The Language of Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Before I publish a review of Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, I wanted to discuss the language that the author uses because it is very telling. At the same time, this is exactly the kind of verbiage that anybody who tries to discuss the issue immediately slips into.

the local Palestinian population” – since we are talking about Palestine, there is no other Palestinian population than the local kind. Do we say things like, “in Spain, the local Spanish population . . .”?

indigenous Palestinians,” “ native Palestinians,” “native population” – repeated on an obsessively regular basis and very obviously attempting to bring a wealth of extraneous cultural and historical connotations into the mix. What is really curious is that, ultimately, this language of the indigenous versus the settlers or the colonizers undermines Pappe’s entire argument. One can’t help but think about the most powerful country in the world which came into being precisely as a result of the settlers exterminating the indigenous and nobody batting an eye-lash then or now.

The phrases that condemn “newcomers, many of whom had arrived only recently” can only sound attractive to folks who have lived their entire life in one place. Those of us, however, who are recent newcomers to wherever we currently live are not likely to welcome Pappe’s instinctive dislike of the “non-indigenous.” As Zygmunt Bauman, a thinker whose intellectual level is light years ahead of Pappe’s (or anybody else’s, of course), pointed out, it’s the mobile elites who are not tied to any specific locality who already rule the world and will continue to do so. Pappe is framing his discussion in terms that only have currency among people who are not likely to have much use for his book.

And if you find that Pappe’s argument about the importance of being “local” makes sense to you, ask yourself how indigenous you are to the land where you live right now. Can you be completely sure that your claim to this area is as respectable and long-standing as anybody else’s? The very idea that anybody can seriously discuss who was where “first” in this day and age is very disconcerting to me. What are we all, three?

the Holocaust – insistently depicted as something that influenced the actions of the British in a variety of ways but there is never any discussion of how it could have motivated the Jews to. . . well, anything, really. After reading the book, one is left with the feeling that there was a Holocaust of Brits, not of Jews.

introverted = bad = Jewish versus extroverted =  good = Arab – this point is made so often and in such a clunky way that it becomes quite obnoxious. As an introvert, I have to wonder what the author has against us.

the UN procedures were “unjust and illegal” – as if there were some system of justice and legality that is supposed to govern the UN

The most fascinating aspect of the book, however, is not the vocabulary that is used but, rather, the vocabulary that isn’t. The word “Soviet” is mentioned 4 times in a completely trivial context. The word “USSR” is mentioned once. Once!Stalin” is not mentioned even a single time. (I used Kindle search). Given that Israel only became possible because Stalin and the USSR made it possible, I find it egregious that any account of the formation of Israel would so blatantly silence such a crucial part of the country’s history. It’s the equivalent of discussing the formation of the United States and failing to mention such names as Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson.

I started reading the book with a lot of interest but the moment I noticed that the Soviet Union was not going to make any appearance, I got really disappointed. It isn’t like I expect much from any book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know that any account will be highly biased, manipulative and filled with very clumsy verbal equilibristics and I’m ready for that. Still, there has got to be a limit to an author’s readiness to engage in mindless propaganda. When it comes to the Spanish Civil War without fascism, World War II without any Germans and the creation of Israel without Stalin, I can’t take the discussion very seriously.

P.S. I’ll still write the review of the book because I have important things to say about it. I never had any doubt that the Jews did commit genocide against Palestinians in 1948 but Pappe’s book, while attempting to offer historical proof for this belief of mine, actually makes me doubt it.

12 thoughts on “The Language of Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

  1. “the local Palestinian population” – Kind of hints at that the Palestinians he talks about are the same as the ones in Lebanon and Syria, meaning Arabs and not a different people called Palestinians, which as far as I know was true (that they didn’t see themselves as a different people in any way from Lebanon Arabs f.e. before Jews came in numbers).

    “After reading the book, one is left with the feeling that there was a Holocaust of Brits, not of Jews.”
    Funny way to put it. Liked.

    introverted = bad = Jewish versus extroverted = good = Arab – I’ve never heard of such a thing, please, tell more about this point in future posts. What does he mean and how did he come to this conclusion? So far, it smells of anti-semitism against Jews and racism (? we’re the same race, what *is* a suitable term in your opinion?) against Arabs: those scheming Jews (wiki calls it “scheming merchants” stereotype) vs noble savages, who are of course extroverted among other things. (And not, you know, people with their own rich Arab cultural heritage and civilisation, can’t call it “rich Palestinian culture” since the term is so very recent).

    “I find it egregious that any account of the formation of Israel would so blatantly silence such a crucial part of the country’s history.”
    – I don’t remember learning of USSR’s role at all at Israeli school. Nothing, except that they voted for the state’s formation among many others. May be you’ll write a post? Of course, I could’ve forgotten, but I doubt it. This author is less to blame, taking this info into account. May be the idea never jumped into his head to look at USSR, and not at US. I even wondered for a moment whether US wanted to have a friendly state in the Middle East as part of Cold War against USSR, but then understood USSR wanted Israel for its’ own benefit. Would love to read which benefit USSR wanted, what changed afterwards to make it nil (and instead Israel-US relationship) and what US thought *then*. How could 2 Cold War rivals both be for Israel, both expect benefits?

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    1. You didn’t know about Stalin’s key role in the creation of Israel? That’s strange to me.

      “It’s generally forgotten today that the Soviet Union played a key role in the birth of the state of Israel, by supporting the partition of Palestine and lending the Jewish state military and political support during the War of Independence. This policy represented a startling reversal of the Soviet Union’s previous hardline stand against Zionism (which had been based on the notion that Zionism was a form of Western imperialism), and, not unlike the Hitler-Stalin pact, caused considerable upheaval within the Communist world. Why did Stalin so dramatically change course? As explained in this fascinating excerpt from an article by an anti-Zionist Marxist, it had nothing to do with any belief in the Zionist cause, but with the Soviets’ geopolitical aim to push Britain out of the Mideast while preventing the United States from replacing Britain as the dominant power there:
      Probably the essential aim of Soviet foreign policy was to support Israel’s struggle against British imperialism. Moscow hoped to boot the United Kingdom out of Palestine by backing the partition plan while seeking to prevent the USA from actively entering the area at Attlee’s request. It was probably hoped that the small Jewish state would choose to be neutral and perhaps even afford a foothold in the Middle East to the USSR – the Kremlin may have cherished some illusions about the “progressive” inclinations of the Israeli leaders. In any case, the Soviet Union strongly opposed any attempt to prolong the British mandate or to institute a trusteeship which would have been placed in the hands of the Western states.
      One fact alone demonstrates that the Russian position, rather than being inspired by any sort of sympathy for Zionism, simply expressed Stalin’s desire to contribute to the collapse of the British Empire: Moscow also sent arms to Syria, which was at war with Israel at the time. [62] Moreover, the USSR refused to recognise Transjordan’s territorial conquests in Palestine, considering that the Hashemite state was no more than a cover for the maintenance of the British presence.

      The unconditionally pro-Israeli position of the Soviet Union in 1947 was therefore part of a general opportunist line and undoubtedly revealed an underestimation of the ties between the Zionist leaders and the United States. It was followed blindly by the local Communist Parties, which discredited the Arab Communists among the masses. All the more so in that the Kremlin, with characteristic Stalinist cynicism, totally disregarded the interests of the Arab liberation movement. Thus the Soviet delegate Jacob Malik, speaking in the Security Council on March 4th, 1949 (in the debate on Israel’s admission to the United Nations), flatly denied Israel’s responsibility for the tragedy of the refugees. It has to be said in this respect that the USSR was not content with noting the practical impossibility of Arab-Jewish coexistence in 1947-48 in the framework of a Palestinian state. It chose, in the words of Boris Eliacheff, the role of “Israel’s godmother”, with everything such a policy implies …” http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/001808.html

      Did Stalin create Israel? To the extent that any one individual can be held responsible for the creation of a state, it does seem, on the basis of the evidence presented by Mlechin, that Stalin has a better claim than any other individual to this particular honor. Why did he do it? Apparently it was a gamble in the context of the more assertive Soviet foreign policy that followed victory over Nazi Germany, made in the hope of establishing a lasting Soviet presence in the Middle East. It failed, but it can be seen as a precursor of similar and more successful efforts in the post-Stalin era, this time backing the other side in the Israel-Arab conflict. It does show that the standard view of Soviet penetration of the Third World as a post-Stalin development is not quite accurate.

      http://laurencejarvikonline.blogspot.com/2006/04/how-stalin-created-israel.html

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    2. “introverted = bad = Jewish versus extroverted = good = Arab – I’ve never heard of such a thing, please, tell more about this point in future posts. What does he mean and how did he come to this conclusion?”

      – I have no idea where he gets all that. It’s just stated in the text. Maybe I need to read more to figure it out.

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    3. “those scheming Jews (wiki calls it “scheming merchants” stereotype) vs noble savages, who are of course extroverted among other things.”

      – Yes, the scheming merchants are very present in the text. The word “greedy” is not said directly but it’s hinted at very forcefully and a lot. I ended up with a feeling that the greatest culprit in the entire mess is “Jewish greed.”

      “Would love to read which benefit USSR wanted, what changed afterwards to make it nil”

      – Do you know about Golda Meir’s visit to the USSR and what happened then?

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      1. “In her first visit to the Soviet Union in September, 1948, her presence at Rosh Hashanah services in Moscow’s only synagogue sparked a spontaneous pro-Israeli demonstration of 40,000 Russian Jews. ”

        What else?

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    4. Local – yes, meaning those living in Israel. Also – in US context, many lumpen people do not realize anyone but Biblical Jews ever lived in Israel, or also lived there for thousands of years, etc. So one has to emphasize it.

      “…the most powerful country in the world which came into being precisely as a result of the settlers exterminating the indigenous and nobody batting an eye-lash then or now.” Well, maybe not in your part of Europe, although that would surprise me. Over here it’s been a huge issue for 500 years. And this having succeeded does not make it good.

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      1. “Well, maybe not in your part of Europe, although that would surprise me. Over here it’s been a huge issue for 500 years. ”

        – Who is it an issue for? A few intellectuals? Possibly. But the dominant discourse is ultra-patriotic and the anti-immigrant sentiments in a country of immigrants are bizarrely powerful.

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  2. Clients are a mixture of war and sport.
    Ask five economists and you’ll get five different answers – six if someone went to Harvard.

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