The Best Runner in the Class (Part 2)

Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 28 May 2007

Musalem Awad was the only practicing Palestinian historian in Israel who had a permanent post in a university. He was also Yaacov’s supervisor, and had been interested for years in the 1948 catastrophe, particularly in the war crimes committed in the coastal area. Yet he never dared to write about it himself and felt uneasy when he assigned it to Yaacov.

Musalem was a conservative historian, believing in hard facts as the core material for telling the story of the past. Such evidence, he believed, had been brought to him by Yaacov. Here was the explicit documentation of atrocities that he was looking for. Yaacov had found the documents, not in the military archives whose directors were economical about such truths, but in his cousin’s house. The material was so hot that Musalem became obsessed with it to the point of unconsciously using his student as an extension of his own mind.

The massacres on the coast had never been admitted by Israel, and international historiography did not mention them. “Let’s face it,” Musalem would say, “there is no conclusive evidence.” A declaration that got him into trouble with the less professional, but more politically committed, Palestinian literati and pundits in the country who wrote about the past.

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