One of the main homegrown board exams in India is the CISCE (Council for the India School Certificate Exams). The eleventh and twelfth standard years require students to study both Indian and global history. While the syllabus doesn’t stipulate which textbook teachers should adopt, many high schools in India seem to use Norman Lowe’s Mastering Modern World History. What the syllabus does delineate is the particular periods or events in history that students should cover in these grades. Of course, how any given teacher chooses to approach the textbook or the syllabus will vary.
Over the course of two years, students learn about the following main events:
1. World War One (with some emphasis on colonialism and imperialism)
2. The Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal
3. The Development of Communism (USSR and China)
4. Japan’s Parliamentary Democracy
5. Fascism and Nazism
6. The Collapse of International Order
7. World War Two (which covers some theatres of war most students don’t learn about, like battles between the Allies and Axis in Egypt, but much of the war’s relationship to Indians and Indian soldiers, like Churchill’s man-made famine, is covered in Indian history not in the world history section)
8. Post World War Two and the Cold War
9. The Middle East
It is this last section that I will explore here as there are some serious problems with Lowe’s text (at least the third edition, published in 1997, which is the one I’ve read) as it attempts to cover West Asia. Although it should be said that the absence of lessons about Africa and Asia more generally–especially given India’s relationship to these places, for example forced migration and labour under the British that affected relations between East Africans and Indians–are troubling. One would hope that a post-independence syllabus would explore not focus so much on imperial and neocolonial powers and their history to the exclusion of the global south. To know further details, follow links embedded in the lines below.
As for the Middle East the ISC syllabus detains what students should know after studying this unit:
(i) Post War conflict in Palestine after World War I, till the formation of the state of Israel. A brief background of Arab nationalism and Zionism in the late 19th century. Impact of World War I: the conflicting promises made to the Arabs, the Jews (Balfour Declaration) and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. All these need to be understood clearly. A general outline of events from 1919 to the Arab Revolt of the late 1930s (the increased immigration of Jews under the mandate and the resultant conflict). The impact of World War II and the intensification of the conflict against Britain’s decision to withdraw – the UNO’s plan. Creation of Israel and the War of Liberation (a chronological account should suffice here).
(ii) The Arab-Israeli Wars from 1948 to Camp David Accord. The following conflicts should be studied – (1948-1949), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), Sadat and the Camp David Accord (1979). For each of these events, the causes and results should be done in some detail. Events to be done very briefly.
(iii) The war in Lebanon. A general account of the war.
There are some distinct problems with the language in this description, which appears to give a so-called balanced view between the British-Zionist colonial project and the indigenous Arab population of the region. Yet the language betrays this illusion by calling the nakba (the catastrophe that befell Palestinians when they were expelled from their land and massacred by Zionist forces) “the war of Liberation”. Additionally, the 1973 war is identified as “the Yom Kippur War”, even though a neutral party would call it the October War (it is also known as the Ramadan War).
It is also striking to see such language given the aims for the course that the syllabus states:
5. To develop the capacity to read historical views in the light of new evidence or new interpretation of evidence.
7. To encourage diminution of ethnocentric prejudices and to develop a more international approach to world history.
8. To develop the ability to express views and arguments clearly using correct terminology of the subject.
9. To familiarise candidates with various types of historical evidence and to provide some awareness of the problems involved in evaluating different kinds of source materials.
These goals are important to keep in mind as one reads through and evaluates Lowe’s textbook. The chapter in his book on the Middle East is called “Conflict in the Middle East”, already setting up a particular way of viewing the region as if fighting of some kind or the other is intrinsic to the place. He begins by defining the geographical region and the states it includes before explaining Israel’s placement in the region:
The Middle East also contains the small Jewish state of Israel which was set up by the United Nations in 1948 in Palestine. The creation of Israel in Palestine, an area belonging to the Palestinian Arabs, outraged Arab opinion throughout the world…. (221)
Israel is the only state that gets the adjective “small” to describe it even though states like Lebanon are smaller. This is one of the oldest Zionist tactics–to emphasise the size of Israel in order to suggest its vulnerability.
The introduction continues by continuing to highlight Arab sentiments about the Jewish state:
The Arab states refused to recognize Israel as a legal state and they vowed to destroy it. Although there were four short wars between Israel and the various Arab states (1948-9, 1956, 1967 and 1973), Arab attacks failed, and Israel survived. The Arab desire to destroy Israel tended for much of the time to overshadow all other concerns. (221)
This a-contextual summary of the region spends a great deal of energy characterising Arab people as if there are no distinctions among the various peoples and cultures or the regimes governing them (they are all stubborn: “refused”; violent: “destroy”). The book treats all “wars” the same even though the nakba in 1948 was certainly not one and in 1956 and 1967 Israel instigated those wars.
Lowe feigns neutrality by illustrating that viewing history is subjective, without, of course, revealing his point of view:
Interpretations of the Middle East situation vary depending on whose viewpoint one looks at. For example, many British politicians and journalists regarded Colonel Nasser (Egyptian leader 1954-1970) as some kind of dangerous fanatic who was almost as bad as Hitler. On the other hand, most Arabs thought he was a hero, the symbol of the Arab people’s move towards unity and freedom.
To be sure, nowhere in the book does Lowe make a similar statement about Winston Churchill. Indeed, elsewhere in the book, he never suggests that Churchill is anything other than a statesman valiantly fighting the Axis powers. By omitting anything about his role in creating and exacerbating the Bengal famine, Lowe secures Churchill’s position in a Eurocentric version of history. Meanwhile, the mere suggestion of Nasser’s comparison to Hitler helps readers, if reading chronologically will have just finished learning about World War Two, to equate the two leaders. Moreover, throughout the book Lowe never refers to Nasser as President. He only ever calls him “Colonel”, as if to suggest he was a military dictator. Of course, nowhere in the book does Lowe intimate that one might have a different point of view about Palestine or Israel.
In the next section of the book Lowe begins with a factual error, one that conveniently feeds into a Zionist tactic of making the world seem as if there is a battle between Jews and Muslims:
They all speak the Arabic language, they are all Muslims (followers of the religion known as Islam, except for about half the population of Lebanon who are Christian and most of them wanted to see the destruction of Israel so that the Palestinian Arabs could have back the land which they feel is rightfully theirs. (223)
First of all, Arabs belong to several religious groups although most are Muslim (Sunni and Shi’a) and Christian. But there are also Druze, Baha’i, Alawis, and Jews. By Jews I mean Arab Jews who have always lived in the Arab world (as opposed to the European Zionists who worked with the British to colonise Palestinian land). And while it is probably true that most Arabs wanted to see Palestinians rightfully returned to the land from which they were forcibly expelled, without understanding that there was a planned expulsion (known as Plan Dalet), to remove the Palestinians by destroying their villages and massacring innocent civilians, one would likely form a negative opinion about Arab people. It would be like saying that freedom fighters in India–whether Vinayak Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, or Mohandas Gandhi–wanted to destroy the British without ever explaining what the British had subjected Indian people to through the course of their empire. Finally, the use of the word “feel” in the last sentence above–one that Lowe uses quite a bit to describe goals of Arab people, but not Israelis–suggests that it’s merely an emotional attachment to their land or homes and not a legal right. He fails to mention the fact that many Palestinians retain title deeds (some of which are also in Turkey in various archives) to their land and homes. Ironically, it is the Zionist Jews who “feel” that Palestine belongs to them–not the other way around.
When Lowe describes what he calls “interference in the Middle East by other countries”, he leaves quite a bit out, including the Sykes-Picot agreement:
Britain and France had been involved in the Middle East for many years. Britain ruled Egypt from 1882 (when British troops invaded it) until 1922 when the country was given semi-independence under its own king. However, British troops still remained in Egypt and the Egyptians had to continue doing what Britain wanted. By the Versailles Settlement at the end of the First World War, Britain and France were given large areas of the Middle East taken from the defeated Turks, to look after as mandates…Although Britain gave independence to Iraq (1932) and to Jordan (1946), both remained pro-British. France gave independence to Syria and Lebanon (1945) but hoped to maintain some influence in the Middle East. (223)
Once again, it is through his diction that Lowe misleads readers. He accurately states that Britain “invaded” Egypt, but it’s an aside–as if it is not as important as the fact of them ruling that country. It also doesn’t attribute any responsibility to France or Britain for their unilateral take over of land and makes it seem like it’s benign–they “look after” these countries and “gave” them independence. The fact that some Arab countries maintain strong relations with Britain or France is not contextualised either and thus it merely gives credence to the illusion that Britain and France was just a kind, if paternalistic, overseer, taking care of things until they were capable of independence. In reality, both countries partitioned the region and divvied it up between themselves, with careful attention paid to borders that would likely cause future problems so that they could maintain their control. This is especially ironic given U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s speech about nations having the right to self determination just a short time before carving up West Asia. Moreover, this partition ignored promises the British made to Arabs in the region who fought on behalf of the British during World War One in exchange for help creating their own independent states. Instead, the British installed puppets who could be relied upon to uphold British policy in the region.
A theme perpetuated throughout the chapter is that Arabs lacked unity, but it never says why because that would implicate the British and French colonial powers for using divide and rule tactics to maintain that instability. Similarly, the book continues with its negative characterisation of Arab states by saying:
Most of the Arab states had nationalist governments which bitterly resented Western influence. one by one, governments which were thought to be too pro-West were swept away and replaced by regimes which wanted to be non-aligned; this meant being free to act independently of both East (communist bloc) and West. (224).
The desire to be nationalistic and also not under the thumb of another nation should make sense to most Indians; and of course India occupied a similar position during this same period. To make sure readers don’t think this is a positive trait in a state, the tone here is quite negative. One by one Lowe moves on to illustrate how such regimes fell starting with Egypt:
At the end of the Second World War, British troops stayed on in the canal zone (the area around the Suez Canal). This was to enable Britain to control the canal, in which over half the shares owned by the British and French. (224)
Lowe continues explaining how army officers, led by Gamal Abd el Nasser, nationalised the Suez Canal for the Egyptian people. But his language, Egypt “seized power”, makes it seem as if that power didn’t belong to them. Nowhere is any mention of the British desire to create or maintain this canal because of its colonial holdings around the globe, which were also quickly decolonising–especially across Africa as many people across the continent were inspired by Nasser.
For Jordan, Lowe offers little to no context for King Abdullah’s overthrow:
King Abdullah had been given his throne by the British in 1946. He was assassinated in 1951 by nationalists who felt that he was too much under Britain’s thumb. (225)
This point about King Abdullah being “given” the throne by the British certainly suggests that as a result he would be subjected to British control. Indeed, Abdullah, who was killed in Palestine at the al-Aqsa mosque, was killed because he was a puppet of the British.
With Iran, the only non Arab state discussed in this chapter, much more detail is provided, although not much context and serious key facts are left out:
The Western-educated Shah (ruler) of Iran, Reza Pahlevi, resisted the Russians and signed a defence treaty with the USA (1950); they provided him with economic and military aid, including tanks and jet fighters. The Americans saw the situation as part of the Cold War–Iran was yet another front on which the communists must be prevented from advancing. However, there was a strong nationalist movement in Iran which resented all foreign influence. This soon began to turn against the USA and against Britain too. This was because Britain held a majority of the shares int he Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and its refinery at Abadan. it was widely felt that the British were taking too much of the profits, and in 1951 the Premier of Iran, Dr. Mussadiq, nationalized the company (took it under control of the Iranian government). However, most of the world, encouraged by Britain, boycotted Iran’s oil exports and Mussadiq was forced to resign. (225)
Reza Shah Pahlevi ran a dictatorship that was financially supported by the U.S. Meanwhile Britain controlled the money from Iran’s primary natural resource: oil. What upset Britain, at first, was the fact that the people of Iran democratically elected Mossadegh and then he proceeded to nationalise Iranian oil for the Iranian people. Britain was incensed by this and enlisted the help of the U.S. to overthrow Mossadegh. Kermit Roosevelt, for the CIA, worked tirelessly to make that happen in the first CIA coup. Language like Mossadegh was “forced to resign” leaves out quite a crucial detail, such as the U.S. role in making that happen. Likewise, as with Egypt’s Suez Canal, Lowe paints a picture as if the canal and the oil fields somehow rightly belong to Britain because they invested money in it. The reimposition of the Shah, furthermore, led to more American control over Iran, which ultimately led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Not unsurprisingly, Mossadegh’s actions ultimately inspired Nasser in Egypt and Nasser would also be subjected to a violent reaction from Britain in the form of a war in 1956.
When it comes to narrating the history of Israel, Lowe fails yet again as all he seems to be able to offer is a biblical one:
The origin of the problem went back almost 2000 years to the year AD 71, when most of the Jews were driven out of Palestine, which was then their homeland, by the Romans. (226)
The problem with this assertion is that the Romans never exiled any population. This is a Zionist myth, not a historical fact. Regardless, even if one tends to view the Bible as a history textbook, for a people absent for such a long time to violently uproot the people living in that land is unconscionable. Just imagine how Indians would feel if people who fled during the partition decided to come back and reclaim their homes and land. It hasn’t been even a century, and yet I imagine that people in India would not be willing to give up their homes and land.
Lowe jumps, as most Zionists do in their historical accounts, from AD 71 to 1897 when Theodor Herzl founded the modern Zionist movement. He explains a narrow context for its creation:
Zionists were people who believed that Jews ought to be able to go back to Palestine and have what they called “a national homeland”; in other words, a Jewish state. Jews had recently suffered persecution in Russia, France, and Germany, and a Jewish state would provide a safe refuge for jews from all over the world. The problem was that Palestine was inhabited by Arabs, who were alarmed at the prospect of losing their land to the Jews. (226)
Here a combination of misinformation and obfuscation through language makes this paragraph above sound quite reasonable. But there are problems. First, throughout this chapter, Lowe uses the word Arab to refer to Palestinians, something Zionists do because it makes it seem like, according to their narrative, that they have a number of places to live and the Jews have nowhere, so why not just give up their homeland for the European and Russian Jews. Second, Palestinians didn’t have a problem with their land being taken over because the people doing it were Jews; indeed there were many Palestinian Jews at that time residing in Palestine. They had a problem that anyone would take over their homeland. Lowe also fails to mention the depths to which Herzl’s endeavour was a colonial one. Both his admiration for Cecil Rhodes and his desire to make a Jewish homeland in Uganda or Argentina (because they were both controled by the British), makes this point clear. Finally, the desire for a specifically Jewish state, in a country where there were several religious groups living side-by-side, also reveals the problem of this project. However, Lowe’s reminder of oppression Jews faced at the hands of Europeans and Russians seems to somehow rationalise this (in the same way British Puritans who colonised North America rationalise their theft of indigenous land).
Lowe continues his attempt at explaining the history of Israel by distorting it further:
The British hoped to persuade Jews and Arabs to live together peacefully in the same state; they failed to understand the deep religious gulf between the two. Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany after 1933 caused a flood of refugees, and by 1940 about half the population of Palestine was Jewish. In 1937 the British Peel Commission proposed dividing Palestine into two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish, but the Arabs rejected the idea. (226)
Characterising the problem in Palestine as a religious one is a typical Zionist strategy, as I noted above. Further, Lowe continues to juxtapose problems European or Ashkenazi Jews experienced in Europe with Arabs, who had nothing to do with it. It is true that many Jewish people became refugees who sought a new home. But Lowe fails to tell his readers that both the U.S. and Britain closed its doors on them, refusing to allow them to even temporarily settle on their soil. This was a part of empire’s strategy to push them into Palestine so the West could have a foothold in the region. At the time this also was important for Britain so it could secure its hold over the Suez Canal, and thus an easier transportation route to India. Also left out of this is the fact that for four years prior to and following the Peel Commission, Palestinians led one of the longest resistance campaigns in history–which included work stoppage, striking, and a host of innovative activities to stop British and Zionist colonisation of their land. Yes, when a partition plan was presented to Palestinians, they rejected it. Is there a group of people in the world who wouldn’t fight to keep their land if they had the choice? (For maps indicating how much Palestinians were being asked to give up at this stage see here, here, and here.)
To his credit, Lowe does reveal that there was a Zionist terrorist campaign targeting Palestinians and British alike once the British, under pressure from the increasing conflict, limited the Jewish immigration numbers:
The Jews, after all that their race had suffered at the hands of the Nazis, were determined to fight for their “national home”. They began a terrorist campaign against both Arabs and British; one of the most spectacular incidents was the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which the British were using as their headquarters; 91 people were killed and many more injured. (226)
The precursor to this admission of Zionist terrorism–although what is not mentioned is the targeting of Palestinians, which happened exerted a far greater toll–is the mention of Jews as a “race.” Aside from the fact that race is a social construct, there is no ethnically or genealogically unique group of Jews. As with other monotheisms, Jews proselytised, thus creating Jews from various cultural backgrounds. As for Zionist terrorism, it was extensive and far reaching all dictated by a plan to remove Palestinians from Palestine.
The final fib Lowe tells about the creation of Israel is the so-called war that ensued after Israel declared its independence:
In May 1948 Ben Gurion declared the independence of the new state of Israel. It was immediately attacked by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. (227)
The sentences above move beyond mythology and into the realm of fantasy, as many historians have illustrated over the last couple of decades. First of all, the Zionist Plan Dalet, to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population had already been well under way for a few years prior to 1948. Many Zionists were part of the British army and received military training and had greater access to sophisticated weapons. The Palestinians, as well as the Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians, and Iraqis barely had an army at all. The ration was about 50,000 Zionist soldiers to 10,000 Palestinians (plus a moderate number of Arab irregulars–not any state army). What the repetition of this myth does, is perpetuate the biblically-rooted fantasy that Israel is a tiny David surrounded by a sea of Goliaths.
In spite of these facts, Lowe amplifies his Zionist sense that it was some kind of extraordinary feat that Israel won the so-called war:
Most people expected the Arabs to win easily, but against seemingly overwhelming odds, the Israelis defeated them and even captured more of Palestine than the UN partition had given them. (227)
He gives only a cursory and vague nod to the Zionist-created Palestinian refugee problem:
After some Jews had slaughtered the entire population of an Arab village in Israel, nearly a million Arabs fled into Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria where they had to live in miserable refugee camps. Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. The USA, Britain and France guaranteed Israel’s frontiers, but the Arab states did not regard the ceasefire as permanent. They would not recognize the legality of Israel, and they regarded this war as only the first round int he struggle to destroy Israel and liberate Palestine. (227-228)
It is likely that Lowe is referring to Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village in Jerusalem, which has become infamous for the Zionist massacre there. However, this massacre was committed on 9 April–a good month before Israel declared its statehood and before its so-called “war of independence” began. Deir Yassin is an important milestone in Palestinian history, mostly because it scared other Palestinians into flight. But it was by no means the only massacre committed by Zionist militias (all of which became folded into the Israeli army after independence).
The most egregious oversight, however, is Lowe’s glossing over the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of over 500 villages, which were later forested over by the Jewish National Fund so that Palestinians could not return. He also fails to mention that Palestinians have the right to return to their land as enshrined in UN Resolution 194.
Finally, Lowe reiterates the idea that the Arab states are being difficult, stubborn, and defiant for not recognising Israel like Western states did. Once again, in the absence of context as to why people were so appalled at the take over of Palestinian land is conveniently left out.
After this section rooted in 1948, Lowe skips ahead to 1956 and the Suez War. Here, too, his theme continues of demonising Arabs, especially Nasser:
Colonel Nasser, the new ruler of Egypt, was aggressively in favour of Arab unity and independence, including the liberation of Palestine from the Jews; almost everything he did irritated the British, Americans or French: He organized guerrilla fighters known as fedayeen (self-sacrificers) to carry out sabotage and murder inside Israel, and Egyptian ships blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba leading to the Israeli port of Eliat. (228)
The use of the adverb “aggressively”, something Lowe never does when describing Israelis, posits Nasser once again as an unreasonable and dangerous man. But this paragraph also pieces together bits of history from different historical moments, none of which are related to the war in 1956. He blockaded the port in the Gulf of Aqaba in 1967. Palestinian freedom fighters made a much more powerful dent in their struggle during the 1960s–both after this particular war. Through his tone and cherry-picked events, Lowe also suggests Nasser was a problem for helping Algerians in their anti-colonial war against France and for siding with Russia in order to obtain weapons at the height of the Cold War.
Lowe does accurately portray the origin of the war as a “planned Israeli invasion of Egypt”, which he thinks “was a brilliant success” while British and French forces bombed Egyptian airbases (230). He mentions the U.S. demanding the war be halted, signaling a win for Egypt, and the positive effect the war had on Algerians who were fighting for independence, but he doesn’t mention Nasser’s triumphant influence from Ghana to India and everywhere in between.
The next war Lowe skips ahead to is the June 1967 War, which Israelis call the Six Day War. He claims that leading up to this war, a newly independent and left-leaning Iraq wanted to “wipe Israel off the map” (231). He says:
The Arab states had not signed a peace treaty at the end of the 1948-9 war and were still refusing to give Israel official recognition. In 1967 they joined together again in a determined attempt to destroy Israel. The lead was taken by Iraq, Syria and Egypt. (231)
Lowe also characterises the growing Palestinian armed resistance movement in Syria, which “supported El Fatah, the Palestinian Liberation Movement, a more effective guerrilla force than the fedayeen” (231). Fatah was very much a part of the fedayeen whether in Syria or Jordan. While he does reveal that “The Israelis decided that the best policy was to attack first rather than wait to be defeated”, because troops amassed “along their frontiers” (232).
Of course, Israel’s success in that war meant it enlarged its colonial territories, including Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and the rest of historic Palestine: the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Lowe mentions that “this time [the Israelis] had ignored a UN order to return the captured territory” (232). But actually, Israel has ignored every single UN resolution related to their territory. This resolution was Security Council Resolution 242, which made clear that in international law no state may hold onto, or move a civilian population into, a territory acquired by war. It also reiterated the necessity of solving the Palestinian refugee problem, a problem that was greatly increased with this new war.
The final war explored between Israel and its neighbours is the one war that Israel didn’t initiate. In this scenario countries like Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, at least in part, to recover territory that Israel had illegally occupied since the previous war in 1967. For Lowe, the war was caused because:
Pressure was brought to bear on the Arab states by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under its leader Yasser Arafat, for some further action. When very little happened, a more extreme group within the PLO, called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, embarked on a series of terrorist attacks to draw world attention to the grave injustice being done to the Arabs of Palestine. (232)
This statement, which opens this section of the chapter, is extremely vague, although when one reads on it is clear that he is referring to Palestinians having to resort to new strategies to call attention to their plight. But in relation to what action or what did or didn’t happen, it remains unclear. Interestingly, like many Zionists, it is after the PFLP’s attacks that the word Palestine began, finally, to appear in the mainstream media. As if to reinforce Lowe’s opinion of painting Palestinians as terrorists here, he includes a photograph of Palestinian children whom he describes as follows:
The child soldiers of the Palestine refugee camps; trained from the age of 7, these boys and girls would be ready for front-line service by the age of 15. (234)
Note: there are no photographs of Israeli soldiers in training nor are there any photographs of Israelis except for Menachem Begin signing a peace treaty with Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat. Thus, through images Lowe is able to show Israelis as those who are striving for peace, and Palestinians as desiring to maintain a state of war.
Israel won this war, too, largely because of its increasing arsenal gifted from the American government. But it sparked an important response from oil producing countries, creating an oil embargo that resulted in a global energy crisis.
The next jump in history moves to the peace accord signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979, a treaty that would cost President Sadat his life for isolating Palestinians and the rest of the region. Lowe tells readers that “Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, bravely announced that he would continue the Camp David agreement” (236).
From this event he shifts to Israel’s peace treaty with the PLO. Oddly, this jump in time skips over the first intifada, a popular movement that ran the gamut from refusal to pay taxes to throwing stones at Israel armoured tanks. It is this development that likely led to pressuring the PLO into signing the Oslo Accords. Lowe fails to highlight the way that this agreement was one sided, as it sent Palestinians down the road which would force them to constantly make concessions for little to nothing in return. Instead, he merely states that in addition to the PLO and Israel recognising one another:
the Palestinians were to be given limited self-rule in Jericho (on the West Bank) and in part of the Gaza Strip, areas occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Israeli troops would be withdrawn from these areas. (237)
Today it is clear that each and every so-called peace treaty Israel pushed Palestinians into signing was another tactic to increase its colonial rule of Palestinians. And just as Israel has never honoured a UN resolution, it has never honoured any promise made in its treaties. As a way to relieve Israel from any blame, because “four bombings carried out by the militant Palestinian group, Hamas claimed 63 lives” (237). Of course, Israel’s divide and conquer colonial practice that helped to bolster Hamas is not mentioned in the textbook.
The last three sections cover other wars: Lebanon’s civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In its section on Lebanon, Lowe brings up the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in ways that is both confused and quite uninformed:
The presence of Palestinian refugees from Israel: This complicated the situation even more. By 1975 there were at least half a million of them living in squalid camps away from the main centres of population. The Palestinians were not popular in Lebanon because they were continually involved in frontier incidents with Israel, provoking the Israelis to hit back at the Palestinians in southern Lebanon. In particular, the Palestinians, being left-wing and Muslim, alarmed conservative and Christian Maronites who looked on the Palestinians as a dangerous destabilising influence. By 1975 the PLO had its headquarters in Lebanon, and this meant that Syria, the chief supporter of the PLO, was constantly interfering in Lebanon’s affairs. (240)
First, Palestinian refugees were forced into Lebanon by Zionists before the state of Israel existed. They are refugees from Palestine, not from Israel. Second, Palestinians do not necessarily live away from main centres of population (Sur, Saida, Beirut, Trablus). Indeed, in Beirut there are several camps within the city itself. Third, Palestinians are not only Muslim and not only leftist–whether fighters or not. Indeed, many Palestinian fighters were Christian and many were not leftists.
But throughout this section, Lowe represents the Lebanese Civil War in highly sectarian ways. While part of the issue is certainly Lebanon’s sectarianism, it is not as simplistic as Lowe makes it out to be. Because he sees Palestinians as mainly Muslim and Lebanese as mainly Christian, here is how he characterises the fighting:
In the south, bordering on Israel, fighting soon broke out between Palestinians and Christians; the Israelis seized this opportunity to send troops in to help the Christians. A small semi-independent Christian state of Free Lebanon was declared under Major Haddad. The Israelis supported this because it acted as a buffer zone to protect them from further Palestinian attacks. (240)
Instead of truthfully explaining that Haddad’s army–known as the South Lebanese Army–was not independent because it was a proxy militia for Israel, Lowe merely tells readers it was a Christian group wanting to protect themselves and the border. Moreover, to further complicate the sectarian nature of Lowe’s book, SLA ran Khiam prison, in cahoots with the Israelis, where freedom fighters such as Soha Bechara, a Lebanese Christian communist woman, were held and tortured for years.
Elsewhere Lowe continues to take plays from Zionists by rationalising attacks on Palestinians by calling it a “reprisal”:
In 1982, in reprisal for a Palestinian attack on Israel, Israeli troops invaded Lebanon and penetrated as far as Beirut. For a time the Gemayels, supported by the Israelis, were in control of Beirut. During this period the Palestinians were expelled from Beirut, and from then on the PLO was divided. (240).
This passage elides several points. True, Israel was aligned with the Phalangists or Kata’eb political party in Lebanon, a right-wing Maronite (Christian) group. Although he makes it clear that Israel “invaded” Lebanon (not its first time to do so either, and certainly not its last), the notion that Israel was aligned with a particular militia makes it seem as though they were somehow welcome. More horrendous is his use of the word “reprisal” to suggest that whatever Israel did–something Lowe elides here–was warranted. What he forgets to tell his readers is that 1982 is precisely the moment when Israel perpetrated on defenceless Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camp Shatila (and the surrounding neighbourhood of Sabra) under the cover of the Phalange militia. Even Israel’s Kahan Commission found Ariel Sharon guilty for his part in orchestrating the massacre.
In the final two sections of the chapter, Lowe covers up more key points as he glosses over the conflict between Iran and Iraq and later the U.S. and Iraq. But the conclusion to the chapter seems to be the one place where some truth emerges as well through both his tone and language:
The war and its aftermath were very revealing about the motives of the West and the great powers. Their primary concern was not with international justice and moral questions of right and wrong, but with their own self-interest. They only took action against Saddam in the first place because they felt he was threatening their oil supplies. Often in the past when other small nations had been invaded, no international action had been taken. For example, when East Timor was occupied by neighbouring Indonesia in 1975, the rest of the world ignored it, because their interests were not threatened. (244)
It is quite odd to see Lowe making such a statement at the beginning of the paragraph, and then regress so ignorantly at the conclusion of the paragraph and chapter. It is also strange that he sees self-interest here, but not elsewhere–for example Britain’s desire to control the Suez Canal or Iranian oil fields. But the icing on the cake is this conclusion when he imagines that the world ignored it because their interests weren’t threatened. Indeed, the West, especially the United States, actively participated in the massacre and occupation of East Timor.
While this is just a small response to one chapter in a history book, I could certainly continue examining and pointing out inconsistencies, omissions, and false statements throughout the volume. It should be a reminder that we cannot accept any text at face value and that we should question what we read.