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To the Reader,

As members of the working committee for the Arab-American Oral History Project and the documentary video Collecting Stories From Exile: Chicago Palestinians Remember 1948, we were pleased to see the cover story on the project and the video in the November 12 issue of the Reader. We would like to point out, however, that Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, one of the two main researchers for the project, graduated from UIC, not North Park University, as was stated in the article.

We were sorry to read several of the letters published in the November 26 Reader, which seemed simply to repeat, in various ways, the old assertions that any questioning of Israel’s history or discussion of Palestinian history is part of a long-standing, generalized conspiracy against the Jews.

A major part of the process of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians will involve the mutual acknowledgment and understanding of the history of each people. This means not only recognizing the genocidal persecution of Jews in Europe during the Second World War, which generated widespread support for a Jewish homeland, but also the catastrophic consequences for the Palestinians of creating this homeland in the place where they lived. In 1947, two-thirds of the population of Palestine were indigenous Palestinians, who owned 84.7 percent of the cultivable land. The 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine awarded 56.5 percent of the territory to the Jewish settlers, and only 43 percent to the indigenous inhabitants. Jerusalem was to be an international zone. This vote came before the widespread anticolonial struggles of midcentury while the UN at the time was itself composed of a number of members with large colonial territories. The premise of national self-determination was not yet widely held, and states run by European colonial minorities were not necessarily widely condemned.

Israeli historians such as Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev, and Zeev Sternhell have been at the forefront of reexamining the origins of the State of Israel and giving the Palestinian experience its appropriate place in the narrative. Indeed, Israel’s 50th anniversary occasioned a far more honest and searching look at this history in Israel itself than it did in the United States. Israeli high schools have even incorporated previously unacknowledged events such as the massacre at Kufr Qasem into their curriculum.

In our film, we tried to ask Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1948 for their own memories, in the hope that even the presentation of a few people’s stories would help others to understand the complexities of the collective Palestinian experience. We hope that this project will encourage further discussion and deeper understanding of what happened in 1948. Anyone who wants to see the video, rather than just reading about it, can order a copy from the American Friends Service Committee. Send a check for $20 (payable to AFSC, memo: Collecting Stories) to: Middle East Program, AFSC, 59 E. Van Buren, #1400, Chicago, IL 60605.

Jennifer Bing-Canar

Louise Cainkar

Norma Claire Moruzzi on behalf of the Arab-American Oral History Project Committee