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The NYT Misrepresents the History of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict

A welter of factual errors and misleading judgments has produced a distorted description of the 1948 War.

· 12 min read
The NYT Misrepresents the History of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict

As we saw from the savage Hamas assault on southern Israel on 7 October, the Palestinians have certainly been active protagonists in their more-than-century-long battle against Zionism and Israel. But the New York Times would have it otherwise. Indeed, the underlying narrative in their magazine piece of 6 February 2024, “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Long Shadow of 1948,” is that the Palestinians have always lacked agency and have no responsibility for anything that has befallen them over the decades. This, plus a welter of factual errors and misleading judgments, has produced a seriously distorted description of the history of the first Arab–Israeli war and its origins.

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The Times article consists of a lengthy “discussion” between Arab and Jewish scholars (three ostensibly from each side) and comments and clarifications (and mis-clarifications) by Emily Bazelon, the NYT staff writer who moderated the dialogue and put the piece together. Five of the six people involved can hardly be deemed experts on either the Arab–Israeli conflict or the 1948 war. Only one—Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington—has published works of some relevance: The Road Not Taken (1991), on the clandestine post-1948 Arab–Israeli peace talks, and The War for Lebanon (1984), on the Israel–PLO war of the early 1980s. During the discussion, the three Arab panellists—Nadim Bawalsa, an associate editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies; Leena Dallasheh, who is writing a book on Nazareth in the 1940s and ’50s; and Salim Tamari, a sociologist from Bir Zeit University in the West Bank—almost uniformly toe the PLO (or Hamas) line, which is indistinguishable from propaganda.

The drift of the Times article is that the innocent Arabs of Palestine just sat back and watched, as suffering victims, as the Zionists, Israel, and some international actors, principally Great Britain, did their worst.

This is pure nonsense.

Throughout the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, Palestine’s Arabs consistently rejected all proposals for a political compromise and flatly demanded all of Palestine, “from the river to the sea.” And they did not restrict their activities to roundtable discussions. In April 1920, May 1921, and August 1929, Arab mobs, whose passions had been whipped up by religious and political leaders, attacked their Jewish neighbours and passers-by in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Hebron, and Safad, killing dozens in what amounted to a succession of pogroms. (The New York Times studiously avoids this word, referring to them only as “assaults.”)

Emily Bazelon informs readers that the first bout of violence took place when the 1920 Muslim Nebi Musa festivities in Jerusalem “turned into a deadly riot,” in which “five Jews and four Arabs [were] killed.” Neither she nor any of the panellists mention that an Arab mob attacked, murdered, and wounded Jews or that the crowd of perpetrators chanted “nashrab dam al-yahud” (‘we will drink the blood of the Jews’). Nor does she tell us that the crowd shouted, “Muhammad’s religion was born with the sword,” according to eyewitness Khalil al Sakakini, a Christian Arab educator. After three days of rampage and despoliation, British mandate security forces finally restored order, killing all or most of the four Arabs Bazelon mentions in the process. The findings of the subsequent British investigation are included in the July 1920 Palin Report, which states: “All the evidence goes to show that these [Arab] attacks were of a cowardly and treacherous description, mostly against old men, women and children—frequently in the back.”

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