Debate with Omer Bartov on Palestine and genocide

The genocidal character of the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 is discussed in the pages of the premier genocide journal, Journal of Genocide Research, in its new issue, where I debate the issue with the historian, Omer Bartov: ‘The question of genocide in Palestine, 1948: a debate between Martin Shaw and Omer Bartov’Journal of Genocide Research, Volume 12 Issue 3 & 4 2010, 243-259.

Here is the editors’ introduction: ‘The historical sociologist Martin Shaw was asked, as a genocide scholar rather than a specialist on Israel-Palestine, to contribute to an edited book that examined that conflict in a perspective based on the growing awareness of settler colonialism as a context of genocide. He drafted his chapter but the book, for various reasons,did not appear. However, one of its editors, Nur Masalha, asked him to submit the paper to the interdisciplinary journal that he edits: it appeared as ‘Palestine in an international historical perspective on genocide’ in Holy Land Studies (Vol 9, No1, 2010, pp 1–25). [Readers of this blog can find a version of the full paper here.] Coincidentally, Shaw was asked to contribute to a conferenceorganized by the Wiener Library in London in June 2010, on ‘The Holocaust and other genocides’, at which the main speaker was Omer Bartov. It turned out that Bartov’s paper, among other criticisms of genocide scholarship (directed principally against Dirk Moses and Donald Bloxham), attacked ‘the idea that there isa link between assertions of the Holocaust’s centrality and uniqueness and the legitimization of the State of Israel as a colonial entity with its own history ofethnic cleansing and genocidal potential’. He also commented that ‘statements by historians of genocide about Zionist ideology and Israeli policies are mostly rhetorical expressions of opinion, not scholarly analyses of the politics and practices of nation-building and ethnic displacement’. In the light of this, Shaw thought Bartov might be interested in his own take in the issues involved in relating the genocide perspective to the Palestine situation, and sent him his article. In what follows, Shaw first summarizes his article for readers of Journal of Genocide Research; after this, we publish the email exchange in which Bartov criticizes Shaw’s approach, Shaw replies, and Bartov concludes the discussion.’

5 thoughts on “Debate with Omer Bartov on Palestine and genocide”

    1. It is worth following Yisrael Medad’s link to see how polemic can degenerate. I am afraid that neither his impatient bluster about ‘hocus-pocus’ nor his hysterical accusation about ‘a genocidal-like operation against the Jewish national idea (etc.)’ will make the ‘genocide’ discussion of 1948 go away. I referred somewhat abstractly (in an academic journal) to ‘Israel’s destruction of large parts of Arab society in Palestine’. In response, Medad pounces: ‘Genocide has become not murder, rape and pillage in an organized fashion but also a “destruction of societal parts”.’ However by ‘destruction’ of Arab society, I meant the widespread terror and coercion – which included a fair amount of murder and pillage – through which the majority of Arabs were made to flee and prevented from returning. Medad may be correct to say that, in a full historical perspective, Palestinian violence against Jews in the Mandate period must also be brought into the picture. But none of this can distract from the widespread destruction of 1948 and the issues it raises. Medad’s absurd language only confirms that a raw nerve has been touched.

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