Harry Goldstein’s assertion (Letters, 7 January) that the Palestinians were “offered [a state] in 1947 and refused, preferring to make war on Israel“, must be challenged. The Palestinians were told that 56% of their existing state of Palestine was to be taken away and made into a Jewish state, even though half of the population of the “Jewish” area was Arab. Since the Jews made it clear they wanted even more than the 56% and would take it by force, the Arab armies, far smaller in number and less well-armed than the Jews, moved up to the border of the Jewish state, in an attempt to protect the remaining territory they had been allocated, and stop Israel taking those areas by force. They failed either to stop the Jewish armies or to prevent them expelling Palestinian Arabs from a land in which they had once formed 90% of the population. - Karl Sabbagh
Even by Guardian standards, this is an especially egregious distortion of historical reality.
First, contrary to what Sabbagh implies, there was never an “existing state of Palestine”. Further, the suggestion that Jews were the belligerent party in 1947-48 represents a remarkable inversion, as it was the Jews (and not the Arabs) who accepted partition, despite the fact that it gave them only a small portion of the land previously promised to them. (Indeed, 77% of the landmass of the original Mandate for the Jews was excised in 1922 to create a fourth Arab state – today Jordan.)
Arab leaders didn’t unleash their armies merely to adjust the borders, but were completely clear that their goal was the total annihilation of the nascent Jewish state.
“I personally wish that the Jews do not drive us to this war, as this will be a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Tartar massacre or the Crusader wars”. - Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, October 11, 1947
To Arab leaders in the months before and after partition, a Jewish state of any size was intolerable.
Of course, Sabbagh’s historical distortions concerning Israel’s creation aren’t at all surprising when you consider that he wrote a blurb for one of the most antisemitic books to be published in several years.
“Gilad Atzmon’s book, The Wandering Who? is as witty and thought-provoking as its title. But it is also an important book, presenting conclusions about Jews, Jewishness and Judaism which some will find shocking but which are essential to an understanding of Jewish identity politics and the role they play on the world stage.” Karl Sabbagh
(You can see more about Atzmon’s extreme antisemitism here.)
Finally, here’s a video of Sabbagh in a panel discussion about the book ‘The Wandering Who?’ heaping more effusive praise on Atzmon.