The controversy about the Dutch textbook, History Workshop (Geschiedeniswerkplaats) continued to make headlines this week when Dutch paper NRC bluntly stated that authors of the book were correct when they called former Israeli Prime Minister Begin a terrorist.
NRC reacted to media reports in Israel that expressed outrage about some alleged false claims in the book.
Eventually, this led to a phone call from the Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett to Dutch deputy minister of education, Sander Dekker. Dekker reportedly evaded responsibility for the distortions in the book and told Bennett he should contact the publisher.
I sent Noordhoff — the publisher of the book — a Dutch version of the report below and asked for rectification of the distortions in the text of the book. The report and my investigation were forwarded to the editors of the book but they have yet to respond.
The Dutch ambassador to Israel, Caspar Veldkamp, told ANP news agency that he thinks “that in the end something did go wrong in the quality check by the publisher Noordhoff ”.
After a careful study of the texts in the book there can be no other conclusion than that the title of the book is correct.
The authors worked hard to rewrite the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Furthermore, the incorrect claims in the book are all about the Israeli role in the conflict. In this way, Dutch youths are being educated anti-Israeli sentiments at a time where anti-Semitism linked to Israel has increased significantly, including in the Netherlands.
Below are a few paragraphs with incorrect information and counter argumentation but first an introduction of the authors Dik Verkuil and Marcel van Riessen.
Dik Verkuil is a historian and works as an editor at the prominent Dutch state-funded NOS News. His expertise is Dutch politics and not the Middle East or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Verkuil is the author of a book (From the Streets to the State) about the history of two Dutch political parties, Groen Links and CDA. He also wrote a book about the Dutch peace movement.
Marcel van Riessen is a historian too. He has written about the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict before, in his book Orientation on History (Oriëntatie op geschiedenis).
In that book too he presented an incorrect version of Israeli history.
Below are examples of incorrect claims in the book “History workshop”.
Claim: At the turn of the twentieth-century Jewish nationalism (Zionism) emerged (page. 106)
Zionism is as old as the Jewish diaspora. The authors write that every year during Pesach Jews expressed the wish: “Next year in Jerusalem”. Zion is a different name for Jerusalem or the land of Israel.
Political Zionism was established as an organization by Theodor Herzl in 1897. But it is inherent in Judaism and is commonplace in the prayers. Jews were returning to the Land of Israel, poetically called Zion, throughout the centuries, when it was possible to return and live in relative peace and dignity
Moreover, the modern Zionist movement did not begin with Herzl in 1897 but in the middle of the 18th century when starting from 1740 thousands of Jews migrated to Palestine in the expectation the era of the Messiah had begun.
They joined the existing Jewish community in the land. In this respect, it is important to mention that Jews always lived in the land even during the difficult era of the Crusaders.
From 1808 on the next wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine. These were mainly followers of Rabbi Eliyahu, who is often referred to as the Gaon of Vilna.
After this several other groups of religious Jews arrived in Palestine.
In 1880, the secular Hibat Zion joined and started to purchase and to cultivate the land.
The territory (Palestine) came under British administration. The British allowed Jewish immigration on a large scale.
In 1937, the British government began to restrict the Jewish immigration to Palestine after 66,472 immigrants arrived in 1936, most of them from Nazi-Germany.
But already in 1929 the British committee Hope Simpson advised ending the Jewish migration to Palestine. The reason? There would be an insufficient amount of land (this was pertinently incorrect). This was the official reason, but the advice followed the mass murder of the large majority of the Jewish population in Hebron by the Arabs.
The British White Paper on Palestine of 1939 severely limited Jewish immigration to 15,000 per year for the next five years. This was a violation of the Mandate issued by the League of Nations in 1922. The measure foreclosed the internationally designated Jewish National Home to Jewish refugees when Jews most needed a home, thus dooming hundreds of thousands of Jews who wanted to flee Europe.
At the beginning of the Second World War, almost half a million of Jews already lived in Palestine. The Jews did not adapt. They did not speak Arabic but Hebrew, a language from ancient times that had been revived by the Zionists.
In fact, the Jewish immigrants adapted very well in Palestine. Jewish communities flourished, and the Jewish immigration even caused another wave of immigration, namely an Arab one.
In 1936 the British Royal Palestine Committee contributed the largely illegal immigration of thousands of Arabs to Palestine completely to the effects of the successful Jewish immigration and the employment that followed (From Time Immemorial – Joan Peters page. 304).
The remark about the Hebrew language right after the claim that the Jews did not adapt suggests that there would be a link.
Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages whereby it can be noted that Hebrew is much older than Arabic. Many words in Arabic and Hebrew are similar. For example Salaam-Shalom or Beit HaMiqdash (Hebrew for the Temple) and Bayt al-Maqdis, that means the same. This was the name that the Muslims originally used to refer to Jerusalem. The reintroduction of the Hebrew language as a spoken language for the Jews in Israel was thus in fact also a sign that the Jewish immigrants adapted very well.
But Arafat also had diplomatic talents. He succeeded in getting the world’s interest in the fate of the Palestinians. In 1993 – to the surprise of many –he made a u-turn. He made peace with Israel. In exchange, the Palestinians were given autonomy in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the description about Arafat, it stands out that the word terrorist is not mentioned.
This is remarkable since former prime minister Begin of Israel is being called a terrorist by the authors.
In reality Arafat’s u-turn in 1993 never happened. Also, the Palestinian leader never made peace with Israel; he signed the Oslo Accords.
The Oslo Accords –called the declaration of principles – were agreements that should have led to a peace agreement. It was a roadmap that granted the Palestinians partial autonomy and contained measures that should have led to mutual trust and peaceful coexistence.
In a speech on May 10, 1994, in South Africa, Arafat compared the Oslo Accords to the Hudaybiyyah truce that Muhammad made with the Meccans for a 10-year period. Muhammad violated the truce before the ten years were up. Hence Arafat was promising his audience that he would violate the Oslo accords at a favorable moment, as Muhammad had done with his truce with the Meccans (Benny Morris – One State Two States page 129, Elliot Green Zion Truth Blog).
Later it became clear that Arafat had not denounced terrorism, and evidence was found in his headquarters Muqata in Ramallah that he had commissioned payments to terrorists who committed attacks against Israeli civilians.
The real u-turn was made by the Israeli government that until then had prohibited contacts with the PLO because it was a terrorist organization and then agreed to establish the Palestinian Authority led by PLO leader Arafat.
Arafat seized the opportunity to come to an agreement with Israel because the PLO was on the verge of bankruptcy after the first Gulf War because of the support Arafat had given to the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain.
A new resistance movement, Hamas, continued the fight against Israel.
Because Israel continued to make life hard for the Palestinians, Hamas received more and more support.
Here, the text talks about the situation after the signing of the Oslo 1 Accord in 1993. However, Hamas had already been founded in 1987 and wanted to offer a religious alternative to the secular Fatah movement of Arafat. The movement is a terrorist organization that is to blame for the death of hundreds of Israeli citizens and thousands of Palestinian Arabs. Just last week, Amnesty International published a report about Hamas’ war crimes against its own population in Gaza.
The increase in support for Hamas was a direct result of the corruption in the Palestinian Authority and increasing Islamization of the Palestinian society under the influence of what was happening simultaneously in other Arab countries.
The Security Council drafted a partition plan. There would be a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jews agreed; the Palestinians did not. Arab fighters tried to expel the Jews, but they fought back. Jewish militias murdered Arab villages. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled.
Here, the text describes the situation after acceptation of the partition plan for Palestine by the UN General Assembly (and not the Security Council) in November 1947.
It is remarkable that the authors use the word “expel” for the activities of the Arabs after they refused to accept the plan, and the word “murder” to describe the Jewish reaction to the terror by the Arabs. The text further suggests that the refuge of hundreds of thousands of Arabs would have been a consequence of the alleged mass murder of Arabs by Jewish militias..
n reality, the daily murder of Jews started on November 30th, 1947. On that day, seven Jews were murdered on buses that were on their way to Jerusalem. In twelve days until December 11th, 1947, a total of 79 Jews were killed by Arabs. Thirty-two Arabs were killed, six of them by Jews and the rest by British soldiers. This pattern continued with the difference that Menachem Begin’s Irgun Tzva Leumi started to implement a strategy of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ at the end of December 1947 (Martin Gilbert – Atlas of the Arab-Israeli conflict, page. 37-44).
Until the proclamation of the independence of the state of Israel, the large majority of the civilian casualties had been Jewish.
In many cases, Arabs tried to expel Jews from neighborhoods and villages. Two Arab villages near Jerusalem were destroyed by Jewish militias in that time: Kolonia and Deir Yassin.
The attack on Deir Yassin by the Irgun militia of Menachem Begin was coordinated with the official Jewish defense force Haganah. The action was part of a larger offensive against the Arabs and was, in fact, an attempt to end the continuing shooting at Jewish convoys on the main road to Jerusalem. Because of this, the city was often unreachable for humanitarian aid. Deir Yassin was one of the Arab villages from which local Arabs and Iraqi troops shot on the road to Jerusalem.
After the Irgun action in Deir Yassin, Arab propaganda succeeded to disseminate a myth. Irgun supposedly killed over 200 Arab civilians, among whom many children and women. Women would also have been raped, and bodies would have been mutilated.
It appeared to be a lie that was created by the Palestinian Arab leader Hussain Khalidi, who ordered the editor of Palestinian Radio Hazem Nussebei to include false information about the Irgun attack in a press release.
Khalidi told Nussebei: “We have to get the most out of this. So we will write a press release that states children have been murdered in Deir Yassin, and pregnant women have been raped, all sorts of horrific acts.
Both men admitted later on BBC TV that the story was false.
At least two historians, Benny Morris and Uri Milstein, in their academic research into the War of Independence, proved that the number of civilian casualties was much lower (about a hundred) than in the generally accepted version of the story about Deir Yassin. They also came to the conclusion that there was no massacre at Deir Yassin and that no atrocities had been committed by Irgun
Two doctors who visited the village days after the Irgun attack confirmed that there were no traces of mutilation on the bodies and that they did not count more than 46 bodies.
Also, the presence of the Iraqi irregular troops in the village and the fact that homes were used for military activities turned the Irgun action into a legal military operation and not an act of terror.
The refuge of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs that is being linked by the Dutch historians to the alleged mass murder of Arab populations by Jewish militias, was caused by the mentioned myth and by calls from Arab leaders.
These leaders ensured the Palestinian Arabs that their return was guaranteed after the Jewish state would have been destroyed.
This was also confirmed by the Syrian Prime Minister Khalid al-`Azm who wrote in his memoirs that it were the Arab leaders who called upon the Palestinian Arabs to leave their homes in 1948.
In 1967, Nasser threatened that they (Egypt red.) would drive the Jews into the sea. But before he could act, Israel attacked. With American aid, Israel had armed itself to the teeth.
Israel attacked Egypt after the Egyptian president Nasser had closed off the Strait of Tiran in the Red Sea for all ship traffic to Israel, and after he had ordered the UN-observation force in Sinai to leave. After that the Egyptian army marched to the border with Israel. This was against an agreement that was signed after the Sinai campaign in 1956.
The closure of the Strait of Tiran was a belligerent act of war, according to international law. (Israel’s Silent Defender page 303)
Also, the Americans began to supply Israel with arms only after 1967. France had been the main supplier of weapons until then.
Menachem Begin was written down in history books as a peace maker. That is remarkable because a large part of his life he was known as terrorist and extremist.
This paragraph in the book caused most of the outrage in Israel.
Author Van Riessen said in an interview with Radio 1 in the Netherlands that Begin has been a terrorist and an extremist for a long time in his life. He also said that the Israeli government had to disarm the militias of Begin after the independence.
Both claims are incorrect.
Under the leadership of Menachem Begin, the Irgun launched attacks at military targets only (mainly British) until December 1947. According to every definition, attacks at military targets in an armed conflict are not terrorism.
Only after a series of brutal Arab attacks on Jewish civilians, after the UN accepted the partition plan Irgun abandoned this strategy. From late December 1947 civilians were also killed in retaliatory attacks on Arab targets (see above).
The British called Begin a terrorist because of the large number of attacks on the British army and in particular because of the assault against the British Military Headquarters that was located in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
In this attack, 91 people got killed.
The Irgun was indeed responsible for this attack, but in most history narratives the fact that the British had been warned by the Irgun three times to evacuate the hotel was omitted. There were phone calls to the hotel; to the nearby situated French consulate and to the Palestine Post, which was later renamed to The Jerusalem Post. The British did not take the warning seriously. A British officer reacted to the warning over the phone by saying that he did not take orders from Jews.
I asked Professor Avraham Bell, an expert on international law, whether this act can be labeled as an act of terrorism. He wrote in an email that “the attack was certainly no terrorism because military communication centers are legitimate targets, even if they are located in a hotel”.
Irgun-members that are still alive today have reacted to the accusation of terrorism. They rejected the accusation and said that they never murdered innocent civilians deliberately like the Palestinian terrorist movements did.
Immediately after the proclamation of Israel’s independence on May 14th, 1948, Begin delivered a radio speech in which he announced to dissolve the Irgun.
This is what he said: “The Irgun now leaves the underground. We, Jews, now have self-determination in a part of our homeland and in that part of the country the law of the Jewish government rules. The law is the law of the country; there is only one law. Therefore, an armed underground movement is no longer a necessity. From now on, we are only soldiers and builders in the state of Israel. And we all have to respect the government because it is our government”.
David Ben-Gurion did not believe a word of what Begin said. Ben-Gurion was convinced that Begin was seeking to take over power. So he used the fact that in Jerusalem the Irgun was still functioning as a separate battle force a month after Begins statement to order opening fire at the ship Altalena, which transported weapons for the Irgun. The weapons had been ordered prior to the independence declaration.
This happened off the coast of Tel Aviv. Begin, however, refused to respond to the firing because he believed in the principle that Jews do not fight each other. In a speech at Kibbutz Lavi, during the election campaign of 1949, he explained that he wanted to prevent at all cost that a civil war for the new state would break out and that he had ordered his men after the shooting of the Altalena to control themselves and not to retaliate. (Yehuda Avner – The Prime Ministers page 78-80)
Ben Gurion did not believe in peace with the Arabs. He said: ‘If I were an Arab leader, I would never make peace with Israel. That is logical. We have taken their land. There was anti-Semitism in Europe, the Nazi’s, Hitler, Auschwitz but was this their fault? They only see one thing: we came here and stole their land. Why would they accept this? So it is simple: we have to be strong and maintain a powerful army.’
From the text of the authors it appears that Ben Gurion was pragmatic and on basis of what had happened before and after the War of Independence, he had come to the conclusion that peace with the Arabs was impossible. The text, however, presents a distorted view.
From Ben Gurion’s book “My conversations with Arab leaders,” it becomes clear that the Israeli former Prime Minister tried to come to a peaceful solution of the conflict with the Arabs as early as 1933
After Nasser’s death in 1970 he (Sadat red.) became his successor. In 1973, he attacked Israel together with Syria. Even though they were beaten just like in 1967, the Egyptian army functioned much better this time. Egypt’s strength contributed to Israel’s willingness to talk about peace this time.
Israel already wanted to talk about peace much sooner. Immediately after the Six Day War in 1967 Israel proposed to the Arab countries to make peace including normalized relations in exchange for conquered territories. The Arab League rejected the proposition with the infamous three no’s of Khartoum: “No peace, no relations and no negotiations with Israel.”
The true reason that Sadat came to the negotiations was that Egypt suffered economically because of the continuing wars. Another reason was that Sadat wanted to become detached from the Soviet Union and its tight grip on Egypt. The Camp David agreement resulted in a major package of American military aid to Egypt and from this moment, Egypt came under the influence of the US.
Finally, one of the illustrations in the book shows an Arab boy who throws a rock at an Israeli tank in Gaza. The caption says: a little act of resistance against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory in 2000. Nine days later this thirteen-year-old boy was shot dead in a similar action.
The Palestinian Arab boy here was Faris Odeh and he was indeed hit by a bullet in his neck on November 8th, 2000. The photo was taken by an AP-reporter and was immediately used as a symbol of the Palestinian resistance.
“The little act of resistance that the authors write about in a minimizing manner was in reality a long series of attacks on Israeli targets for which the boy was severely punished by his parents. The mother of the boy told The Washington Post that his father regularly beat him because of his daring violent actions against the Israelis. There is no proof that the IDF fired the bullet that killed him, but the text of Verkuil and Van Riessen does suggest that this is the case.
The writer is the Middle East Correspondent of Western Journalism in the U.S. www.westernjournalism.com