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History debate taboo in Israel

Understanding the enemy's view of history is important if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East. Unfortunately it has become almost taboo to create understanding for the opposite side in today's Israel. This is the view of Lisa Strömbom, who defends her thesis in political science at Lund University.

Lisa Strömbom has studied the history debate that took place in Israel during the 1990s when the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians looked promising. The Oslo Accords in 1993 were the closest they had come to a peace settlement since the state of Israel was founded in 1948.

During the same period, Israeli historians began to view the country's birth with somewhat new eyes - the war that preceded the creation of the state was not as unblemished as had previously been claimed: it was not the case that the Jews began building their country in a fairly uninhabited region and that the Palestinians who lived there left the country on their own initiative or that of their elite.

"The history debate was not lacking in controversy, but it did exist and was very animated", says Lisa Strömbom.

In 1995 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered and the Oslo Process stagnated. Since then, and in particular since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2001, the history debate in the Israeli media has ceased.

Textbooks that take up the Palestinian perspective on history have been revised or removed from classrooms. History teaching has also been complemented by a new subject, 'heritage', which gives a more ideological picture of Israel's history.

"Today there is no longer any history debate in the Israeli press", says Lisa Strömbom. "Powerful and influential nationalist forces label all questioning of the traditional Israeli history writing as anti-Israeli. Human rights organisations, peace activists and academics critical of society are branded disloyal to the state and are even described as a threat to its survival."

As an example of how Israeli society has changed, Lisa Strömbom mentions the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who turned out en masse to demonstrate against the Lebanon War in 1982. Unlike previous wars, they considered that it could have been avoided and that the Israeli military had used excessive force.

In the Gaza War, when, according to subsequent reports, there were a lot of attacks on the Palestinian population, large sections of Israeli civil society remained passive, which can partly be explained by strong campaigns of delegitimisation against all those who opposed the current government's policies in different ways.

The title of the thesis is Revisiting the past. Israeli identity, thick recognition and conflict resolution.

Lisa Strömbom can be contacted on +46 (0)736 16 60 65, Lisa.Strombom@svet.lu.se

Pressofficer Ulrika Oredsson; ulrika.oredsson@rektor.lu.se; +46-46 222 7028

idw :: 12.11.2010