Chomsky and Finkelstein on
Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial
By Peter Meyer
In 1984 a book by one Joan Peters was published, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine. The thesis of this book is that when the state of Israel came into existence Palestine was largely unpopulated, except for a few Jews who had been there for many centuries; just a desert really, made to bloom by the ingenuity and hard work of Jews who subsequently arrived. Consequently the Palestinians we find there today must have arrived recently, freeloaders, no doubt attracted by the modern state built by the efforts of said hard-working Jews. And consequently Israel has a right to send them back where they came from.
The book is available from Amazon. On Amazon's web pages for this book there are currently 41 reviews. Five stars (the maximum) are awarded by 26 of the 41 reviewers. Here are some of their comments:
- "The classic work on The Jewish Settlement of Palestine. This is the classic book that explodes the myths surrounding the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel." — Seth J. Frantzman
- "This book is undoubtedly one of the best books on the middle east conflict." — muha415
- "This is the best book on the middle east crisis bar none. It is concise and factual and written from a completely impartial prospective [sic]." — Helene
- "Ms Peters ... has dug deep to discover the truth concerning the major issues in the Arab-Israel conflict." — Rabbi Noach Zaner
- "From Time Immemorial is a treasure trove of carefully documented information." — npabooks
- "I truly believe that this is one of the classic books on the the subject ...well researched, well written." — Joshua Wander
In fact, the book is rubbish. It was exposed as a fraud by several critics, including Norman Finkelstein (whose exposé is included in Blaming the Victims, edited by Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, also available via Amazon) and later Oxford University's Albert Hourani.
Finkelstein is discussed in Noam Chomsky's The Fate of an Honest Intellectual (an excerpt from his 2002 book Understanding Power). Here are some quotes from that article:
From Time Immemorial ... was a big scholarly-looking book with lots of footnotes, which purported to show that the Palestinians were all recent immigrants ... And it was very popular — it got literally hundreds of rave reviews, and no negative reviews: the Washington Post, the New York Times, everybody was just raving about it. Here was this book which proved that there were really no Palestinians! Of course, the implicit message was, if Israel kicks them all out there's no moral issue, because they're just recent immigrants who came in because the Jews had built up the country. ... That was the big intellectual hit for that year: Saul Bellow, Barbara Tuchman, everybody was talking about it as the greatest thing since chocolate cake. Well, one graduate student at Princeton, a guy named Norman Finkelstein, started reading through the book. He was interested in the history of Zionism, and as he read the book he was kind of surprised by some of the things it said. He's a very careful student, and he started checking the references — and it turned out that the whole thing was a hoax, it was completely faked: probably it had been put together by some intelligence agency ...
Finkelstein's very persistent: he took a summer off and sat in the New York Public Library, where he went through every single reference in the book — and he found a record of fraud that you cannot believe. Well, the New York intellectual community is a pretty small place, and pretty soon everybody knew about this, everybody knew the book was a fraud ...
Well, as soon as I heard that the book was going to come out in England, I immediately sent copies of Finkelstein's work to a number of British scholars and journalists who are interested in the Middle East — and they were ready. As soon as the book appeared, it was just demolished, it was blown out of the water. Every major journal, the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review, the Observer, everybody had a review saying, this doesn't even reach the level of nonsense, of idiocy. ...
Anyhow, by that point the American intellectual community realized that the Peters book was an embarrassment, and it sort of disappeared — nobody talks about it anymore.
Except, that is, for Zionists who post rave reviews about it on Amazon's web site.
For a lengthy discussion of the criticisms of Joan Peters' book see Paul Blair's six-part article published in 2002 beginning at http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=2135. Blair writes in his Conclusion:
From Time Immemorial is work of propaganda, with all the bad connotations that term carries. Peters' case rests upon distortion and fabrication. Time and again, she misconstrues sources in a tendentious manner. She cribs uncritically from partisan works. She conceals crucial calculations, and draws hard conclusions from tenuous evidence. She speculates wildly and without ground. She exaggerates figures and selects numbers to suit her thesis. She adduces evidence that in no way supports her claims, sometimes even omitting "inconvenient" portions of the citation. She invents contradictions in sources she wishes to discredit by quoting them out of context. She "forgets" undesirable numbers in her calculations. She ignores sources that cast doubt on her conclusions, even when she herself uses those sources for other purposes. She makes baseless insinuations and misleading claims. ...
Someone should tell Seth J. Frantzman, Rabbi Noach Zaner, Joshua Wander and the other 5-star reviewers on Amazon's web pages that Joan Peters' book has been proven to be rubbish. But for drawing attention to this inconvenient fact one would then no doubt be accused of "anti-Semitism", since in the perverted thinking of Zionists any criticism of a supporter of Israel is equated with hostility toward Jews. This fact has only to be stated clearly to be seen to be not only indefensible but also ludicrous.
The Rittenhouse Review: THE REHABILITATION OF JOAN PETERS — Discredited Author Finds a New Audience
Peters’s book, published by Harper & Row to great acclaim in 1984, put forward the preposterous claim that Palestine was virtually devoid of Arabs when Jews began aggressively settling in the area in the mid-20th century. ... Any Arabs that were in the area in 1948 were drawn there, according to Peters, by the economic activity fostered by Jewish immigration. ...
However, not long after being showered with congratulations, Peters, who is not a historian and who had not previously written anything more substantive than articles for general interest magazines, watched as critics and historians meticulously documented her distortions, exaggerations, selective omissions, falsehoods, and general mendacity. ...
More recently, Capitalism Magazine in April published a devastating and meticulously documented six-part analysis of the book by Paul Blair. ... There is only one conclusion at which a reasonable observer of the Peters controversy can arrive: From Time Immemorial has been utterly and thoroughly discredited. ...
Imagine our shock, then, upon learning that From Time Immemorial will be the subject of a documentary film project titled "The Myth," produced by Isidore Rosmarin. ... It is clear from the WND article that no mention will be made of the controversy surrounding From Time Immemorial and the book’s inaccuracies ...
And so a spectacular fraud, which until very recently was relegated to the dust bin of the study of the history of the Middle East is to be rehabilitated. This development is frightening in its broader implications: The upcoming film, likely to be viewed by thousands of people who never would have made it past page 30 of From Time Immemorial, will find an audience of well intentioned individuals to whom the controversy described here might as well be medieval history. ... Indeed, we face the prospect of a new generation falling victim to Peters’s lies, an outcome that carries with it devastating implications for American foreign policy in the region.
Norman Finkelstein on The Holocaust Industry Zionism Serendipity Home Page