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Israel's efforts to hide Palestinians from view no longer fools young American Jews

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Few books on Palestinian history become bestsellers. But one, titled A History of the Palestinian People: From Ancient Times to the Modern Era, managed to rocket to the top of Amazon's charts this month.

Its author, Assaf Voll, an Israeli academic, claims to have reviewed "thousands of sources" to explain "the Palestinian people's unique contribution to the world and to humanity."

However, when Amazon realized all the book's 130 pages were blank, it hurriedly excised the title from its site. But not before hundreds of customers paid nearly $10 to enjoy the puerile joke. Speaking on Israeli radio, Voll observed: "Someone needs to tell them [the Palestinians] the truth, even if it hurts."

A History of the Palestinian People has famous antecedents. In 1969, Golda Meir, then Israel's prime minister, declared to the world: "There were no such thing as Palestinians."

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Fifteen years later, a book called From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters won acclaim from scholars and newspapers across the United States. It argued that the Palestinians were not the native people of Palestine, but recent economic migrants taking advantage of advances made by the Ottoman Empire.

A talented Jewish doctoral student, Norman Finkelstein, exposed the book as a fraud and it was gradually forgotten.

An Israeli official called Peters in 2015, shortly before her death, to thank her on behalf of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu "for all she had done for Israel."

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Both Voll and Peters were only echoing Israel's popular historical narrative. In Israeli museums, the Palestinians' presence is obscured with cryptic references to an "Ottoman" period. Like the Romans, Crusaders, Mamluks and British, the Ottomans are presented as temporary occupiers. Israeli politicians and media regularly speak of modern Palestinians as squatters and trespassers.

Israelis have been only too happy to make the Palestinians vanish. Who needs to feel guilty about the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of "Arabs" in 1948, or about Israel's brutal domination of millions more for half a century in the occupied territories, if they had no right to be there in the first place?

The antidote to Voll's empty book is a new anthology of essays, including by leading Jewish and Israeli writers, that never forgets the Palestinians' deep roots in the land and keeps its gaze fixed on the crushing realities of Israel's occupation.

Last week, Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon said he had faced a barrage of abuse since the publication of Kingdom of Olives and Ash, designed to warn off others from following in his footsteps.

Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, whose book on a love affair between a Palestinian man and Jewish woman was recently banned from Israeli schools, observed that visiting the West Bank was a way of "taking off the blindfold and opening our eyes to what is happening around us."

One can understand why making the Palestinians invisible is the tactic of choice for Israel's supporters. But a new report suggests that it would be wise for them to keep Israel in the shadows too.

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The Brand Israel Group found that the more US college students knew about Israel, the less they liked it. In the six years to 2016, support for Israel among the next generation of Jewish leaders dropped precipitously, by 27 percentage points.

Traditionally, Israel has nurtured bonds to overseas Jews. Over the past 20 years the Birthright program has brought half a million young American Jews on free summer trips to Israel for an intensive course of indoctrination.

The students are supposed to leave fervent ambassadors for Israel -- or better still, devotees who will immigrate to help in a demographic war against the Palestinians.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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