The reason why I decided to stick with Ilan Pappe’s book and keep reading it even after the “greedy Jews” started making a regular appearance is that I do think that there is an important story to tell here. I kept hoping that Pappe would finally get himself together, get over the “sly, tricky, exploitative
Shylocks Jews versus simple-minded, hard-working and trusting savages Palestinians” dichotomy, and start discussing this issue with the seriousness that it deserves. This never really happened, however.
The greatest problem I have with the book is that Pappe chooses the culprit for the entire conflict from the start and then massages the story to fit his predetermined explanation. This culprit for the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is Zionism. In his rush to pile every possible evil at the feet of this particular bugbear, Pappe often makes himself sound not a little ridiculous. The following quote made me practically weep with laughter:
It was one British officer in particular, Orde Charles Wingate, who made the Zionist leaders realise more fully that the idea of Jewish statehood had to be closely associated with militarism and an army, first of all to protect the growing number of Jewish enclaves and colonies inside Palestine but also – more crucially – because acts of armed aggression were an effective deterrent against the possible resistance of the local Palestinians.
I really wonder how all those other countries figured out that statehood requires an army without this hugely crucial Orde Charles Wingate character, whoever he is.
What I find very curious about the discussions about the formation of Israel is how scandalized everybody gets because Israel followed the exact same nationalist journey as every single other nation-state in the world. A journey towards nationhood is always – and I mean, without exception, always, toujours, siempre – bloody, miserable, filled with lies, rewriting of history, xenophobia, etc. That’s the nature of nationalism.
Before you get to wave your flag and feel all warm and fuzzy about doing that, a lot of effort needs to be made to endow that piece of fabric with meaning. The more disparate the elements that go into your particular imagined community, the more blood needs to be spilled to make the myth of a nation mean something.
So what do we have in the case of Israel? People from all over the world come together to create a myth of a nation. These are people who have been hugely traumatized very recently and who see themselves (not unreasonably, I might add) as having been abandoned by the entire world to a horrible extermination and needing to fend for themselves. In their project of construction a nation, they use the same tools as everybody before them used: violence, ethnic cleansing, falsification of history, etc. What is so very surprising about this story? And more importantly, what makes these people’s journey towards nationhood worse than yours? Except for the fact that yours happened fifteen seconds before, of course.
I believe that the story of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine needs to be told. But to tell it in order to condemn Zionism makes just as much sense as narrating the crimes of the Holocaust in order to condemn Hitler’s left pinky finger. Of course, the reason why nobody wants to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of nationalism is that this would involve letting go of bashing the vile Jews (or the vile Arabs, whatever your personal preference is) for a moment and looking at how the nation whose flag you worship came into existence.