some of Peters’s American supporters were distancing themselves.  For instance, Daniel Pipes, who had given the book a positive review in Commentary, now felt compelled to admit that the book had serious flaws –“From Time Immemorial quotes carelessly, uses statistics sloppily, and ignores inconvenient facts. . .  The author’s linguistic and scholarly abilities are open to question. . .  In short, From Time Immemorial stands out as an appallingly crafted book.”  (He should have added:  “Sorry I forgot to mention that in my original review.”)

Defenders of the book love to point out that Peters began her project out of sympathy for the Palestinians, referencing her self-serving claims to that effect at the beginning of chapter 1.  Actually, Peters professes that she set out to blame neighboring Arab states for failing to cooperate with the Zionist project by absorbing the refugees and removing any reason for them to return to their beloved homes and communities.  Peters pretended to be enlightened when her research revealed that the Palestinians’ misfortune was all their fault to begin with.  So she approached this project with the pre-conceived notion that Arab countries, and not Israel, were responsible for the plight of the Palestinian refugees, and changed her position to find that Arab countries and the Palestinians themselves were at fault, with Israel even more blameless than she thought.  Quelle surprise!

Noam Chomsky has publicly declared his skepticism that Joan Peters even wrote the book, speculating that it might have been authored by some intelligence agency.  That may be true, but I would have guessed that any “intelligence” agency would have written a better book.  Still, if you have the stomach, watch this video interview of Peters by Zola Levitt.  It is difficult to tell who is more clueless, and in my opinion, anyone who watches Peters’s performance could reasonably question her ability to write a book of this scope, even a lousy one.  In any event, Chomsky is surely right that the reaction to the book is far more important than the mostly irrelevant and unanswerable question of its authorship.

Enter the Dersh.  In 2002, Alan Dershowitz published The Case for Israel.  I have read through much of this book and found it a field manual for rank dishonesty.  On virtually every single page, Dershowitz engages in wide variety of deceit – from outright lies to even more misleading half-truths.  Indeed, I probably learned more about this subject by carefully checking Dersh’s claims and supposedly supporting footnotes than from any other source.  In any event, Norman Finkelstein, who had labored so long and hard to expose the gargantuan flaws in Peters’s book about 17 years earlier, must have been shocked to see Dershowitz repeat her discredited thesis, sometimes with attribution to FTI and sometimes without.  In a now famous joint appearance on Democracy Now, Dershowitz must have felt blindsided by the well-prepared and merciless Finkelstein.

The DN! debate is probably most famous for the discussion of Dershowitz’s plagiarism. There is no doubt that Dershowitz restated Peters’s thesis (in chapter 2 of a 32-chapter book) with little change.  Rather than pretend that he came up with it solely on his own, or admit that he was simply regurgitating someone else’s analysis, Dersh chose a middle course.  He gave Peters credit for some of his citations, and passed off the rest as his own.  The problem was that he did not pay sufficient attention to differentiating between these two categories, and made some conspicuous errors.  The most notorious one was to repeat a unique and somewhat bizarre excerpt from Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad that appears in the Peters book. [1]  Peters uses about a half-dozen ellipses to denote excluded material, and combined, the entire quote spans nearly one hundred pages (pages 349, 366,  367, 375, 429, 441-442).  Dershowitz foolishly reprinted (almost entirely) Peters’s quote, with the very same ellipses, but his footnote only cites Twain at almost the very same pages cited by Peters – 349, 366,  367, 375, 441-442 (but not 429).  He subsequently claimed that he never even came across Peters’s rendition of the Mark Twain quote.  In other words, Dershowitz suggested that he independently fashioned his Twain excerpts on a very odd set of pages, and was not merely relying on Peters’s earlier, virtually identical version.  It didn’t help that Peters made various typographical errors in her transcription of Twain, errors that were repeated by Dershowitz. Whoops! For those interested in the full details, a lawyer named Frank Menetrez wrote the definitive account of Dershowitz’s blunder and his false insistence to have been cleared of all plagiarism charges, followed by an exchange between Dershowitz and Menetrez.

Turning back to Peters’s death, the New York Times obit is noteworthy for its absurd effort to appear impartial about the FTI controversy.  Most interesting is its depiction of Yehoshua Porath’s opinion on the book.  As a real-live Israeli, and a history professor to boot, Porath’s opinion counts for much more in the paper of record than supporters of Palestinian rights or Palestinians themselves, like Finkelstein or Said.  This is what the Times says about Porath:

[Porath] said the book was symptomatic of “the two contrasting mythologies that the Arabs and the Jews have developed to explain their situations.  Like most myths, these generally contain some element of plausibility,” he continued, “some grain of historical truth, which through terminological ambiguity is then twisted into a false and grotesque shape. The unfortunate thing” about the book, he added, “is that from a position of apparently great learning and research, she attempts to refute the Arab myths merely by substituting the Jewish myths for them.

The quote from Porath’s review is accurate but its apparent even-handedness hardly sums up Porath’s actual opinion of the book.  A more succinct and accurate rendition would include this quote: ”I think it’s a sheer forgery.  In Israel, at least, the book was almost universally dismissed as sheer rubbish except maybe as a propaganda weapon,” the historian said.  Where can that Porath quote be found?  In the New York Times, of course.  In a 1985 article on the controversy surrounding the book, the Times reporter interviewed Porath, who offered this unsparing assessment.  Indeed, even if the Times overlooked its own article, the Porath piece in the New York Review that the obit does quote includes this far more devastating conclusion:

Readers of her book should be warned not to accept its factual claims without checking their sources. Judging by the interest that the book aroused and the prestige of some who have endorsed it, I thought it would present some new interpretation of the historical facts. I found none. Everyone familiar with the writing of the extreme nationalists of Zeev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist party (the forerunner of the Herut party) would immediately recognize the tired and discredited arguments in Mrs. Peters’s book. I had mistakenly thought them long forgotten. It is a pity that they have been given new life.

Still, the Times obit managed to cite Porath’s much more neutral statement out of context without mentioning his unequivocal condemnation of the recently deceased Peters.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about the entire Peters affair is that her attempt to rewrite history was intended to justify an immoral outcome.  Let’s assume for the purposes of argument that despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the dishonest scholarship and analysis, and even the atrocious writing and shoddy editing, Peters is right.  Palestine was virtually empty and desolate until the Jews arrived to spruce up the place and make the desert bloom, creating a magnet for poor Arabs from surrounding countries.  How would that justify a state where those of a certain ethnicity/ancestry impose second-class status upon their fellow citizens who are “ethnically challenged,” and exercise a military dictatorship over millions of non-citizens as well?  All of Peters’s historical shenanigans were intended to show that Jewish and Arab migration were essentially contemporaneous and that the Arab population does not enjoy a longer history in Palestine.  Wasn’t the 1948 creation of a “Jewish State,” and the post-1967 Occupation that Peters implicitly defended, still horribly unfair to the non-Jews who shared the land?  Wouldn’t such rule by one ethnic group over another be a distasteful anachronism in the 21st century, or even in the 1980’s when Peters wrote her book?  Peters’s thesis is not only dead wrong, it does not serve her intended purpose as a mathematical QED that justifies the status quo.

The bizarre chapter of Joan Peters’s contribution to the Middle East debate does not end with her death.  Her arguments, both those she adopted from others and those she formulated herself, still constitute a huge portion of the go-to hasbara repertoire.  From Time Immemorial is an embarrassment that taints anyone who embraced it as well as those who continue to do so.

Notes

1. Mark Twain would be rolling over in his grave if he knew that his mostly humorous travelogue was being used for the nefarious purpose of denying an indigenous people’s connection to their own land.  Twain uproariously ridiculed Western claims to Palestine in this debate between Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in Tom Sawyer Abroad:

[Tom:] “A crusade is a war to recover the Holy Land from the paynim.”

[Huck:] “Which Holy Land?”

“Why, the Holy Land—there ain’t but one.”

“What do we want of it?”

“Why, can’t you understand? It’s in the hands of the paynim, and it’s our duty to take it away from them.”

“How did we come to let them git hold of it?”

“We didn’t come to let them git hold of it. They always had it.”

“Why, Tom, then it must belong to them, don’t it?”

“Why of course it does. Who said it didn’t?”

About David Samel

David Samel is an attorney in New York City.

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58 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    January 17, 2015, 10:35 am

    I seriously question whether the Dersh writes his own books. I mean between being a professor (now retired) and defending Israel, getting pedophiles off and digging up dirt on teenagers where did he find the time? That book about the terra tunnels came out awful quick.

    • David Samel
      January 17, 2015, 4:25 pm

      I’m not so sure about that, blah. If there is one thing admirable about this guy, it is his energy. I think he’s quite capable of spitting these books out. Also, in all seriousness, they are remarkably consistent in their dishonesty with his public appearances. When I read these books, it is like I can hear him saying these things. They are quite consistent with his voice. And I think it might be difficult to find ghost writers who would think and act like that. (With Peters, I would find it easier to believe that she did not really write this book; she seems like a real dummy in her public appearances.)

      Most importantly, though, it doesn’t make a difference. I think Finkelstein made a big mistake in accusing him of not writing The Case for Israel. It’s fairly un-provable, and gives Dersh a platform to answer with indignation. Not writing the books does not even make Dersh look worse than he should. His authorship should be taken at face value, and he should be blamed for the full content of his books.

      • lysias
        January 17, 2015, 6:28 pm

        Lawyers don’t do history. They use their version of history to support a predetermined agenda. An impartial attempt to determine the truth isn’t their thing. They are biased from the get go.

        I speak as someone with training in both academic history (ancient, in my case) and law.

        By the way, from what I have seen of Peters’s book, it reads to me like a lawyer’s brief, not like academic history. No wonder Dersh plagiarized it.

      • lysias
        January 17, 2015, 6:29 pm

        Repeating the mistakes of the source of an alleged plagiarism, as was the case with Dersh and Peters, strikes me as proof.

      • RoHa
        January 17, 2015, 8:54 pm

        “Repeating the mistakes of the source of an alleged plagiarism, as was the case with Dersh and Peters, strikes me as proof.”

        If I see that in a student’s essay, that student will face sticky interviews with me and the Head of the Department.

        (Unless, of course, the standard $100 bill is stapled to the essay.)

      • Mooser
        January 18, 2015, 12:26 pm

        “(Unless, of course, the standard $100 bill is stapled to the essay.)”

        Glad we got that whole “cheap” and/or “easy” thing settled!

  2. Philip Weiss
    January 17, 2015, 12:04 pm

    Excellent argument re the irrelevance of the argument in the face of a 21st century anachronism…. And great Mark Twain stuff, thank you David, I never saw that before.

  3. K Renner
    January 17, 2015, 1:05 pm

    Good riddance to a liar and bad “settler”-supporting rubbish. May the Dersh and the likes of Daniel Pipes and his ilk follow prematurely as soon as possible.

  4. Jackdaw
    January 17, 2015, 1:23 pm

    It is interesting that even the most adamant of Peter’s Israeli leftist critics—Yehoshua Porath of the Hebrew University, who penned a highly influential takedown of ‘From Time Immemorial’ in the New York Review of Books did not dispute this basic fact that there is overwhelming evidence of extensive, in-migration from the predominantly Arab to the Jewish-settled areas.

    Porath said that “during the Mandate the country absorbed 100,000 legal and illegal Arab immigrants and their offspring—a figure that is not very different from Miss Peters’s estimates,”, Peters’s thesis was “generally sound.”

    • Annie Robbins
      January 17, 2015, 5:16 pm

      Peters’s thesis was “generally sound.”

      who are you quoting? here’s Porath: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1986/jan/16/mrs-peterss-palestine/

      did not dispute …..in-migration from the predominantly Arab to the Jewish-settled areas.

      Much of Mrs. Peters’s book argues that at the same time that Jewish immigration to Palestine was rising, Arab immigration to the parts of Palestine where Jews had settled also increased. Therefore, in her view, the Arab claim that an indigenous Arab population was displaced by Jewish immigrants must be false, since many Arabs only arrived with the Jews. The precise demographic history of modern Palestine cannot be summed up briefly, but its main features are clear enough and they are very different from the fanciful description Mrs. Peters gives. It is true that in the middle of the nineteenth century there was neither a “Palestinian nation” nor a “Palestinian identity.” But about four hundred thousand Arabs—the great majority of whom were Muslims—lived in Palestine, which was divided by the Ottomans into three districts. Some of these people were the descendants of the pre-Islamic population that had adopted Islam and the Arabic language; others were members of Bedouin tribes, although the penetration of Bedouins was drastically curtailed after the mid-nineteenth century, when the Ottoman authorities became stronger and more efficient.

      As all the research by historians and geographers of modern Palestine shows, the Arab population began to grow again in the middle of the nineteenth century. That growth resulted from a new factor: the demographic revolution. Until the 1850s there was no “natural” increase of the population, but this began to change when modern medical treatment was introduced and modern hospitals were established, both by the the Ottoman authorities and by the foreign Christian missionaries. The number of births remained steady but infant mortality decreased. This was the main reason for Arab population growth, not incursions into the country by the wandering tribes who by then had become afraid of the much more efficient Ottoman troops. Toward the end of Ottoman rule the various contemporary sources no longer lament the outbreak of widespread epidemics. This contrasts with the Arabic chronicles of previous periods in which we find horrible descriptions of recurrent epidemics—typhoid, cholera, bubonic plague—decimating the population. Under the British Mandate, with still better sanitary conditions, more hospitals, and further improvements in medical treatment, the Arab population continued to grow.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 17, 2015, 11:18 pm

        thanks shingo, always good to see you around.

      • Jackdaw
        January 18, 2015, 12:32 am

        I attributed the quote to Porath in error. The ‘sound thesis’ quote belongs to Rael Issac. Mea culpa.

        “Avneri comes to similar conclusions, finding that during the Mandate the country absorbed 100,000 legal and illegal Arab immigrants and their offspring—a figure that is not very different from Miss Peters’s estimates.

        https://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/whose-palestine/

      • Annie Robbins
        January 18, 2015, 1:38 am

        Arieh Avneri, the nakba denier? how shocking. the author of this 1982 book http://www.amazon.com/The-Claim-Dispossession-Land-Settlement-1878-1948/dp/0878559647

        This study sheds new light on the historic background of the contemporary Palestinian problem. Avneri traces the spread of Jewish settlements over the seventy-year period before the establishment of the State of Israel, in order to see how it affected the existing Arab community’s economy and social and cultural institutions. He demonstrates that there is no historical evidence for the eviction of the Palestinians from Israel previous to the founding of the state. Most of those who left afterwards did so on their own volition

        interestingly he’s also the author of a 1975 book called “The Legend of the Zionist dispossession” you can see photos of the cover and pages of the text here: http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=iw&u=http://rotter.net/forum/gil/6924.shtml&prev=search

        according to both links it published by the Ministry of Education. this translation calls it ” The myth of “the Zionist dispossession” ”
        http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=iw&u=http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25D7%2590%25D7%25A8%25D7%2599%25D7%2594_%25D7%259C._%25D7%2590%25D7%2591%25D7%25A0%25D7%25A8%25D7%2599&prev=search

        from the link with the photographs of the book’s pages: (google translate)

        Once, many years ago when the Ministry of Education but not dabbling in education of our children, he took out a booklet called “The Legend of the Zionist dispossession” by Sir Avnery.
        The purpose of the booklet is to provide the history of the Jewish settlement in Palestine on accuracy, and show students that all Arab claims are false and distorted.

        The booklet I found lying in a bookstore somewhere in the country.
        Probably already do not learn it in school in Israel.

        Small note: the book does not have any reference to copyright, etc. – if there is a legal problem, of course, you can delete the files.

        Also I apologize in advance for the broad file, if there is someone who understands the matter and can group them without damaging the quality bless him.

        anyone who reads hebrew can read what the israeli kids were reading back then. and you might be able to purchase one used here http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=iw&u=http://simania.co.il/bookdetails.php%3Fitem_id%3D399115&prev=search

      • Mooser
        January 18, 2015, 12:29 pm

        “by making false claims and hoping no one would check the veracity of them.”

        They have not the slightest hesitation in showing what they, and their arguments, are made of.

        The frightening thing is that up til now, they have never had to offer anything else, and they show it.

    • American
      January 17, 2015, 7:09 pm

      Porath said that “during the Mandate the country absorbed 100,000 legal and illegal Arab immigrants and their offspring—a figure that is not very different from Miss Peters’s estimates,”, Peters’s thesis was “generally sound.” – ====jackdaw

      I have to assume you are ignorant and Peters was just lying for israel with her book because the population figures of Palestine have always been known .

      And all the official census have been posted here numerous times:

      The last time I had to repeat myself for you trolls was Feb of this year with this:

      # The 1922 census of Palestine was the first census carried out by the authorities of the British Mandate of Palestine, on 23 October 1922. The division into religious groups was:
      590,390 Muslims
      83,694 Jews
      73,024 Christians,
      7,028 Druze
      808 Sikhs
      265 Bahais
      156 Metawalis
      163 Samaritans.

      J. B. Barron, ed. (1923). Palestine: Report and General Abstracts of the Census of 1922. Government of Palestine.

      http://www.klinebooks.com/cgi-bin/kline/35716.html

      # Official report on the 1931 Census of Palestine, which was the second census carried out by the authorities of the British Mandate of Palestine. It was carried out on 18 November 1931 under the direction of Major E. Mills. The first census had been conducted in 1922. Following the 1931 census, no further census was conducted in Palestine by the British administration. The total population reported was 1,035,821 (1,033,314 excluding the numbers of H.M. Forces) – an increase of 36.8% since 1922, of which the Jewish population increased by 108.4%.
      The population was divided by religion as follows:
      759,717 Muslims,
      174,610 Jews,
      91,398 Christians,
      9,148 Druzes,
      350 Bahais,
      182 Samaritans,
      and 421 “no religion”.
      A special problem was posed by the nomadic Bedouin of the south, who were reluctant to cooperate. Estimates of each tribe were made by officers of the district administration according to local observation. The total of 759,717 Muslims included 66,553 persons enumerated by this method.

      # According to a Survey of Palestine prepared in December 1945 there were :
      1,076,780 Muslims (58% of the total population),
      608,230 Jews (33%),
      145,060 Christians (9%). (4)

      # In the mid-19th century, the area corresponding to Palestine had about 340,000 people, of whom 300,000 or 88 per cent were Muslims or Druze, 27,000 of 8 per cent Christian, and 13,000 or 4 per cent Jews.

      According to the E.Mills British Census of 1931 ***LESS THAN 3% OF THE MUSLIM POPLULATION WAS BORN OUT SIDE OF PALESTINE.****

      Why dont you get a real job and make some money and you can buy the copies of the actual and entire census reports at the link above.
      Jew were never a majority in Palestine–get over it.

      • jjs
        April 4, 2015, 6:17 pm

        So according to your data, the 1922 census counted
        590,390 Muslims
        83,694 Jews and
        73,024 Christians. Then the 1931 census came along, with the following numbers:
        759,717 Muslims,
        174,610 Jews,
        91,398 Christians. And yet you add the claim that “Less than 3% of the Muslim population was born outside of Palestine”. I certainly don’t claim to be a mathematical genius, but even a cursory look at the difference between 590,390 Muslims in 1922 and 759,717 in 1931 would indicate that far more than 3% had to have been born out of Palestine to reach these numbers, if only because of the very high level of infant mortality.

        The same objection applies even more so when you consider the next raft of figures (from an unidentified source), according to which by 1945 there were:
        1,076,780 Muslims (58% of the total population),
        608,230 Jews (33%), and
        145,060 Christians (9%). But according to your argument, the huge increase in Arab population in just a little over 10 years (from 759,717 to 1,076,780) would be due entirely to natality? That defies logic and simple good accounting practices. More simply put, you make no sense.

      • Shingo
        April 4, 2015, 11:16 pm

        I certainly don’t claim to be a mathematical genius, but even a cursory look at the difference between 590,390 Muslims in 1922 and 759,717 in 1931 would indicate that far more than 3% had to have been born out of Palestine to reach these numbers, if only because of the very high level of infant mortality.

        Clearly you are no genius of any kind. How does your assumption about infant mortality negate the argument that only 3% were born outside Palestine?

      • oldgeezer
        April 4, 2015, 11:56 pm

        @jjs

        Ohhhhh I eagerly await your explanation as to what GAAP has to do with the issue.

    • David Samel
      January 17, 2015, 11:11 pm

      jackdaw, Annie already accused you of fabricating the Porath “generally sound” quote. What about your claim that Porath said that “during the Mandate the country absorbed 100,000 legal and illegal Arab immigrants and their offspring—a figure that is not very different from Miss Peters’s estimates,”? Did Porath really write that? I can’t find it. Are you just making up quotes? I apologize if you are able to identify where these quotes are in Porath’s piece and I just didn’t see them, but if you cannot, you’re really an asshole.

      btw, Porath identifies politically as a centrist. Why do you call him a leftist? Does that term mean “truth-teller” to you?

      • tree
        January 19, 2015, 12:42 am

        btw, Porath identifies politically as a centrist. Why do you call him a leftist?

        David, haven’t you heard? Anyone who isn’t to the right of Netanyahu is now a “leftist” in Israel. Bibi’s the new center.

        BTW, this article is another great contribution from you, as usual. I will disagree somewhat with one of your statements, though.

        Peters’s thesis is not only dead wrong, it does not serve her intended purpose as a mathematical QED that justifies the status quo.

        I disagree that it was intended purely as a mathematical QED. Its greatest strength was in its appeal to racism and a sense of superiority. Yes, it has no moral argument to make for anyone with a sense of justice and equality, but by attributing an influx of Arabs to the Zionist Jews, who “made the desert bloom”, yada, yada it sought to invoke the sense that Jews were (of course) more deserving of the land because they were smarter and more industrious, unlike the savage uncultured Arabs. It clicked in to a sense of Jewish superiority, and also a sense of victimhood, because, well, what ingrates the Arabs were for not appreciating what the Jews were doing for them. Of course it only works on those who are carrying bigotted beliefs but there are sorely too many of those around of all stripes and flavors.

        Its the same sense of intellectual, cultural, and/or moral superiority that lets too many Americans justify US actions that kill people in foreign countries for the sake of “freedom”. And those foreigners are just so damned ungrateful for all our “help” and interest in their well-being, so they really deserve to be killed. Its a perverse argument but it seems to carry a lot of weight these days, much to humanity’s detriment.

    • David Samel
      January 18, 2015, 2:40 pm

      jackdaw, let me get this straight. When you said

      even the most adamant of Peter’s Israeli leftist critics—Yehoshua Porath of the Hebrew University, who penned a highly influential takedown of ‘From Time Immemorial’ in the New York Review of Books did not dispute this basic fact that there is overwhelming evidence of extensive, in-migration from the predominantly Arab to the Jewish-settled areas.

      you made a mistake. You really meant to say that even Peters’s most dedicated fellow hasbarists do not dispute her. Don’t sweat it – happens to me all the time. I’m always accidentally attributing comments critical of Israel to Netanyahu, Oren, Dershowitz etc. when I really mean Finkelstein, Chomsky, Cockburn, etc. I hate it when that happens.

    • Zofia
      January 18, 2015, 4:52 pm

      The International Law Foundations of Palestinian Nationality. A Legal Examination of Palestinian Nationality under the British Rule, by Mutaz Qafisheh
      Travellers
      In 1925, “1,674 travellers, including 1,251 Jews, were granted permission to remain permanently in Palestine, p. 212
      In 1936, “1,817 persons who originally entered as travellers… subsequently received permission to remain permanently”.
      As a result, the number of travellers who were registered as immigrants from 1924 until 1945 totalled 38,325 persons.

      Immigrants
      Immigrants constituted the bulk of foreigners who entered Palestine under the British rule, most of whom were Jews. From 1920 until 1945, the total number of persons registered as immigrants and, therefore, permanent residents in the country, was estimated at 401,149. Of these, 367,845 (about 91%) were Jews., p.215.
      In 1933, it was estimated that “the number of these unauthorized [Jewish immigrant] settlers had reached a total of 22,400 in the last two years”, p.223
      During the same period [by march 1944], 19,965 illegal immigrants had entered the country., p.215
      A considerable number of foreign Jews (about 261,975 persons) were present in Palestine in 1946. This figure included three categories of Jews: (1) legal residents, (2) illegal immigrants,1126 and (3) refugees. On the other hand, the number of foreign Arabs in Palestine stood at about 16,148 persons. Thus, foreign Arabs in Palestine were a minor group (about 6% of all foreign ppl) when compared with foreign Jews (about 94%) presented in the country., p. 260-261.

      In its first provision, the Palestinian Citizenship Order of 1925 considered all Ottoman subjects who were habitually resident in Palestine on 1 August 1925 as Palestinian citizens. These inhabitants, numbered 729,873 individuals, formed the first-ever Palestinian citizens from the viewpoint of domestic law. Of these Palestinians, 99% were comprised of Arabs (Muslims, Christians and ‘Others’) and 1% consisted of Jews. In regard to Ottomans who were born in Palestine but were residing abroad on 1 August 1925 (estimated at about 40,000 in 1936), the British-run Government of Palestine denied them to return to their homes in Palestine. As a result, these native Palestinians had become stateless; on the one hand, they lost their Ottoman nationality by virtue of the Treaty of Lausanne and, on the other hand, they had not acquired Palestinian nationality according to Palestinian law.
      At the end end of this rule, the total number of persons who acquired Palestinian nationality by naturalization was estimated at 132,616; about 99% of them were Jews., p. 271.

      From 1920 until 1945, the total number of persons registered as immigrants in Palestine was estimated at 401,149. Of these, 367,845 individuals (about 91%) were Jews. Thus, about one-forth of Palestine’s inhabitants, citizens and foreigners at the end of the mandate period were immigrants., p. 272

      Also:
      N.G. Finkelstein, “A Spectacular Fraud: From Time Immemorial”, In These Times, September 5-11, 1984.
      Alexander Cockburn, “Beat the Devil”, The Nation, September 29, 1984
      Robert Olson, “Review of Books”, American Historical Review, April 1985
      Bill Farrell, “Joan Peters and the Perversion of History”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Fall 1984
      Madeleine Tress, Arab Studies Quarterly, Fall 1984
      Albert Hourani, “Back to the Roots of Middle East Conflict”, The Observer (London), March 5, 1985.
      And many others.

      Edward C. Corrigan on Peters’ 3 main demographic thesis: http://www.edcorrigan.ca/articles/joan-peters-from-time-immemorial.-definitive-study-or-transparent-fraud,-by-edward-c.-corrigan.-american-arab-affairs,-fall-1986-pp.-77-91.pdf

  5. eGuard
    January 17, 2015, 4:25 pm

    Thanks for the great overview. Finkelstein, NYT and Dershowitz in perspective. (In that perspective, Dersh looks very very small. Not worth trusting).

  6. eljay
    January 17, 2015, 4:46 pm

    Let’s assume for the purposes of argument that … Peters is right. Palestine was virtually empty and desolate until the Jews arrived to spruce up the place and make the desert bloom, creating a magnet for poor Arabs from surrounding countries. How would that justify a state where those of a certain ethnicity/ancestry impose second-class status upon their fellow citizens who are “ethnically challenged,” and exercise a military dictatorship over millions of non-citizens as well?

    It wouldn’t. The right of self-determination belongs to the people of a geographic region. Israel should have been and should be the state of and for all citizens of, immigrants to and ex-pats and refugees from the geographic region comprising Partition-borders Israel, with equal rights for all.

    “Jewish State” would be a valid construct if Jewish were the bureaucratic nationality of that state; a nationality belonging to each citizen of, immigrant to and ex-pat and refugee from the geographic region the state comprises; a nationality that ensured equal rights for all.

    But Israel as a “Jewish State” is not a valid construct. It is a religion-supremacist construct – a state primarily of and for Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews, with more / special rights for Jews – because that’s how Zio-supremacist Jews envisioned it, established it and have maintained (and expanded) it.

  7. Bill
    January 17, 2015, 6:23 pm

    I was on the radio with Joan Peters’ in 1984. The show (“Night Talk” on WOR-AM) was taped in either in the summer or early autumn at Cinema Sound on the West Side. It aired, if I recall correctly, in late October 1984. By that time, I had written my own piece on her book for JPS. Unfortunately, JPS did not manage to publish its Autumn 1984 issue until well into autumn (perhaps even December 1984).

    Peters did not seem to know what was in her own book. She responded to my challenges to her demographic claims with gibberish. A few years later, I spoke by phone with someone who had been her researcher during some of the time she worked on the book. He was surprised that it had been published. He confirmed that she wanted to attack Palestinian claims. However, Peters wanted to write as if she was embarrassed by her findings.

    Unfortunately, I do not remember his name nor do I remember the name of the woman who told me about him. However, Norman Finkelstein knew her. He may remember who she was.

    BTW, the most important piece exposing Peters was Anthony Lewis’ op-ed in the New York Times in January 1986. After that piece, many people suddenly told me that they had known all along that Peters was a fraud.

    If I may be a bit self-centered, Lewis’ piece mentioned my piece, as did Porath (at least in the footnotes); as did Said; as did Charles Glass; and as did Alex Cockburn. Curiously, Mondoweiss never does. No doubt, they are just protecting me.

    • eGuard
      January 18, 2015, 6:19 am

      Bill: “Curiously, Mondoweiss never does [mention my piece]”. Hell, they even removed the link you added to this post.

      • Mooser
        January 18, 2015, 12:33 pm

        “Hell, they even removed the link you added to this post.”

        Moderating here must be no fun at all. I am going to try and keep that in mind, and apologize for the times I obviously have not.

    • David Samel
      January 18, 2015, 2:01 pm

      Bill, sorry for the omission. Looks like you spent your time at Columbia Law more productively than I did. btw, you were mentioned in Phil’s article http://mondoweiss.net/2011/12/david-remnick-erases-norman-finkelstein although he seems to have quoted Anthony Lewis’s reference to you. Good for you for being one of the very earliest to challenge this phony!

  8. Bornajoo
    January 17, 2015, 7:40 pm

    Once a book is written, no matter how fraudulent, the hasbara sticks. I’ve heard this ridiculous and totally fake argument so many times.

    Yes finkelstein may have made a mistake in accusing him of plagiarism instead of tearing the content to shreds but it was a priceless encounter on Democracy Now!

    Thank you for your excellent article

    • Boomer
      January 17, 2015, 8:38 pm

      “Once a book is written, no matter how fraudulent, the hasbara sticks.” So true. Your comment can be read as an updated version of a comment attributed to Mark Twain (though not original to him): “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/07/13/truth/

      It is a fact well known to political consultants, who make good use of it (e.g., “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”). Psychologists have demonstrated that attempting to dispute lies with facts often simply reminds the listener of the original falsehood, thus increasing the salience of the lie. Thus a “first strike” with a lie is diabolically effective. If the opponent addresses it directly, he digs himself deeper. Humor may sometimes be an effective defense, if deployed timely and skillfully.

      Politicians were aware of the technique long before modern psychological research. So confident in the technique were some of them, that some openly bragged about it.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_lie

      • Citizen
        January 18, 2015, 2:47 am

        Related:

        A big lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kamp.

      • Bornajoo
        January 18, 2015, 7:11 am

        @Boomer
        Yes a first strike lie is definitely diabolically effective. Netanyahu uses this technique often and mercilessly. Look at how he immediately blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and murder of the 3 teens as just one example. Or as Talknic has pointed out in his comment about Netanyahu’s speech about the ICC. I’m afraid he’s very good it.

        I’ve heard that this technique can be used if your partner walks into the bedroom and finds you in bed with someone else… Just deny it! You first say “this is NOT what you’re thinking” followed by “I can explain this”. Apparently it adds that tiny bit of doubt which probably spares your life at that moment

    • Mooser
      January 18, 2015, 12:35 pm

      “Once a book is written, no matter how fraudulent, the hasbara sticks.”

      The present changes the past. And just because it has changed it one way already, don’t mean it won’t be changing it another way, and soon.

      You see it here, every day.

    • MHughes976
      January 18, 2015, 3:58 pm

      I think that ‘truth with boots on’ came from the mid-Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon.

      • Mooser
        January 18, 2015, 4:12 pm

        I think that ‘truth with boots on’ came from the mid-Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon.

        “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on?”.

      • MHughes976
        January 19, 2015, 5:35 am

        Yes, as far as I could see the last time this quote came up, it appears in one of Spurgeon’s sermons as if it were already a well-known phrase, but no previous occurrence of it has been found. It’s rather a good image, I think – with truth as a respectable mid-nineteenth century gentleman pulling on his cumbersome boots.

  9. a blah chick
    January 17, 2015, 7:41 pm

    The thing that gets me is the whole idea that if I can show you did not come from “here” I can kick you out and generally abuse you.

    No, you can’t.

  10. RoHa
    January 17, 2015, 7:54 pm

    “Wasn’t the 1948 creation of a “Jewish State,” and the post-1967 Occupation that Peters implicitly defended, still horribly unfair to the non-Jews who shared the land?”

    Precisely. If (ex hypothesis) the Arab immigrants arrived at the same time as the Jewish immigrants, surely they would have exactly the same rights as the Jewish immigrants.

    • RoHa
      January 18, 2015, 6:46 pm

      And that damned software changed “hypothesi” to “hypothesis”.

  11. chinese box
    January 17, 2015, 9:38 pm

    I’m certainly not going to dance on anyone’s grave, but god, this woman did so much damage…

  12. Nevada Ned
    January 17, 2015, 11:43 pm

    Thanks, David Samel!

    When From Time Immemorial (FTI) was published, it received hundreds of positive reviews. For example, Martin Peretz of the New Republic praised the book (no surprise). Also praising the book was Judah Reinharz, an historian and biographer of Ezer Weizman.

    Many of the people praising FTI held positions of power and influence, but nobody was ever held accountable for supporting a hoax. For example, Judah Reinharz rose from a mere history professor to being President of Brandeis. It certainly didn’t hurt his career.

    Some of the (positive) reviewers were run-of-the-mill book reviewers who knew little or nothing about the early 20th century history of Palestine, and who were fooled by Joan Peters. Judah Reinharz knew better – after all, he is an historian and biographer of Weizman, and he (Reinharz) knows that the early Zionist pioneers were very conscious of being a tiny minority of Jews in a land with a far larger number of Palestinians.

    Somewhere* I read that Tom Segev, Israeli historian (author of The Seventh Million), stated that the Peters book was commissioned by Yitzak Shamir, who Mondoweiss readers recognize as the head of the terrorist Stern Gang, (a. k. a. LEHI), who later became Foreign Minister and (briefly) Prime Minister.
    Segev made this statement in a matter-of-fact way, as if he were saying, “everybody know this”. Israel is a small place, after all.

    *Dunno where I found it. No, I don’t have a link.

    Any Mondoweisser with the time to do it could look up the book reviews of FTI in the mainstream media from the early 1980’s. I’ll bet they make embarrassing reading today!

  13. Scott
    January 18, 2015, 4:12 am

    What a terrific, well researched, well linked, well written post!

  14. Tom Suarez
    January 18, 2015, 11:32 am

    Thank you, David Samel, for this excellent piece on the Joan Peters phenomenon, which still informs much discourse [sic] in the US.

  15. seafoid
    January 18, 2015, 1:58 pm

    “World renowned historian Barbara Tuchman raved: “This book is a historical event in itself, a discovery that has lain in the dark all along until its revelation by Joan Peters’s unrelenting research. It could well change the course of events in the Middle East.”

    Tuchman wrote “the march of folly” . Zionism deserves its own chapter.
    Finkelstein’s “image and reality of the Palestinian conflict” destroyed Peters’ credibility.

    • RoHa
      January 18, 2015, 8:36 pm

      “Finkelstein’s “image and reality of the Palestinian conflict” destroyed Peters’ credibility. ”

      And damaged his own academic career, just as Chomsky warned him it would.

  16. Whizdom
    January 18, 2015, 5:09 pm

    Peter’s and other’s efforts to erase Palestinian identity is a form of cultural genocide. In one of the tragic ironies of history, it is Israel that has created a new Palestinian identity frame. A Palestinian is anyone who has been denied dignity and self determination at the hands of Israel.

  17. Kris
    January 18, 2015, 6:42 pm

    “On virtually every single page, Dershowitz engages in wide variety of deceit – from outright lies to even more misleading half-truths. Indeed, I probably learned more about this subject by carefully checking Dersh’s claims and supposedly supporting footnotes than from any other source.” –David Samel

    The hasbarists posting outright lies and misleading half-truths here at mondoweiss are helpful in the same way.

    • RoHa
      January 18, 2015, 8:40 pm

      ‘The hasbarists posting outright lies and misleading half-truths here at mondoweiss are helpful in the same way.”

      And how! The responses we get from talknic, Hostage, Zofia, Walid and others are an education in history and international law.

  18. Boomer
    January 18, 2015, 8:17 pm

    I just listened to this week’s “TED Talks” program on NPR. It is on “branding.”
    http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/?showDate=2015-01-16 It may be a bit of a reach to connect it with this discussion. Any connection is tangential; perhaps the connection was salient to me simply because I had recently read Mr. Samel’s interesting piece and the subsequent discussion–yet it seemed relevant at points.

    The discussion about the subjective values of “authenticity” and “essence,” the discussion of how marketers “brand” their product and experience, seemed relatable to observed features of how some people go about constructing/defining both Israel and Jewishness. If anyone is interested, my favorite segment is the one by Paul Bloom, titled “Why Do We Like What We Like?” http://www.npr.org/2014/05/09/308755710/why-do-we-like-what-we-like

  19. Pixel
    January 19, 2015, 4:46 am

    David, many thanks for this piece. I hope you’ll stick around and write many more. Thanks, too, for taking the time to respond to comments.

    I hadn’t seen the Peter’s interview before. It was really upsetting to watch. (Worse than Green Bay’s loss to Seattle).

    May she rest in peace …if she’s able to.
    .
    To lift my spirits, I watched NF/AD, again.

    @Boomer
    “it was a priceless encounter on Democracy Now!”

    +10

    • David Samel
      January 19, 2015, 9:11 am

      Pixel, thanks for the kind comments. I’ve been around for quite a while – about six years or so – both with posts and comments, but I have been rather quiet the past few months.

  20. Felipe
    January 19, 2015, 6:50 am

    What I find most disturbing about Dershowitz’ attempt at plagiarizing a notoriously spurious book is how someone as intellectually dishonest as he proved to be managed to remain a distinguished professor at one of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Anybody care to comment?

    • David Samel
      January 20, 2015, 10:27 am

      Felipe, an interesting question with no definitive answer, only speculation. Here is mine. Dershowitz is a very smart and talented guy who thinks quickly on his feet and makes a very dynamic oral presentation. He is a master at expressing outrage and indignation and sincere conviction while making entirely false statements. He generally knows what he can get away with and what he cannot, although he occasionally makes mistakes like he did here with the Peters footnotes.

      Let me give you just one example. With this plagiarism allegation, he asked Harvard to investigate him. He did this for at least two reasons. He wanted to be able to score points by claiming that he requested it, but much more importantly, he wanted to frame and narrow the question being investigated. If the question was whether he got the Twain quote from Peters or found it independently and miraculously used the same six ellipses and made the same transcription errors, the answer would be obvious – of course he plagiarized. But instead, he framed the question as to whether it was permissible for him to cite only the original Twain and not Peters if he independently got the quote from Twain. Harvard said of course it’s OK. Now he swears up and down that he has been cleared, and it takes an awful lot of peering beneath the surface to see where he is lying.

      • Whizdom
        January 20, 2015, 10:51 am

        David,

        Here is a pointed article from a recent recipient of Dershowitz’s wrath, well stated refutation of Boteach.

        http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/16327#.VL54IMYvagE

        “Op-Ed: Prof. Alan Dershowitz Should Rethink His Attack on Me

        The writer stands behind his opinion that the claims against Israel advocate Dershowitz should not be defended on grounds of anti-Semitism.”

  21. ritzl
    January 19, 2015, 10:31 pm

    Great article, David (and comments everyone). Highly informative and very useful. High praise. Thanks so much.

    • just
      January 19, 2015, 10:58 pm

      I echo your sentiments, ritzl!

      This is a keeper, David.

  22. John Fearey
    January 19, 2015, 11:51 pm

    Most of my knowledge of Israel comes from newspapers and magazines, oh , and of course, the internet, and I had never heard of Joan Peters until I read her obit in the NYT which kind of took me aback. The obit seemed to hint that her book had been criticized but I had no idea until I read David’s post how flawed and fraudulent it was. I find Israeli treatment of the Palestinians so prima facie abhorrent, immoral,, illegal and deeply objectionable that to me history is kind of beside the point and/or a diversion used selectively by apologists for Zionism. So, I’m grateful to David and all the excellent commentators for saving me the trouble of having to figure out if there is anything to Peters’ book and allowing me to return to Rian Malan’s writings on South Africa (“My Traitor’s Heart” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight “) which I think holds a key to and fast forwards to what’s in store for apartheid Israel. Then on to Blumenthal’s “Goliath” for a little history.
    Dershowitz is truly pathetic, but I loved the video.
    Lastly, if Charon chooses his passengers I think he chose well with Ms. Peters. I wonder if she had her obolus.
    Thanks for the very interesting post.
    John

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