Monthly Archives: April 2013

Can the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict be studied objectively?

The assumption that any conflict between those with different ideological stances can be studied objectively is a fallacy.  This is no different of the Arab-Israeli conflict (Arzt, 1997, p.xv).  One of the greatest examples of this is undeniably the debate that has raged over the new/old historiography.  Whilst the New Historians position is reactionary this does not render it useless.  Rather it has provided a much needed shift in the orientation of the debate.  The New Historians, whilst having methodologically questionable work, have helped reframe what was becoming a stagnant and one-sided debate.  There can be no doubt however, that at best there are serious questions and misgivings about their approach to archival criticism and the accuracy of their data (Hirsch, June 2007, p.245; Karsh, June 1996, p.20).  Although, it could be argued that the methodology of the old historians does not stand up under serious scrutiny either – somewhat because the view was unchallenged in academia and politics for so long (Morris, 2007, pp.14-15).  Israel has been successful in putting forward its rendition of events for many years – amply more so than their Arab counterparts.  Shlaim further notes that the Israeli interpretation of events is, like any nationalist history, remarkably one sided and prejudiced (Shlaim, 2000, p.xv).

Neither side of this debate had entirely pure motives.  Both sides were driven, not primarily by ethical or groundbreaking research, but also by political agendas.  However, it remains that the debate needed reframing, and the fact that it could be reframed so significantly gives credence to the argument that obtaining objectivity in studying the foundations of the Arab-Israeli conflict is an impossible task.  The debate over new/old historiography and the implications, both in the academic and political world, of this debate highlight beyond doubt that there is not one objective narrative about the foundations of the conflict.  Furthermore, there can never be one objective chronicle of the conflict because different readings of the history are shaped by context which in turn shapes attitude.  Therefore the debate of old/new history has posed problems of context, attitude and ideology – three massive factors hindering an objective narrative being obtained.  Aside from this main contributory problem there are numerous other variables to be taken into consideration.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Balfour declaration, subsequent Western rule (under Britain as per the British Mandate) and mass return of Jews to the area all contribute to the reason why the origins of this debate can never be studied objectively.  The intervention from the League of Nations (LoN) from the beginning of the conflict has seen too many foreign actors invested in the conflict.  Mixed with turbulence in the region this has further led to debates of demography, religion and geography – all of which have bearing on the study of the origins of the conflict.  The violation suffered on both sides of the conflict and with such heavy investment both fiscally and in terms of mediation and governance from external actors leads to ambiguity surrounding the objective study of the origins of the conflict.


Arzt, D. E. (1997), Refugees into Citizens: Palestinians and the End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Council of Foreign Relations Books: New York)

Hirsch, M. B. J. (2007), ‘From Taboo to the Negoitable: The Israeli New Historians and the Changing Representation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem’, Perspectives on Politics June 2007, pp.241-258

Hogg, M. A. and Abrams, D. (1988),  Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes, (Routledge: London)

Karsh, E. (1996), ‘Rewriting Israel’s History’, Middle East Quarterly June 3:2, pp.19-29

Shlaim, A. (2000), The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, (Penguin: London)

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