Above Photo: Israeli historian Ilan PappĂ©, from Flickr â Hossam el-Hamalawy
15 May was al-Nakba Day, an annual commemoration of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the late 1940s. On that symbolic day, The Canary spoke to historian Ilan PappĂ© in an exclusive interview. Professor PappĂ© is himself an Israeli Jew whose parents settled in Israel after fleeing persecution in Nazi-occupied Europe. However, heâs a staunch critic of both the events that led to Israelâs founding in 1948 and Israeli policy towards Palestinians since then.
PappĂ© shared his expertise about what happened during al-Nakba, how it has been distorted by Israeli propaganda, and how this ethnic cleansing has a lasting relevance to this very day. He also discussed his thoughts about the recent escalation of violence in Gaza and Jerusalem, the latest Knesset elections, and the seemingly ever-rightward shift in Israeli public opinion. In addition, PappĂ© weighed in on the ongoing debate about a two-state vs one-state resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and responded to criticisms of the latter made by professor Norman Finkelstein, who The Canary interviewed in a two-part series in 2019.
He also spoke of how he believes the central problem in Palestine is the legacy of settler colonialism. For him, the only way to overcome this legacy is to recognize that there already is one state and that there needs to be full recognition of rights for all Palestinians whether they live in the occupied territories, in Israel proper, or anywhere else.
Understanding âthe catastropheâ
The Canary first asked PappĂ© to summarize what happened in al-Nakba. He said:
The word al-Nakba literally means in Arabic âcatastropheâ and it refers to the event that occurred in PalestineâŠ in the years 1947 and 1948
In the process of this ethnic cleansing the Zionists, and later the Israeli forces, expel half of Palestineâs population
PappĂ© then spoke about how the Israeli government and wider Zionist movement have deliberately attempted to misrepresent al-Nakba for their own political purposes:
Zionism as a whole is a project of propaganda. âŠ The narrative I grew [up] on as an Israeli Jew was that actually in 1947 the United Nations offered the very generous and reasonable idea of dividing Palestine into two states. The Palestinians and the Arabs rejected it. The Arab world declared war on Israel and asked the Palestinians to leave so as to make way for the invading Arab armies. The Israelis tried to convince the Palestinians to stay but they wanted to leave. And thatâs why the refugee problem was created. And miraculously Israel succeeded in fending off the attack from the Arab world.
Setting the historical record straight
PappĂ© pointed out that this narrative is incorrect first of all because the Zionist forces, though numerically smaller compared to the wider Arab world, were actually the more powerful militarily. And in any case, the Zionist leadership had already entered into a secret agreement with Jordan, the most powerful Arab military force at the time, that âtotally neutralized the only Arab army that might have saved the Palestiniansâ.
Moreover, PappĂ© mentioned that the idea that the Zionist leadership wanted the Palestinians to stay is blatantly false:
Of course, you find out [from the historical record] the proof, which is undeniable proof, for the planning of the ethnic cleansing. And thereâs no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to convince the Palestinians to stay. On the contrary, thereâs plenty of evidence for the massive expulsion and the prevention of Palestinians from returning.
PappĂ© pointed out that this is still the mainstream Israeli version that is repeated on Israelâs foreign ministryâs website, and throughout the countryâs media and education system.
The latest escalation of violence in Palestine
Speaking about the current escalation of violence, he said:
The immediate background is a serious provocation instigated by the Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu the moment he realized heâs not going to be able to form a government, and therefore might find himself on the way to courtâŠ if not to the jailhouse. And in a very calculated, cynical way he started a provocative action
PappĂ© siad that Netanyahu:
knew that the Hamas would react symbolically, and he used that pretext to retaliate with all the force of the Israeli army and used also settlers, fanatic settlers in the occupied territories, as a movement to steer a kind of a civil war
He also mentioned the historical context, pointing specifically to the blockade and siege of Gaza, the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Area C in the West Bank, the apartheid situation in the occupied territories, and the continuing suffering of Palestinian refugees.
Reflecting on the latest Israeli elections
PappĂ© then spoke about the fallout of the most recent Israeli election and Netanyahuâs attempts to form a government. He agreed that the Israeli voting public seems to be moving further and further to the right:
There are only two viable political options among the Jewish electorate of Israel â one is center-right and one is extreme right. There is no left. There is no liberal Zionist voice. There is no liberal Zionist force to reckon with. And these are the two optionsâŠ the Israeli electorate in large numbers does not believeâŠ that you can be both an ethnic state and a democratic stateâŠ So between the options of being democratic and being racist, they prefer the latter option.
For PappĂ©, this renders the idea of any kind of change from within Israel a complete non-starter. As a result, âthe conclusion from that is that the only way of changing things is very strong pressure on Israel from the outside.â
The two vs. one-state solution
Speaking on the one-state solution, PappĂ© was unequivocal in his support:
There is no chance in the world for a two-state solution. âŠ There is already a one-state solution, itâs called âThe Apartheid Republic of Israelâ [and] it controls every parts of historical Palestine [by] different meansâŠ Our task, the task of the Palestinian liberation movement is now to ask: âHow can we make this apartheid state more democratic, more free, more liberated?â
I donât think that the Palestinians are only the people who live in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. âŠ And I think Palestine is the country from the River in the Jordan [to the Mediterranean sea] and every part of it has to be liberated and every Palestinian needs to be liberated and be free. A two-state solution does not offer it. In fact, it offers a perpetuation of the colonization [by] other means.
He rejected arguments about international law and the international consensus serving as the baseline for how to resolve the conflict:
We are not talking about killing a state, we are talking of a regime change â from an apartheid regime to non-apartheid regime.
Palestine is an area of colonialism, itâs not an area where two states are fighting each otherâŠ [and so international law] is totally irrelevant to what is going on in Palestine. Itâs a continued settler-colonial project that has to be decolonized.
The future lies with the youth
He concluded by saying that the greatest hope for the future lies with the younger generations of Palestinians:
What I am in inspired by is the younger generationâŠ And I think they are brewing new ideas of both the endgame, if you want, but also how to get there. âŠThese new ideas, Iâm hopeful that they will mature into not just soundbites or slogans but into a more practical program.
See the full interview here: