from time

From Time Immemorial

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine is a 1984 book by Joan Peters about the constant presence of Jews in Palestine (Eretz Yisrael). The famous controversial issue in the book is the amount of modern Arab immigration in comparison to parallel Jewish immigration. Responses to the book have been deeply divided and it continues to receive both positive responses as well as harsh criticism.

Peters argues in her book that a large portion of Palestine's 1948 non-Jewish population were recent immigrants from adjacent Arab states.

"Much of Mrs. Peters's book argues that at the same time that Jewish immigration to Palestine was rising, Arab immigration to the parts of Palestine where Jews had settled also increased. Therefore, in her view, the Arab claim that an indigenous Arab population was displaced by Jewish immigrants must be false, since many Arabs only arrived with the Jews."

Peters concludes therefore that many of the refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war were not native Palestinians.


Shortly after publication Martin Kramer wrote that the book raises overdue questions about the demographic history of Palestine in a way that cannot be ignored, but also referred to "serious weaknesses" in the book, and Peters' "rummaging through archives and far more balanced historical studies than her own for whatever evidence she can find to back up her thesis".

Theodore H. White called Peters' work a "superlative book" that traces Middle East history with "unmatched skill.

However, reviewing the book for the January 16 1986 issue of The New York Review of Books, Yehoshua Porath wrote that Peters made 'highly tendentious use — or neglect — of the available source material'. But more crucial, he wrote, "is her misunderstanding of basic historical processes and her failure to appreciate the central importance of natural population increase as compared to migratory movements." Porath concluded:

"Readers of her book should be warned not to accept its factual claims without checking their sources. Judging by the interest that the book aroused and the prestige of some who have endorsed it, I thought it would present some new interpretation of the historical facts. I found none. Everyone familiar with the writing of the extreme nationalists of Zeev Jabotinsky's Revisionist party (the forerunner of the Herut party) would immediately recognize the tired and discredited arguments in Mrs. Peters's book. I had mistakenly thought them long forgotten. It is a pity that they have been given new life."

In response to Porath, Daniel Pipes expressed a more favorable opinion, stating:

From Time Immemorial quotes carelessly, uses statistics sloppily, and ignores inconvenient facts. Much of the book is irrelevant to Miss Peters's central thesis. The author's linguistic and scholarly abilities are open to question. Excessive use of quotation marks, eccentric footnotes, and a polemical, somewhat hysterical undertone mar the book. In short, From Time Immemorial stands out as an appallingly crafted book.''

'Granting all this, the fact remains that the book presents a thesis that neither Professor Porath nor any other reviewer has so far succeeded in refuting. Miss Peters's central thesis is that a substantial immigration of Arabs to Palestine took place during the first half of the twentieth century. She supports this argument with an array of demographic statistics and contemporary accounts, the bulk of which have not been questioned by any reviewer, including Professor Porath.'

Norman Finkelstein argued in his book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict that much of Peters' scholarship was fraudulent. Finkelstein's allegations that Alan Dershowitz plagiarized Peters' book became a central issue in the Dershowitz-Finkelstein affair. A Harvard investigation found the allegation to be unfounded.

Adam Shatz wrote in Slate, 8 April 1998: "Peters' book was lavishly praised by American Jewish organizations, novelists, and scholars. But when Finkelstein showed that Peters had manipulated Ottoman demographic records to make her case, the book's supporters attacked him as an anti-Zionist. By 1986, though, Zionist scholars having published articles that bolstered Finkelstein's case, his version was the conventional wisdom", adding a long list of quotations from reputable scholars to bolster his point.

Barbara Tuchman, who called the book "an historical event in itself", claimed that such criticism of the book was a "smear campaign" and attributed it to "growing anti-Semitism" and "long-term apologists of the Palestine Liberation Organization." Elie Wiesel lent his name to a subsequent paperback, as did all of Peters's original endorsers.

Saul Bellow's review of the book asserted:

"Every political issue claiming the attention of a world public has its 'experts" - news managers, anchor men, ax grinders, and anglers. The great merit of this book is to demonstrate that, on the Palestinian issue, these experts speak from utter ignorance. Millions of people the world over, smothered by false history and propaganda, will be grateful for this clear account of the origins of the Palestinians. From Time Immemorial does not grudge these unhappy people their rights. It does, however, dissolve the claims made by nationalist agitators and correct the false history by which these unfortunate Arabs are imposed upon and exploited.

The book was also praised by Arthur J. Goldberg and Martin Peretz who said: "if (the book is) read, it will change the mind of our generation.”

After a new edition was published, in 2001, Evangelical Christian journalist, Joseph Farah called the book a "milestone history on the origins of the Arab-Jewish conflict in the region".


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