Palestine – A Personal History

by Karl Sabbagh (2006)

When Donald Trump yells “Fake news!”, I’m reminded of Israel and think to myself “Fake history!”

Palestine A Personal History 2As countries go, Israel qualifies as an infant, with its creation counted in mere decades, on May 14, 1948. It shouldn’t be so difficult to pin down and memorialize the historical facts leading up to and during the months that followed David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of statehood.

For many years, the new Israeli government deliberately obscured the truth about its brutal colonization of Palestine because it didn’t fit the image they wanted to portray to the world. Even their own school children did not learn the truth until a few “new historians” such as Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” (2006) broke the silence. Important documentation that had been buried away in the government’s vaults came to light in the 1980s.

Now, the Palestinian narratives about the Nakba and brutality of the colonization of their land and people are breaking through the Israeli blockade on the truth. The fake history is unraveling.

Karl Sabbagh, a British writer, journalist and television producer, added his personal story in 2006 to the growing collection of Palestine/Israel history. His Palestinian father was a radio broadcaster during the Second World War, directing radio plays in the Arabic Service of the BBC in the 1940s. He became quite well-known back home in Palestine. In 1947, the BBC sent him to report on the UN vote that decided the fate of his country. The author’s mother, a secretary at the BBC, knew nothing about the Middle East. A couple of years after the birth of their son, they divorced.

Remarkably, Sabbagh was able to trace his family tree in Palestine back nine generations to the 1700s. His book is the history of Palestine side by side with the history of the Sabbagh family. His research is thoroughly documented and opens a window to the lives of Palestinians who were directly impacted by the Ottoman rulers, the British Mandate and the Zionists’ creation of the State of Israel.

The Sabbagh family history shows the absurdity of Israel Zangwill’s claim that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”. Sabbagh’s grandfather was a lawyer in Tulkarm. His relatives were businessmen and traders, part of an intricate web of societal links that reached across Palestine and the Levant. Palestinian Arab society was highly developed, especially in the towns and cities, with a sophisticated cultural and political life. Sabbagh is good on what might be called the second “lost history of Palestine”(if the first is that of the Palestinians themselves): the good relations between many Jews and Arabs before 1948. When Sabbagh’s uncle had a car accident outside the Jewish town of Nahariya, local people took him and his passengers in, gave them tea and cakes and tended to their injuries.  Adam LeBor (2006)

Palestine – A Personal Narrative is an important contribution to the Palestinian historical narrative because it so clearly tracks the unfolding events of the creation of the State of Israel and how those events impacted a family that was powerless to change the Zionist juggernaut that had designs on estabishing a new state on top of the Palestinian towns, villages, homes and businesses.

When Sabbagh returned to Safad in 2004, to seek relatives who stayed after 1948, he found houses occupied by Jewish immigrants, the Arabic inscriptions above the doors scratched out. But his guide was a Jewish Israeli called David, whose family had also lived in the town for 11 generations and well knew the Sabbaghs’ lineage. The two men, the Israeli local historian and the Palestinian-British writer, had much to talk about. And talking is better than fighting, as this poignant, often moving work shows.  Adam LeBor (2006).