A common archive for 1948 Palestine

  • Awarded to: Professor Ilan Pappé
  • Funding Awarded to Exeter: £4,205
  • Dates: 13 February 2012 - 31 July 2012
  • Sponsor(s): AHRC

One of the contemporary challenges for both history and the process of peace, democratisation and reconciliation, is the acknowledgement of crimes committed by power and ruling forces. This is particularly crucial when social traumas, genocides, ethnic cleansing, civil war and forced exile are involved, and constitute the core of on-going conflicts.

On the one hand, it is usually the victim's point of view that permeates the historical accounts of such traumatic events. The underlying assumption in historical researches is that victims provide first-hand narratives of brutalization, violence, rape, torture and so on. However, as Primo Levi (1976) noticed, the survivor and the witness are not one and the same thing. The American historian Raoul Hilberg (1961), author of the magisterial Destruction of the European Jews, highly criticized a history based on victims or survivals narratives. He based his work on the perpetrators and executors' documents and testimonies. Hannah Arendt (1963) followed him by justifying her absolute need to attend the Eichmann trial writing 'I wanted to expose myself not to the actions themselves - which are after all already known - but to the one who did them' (H. Arnedt Letter to the New-Yorker's editor July 1961). The contribution of history to truth and memory remains incomplete
without the acknowledgement of the perpetrators' vantage point. 

On the other hand, the importance of oral history is largely acknowledged among civil society activists and researchers; visual oral testimonies are more and more used in different fields such as history, sociology, anthropology and many others. But access to this material is highly difficult for a wide audience, including civil society activists.

In the work of the 'new Israeli historians', testimonies have been crucial in historical accounts of social traumas. Their contribution for peace activists from both Israel and Palestine is of great importance. A large number of documentary films,books, oral testimonies, stories, lectures, publications and research projects have been and are still being produced with the aim of telling the story of the expulsion and destruction of Palestinian society in 1948. Most of the work that has already been done is based on the urgent need to collect Palestinians' memories. However, there is still much to be acknowledged.  In fact, the 'blind spot' and historiographical and political disputes relates to the absence, up to date, of any systematic archive of personal oral testimonies from Jewish Israeli 1948 war veterans. That kind of archive would record the extent to which Israeli soldiers and officials actively took part in military and civil operations designed to facilitate the Palestinian Exodus, and, moreover, guarantee its irreversibility.

Digital technologies change the way we produce knowledge and the way this knowledge can be implemented in social contexts. It involves new possibilities for social, human, ethical and political commitments in the domain of historical and artistic research. Our research project is an attempt to rethink these relationships in the light of truth and reconciliation processes. To be more specific, the case of what the Palestinian memory remembers as the 'Nakba', the forced exile of Palestinians perpetrated by Israeli soldiers in 1948, is a good point of departure to tackle these issues. Our research project represents a close collaboration between historians and new media artists and researchers. It intends to provide a framework for both history and civil society of a joint archive of testimonies from victims and perpetrators and a Common archive. The interdisciplinary collaboration will imply a rethinking of documentary cinema and oral history in the age of Internet; it will collect 100 testimonies from 1948 Jewish Israeli war veterans and produce an audio-visual documentary available for free online as a case study and tangible outcome of the research.

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