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.

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”

Are Palestinians an Invented People?

I’m no fan of Newt Gingrich (to put it very, very mildly), but when he says that Palestinians are an invented people he is absolutely right.

Of course, they are. Every nation is an imagined community, a fictional construct with very little basis in reality. Every nation establishes a baseless claim to the land it inhabits, invents a shared glorious history, appropriates some figures who command unanimous respect (and who, in their wildest dreams, could not have imagined how their names would be used to support this invented construct), lashes out with hatred and violence against an equally invented Other, and employs a series of mechanisms to provoke an unthinking emotional attachment on the part of the people in order to get them to die enthusiastically and for free for a piece of painted fabric.

Palestinians are as invented a people as are Ukrainians, Spaniards, Germans, Americans, Australians, Pakistanis, etc. The rise of nationalism and the strategies it uses to convince us that nations have always existed and hence should continue to exist have been studied and analyzed probably more than any other political phenomenon. So let’s stop dumping on Newt and start educating ourselves.

Read books, people. Read many good books. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking stupid by Newt Gingrich’s side.

If anybody is interested in understanding how nationalism works, I can provide a list of readings from here to the Moon.

Why Does Russia Oppose the US on Palestine Independence?

I know that the many fans of Juan Cole will hate me for this but I just can’t get into his writings as hard as I try. Here is what he says about the countries that defy the US with their support for Palestinian independence:

With countries traditionally willing to follow the U.S. lead on important geopolitical issues now breaking with Washington on Palestine, it is no surprise that the tier of rising world powers known as the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—is unanimously in favor of the Palestine bid at the U.N.

I understand that it is very tempting to group all of those weird third-world folks with funny names and strange cultures into one homogeneous group that has to serve the political purpose of supporting Juan Cole’s beliefs and then make itself scarce. But that’s just not how things work.

Putin’s Russia has been under the spell of a massive anti-American campaign for many years now. Putin will vote “nay” even if the US suggests that today is Wednesday. The Russian Federation could care less about Palestine. All it cares about is spiting the Americans who are stupid, nasty, miserable and aim at world domination that rightfully belongs to somebody else. Would you care to venture a guess as to who this somebody else is? Exactly.

The myth that the US won the Cold World and now Russia is on its merry way to democracy will cost us all very dearly of we keep dismissing what is going on in this huge nuclear power.

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.