In 1984, Joan Peters published From Time Immemorial, which claimed that Palestine was virtually empty on the eve of Zionist colonization, and that Palestinians are in fact foreigners who surreptitiously entered Palestine after the Zionists “made the desert bloom.” The book is now widely recognized as a fraud. Baruch Kimmerling (of the Hebrew University) and Joel S. Migdal, in their authoritative study, Palestinians: The Making of a People, published by Harvard University Press, observe that Peters’s book is “based on materials out of context, and on distorted evidence,” and, citing my own conclusion that the book “is the most spectacular fraud ever published on the Arab-Israeli conflict,” report that “similar evaluations were expressed by notable historians” in Israel and Europe.
Dershowitz states that he uses only a “few sources” cited in the Peters hoax. In fact, fully 22 of the 52 endnotes in chapters 1 and 2 are lifted straight from her without any form of attribution. In his defense, Dershowitz claims that no foul play is involved because he checked Peters’s original sources before citing them, a laughable argument were an undergraduate to make it before a plagiarism committee. Dershowitz focuses on a lengthy citation from Mark Twain to argue this point. Yet, although Dershowitz reproduces Peters’s page references to Twain’s book in his own endnote, the relevant quotes do not appear on these pages in the edition of Twain’s book that Dershowitz cites. Furthermore, Dershowitz cites two paragraphs from Twain as continuous text, just as Peters cites them as continuous text, but in Twain’s book the two paragraphs are separated by 87 pages. It would be impossible for anyone who checked the original source to make this error.
Dershowitz similarly “checked” Peters’s other sources. Quoting a statement depicting the miserable fate of Jews in mid-19th century Jerusalem, Peters cites a British consular letter from “Wm. T. Young to Viscount Canning.” Dershowitz cites the same statement as Peters, reporting that Young “attributed the plight of the Jew in Jerusalem” to pervasive anti-Semitism. Turning to the original, however, we find that the relevant statement did not come from Young but, as is unmistakably clear to anyone who actually consulted the original, from an enclosed memorandum written by an “A. Benisch” that Young was forwarding to Canning. One wonders if Dershowitz also consulted Peters’s original source for the term “turnspeak”—a coinage of Peters, which she says was inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, but which Dershowitz, confounded by his massive borrowings from Peters, not once but twice credits directly to Orwell (“George Orwell’s ‘turnspeak,’” “Orwellian turnspeak”). On which pages of 1984 did Dershowitz find “turnspeak”?
“Let it be absolutely clear,” Dershowitz states elsewhere, “that my demographic conclusions are very different from Peters’s.” Really? The centerpiece of Peters’s book is a demographic study purporting to prove that many of the 1948 Palestinian Arab refugees were actually recent arrivals to the area of Palestine that became Israel from other parts of Palestine. Far from reaching different conclusions on this key point, Dershowitz repeats Peters’s fraudulent claim, even fabricating the flat-out lie that the “United Nations recogniz[ed] that many of the refugees had not lived for long in the villages they left.”
Dershowitz’s book is replete with absurd falsifications. The Mufti of Jerusalem during the British mandate years, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was undoubtedly a despicable human being. But rather than sticking to the facts, he copies mostly from a single newspaper column by an obscure right-wing Zionist ideologue. Dershowitz avows that “Adolf Eichmann visited Husseini in Palestine;” the mufti was “taken on a tour of Auschwitz by Himmler;” “The grand mufti of Jerusalem was personally responsible for the concentration camp slaughter of thousands of Jews;” the mufti organized a commando unit “to poison Tel Aviv’s wells”; “The mufti was apparently planning to return to Palestine in the event of a German victory and to construct a death camp modeled after Auschwitz near Nablus;” and on and on. I have consulted the relevant secondary literature and the leading authorities on the mufti and the Nazi holocaust, but couldn’t find scholarly support for any of these fantastic claims. Similarly, Dershowitz extensively details an alleged plot in which “terrorist operatives” rape Palestinian women to recruit them as suicide bombers. However, he never explains why they would need to do so when the number of Palestinian women volunteering for suicide attacks already exceeds the number of planned missions. Turning to his endnote, we find that he gets this “information” from an official Israeli government web site, which bases itself on a confidential “Israeli Military Intelligence Report,” which is based on “reliable Palestinian sources”—none of which are independently corroborated.
On an even more shocking note, Dershowitz maintains that “there is no evidence that Israeli soldiers deliberately killed even a single civilian” in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. Yet, Human Rights Watch reports that of the “twenty-two civilian killings” during the Israeli siege of Jenin, “Many of them were killed willfully or unlawfully, and in some cases constituted war crimes. Fifty-seven-year-old Kamal Zghair, a wheelchair-bound man, was shot and then run over by IDF tanks on April 10 as he was moving his wheelchair—equipped with a white flag—down a major road in Jenin. Thirty-seven-year-old Jamal Fayid, a quadriplegic, was crushed to death in the rubble of his home on April 7 after IDF soldiers refused to allow his family to remove him from their home before a bulldozer destroyed it.” Dershowitz also maintains that Israel has “abolished any kind of torture, in fact as well as in law.” Yet, turning to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, we read that, “Interrogation by torture is absolutely prohibited by Israeli and international law. Despite this, Israeli security forces breach the prohibition and torture Palestinians during interrogation.”
In his book, Dershowitz argues that it’s “fair” to impose “economic sanctions” on Palestinians lending “emotional support” to terrorism. He accordingly supports demolishing the home of a suicide bomber’s family, which constitutes a “soft form of collective punishment.” In The Jersualem Post, Dershowitz has urged the “automatic destruction” of an entire Palestinian village after each Palestinian terrorist attack. Isn’t this lending “intellectual support” to terrorism—and shouldn’t his home be subject to the “soft form of collective punishment”?
“I am proud of my book,” Dershowitz concludes. Indeed, what Harvard professor wouldn’t be proud of a book that cites a Sony movie and a chronology appended to a high school syllabus to document casualty figures from a major conflict, and an editorial in The Orlando Sentinel to resolve the controversies regarding a crucial United Nations resolution that has been the subject of numerous scholarly studies?
To “deliberately misinform, miseducate, and misdirect” students, Dershowitz maintains, is “a particularly nasty form of educational malpractice.” He further argues that the “fraudulent manufacturing of false antihistory” is “the kind of deception for which professors are rightly fired—not because their views are controversial but because they are violating the most basic canons of historical scholarship.” To paraphrase a colleague of Dershowitz, if the glove fits, we cannot acquit.
Norman G. Finkelstein
Oct. 1, 2003
The writer teaches at DePaul University, Chicago, Ill.