1. Sackur: Welcome to HARDtalk, I’m Stephen Sackur. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, at its heart, a story of two Peoples and one Land. Both see History as their justification, which means an historian who appears to change sides inevitably becomes a figure of enormous Controversy. So it is with my guest today. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, 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 [State]. Has his anti-Zionism undermined his academic integrity?
Ilan Pappé, welcome to HARDtalk.
2. Pappé: Thank you.
3. Sackur: You are an Israeli but for the best part of a decade, you’ve lived in a sort of self-imposed Exile in the UK, and yet you still seem intellectually drawn to Israel, you still write about Israel. Try and characterise for me your feelings for your Home Country today.
4. Pappé: I think the best way of explaining what I feel is to differentiate between a State and a Country, and a State and a Regime. I was born in a Country, which is Israel and Palestine. I’m very attached to the People there. I’m very worried about its future but I am very opposed to the ideological Regime that governs the Life of everyone who lives there between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.
5. Sackur: You say opposed to the Regime, implying in a way that there is something about the particular Colour of the Government of the day, but it surely is not the Regime you are opposed to. It is the founding Ideology of the Country that is Zionism. You are an anti-Zionist, you reject Zionism.
6. Pappé: That is true. When I say the Regime, I mean that successive Governments were all loyal to the same ideological foundation. Indeed, I find the Idea that in a Country where half of the People are not Jewish, a State cannot be founded on the basis of Ethnic Exclusivity or Supremacy. There needs to be a more democratic, a more egalitarian, a more fair political outfit that would respect the Rights and Aspirations of everyone who lives there.
7. Sackur: We’ll get more into that argument, and particularly your claim that half the People are not Jewish in a moment, because obviously you’re talking about Israel and the Occupied Territories. If we are talking about.
8. Pappé: That’s right. I said the Mediterranean. Between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan.
9. Sackur: You’re talking about Israel as a Nation-State. A sovereign Nation, then your figures and your claim would not be true, but we’ll get to that discussion of that later. Here is what I find most paradoxical about you. You are clear in your anti-Zionism, and yet it would seem to me that your own lifestory and your Family’s Life story is the best Advertisement for the importance of Zionism that there could ever be.
10. Pappé: I disagree with this. I think my lifestory, especially the fact that my Family came from Germany originally and suffered.
13. Sackur: Escaped from Nazi Germany and found Haven in what was to become the Jewish State of Israel, thanks to the development in the 1930s of the Zionist Idea.
14. Pappé: But it was also a family that was a victim of Racism, of Ethnic Cleansing and Extermination, and as such.
Jews who faced ExtermiNation.
Who needed a Haven.
18. Pappé: And could not become themselves victimisers who would apply the same methods to someone else.
19. Sackur: Your father, to be clear though, was a passionate Zionist.
20. Pappé: I don’t know if he was a passionate Zionist. He would have preferred probably to come to the United States or England, but their doors were closed. He, like so many German Jews who were not Zionist, they found a way to Palestine, but I don’t think that he would have condoned the Ethnic Cleansing of 1948. I don’t think he would accept that, in order to survive, you are entitled to either ethnically cleanse or exterminate someone else. Having a safe Haven for People who are victimised does not give them the license to victimise someone else.
21. Sackur: You’ve already dropped into Conversation the phrase Ethnic Cleansing. It’s become very much associated with your historical Work, and it’s even in the title of one of your, perhaps most important books. It is a phrase which sticks in the throat of so many Israelis, and indeed so many Israeli historians who look at the record of what happened in those Founding Days that led to the Creation of the State of Israel, ‘47, ‘48, and they do not identify the programme of premeditated Ethnic Cleansing that you claim sits in the record. You’ve got it wrong.
22. Pappé: Ethnic Cleansing is not about meditated or only planned Idea. Ethnic Cleansing is an Operation, in the end of which, one ethnic Group is being displaced by another. Nobody can argue with the fact that half of Palestine’s People were expelled. That half of Palestine’s Cities and Villages were destroyed. The Palestinians lost Palestine because Zionism created the Jewish State. This is, by even the most conservative definition, an act of Ethnic Cleansing. [Accurate.]
23. Sackur: But the issue of Meditation, or Premeditation, is absolutely central to your portrayal of what Israel is, how it came to be. Other historians who were with you in that group of revisionists who emerged in the late 1980s - Benny Morris I’m thinking of - they don’t dispute anything you’ve just said about the facts. That so many hundreds of thousands, about 700,000 Arabs were forced to flee their homes as the Jewish Agency established what was to become Israel, the Jewish State. That’s not in dispute. What you say though, is that there were meetings and when Ben-Gurion and his key advisors planned this Operation. They say, No. Understand that War is tough. In the heat of battle, things happen but it was ad hoc, it was not premeditated, and in some cases local commanders could be blamed. Certainly not all of it down to Ben-Gurion’s plan.
24. Pappé: If this is so, one has to answer a very simple question. Why were half of the People who became Palestinian refugees were already expelled before the War even started? By the 15th of May 1948, the whole urban Space of Palestine was de-arabised. Palestinians lost the urban Space. By the 15th of May, before one Arab soldier entered the Land of Palestine, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were evicted by Force from the countryside. Now, the evidence I think is quite clear and I think that the documentation, especially the documentation that came out in 1998 - Israel releases military documentation only 50 years after the event - show very clearly a meditated, a planned, a structured Idea of how to turn Palestine, which was basically an Arab Country, into a Jewish Country, a Jewish State, through the means of Ethnic Cleansing. I think the documentation is now much more clear and carries out the evidence, and I think.
25. Sackur: We don’t want to get too hung up on every single detail of what happened in those early days of ’48, but just one key piece of evidence which would, to me, plant a seed of doubt about your version of events. 24th of March, the Chief of Staff of the Haganah, which was to become, of course, the Israeli Defense Forces, but at the time it was the Jewish Agency, Military Agency Operation, he said this, the Chief of Staff. To all his field commanders, they must quote, “Protect the full Rights, the Needs and Freedoms of Arabs living in the Hebrew Space.” What was to become the Jewish State. He wrote that.
26. Pappé: He may have written it, but I have seen the group of commands that was sent to each commander of a Brigade and each commander of a Battalion. Their commands were very, very clear. They had to occupy the Villages, expel the People, detonate the Houses, and these commands came the first of April. I don’t know what he wrote 7 days before, but I think what really is important now is that we are also now exploring the oral History of 1948 from the Jewish side. Maybe because they are old and are very close to their deathbed, commanders of the Haganah are now admitting that their mission was to cleanse Palestine from the Palestinians. I don’t know why People find it so difficult to believe. This was the major point of Zionism, was to cleanse.
27. Sackur: Can I interrupt for a second?
28. Pappé: Yeah.
29. Sackur: This was also an existential War. It was clear in 1948 that unless the Jews fought and held this Space, they could be exterminated and in the end, as Benny Morris who, for a long time was your historical collaborator, but is now, it has to be said, your historical nemesis. Benny Morris says, Look, in this sort of War, stuff happens. Really Bad stuff happens, but in the end it can be justified. The Jews did what they had to do.
30. Pappé: It’s amazing. We are talking of what possibly the Palestinians could have done to the Jews, and this is really flimsy History. This is not serious History. To write a book of what could have happened is really Bad. I’m writing a book of what had happened, and what had happened is the Crime against Humanity. Ethnic Cleansing is a Crime against Humanity. The Zionist Movement was founded for very Good reasons. What it did in 1948 is unforgivable, is unacceptable.
31. Sackur: Let’s keep perhaps a sense of context, because everything we’re discussing right now, as this Conversation continues, we’re going to bring up to the present day, it matters and it all connects. Let’s have some perspective. Benny Morris says, I don’t know if you challenge this, that maybe 800 or 1000 Palestinian civilians ended up dying. Either they were extra-judicially killed [or] they were executed [or] killed by Jewish Agency military operatives, but he says, Compare that with what we see happening in the World today in some of the Conflicts not so very far from Israel. In Syria, in Iraq, in other places too. The numbers of casualties compared with some of the Conflicts we see around the World, he’s used the phrase small potatoes.
32. Pappé: Yes, for him it’s small potatoes. Imagine that half of Britain’s Population would have been expelled. Imagine that half of Britain’s Cities would be demolished to the Earth. Imagine that half of Britain’s Villages would be destroyed. Then I would like you to come to an Israeli Television programme and tell me that this is small potato.
33. Sackur: A lot of it is about Ideology, though, isn’t it?
34. Pappé: No, no. A lot of it is about human Suffering.
35. Sackur: Well, it’s also about.
36. Pappé: It’s about human suffering created by People who, up to now, are immune from international condemnation for the Crimes that they have committed and are committing.
37. Sackur: Here is what you said in 1999. In a moment of great Honesty, you said to a Belgian newspaper, “I admit my Ideology influences my historical writing, but so what? That’s the case for everybody.”
38. Pappé: I said it.
39. Sackur: Is that a Good justification for this story?
40. Pappé: No. It isn’t and I said it 30 years ago or something like that. I can.
41. Sackur: You said it at a time when you were a younger man doing a lot of research that you’ve built on since.
42. Pappé: Yes, but what I meant, maybe I didn’t put it across that well but what I meant is that we are committed historians. It’s ridiculous to say that we don’t have an agenda. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be professional. That doesn’t mean that we don’t correct mistakes if we make mistakes, but definitely it would be ridiculous to say that we don’t have a Moral agenda. That’s what I meant.
43. Sackur: But it plants a seed of doubt in some People’s minds. Let’s say, particularly in Israeli minds, about the fairness with which you approach, not just historical events but also events much more contemporary. I’m going to bring it up to date now because this isn’t just a History Conversation. You’re a commentator and a big thinker on the way Israel operates today. In the summer of 2006, when Israeli military forces were pounding Gaza after renewed rocket attacks into the State of Israel.
44. Pappé: 2008.
45. Sackur: I think this was actually in 2006. I mean, there have been various assaults, but this one was in 2006. You said this, “In the name of Holocaust Memory, let us hope the World will not allow the continued Genocide in Gaza to continue.” As an historian, how could you link Holocaust Memory, alleged Israeli genocidal action in Gaza? How could you do that.
46. Pappé: By observing very, very closely what is being done by Israel. Ghettoising.
47. Sackur: Genocide?
48. Pappé: Ghettoising People. Starving them. Not allowing them to get basic Commodities. Checking every Shipment that goes into Gaza. Wait a minute.
People know what is happening.
No, I don’t think they do.
51. Sackur: They can put their own interpretation on it, but they do know that thousands, millions of Palestinians are not being killed by the Israelis. Genocide is the elimination of an ethnic Grouping or a People. You’re an historian. You have to use words carefully. You have to respect words, don’t you?
52. Pappé: No, I do respect words. That’s why I succeeded in convincing most People that what happened in ‘48 is Ethnic Cleansing and what happens ever since 1948 is the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. I use the term Incremental Genocide. I think that, if you ghettoise People, and you starve them, and you check how many calories can they have in order to survive, in the long term this could turn into a genocidal Operation. The fact that Gaza is cordoned, is closed from all sides, the fact that Israel does not know what to do with the Gaza Strip, whereas it has some ideas of what to do with the West Bank, is the potential for incremental genocidal policy. I’m not taking back my words. I really want to explain to People that People in Gaza are under existential danger by the policies of the State of Israel.
53. Sackur: I understand that you’ve thought carefully about the words you use, but I’m just challenging some of them. It goes back to my opening question, your feelings about your Home Country today. You’ve described Zionism, and this is another quote from you, as “A racist and quite Evil Philosophy of Morality and Life.” I put it to you that you haven’t lived in Israel for the last 10 years. You are still preoccupied with what Israel is, but anybody who visits Israel, do you think they really come away feeling that they are living in a Country that is driven by a quite Evil Philosophy?
54. Pappé: If they are. First of all, I’ve been in Israel in the last 10 years half of the time every year so I’m still there as much as I am here. Secondly, if you look at Zionism from the perspective of who are not Jewish, and especially from the Palestinian perspective, then you understand what I am talking about.
55. Sackur: Let’s talk about the Palestinians or the Israeli Arabs who are Citizens of the State of Israel. They were polled recently, it was quite interesting, in the Jerusalem Post. More than 60% of them described Israel as a Good place to live. Well over 50% said that they believed in the legitimacy of Israel as being the Jewish State and fewer than a quarter said that they would want to go and live in a Palestinian State alongside Israel.
56. Pappé: I question these findings, I must say. If there is one topic I’m really an expert on, Are the Palestinians in Israel, because this was my political Home, this was my cultural Home, this was my social Home. I don’t know what is the basis for these answers, but this is definitely not a Reflexion of how Palestinians feel in Israel, nor is it.
57. Sackur: But it may be a Reflexion of something that I wonder if you would dispute. That is Israel is a Democracy, and of course Israeli Arabs do have a Vote in Israeli Elections. Israel has a Court system which is capable of standing up to those in Power. We’ve seen Israeli Prime Ministers convicted of serious Crimes. There is a basic commitment to Civil Society, Democracy in Israel, which is not seen in the Palestinian Territories right now, not seen in any Arab Nation that neighbours Israel, and surely the Israeli Arabs are capable of seeing that too.
58. Pappé: No, they can’t see that. 93% of the Land is exclusively Jewish in Israel. Palestinians are not allowed to build new Settlements, new Villages. They’re not allowed to expand the Cities. They are not getting the same National Security, the same Welfare Benefits as the average Jewish is receiving in Israel. Their Education system is segregated from the Jewish educational system. On every aspect of Life, judicial, legal and financial, they are discriminated against, but I think far more important than anything else is the fact that the State does not recognise them as part of the Nation. Because the State does not recognise them as part of the Nation, there has been in the last 10 years, there was a wave of Legislation that questions their belonging to the State and it hangs as an ax over their heads. They live a very precarious Life as we have seen in the south of Israel where 70,000 Palestinians are being driven out from their Villages as we speak. Ethnic Cleansing is, if you allow me just one sentence and I promise, I think it’s important to understand Israel, or Zionism, has a vision of having as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians in it is possible. No, I just want to explain.
59. Sackur: You constantly say that the Ethnic Cleansing continues, the Racism is prevalent as ever.
60. Pappé: I want to explain something.
61. Sackur: What you never do, and what I want to ask you is something somewhat different. Why, in all of your History, in all of your commentary, do you persist in focusing on Israel’s Evils, Israel’s Crimes, and the Palestinians and the Arabs are always Victims? You never focus on the Palestinians as actors, as committers of violent acts, sometimes as architects of terrorist activity. You have never, in your Writings, your History, focused on what the Palestinians have done as actors rather than victims.
62. Pappé: This is a ridiculous summary of my Work, if I may say so. I have written a lot on the Palestinian National Movement as an anti-colonialist Movement that used Violence, that used Terror. I explained why they used the Violence. I was looking for the source of the Violence, and because I regard the situation in Palestine as a colonialist situation, in fact as a.
63. Sackur: You see the Violence as justified.
64. Pappé: Not justified. No, no.
65. Sackur: The mass attacks on civilians, you see those as.
66. Pappé: No, don’t put words in my mouth.
67. Sackur: What word would you use?
68. Pappé: I would use it as Violence in the Struggle for Liberation which I think can be replaced by a non-violent Struggle, as most Palestinians would like to do. Because that Struggle, the Palestinian Arms Struggle, has not benefited the Palestinian National Movement, but to argue that the Struggle of Liberation Movements around the World in the 50s and the 60s is different from the Palestinian struggle is really taking the Palestinian issue out of historical context. In other words, we understand, the People who fought against Colonialism, People who fought against Occupation, are using Violence. I am not for Violence of any kind, but.
69. Sackur: You say.
70. Pappé: I think there is a difference. No, I’ll tell you.
think there is a difference between the Violence of the occupier, the Violence
of the oppressor, the Violence of the coloniser and the Violence of those who
try to oppose it.
71. Sackur: You see Israel’s Actions as more Morally reprehensible than those of Hamas?
72. Pappé: Yes, in many ways I do, because I think there is a difference between the Power of a State and the Power of People who were oppressed by that State. I can question the Wisdom of using Violence.
73. Sackur: Before we end, we don’t have so much time, I want to get to the present and the future, because not only are you an historian, you are somebody who thinks hard about where Israel and the Palestinians go from here. You have said, There is only one way, it has to be a unitary State from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Do you not accept that if that were to be the case, it wouldn’t be the bi-national secular State that you have painted. It would be a State dominated by the Arab Population because they would be in a clear Majority, particularly if you get your way and all of the descendants of the ‘48 refugees return, and it would be a Muslim State.
74. Pappé: No, I don’t accept it. I think People who don’t know the Palestinians have these nightmarish scenarios. I think that when you change - that’s why I’m talking a change of Regime when we started our Conversation - when you gradually change a Regime which is not democratic, contrary to the way you portrayed it, which is really like an Apartheid State, and you make it more and more democratic in an evolutionary way, you get a State that represents much more faithfully the Aspirations of all the ethnic Groups.
75. Sackur: I’m inclined to wonder whether you have spent one second considering the import of what has happened in Syria, what is happening in Iraq today, and indeed what has happened in Gaza in recent years. Does that mean nothing to you?
76. Pappé: A lot. It means to me that all the political outfits, including the State of Israel, that were created by the Force of Colonialism, not by the wishes of the People, are collapsing in front of our eyes. Now, if we are lucky, if we are lucky this will be replaced by more authentic and more reasonable political outfits that would represent more faithfully what People want. If we are not lucky, we will have the bloodshed that we have in Iraq and in Syria.
And we have to end there. Ilan Pappé, thanks for being on HARDtalk.
Thank you very much.