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HARDtalk Speaks to Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe

Ilan Pappe on “The Nakba of Palestine”

The real battle – be prepared!

Ilan Pappé (Hebrew: אילן פפה; born 1954) is an Israeli historian and socialist activist. He is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, director of the university’s European Centre for Palestine Studies, and co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies.

Pappé was born in Haifa, Israel. Prior to coming to the UK, he was a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa (1984–2007) and chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies in Haifa (2000–2008).

He is the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), The Modern Middle East (2005), A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples (2003), and Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (1988).

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, at its heart, a story of two peoples and one land. Both see history as their justification. Which means a historian who appears to change sides inevitably becomes a figure of enormous controversy.

HARDtalk speaks to Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe who says the record shows that the Jewish state is racist; born of a deliberate programme of ethnic cleansing. Not surprisingly he’s widely reviled in his home country. His work has been both supported and criticized by other historians.

Before he left Israel in 2008, he had been condemned in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament; a minister of education had called for him to be sacked; his photograph had appeared in a newspaper at the centre of a target; and he had received several death threats.

Cleansing of Palestine

On October 1, 1917, a company of Turkish soldiers surrounded Zichron Yaakov. The Ottoman government had just discovered the existence of the Nili underground group, which was created to help the British take over Ottoman Palestine.

Some of the underground members, including Sarah Aaronsohn, were captured, jailed and tortured, while some others managed to escape. The most famous among those who got away was Yosef Lishansky, one of the founders of the group. The soldiers surrounding Zichron Yaakov were there in attempts to convince the townspeople to give him up.

Numerous historical sources in Hebrew recall the speech made by the Turkish governor. He threatened to do to the Jews what was done to the Armenians (the Armenian genocide was at its zenith at the time.) A telegraph recently uncovered in the Turkish prime ministerial archive reinforces these accounts.

Sent by the Turkish interior minister, Nazar Talaat, to the governor of Beirut, who also oversaw Zichron Yaakov, the telegraph read: “In the village of Zamrin (Zichron Yaakov,) in the Haifa district, the Kamikam (governor) told the people that if they do not hand over the spy Lishansky, their fate will be like the Armenians, as I am involved in the deaths of the Armenians.”

Although Turkey has staunchly denied the Armenian genocide during the decades that have passed, the telegram indicates that it was a known secret and a legitimate threat throughout the empire at the time. In the response, which like all telegrams back then was encoded, the interior minister asked the governor to investigate claims that the Nili members were tortured.

Nili’s “irresponsibility” for not coordinating their operations with the Zionist leadership, thereby endangering the Yishuv, was the cause of a longstanding controversy among the Jewish community of the British Mandate of Palestine and subsequently of the State of Israel. The issue was officially resolved in November 1967, when Feinberg’s remains were reinterred on Mount Herzl with full military honors, with eulogies delivered by both Speaker of the Knesset and chief chaplain of the IDF.

Zionist leaders and advocates followed conditions in the land of Israel closely and travelled there regularly. Their concern, however, was entirely with the future of Jewish settlement. The future of the land’s Arab inhabitants concerned them as little as the welfare of the Jews concerned Arab leaders. During the movement’s formative stages, Zionist negotiators with stronger political powers (such as the British) corresponded enthusiastically while remaining silent about the inhabitants of Palestine, who numbered just under half a million during the late nineteenth century.

What thought Zionists did give to Arab national rights was perhaps typified by this passage by Israel Zangwill, written just after the first World War: ‘The Arabs should recognize that the road of renewed national glory lies through Baghdad, Damascus and Mecca, and all the vast territories freed for them from the Turks and be content. […] The powers that freed them have surely the right to ask them not to grudge the petty strip (Israel) necessary for the renaissance of a still more down-trodden people.’ Thus from the beginning Zionists saw the Arab residents of Palestine as part of a larger Arab nation.

Ussishkin and Borochov, Zionist leaders in the Diaspora and according to Anita Shapira unfamiliar with true Arab attitudes, expressed their belief that the Palestinian Arabs would be assimilated by the Jews. According to Shapira this approach was part of a campaign of self-persuasion that the Arabs would not threaten the realisation of Zionist aims.

According to Frankel the immigrants of the Second Aliyah had a strong secular and nationalist ethos. The attitude towards the Arabs took many forms however. According to Zerubavel to advocate relaxation and do concessions towards the Arabs was to follow the Galut (exile) mentality. According to Frankel this kind of mythology was an important part of the Second aliyah’s political legacy.

The “transfer idea” refers to Zionist thinking about the possibility of transfer of Palestinian Arabs out of Palestine or a future Jewish part of Palestine for the benefit of the goals of Zionism. Zionist organisations discussed it plenary in relation to the 1937 Peel recommendations.

In the historical debate since the 1980s it has been discussed a lot in relation to the 1948 Palestinian exodus. Proponents of this theory say that the driving force of the 1948 Palestinian exodus was the Zionist leaders’ belief that a Jewish state could not survive with a strong Arab population and that a population transfer would be most beneficial.

According to Israeli historian Benny Morris “Many if not most of Zionism’s mainstream leaders expressed at least passing support for the idea of transfer during the movement’s first decades. According to Gorny in the traditional view of most Zionists a mass exodus of Palestinian Arabs was a desirable solution of the “Arab Question”.

Norman Finkelstein argues that transferist thinking is close to the core of Zionist thinking. He says the Zionist claim of a prevalent right to all of Palestine, combined with its desire to establish a society that ‘belonged’ to the Jews resulted in “a radically exclusivist ideology, which renders non-Jews at best a redundant presence and easily lends itself to schemes favoring population transfer—and expulsion.” Thus, “Zionism’s claim to the whole of Palestine […] called into question any Arab presence in Palestine.”

Theodor Herzl supported the transfer idea. Land in Palestine was to be gently expropriated from the Palestinian Arabs and they were to be worked across the border “unbemerkt” (surreptitiously), e.g. by refusing them employment. Herzl’s draft of a charter for a Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC) gave the JOLC the right to obtain land in Palestine by giving its owners comparable land elsewhere in the Ottoman empire. According to Walid Khalidi this indicates Herzl’s “bland assumption of the transfer of the Palestinian to make way for the immigrant colonist.”

Dispossession and Ethnic Cleansing were an Integral Part of Herzl’s Colonial Project.  According to Gorny in the traditional view of most Zionists a mass exodus of Palestinian Arabs was a desirable solution of the “Arab Question”.[His real intentions and full extent and scope of the colonial settlement that Herzl was after were reflected in the draft-agreement of The Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC) “for the purpose of settling Palestine and Syria with Jews” that Herzl lobbied for approval from Sultan Abdulhameed in Istanbul in 1901.

According to article I of the draft, the JOLC would be granted “A special right to purchase large estates and small farms and to use them for agriculture, horticulture, forestry, and mining.  On these areas (the JOLC) may build all installations, roads, bridges, buildings and houses, industrial and other facilities, which it considers appropriate.  The JOLC is further entitled “to drain and utilize swamps (if there are any) by planting or in any other way, to establish small and large settlements, and to settle Jews in them.”

Article III gives the JOLC the right to deport the native populations, an act aiming at legitimizing ethnic cleansing, by granting “The right to exchange economic enclaves of its territory, with the exception of the holy places or places already designated for worship. The owners shall receive plots of equal size and quality procured by it (the JOLC) in other provinces and territories of the Ottoman Empire.”  (The full text of the draft-agreement is available as an appendix to an article by Walid Khalidi, The Jewish-Ottoman Land Company: Herzl’s Blueprint for the Colonization of Palestine, Journal of Palestine Studies, Volume XXII, Number 2, Winter 1993, pp. 30-47)

Herzl did not succeed in getting his Charter approved by Turkey.  However, in that same year, 1901, the 5th ZC founded the Jewish National Fund (JNF). According to the by-laws of the JNF, acquired land would be considered as “redeemed” land that became inalienable Jewish property and could no longer be sold or leased to non-Jews. Consequently, systematic dispossession of the Palestinians had officially started as early as 1901, long before the British enhanced and facilitated the process through the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Zionist leaders and advocates followed conditions in the land of Israel closely and travelled there regularly. Their concern, however, was entirely with the future of Jewish settlement. The future of the land’s Arab inhabitants concerned them as little as the welfare of the Jews concerned Arab leaders. During the movement’s formative stages, Zionist negotiators with stronger political powers (such as the British) corresponded enthusiastically while remaining silent about the inhabitants of Palestine, who numbered just under half a million during the late nineteenth century.

On the other hand, plans for ethnic cleansing were discussed and formulated as early as the late 1930’s and were put into action in 1948. The role of the “Transfer Idea” in the 1948 Palestinian exodus is controversial. Although it is nowadays widely acknowledged by historians that Jewish military attacks were the main cause of the exodus, it is still debated whether or not there was an unofficial policy to this end. The “transfer thinking” in the Yishuv prior to 1948 may have played a role during the military planning process and also in the attitude of military leaders and soldiers towards Palestinians during the war.

Dispossession and Ethnic Cleansing

Djemal Pasha recommended that all Jews be expelled from Palestine

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