Robert Fisk: John McCarthy knows the value of history

 

Share
Related Topics

How come people like historical memory holes?

I'm moved to ask this question by the Lebanese Minister of Culture, Gaby Layoun, who said last week that "the Cedar Revolution does not exist". He's decided, in fact, to erase it from any secondary school books in Lebanon. So that the uprising by up to a million Lebanese on 14 March 2005 to protest at the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and to demand the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon didn't – well, that's it, it didn't happen. I was there. I saw it. It was probably the very early start of the Arab Awakening. And it did get the Syrians out. But... well, maybe the Syrians are still here.

Actually, I know what offends Gaby. He believes the phrase was invented by the former US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman – actually, it was dreamed up by the US Under Secretary of State, Paula Dobriansky, but no matter – and thus is not a "genuine" name for the extraordinary event seven years ago. The Lebanese called it the "Independence Intifada" and later the "Beirut Spring". But "Cedar Revolution" certainly stuck with many Lebanese. Since the present Lebanese government is supported by Hezbollah and displays total neutrality towards Syria, you can see the problem. The Sunnis and part of the Christian Maronite community and the Druze feel that their protest is being deleted. After all, they accept Liberation Day which marks the final withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000 – and which honours the Hezbollah Shia resistance.

"Does disagreement in politics erase historical events?" the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt asked. And he's right, because if you're going to mess with history, how is this new textbook going to handle the Lebanese civil war and all its grotesqueries? If the Phalangist part of the Maronites insisted on taking the Shias out of Lebanese history, what would the Hezbollah say? Gaby Layoun, I should add, is a Christian Maronite supporter of General Michel Aoun who is in turn a supporter of Syria. Enough.

These evasions, of course, do not all stem from political trickery. Tony Blair did not claim that America was Britain's oldest ally because he was trying to change history but because he was ignorant. (The answer is Portugal.) But I've already noticed the Israelis trying a little trickery of their own. Will there be a fourth Lebanon war, they are asking? Well, no, Israel has already had five Lebanon wars (1978, 1982, 1993, 1996, 2006) and the next one will be the sixth. But since they almost all ended in disaster – I was here and watched them – I guess it's worth chucking out a couple to lessen public indignation.

I'm reminded of this because of a passage in John McCarthy's forthcoming book on the Palestinians of Israel, You Can't Hide the Sun: A Journey through Israel and Palestine. John spent five years in Lebanon's hostage dungeons, and he's had the intriguing idea of focusing not on the West Bank and Gaza but on those Arabs who have Israeli nationality. And he retells, of course, the story of the Palestinian disaster of 1948 – the Nakba – and the flight of 750,000 civilians who now, along with their children, grandchildren, etc, make up the Palestinian refugee population. The Palestinians who remain in Israel and their descendants are those who didn't flee, or managed to stay inside the frontiers of the new Israeli state.

Now comes the memory hole bit. "There are only three mixed schools in Israel," John writes. "... Arab children attend schools where they are taught in Arabic... and Jewish students learn in Hebrew. A few years ago an enlightened (Israeli) minister of education approved a textbook that talked about the Nakba. It was only used in Arab schools, though. A subsequent minister had the book taken off the syllabus. The history of modern Israel and of the Palestinians, when taught in school, is twisted by the establishment's agenda." Alas, all true. And many reporters still lap up the Israeli story that the Palestinians were, in 1948, ordered by Arab leaders over the radio to abandon their homes until Arab armies drove the Israelis into the sea. Totally untrue. And that the Israelis did not massacre any Palestinians in 1948. Alas, untrue again.

John McCarthy tells the wonderful story of a Palestinian reporter broadcasting to America from a Palestinian protest demonstration about the Nakba on Israel's Independence Day (for which the Palestinians, as you might think, have somewhat less enthusiasm than the Israelis). The programme's presenter in New York, however, simply didn't know the story. He finished by wishing the reporter "Happy Nakba!".

But John McCarthy's interest in history – and getting it right – is admirable. He went to Haileybury, one of whose old boys was General Allenby. John's hostage humour shines through. Allenby took Megiddo as part of his title – Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and of Felixstowe. "Setting the scene of his military triumph – and that of the Book of Revelation's Judgement Day – alongside a minor English seaside resort has to be one of the most extraordinary and endearing of geographical twinnings," McCarthy writes. "But I did begin to think that if he had stayed in Felixstowe, I might not be sitting in that hole in the ground." Spot on, John. And that was some historical hole.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European workers has significantly altered the composition of some parts of Britain  

Immigration is the issue many in Labour fear most

Nigel Morris
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?