Campus Watch in the Media
Nadia Abu El Haj Versus Written History and the Scientific Method - I
by Ami Isseroff
[Ed: The reference to a stance taken by Campus Watch in this article should actually be attributed to a Solomonia Blog post that was reprinted at Campus-Watch.org: http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archive/2007/09/nadia-abu-el-haj-the-thesis-is-not-like/index.shtml]
Nadia Abu El Haj, a Barnard professor recently granted tenure, is one of a number of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian academics engaged in what appears to be a systematic attempt to erase the history of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. As will be shown below, the intent and effect of her work is to further a claim similar to that of former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and former Mufti of Jerusalem Ikrema Sabri: the Jews did not have an ancient kingdom, and have no national rights in Jerusalem or the land of Israel.
Not surprisingly, El-Haj's work has been sharply criticized by scholars and Israel advocates. However, her presentation is sophisticated and couched in the intentionally convoluted prose of post-structural "discourse." Therefore it is sometimes difficult to pin down the errors and distortions in her work and that of others of the same school. The theme of her book, "Facts on the Ground," and of several similar articles, is that Israeli archaeology participated in falsifying the past record in order to establish a Jewish claim to the land of Israel and Jerusalem. In arguing about detailed points, many have lost sight of the main issue: Her claim Israeli archaeology sought to establish a "myth" or "narrative" of Jewish sovereignty cannot possibly be true.
For over 2,000 years, the fact of ancient Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel or "Palestine" has been accepted almost universally, based on independent corroboration from numerous sources. The facts of Jewish presence and sovereignty in Israel and Jerusalem were attested by monuments visible to all and by writings of Christians, Roman and Greek historians as well as in the New Testament and the Old Testament Bible. They were corroborated by additional archaeological finds by non-Jews that predate the establishment of the state of Israel by many years. They are not a "myth" invented by Zionism and they did not require verification by Israeli archaeology.
El-Haj is part of a larger movement to use post-structuralist "discourse" to rewrite the history of ancient Israel, writing the Jews out of it, and writing the "Palestinian Arabs" into it. El-Haj didn't get tenure despite her views, she got tenure because of her views, and because what outsiders consider to be bad science is considered by post-structuralists to be masterful "discourse." Post-structuralist rhetoric is well suited to such an enterprise, because it tries to discredit the concept that scientific knowledge depends on empirical fact, and substitutes a jargon of "narratives" and "discourse" for the rigor of verification and falsification by empirical research and explanation of known data.
Given the oblique and complex nature of El-Haj's insinuations and prose, it is not surprising that in his blast at the "New McCarthyism" (see Of McCarthyism and academic freedom) Larry Cohler-Esses was able to claim that none of the charges in a particular Israel advocacy petition concerning Nadia Abu El Haj were true and so to discredit the entire cause. The question Cohler-Esses did not answer is whether or not El-Haj's work, regardless of a particular petition, is sound science. From the point of view of post-structuralism, that question is irrelevant. All "narratives" are equal, and there is no way of establishing which ones are related to reality and which are not. "Sound science" is whatever the people like.
The falsifications are well constructed and difficult to refute. Often the falsehood is implied, rather than stated outright. In other cases, the text appears to be saying and implying one thing, but the literal meaning is different.
Campus Watch takes issue with the following quote from "Facts on the Ground,":
It is unprovable whether or not Jerusalem was inhabited by a Jewish majority in the time of Herod, since there are no census data. Cohler-Esses could say that Campus Watch is wrong. But every indication we have from New Testament narratives and from those of Roman historians, is that Jerusalem was a Jewish city in that period and the center of Jewish worship. Even if one insists that the New Testament is a total fabrication, one would have to admit that the fabrication would have to be credible. The New Testament was credible because everyone knew that Jerusalem was a Jewish city in the time of Jesus.
Certainly, before 1000 BC and after 134 AD until the 19th century, Jerusalem was not a Jewish city. But the verifiable Zionist claims do not depend on these issues. The claim of the Zionists, accepted by almost everyone, is that other than the brief Crusader period, no other nation has ever been sovereign in the land of Israel and no other state ever had Jerusalem as its capital, certainly not since about 1000 BCE. Jerusalem was devoid of Jews for long periods precisely because foreign imperialist colonialists wanted to prevent the renewal of Jewish sovereignty and national life. That was the reason for the genocide perpetrated by Hadrian after the Jewish revolt along with ethnic cleansing of the Jews in Jerusalem. Ethnic cleansing was renewed by the Christian Crusaders for the same reason, and it was carried out once again in 1948 by the Transjordan legion under the aegis of British imperialism for precisely the same reason: to establish "facts on the ground" that would perpetuate the banishment of the Jews from their own land.
El Haj's thesis is summarized in a most favorable review of "Facts on the Ground," by Elia Zureik:
In other words, the claim is implied that Jewish presence in the land of Israel was not a fact in evidence, but rather a myth of the "colonial-national imagination" that was "substantiated" by Israeli archaeology.
Archeaology of pre-literate societies or archeology that does not find written inscriptions cannot in fact generally provide conclusive evidence to support any national story. If we only find rocks and jewelry, we often can't attribute them to any nation or culture except based on style and ornamental symbols and the like, In places such as Britain, the Italian and Greek peninsulas, archeology can only validate what is known from written records. If pre-literate remains are found, they can often only be classified as belonging to different sorts of cultures according to the artifacts that they left, such as beaker folk or urn burying cultures or mound people. It would have been pointless for archaeologists to simply dig without a program, without trying to validate or falsify biblical and other historical accounts. All scientific work is based on some "theory" or suppositions and builds on previous knowledge. There is no way to do science without theory, just by accumulation of facts.
El Haj's thesis, as presented and approved by Zureik, and as understood by her Zionist critics, is that Israeli archeology is an attempt to create a "myth" of Jewish sovereignty is absurd. It is like saying that archaeological investigations in Italy are meant to "substantiate" the fact that there was a Roman empire, which would otherwise be in doubt. That is issue that Cohler-Esses and other defenders of El-Haj are trying to defend.
Let's review some of the evidence, in addition to the old testament Bible, and the new that supported the "belief" that the land of Zion is the rightful homeland of the Jewish people, before any Israeli or Zionist archeologist turned a spade in Palestine, Israel, or the various Kazas of the Ottoman Empire.
Coins found in the land over the years attest to the reality of the Maccabean kingdom and the revolt of Bar Kochba.
Roman historians recorded the siege of Jerusalem by Pompei in 61 BC, and wondered that the Jewish inhabitants ceased their defense of the city on the Sabbath. If there were non-Jews in the city, why weren't they involved in its defense?
The triumphal arch of Titus has stood in the Roman Forum for nearly 2000 years, with its legend, "Judea Capta" and the portrayal of the menorah and other items looted from the temple clearly visible.
Drawing on much older sources, the Roman historian Tacitus repeated an Alexandrian anti-Semitic libel that the Jews had worshipped a golden ass in their temple. The use of "narrative" and archaeology to create national myths can be applicable to preliterate civilizations and those that left few records or monuments. It makes no sense with regard to ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt or Israel, because the basic stories are well known. Each separate datum can conceivably be explained by a different, alternative story. Taken together, it is virtually impossible that all of these findings and information, which all support each other, are completely wrong and that the ancient existence of the Jews must be proven again by Israeli archaeology. Of course, we can take a solipsistic stance that all of these different items were created yesterday by a malignant intelligence in order to deny the Arabs of Palestine their rights, but nobody can provide any evidence for that view. We would have to believe that the bible, the Roman historians, the Arch of Titus and numerous other bits of evidence were all invented in the last 50 or 100 years, and planted as bogus evidence like the Piltdown man hoax, in a nefarious Zionist settler-colonialist conspiracy to dispossess Palestinians.
What was known from ancient times was confirmed and reconfirmed by the beginning of the twentieth century. Archaeologists had rescued the Hebrew inscription in the tunnel of Hezekiah from an Arab looter. It verified passages in the book of 2 Kings and in Chronicles, and supported the "belief" (if you insist) in Jewish sovereignty in ancient Jerusalem (See Hezekiah's Tunnel).
The New York Times of July 10, 1910 noted the following finding:
By the beginning of the twentieth century, what had been believed by tradition had been amply validated by additional archaeological findings. Israeli archaeology did not need to substantiate any myth, but only to satisfy curiosity and provide details of Jewish national history.
Ami IsseroffNote: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
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