A controversial Israeli historian—who claims that the Jewish founders of Israel perpetrated ethnic cleansing on Palestinians living in the Jewish state—will speak at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch as part of a cross-country tour. Ilan Pappe, who teaches history at the University of Exeter in England, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from Montreal that he hopes to rouse public opinion to persuade the Canadian government to “exert pressure” on Israel “to end the occupation as a first step towards a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine”.
Pappe will discuss his 2006 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld) at 7 p.m. on Saturday (March 29). The book cites historical documents to state that 11 veteran Zionist leaders completed a plan in March 1948 for the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians from the new Jewish state, which was to attain independence two months later.
“Once the decision was taken, it took six months to complete the mission,” Pappe writes in his book. “When it was over, more than half of Palestine’s native population, close to 800,000 people, had been uprooted, 531 villages had been destroyed, and eleven urban neighbourhoods emptied of their inhabitants. The plan decided upon on 10 March 1948, and above all its systematic implementation in the following months, was a clear-cut case of an ethnic cleansing operation, regarded under international law today as a crime against humanity.”
Pappe told the Straight that he didn’t choose the term ethnic cleansing lightly, claiming that he studied it from legal and moral perspectives. “It’s very clear to me that the case of the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 is a classical example of ethnic cleansing,” he said. “I’m not just using it as an adjective to create sensation.”
Moreover, Pappe claimed that there has been “creeping ethnic cleansing taking place in the last eight years in the Greater Jerusalem area and alongside the apartheid wall” that is being built to shield Israel from Palestinian attacks. “I’m also worried that if the Israelis feel that the Palestinian minority within Israel threatens their democratic majority, they would not hesitate to exercise ethnic cleansing in this case as well,” Pappe alleged.
Vancouver resident Stephen Aberle, a member of the working group of Jews for a Just Peace, told the Straight in a phone interview that it is “essential” to read Pappe’s work to have an informed discussion about what is happening now in Israel and Palestine. Aberle, whose group, along with two Canadian Palestinian-support organizations, is sponsoring Pappe’s local talk, said that The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine had a “profound impact” on him.
“The material that he has so meticulously researched is just crucial,” Aberle said. “I don’t see many ways to argue against the conclusions.”
However, Paul Michaels, a spokesperson for the Canada-Israel Committee, told the Straight in a phone interview from Toronto that Pappe presents “an extremely one-sided view of history”, describing him as a “Marxist” and a “very marginal figure in Israel”.
“He believes that history should be used in the service of political or ideological narrative,” Michaels claimed, citing a critique of Pappe’s work in The New Republic by Israeli historian Benny Morris. “And he sees Israel almost uniformly as negative and the Palestinians uniformly as helpless victims.”
Michaels said that the CIC “strongly supports a two-state solution” with Israel and Palestine peacefully coexisting side-by-side. He claimed that Pappe, on the other hand, prefers a “binational solution”, in which Palestinians and Israeli Jews would live together in one larger nation. “He believes that Israel should disappear,” Michaels charged.
Pappe, who speaks Arabic and relies on Palestinian sources as well as Israeli historical documents, told the Straight that he has a vision of a “democratic binational state instead of the racist state that Israel is today”. He said he is not opposed to the existence of Israel, and insisted that Zionism can be compatible with providing equal rights to anyone who is not Jewish.
“I’m an Israeli Jew,” Pappe said. “I don’t deny it. I want very much to continue to live in my country, but I want to live in a democratic country. And I do it [his work] for the sake of both the Palestinians and the Jews.”