Rebuilding the house

September 18th, 2012 by admin

Ilan Pappe
Palestine/Israel: a new paradigm
University of Melbourne 18 September


Ilan Pappe

Ilan Pappe loves a good metaphor. When your academic turf is the Palestine-Israel conflict, it helps to have some homilies to toss over the bubbling cauldron. When asked how the Israeli narrative of an oppressed people returning to a rightful homeland can be countered, his response is frank and steadfast. Building a peaceful society in Palestine can look like “a very big mountain to climb”, he says. “But it doesn’t get any smaller if we just talk about it. We have to start climbing.”

Pappe has been trekking through hostile terrain in the Middle East for some time. The Israeli-born historian is best known for his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), a history of Israel that rips up the meticulously crafted official account of war and occupation. Language is important to Pappe. He calls the 1967 territorial expansion into the West Bank and Gaza a “takeover”. “Occupation,” he tells his Melbourne audience, “is temporary.”

His whistlestop lecture tour of Australia has been busy. There’s been a string of media interviews, a speech at the National Press Club and an appearance alongside The Australian‘s foreign editor Greg Sheridan and Jewish barrister Irving Wallach on the ABC’s Q&A. In the TV studio he bristled while fending off Zionist barbs. The lecture theatre suits him better. He has the space to spread his wings and soar with grace and a sense of purpose.

This lecture is based on his research for a new book to be titled The Bureaucracy of Evil, in which he examines Israeli Cabinet records from 1963-70 to determine the motives behind the Six Day War of 1967, when Israel took possession of the West Bank and Gaza. Pappe contends that rather than marking a new phase in Israeli ambition, the 1967 war was merely another chapter in the continuing push for total dominance of Palestine that began with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

His evidence is found in his reading of recently released Cabinet papers from the time. From these documents he has distilled three crucial decisions made by the Israeli Government during the summer of 1967. First, that the seizure of the West Bank and Gaza satisfied Israel’s territorial ambitions established from 1948 for the “heart” of their homeland, the Holy Land. Paradoxically, this caused a demographic problem … another 1.5 million Palestinians to contend with.

The second decision centred on how to resolve this demographic dilemma, which they did by two different methods. “Incarceration in an open prison”, whereby economic rights remained but civil liberties were curtailed, is one of these methods. The other is the “maximum security” solution, where the slightest resistance or perceived transgression was met with extreme force, imprisonment or death, as in the illegally occupied territories today.

The third decision was to keep up “the charade of peace”. This has allowed Israel to maintain a sympathetic hearing in diplomatic negotiations – and to retain popular support in the West. The carefully constructed facade led to the Oslo peace declaration of 1993, which saw just a brief pause in hostilities before they resumed once more.

Despite the grim reality of the shrinking map of Palestine and the miserable plight of its people, Pappe remains hopeful that change is possible. There are new variables at play, although their impact is uncertain. He believes the growing power of China and the shrinking influence of the United States may shift the regional Realpolitik. The Arab Spring is unleashing new grassroots movements in the region with unclear but hopeful ramifications. The internet and social media provide new platforms for information and for resistance and movements for change. And there is the underlying paradox of Israel, a nation founded on military strength that exhibits an extreme case of national insecurity.

Whatever follows, he is convinced that there is no longer any hope for a two-state solution. Pappe is a leading proponent of a single Israeli-Palestinian state. He is also a pacifist, although he admits to reservations about his commitment to non-violence in the face of the armed Israeli militia. Nevertheless, he believes the only way to build a new country where Arab and Jew, Palestinian and Israeli, can live peaceably side by side, is without force.

“The last thing we want,” he implores, “is to destroy a house that we want to rebuild.”

With these final words, he received a standing ovation.

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