Late American activist Joan Peters fought anti-Israel propaganda – most famously through her well-known book, “From Time Immemorial”. Originally planning to defend the Palestinian narrative, Peters’ thorough research of the facts instead led her to understand Israel’s point of view.
Author, journalist and human rights activist Joan Peters, a steadfast supporter of the rights of the Hebrew nation to the entire Land of Israel, died on Tuesday, January 6, in her native Chicago at the age of 76.
Peters is most well-known among Zionists for her book, titled From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict in Palestine, published in 1984 (Harper and Row).
In the book, as described by amazon.com, “Peters demonstrates that Jews did not displace Arabs in Palestine – just the reverse: Arabs displaced Jews.”
Why a separate definition for the Palestinians?
She discloses a “hidden but major Arab migration and immigration took place into areas settled by Jews in pre-Israel Palestine; that a substantial number of the Arab refugees called Palestinians in reality had foreign roots; that for every Arab refugee who left Israel in 1948, there was a Jewish refugee who fled or was expelled from his Arab birthplace at the same time.”
Peters originally planned to write from the perspective of a defender of Arab rights to the land. The more she investigated, however, the more she understood the fallacy of the Palestinian claim. As leading historian and political commentator Daniel Pipes explains, Peters “began this book planning to write about the Arabs who fled Palestine in 1948-49, when armies of the Arab states attempted to destroy the fledgling state of Israel. In the course of research on this subject, she came across a ‘seemingly casual’ discrepancy between the standard definition of a refugee and the definition used for the Palestinian Arabs. In other cases, a refugee is someone forced to leave a permanent or habitual home. In this case, however, it is someone who had lived in Palestine for just two years before the flight that began in 1948.”
As she continued her research, Pipes explains, “The anomaly of the Palestinians began to nag and unravel the outline of her book. Why a separate definition for the Palestinians?”
Finally, he continues, Peters “came across a statement by Winston Churchill that she says opened her eyes to the situation in Palestine. In 1939 Churchill challenged the common notion that Jewish immigration into Palestine had uprooted its Arab residents. To the contrary, according to him, ‘Far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied till their population has increased more than even all world Jewry could lift up the Jewish population.’”
Correcting ‘False History and Propaganda’
As Peters investigated further, Pipes writes, “she found a fund of obscure information that confirmed Churchill’s observation. Drawing on census statistics and a great number of contemporary accounts, she pieced together the dimensions of Arab immigration into Palestine before 1948. Although others have noted this phenomenon, she is the first to document it, to attempt to quantify it, and to draw conclusions from it.”
David Bedein, director of the Israel Resource News Agency at the Center for Near East Policy Research, writes that From Time Immemorial “was the first academic study published in the modern era which documented how the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, perpetuates the refugee status of Arabs who were displaced, or left voluntarily, during the War of Independence.”
“Today, as Joan predicted would happen, UNRWA has become an integral part of efforts to undermine Israel’s standing in the eyes of the world and in its own eyes,” Bedein asserts.
Late Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Saul Bellow endorsed the book, saying: “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.”
Jehuda Reinharz, former president of Brandeis University, said the book “convincingly demonstrates that many of those who today call themselves Palestinian refugees are former immigrants or children of such immigrants.”
Peters wrote in the 1970s and early 1980s for prestigious magazines, including Harper’s, Commentary, The New Republic and The New Leader, and helped create TV news documentaries for CBS in 1973.
By United with Israel Staff