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Liberal newspaper Haaretz calls 1937 Palestine ‘pre-state Israel,’ in article by gov’t employee

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Israel’s leading liberal newspaper Haaretz rewrote history in an article it translated and published by an Israeli government employee that repeatedly refers to 1937 Palestine as “pre-state Israel.”

The March 5 piece, entitled “High art: Historic aerial shots of pre-state Israel revealed,” studiously avoids the word “Palestine.” Meanwhile, it uses the term “pre-state Israel” 14 times, in unusual phrases like “photographs of pre-state Israel” and “immigrated to pre-state Israel.”

Gil Weissblei, the author of the article, works in the photographs and archives department at the National Library of Israel. Weissblei had originally written the article in Hebrew, and published it at the National Library’s blog. It was syndicated at the Hebrew-language Haaretz website.

“Unfortunately, no one had ever asked for my permission to translate it into English, and of course, I had no chance to see the English translation before publication and correct it,” Weissblei told Mondoweiss via email.

He added, “The English translation is incorrect in general, and although I am not sure whether the term ‘pre-state Israel’ is illegitimate, as you claim, it was not my decision to use it.”

The managing editor of Haaretz’s English edition told Mondoweiss the newspaper had chosen the phrase “pre-state Israel” as a substitute for Weissblei’s use of the term “the land of Israel.”

The story turns the history of Palestine on its head. For centuries before Israel was formed in a 1947-1948 war in which Zionist militias violently expelled large numbers indigenous Arabs, the area had been referred to as Palestine.

The British empire, which colonized Palestine after carving up former Ottoman lands at the end of World War I, officially called it Mandatory Palestine. Weissblei’s article indirectly hints at this historical fact just once in his article, using the term “the Mandate era” — but even then this cuts Palestine out of the full name British Mandate of Palestine.

Use of the term Palestine was by no means controversial at the time. Even right-wing Zionist leaders like Ze’ev Jabotinsky recognized the area to be Palestine — not “pre-state Israel,” which is a neologism used by pro-Israel groups.

Moreover, not once does Weissblei’s piece acknowledge that more than 1 million Palestinians had lived in so-called “pre-state Israel,” hundreds of thousands of whom were violently ethnically cleansed in the 1948 Nakba.

Haaretz is one of Israel’s most prominent newspapers. It has a liberal-leaning editorial stance, and is frequently attacked by hard-line Israeli right-wingers, who claim it is much more left-wing than it actually is.

Simon Spungin, managing editor of Haaretz’s English edition, defended the use of the phrase in an email to Mondoweiss, citing five reasons: one, because the writer had used similar language, so Haaretz adopted it; two, because the term British Mandatory Palestine would be “quite a mouthful for a headline”; three, because the article “refers to a project specifically designed to document the embryonic State of Israel”; four, because “the majority of the photographs featured in the project depict Jewish communities in various stages of construction”; and five, because, “Within a decade of these photographs being taken, the State of Israel was established and they depict the process of that establishment.”

The Haaretz editor claimed it is “disingenuous” to say the article engages in historical revisionism. He did however “agree that it would not have been amiss to use the phrase British Mandatory Palestine at least once in the article.”

Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer based in New York City. His work has been featured in a variety of publications. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton. His website is

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11 Responses

  1. Marnie on March 7, 2017, 7:20 am

    Wasn’t everyone calling this Palestine in 1937? WTF.

    • Misterioso on March 7, 2017, 10:54 am


      You are absolutely correct.

      To wit:

      The 1922 League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine was a Class A Mandate, i. e, Palestine was to be administered by Britain AS A WHOLE until its citizens were able to assume democratic self-rule.

      By incorporating the Balfour Declaration the mandate did facilitate Jewish immigration to “secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home,” but it did not call for the creation of a sovereign Jewish state or homeland in Palestine or any form of partition. This was made very clear in the Churchill Memorandum (1 July 1922) regarding the British Mandate: “[T]he status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”

      “Furthermore, regarding the British Mandate, as approved by the Council of the League of nations, the British government declared: “His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State.” (Command Paper, 1922)

      To make it absolutely clear, in May 1939, the British government issued the MacDonald White Paper, which in accordance with the Mandate, ruled out any possibility of a Jewish state, and declared Great Britain “could not have intended Palestine should be converted into a Jewish state against the will of the Arab population of the country.” It called for a Palestinian state in which Jews and Arabs would govern jointly based on a constitution to be drafted by their representatives and those of Britain. The constitution would safeguard the “Jewish National Home” in Palestine and if good relations developed between Jews and Arabs, the country would be granted independence in ten years. Land sales to Jews were to be restricted and the annual level of Jewish immigration was to be limited to 15,000 for five years, following which, Palestinian Arab acquiescence would be required.

      Hence, consistent with the terms of its Class A Mandate and the MacDonald White Paper, Britain abstained on the UNGA vote regarding the recommendatory only Nov. 29/47 Partition Plan.

    • Jackdaw on March 11, 2017, 12:52 am

      No. Marnie was absolutely incorrect.
      Not everyone was calling this Palestine in 1937.

      The Arabs called it Filistina, and the Jews called it Palestine (Eretz Yisroel). Note the abbreviation (אי) that appears on all coins minted by the Mandate.

      • talknic on March 11, 2017, 9:18 am

        The English translation is Palestine

      • pgtl10 on March 12, 2017, 12:45 am

        The coin in that link says Filistine which is Arabic for Palestine.

      • jon s on March 13, 2017, 8:26 am

        Three languages appear on the coin.
        The Hebrew is:
        פלשתינה א”י
        =Palestine (E”Y)
        E”Y= Eretz Yisrael=Land of Israel

      • talknic on March 13, 2017, 5:41 pm

        @ jon s March 13, 2017, 8:26 am

        “Three languages appear on the coin.
        The Hebrew is:
        פלשתינה א”י
        E”Y= Eretz Yisrael=Land of Israel”
        = Palestine

  2. jd65 on March 7, 2017, 11:14 am

    Good piece, Ben. One minor correction:

    Gil Weissblei, the author of the article, works in the photographs and archives department at the National Library of Israel.

    I think you meant the Ministry of Truth department.

  3. Boo on March 8, 2017, 2:41 pm

    “The newspaper had chosen the phrase ‘pre-state Israel’ as a substitute for Weissblei’s use of the term ‘the land of Israel.'”

    So Weissblei distances himself by claiming he used a phrase that’s even more bankrupt and objectionable in light of the historical context. Cute.

    “the embryonic State of Israel”

    One must ask to what horrible teratogen it was exposed in utero that caused it to turn out so misshapen and grotesquely inhuman.

  4. Boomer on March 9, 2017, 4:00 pm

    “Pre-state Israel” does at least have the virtue of being more concise than, say, “the land without a people for the people without a land.” Though I do wonder how all those buildings got there without people being involved. Divine intervention, I guess. Immaculate construction.

  5. Talkback on March 11, 2017, 4:18 am

    Zionist newspeak.

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