Pappe Makes History
Historians writing about Israel's 1948 fight for independence have placed heavy responsibility for the Palestinian Arab refugee problem on the Arab leaders who urged their people to flee Palestine temporarily while the Zionists were to be pushed into the sea. Of course, well before then hundreds of Palestinian Arab moderates who opposed the policies of intransigence, bellicosity and rejectionism had been murdered by the militants.
In the late 1980s a revisionist school of New Historians in Israel, with fresh access to archival material and politicized by their opposition to Israeli settlement policies, put forward a more critical view – which ranged from nuanced to hysterical – that argued Israel's founders had also been culpable for the refugees flight. Such self-criticism and soul-searching, while exasperating to Israel's mainstream, was nevertheless contextualized as an immutable characteristic of the Jewish psyche.
For Ilan Pappe all this is beside the point. The inflammatory author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is out with a new book The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel. It regurgitates his creed that the Jewish state was born in sin and that this stain, this moral deformity, is ineradicable. The Haifa-born history professor, self-exiled to Britain, nowadays invests his energies in promoting the Arab cause in general and the academic boycott of his former university in particular.
Pappe's latest polemic focuses on Israel's Arab population, namely those who headed Jewish urgings and did not flee their villages. Never mind. Pappe's premise is that the Jews simply had no moral right to assert their case for national self-determination in Palestine because there were Arabs living there. The Arabs were justified in rejecting every compromise offered including the 1947 UN partition plan which would have created two states – one for them and one for the Jews – because the Jews were "newcomers."
In the course of defeating the invading Arab armies, the Arab Legion and the Palestinian Arab irregulars, the Jews in Pappe's version of history "expelled" over 700,000 refugees and, then, oddly, would not let them return as a state of war between the Arab world and Israel continued.
Pappe is galled "that those who stayed became the 'Arab minority of Israel.'" As soon as the war that claimed one percent of the Jewish population (and ended with a tenuous armistice) was over the Arabs were given citizenship and the right to vote. Were they treated just like the Jews? No. Pappe cannot fathom why their ID cards listed them as "members of the minority community" or why those who abandoned land during the war were prevented from reclaiming it. Or why Israeli Arabs in rural and border areas continued to live under military rule until 1966.
There were dark episodes. Pappe seems to relish retelling the painful calamity of "Kafr Qassem" which took place on the eve of another war, the 1956 Sinai Campaign and in an atmosphere accompanied by heightened fears of Arab fedayeen activity. An awful miscommunication over wartime curfew orders led to the killing by Israeli soldiers of 47 innocent Arabs. A number of those responsible were punished.
Throughout the narrative, Pappe's single-minded devotion to Palestinian victimization sets the tone. His account of the 1976 communist-instigated Land Day rioting, which left six Israeli Arabs dead, therefore misses some salient facts -- notably that the 6, 000 dunams of supposedly "Arab land" expropriated was considerably less than Jewish or state lands also earmarked for development at the time and intended to benefit both Jews and Arabs. Essentially, the Arabs' purpose in that and subsequent annual land day protests is to keep the Galilee a Jew-free zone.
Pappe seems to want it both ways. He tells readers that the Jews had absolutely no reason to imagine that the Arabs among them could conceivably pose a security risk – because "Palestinians by and large accepted Israel as a fait accompli" – yet challenges outside Arab critics for besmirching the community as being too docile. To the contrary, he reports some Israeli Arabs allegedly contemplated "an Algerian-like struggle." He even cites "as a famous case" (without a hint of disapproval) the 1969 bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria by Arabs from the Galilee. Moreover, he credits the PLO for being considerate of the Israeli Arab predicament in not insisting they engage in systematic violence. He lauds the total solidarity, post-1967, between Israeli Arabs and their West Bank and Gaza cousins. Today, he notes, two increasingly popular Islamist movements compete for Israeli Arab affections; one of which, led by Raid Salah, rejects voting in national elections as conferring legitimacy upon the Jewish state. Tellingly, a reason Pappe opposed the 1993 Oslo Accords was because the national rights of Israeli Arabs as Palestinians had not been protected.
He describes Ehud Barak's recklessly munificent concessions, rejected by Yasir Arafat at Camp David in 2000, as little more than a Zionist diktat. As for the frightening Arab riots of October 2000, unleashed in solidarity with the outbreak of the second intifada in the West Bank and Gaza, and which briefly severed the main north-south Israeli road system – it was a mere "gathering of youths" who were cold-bloodily picked off by "police snipers. Pappe is incensed that an unfeeling Hebrew press didn't bother to provide capsule obituaries for the Israeli Arab rioters even though it did for their Jewish victims.
Not surprisingly, Pappe sees no justification for granting preferential treatment to Israelis who serve in the IDF or do other forms of national service between ages 18-21. Most Israeli Arabs do neither. Instead, he finds it contemptible that there may be colleges that make some Arab high-school graduates wait until age 20 before admitting them into Israeli universities. In fact, most universities offer remedial programs to prepare Arab youths socially and scholastically for success in college. He does not deny that "Palestinian citizens of Israel" – he abhors the terms Israeli Arabs – have achieved successes in a wide range of fields. It's simply irrefutable despite an unbelievably complicated political environment. Pappe himself points out that 25 percent of medical students are Israeli Arabs despite his imaginary "latent apartheid." Yes there are 10 or so Arab members of the 120-member Knesset, but Pappe's complaint is that none sit on its intelligence subcommittee. Go figure. Just speaking Arabic in a shopping mall can open one up to attack by Jewish ruffians, he says. No doubt there are such cases, but he and I plainly do not frequent the same malls.
Even in Pappe's Israel, life is not entirely hellish for the Arab minority. He credits Adalah, an advocacy group funded by the New Israel Fund, for doing a good job at advocating for the "collective rights" of Palestinian Israelis. He is buoyed by the fact that "there are growing spaces of leisure and pastime" where Arabs and Jews enjoy restaurants, coffee houses, and parks together – as if this is really something new. And in perhaps the most condescending aside in the book, he lauds the absence of segregation in public transportation!
Arabs may legitimately control 22 nation states rooted in Arab ethnicity; Muslims may legitimately reign over 56 countries in which religion and citizenship are symbiotically linked. Only the existence of one Jewish state founded on basis of a 2,000 year-old civilizational connection between the Jewish people and Zion is, according to Pappe's analysis, illegitimate.
Even in the pantheon of Blame-Israel-First revisionist historians, Pappe's stands beyond the pale.
His friend and mentor, Avi Shlaim, author of Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah and the Zionist Movement, has claimed that Jordan never actually planned to help push Israel into the sea when it invaded in 1948, and that afterwards David Ben-Gurion supposedly had ample opportunity to find a way to make peace with Abdullah before the monarch was assassinated in 1951, but didn't. Shlaim places exclusive blame on Ben-Gurion and on every Israeli prime minister since him, for perpetuating the conflict. He sees Zionism as having been hijacked by Israel's right-wing to perpetuate the "illegal occupation." Yet Shlaim opposes anti-Israel academic boycotts and has described Zionism, presumably in its liberal manifestation, as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.
Similarly, the late Simha Flapan may have recklessly damaged Israel's image with The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities by charging that the Zionists were somehow morally responsible for the Palestinian flight because, deep down, they did not really want them to stay. Still, Flapan, a life-long socialist, maintained that he never questioned "the moral justification and historical necessity of Zionism."
If Pappe is a prisoner of his own ideology, the trajectory of Benny Morris shows that at least one of the original revisionist historians has been capable of reevaluating his position even if he can't quite bring himself to explicitly recant.
In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, Morris held both Israel and the Arabs culpable for the refugees' flight. One can almost commiserate with Morris's desire to somehow split the difference. If only those who promulgated the Palestinian Arab narrative were similarly inclined. But in the final analysis, the onus must rest with the Arabs; their leaders miscalculated and the masses paid the price.
Morris now claims his egregious 1987 account of Zionism as a "colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement ... intent on politically, and even physically, dispossessing and supplanting the Arabs," referred to the 1930s before Zionist leaders embraced multiple plans for partition of Palestine. Morris has turned out to be a passionate Zionist; a liberal critic of Israeli settlement policies, but a defender of the country in the court of world opinion. His recent work, One State, Two States placed decisive responsibility for the continuation of the conflict squarely on the Arabs – a stance that has earned him excommunication by the remaining revisionists.
There is little prospect, however, that Pappe will allow facts to dent his pathological loathing of Israel. History works in mysterious ways. Pappe lost his bid for a Knesset seat in 1996 on the communist ticket. The Knesset's gain is the academy's loss. Pity the student assigned this book and shame on any professor for assigning it.