Historian Ilan Pappé:
Author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

July 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and other important works, was interviewed Friday, July 18, on The Michael Slate Show (on KPFK Pacifica radio).

Listen to the interview


Following is a rush transcript of that interview.

Michael Slate: We’re going to spend the entire hour on one subject, and you know what that is, if you’re at all paying attention to what’s happening in the world.

Ilan Pappé

Today the world is witnessing an atrocity. Since July 7, the Israeli government has subjected the two million people of Gaza to a deadly reign of terror, from the sky, from the ground, from the sea. Israel has now intensified its murderous attacks with a land invasion. And even before the ground invasion began, Israeli bombs, missiles, and shells killed hundreds of Palestinians, including, now we’re told it’s 50 children have been killed in the course of this attack. In 2008-2009 Israel invaded and bombed Gaza, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, 89 of them children, by Israel’s official count. Now we’re going to spend the whole hour talking to a man I’ve been looking forward to talking to for a long time. His name is Ilan Pappé, a historian who John Pilger once described as Israel’s bravest, most principled, most incisive historian. The fact is Ilan Pappé has spent his life trying to tell the truth, in a fearless search for truth, bringing that truth out to people, about what is going on, not just what’s going on in relation to Israel and the Zionist government and the Palestinian people, but in relation to much bigger questions as well, in terms of crimes against humanity and the idea that these should not only never be forgotten, but there’s a moral imperative for everyone to stand up and speak out, and that’s what Ilan has been doing, that’s what he’s spent his life doing, so I’m really happy to welcome him.

Ilan, welcome to the Michael Slate Show!

Ilan Pappé: It’s a great pleasure to be on your show, Michael.

Michael Slate: As people are listening, I want them to write this down. Your book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, is a really important book for people to get and dig into. And it has a lot to do with what we’re going to be talking about.

Once again Israel has launched a full-scale war against the people of Gaza, as I was saying. Can you give us an up-to-the-minute sense of what’s happening in Gaza?

Ilan Pappé: Yes, as far as we know—there’s a bit of a fog—the picture is quite clear. In the last 24 hours, Israeli ground forces have entered the [Gaza] Strip with tanks, heavy guns, and so on, and are systematically as we speak destroying the margins of the urban space of Gaza in different places, and it seems that they will not be content with just doing that, and probably will go deeper into the various cities that make the Gaza Strip. They’re still using a lot of power from the air and from the sea; just in the last few hours we heard of a hospital and some other places that people thought would shelter them as they obeyed the Israeli orders to leave their houses, that also were bombed by the Israelis. The number of casualties is rising, including quite a high number of children among them.

Michael Slate: Ilan, tell me this: If you looked at it in general, you might say, “Okay, they’re just raining bombs down on Gaza and on the Palestinian people.” At the same time, to hit things like hospitals, and to—as we’ve heard in other reports—they’ve been calling people up and saying, “Leave, we’re going to attack your building or where you are right now.” There’s this insane, very savage combination of clinical precision and blatant outright savagery. It’s not just a question of carrying out a war; there’s really an element of terrorizing an entire population.

Ilan Pappé: I agree; there’s an element of—it’s a sinister approach, and this kind of brutality was always there. I think this is something that may have been missing from some of the analyses in the reports. There’s a certain aspect of Israeli actions that is different maybe from many other atrocities that are going on even as we speak in other parts of the world. It is this righteousness that accompanies this, and that pretends that this is done in the name of high values, of enlightenment, democracy, and so on. Actually the high level of technology is used to terrorize people; I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t know if your listeners were able to see, because I’m sure American mainstream media does not show this, but when the Israelis give a warning to some of the houses, they give you 57 seconds to leave the house. Now try and be on the fifth floor in any part of the world and leave in 57 seconds. This is ridiculous, but this is as cruel a technique as the very destruction of the house and the killing of the people in it. It’s a rare combination of high tech, a very extremist ideology in many ways, and long, long periods of dehumanization of the almost two million people who are incarcerated in this big ghetto—and their only crime is being Palestinian.

Michael Slate: I read somewhere where you were talking about how this all falls out on children too, and I was thinking about that as I heard both that the sum total so far of the number of children dead as a result of all this, but also the really heartbreaking things about the kids playing on the roof, the kids on the beach, and this whole idea of terrorizing the population, and really if you’re looking at this, terrorizing humanity as a whole. If you look at the dehumanization of the people that gets concentrated up in the children, which seems to be a particular aspect of what Israel does to the Palestinian people.

Ilan Pappé: I’m not sure whether they target children as such, but I think there’s something more important going on here. It’s a combination of three factors; one is, I call it the laboratory, or the lab factor. The urban space of Gaza is a lab for the Israeli military industry and other military industries, probably also in the United States, to experiment with new weapons. There was a terrifying film that was shown at Sundance called The Lab, by a director who showed how these actions in Gaza and elsewhere, in the West Bank, are used as test cases that are being filmed in order to show them later to prospective buyers of these weapons, because clients would be most convinced when you show them that the weapons were actually used against human beings, not against puppets or dummies. So that’s one factor which makes it so horrible. And then of course you don’t differentiate between women, men, young men, warriors, or children. The second one is the dehumanization, this idea that the Palestinians are the enemy, whether it’s a village, whether it’s a house, whether it’s a kindergarten, it’s the face of the enemy, the enemy that you only see through the eyes of the military gun or aircraft or ship, and it becomes a legitimate military target. On top of it you have this self-confidence that you are doing a pharmaceutical, surgical operation, because you have such sophisticated high tech. It’s obscene. Really, it’s obscene. It would have been bad enough without this righteousness and this kind of self-explanatory mechanism which says we are so technically advanced that we can be surgical, where the results on the ground show that there’s nothing to it; it’s a barbaric action like any barbaric action against unarmed civilians. But this righteousness, this sense that you’re somehow morally unique in the way you do it, regardless that at the end of the day, 50 to 100 dead children I think makes it even worse in a way from a moral, an ethical, point of view.

Michael Slate: One of the things I was talking about with the children too: There is a way that [the Israelis] they terrorize the entire population, and one of the things even aside stepping back away from whether it’s the bombs and the missiles falling, even the idea that I read in an interview you did a couple years ago with the International Solidarity Movement, you talked about that the children are specifically targeted. You talk about this heartbreaking scene of people going into a courtroom and seeing Palestinian child after child in chains and orange jump suits.

Ilan Pappé: You’re right to point it out. So it’s not the targeting of the children specifically in this operation. But there’s a certain horrific perception of what is a Palestinian child. It goes back to 1948. You’ve mentioned my book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, in which I describe the Israeli operations in 1948. One of the things I mention there is that the orders that the Israeli troops received before occupying either a neighborhood, a town, or a village—the order said that men of fighting age should be separated from the rest of the population, either killed or sent to prisons. Now, the troops wanted to know how do you define a man of fighting age—and that’s back in 1948, right? The army orders say very clearly, “Anyone above the age of ten.” So they included in it those who potentially could be men; they knew that someone who is 10 years old is not a man, right? And I think it began there, that children are potential terrorists, are potential enemies, they’re not just children. And I think that brought the scenes that you quoted from my article some years ago about the children’s court. We have special courts for children, where sometimes the whole class is brought in shackled as if they are mass murderers. It also reminds me... in 2002, where the Israeli army has this habit of midnight tank tour in the refugee camp of Jenin at midnight that terrified the children there, and really disturbed for years to come a whole generation of children. But I think the key is the dehumanization, this ability now, and you can hear it in the Israeli media and those in America who support Israel. It’s to talk about Gaza as if it’s a battlefield, as if all you have there is a desert and you have tank brigades facing each other. Not understanding that you’re talking about the most densely populated urban space in the world. So any movement with a tank, any bomb from the air, any shell by a gunboat brings mass destruction, and it’s ridiculous to talk about surgical precision or any humane consideration in this operation.

Michael Slate: You’ve talked about this situation today being an incremental genocide, and it seems to me you’re saying there’s been a qualitative leap in what’s going on, and I want to talk with you about that; because it’s also related to what we’re talking about in relation to Gaza and what they’re doing in this sense too, that the particularities of the Gaza Strip make it clear that any collective punitive action—I think this is something you’ve said—like what’s going on now, could only be an operation of massive killing and destruction, a continued genocide. So is this a leap in the situation as you see it?

Ilan Pappé: Always with this case, with Israeli policy, it’s a small leap in terms of numbers of troops used, numbers of people targeted, numbers of people killed. But it’s a bit worse than the previous one, and you can imagine that the next one will be even worse. But I think it began in 2006. We have to remember how it also began even in the short term, let alone a more general historical context. It began when, in 2006, encouraged by the American discourse and propaganda about democracy, Palestinians went to the polling station, in January 2006, and thought that they were really spearheading democracy in the Middle East, and they chose a government. And the reaction of Israel, with the help of the United States, was to ghetto-ize them, without any way of getting in or getting out, and slowly cutting their rations of food and strangulating them.

It was very clear that even if you don’t bomb Gaza every two years from the air, the sea and the land, you are creating a situation in terms of human conditions that in the long run by itself can turn into a genocide. Let alone that in four waves since 2006, you use Merkava tanks, which are the most ferocious tanks in the world: F-16s, Apache helicopters, naval gunships and phosphorus bombs—by the way, all of them made in the United States, I should say to your listeners. All these horrible lethal weapons have been used four times on top of the strangulation, the starvation since 2006 as a punishment for exercising democracy. It’s unbelievable if you think about it.

The naked truth about Palestine is infuriating, the way it is being reported elsewhere. I think this is why I call it incremental genocide, because you can see this combination of the military on the one hand, and that narrative that somehow legitimizes in the West this ghetto-ization of almost two million people. How else can it end, if not with a massive destruction of the Gaza Strip?

Michael Slate: You said, too, and this really grabbed me, because you said this particular term, incremental genocide, is important because it locates savage acts by Israel within an important and wider context. And you argue that this has to be insisted upon if people want to talk about this. Why is that so important? Why is it so important that people understand this particular term’s importance?

Ilan Pappé: For me it was very important to say this because Israel every now and then gets the green light from the West to do what it does. And every time after such a wave, [Israel] eventually is being absolved from any real condemnation, or is not held accountable for what is going on. And the reason is that they succeed in selling a narrative which says, “We did what we did as a reaction to the last Palestinian action in this ghetto of Gaza. Namely, because they launched missiles against Israel, we did what we did. So how can you not justify us?” Immediately we’ll hear President Obama say, “Israel has a right to defend itself.” And all the leaders of the Western world would follow suit. But this is taken out of context.

It’s almost like you watch a clip of a person hitting someone in the face, and the person who was hit in the face shoots the guy who hits him. And you say, well, he was right maybe to shoot him because the guy was hitting him. You don’t see the early bits of the clip. This was the last punch this person was able to give because he was outnumbered by six hooligans who were beating him to death. This is what I mean. You need to see the whole picture to also understand where the Palestinian rockets come from. Why do they come the way they come into Israel? And this is so true even if you just widen—that’s what I meant in my article—even if you widen the camera a little bit, not to 1948, not even to 1967, which I think is even more important. Even if you widen it to three or four weeks ago, and you see that Israel arrested all the Hamas elected members of Parliament—and re-arrested all the people it had pledged to release from jail according to the prisoner exchange deal it had signed, you can see who started this present crisis.

But it goes deeper into the question which I raise in my article, that while the Israelis think that they know what they’re doing in the West Bank, they think that they can divide the West Bank into two parts: one part they would annex to Israel, and the rest they will enclave, maybe even call it a state, or hope that the people somehow will be attached or expelled to Jordan. They can’t do the same in the Gaza Strip because of the geopolitical situation there. So they’re faced with an area which is locked. And what they want is to forget about it. They really want to throw the key of this huge prison into the sea. But the “inmates,” so to speak, rebelled. And when [the “inmates”] rebel, [Israel] uses this lethal combination I’ve talked about, of tanks, helicopters, F-16s, gunships and the most horrific repertoire of new kinds of weapons we don’t even know of, as a punishment for people’s unwillingness to live forever in a situation of a ghetto.

Michael Slate: Ilan, you’ve spoken about how the Zionist state can only really exist or materialize if there is not any significant number of Palestinian people in it. One argument upon which the Zionist state has been built is that when they first came there, when they first found the land, that it was “a land without people for a people without land.” Another argument was that the Palestinians voluntarily left Palestine in order to facilitate an invasion by Arab military forces after the British Mandate ended. What’s the truth here? I want people to understand, so let’s dig a little bit into this background. What’s the truth here? What did Palestine look like before the Zionists established the state of Israel? What was really happening?

Ilan Pappé: It’s a good point. On the eve of the arrival of the first Zionist settler in the late 19th century, Palestine was a thriving part of the Ottoman Empire. It had towns that were flourishing with vital cultural and social activity. It had a very fertile countryside. We don’t know exactly the number of people who were there. I think there were between half a million and three-quarters of a million, which is the numbers there were in the world in the late 19th century. They’re not our numbers today. So it was a sizable, significant number of people living there. Like everyone else who lived in the Ottoman Empire, they had both allegiance to the empire itself, but also a local kind of identity which was recognized by the special dialect that they spoke, by the connection with people, and a kind of affiliation to the heritage of the place.

So it was not a land without people. It was a land with people. And by the time the Zionists got there, which was the late 19th century, like everybody else in the Arab world, they began to think about themselves in national terms, as a national movement that wanted to turn their homeland into either part of a huge nation-state, which would be an Arab republic which the colonialist powers did not allow at the end of the day, or a nation-state like the neighboring nation-states Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

That’s for this mythology that Palestine was empty. By the way, the Zionist leaders, those who were in the core leadership, knew that the land was not empty. They knew very well. They envisaged “a land without people” knowing that there were people on the land. The question was, how were the people, in the words of the prophet of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, who said, “Can we find a way of spiriting away the people from this country?” And they found a way. They eventually in 1948 found a way in massively expelling the people. So that’s the other myth. That people somehow who live in a place for hundreds of years would voluntarily take their things and get out just in order to enable the return of the Jews, as if there were Christian Zionists. This is ridiculous.

For years, Palestinians told us, Palestinian refugees, Palestinian survivors from 1948 told us that they were physically expelled. But the world did not believe the Palestinians. But since the 1980s, we have solid documentary evidence for the planning, for the implementation, village to village, town to town, for the ethnic cleansing operation. And I must say today, most Israelis are not even shocked by this. Therefore it’s in a way easier to speak about it. They see it as a justified act for building the Jewish state instead of Palestine.

Michael Slate: Well, let’s jump into this a little bit deeper, because this point about ethnic cleansing... people have to understand this. This isn’t just another peoples’ narrative or an assertion. It’s an actual scientific assessment, ethnic cleansing. Let’s talk about this. How do you define ethnic cleansing, and why was it necessary from the standpoint of the Zionists?

Ilan Pappé: Let me first say that, in order to be on safe ground, I decided to look for a source that would define for me the concept legally and morally in a way that at least the vast majority of the people would say, OK, this is a credible, or at least a mainstream source. So I went to the website of the [U.S.] State Department. I did the same with the criminology of ethnic cleansing. The website of the State Department defines very clearly ethnic cleansing as an act where you have two ethnic groups, and one ethnic group is determined to purify this mixed area by every means possible. In fact, the State Department website, and this is something that international jurists agree upon, they say that even if people left because they were frightened, from a mixed area, not allowing them to come back is an act of ethnic cleansing.

So even the Israeli narrative that argues with me and says, “No, no. We didn’t intend to expel them. They just ran away.” It does not absolve them from the crime of ethnic cleansing. Because even if people left because they were frightened, not allowing them to come back home is an act of ethnic cleansing, as I stated.

If you have an ideological movement that in 1948 faces a reality by which its own ethnic group is only 30 percent of the population, and 70 percent of the population are the native, indigenous people of Palestine. And it sees that population, to the last person in it, as a threat to its survival, to its ability to create a pure Jewish state, and is determined to use every possible means to achieve this purity, then the movement itself is committed to the ideology of ethnic cleansing. And the first proof of that claim was in 1948. But it didn’t end in 1948. Israel found out from 1948 onwards until today that there are two means of achieving this ethnic purity. One is of course directly expelling people, as they did in 1948, and not in small numbers after 1967: 300,000 Palestinians were expelled from the West Bank by force by Israel.

But the other means, much more popular, much more favorable from an Israeli’s point of view after 1948, was not allowing people to move, to leave, to expand. They have to be enclaved. To stay in enclaves, like Bantustans. And if they’re there, although they are physically within the state of Israel, they don’t have to be counted demographically. So they’re not part of the community of citizens. They don’t have rights. They are citizen-less citizens. Gaza is the worst example of that, of course. It’s much better to be in Ramallah in the West Bank than in Gaza. But it’s the same principle. What do we do when we think that we can only exist without having any Palestinians among us, but half of the population insists on being Palestinian. They remain Palestinians. So your whole preoccupation as a state, as an ideological movement, as a military establishment is with this demographic reality.

Most of Israel’s strategy revolves around what they call the demographic question, which is a horrible thought if you think that Zionism speaks in the name of the victims of Nazism. And what was the main obsession of Nazism? It was the demography of the Jews, the existence of the Jews demographically within the realm of Nazi Germany. That those who speak in the name of these victims are using demography as the principal way of assessing whether they are secure or not is more than irony. It’s macabre.

Michael Slate: We were talking about ethnic cleansing, and you were making some very important points in relation to comparing and contrasting what’s going on with Israel today and what the Nazis were using as an excuse to get rid of the Jewish people back during the Holocaust. There’s something I want to make clear to people. It seems like it might be obvious, but I don’t think so. The fact is, there is no debate about whether or not ethnic cleansing is actually a crime against humanity, a war crime. It’s not like, OK, as Obama has been trying to say, the whole situation is tragic, and both sides have to give a little and understand a little. There actually has been an ethnic cleansing, which is a crime against humanity. And your book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine—I thought I knew a lot about what had happened, but as I read your book and your uncovering the true history of how this was carried out, the fact that there seemed to be a combination of a very systematic, almost clinical approach to developing this whole thing, combined with an unfettered savagery in the preparation and implementation of what was going on. An actual master plan was developed. Can we talk about this thing about how this ethnic cleansing was actually taken up and developed by the Zionists?

Ilan Pappé: Yeah, definitely. Maybe we’ll go a little bit back in time for just one second to put this in the right context. I would say that, until the 1930s, the Zionist leadership in Palestine did not engage too much with what would be the fate of the vast majority of the people of Palestine, and the native people of Palestine, the Palestinians. They had other concerns, and they attended to them. But ever since the late 1930s, it became one of the most important issues, namely, how do we achieve this idea of a Jewish state while there are so many Palestinians around? And it became an urgent issue for them when it became clear after the Second World War that the British Mandate is coming to an end, and Britain is going to withdraw its forces from Palestine, and that the international community, through the agency of the United Nations, is going to try and offer a solution instead of the British Mandate. This was a crucial period. And that period, in more concrete terms, is more or less between February 1947, when Britain declared its intention to leave Palestine, and the 15th of May, 1948, the day Israel was officially founded. Through that year and a half, we have very solid documentation to show how the Zionist leadership set on this question, sort of pondered within a small group of decision makers, how to deal with this demographic issue, namely the presence of so many Palestinians in what they saw as the future Jewish state.

It took time for them to find a way to do it. But eventually, when they have defined precisely the space in which they want to have the Jewish state—the reason they had to define the space was that they had a secret agreement with the Jordanians that not the whole of Palestine would become Israel, that part of Palestine, that is the West Bank today, would be annexed to Jordan in return for very minimal Jordanian resistance in 1948. But the rest was to be Israel. And in that part, which is almost 80 percent of Palestine, you had, as far as the Zionist leaders were concerned, too many Palestinians.

Around March/April 1948, eventually the pondering ended, the tactical debates came to a close, and the people with the power to decide in the Zionist movement made a conscious decision to get rid of the Palestinians in the area that would become the Jewish state, namely 80 percent of Palestine. And for that reason they prepared a master plan, called Plan D, because there were earlier drafts of that plan, which divided Palestine into areas, and in each area, a different military unit or brigade operated, with direct orders to get rid of the Palestinian population. The operation started three months before the British left, and that’s why the British are accountable for some of it, because they were watching as most of the towns of Palestine were ethnically cleansed by the Jewish forces, and they did nothing to stop it, although they were obliged to do it under the charter of the mandate they had received from the League of Nations after the First World War. The other half of the people, which was mostly the people in the countryside, was expelled after Britain left Palestine and Israel was declared.

There was an attempt by the Arab world to try and stop it, while sending troops on the 15th of May into Palestine. But they sent a relatively small number of troops, and they had their own agendas, and apart from a few cases, they were unable to stop the ethnic cleansing until it just petered out, because the Israelis were exhausted, around the end of 1948. Out of one million Palestinians who lived in what became Israel, about 100,000 were left, because frankly speaking, I don’t think the Israeli army had the energy and the inertia to complete the job.

Michael Slate: Let’s dig a little bit deeper into this, because I want people to understand the particularity here. Again, as I said, the immensity of the savage attacks. I was stunned by this. If you could talk just a little about this. This idea that when we talk about, it’s a war crime, a crime against humanity, that there’s a content to ethnic cleansing. People don’t know, for instance, that there were some cases where they poisoned the water supply of whole villages with typhoid, the rapes, the mass executions. If you could just give people a sense. Just pick one example of something and tell us a little deeper about what actually happened.

Ilan Pappé: Let me explain the logic of it. Basically, generals who supervise an act of ethnic cleansing are content with people leaving forever their places. Namely, if they can intimidate you enough to leave your house, they would be pleased. They won’t necessarily chase you and kill you. It’s not genocide in the sense that there was no idea of exterminating the people, but just making sure that they’re dispossessing them. However, it’s a bit like the Gaza Strip today. Palestine is a human habitat. And you can’t always do it that way. And quite a lot of people resist. People don’t want to leave a home where they’ve lived for centuries, if not a millennium. So if there were the smallest resistance to the order to evict—and these people knew that the moment they leave their house, the house would be detonated, and their village or neighborhood would be flattened—the smallest token of resistance, the response to this was very, very brutal.

Sometimes it was not just massacring people because they resisted. In some cases, people were massacred because of bad planning by the Israeli army. The idea was always to leave one flank of the neighborhood or the village open so that the people could be chased out of there. But in some cases, the Israelis themselves closed the places from four flanks. And then they found the people in there, and the military orders show very clearly that, especially when you have a concentration of young men, and remember our definition of young men in 1948, anyone above the age of 10, Israel doesn’t know what to do with them, and sometimes the order to slaughter came just from the fact that people maybe even wanted to run away, but were unable. That reminds me a little bit of Gaza today.

Now the specific issue we’re talking about, it’s very interesting. The Israeli army had a kind of chemical unit that experimented with all kinds of things, including biological warfare. And in two cases—it wasn’t used extensively, one should say—it was used in Acca, because Acca resisted and typhoid was injected into the water. This I say on the basis of a report of the Red Cross from Acca. This is not something that Palestinian sources invented. And some Israelis, I show in the book, some Israelis were willing to admit this, many, many years ago, two more decent people, maybe more conscientious and maybe with some moral problems with it.

The other attempt was in Gaza, interestingly enough, but the Egyptian army caught these people, and they were tried and imprisoned for trying to inject these biological agents. Maybe it was not typhoid. I don’t remember which particular disease they wanted to inject into the water of Gaza.

It’s the margins of brutality. It’s not the main thing that the Israelis did. But you can see how easily, once you dehumanize a whole population between “just” shooting them to brutally killing them is not very far.

Michael Slate: And that “just” shooting them was actually carried out pretty regularly, right?

Ilan Pappé: Yeah. Definitely. Shooting over the head, first of all, to make them run away, or executing several people in each village to make sure that the flight will be complete.

Michael Slate: I wanted to dig into something else, because there’s a point here, too, where you said, after the Holocaust, it would seem that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to conceal large-scale crimes against humanity. Yet no one has ever really paid much attention about what happened to the Palestinian people, and what continues to happen to them.

Ilan Pappé: Yes, it’s an amazing story in a way. When people in Israel say to me, “But, can you compare what happened to the Palestinians with what happened to people in Cambodia, or in Rwanda, or nowadays in Iraq and in Syria?”

And I say, “No.” I’m sure that there are cases in history, and there are cases today, which in terms of number of people killed are far worse than what’s happening in Palestine. But I say, “But we know about these places. And we condemn them. And eventually, we bring the criminals to court. We boycott these places. We do not accept these states within the community of civilized nations. But especially, we know about it.” And I said, “This is something that was hidden. This is a crime that was hidden from the world.” It’s not so much that the Israelis were willing a narrative with this absurd idea, that one million people left voluntarily, as if this is at all possible. Or this absurd idea that when they came to Palestine it was empty. You know, I once said to a teacher of mine back in high school, if the country was empty, who were the people who you say left voluntarily? He was very angry with this question. (Laughing)

But coming back to the issue, the best way of describing it is to talk to Palestinians who were scholars or journalists, or who decided to tell the world, a year or two after 1948, what happened. And no one believed them! No one believed them! People said to them, “Oh, it’s your oriental imagination. We don’t believe that three years after the Holocaust, the Jews could do such a thing to anyone.” And this is in spite of the fact that there were quite a few foreigners on the ground when this happened. There were journalists from the United States. There were emissaries from the International Red Cross and from the United Nations. You cannot hide an ethnic cleansing operation of this magnitude. But it was very easy for people to accept that this didn’t happen. I think part of the Palestinian anger and frustration that comes out every now and then in different forms is not just about the crime itself, but it’s the denial of the crime. I think at least in that, and we owe a lot to the late Professor Edward Said for this, because he told us in 1982, to fight more fiercely against this denial. And I think we are succeeding. We are succeeding. We are not there yet. But for so many years, until very recently, the denial was as criminal as the crime itself.

Michael Slate: Well, let’s jump into that. Because you were one of those people who actually has been fighting to bring out the true history of what happened and what continues to happen. What is the situation of resisters like yourself? How significant is this movement overall in the world? There’s like a new historian movement [and] you’re part of that, I assume. And I know you got hit to a certain extent. Do people get punished for actually standing up and telling the truth there?

Ilan Pappé: Well, let me put it this way. First of all, just recently in February of this year, I published a book called The Idea of Israel, in which I describe in detail or answer in detail the questions you are asking. So I recommend to people who want to know more about it looking for this book, The Idea of Israel, in which I answer this question in the following way: the first thing to remember about all of this is that most dissidents in the world, if you are a dissenting voice, if you are an objector, if you are a person who fights against your government, your enemy is the regime. Your problem is the regime. The regime can throw you into jail and can sack you from your job, can shoot you, can execute you. In Israel the problem is very different. You have a problem with your own society, not just with your own state. So to begin with, the number of people inside the Jewish society throughout the years of Israel’s existence who are willing to challenge the basic truisms and assumptions of Zionism is so minimal that I can give you all the names, and I’m talking about the last 70 years. I can give you all the names of these people. I’m sure you don’t know all the names of people who demonstrated against the Vietnam war. As much as we may think that America is, you know, conformist and does not rebel against its own government’s policies, at least I don’t know—I’m sure nobody in America knows—all the names of the people who demonstrated against Vietnam.

I know the names of all the people who challenged the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and until today. That’s how terrible the situation is in this respect. Now, in answer to your question, it means the state itself does not have to deal with us. The society deals with us. And my personal case is one that sort of illustrates this. I was not expelled from the state or I was not harassed by the state itself. The university in which I worked made sure that I would find it intolerable to continue to teach with opinions like the ones I have and I had to leave the university and the job which I had for 25 years. So there was punishment. It was a very low punishment compared to what Palestinians would suffer in similar situations, but that’s what happens to dissident voices in Israel. They are so marginalized and boycotted and not heard that actually the government does not have to deal with them. I have a feeling that things are changing for the better, by the way. I think the BDS campaign, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign from abroad, increased the numbers. It’s still a drop in the sea, but increased the numbers. Maybe I don’t know their names any more, which is a good sign. It increased the number of people who are dissidents, who are anti-Zionist. I think the first indication for this is, for the first time the government tries to pass laws that will enable it to deal with dissent, dissenting voices like this, which is a good sign. It needs to become a phenomenon but we’re not there yet. The vast majority of the Israeli Jews not only support this operation, this dehumanized, barbaric operation in Gaza. They want the army to do even worse. They are a bit irritated with the army, what they think is a sort of self-restraint of the army in dealing with the population of Gaza.

Michael Slate: So in relation to this I want to just very quickly visit this. In relation to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that actually gives you heart today, is what it sounds like, not just in terms of increasing the amount of resisters inside Israel but also internationally. You look at that as a very significant movement in the world?

Ilan Pappé: Yes I do. I really think so. I think that it’s true that Israel that probably also exist without a moral foundation and without moral or ethical support, but I think the one has an influence on the other. We saw it in the case of apartheid South Africa. Even the most cynical government in the world would say—and it’s not true just about Israel, we have our own national interests so we can turn—we can sort of ignore what we don’t want to see. The moment there is a massive moral movement that is abhorred by what’s going on on the ground, eventually it also affects politics and economics. The moment it affects politics and economics it’s a different game. And then the balance of power is not between those who have all these mighty weapons and those who don’t have any weapons at all. It’s between people still craving some sort of legitimacy and the danger that they will become a pariah state. I think this is what the BDS is pointing to; the non-violent possibilities in bringing peace and justice to Palestine.

Michael Slate: And in a certain way it does pose a moral imperative to people, in terms of people having to take a stand. This will bring us back to where we began, where you were talking about the framework that the Israeli state insists upon. It brings you right back to the Holocaust to a certain extent. The Zionists always justify everything they do on the basis of the Holocaust. It’s the idea that, what happened to the Jewish people should never happen again. Never again! And “Never again!” is not said in the sense that it should never again happen to people anywhere in the world, but never again to us, and that allows us to do whatever the hell we want to the Palestinian people and anywhere else. There’s a whole different morality that needs to come into play here. It’s posed up against a lot of things that people need to think about. I was thinking about this quote from Bob Avakian that says, “After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel,” which poses the fact that people have been sucked into this very immoral view and stand in relation to the people of the world.

Ilan Pappé: And again, my books are selling well, so I’m not trying to sell them. (Laughing) But in my last book, The Idea of Israel, I have a whole chapter on this, which I call the Nazification of the Palestinian question. This is not only justifying—you’re right, they justify what they do in the name of the Holocaust. But for themselves they justify it by claiming that actually they are continuing to fight the Nazis after the Holocaust in Palestine itself. And this comes back to the issues we began talking about, the dehumanization that allows them not to blink an eye when they kill children. This is exactly that. And I think that an insistence on a universal message from the Holocaust, from any genocide, not just the Holocaust, a universal message from any genocide, including the Holocaust, is the basis for a solution in Israel and Palestine. The two are connected. It’s exactly this idea that I was talking [about] in the article you quoted, that you have to use the same moral measure to examine everyone in the Middle East, including Israel. And the moment people in the Arab world would see—which they haven’t seen until now, that the Western world is willing to judge Israel the way it judges Egypt, Bashar al Assad, the Islamist movements in Iraq—the moment they would think that everyone is judged in the same way, they would be much more willing to resist the other more oppressive phenomena and listen to the world and maybe even seek its help. But when the world has this double standard, where one particular political outfit has a license to do whatever he wants, and all the rest are being judged differently, no wonder people in the Middle East do not look up to America or to the West as a beacon of enlightenment, progress and humanity. And that leaves our area in a very, very difficult situation, where only a genuine solution to the Palestine question would help it to move forward to a much better future.


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