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Interview with Ilan Pappe November 12.

Solidarity with Palestine November 1, 2023
The October 7 (2023) Hamas attack on Israeli citizens and the taking of hostages were atrocities whose details and perpetration are still being clarified. An essential aspect of our reflection on these tragic events is an informed understanding of the history and contextual circumstances that contributed to the horrific tragedies still unfolding as of publication

Examining ‘Ten Myths about Israel’, by Ilan Pappe

From a review by Allan Brownfield January 2018.  This review of the book ‘Ten Myths About Israel’ by Ilan Pappe is too long to include here in full – extracts are provided.  Please get the full review from the above link. The detail is important.

In this book, written on the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West  Bank and East Jerusalem, Professor Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian now teaching at the University of Exeter in  the United Kingdom,  examines the most contested ideas concerning the origins and identity of the contemporary state of Israel.

The ‘ten myths’ that Pappe explores reinforce the regional status quo.  He explores the claim that Palestine was an empty land at the time of the Balfour Declaration, as well as the formation of Zionism and its role in the early decades of nation building.  He asks whether the Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948, and whether June 1967 was a war of ‘no choice.’  

Historical Disinformation

The wilful misunderstanding of history can promote oppression and protect a regime of colonization and occupation.  It is not surprising, therefore, that policies of disinformation continue to the present and play an important part in perpetuating the conflict…The Zionist historical account of how the disputed land became the state of Israel is based on a cluster of myths that subtly cast doubt on the Palestinians’ moral right to the land…This book challenges these myths, which appear in the public domain as indisputable truths.  These statements are, to my eyes, distortions and fabrications that can—and must—be refuted through a closer examination of the historical record.’

This book is yet another attempt to redress the balance of power on behalf of the colonized, occupied and oppressed Palestinians in the land of Israel and Palestine. The book is written by an Israeli Jew who cares about his own society as much as he does the Palestinian one.  Refuting mythologies that sustain injustice should be of benefit to everyone living in the country or wishing to live there. 

The first myth which is confronted is the Zionist claim that Palestine was an empty land.  There is a consensus among scholars that it was the Romans who gave the land the name “Palestine.” During the period of Roman and, later, Byzantine, rule it was an imperial province.  Various Muslim empires aspired to control it, since it was home to the second holiest place in Islam and was also fertile and in a strategic location.  The Ottoman period began in 1517 and lasted 400 years.  When the Ottomans arrived, they found a society that was mostly Sunni Muslim  and rural, with small urban elites who spoke Arabic.  Less than 5 per cent of the population was Jewish and probably 10 to 15 per cent Christian.

The research of David Grossman (the demographer not the novelist), Amnon Cohen and Yehoushua Ben-Arieh shows that, over the centuries, Palestine, rather than being a desert, was a thriving Arab society.  Yet, Pappe reports, ‘Outside of Israel, in particular in the United States, the assumption that the promised land was empty, desolate, and barren before the arrival of Zionism is still alive and kicking…Palestine began to develop as a nation long before the arrival of the Zionist movement. In the hands of energetic local rulers such as Daher al-Umar (1690-1775), the towns of Haifa, Shefamr, Tiberias, and Acre were renovated and re-energized. The coastal network of ports and towns boomed through its trade connections with Europe, while the inner plains traded inland with nearby regions.  The very opposite of a desert.’

Contrary to the notion of Palestine being an ’empty land,’ Pappe shows that, ‘It was part of a rich and fertile eastern Mediterranean world that in the 19th century underwent processes of modernization and nationalization.  It was not a desert waiting to come into bloom;  it was a pastoral country  on the verge of entering the 20th century as a modern society, with all the benefits and ills of such a transformation.  Its colonization by the Zionist movement turned this process into a disaster for the majority of the native people living there.’

The second myth considered is that, ‘The Jews were a People Without a Land.’ Asking whether the Jewish settlers who arrived in Palestine could be considered ‘a people,’ Pappe cites Shlomo Sand’s ‘The Invention of the Jewish People,’ which shows that the Christian world, in its own interest, adopted the idea of the Jews as a nation that must one day return to the holy land.  This return, in their view, would be part of the divine scheme for the end of the world, along with the resurrection of the dead and the second coming of the Messiah.

‘Zionism,’ writes Pappe, ‘was therefore a Christian project of colonization before it became a Jewish one.

There has been much speculation, Pappe points out, about whether the Jews who settled in Palestine as Zionists were really the descendants of the Jews who had been exiled 2,000 years ago.  Arthur Koestler (1905-83) wrote ‘The Thirteenth Tribe’ (1976)  in which he advanced the theory that the Jewish settlers were descended from the Khazars, a Turkish  nation of the Caucasus which converted to Judaism in the 8th century and was later forced to move westward.  Israeli scientists have ever since tried to prove that there is a  genetic connection between the Jews of Roman Palestine and those of present-day Palestine.  That debate continues today.

In making the case that Jews were a nation belonging to Palestine, and therefore should be helped to return to it, Pappe notes, ‘They had to rely on British officials and, later, military power’. 

Of particular interest is the chapter dealing with the myth that, ‘Zionism is Judaism.’ In fact, Zionism was originally a minority opinion among Jews.  ‘Since its inception in the mid-19th century’ writes Pappe, ‘Zionism was only one, inessential expression of Jewish cultural life. It was born out of two impulses among Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe.  The first was a search for safety within a society that refused to integrate Jews as equals and that occasionally persecuted them… The second impulse was a wish to emulate other new national movements mushrooming in Europe at the time… Those Jews who sought to transform Judaism from a religion into a nation were not unique among the many ethnic and religious groups within the two crumbling empires—the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman—who wished to redefine themselves as nations.’

The Zionists sought to colonise Palestine.

Another myth which Pappe confronts is, ‘Zionism Is Not Colonialism.’ When the first Zionist settlers arrived in 1882, the land of Palestine was not empty  The settlers were told by their leaders that the locals were not natives, that they had no rights to the land. Instead, they were a problem that had to, and could, be resolved.’

None of this, Pappe argues, was unique because ‘Zionism was a settler colonial movement, similar to the movements of Europeans who had colonized the two Americas, South Africa, Australia and New Zealan. Settler colonialism is motivated by a desire to take over land in a foreign country, while classical colonialism covets the natural resources in its new geographic possession… In many cases, the accepted method for overcoming obstacles was the genocide of the indigenous locals.’

From the beginning, Palestinian resistance was depicted as motivated by hate for Jews. The diaries of the early Zionists tell a different story, They are filled with anecdotes revealing how the settlers were well received by the Palestinians, who offered them shelter and in many cases taught them how to cultivate the land. ‘Only when it became clear that the settlers had not come to live alongside the native population, but in place of it, did the Palestinian resistance begin,’ writes Pappe. ‘And when that resistance started, it quickly took the form of every other anti-colonialist struggle.’

The Israeli government has long promoted the idea that the Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948. It has promoted the idea that Palestinians fled their villages of their own accord or on orders from Arab armies that wanted them out of the way. Israel’s so-called ‘new historians,’ notably Benny Morris, examined newly opened Israeli archives and found no evidence that the refugees fled on orders from Arab leaders, but had done so mostly out of terror, after hearing reports of massacres carried out by Israeli soldiers in villages such as Deir Yassin, where Jewish militiamen killed over 100 Palestinian civilians. This idea that the Palestinians left voluntarily is another of the ‘myths’ Pappe confronts.

In 1937, David Ben-Gurion told the Zionist assembly, ‘In many parts of the country, it will not be possible to settle without transferring the Arab fellahin… With compulsory transfer we would have a vast area for settlement… I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it.’

In his book ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,’ Pappe examines the development of a master plan for the massive expulsion on the Palestinians. Officially, the Israeli government maintains the claim that Palestinians became refugees because their leaders told them to leave. ‘But,’  he writes, ‘there was no such call—it is a myth created by the Israeli foreign ministry… What is clear is that the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians can in no way be justified as a ‘punishment’ for their rejecting a U.N. peace plan that was devised without any consultation with the Palestinians themselves.’

War Crime

Pappe declares that, ‘From the present vantage point, there is no escape from defining the Israeli actions in the Palestinian countryside as a war crime… The crime committed by the leadership of the Zionist movement, which became the government of Israel, was that of ethnic cleansing. This is not mere rhetoric, but an indictment with far-reaching political, legal and moral obligations. The definition of the crime was clarified in the aftermath of the 1990’s civil war in the Balkans: ethnic cleansing is any action by one ethnic group meant to drive out another ethnic group with the purpose of transforming a mixed ethnic region into a pure one. Such an action amounts to ethnic cleansing regardless of the means employed to obtain it—from persuasion and threats to expulsions and mass killings.’

It is important to remember, Pappe points out, that, ‘There are Jews in Israel who have absorbed all these lessons. Not all Jews are indifferent to or ignorant of the Nakba. Those who are not are currently a small minority, but one which makes its presence felt, demonstrating that at least some Jewish citizens are not deaf to the cries, pain, and devastation of those killed, raped, or wounded throughout 1948.’

Other myths confronted by the author include: ‘The June 1967 War Was A War of ‘No Choice,’  ‘Israel Is The Only Democracy In The Middle Esst,’ ‘The Oslo Mythologies’ ‘The Gaza Mythologies,” and ‘The Two-States Solution Is The Only Way Forward.’

In the case of the 1967 war, the accepted narrative is that the 1967 war forced Israel to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and keep it in custody until the Palestinians were prepared to make peace. Many think that the 1967 war was one in which Israel was resisting attack and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in self-defense. The fact is that it was Israel which launched the first strike against Egypt in 1967. Prime Minister Menachem Begin later said: ‘IIn June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentration in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack them.’

In reality, Pappe believes, ‘…the takeover of the West Bank in particular, with its ancient biblical sights, was a Zionist aim even before 1948 and it fitted the logic of the Zionist project as a whole. This logic can be summarised as the wish to take over as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians as possible… After the occupation, the new ruler confined the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an impossible limbo: they were neither refugees nor citizens—they were, and still are, citizenless inhabitants. They were inmates, and in many respects still are, of a huge prison in which they have no civil, and human rights and no impact on their future. The world tolerates this situation because Israel claims —and the claim was never challenged until recently—that the situation is temporary…Israel is still incarcerating a third generation of Palestinians…and depicting these mega-prisons as temporary…’

Law of Return

Israel’s Law of Return grants automatic citizenship to every Jew in the world, wherever he or she was born. In Pappe’s view, ‘This law…is a flagrantly undemocratic one, for it was accompanied by a total rejection of the Palestinian right of return—recognized internationally by the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948. This rejection refuses to allow the Palestinian citizens of Israel to unite with immediate family members or with those who were expelled in 1948. Denying people the right to return to their homeland, and at the same time offering the right to others who have no connection to the land is a model of undemocratic process.’

‘Imagine,’ writes Pappe, ‘if in the UK or the U.S., Jewish citizens, or Catholics for that matter, were barred by law from living in certain villages, neighbourhoods, or maybe whole towns? How can such a situation be reconciled with the notion of democracy?… [Israel] cannot by any stretch of the imagination, be assumed to be a democracy.’ When it comes to Palestinians living in the occupied territories, he declares, ‘the humiliation of millions of Palestinians is a daily routine, ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ behaves as a dictatorship of the worst kind.’

Unlawful Killings and Torture

Amnesty International annually documents the nature of the occupation. Its 2015 report provided this assessment: ‘In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli forces committed unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians, including children, and detained thousands of Palestinians who protested against or otherwise opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention. Torture and other ill treatment remained rife and were committed with impunity. The authorities continued to promote illegal settlements in the West Bank and severely restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement… The authorities continued to demolish Palestinian homes on the West Bank and inside Israel, particularly in Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab region, forcibly evicting their residents.’

In the original Oslo Accords (1993) there was an Israeli promise that the three issues that trouble the Palestinians most—the fate of Jerusalem, the refugees, and the Jewish settlements—would be negotiated when the interim period of five years came to a successful end. This process, however, was stalled by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, followed by the victory of Likud, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. Netanyahu opposed the Oslo Accords and the process came to a halt.

Looking to the future, Pappe believes that the declaration that, ‘The two states solution is the only way forward’ is yet another myth. He notes that, ‘Any criticism of this myth is often branded as anti-Semitism. However, in many ways the opposite is true: there is a connection between the new anti-Semitism and the myth itself. The two-states solution is based on the idea that a Jewish state is the best solution for the Jewish problem; that is, Jews should live in Palestine rather than anywhere else. This notion is also close to the hearts of anti-Semites. The two-states solution, indirectly one should say, is based on the assumption that Israel and Judaism are the same. Thus, Israel insists that what it does, it does in the name of Judaism, and when its actions are rejected by people around the world the criticism is not only directed toward Israel but also towards Judaism… It seems that nothing is going to stop Israel now from completing its colonization of the West Bank and continuing its siege on Gaza.’

A Just Solution

A just solution to the dilemma of Palestine will, Pappe concludes, only be achieved if we stop treating the mythologies he sets forth as truths: ‘Palestine was not empty and the Jewish people had homelands; Palestine was colonized, not ‘redeemed’; and its people were dispossessed in 1948, rather than leaving voluntarily. Colonized people, even under the U.N. Charter, have the right to struggle for their liberation…and the successful ending to such a struggle lies in the creation of a democratic state that includes all of its inhabitants.’

Since Ilan Pappe completed his book, Israel has moved even further away from a two state solution. The ruling Likud Party’s central committee, early in 2018, endorsed a resolution calling for the annexation of the West Bank settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu no longer speaks of the establishment of a Palestinian state. The very idea of a Palestinian state ever coming into existence is rejected by Israel’s current government.

To understand how we have come to this point, after 75 years of oppressive occupation, and to consider how, in the face of the latest developments, we can look forward to a more hopeful future, this important book by Ilan Pappe is essential reading. Abandoning myths and confronting reality is an important first step forward.

There’s immorality in Christian-Zionist project of seeking legitimacy for Israel: Illan Pappe

Peoples Health Movement (PHM) Statement in solidarity with the people of Palestine ‘Stand up for Palestine’ 24 October 2023

The following links are from Amnesty International

  • APAN (Australia Palestine Advocacy Network): APAN is a leading Australian organization dedicated to advocating for justice and human rights in Palestine. Visit their website for reports, webinars, and updates on the Gaza crisis.
  • Eyes on Palestine: This platform provides a unique perspective on the Palestinian situation through art, culture, and multimedia projects. It offers a different way to understand the impact of the crisis.
  • Palestinians Sharing Their Stories: Listening to the voices of Palestinians living through the crisis is an essential aspect of understanding the situation. Explore personal testimonies and experiences shared by Palestinians here.
  • Loud Jew Collective: This organisation includes Jewish voices against oppression and for justice in Palestine. Their resources offer insights into the perspectives of Jews supporting the Palestinian cause.
  • Jews Against Fascism: This group advocates for human rights and justice, particularly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their materials provide an alternative viewpoint within the Jewish community.
  • Jews Against the Occupation: This organisation advocates for a just and equitable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their resources provide alternative viewpoints within the Jewish community.

See also