Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Another Galaxy

Historical squabbles in the U.S. can be plenty nasty, especially when the origins of the Civil War are on the table. Apparently, though, it's nothing compared to sorting out the history of Israel:

No history of Israel's origins, however, can achieve definitive status for now. While Israel routinely declassifies much state material after 30 years, the Arab states that attacked Israel keep their archives comparatively closed. Rogan and Shlaim, writing in 2001, saw "no immediate prospect" for declassification of their key documents because "Arab scholars would find no support for critical revisions of their historiography." While the Israeli historian Anita Shapira has pointed out that Jordan opens its archives to a limited extent, materials that might resolve factual disputes — such as the degree of sincerity or cynicism on the part of Arab leaders about Islamic jihadism — are not available. Perhaps frustration fuels the hyper-aggression among Israeli historians.

Can the rocket fire among them be squelched? In his thoughtful, just-published A History of Histories, John Burrows, a professor of European thought at the University of Oxford, praises the community spirit among Clio's devotees, first expressed by Polybius, who believed "that if he died before he completed his history, another historian would carry the subject on."

Doubtless some peer would do the same for a departed Israeli historian. It's equally clear that others would cheer the fact that the biased, manipulative so-and-so was gone. The past, historians say, is another country. Israeli history is another galaxy.

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