(This report was translated from the Hebrew original.)
The invitation to the lecture by historian Ilan Pappe in the township of Ar’ara in the Triangle (inside the “green line”), held on Friday, September 12, 2014, was signed by three local Palestinian youth movements. Published on Facebook, the invitation showed that the young activists wanted to discuss the issues in depth: It promised presentation of the “one democratic state” solution followed by an open discussion.
In January 2013, when it still seemed that the Arab Spring was bringing an unstoppable wave of democratic change to our region, toppling one by one the regimes of the old order, we hosted Ilan Pappe for a lecture in “Herak Haifa”. We were happy to learn that Israel is posed contrary to the historical trend. Since then history’s wheels got stuck in bloody battles in many of the region’s countries. Many activists lost hope for democratic change in the near future.
The bloody Israeli offensive last summer, initially in the West Bank and later against Gaza, and the success of the Palestinian resistance to stand up to this attack, concentrated again, for some time, international attention to the Palestinian cause and enabled us to re-examine the regional balance of power at the test of changing conditions.
Either because of the new energies that emerged in the context of resistance to the slaughter in Gaza, or because of the young audience and profound debate, I found that Pappe’s lecture in Ar’ara transcended several of his lectures which I’ve attended over the last year. In addition to historical details (some of them new for me) and principled and practical arguments proving the vital necessity of the one-state solution, this time Ilan also tried to outline concrete steps for action.
In the spirit of our time, the full video of the lecture (in Hebrew) was posted on 14.9 to YouTube. The organizers promise to add subtitles in Arabic and English soon. Thus I exempt myself from trying to summarize it in detail and focus on the essence, including critical discussion of some of the content.
Ethnic cleansing in installments
Ar’ara is a good place to explain the arbitrariness of the “Conceptual Partition” of Palestine between the regions captured by the Zionists at the great ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the 1967 occupation. As part of the Wadi ‘Ara region, in 1948 Ar’ara was in the “West Bank”, that part of Palestine that Israel agreed to leave to the Hashemite Kingdom within the framework of good relations between the two states. A year later, Israel recalled that it wants to own the road connecting ‘Afula and Hadera and demanded Jordan to hand over the Wadi. Only after Israel threatened to take military action did Jordan “agree” to relinquish the area and it was transferred to Israeli control in the summer of 1949…
Another historical note attesting to the artificial partition and the lack of any consideration of the human rights of Palestinians – the original inhabitants of the country – refers to the formation of the Gaza Strip. It is an artificial compound where refugees were crammed from the Negev and the southern coastal plain up to Jaffa. As a result the Gaza Strip has a special status as that part of Palestine the Zionists don’t really want to hold, because of its big population, and don’t know how to get rid of.
The central historical part of the lecture dealt with the West Bank and focused on the importance the Zionists attach to its control, both from historical and religious perspectives and for geopolitical and security considerations. Pappe relied on historical knowledge uncovered with the recent opening of the archives of the Israeli government. (Most archives, such as protocols from government meetings, open after 30 years. Security archives usually open after 50 years.) He disproved the Zionist narrative according to which the occupation of the West Bank was the unforeseen side effect of “Arab aggression” or the “security threat” in 1967 and of Israel’s need to defend itself.
He relied on four main facts:
- The existence from 1949 and until 1967 of a large lobby within the Israeli establishment which openly agitated for the occupation of the West Bank. This lobby included senior leaders from all Zionist parties, military officers and many members of the Zionist elite. Only the firm stance of Ben Gurion (despite being the biggest war criminal responsible for the ethnic cleansing of 48) against the occupation of the West Bank prevented this lobby from getting what it wanted earlier. As Ben-Gurion left the scene in 1963 the way opened for the realization of the plot.
- In 1964, the military appointed an officer named Michael Shakham, who was previously in charge of the military government controlling the Arabs within the 1948 borders, to prepare the structure and policy for imposing Israeli military government in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
- The Israeli government’s discussions following its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan in 1967 indicate a determination never to return to the boundaries of the beginning of June 67 and to control the West Bank permanently.
- The building of Jewish settlements in any “free” area in the West Bank that began under the Labor-led government soon after the 1967 occupation.
In 1967 Zionism achieved its goal of establishing a single state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River – a Jewish, racist and anti-democratic state. This is the reality in which we live and with it we have to deal.
There is a whole system of lies and illusions making it difficult to cope and change the situation. They transfer the consciousness and political struggle to another dimension – a mock battle between the “pro-occupation” and “a peace camp”. Ilan Pappe characterizes this illusionary search for peace as “searching for the key under the lamppost” – not where we have lost it.
The deception of temporary occupation and forged peace process
A significant part of the lecture was devoted to explanations and evidence proving that “the lamppost” didn’t just happen to be where it is. It is the result of a carefully conceived policy aiming to perpetuate Israeli control of all parts of Palestine.
The ideal solution, from the Zionist point of view, was to complete the ethnic cleansing and control all of Palestine without any of its original inhabitants. Zionism continues to work towards this goal, but faces considerable constrains on its freedom of action. Even the fact that the ethnic cleansing in 1948 has not been completed should be attributed to the staying power, Somoud, of the Arab population and not to any good will on the part of Zionism. Since 1967, some 450,000 Palestinians were expelled from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But even those who have not been physically deported are victims of ethnic cleansing of an indirect kind: denial of rights, restricting their freedom of movement, limiting personal and social development, preventing any real influence over laws or the government.
Referring to the internal discussions that took place within the Israeli government in 1967 just after the occupation, according to protocols that are now accessible, Pappe tells about proposals for immediate expulsion of the majority of the population. Those proposals found many supporters, mostly veterans of the ’48 ethnic cleansing. However, the Zionist leadership was fearful of active opposition from the population, many of them were already refugees from ’48. The presence of the international media, which was hardly considered in ’48, was another deterrent. Basically the war in ’67 ended quickly and it was difficult to organize and justify ethnic cleansing without the fog of war.
In this situation, out of conscious intention to control the area indefinitely and deny all the human rights of its people, Israel invented the magic formula of presenting the occupation as temporary. The status of the population will be settled “with the coming of peace”. This mode of operation allows Israel to continue to present itself as a “democratic state” and enjoy the many benefits attached to this status in the international arena.
Hence “the peace process” and talk about “two states for two peoples” are not in any contradiction with the occupation, not even the “temporary” occupation” of 1967, but a political and conceptual framework designed to enable and perpetuate the occupation.
Israel would find it hard to market this façade to the world if it was not being assisted by many others, some serving their self-interests and others out of misled good intentions. The leadership of the Palestinian national movement plays a key role in providing credibility for the fake peace process. It is followed by a large part of the leadership of the Palestinian Arab population within the green line. Many peace activists around the world have fallen into this trap.
Meanwhile, Israel has been working on the ground to perpetuate its control over the land, water, economy and all aspects of Palestinian lives. It creates a situation where even if a Palestinian state is announced, headed by Mahmoud Abbas as president, it will not have any practical significance.
ODS offering equality for all inhabitants and returning refugees
Against the reality of one racist state, tearing apart the façade of a fake peace process and “two-state solution”, Ilan Pappe suggests to “start looking for the key where we lost it”.
We need to start by correctly identifying the problem: expose Zionism as a colonialist movement and characterize Israel as an apartheid racist state. There is no other Zionism, nor another Israel. Exposure, by itself, may have huge effect: First of all because of the importance of international support in preserving Israel’s superiority against all local forces; but also due to internal conflicts within Israeli society.
Any solution should be derived from our understanding of the problem. It should start with a discussion among all residents of the country on how to live together within a framework where all enjoy full rights, equality and partnership. The Palestinian refugees should also take part in this discussion, as they have the right to return to Palestine and fully take part in shaping its/their future. It is essential to set the goal of establishing one state for all inhabitants and refugees of the country, because it defines who should participate in the discussion about this future.
Zionism has done, and continues to do, whatever it can to divide the Palestinian people and guide any part of them to get “stuck” in a different dead end. First came the distancing of the refugees outside Palestine’s borders and the isolation of the Palestinian population in the ’48 territories. Today we also witness the political separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Posing a new agenda, common to all sectors of the Palestinian people, is the beginning of the road toward a solution. Today’s technology can provide the basis for an open discussion across borders and checkpoints, forming a platform for more intense links and designing together the common path.
All this is not at all easy. There are problems in the relationship between different sectors of the public, between secular and religious folk, between the indigenous inhabitants and the third generation of settlers. A new distribution of resources is required to compensate for generations of dispossession and discrimination. It is not clear what will be the nature of the new society and what political framework we will build together; but it is essential that we start a serious discussion about all of it. Beyond that we face a hard struggle against an oppressive regime that regards any perspective other than a racist Jewish state as “Suicide” and “Existential Danger”.
This is our task and those are the problems we must solve. Until we look straight at this reality, we are wasting precious time. Understanding the problem and presenting a real solution can create strong dynamics for changing the balance of power.
Plan of Action
At the discussion with the audience Pappe tried to outline some chapters of a practical plan that one may work upon immediately for ODS:
- Arab representation in the Israeli Knesset gives great propaganda advantage to Israel in presenting itself as a democracy to world public opinion. In practice, Arab MKs have no real impact on legislation and are not even considered for coalition politics. Waiver of Arab representation in the Knesset shall constitute an important and effective message to the world while it carries minimal practical cost.
- One may search for an alternative to the Palestinian Authority that would not serve Israel.
- One may establish frames for cooperation and work on building a movement that will unite the different parts of the Palestinian people.
- We should open the way and call upon anti-Zionist Jews in Israel to become full partners in a unified political movement.
We must not assume that we are powerless and that there is some determinism assuring Israel’s superiority forever. A political activist should not ask “How long will it take until we win the fight?” but rather “What did I do today to bring the victory?”
Pappe mentioned his participation, in 1992, in a delegation which travelled to Tunis to request Arafat to raise the rights of Palestinian Arabs inside the Green Line in the Oslo negotiations with Israel. He recalled their disappointment as Arafat said that was an internal Israeli matter.
Divisions in the leadership of the Palestinian struggle and the lack of a clear political perspective prevent proper utilization of the support of the cause in world public opinion. Although Israel and its allies are working to strengthen these divisions, the responsibility for building the leadership of the Palestinian struggle falls ultimately upon Palestinians themselves.
Pappe finally predicts that when the Palestinian people will unite behind a clear democratic political perspective and clarify to the world that what Israel is fighting for is the perpetuation of racism, Zionism will fall. He says such a prediction was not possible in the past, but it is based on reading the dynamics of power relations and world politics today.
Positive change in the balance of power
Living in England and being involved in the international solidarity movement with the Palestinian people, Pappe describes how, despite the weakness of the Palestinian official position, international conditions are changing favorably. The Palestinian cause receives international awareness and support more than any other struggle for national liberation or democracy. The solidarity movement naturally starts as a popular protest movement, but it is acquiring recognition and support also within the elites and has already advanced and started to influence the decisions of governments and economic firms.
One of the factors that strengthen the solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is the ongoing crisis of the international capitalist system in the wake of the financial crisis that began in 2008. This crisis has led to a growing lack of trust in the political leadership and the governing elites in the global economy. New social movements see a direct connection between economic injustice “inside” and the oppression and exploitation toward third world nations. They are conscious of the direct link between the fate of blacks in the United States and the denial of rights of the Palestinian people. Insights that in the past were known only to a small minority of “rigid” Marxist are now common knowledge of the broader public.
The globalization of the international economy has led to the globalization of the protest movement. Today there is a broad sense of solidarity and commitment to protection of human rights.
He tells in detail about the achievements of the boycott movement (BDS) and the difficulties of Israeli Hasbara (propaganda). Israel is investing huge amounts of money in improving its image – especially in the United States, which many of us tend to consider “The Longest Yard”. Despite all of these efforts, Israelis speakers themselves admit their failure. They now consider campuses in the United States a lost cause.
The latest attack on Gaza, where Israel was not satisfied with ethnic cleansing but turned to outright genocide, led the solidarity movement to new heights. Law students in many faculties in England took over administrative offices in support of the Palestinians. Palestinian flags were raised on many municipal buildings across the UK.
Ilan demonstrates the potential of the solidarity movement by his recent experience. The BBC broadcasts during the attack on Gaza excelled in shocking lack of objectivity and blatant support for Israel’s position. When he heard about the preparations for a mass demonstration in London against the war, he called the organizers and suggested to change the route of the demonstration, pass by the offices of the BBC and stage a special protest there. Indeed, during the demonstration, hundreds of thousands participants rallied to protest outside the offices of the BBC.
When asked from the audience about the drift to the right and extremism in Israeli society, Ilan said that we all know how difficult things are but there is also some related advantage. In past times Israeli society could delude itself that there is a third way, “a Jewish and democratic state”. Today it is impossible to hide the contradiction, albeit with the vast majority of Israeli society choosing racism. This choice hurts Israel’s propaganda and will help us expose to the world the true nature of Israel.
The open choice by the majority of extremism and racism will also push more Israelis to look for alternatives. We witness the disappearance of “the Israeli left”, which will not return, but, in any case, it was a partner in all of Zionism’s crimes. It is necessary, and it is becoming more possible now, to explain to those Israelis whose conscience torments them or see the futility of occupation and racism that those vices stem directly from the Zionist ideology, on which they were educated from childhood.
We already see real signs that some Israelis draw conclusions from the situation. For example, whereas in the past the refusenik movement was mainly against army service in those territories occupied since ’67, now its mainstream is total refusal to serve in the Israeli army.
Zionist victory means perpetuating the character of Israel as a racist state. Even if Israel succeeds in suppressing the Palestinian people, it will only lead to more wars against the surrounding Arab world. In the end Israel as a Crusader state has no future and will be defeated in these wars (after the current internal conflicts in the Arab world are settled one way or another). In this respect, our program is also the only positive perspective proposed for the Israelis.
In turning to the Israeli public there is a division of roles and tasks between the Palestinian Arabs in the movement and anti-Zionist Jews. It is important that the Palestinian movement will explain to Israelis that anything less than full democracy for everyone and everywhere is unacceptable; whoever is opposed to it should be denounced as a racist. Anti-Zionist Jews have an important role in reaching out to the Jewish public. However, the main leverage for a broader change in Israeli society will come from the combination of international condemnation of Israel, the expansion of the boycott movement and a clear call from the joint ODS movement to anti-Zionist Jews to join the struggle for a common future.
Lessons from South Africa
The comparison with South Africa was repeated many times during the lecture, not always in the usual context of the characterization of Israel as an apartheid racist state or of the possibility of a solution based on the democratic principle of “one person, one vote.”
The main enemies against which Pappe spoke were despair and the perception that change is impossible. To this end, he recruited his own personal experience when he arrived in Europe in 1980 and joined the anti-apartheid movement. At that time there was gloom in the movement: many activists thought that popular struggle would never change the positions of governments and economic corporations which operate on self-interest and whose support enabled the continuation of apartheid. Britain was ruled by Margaret Thatcher, who defined Nelson Mandela as “arch-terrorist”.
Ten years later, under heavy international pressure, De Klerk announced the failure of the apartheid regime and in 1994 the liberation movement came to power in democratic elections.
Pappe also turned to the experience of South Africa to emphasise the principled position of the liberation movement there, under the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), refusing any solution that is not based on full democracy for all residents. This position strengthened the boycott movement, which found a clear address for support and guidance. Today it is hard to find a clear address for the Palestinian liberation movement, nor for directing the struggle, neither for proposing a solution. The emergence of a movement of the inhabitants of Palestine struggling for ODS can fill this vacuum.
Another important lesson from South Africa relates to changing international conditions. The United States relied on South Africa, within the framework of the Cold War, both to counter leftist liberation movements and as a major supplier of uranium. As long as it needed SA, the US government was willing to ignore the crimes committed by the apartheid regime against the black population. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War (factors about which the liberation movement had no influence) abolished the usefulness of the apartheid regime and converted it from an asset into a burden.
Similarly, the Western powers support Israel today because it serves their interests. These interests are changing and the day will come when they will lose interest in supporting Israel. The important questions are who will fight until that moment so that the rights of the Palestinian people will not be forgotten in the meantime and who would be ready at the moment of truth to dismantle the Israeli apartheid regime?
Al-Muqawama – The Resistance
Referring to the Palestinian leadership crisis, Ilan Pappe told the youth: there are some issues you have to discuss between yourself. You can do it without me.
Nevertheless, some twenty youngsters stayed half an hour after the lecture to ask questions and discuss various topics.
One of the issues that many of them do not see eye to eye with Ilan was the subject of armed resistance. When asked about it, Pappe stressed, on the one hand, that the oppressed people have the right to struggle for their liberty by all available means, including armed struggle. On the other hand he said that if he was a Palestinian young man, and he had to choose between a laptop and a Kalashnikov, he would choose a laptop, out of consideration which is a more effective tool in the fight. He also mentioned that nowadays armed struggle doesn’t have the same potential as in the 60s, the days of Che Guevara and the rise of the Palestinian revolution.
As a political activist, it seems to me that Pappe the historian lost here for a moment the historical context. It is true that we witness a process of democratic change in South America, which allowed the liberation movements (most of which were defeated in the armed struggle in the sixties and seventies) to bring about a significant change through democratic means. However, it is difficult to ignore the fact that we live in the heart of the Arab world where still no change was made possible through democratic means. Armed militias of all stripes and types, ranging from the nuclear-armed “Jewish state” to the decapitators of the “Islamic state”, compete between them for power through violent means.
Many years of armed struggle brought independence to the people of South Sudan, which are now fighting each other. The people of divided Kurdistan, another seemingly lost historical struggle, could not defend their very existence today were it not for the armed militias of the Kurdish Workers Party, which is still defined by the Western powers as a terrorist organization.
Armed resistance led to Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 after 18 years of occupation and stopped another Israeli aggression in 2006. Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was only made possible thanks to two bloody intifadas. Even those democratic protesters from England, who showed up to protest against the BBC, would probably not leave their homes, or would demonstrate for the sake of another just cause, had it not been for the spilled Palestinian blood in Gaza.
Armed struggle and political struggle are not opposites but complement each other.
The heavy price paid by the Palestinian people in their struggle is but another reason to ask whether the political leadership of the struggle serves the masses faithfully, with the due devotion and efficiency, to achieve their aspirations for Return and Freedom? Are we, the political activists, protesters, laptop holders, doing our best to build a movement that will remove the rule of Evil and establish a just society?