Ilan Pappe: one democratic State for Palestinians and Jews
Pappe, reports Josh Kamil in Socialist Alternative, argues for a single democratic state in which both Jews and Palestinians may live as equal citizens, where the both can live free from injustice and oppression
It was truly a jaw-dropping exposé – from its beginning to its thunderous closure. Ilan Pappe, like a slightly hunched, greying rock star in a brown suede jacket and droopy jet-lagged eyes, had managed to fill one of Melbourne University’s largest lecture theatres to capacity.
Spectators, young and old, spilled into the isles and down the exit passages. Not until I had the chance to see Pappe in action was I so aware of the respect he commands as one of Israel’s “New Historians”. These researchers and academics form the bloody thorn in the side of the Zionist propaganda machine.
After 50 years gathering dust in Israel’s state archives, sensitive diplomatic documents have been released for scrutiny. These documents shed light on the history that Israelis would rather forget; a history whose very nature undermines the heroic myths of the struggle for Israel.
Pappe came not only to dispel the myths but also to realign the discussion. He presented a view that, until recent years, has been deemed either too radical or simply impossible: the view of a single democratic state in which both Jews and Palestinians may live as equal citizens, where the both can live free from injustice and oppression.
Today, Israel privileges its Jewish citizens over its Arab citizens, whether they are Bedouin communities in the country’s south, or Palestinians in the north. Beyond the state-sanctioned discrimination, Arabs have become the targets of countless racist attacks and denied access to work, are often imprisoned without reason, and are the regular victims of police harassment and brutality.
Yet this seems pale compared to the lot of their brothers and sisters living in what would become the Palestinian state. Israel occupies the bulk of the land that every recent peace agreement has sought to secure as the future Palestinian homeland. If the land is not directly under military occupation, barbed wire fences, checkpoints and concrete barriers enclose it. Littered between these enclaves, and growing like a cancer, is the array of strategically placed Jewish-only towns and cities. They are funded by both Jewish and Arab taxpayer shekels, and sit on land confiscated from the remaining Palestinians. In effect, as Pappe flatly declared at the opening of the lecture “not a single inch of Palestinian land has been liberated yet: Israel occupies both the land and the agenda of the people”.
But despite Israel’s ongoing policy, which ravages the prospects for separate Palestinian and Jewish states, there remains a chorus of supporters for such a solution. Big names like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, once the targets of Zionist hate, have fallen into line behind the so-called “peace process”. As Pappe explains, they’ve even gone as far as to condemn those who seek an alternative as undermining the struggle for Palestinian liberation.
However, the release of some of these formerly classified state documents in recent years led to a tidal wave of doubt about how innocent Zionist aims really were before and after 1967. The material has given historians like Pappe the material to explain what Palestinians always knew: Zionism sought a land without a people, and on whatever land it chose, they are not welcome.
Pappe referred back to the period before to Israel’s 1967 war to understand the origins of the language of a “two state solution” and whether it was ever relevant. Internal state documents from 1963 and 1964 show that Israel began to change its policy towards the Arab population already under its control. The rulers in the Arab communities were asked if they would “consider running the Palestinian towns in the West Bank and Gaza strip the same way as the Arab towns in Israel”. In 1948 Israel knew that it would have the capacity to occupy the West Bank. As Pappe explains, the then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was in favour of acquiring the West Bank and Gaza as part of rebuilding “the ancient Jewish homeland”.
In the year immediately following the creation of Israel, a lobby emerged to push for the annexation of all of historic Palestine. This lobby was to exercise significant influence in Israeli politics for decades. A cabinet meeting with Yitzhak Rabin four days before the 1967 war discussed what gains could be made once the Arab armies were defeated. The outcome was a decision to occupy the Golan, West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai. Israel, and the Zionist movement generally, saw this as an historic opportunity to take all the land it wanted. Pappe summarises it as the “completion of the 1948 war”.
The assumption underlying the two state solution is that the 1948 partition left a non-expansionist Israel existing in limbo within the Arab world. But Israel was always expansionist. The broader strategy of 1967 – systematic ethnic cleansing – has still not changed, but the balance of power and the specific methods have.
After 1967 there was not one dramatic policy revision in the Israeli political elite. While the occupation continued, there was unanimous agreement that it shouldn’t end. However, Israeli politicians came to realise that they could not ethnically cleanse the West Bank and Gaza, as was done under the cover of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
Now the world media could expose ethnic cleansing as it happened, and beam it into the living room of every Western household. Israel’s leaders, concerned with the country’s international reputation, needed to reaffirm its position in the Middle East as a civilised and democratic state. They decided to keep the Palestinians either incarcerated in an open prison, or if they resist, punished with a maximum security prison. This is the difference between Ramallah and Gaza today. Pappe continued,
“The Israeli government played the charade of the peace process. They never accepted a new Palestinian state. The two state solution is an Israeli tactic and it is not realistic. The first Israeli tactic is to turn Palestinians into citizenless people who won’t revolt. The second method is to colonise the land and not allow a two state solution into feasibility. And all this came wrapped in a new ‘diplomatic language’.”
The Israeli government that agreed to take the West Bank and sign peace accords was composed of Communists, the Labour Party, left and right alike – and they were unanimous on the question of stealing of Arab land.
So much Palestinian land has been taken that the occupation must literally tear them out of their homes and replace them with fanatic Jewish settlers to complete the Zionist dream of 1948. Horrific scenes of this occurring in Hebron and East Jerusalem litter social media each day. And despite this coverage, both faces of American politics are tripping over each other to shower Israel with billions of dollars in military aid. This is because, regardless of Democrat or Republican in the US Congress, Israel serves the strategic interests of the West as a stable and pro-American state in the heart of the Arab world.
Professor Pappe was in Melbourne to promote his new book, The Bureaucracy of Evil.