Middle East studies in the News
David Meir-Levy: 'Facts on the Ground' - Nadia Abu el-Haj's New Salvo in the Arab Propaganda War Against Israel
by David Meir-Levy
The following review, written by David Meir-Levy, of Nadia Abu El Haj's book was forwarded to me. I present it here in full.
"Facts on the Ground" - Nadia Abu el-Haj's New Salvo in the Arab Propaganda War Against Israel.
David Meir-Levi, August 7, 2007
One of my favorite professors (and later my colleague) at Tel Aviv university used to adjure his students with the following definition: "Archaeology is the science of digging a hole, and spinning a yarn."
Professor Nadia abu el-Haj does not bother to dig the hole.
Without evidence, or with the misuse of evidence, or with fictitious evidence created by her own circular reasoning, she spins a yarn which seeks to educate the reader in to a core thesis which is advanced along the following lines of argument:
a.) Modern Israeli archaeologists practice their craft and undertake their scholarship with the conscious and heinous intent to eradicate the true history of the Palestinian people whose heritage in the Holy Land is attested in highest antiquity and which must be erased in order for the Jewish mythic tale of Ancient Israel to be foisted mendaciously upon an unsuspecting public.
Her yarn suffers from many deficiencies. The following critique describes the most egregious of these deficiencies, and analyzes how they vitiate completely any scholarly value her work pretends to offer, how they render invalid her core thesis, and how they demonstrate as well the nefarious hidden agenda to which the author subscribes and her book contributes.
Dr. el-Haj apparently knows very little, if any, Hebrew. She mis-uses Hebrew terminology for place names, confusing "neve" (dwelling, habitation site) with "nahal" (stream, rivulet). It is beyond supercilious that she attempts a sociological study of Israeli archaeology without a working knowledge of Hebrew. At very least, she could have used knowledgeable bilinguals to aid her in interviewing Israeli archaeologists and other informants. But she did not.
When she summarizes the input from others which support her central thesis, she fails to name her sources or even identify them; referring to them merely as excavators, tour guides, museum docents, students, volunteers, and sometimes even just "someone". Moreover, when she relates the criticisms and condemnations of these anonymous sources, she does not use any methodology, even vaguely akin to those used by ethnologists and anthropologists, to describe the status of the informant and thus the reliability of that informant's input. The use of completely anonymous and unvalidated sources to substantiate her criticisms – criticisms which seek to condemn the entire endeavor of professional archaeologists and impune the professionalism of well known academics in Israel as the cheerleaders and myth-makers of Zionist jingoism -- is not just poor scholarship, or even bad scholarship. It is not scholarship at all. It is rumor-mongering.
She frequently makes reference, often without page numbers, to books that are completely unrelated to Israel, Archaeology, History, or anything else even vaguely akin to her topic. Sometimes these references are in the form of footnotes following a two- or three-word quote. She never explains how she sees as relevant and clarifying for her own thesis the host of such works that she references, including anthropological studies of simian behavior and feminism (Donna Haraway), or essays on concepts of public culture in India (Arjun Appadurai), or a variety of books and essays on European nationalism, or on Stonehenge (Christopher Chippendale), or on Alzheimer's disease in India (Lawrence Cohen), or on Chinese historiography (Prasenjit Duara), or on pre-Shakespearian literature (Stephen Greenblatt), or on the genetics of drosophilia (Robert Kohler), or a host of other references of similarly opaque relevance. In the absence of such an explanation, one may be tempted to suspect that she is simply snowing the reader with a plethora of references that inflate her bibliography and make her sound very well-read.
More subtle, but no less problematic is her penchant for gobbledygook. The following are two representative examples of writing that comprises a very large percentage of her book:
"The making of archaeological evidence, however, entails interventions that go well beyond interpretative acts. In excavating the land, archeologists carve particular (kinds of) objects out of the contours of the earth's depths – depending, of course, on the specific excavating techniques used, the kinds of remains made visible, and which of those remains are recognized as significant and thus recorded (inscribed as evidence) and preserved. In so doing, archaeologists assemble material culture henceforth embedded in the terrain itself, facts on the ground that instantiate particular histories and historicities." (pp. 13f, italics are hers)
She has just spent almost half a page telling us that archaeologists dig up stuff and try to figure out what it means. Such meaningless verbosities abound. Another typical example appears just a few pages later.
"Territorial claims and boundaries had to be constituted and institutionalized, in other words (she references unrelated sources), and not just in relation to questions of state, but, in addition, in and through the development of particular ideological commitments and national-cultural tropes. As in settler colonies elsewhere, land was the object of material reconfiguration, symbolic reinscription, and (colonial) desire (more unrelated sources referenced). The (initially) Labor Zionist commitment to making place was a specific local instantiation and particular (national) configuration that signaled far more widespread phenomena in the histories of settler colonies, writ large." (pp. 17f, italics are hers).
Writ large or not, all she has said is that Labor Zionists used archaeology to create the justification for the Jewish homeland. And here we may have a clue to why she hides this core message inside of verbose and convoluted text. Perhaps, if she just came out and said it, this core message would be immediately recognized for what it is: a risible confusion of cause and effect. By wrapping it in arcane new-age pseudo-academic non-speak, which even a well-educated reader will struggle to decipher, and padding it with numerous unrelated and irrelevant bibliographical references, she makes her message sound profound and scholarly, to the uninitiated. By sprinkling here and there some italics, the significance of which are not at all apparent, she makes her text look more visually diversified, much as are the texts of bona fide scholarly works.
The six books that she references in parentheses, in the text just quoted, are studies of socio-political phenomena in Botany Bay, Paris, Morocco, and elsewhere. She never advises her readers as to how these are relevant to the putatively nefarious archaeological goals of Labor Zionism.
But how do we know that this assertion, that Labor Zionists used archaeology to create the justification for the Jewish homeland, is risibly confused? Because the justification for the Jewish homeland sprang from Jewish history, Jewish religion, Jewish Biblical and extra-Biblical literature, culture and ideology, two millennia before Zionists engaged in archaeology in the 20th century. Cause must come before effect.
Another major deficiency in her work is her own apparent lack of familiarity with archaeological methodology in general, and modern Israeli archaeology in particular. Other than her participation in one excavation led by Professor David Ussishkin, she seems to have had no formal training or experience in Archaeology. How then can she unilaterally heap criticism upon well established and highly regarded scholars in Israeli institutions? Rather than examine and evaluate the techniques, results, and analyses of these scholars, she simply presents conclusions and levels assertions based on nothing more than either her own intuitive ability to psychoanalyze some of these scholars (see below on Yadin and Aharoni), or on some anecdotal comments of other, always anonymous, informants whose qualifications are never explained. Moreover, she never elicits from the scholars themselves any explanations or justifications for the work that she finds so condemnable. Such absurdity is not scholarship, it is slander.
In her critique of Yadin and Aharoni regarding their excavations at Hazor (her chapter 5), she makes the facile assumption that Professor Yadin was drawn to his conclusions about the Israelite destruction of Bronze Age Hazor as part of Joshua's campaign because of Yadin's military background. As a military man, she asserts, he was had sort of a personal identification with Joshua. While Professor Aharoni, on the other hand, developed the more nuanced theory of a gradual Israelite infiltration and long drawn out conquest over several hundreds of years (an interpretation of the archaeological evidence which finds support in the later works of Professor William Deever) because Aharoni was born on a kibbutz and held a more socialist world view.
In addition to the obvious non-sequitor of a socialist world view automatically generating a more nuanced theory of history, and to the fact that she lacks the medical training to perform post-mortem psychoanalysis on these two men, she never offers a scintilla of evidence to support her analysis. She is thus indulging in baseless and utterly absurd speculation.
Moreover, she addresses this particular example of the central issue of her entire thesis, that the archaeological remains at Hazor have been incorrectly interpreted by Israeli archaeologists to attest to an Israelite invasion, with an exercise in circular reasoning. She notes correctly that without the conquest accounts in Joshua and Judges, there is no way to identify the conquerors of Canaanite Hazor with Israelites. But then she simply asserts that therefore this identification is being made only because these Israeli archaeologists seek to use the fake history created by their interpretations of the archaeology in order to confirm modern Israel's right to conquer and control Palestinian lands. She ignores the Mernephtah stele (see below) and the reams of extra-Biblical evidence attesting to the existence of the states of Israel and Judea a few centuries later. Those Iron Age Israelites had to have arrived at some time, in order to be around and in positions of power to create their sovereign states. Therefore, that they played a role in the conquest of Hazor, and other sites in the Holy Land at the end of the Late Bronze Age, is a reasonable hypothesis. Moreover, collared-rim ware, which she so cavalierly dismisses as an identifier of Iron Age Israelite settlement, is a type of pottery first associated with Israelite Iron Age culture by William Foxwell Albright back in the 1920s. Its ubiquitousness throughout the central hill country, the area of the Israelite kingdoms of Judea and Samaria of the Iron Age, and in early Iron Age Galilee, part of the Davidic Israelite kingdom, all argue for the validity of such an identification.
But even more problematic, she ignores the obvious conclusion that since there is overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence from extra-Biblical sources for the existence of the Iron Age states of Israel and Judah, then it is ineluctable that Israelite Jews and Judean Jews did indeed exist in, and held sovereignty over, parts or all of the Holy Land in the Iron age and thereafter. Thus the Israeli scholars' interpretations of archaeological remains are not some nefarious plots to eradicate Palestinian history. Rather, they are a function of an honest and objective interpretation of evidence that finds ready correlation with both Biblical and extra-Biblical accounts.
Her critique of professors Nachman Avigad and Benjamin Mazar at the Temple Mount excavations in Jerusalem (chapter 6) is even more absurd. The best she can do to show how evil Israeli archaeologists seek to ignore or obliterate Palestinian history is to accuse Professor Avigad of intentionally refraining from any analysis of those finds, such as the multitude of glass remains, which would cast some light on the daily lives of ordinary people. The problem with this accusation is three-fold:
1.) Every successful excavation produces more material remains than can be fully studied and analyzed by the excavator. It is commonplace in archaeology worldwide that much valuable material will remain for future study, becoming the subject of later Ph.D. dissertations by future scholars.
It is as though, so intent on finding some basis for criticism, she grasps at even an irrational and completely incorrect assertion in order to have the excuse to reiterate her accusation that Israeli archaeologists are concerned only with the reconstruction of an historical narrative that will justify and support the modern Zionist endeavor.
Most salacious of all is her condemnation of Professor David Ussishkin for what she calls his unprofessional use of "bulldozers" and "big shovels" (pp. 148 ff) at Tel Jezreel. Her accusations are based upon comments by other excavators and volunteer participants, all anonymously reported. She never interviewed Professor Ussishkin to ask him about his use of what she considers inappropriate techniques. Based upon her descriptions, it seems likely that the "bulldozers" were actually small back-hoes that have been used very effectively, carefully, and professionally, in a variety of Israeli excavations to clear debris and to excavate parts of massive earthworks such as ramparts, moats, and glacis. Such equipment, used judiciously, does not destroy any antiquities. Similarly, big shovels are sometimes used to move earth from ancient garbage dumps, fills, and other debris where stratigraphy is almost impossible to determine and small finds are preserved by sifting. Were el-Haj more familiar with archaeological techniques, she would have been able to distinguish between a back-hoe and a bulldozer, between the times when big shovels can effectively clear away useless debris and when small hand-hoes must be used.
In the absence of concrete evidence, more specific and well documented than the comments of some anonymous informants, her criticism of professor Ussishkin is nothing less than unwarranted slander.
Perhaps the most egregious example of her abysmal scholarship is the fact that on several occasions in her book she actually contradicts herself. For example, in her critique of Avigad and Mazar (above), she goes in to great detail about how a younger archaeologist, Meir Ben-Dov, saved some later remains from Mazar's putative destructive tendencies (pp. 154ff). Then she goes on to explain that actually the early Arab remains near the Temple Mount received very careful treatment such that she had no choice but to conclude that "…the dynamics of archaeological work were not driven in any straightforward manner by ideological positions or political pressures…" (p. 156). But she has asserted the exact opposite throughout her book. She does not seem to notice that she has just contradicted her own thesis.
In a similar self-contradictory absence of attention, she suggests (pp. 32-36) that the ancient names of various sites preserved in Arabic by the current inhabitants attest to the indigenous nature of these inhabitants. It does not seem to occur to her that because these names are Hebrew names, well attested in Biblical and post-Biblical Jewish literature, one can more readily assume that they attest to the earlier indigenousness of the Hebews, from whom the later Arab invaders took the site-names.
But these are by no means the most problematic of her errors.
The two most salient hallmarks of her book's deficiency is the absence of any analysis of the volumes of evidence which actually contradict her core thesis.
She claims, by statements of simple fiat or innuendo throughout the text (pp. 18, 32, 26, 38, 91, 95, 98, and passim), that today's Arabs living within the borders of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, are indeed the direct descendents of the Canaanites who preceded the Israelites by millennia. This assertion is a cornerstone in the modern Arab propaganda narrative that seeks to delegitimize the modern state of Israel: Zionists today, the narrative asserts, have invaded and conquered and exiled from their ancestral homeland the original native inhabitants of the Holy Land, just as did their predecessors in the days of Joshua and Judges.
The best she can do to support this assertion is a reference to Charles Clermont-Ganneau (p. 37), who occasionally opined in his writings that perhaps the modern Arabs of the region were indigenous, and not really Arabs (a great surprise, I'm sure, to these same "Palestinians" today). Beyond these unsubstantiated musing of a mid-19th century antiquarian, el-Hajj offers no evidence to support this assertion; and perhaps for good reason. There is none. Not only is there no evidence to support the Arab propaganda claims to a high antiquity for the "Palestinian people" (the Arabs living in modern Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip), there is also much evidence against such a claim.
The term "Palestine," and its fore-runners "Philistia" and "Palestina," refer in all instances of their appearance in Greek, Latin, and later texts, to a vaguely defined geographic entity inhabited by a variety of different peoples and cultures. Sometimes this geographic entity contained several different independent nation-states (Philistines, Israelites, Samaritans, Judeans, Edomites, among others); and sometimes it was subsumed entirely within a larger empire (Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ottoman, for example). Never was there a political entity with defined borders and national identity known as "Palestine" until 1922 and the creation of "British Mandatory Palestine."
Moreover, the endless array of migrants and invaders, of differing ethnic, linguistic and cultural origins, who plagued the region from prehistoric times onward, effectively vitiates any modern claims to any genetic or cultural ancestry of high antiquity. From late proto-historic and Early Bronze Age Canaanite invaders who displaced the Chalcolithic culture, to the Sumerians, Akkadians, Old Babylonians, Amorites, Hittites, Egyptians, Aramaeans, Israelites, Philistines, Neo-Babylonians, Edomites, Persians, Greeks, Nabateans, Romans, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Mongols, Crusaders, Ayubids, Mamelukes, Ottomans, and British…these clashes and mixtures of cultures and peoples over six millennia render impossible any claim that anyone in today's Israel is a direct descendent of Canaanite ancestry (footnote: It is worth noting at this point that Jewish claims to high antiquity in the Holy Land do not make such impossible assertions. Jewish claims are based on continuity of religion and evidence [archeological, Biblical, and extra-Biblical – see below] of ancient Israelite sovereignty).
Adding to the mélange described above is the abundant evidence indicating that during the Ottoman and British periods, hundreds of thousands of Arabs in-migrated to the area in search of the better economic conditions that the British and the Zionists created from the mid-19th century onward (footnote: for demographic studies substantiating this assertion, cf. Justin McCarthy, Population of Palestine; and Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial). The result of this in-migration was a nearly quadrupling of the Arab population from c. 340,000 in 1855 to more than 1,300,000 in 1947. This historically recent, and well attested, in-migration means that the majority of today's Arab population of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza Strip, can trace its Holy Land ancestry back for less than 150 years.
To the above can be added the overt and unsolicited statements by Arab scholars and political leaders in the years leading up to the UN partition plan (11.29.1947) to the effect that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation or a Palestinian people. Hence the UN's plan to create such a nation by its partition plan was an historical anomaly and political injustice. These statements are validated by PLO spokesperson and executive committee member Zahir Muhse'in who said in an interview with the Amsterdam magazine Trouw:
"The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism….. as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan." (footnote: Trouw, March 31, 1977).
This PLO spokesperson himself tells the world that concepts of "Palestinian People," the "Palestinian nation," "historic Palestine," and "Palestinian national identity" are all fictions created by Arab propaganda to legitimize the Arab terror war against Israel.
It is easy to see why el-Haj avoids any analytical treatment of the evidence against the high antiquity of her imagined Palestinian victims of Zionist conquest.
But the single most problematic issue, the nefarious Zionist archaeologists' creation of, and creative interpretation of, archaeological evidence to support what she calls the myth of Jewish antiquity in the Holy Land, is also one that she never addresses directly.
She never actually analyses the archaeological evidence. She never examines the obviously critical question: Do the archaeological finds support the history of a Jewish presence and sovereignty in the Holy Land from Joshua's time to the 7th century AD Arab invasion -- or not? Do the facts fit the theory? She insists that the archaeological justification for a Jewish past in the Holy Land is a ploy, a rather impious fraud, a grand plot at the highest level of Israeli academia and government, to create ex nihilo the faux-evidence that will legitimize the mythic account of Jewish belonging, Jewish antiquity, in the Holy Land (pp. 10, 20, 74, 77, 85, 104, 119, 161, 215, 258, and passim). If the archaeology and extra-Biblical literary evidence do support such an account, then the account is not mythic, the interpretations of Israeli archaeologists is justified; and her entire thesis crumbles. Indeed, it seems likely to this writer that she avoids this issue precisely because she knows that the reams of evidence available to even the lay reader do indeed support the Jewish tradition of ancient Jewish sovereignty over, continued relationship to, and existence in, the Holy Land from Biblical times onward.
Since this is the foundation issue upon which her entire book is predicated, it is worthwhile to summarize briefly these reams of evidence.
The earliest reference to Israel in ancient extra-Biblical history is the appearance of the name "Israel" in the Mernephtah stele (c. 1200 BC), accompanied by the ideographic hieroglyphic designation "people" (as opposed to "city" or "state"). Mernaphtah, an Egptian pharaoh of the XIX dynasty, recounts his invasion of Canaan, and his destruction of a variety of Canaanite city-states and, inter alia, the "people of Israel" – obviously an exaggeration.
Over the next 300 years, there are no direct references to Israel (footnote: the numerous references to "Habiru" or "'piru" may refer to Hebrews, but this association is by no means universally accepted. But even if it were possible to equate Hebrew and Habiru, it could still very well be that while all Israelites were Habiru, not all Habiru were Israelites. Regarding the translation of the earlier term "da'idu" in the Mari texts as "David," it has long been acknowledged that the original transliteration of the cuneiform was incorrect. The word in question should be read "da'iku," a dike or earthen berm or rampart).
However, there are a plethora of references to Israel and Judah in Assyrian, Babylonian, Aramaic and Persian texts from the 9th century BC and thereafter: inter alia,
the reference to the House of Omri in the Black Obelisk of Shalmanesser III (9th century),
the Moabite version of the 9th – 8th centuries' war between Israel and Moab recounted in the Book of Kings II and in the Moabite stone,
the 8th century account of the visions of Balaam ("seer of the gods") in the Aramaic text from De'ir Alla,
the Assyrian accounts of Tiglat Pilesser III's destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and exile of its Israelite inhabitants(late 8th century) and Sennacherib's destruction of Lachish during his abortive invasion of Judea,
the Babylonian account of Nebuchadnezar's two deportations of Judeans and ultimately the destruction of Jerusalem (late 7th and early 6th centuries),
and the Persian account of Cyrus the Great (late 6th century) and his proclamation that permitted the return of Judean exiles to Judea and Jerusalem (footnote: translations of all of the above, and other references as well, can be found in James B. Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts in Translations, vols. 1-2).
It is also interesting to note that a recent discovery in the archives of the British Museum indicate that a Babylonian royal official mentioned by name in the book of Jeremiah did indeed exist and function in the Babylonian government in the 6th century (footnote: to be provided).
To this list can be added a sizable compendium of epigraphic evidence from within Israel and Judea. The Samaria ostraca bear the names of Israelite provinces which are identical to the names of the daughters of Zelophehad in the book of Numbers. Ostraca from Israelite Arad are written in Biblical Hebrew. Those from the small temple in Arad IX include names identical to the names of priestly families listed in the book of Chronicles. One Arad ostracon includes the Tetragramaton (YHWH) in the context of a long and well-preserved letter from the commander of the fortress at Arad to someone in Jerusalem, regarding "Beit YHWH" (perhaps a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem). The Siloam inscription, also in good Biblical Hebrew, attests to 8th century Israelite engineering achievements in aquifer engineering. And witness to the end of Judea comes most dramatically from the ostraca at Lachish which document the Babylonian invasion (early 6th century) and conquest of the fortresses surrounding Jerusalem (footnote: most of the above can be found in Pritchard, op cit. The Arad ostraca are translated in Yohanan Aharoni's reports on the excavations of Arad).
In addition to the ostraca, there are numerous seals found throughout Judea and Samaria written in Biblical Hebrew and containing Israelite names found in the Bible, with the theophoric elements of YH or YHWH, or displaying typical Judean hypochoristica. Perhaps the best known of these is the bronze seal of "Shema', servant of Jereboam" found at Megiddo. The identification of this Jereboam with the Israelite king Jereboam II is broadly accepted. During the Persian period, the YHD coins, usually read "Yehuda" and found in excavations of many sites throughout Judea, attest to the continuity of Jews in Judea following the Babylonian exile.
The evidence from the Hellenistic and Roman and Byzantine periods is overwhelming. Suffice it to say that in order to reduce to "myth" the tradition of Jewish existence and sovereignty in Israel during these periods, one would need to somehow find a way to discredit a plethora of references to Jews and Israel which populate in great number the surviving manuscripts of the inter-Testamental literature, the texts of the Christian Scriptures (especially the Synoptic Gospels), a variety of Greek and Latin texts, the books of Josephus, the text of Apion (now lost) referenced in Josephus' "Contra Apionem," Tacitus' "De Reribus Mundi," the Dead Sea Scrolls with their textual replicas of entire books of the Bible, the Jerusalem Talmud, the thousands of references to Judea and Israel and Jews and Jerusalem in the Babylonian Talmud, and the Roman sources for the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD including the famed Arch of Titus. To this list of literary evidence can be added the archaeological evidence of Hellenistic and Roman period seal impressions and coins in Hebrew, bearing Biblical names, coins of the Macabean period, and the first and second revolts against Rome, and the Judaea Capta coins.
And then, of course, there is the well-known Qur'anic reference to Allah's having freed the Israelites from Egypt and taken them across the desert and in to their promised land (Surrah 5, vss. 25 ff).
And recall that the above is merely a brief summary.
There is one final point to consider in the context of the question "does the theory fit the facts." Toward the end of her book, el-Haj makes note of the fact that the Waqf of Haram esh-Sharif (the Moslem communal religious trust which oversees Jerusalem's Temple Mount) has been for years conducting illegal construction and excavations on the Temple Mount, excavations which are very destructive of the pre-Islamic archaeological remains. These excavations are avowedly intended to eradicate evidence of earlier Jewish existence and activity on the site. If there were no such existence, there would be no such evidence. If whatever evidence remained on the Mount were immaterial or inconclusive, there would be no need to destroy it. The very actions of the Waqf are clear attestation to the existence of what is for el-Haj and at least some of the Muslim world the very troublesome, unwelcome, and inconveniently incontrovertible evidence of Jewish life and activities and sovereignty in and around the Temple Mount in pre-Islamic times.
The denial of the historicity of thousands of years of Jewish national life in the Holy Land is very much akin to Holocaust denial. In both cases, the assertion is beyond absurd in light of the overwhelming body of evidence supporting the phenomenon. And in both cases, the motive of those making the assertion is clearly heinous. Neo-Nazis and Akhmedi-Nejad deny the Holocaust in order to more easily perpetrate the next one. El-Haj and her ilk deny Jewish existence in ancient Israel in order to more easily delegitimize modern Israel. The delegitimization of modern Israel is part of the Arab strategy of a propaganda war against Israel. The goal of this war is to weaken support for Israel in the USA and UK so that those Arab forces so inclined can more readily fulfill the vision of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Arafat, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, a dozen other terrorist groups, and current Iranian leadership: a world without Israel, and ultimately, a world without Jews.
The real purpose of this book is clear both as to what it is and what it is not. It is not scholarship. It is not a critical analysis of the politics of Israeli archaeology. It is baseless self-contradictory propagandistic screed.
The purpose of such screed is to provide a thoroughly legitimized and authorized text, bearing the official stamp of approval of the academic community. Her Ph.D. degree, her book's publication by one of the world's leading universities, and her tenure at a major academic institution – all demonstrating that peers and more veteran scholars of higher rank and authority, all presumed to be objective, approve of el-Haj's basic assertion and the methodology by which she arrived at it. With such credentials, others can quote it with high and generally unquestioned credibility to the non-academic community, and gain credence by reference to it and its scholarly pedigree. It thus becomes a very useful tool to those who seek to delegitimize Israel and demonize Zionism.
And, in fact, this has happened. Those who have referenced al-Hajj include vitriolic anti-Israel and anti-Jewish authors who use her book to justify their anti-Jewish angst and support their delegitimization of Israel and their demonization of Zionism.
Joachim Martillo, writing in Boston on the American Al Jazeerah webpage, states: "Facts on the Ground by Nadia Abu el-Haj discusses the ideology of destroying the physical record of the presence of Palestinians…"
Matt Edgeworth of Albion Archaeology, speaking at the World Archaeological Congress, 2003, blithely accepts the very worst of el-Haj's accusations: "….The bulldozing away of layers pertaining to a particular cultural group or peoples, in order to reach levels pertaining to one's own perceived national or cultural heritage…"
Elia Zureik writes in The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies, (note: Abu El Haj serves on the editorial board of this journal) that "…Abu El-Haj notes that in excavating the Old City Israeli bulldozers leveled several Islamic monuments…"
Edward Said, speaking at Ewart Hall, The American University in Cairo, on March 17, 2003, "Even so apparently innocent a discipline such as archeology, which is one, of course, of the prides of Egypt, was used in Israel and was made complicit in the making-over of the land and its markers, as if there had never been any Arabs or any other civilizations there except Israel and the Israelites… the traces of other more just as historical histories were ignored or simply moved away by trucks and bulldozers."
When a book is authored by a Ph.D., a tenured professor at a well-known university, and published by the University of Chicago Press, readers will confidently expect that the factual assertions it contains are reliable. The trust placed by the general public in the work of university-based scholars and in the books published by university presses rests on the assumption that although an individual scholar's interpretation of evidence may be controversial, the scholar, the university, and the university press can be trusted to have checked that all verifiable assertions have been verified. By exploiting that trust, el-Haj and her academic supporters create the process whereby political screed becomes scholarship, and propaganda lies become reality, thanks to the legitimization of her thesis by supposedly disinterested scholars and academic institutions (footnote: the above quotes are taken from Nadia abu el Haj, bulldozing the Facts at the University of Chicago and Barnard College, Dec. 7, 2006).
In other words, her book is one more salvo in the Arab propaganda war against Israel. She has joined the ranks of the propagandists leading the Arab war of words and ideas against the very existence of the Jewish state.
Why she chooses to abandon academic ethics, eschew professional integrity, and write an utterly absurd thesis, contradicted by vast and well-known bodies of evidence, is reasonably clear. She is an advocate of the Palestinian cause. She reveaks her political position continuously throughout the book. She consistently refers to the modern state of Israel as a "settler nation," and to Zionism as a "colonial" endeavor. She repeats uncritically the Arab position that the Zionists invaded, conquered, subjugated, and expelled the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants, who date their own existence in the Holy Land back to "time immemorial"…the Canaanite period and perhaps even earlier. And she almost verbatim regurgitates the standard Arab accusations that Israel is the recalcitrant obstacle to peace (cf. for example, p. 241).
As is the case with many advocates of the Palestinian cause, she does not care that her work in support of that cause promotes a completely fictitious narrative, foists upon a largely ignorant audience a mendacious and deceptive account of Israeli archaeology, and contributes to the ultimate Islamo-fascist goal of the delegitimization of Israel and demonization of Zionism, in order to facilitate the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and the genocide of its Jews.
Unclear, however, is why her thesis advisors and committee at Duke University chose to grace her fake scholarship with their stamp of approval and bestow upon a mendacious propagandist the title of Doctor of Philosophy. Why the University of Chicago Press chose to lend its prestige to her lies with the publication of her thesis is also unknown, as is Barnard's approval of her tenure even in the face of dozens of articles akin to this one, demonstrating the fallacies of her work, the mendacity of her presentation, and the degree to which her anti-Israel screed is the antithesis of scholarship.
She cannot be ignorant of the bottom line goal of the Arab side in the Arab-Israel conflict: the destruction of Israel and the genocide of its Jews. With her book, therefore, she has joined the ranks of Hitler's little helpers; and Duke University, the University of Chicago Press, and Barnard have, unwittingly I presume, supported her in her war efforts.
David Meir-Levy is a lecturer at San Jose State University, Dept of History, teaching Middle Eastern History. He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University, and an MA in Near Eastern Studies from Brandeis University. He taught Archaeology and Near Eastern History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the University of Tel Aviv in the 60's and 70's.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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