Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History

Author: Nur Masalha

Review by: Hugh Simpson

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The astronomical quantity and quality of research woven throughout Masalha’s a Four Thousand Year History creates an irrefutable counter-narrative to the myths often proclaimed by proponents of Zionism as fact. Additionally, this decolonial self-representational account shines a light on the ways in which Israel has deliberately and systematically attempted to destroy Palestinian history. Masalha is well placed to deliver such a momentous book, as a Palestinian historian at the University of London, he has researched extensively on this subject, with a focus on bottom-up and self-determined history that allows Palestine to speak for itself.

The book’s most central tenet is to demonstrate that Palestine and the Indigenous Palestinian population – a modern creation according to Zionist logic – are in fact located within an ancient and continuous history traversing a multitude of cross-cultural annals. Masalha achieves this by illustrating the rich historical tapestry of Palestine and its indigenous inhabitants. From variations of the name Palestine appearing in the annals of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman dynasties, to accounts from early Islamic geographers describing cultural ties between the Palestinian people and the fertile lands on which they lived.

Primarily, this is achieved through Masalha’s analysis that drives home the importance of place names. From Akka (Acre) to Nablus, Israel has attempted to erase the history of Palestine via the Hebraization of Palestinian geographies that he states is “rooted in power relations and struggles over land and resources and the identities of the people that inhabit these places”. This process has been imperative in constructing a new Israeli identity around which a fervent nationalism has been able to coalesce while simultaneously deconstructing the Palestinian history and identity from which Zionist settler-colonialism can be justified.

This theme of place names, in addition to a trove of other historical artifacts and accounts are explored through Palestine’s vast history, one that is intricately tied to the centres of power throughout the ages. As someone who thought they knew Palestinian history to some extent, I was blown away by the centrality of Palestine in the Greek, Roman and Arab empires of the last 4000 years.

While the editing of this book does contain mistakes which occasionally decrease its readability, Masalha’s writing is engaging and accessible whilst still maintaining the academic rigour required for such a critique of Zionist and Israeli narratives. In what I expected to be a somewhat dry historical, geographical and archaeological lesson, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthralling articulation of a deep cultural chronicle that is a notable contributor towards the Palestinian resistance literature.