Dissertation's Abstract - Background and Methodology

Intractable conflicts are a common phenomenon worldwide.  Being characterized as protracted, violent, and dealing with central issues to the involved parties, they cause them severe physical, material and psychological damage.  During the conflicts, each involved party develops a biased collective memory of the conflict, one which negatively influences its psychological and behavioral reactions towards the rival.  Therefore, positive transformation of the collective memory to being less biased is important, since it will generate positive psychological and behavioral reactions towards the rival, and thereby promote peace (Bar-Tal, 2007).


            Theoretical background. Collective memory is generally defined as representations of the past which are collectively adopted.  There are two main types of collective memory: popular – representations of the past adopted by the society, most accurately diagnosed by public opinion survey; and official – representations of the past adopted by the state institutions, diagnosed by their publications, state leaders' speeches, etc.  Many characteristics of the two types of memory are similar, such as the society and state institutions which influence them (e.g., the historical memory – the way the research community views the topic of the memory), and the way they influence the present.  The two types of memory also influence each other, though their content can be different.  Focusing on collective memory of conflicts, it includes the description of the events which led to the eruption of the conflict and those that occurred throughout its existence.  This description is typically dichotomous and biased in favor of the party holding the memory – described positively – while its rival is described negatively.  Popular memory significantly influences the identity of the people holding it, as well as their emotions, attitudes and behavior towards their rival.  Being typically biased, it causes negative psychological and behavioral reactions towards the rival, preventing resolution of the conflict and the reconciliation of the parties (Connerton, 2009).

            The awareness of the significance of collective memory and its prevalence in intractable conflicts have led to the worldwide centrality of collective memory in the political, academic, and social spheres.  Nonetheless, the topic of transformation of collective memory has not yet been discussed in the literature in a focused, empirical and systematic manner, adequate to its importance (Winter, 2010).  The current study tries to fill in, if only partly, this gap, by developing a model which describes collective memory of conflicts in both fixed and transformative terms.

            The model describes the immutability of a dominant narrative, or its replacement by an alternative one.  It relates to the institutions which take part in the transformation process, the variables which influence it, and its phases; and it is applicable to transformation of both official and popular memories.  An initial version of the model was constructed at the beginning of the research, based on scholarly literature.  This version was empirically examined using as a case study the Israeli official memory regarding the causes for the 1948 Palestinian exodus.  Based on the findings, the final version of the model was formed.


The case study.  The 1948 Palestinian refugee problem is a central one regarding the negotiation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is politically and psychologically important to both parties.  The central historical topic in the conflict is the causes for the exodus of these refugees.  Among the Israeli-Jews exists two main narratives regarding this topic.  The Zionist one – the refugees left on their initiative due to fear and encouragement from their leaders and from Arab countries.  And the critical one (often titled post-Zionist), claiming that some of the refugees left on their own initiative for various reasons (e.g., fear and collapse of the Palestinian society), while others were expelled by the Jewish and later the Israeli security forces.  The Palestinians by and large claim that all the refugees were expelled (Caplan, 2010).


            Research questions.  The general theoretical research question is: what is the process which takes place regarding transformation of official collective memory of a conflict? Since this question's empirical case study is the causes for the Palestinian exodus, the empirical research question is: Did a change occur between 1949-2004 in the Israeli official memory regarding the causes for the 1948 exodus?  Additional questions were: what were the characteristics of the process that occurred regarding this memory, which institutions took part in it, and what are the variables that influenced it?


            Methodology.  The research period consists of 56 years – between 1949 (the end of the Israeli War of Independence) and 2004 (when the research started).  The study focuses on the official memory, since there exists data for it throughout the research period.  In contrast, public opinion surveys regarding the popular memory exist only regarding the end of the research period.

            The research examined the publications and the activity throughout the research period of seven Israeli institutions.  Those were the central ones in dealing with the case study and in influencing its representation in Israel, three state institutions and four societal.  The state institutions, which presented the official memory, were: (1) The Publications' Agency in the National Information Center, the main institution in Israel for disseminating information among its citizens; (2) The Information Branch in the Education Corps in the Israeli army (IDF), the main unit for disseminating information among soldiers;   (3) The Ministry of Education, which publishes history and civic textbooks for middle and high school which were authorized by the Ministry for use in the national-secular educational system.  The societal institutions which were examined – which had an impact on each other, as well as on the state institutions – were: (1) The research community, which includes academic scholars (who belong to academic institutions) as well as non-academic scholars, such as journalists and people from the public; (2) Memoirs of Jewish war veterans who participated in the War of Independence, some of them personal (personal diaries), and others personal-collective (e.g., of regiments and brigades); (3) Non-governmental organizations – During the research it was found that only four NGOs dealt with the case study in some significant manner, and therefore these NGOs were examined: Matspen, Alternative Information Center, Gush Shalom and Zochrot; (4) Newspapers – the articles of the five main Israeli dailies: Davar, Haaretz, Yedioth Aharonoth, Maariv and Al-HaMishmar; as well as those of the two journals: Kol-HaAm and HaOlam Hazeh.

All these seven state and societal institutions have never been researched as they are in this dissertation regarding this specific case study.  In addition, the way in which most of these institutions represented the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict in general was not explored.[1]

            The discussion of the official memory of the three state institutions, as well as the activity of the four societal institutions, is based on text analysis of their publications (Glassner & Morena, 1989).  In this framework, only publications in Hebrew were analyzed, since they are the ones which most influence state institutions; and such state publications are the typical manifestation of the Israeli official memory.  Exceptions to this were only scholarly publications by the research community, which were analyzed in English as well, since they are so important.  The study focuses on textual publications, since they were published throughout the research period (in contrast, for instance, to the television or the internet), kept better throughout the period, and are more accessible and easier to analyze.  Furthermore, the study deals only with publications which were written by Israelis/Jews, or institutions which are operated, at least in a significant manner, by Jews.  This choice was based on the theoretical assumption, affirmed during the research, that Arab/Palestinian/third-parties will have little impact, if any at all, on the state institutions.    

            While analyzing the publications, the reasons for the exodus were coded according to 13 causes which were identified in the research (e.g., fear, collapse of the Palestinian society, call of leaders to leave and expulsion).  Based on this coding, the narrative which was represented in each publication was determined, according to its causes.  In addition, other characteristics of the publications were analyzed, such as the extent of publication per year, the extent of discussion about the case study in the publication, and the language which was used in them (e.g., harsh – expulsion, or delicate – evacuation).  Identifying the publications was done in various archives (e.g., The IDF and the Security System, The National Archive, Yad Yaari, the Information Bruch in the Educational Corps, newspapers archives, and private archives of some of the interviewees), as well as academic libraries, NGOs offices and electronic indexes.

            The research also used interviews with relevant key people who worked in the institutions, in order to cover the vast majority of them, who worked in all the seven institutions during the entire research period.  For example, directors of the Information Center, national history supervisors in the Ministry of Education, central critical scholars (e.g., Rony Gabbay and Benny Morris), and prominent journalists.  The interviews were conducted using semi-constructed questionnaires, allowing the interviewees to comment on various issues on their own initiative (MaCraken, 1988).

            Analyzing the publications provided mainly the descriptive aspect of the findings (e.g., what were the characteristics of the official memory and the activity of the societal institutions).  In contrast, the interviews provided the explanatory aspect.  Through them it was possible to understand, for instance, why a state institution might have presented one narrative regarding the case study, and not another one.  What influenced the people of that institution in choosing a certain narrative?  In this regard, the current study is different from many other studies in that their explanatory aspect is based often on assumptions, sometimes circumstantial.  The interviews validate the research's findings.  The research is based on 1,076 bibliographical items and 96 interviews, conducted with 60 people (some of them were interviewed more than once).

[1] An exception to this is the textbooks which have been examined in the past in important studies (e.g., Podeh, 2002; Firer & Adwan, 2004).  The previous studies, however, examined the textbooks which were used in the educational system, some also without the authorization of the Ministry of Education.  In contrast, the current study examines only textbooks authorized by the Ministry, and as such, represent its official memory.