Know More About Palestine

Monday Nov. 22, 2010 10:05 AM (EST+7)
Exiled Israeli historian seeks change in his homeland

Read more: Ilan Pappe, exile, Zionism, Zionist, Nekba, Nekbe, Nakba, refugees, expulsion

RAMALLAH, November 22 (JMCC) - “Exile is very good for writing,” an expression coined by literary theorist Edward Said, rings true for left-wing Israeli academic and historian Ilan Pappe.

In 2010, Pappe has authored two books and contributed to two more.

Pappe left Israel for the United Kingdom after condemnation from the Israeli public and parliament for his work, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” published in 2006.

Based upon Pappe’s doctoral thesis, “Ethnic Cleansing” studies the history of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Using previously unseen documentation from the British and Israeli governments, Pappe re-wrote the historical Zionist narrative to include the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians.

“We were not the ‘new historians’, as we are often called,” says Pappe. “We were the first historians – there was no detailed historiography before this. But emotionally, ideologically, there was a history. Every visit to a demolished Arab village tells the story of 1948.”


This intellectual piece of work cost Pappe his academic credibility in Israel and led him to fear for his and his family’s safety. Friends and acquaintances received anonymous phone calls warning that it was “not good” to be seen with Pappe, he recalls. Death threats by phone, e-mail and post became frequent.

Nevertheless, the discovery of this new evidence fell upon deaf ears, feels the historian.

In fact, says Pappe, new history has become “weighted for Zionism” and allowed people subscribing to Zionist beliefs to think they have questioned the situation without actually doing so.

“I am still bewildered that the debate in this ‘new history’ has not been moral or ethical,” Pappe said. “No one opened Pandora’s box and asked what it means for Israel.”


Why were so few Israelis moved by this new reality? This is the question that Pappe is now pressed to answer, he tells a packed lecture hall in the West Bank city of Ramallah in early November.

The query was also the motivation for his subsequent writings. In the last year Pappe has authored two books: “Out of the Frame: The struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel” and “The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis 1700-1948.”

He also co-authored  “Gaza in Crisis” with Noam Chomsky, and wrote the introduction to Vittorio Arrigoni’s “Gaza: Stay Human,” a vivid eyewitness account of Operation Cast Lead by the Italian human rights worker.

Pappe recalls being born into a “benign Zionist” environment in Haifa to German parents who remained set on creating a better version of their German homeland in Israel.

“My parents had the capacity to look over their balcony and believe they were in Germany,” he says. “They didn’t see the “natives of the land.”

Pappe said that many Israelis share this perspective, which draws on a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction in having returned and transformed the land into their vision.


It is difficult to change your beliefs without a shocking occurrence, something that forces you to question your values, says Pappe. His hope lies in the international community, he says, from those who have not grown up inside a “Zionist mind frame” and were instead born into a “free” mind frame.

In Israel, what is most needed says Pappe is a change in language. “We have to change the dictionary we are using. We have to talk about Israel as a racist apartheid state,” he said.

It is the responsibility of every Israeli to question their government’s approach to Palestinians living within and without of Israel’s borders, he says. “If you have no opinion,” he said. “At best you are a supporter, at worst you are part of it.”






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