Making an Impression

Ilan Pappe,  The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine 
Oneworld Publications, 2007

This is a profound meditation on truth, unpalatable as it will be for many supporters of an expansionist Israel.  Pappe cuts through the decades of Nakba denial and reveals what Palestinians, of course, have testified to all along: that the Palestinians were systematically ethnically cleansed from their land in 1948 by the Zionist, then Israeli leadership.  It’s as simple as that.

Pappe analyzes the unfolding of Plan Dalet, which the Consultancy’s  vision for dealing with the demographic problem at the very beginning of Israel:  How to have a Jewish state with 40% Palestinians (of course, they didn’t call them Palestinians then).  The solution: as Ben-Gurion indicated, “Drive them out!”

This is chilling although, in a way, refreshing to hear, for once, the candid realpolitik of Ben-Gurion and his associates in the ethnic cleansing project (Pappe notes show they used several Hebrew terms that are identical to “cleansing,” meaning, get ride of the indigenous population).  Here are a few examples:

DBG: I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.  [xi]

DBG:  There are 40% non-Jews in the areas allocated to the Jewish state. This composition is not a solid basis for a Jewish state. And we have to face this new reality with all its severity and distinctness. Such a demographic balance questions our ability to maintain Jewish sovereignty… Only a  state with at least 80% Jews is a viable and stable state. [48]

DBG: Destroy a neighborhood, and you begin to make an impression!  [78]

In many respects, Pappe reminded me of Gross’s book on anti-Semitism in Poland—similar looting, similar fear, similar demonization, similar theft, but on a massive scale, involving dispossession of hundreds of thousands, and the killing of thousands.  Hence, the relevance to Israel/Palestine of Tacitus: “It is indeed human nature to hate the man whom you have injured.”   How this hate is manifested:  The Palestinians are the oppressors or the terrorists, not the Israelis; the Palestinian suffering is denied and covered over, literally, in the replanted forests of the JNF; there is memoricide and Nakba denial on a pervasive scale.

Here’s a sentence from my Shofar review of Jan Gross’s Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz:An Essay in Historical Interpretation —here, substitute Israeli for Pole and Palestinian for Jew: “While some Poles had an acute conscience that led them to act compassionately toward the Jews, many others had a bad conscience that first led them to act in complicity  with the Nazis, and then to treat the Jewish survivors with contempt and violence.” 

There was Polish ethnic cleansing and there was Zionist/Israeli ethic cleansing.  Here is Pappe writing that calls to mind both the Poles and Germans: “Military force, and a brutal one at that, is the first requirement for expulsion and occupation, but bureaucracy is no less important for efficiently carrying out a huge cleansing operation that entails not only dispossession of the people but also the repossession of the spoils.” [125]

As a historian and citizen, Pappe has an acute conscience as can be seen in the following passages:  “Like so many other scenic sites in this area set aside for recreation and tourism, [Qira] too hides the ruins of a 1948 village. To my shame it took me years to discover this.” [79]  “I have no illusion that it will take more than this book to reverse a reality that demonizes a people who have been colonized, expelled and occupied, and glorifies the very people who colonized, expelled and occupied them.” [181]  [“these conscientious Israeli Jews] reaffirm their commitment to the refugees’ Right of Return, and where they, like this writer, vow to continue the struggle to protect the memory of the Nakba against all attempts to dwarf the horror of its crimes or deny they ever happened, for the sake of a lasting and comprehensive peace to emerge one day in the land of Palestine.” [259]

Our  task is to work in the cultural battle, against denial, memoricide, and domination masking itself as innocence and righteousness.

—April 18, 2007