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. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
7. 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.
Jews who faced ExtermiNation.
Who needed a Haven.
10. Sackur: Your father, to be clear though, was a passionate Zionist.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Sackur: Can I interrupt for a second?
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. Sackur: A lot of it is about Ideology, though, isn’t it?
18. Sackur: Well, it’s also about.
19. 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.”
20. Sackur: Is that a Good justification for this story?
21. Sackur: You said it at a time when you were a younger man doing a lot of research that you’ve built on since.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. Sackur: Genocide?
People know what is happening.
26. 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?
27. 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?
28. 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.
29. 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.
30. Sackur: You constantly say that the Ethnic Cleansing continues, the Racism is prevalent as ever.
31. 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.
32. Sackur: You see the Violence as justified.
33. Sackur: The mass attacks on civilians, you see those as.
34. Sackur: What word would you use?
35. Sackur: You say.
36. Sackur: You see Israel’s Actions as more Morally reprehensible than those of Hamas?
37. 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.
38. 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?
And we have to end there. Ilan Pappé, thanks for being on HARDtalk.