Ilan Pappe is a professor at the University of Exeter in the UK and the director of the European Centre for Palestinian Studies. An Israeli who lives in exile, Pappe has been one of the most important contributors to the effort to truly document the Nakbah of 1948 and the struggle to bring facts to the traditional Israeli narrative. Generally shunned in Israel, Pappe strongly favors both a comprehensive academic boycott of Israel as well as the adoption of a one-state democratic solution. While his book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” remains his most famous, Pappe has written many more, including three published this year.
I was excited when I heard that I had a chance to hear Ilan Pappe speak in Ramallah. His book on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was one of the first books I read about the Palestinian issue and got me hooked immediately. Pappe’s documentation of the events of 1948 clearly expose the Israeli narrative as a false history aimed at cleaning an ugly series of events – a theme on which he expanded during his talk.
The main question that Pappe attempted to answer during his lecture was why are there so many loyal to the Zionist cause, or, in his words, “why are so few Israeli Jews…in a society that doesn’t seem to be dictatorial… have an inclination to see things differently?” In other words, in light of all the available evidence, why do Israeli Jews still hold onto the racist Zionist ideology? Pappe’s answer was autobiographical. Acknowledgement of the past and realization of the truth requires Israelis to reject everything that they have been told and everything they believe. Pappe focused on the need for Israelis to pass through a sort of personal journey; to follow the path that would allow them to recognize the truth of Israel – that it was created through and based on ‘hideous crimes’ – a journey that Pappe himself once made.
Before getting into my thoughts on the talk, I want to share three pieces of the lecture that I found particularly intriguing.
[tweetmeme] Firstly, Pappe stressed repeatedly that the so-called ‘New Historians’ such as Avi Schlaim and Benny Morris as well as the peace movement within Israel is helping maintain the Israeli narrative. While it may seem like recognition of the Nakbah and the push for peace butt heads with the typical Israeli narrative, Pappe says that the existence of such people are only helping Israel uphold the fictional identity of a democratic Israel. In reality, the new historians might recognize the Nakbah, but they simply change the Israeli lie from denial to justification without truly exposing the lies. The Israeli peaceniks, on the other hand, are not truly accepting the immoral history of Israel. Peace today does not eliminate the abhorrent consequences of 60+ years of racist policy. The existence of such populations within Israel that do not accept Israel’s story to the letter, but still does not shed light on the truth only propagates Israel’s fictitious claim to democracy and legitimacy.
Secondly, Pappe briefly pushed the point that Israelis that do not whole-heartedly buy the Israeli line, but do nothing to fight back against the fiction that is propagated are also to blame: “if you do nothing, you are part of the crime – part of the Apartheid.”
Thirdly, while many are tired to the current Israeli government’s intransigence, Pappe is glad that Netanyahu is doing what he will. The professor saw this current government as being “fatigued” of “playing the charade of democracy.” Previous governments have played this charade without truly being a democracy, but the current government has completely bucked this strategy and has overtly shunned the idea of democracy. Such actions will make it easier for the world and for Israelis to question.
Personally, while not completely agreeing with everything, I thought the lecture was very good, even if it was overly optimistic. Pappe was very optimistic about the future and about Palestine, yet his vision of the future is not possible. He spoke about how peace is dependent on the Israeli population going through this personal journey to realize the truth about Israel, but yet repeatedly stressed that such a journey is incredibly difficult. Moreover, the end of Pappe’s journey is the conclusion of a one-state solution with the return of all Palestinian refugees, the loss of a Jewish majority and the acceptance that Israel and the entire history of the state is based on fabricated lies. While it is possible that some Israelis make this transition, I think it is impossible that Israeli society as a collective undergoes such an evolution.
Pappe accepts and promotes a one-state solution. His argument surrounding the ‘personal journey’ is based on this outcome. Israelis living in a bi-national or democratic state perhaps need to accept Zionism’s role in the destruction of Palestine in order to live peacefully with the Palestinian co-inhabitants. Yet, I am not sure such a drastic collective epiphany is necessary (though perhaps ideal) for a two-state solution and, therefore, I don’t think there is incentive for Israelis to make this journey.
Lastly, Pappe’s talk disappointed me in that it did not reveal anything that was not known or believed by the audience – Pappe was preaching to the choir so to speak. Most attendees spent the lecture nodding in agreement and the questions that were asked merely confirmed previous assumptions and theories. While certainly not a negative, I feel that those attending a Pappe lecture are only those who completely agree with his point of view, thus rendering the entire lecture into an exercise of group-think, rather than debate.
Photo from Amazon