10 Questions for Ilan Pappé


Dr. Ilan Pappé is a controversial figure in his native Israel. Just looking at the title of one of his more recent books— The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine —will give an indication why. His claim of a systematic expulsion of Palestinians from Israeli territory during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, however, is not an unsupported one. It has been echoed in the work of other Israeli historians such as Avi Shlaim.

Pappé, who is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, will be speaking at IUPUI Lecture Hall 101 on Friday, Jan 30, 2015 at 6:30 PM.

Ilan Pappé was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1954. His parents, German Jews, fled the Nazis in the 1930s. He served in the Israeli Defense Forces during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Before moving to England, he was a senior lecturer in political science at Haifa University, in Israel. During his tenure there, he supported a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. For this he was asked to resign by Haifa University president Aharon Ben-Ze'ev in 2005.

Pappé is a supporter of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. He is an advocate of a one state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that would give equal democratic rights to all—including Jews, Muslims, and Christians—living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and allow for the Palestinian right of return. It would also, according to critics of Pappé’s scholarship such as the Israeli academic Benny Morris, require the dismantling of the Jewish state.

Dr. Pappé responded to the following questions by email.

NUVO: 1948 was the year of the Arab-Israeli War as well as the year Israel was founded and much of the discussion in your recent books refers to this date and describes as well a systematic, planned expulsion of Palestinians by organized Jewish groups in Palestine during this war. How did it come about, then, that the expulsion of the Palestinians during this time was described by Israeli historians as something else?

Dr. Ilan Pappé: There were two reasons, I think, for the denial of what I called the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli historians. It is in the main a generational thing. The older historians who were quite often involved in the events themselves followed the political leadership's bid of the need to deny the expulsion and were willing to be recruited to the Israeli propaganda machine that sold to the world the idea that the Palestinians left voluntarily under orders of their and the Arab world's leaders to make way for the invading Arab armies. Younger historians, until the declassification of the archival material in the late 1970s, relied on the Israeli memoirs and official version and just did not know what happened.

NUVO: What do you think of the narrative that some liberal American Jews buy into; that the history of Israel started to go wrong after the Six Day War in 1967?

Pappé: I disagree with this framing of the history. The basic [idea] of Zionism that one can settle at someone else homeland is the root of the problem. The Zionist wish to reconcile the idea of democracy, rule by a majority, with the demographic reality in pre-1948 Palestine, namely the Jews being a minority there, led to their leadership's ethnic cleansing strategy, implemented quite successfully in 1948 and by other means since 1948. The wish to reconcile these two conflicting impulses, to be both democratic and ethnic, is what went wrong. 1967 was just one additional manifestation to the impossible reconciliation of these two conflicting impulses.

NUVO: You describe in your book The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge [2014], "the general Orientalist view" of many Israeli scholars. Is this viewpoint echoed in American media. In, say, the presentations you see on Fox News?

Pappé: It is echoed not in American media, but also in Hollywood and is some academic circles. But I would agree that FOX news is a particular vulgar representation of what Edward Said called orientalism: a one-dimensional, negative and racist representation of anything which is Arab, Muslim or Palestinian.

NUVO: You refer, in your book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, to a process that is ongoing. Why did you, in an article in The Electronic Intifada, also refer to this process as "an incremental genocide," in the context of the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip last summer?

Pappé: What I meant is that the basic Israeli strategy remained the same: having as much of Palestine with as few Palestinians in it as possible. Until 2007 when the Hamas took over Gaza, they found all kinds of means of achieving this goal: imposing a discriminating policy on the Palestinians inside in Israel (which enclaves them in their own living space without option for expanding); ethnic cleansing the Palestinians out of Greater Jerusalem and other areas Israel is interested in annexing to the state (such as the Jordan Valley, the city of Hebron and huge parts of area C) and the Bantustanization of the the rest of the West Bank. The resistance in Gaza faced with the Israelis with a predicament: "none the above means" could have been implemented there. The basic idea since 2006 was to bomb Gaza in order to silence it and take its people out of the demographic equation of what is Palestine by forcing them to live under siege and within a Ghetto unless they will accept the same arrangements of incarceration in practice in the West Bank. To pressure them to do this the Israelis used all the lethal and most updated weapons they have at their disposal on the densest urban space in the world. The only result can be genocidal.

NUVO: Why did you, as a scholar, feel that you had to leave Israel?

Pappé: In 2006 I was forced to leave the Israeli academia and cannot since then work in it. So I did not decide to leave - as a scholar I could only continue abroad.

NUVO: In your discussion of Israeli scholars who challenge the prevailing Zionist narrative in The Idea of Israel you refer to "a formative sobering event that exposed Zionism as colonialism, Israel as an Apartheid state..." Was there such an event for you?

Pappé: I think for me it was the 1982 Israeli assault on Lebanon - an event I witnessed as a Ph.D. student in Oxford. From the outside, I could see what Israelis could not see from within and what Sean McBride, the UN appointed head of a committee of inquiry into that war called the Israeli crime of ethnocide. Sheer violence rained on the Palestinians in order to destroy them as a people. This for me exposed the Zionist project as a settler colonial project that cannot tolerate the presence of Palestinians in and around Palestine.

NUVO: Has Brand Israel, the advertising campaign that markets Israel as a bastion of liberty, high technology, and even gay culture in the Middle East, been successful to any degree?

Pappé: No I think it totally failed. Israel's power in the world, even with the high rate of present day Islamphobia, is purely based on intimidation, Jewish and Christian lobbies and not on any global understanding or justification of its policies towards the Palestinians. The moral pillar on which Israel's legitimacy has been built has been totally eroded. The military and financial pillar is still very solid, though.

NUVO: Is there any hope left for the peace process that Secretary of State John Kerry is advocating, working towards a two state solution?

Pappé: No, I think this process is a medical miracle: it is a dead body dragged out of a morgue, resuscitated for a while before being returned to the morgue. High time we should be invited to its funeral. The premise of the process has nothing to do with the reality on the ground. There is no space or option for two states any more, nor is there a Zionist possibility to accept such an idea. The American administration has to realize that only a democratic regime between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean can be a just and lasting solution. Anything else is a waste of time that raises unnecessarily people's hope and when they are dashed then violence erupts in vengeance.

NUVO: Why is it that I never hear Israeli officials in American media referring to Palestinians as "Palestinians"?

Pappé: This part of the symbolic denial. When you are intent on wiping out a people you also exclude them from your language.

NUVO: Why do you support the BDS movement?

Pappé: There is no chance of change from within Israel, while the destruction on the ground continues, or does it seem that the Palestinian armed struggle has any chance of any tangible results, on the contrary it seems to be self-harming if anything. This is the only non-violent way to changing the reality and alleviating the suffering of the people by turning Israel into a pariah state until it changes its polices. The BDS campaign embodies this strategy effectively as did the anti-Apartheid movement in the case of the Apartheid South Africa. It think it is the only option we have from the outside of showing solidarity and doing something for a cause that has an impact not only on the people living there but on the Middle East as a whole.


Arts Editor

Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.