Emanuela Irace, il manifesto – Translated by Diego Traversa, Peacepalestine
After having denounced in recent months the impossibility of working peacefully in a hostile milieu, namely at Haifa University, Pappe moved to Britain where he now teaches at Exeter University. Historian of dissent, "revisionist", born in 1954 in Israel, son of Jews who fled from the Germany of the ’30s, he has published a half dozen books. Amongst the most recent works there is "The ethnic cleansing of Palestine", not yet translated into Italian. The core of the exploration by the great historian is the Zionist policy comprised of deportations and compulsory expulsions carried out against the Palestinians during and after the 1948 war, when some 400 villages were evacuated, razed and destroyed in the space of five years.
Professor Pappe, you write of ethnic cleansing, in 1948, as the foundational moment of Israel. In this way you shatter the "topos" of the voluntary exile of the Palestinians.
"The Palestinians were driven out in 1947-48, even though the official historical record speaks about pressure from the Arab leaders who ostensibly persuaded them to flee. The idea of finding a refuge for the Jewish community, persecuted in Europe and annihilated by Nazism, clashed with a native population who was in a phase of redefining itself. A colonial project that practiced ethnic cleansing, tackling the demographic problem beforehand: the existence of 600 thousand Jews against one million Palestinians. In February 1948, before the Arabs decided to oppose it in a military manner, the Israelis had already expelled over 300 thousand native people."
How was the ethnic cleansing carried out and why had everyone kept silent?
"It lasted eight months and only in October 1948 did the Palestinians start to defend themselves in any serious way. The Zionists’ response to this were the slaughters in the province of Galilee, the confiscation of houses, of bank accounts, of lands. The Israelis erased a people and its culture. Nobody denounced the situation because the World War had just ended. The UN couldn’t admit that one of their resolutions (note of the author: the resolution 181, about Palestine’s partition) was ending up with ethnic cleansing. The Red Cross had already been accused of not having impartially reported what happened in the Nazi concentration camps and the most important media wanted to avoid a clash with the Jews."
A guilt complex and "diplomacy" in the governments’ actions: and what were the consequences?
"During the Holocaust, the countries that are today criticizing Israel, either were accomplices or they kept silent. These are the reasons why the international community has renounced its right to judge us. It bears guilt which it can no longer find a remedy for. Thus losing, still today, the right to criticize Israel’s government. The consequence is that when the state of Israel was established, nobody blamed it for the ethnic cleansing which it had been founded on, a crime against humanity carried out by those who planned and fulfilled it. From that time on, ethnic cleansing has become an ideology, an infrastructural decoration of the state. A matter that is still topical, since Israel’s primary target is demographic: to seize as much territory as possible with the least number of Arabs living in it as possible."
By what forms and means does the ethnic cleansing go on?
"Through ‘cleaner and more presentable’ systems. The Minister of Justice has been trying for a month to legitimize the illegal settlements by leaving the outposts in place. We’ve learnt that the High Court of Justice is pondering whether to authorize the government to make a cut-down on fuel supplies, thus leaving Gaza without electricity, where there are a million Palestinians who would find themselves in the situation of not being able to have access to drinking water, since the water-bearing stratum is polluted with sewage and people can drink it only if there is an electrical water purification system. Yet, there are many other ways and examples to annihilate the Palestinians, in primis the Wall, accepted by the US and the EU."
What is Israel asking from its allies?
"It wants them to accept its model as such. During the 1967 war, 300 thousand Palestinians were expelled from the West Bank, in the last seven years ethnic cleansing has become ‘building the Wall’, that pushes the Palestinians back towards the desert, outside the area of Greater Jerusalem reserved for them. The problem is that the Israeli leadership thinks of its own state by ethnic, racial yardsticks and therefore it is racist by all means. All of this is perceived by the Palestinians and this fact embodies the biggest hindrance to peace between Palestine and Israel. The so-called ’peace process’ is thus reduced to deciding what part of Palestine has to again be annexed by Israel and what tiny part can perhaps be given to the Palestinian population."
What can be done to reverse this process?
"First of all, we have to change our terminologies. It’s not about a clash between Jews and Palestinians. It’s matter of colonialism. It’s incredible how a colonialist policy can be still accepted in the 21st century. We have to force Israel to comply with the same measures that were imposed on racist South Africa in the ’60s and the ’70s. Today there are opinion movements of young Jews, in Europe and in the US, who point the finger at Israel’s colonialist policies and accuse it as a colonialist and racist state, not because it is a state founded by Jews."
In France and in other European countries there are laws that place restrictions on the right to express "revisionist" opinions towards Israel, yet there are no steps taken against the continuous violation of the UN resolutions.
"I underwent such an experience about two years ago. One of my lectures was interrupted by a group of extremists, composed of Jews like me, who prevented me from continuing. The police came in, to protect rather than to accuse me. As to keeping silent, it’s by far easier for people to think in a conventional manner. One has to have a lot of energy and originality to act in non-conformist ways. For instance, UN Resolution 194 states that the Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their land. Yet it’s much easier to do nothing and keep thinking in the usual identical formula."
Are these the very reasons why the Italian left goes on proposing the "two peoples, two states" model?
"Certainly, the Italian left isn’t courageous. Yet it has no choice but to change, since the situation on the ground is becoming catastrophic. If Israel invades Gaza, as it’s quite likely to do, many Palestinians will be killed and yet the situation won’t change. Gaza is a big prison, and what might happen, just as in many prison uprisings, is: the army will restore the ’law and order’ by beating and killing. It’s bound to be a slaughterhouse but as soon as they leave the situation will remain exactly the same."
What would the outcome of a "two peoples, one state" formula be instead?
"It’s necessary that the populations accept one another, that the Jews acknowledge their Arab neighbours and brothers and vice-versa. Not before they both recognize history for what it has been and only after they both shoulder their own responsibilities. Recognition, responsibility and mutual acceptance. Only by following this way a single state may be fulfilled, one depending on the "one person, one vote" principle and where citizens, in spite of not loving each other, may coexist. It’s a project that can be achieved if we are allowed to continue to criticise and prevent the crimes Israel is continuously carrying out and if the disinvestment campaign goes on being applied as was done with South Africa."
Translated by Diego Traversa and revised by Mary Rizzo, members of Tlaxcala , network of translators for linguistic diversity.
Italian version at:
1) IEMASVO: Enrico Mattei Institute of High Studies on Mid-East
2) ISIAO: Italian Institute for Africa and East