Long ago and far away, when I was a college student in Santa Cruz, I wrote a paper on the reasons for the Palestinian exodus of 1948. Benny Morris hadn’t yet written his multiple studies of the subject. But buried in the UC Berkeley library’s vast stacks was plenty of material, including Rony Gabbay’s 1959 work “A Political Study of the Arab-Jewish Conflict: The Arab Refugee Problem,” which foreshadowed much of what Morris found, and which taught me to toss many myths, Arab and Israeli, on the ash-heap of history.
An friend who’d traded her high school liberalism for doctrinaire sophomore leftism asked to read my paper. She got upset that I had criticism of the Arabs as well as of the Jews. She told me my paper was racist.
I said, “J—ie, do you think you can write history so that one side is right and one side is wrong?”
She stood on the asphalt footpath through the Santa Cruz forest and looked at me in shock. “How else would you write it?” she said.
I don’t know where J—ie is today. I hope she’s happy, and that she hasn’t become a historian. Thanks to the internet and blog comments, though, I still hear echoes of her question. For instance, after MJ Rosenberg kindly quoted a recent post of mine, a commenter seized unhappily on a passing criticism I directed at the Palestinians: