Avoiding narratives that foreground Westernisation and the development of national identities, Pappe emphasizes the persistence of indigenous cultures and traditional customs, and the presence of social and economic links and trends which cut within and across national and ethnic divides. These are strongest early on — Pappe starts his account around 1856 — but they have continued despite wars and partitions, perhaps even reviving in new form with the return of religion as a major force in both Israeli and Palestinian politics.
Pappe focuses on "subaltern society", on the marginalised and dispossessed. As well as women and the poor, he pays relatively more attention to Mizrahi (Arab) Jews and Palestinian Israelis than to the Ashkenazi or Zionist elites, and to Palestinian refugees and farmers than to the Palestinian leadership or the heads of Arab states. Pappe also covers social and economic history, rather than politics narrowly: the machinations of political parties or factions and their leaders are described, but also the sources of their support in the population.
This approach does pose some problems. While Pappe's treatment is chronological, the reduced emphasis on political and military events may leave newcomers to the subject without a comfortable narrative framework to cling to. (One nice inclusion for such readers, however, is a twenty page glossary of names.) And, where a more narrowly political history might have fitted comfortably into three hundred pages, A History of Modern Palestine really does seem too short, with brief glances at many aspects of society and economics leaving one wanting more.
These are minor problems, however. A History of Modern Palestine offers a novel perspective, and one which may force a rethink of overly simple ideas about the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is also straightforward and readable, presented without jargon and with Pappe's own biases in the open.
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