Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Part II

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.

Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Part I

I keep looking for a source of information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would at least try to depart from the “bad Jews/good Arabs” or “bad Arabs/good Jews” model. Both of these approaches are equally reductive and offensive. Still, I’m getting a feeling that nobody is even attempting to discuss the issue in any other manner. Initially, I had high hopes for Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine but I have to admit that the book has been a serious disappointment. I listed some of my objections to Pappe’s writing here but that was only the beginning.

For some incomprehensible reason, Pappe decided to alienate every Jewish reader – even the potentially anti-Israel and pro-Palestiane one – from the get go. It is hard for a Jewish person to remain open to a point of view that insistently equates the displacement of the Palestinian people from their villages with the Holocaust. I don’t see why it is so necessary to equate two such different events at all. The forcible removal of the Palestinians is a horrible, horrible crime and a huge tragedy. But it cannot even begin to compare to the Holocaust. Pappe tries to make the two tragedies similar by making it hard to figure out that the Palestinians were displaced from their villages without being killed. (It took me a while, for example, to realize that when Pappe says, “Village X was destroyed,” he is forgetting to mention that only the physical buildings were destroyed (or simply damaged), while the people were not.)

Ilan Pappe is altogether very careless about the Holocaust. He discusses it as a reality that has certain bearing on the actions of the international community. He says, for example, that after the Holocaust, any instance of ethnic cleansing in the world becomes impossible to conceal. This is a very strange statement to begin with, since the Holocaust was very obviously not an example of ethnic cleansing but of genocide. As Pappe explains at length, ethnic cleansing does not involve the mass murder of the displaced ethnicity while the genocide does. At the same time, there is no discussion in the book of how the Holocaust might have influenced the Jews. To the contrary, Pappe suggests time and again that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would exist in pretty much the same form had the Holocaust never happened.

For those who manage to keep reading the book even in the face of this cavalier dismissal of the Holocaust, Pappe brings out the argument that will surely convince any person who does not passionately hate the Jews as a group to stop reading. I am speaking, of course, of the trope of the greedy Jew.

For a while, the suggestion of Jewish greediness is made without the direct use of the word “greedy”. This allows a reader to keep convincing herself that she is being too sensitive and is imagining anti-Semitism where there is none. Until, that is, a story of “a greedy Tel-Aviv municipality” that sets out to steal the crop of oranges grown by hard-working Palestinians. And the story of the “monstrous villas and extravagant palaces for rich American Jews” that have been created because of “constructors’ greed” and that are disfiguring the architectural ensemble of Jerusalem. And many other stories of greedy, dishonest Jews who don’t create anything of their own but, rather, steal the fruits of the labor of others. (The words “exploit” and “exploitation” appear constantly in the text to describe the intentions of the Jews.)

(To be continued. . .)

P.S. I would very much like to avoid the third-grade level of discussion of this serious issue that such debates almost always slip down to. This is why I’m asking everybody to refrain from the egregiously unintelligent analysis of who was where “first” and whom “this land initially belonged to.” I have to issue this warning because I looked through the Amazon reviews of the book and this is all I have seen there.

Stalin and Israel

Jews greet Golda in Moscow

It seems like there are people who don’t know that Stalin not only supported the creation of Israel but also was key in helping the Jews win the War of Independence in 1948.

There is a long-standing myth that Stalin was an anti-Semite. He wasn’t, though. Stalin was a pragmatist. When it served his purposes to like Jews, he liked them. When it became more useful to hate them, he hated them.

After the end of World War II, Stalin was preparing to make yet another effort at “world revolution.” He needed a foothold in the Middle East, and the Palestinian Jews, who were fighting against the British Empire and who had many people interested in the ideas of socialism and communism among them, seemed to offer a perfect possibility to establish a presence in the region.

Soon, however, it became clear that the Jews of Israel were not planning to create a Communist state and were not likely to repudiate the advances of the US. Still, Israel could play a useful role for Stalin. He could now champion the Palestinians and condemn Jews for their colonialist, Zionist agenda. He needed a conflict with the US, the only existing world power that could compete with the USSR for world domination, and he was going to find a way to provoke the Americans in one manner or another.

In 1948, when Stalin still had hopes for the Soviet-friendly Israel, Golda Meir came to visit the Soviet Union. What happened was completely unexpected for Stalin. He wanted the Soviet Jews to explain to Golda that they were so happy in the internationalist Communist state that they had no need to be Jews any more.

Instead, tens of thousands of Soviet Jews came to a Moscow synagogue to meet “our Goldele.” Stalin was livid. As I explained before, the price that the Soviet Jews had paid for the complete absence of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1948 and the great advances they were allowed to achieve was renouncing their Jewishness. And now, in 1948, Stalin was seeing crowds of Jews coming out into the streets of Moscow, inspired by the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine and very conscious of their Jewish heritage.

Since his first days in the Communist Party, Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, was convinced that nationalism was the greatest danger to the Communist dream. And he was right. In the late 1980ies and early 1990ies, nationalism will destroy the USSR. This is why Stalin could not allow nationalist sentiments and ethnic allegiances to flourish among the Soviet Jews. He unleashed a campaign of vicious anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. The campaign’s goals were two-fold: on the one hand, Stalin was teaching a lesson to all those people who, in the aftermath of WWII, were recovering their nationalist feelings, and on the other hand, he was preparing to provoke the United States into starting a third world war.

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.

Continue reading “The Language of Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”

What’s the Greatest Danger to Israel?

Israel does not need to fear being destroyed by Muslim fanatics when it has home-grown religious fanatics of its own:

Haredi Jews clashed with police on Monday in Beit Shemesh, Israel, leaving one policeman wounded, over the issue of segregation of women. They shouted “Nazis!” at the police. The Haredim are the Salafis of Judaism, and many insist on strict separation of women in public. Some forbid women to visit deceased relatives in cemeteries or walk on public sidewalks.  . .

Part of the conflict is over the establishment of a national-religious school for girls in the town, which the Ultra-Orthodox activists say is full of “prostitutes” and of non-Jewish loose women (“shiksas”). Some have been spitting on the girls, and have beaten up non-Haredis who support the school.They complain that Zionists have invaded their neighborhood (most Haredis reject Zionism or Jewish nationalism on the grounds that it is impudent for Jews to establish a state before the Messiah comes.) One of the victims who was spat on is an American little girl, Na’ama Margolies, whose plight has enraged secular Jews.

No reasonable person will support a state where little girls are spat on just because they have committed the great crime of being female and where a significant portion of the population believes in gender segregation.

I don’t want to see Israel buried under the rabble of its own hateful fanaticism, but at this point, it seems like this is precisely where the country is heading. And what a shame that is.

When and How Will UN Vote on Palestine’s Independence?

Many people come to this blog asking when the UN will vote on Palestine’s independence. So here is an update: Mahmoud Abbas has now returned to Palestine, and the Palestinian leadership has decided to push the UN security council to vote as soon as possible. The UN security council will start debating the issue tomorrow (Monday). Potentially, the vote could be postponed for as long as several months.

I find this entire show staged by politicians to be very cruel towards the inhabitants of Israel and Palestine. There are mounting tensions in the area that only grow because of all of the fiery speeches made by politicians. I’m afraid that if the UN vote doesn’t take place soon, we will see many more violent eruptions in the area that will become more and more bloody as the time progresses and there is still no vote in sight. And this is precisely what the US is trying to make happen:

According to a report from Haaretz, the Obama administration is engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts to delay voting on recognition of Palestine as an independent state in both the General Assembly and the Security Council.

A “silent agreement” is reportedly in place between several Western countries to postpone the U.N. votes through a number of bureaucratic stalling tactics, the use of which are being promoted by Washington.

So let me tell you once again: the way I see it, the US has done everything in its power over the years to ensure that the conflict between Israel and Palestine remains in this simmering stage forever. Obama is shilly-shallying on the issue right now but this attitude on his part is something we have seen, time and again, from every US leader for decades. (I remember I would gag every time I saw Clinton’s smirk as he talked about Israel and Palestine.)

A permanent conflict in the Middle East is extremely useful to the US. A perennially besieged Israel provides the US with an excuse to launch an attack at any country in the area that can be accused of threatening Israel. At the same time, people are much more likely to see Israel as the cause of any war in the area because latent anti-Semitism still clouds many folks’ vision of world politics. This strategy brings the US a lot of power in the oil-rich region and allows Americans to shift the blame for everything that might go amiss onto those genocidal, intolerant Israelis and those barbaric, terrorist Palestinians.

In the meanwhile, Palestinians and Israelis alike are paying the price for these political machinations.

Segregated Buses in Israel

Until Israel puts an end to the following kinds of barbarity, it can hardly expect to be seen as a civilized country by anybody:

And that’s when I got to learn some new things about myself. Apparently even when wearing a skirt and covering my shoulders I am still too attractive to be in the same vicinity as Haredi men. While waiting for the bus, four Haredi men stood in the hot afternoon sun so that they would not need to wait in the bus shelter with us.

I also learned that I am an abomination because I refused to sit in the back of the bus and sat in the front with the men. When we sat down in the front we were instantly approached by a young man who refused to look at me and my female companion but told us very forcefully that we immediately had to move to the back of the bus. We told him calmly that what we were doing was entirely legal but he refused to hear and told us that we were shayetz, abominations.

What’s with the segregated buses, people? If Israel is trying to market itself as a country that offers the only Middle Eastern alternative to Shariah-based Muslim regimes, then it will have to start doing something about this kind of nastiness.

Religious fanatics are disgusting no matter which religion they use as an excuse for their hateful practices.

Will the UN Vote for Palestine’s Independence?

The US seems to have been able to get the UN to postpone its vote on whether the Palestinians’ petition to recognize their independent state should be granted. If the vote does get held eventually (and I’m sure this is unavoidable), it seems like the US will have a very tough time getting enough votes against Palestinian independence.

Blogger Garnel reminds us of what the UN will be voting for when it votes to recognize Palestine:

And for the record here is the state they will be endorsing:
1) Its first president is a Holocaust denier.
2) Jews will be forbidden by law from living in Palestine.  Not Israelis.  Jews.
3) So will homosexuals, by the way.
4) It will also deny citizenship to those Arabs currently living in UN refugee camps.  Yes, they will deny citizenship to their own people and continue to demand their return to pre-1967 Israel.
Imagine that.  The governments of the so-called civilized world, governments that view Jew-hatred and homophobia with disgust and disapproval, that opine about justice and rights, will gather together to help create a state where the antitheses of these values are official policy.  They will smile, speak about how they have done and great thing and then avert their eyes when things get nasty.

One reason why the UN is likely to vote for Palestine that the post I quoted doesn’t mention is that the defense of Israel in this instance is widely seen as a US cause (even though things are a lot more complicated than that.) The US has been known of treating the UN with very little respect, so now many people will see this as an opportunity to stick it to this big and powerful country.

All these political games around Israel have very little to do with anybody’s actual interest in what is happening in the region. For many, Israel and Palestine are nothing but a pretext to vent grievances and express sentiments that are not directly related to the conflict. In the progressive circles, it is fashionable to adopt an unthinking pro-Palestine stand. In the conservative circles, an equally unthinking pro-Israel sentiment prevails. Any suggestion that things might be a little more complex than “Palestine good, Israel bad” or “Israel good, Palestine bad” is greeted with indignation on both sides.

Are Textbooks in Israel Biased?

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli academic, has published a study on the anti-Palestinian bias in Israeli school books:

Everything they do, from kindergarten to 12th grade, they are fed in all kinds of ways, through literature and songs and holidays and recreation, with these chauvinistic patriotic notions.

You can read the entire discussion of the book at the link I provided. I only wanted to mention that the discussion would be more productive if its author mentioned that this happens in every nation-state in the world. Nationalism operates by falsifying history and promoting an emotional allegiance to an imaginary entity through music, sports, and intense patriotic propaganda.

It always looks very funny to me when the Americans, the Russians and the British (to name just a few examples) righteously excoriate Israel’s patriotic propaganda without even mentioning that they have been engaged in the same thing for a very long time.


Israel: In Search of a Safe Place for the Jews

In 1993, my grandfather left Ukraine and moved to Israel. Before he retired, he had been a very well-known doctor in our city. I remember how, as a child, I didn’t really like to take walks with him because we would be stopped every two minutes by grateful patients who wanted to thank him, hug him, or shake his hand.

My grandfather founded several hospitals in the city, which, in the Soviet era, required incredible organizational skills and perseverance. He started a health facility where women could give birth in the water and where little babies were provided with a special swimming-pool. Every time when he opened a new hospital, though, he would soon be removed from it. He was a Jew, so that was to be expected. He never complained but simply laughed and started a new hospital.

By 1993, he felt he had had enough of anti-Semitism and moved to Israel. Ten years later, he came back to Ukraine. Living in the environment of constant fear and terrorist threat proved too much for him.

As we all know, Israel was created in the aftermath of the Holocaust when Jews were slaughtered in an act of horrible genocide, as the rest of the world stood by and watched. The idea behind Israel was that if Jews had a country of their own, they could feel safer in an anti-Semitic world. I think that today we can conclude that, as of now, this goal has not been reached. There are few places in the world that are as dangerous for a Jew as Israel.

Creating a national identity for people who, initially, have very little in common always requires a lot of violence. (Look at the US as another example of this). In such circumstances, a peaceful creation of Israel was absolutely impossible. The sense of being a beleaguered nation surrounded with enemies is indispensable for the creation of a strong national identity when we are talking about people who came together from very different countries, cultures, linguistic backgrounds, etc.

Jewish diaspora was a great tragedy for the Jewish people but it was simultaneously the root of great achievements both for the Jews and for the countries to which they dispersed. It isn’t a coincidence that so many great thinkers, philosophers, writers and scientists were Jews. When you are placed in a position of being a perennial outsider in a society where you live, you end up seeing things clearly. It is easier to resist the accepted ideology from the margins than from the center. This clarity of vision came at a great price. I don’t need to narrate the history of Jewish suffering in the course of 2000 years because we all know it well enough.

In no way do I condemn the Jews who decided to move to Israel and create a country for themselves. However, I don’t see that plan as something I might be interested in. Nationalism, in my opinion, always takes away more than it gives. Since I don’t value the sense of belonging to a community and don’t seek to dilute my individuality in a group, nationalism has pretty much nothing to offer me. The path I have chosen is one of seeing how one can make a country where one lives less anti-Semitic. When I tell my students about the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, I often see that they are really shaken. Granted, this is a small contribution on my part, but out of such small contributions, a sense of acceptance is born little by little.