Liangxiang Forum Lecture 5 | The War for Palestine Twenty Years On: The Debate About 1948 Continues


The Palestine issue is one of the most long-standing and complicated one in the Middle East. On the evening of December 1, 2020, Eugene Rogan, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at Oxford University and Director of the Middle East Center at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, gave an online lecture entitled “The War for Palestine Twenty Years On: The Debate About 1948 Continues”. This lecture is the fifth of the “Liang Xiang” Forum, which is organized by Institute for International and Area Studies (IIAS), Tsinghua University. The lecture was also contributed by two interlocutors, and they are Yoav Alon, Professor of Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University, and Lian Chaoqun, Assistant Professor in the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at Peking University, both of which had an interactive discussion with Professor Rogan in the second half of the lecture. Tingyi Wang, Assistant Professor of IIAS, Tsinghua University and the postdoctoral fellow at University of Oxford, hosted the lecture. Nearly 100 audiences from various institutions domestically and abroad, such as Tsinghua University, Peking University, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing Foreign Studies University and Oxford University, attended the lecture.


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The lecture was based on the book, The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, which is co-edited by Professor Rogan and Professor Avi Shlaim. It is aimed at briefing the Palestine dispute in a comprehensive and retrospective way, and at the same time, elaborating and evaluating the “new historian” movement in the history research in Israel. The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 brings together academic work of well-known scholars in the field, such as Edward Said,Benny Morris, Charles Tripp, Avi Shlaim, Eugene Rogan and Rashid Khalidi.

The first part of the lecture introduced the historical background of the Palestinian-Israeli War in 1948, which was the cause and defining point of the subsequent long-standing dispute. Professor Rogan argues that the 1948 Palestine war is more like a political event than a historic event in view of its political significance. Both Arabs and Israelis put forward their own narratives in the post-war era, thus making their positions more legitimate. Professor Rogan then introduced new historians in Israel on the 1948 war, and the most well-known scholars among them are Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe. He suggested that the new historian movement demonstrates that although “history is written by victors”, historians should be confident in writing history from their own standpoint and feel free of being criticized by the whole society. Instead, they should not use history as a political propaganda tool. Compared with Israel’s relatively open and tolerant historical atmosphere, the history research in the Arab world has been restricted with boundaries and censorship.

In the interlocution session, Professor Yoav Alon evaluated the Israeli new historians from three aspects: personal experience, viewpoints on the research itself and the reality influence of the research movement. Professor Alon argues that the research movement still holds an important position in the historiography of Israel nowadays, and it will be of great significance once the Palestine issue is resolved in the future as it helps to dissolve the hatred between the two sides due to its role of enabling people to understand and feel the truth of history. Later, Assistant Professor Lian Chaoqun from Peking University put forward his view that the 1948 Palestine War sets the course for the subsequent Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has lasted for decades. Meanwhile, he believes that the war turned Palestine into a contesting arena for pluralism and possibilities. Before 1948, people with different backgrounds lived in Palestine with the same goal of harmonious coexistence, but after that, all races on the land were driven by the mentality of contestation.

At the end of the lecture, Professor Eugene Rogan, Professor Yoav Alon, and Assistant Professor Lian Chaoqun had a lively interaction with the audience online, and the lecture ended in a harmonious atmosphere.

Professor Rogan is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He is the author of The Arabs: A History(Penguin, 2009, 3rd edition 2018);The Fall of the Ottomans:The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920 (Penguin, 2016) ; The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge University Press, 2001, second edition 2007, with Avi Shlaim).

Editor: Yuan Zhang
Revisor: Tingyi Wang