Saturday, 31 July 2010

Israel. Learning the Truth.

I have just finished reading Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld 2006); I picked it as a result of reading Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People, about which I blogged in June.

Several times in recent years I have been shocked to discover the depth of my own historical ignorance. The first shock came when I read Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's The Unknown Mao. Somehow, I had managed to hang on to the idea that Mao had been a good thing for China. Other shocks came reading all the post-1991 books which demonstrate the depths of viciousness which characterised the old Soviet Union. Some of it I knew about; but not all.

Now I feel a bit ashamed to discover my ignorance about Israel: a racist, colonialist state founded on historical fantasies, ethnic cleansing and continuing violence. It is apartheid South Africa, probably worse. After reading Sands and Pappe, it is hard to avoid the thought that Israel is the last remaining outpost of 19th and 20th century European right-wing nationalist and racist ideologies. Most of the strategies and tactics of expansionist Nazism have been deployed and continue to be deployed against the Palestinians, except genocide. And now there are fringe Zionists - looking at non-Jewish Palestinian population growth - who spend their days dreaming of killing Palestinians. Sometimes they get the opportunity.

When the Jewish settlers cleansed Israel of its indigenous Palestinian population in 1948 - 49, they killed thousands as part of the terror they created to hasten their exodus. But only thousands; most became the refugees living in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The UN observed what was happening, the General Asembly passed a Right of Return resolution, but the UN - which started the conflict by partitioning Palestine without conducting a Plebiscite - then did nothing. At the same time Stalin's Soviet Union and its satellite Czechoslovakia was supplying Israel with more arms to attack the Palestinians.

One of the most revealing details in Pappe's book is the claim (pages 235-236) that in 1948 - 49, the new Israeli authorities were very keen that the Palestinian refugees should be the responsibility of a new UN organisation, UNWRA, rather than the existing International Refugee Organisation (IRO). The latter had recently gained massive experience with handling refugees from World War II, many of them Jewish victims of Nazism. The Israelis did not want IRO staff to make any connection between the plight of the refugees they had recently helped and the Palestinian refugees displaced by the actions of the new Israeli state.

The Palestinians survived, in refugee camps and ghettos of one kind or another, of which Gaza is now the biggest: a "prison camp" in the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Despite constant migration into Israel of foreigners claiming to be Jews (and some who don't even claim that), the demographics are against the Zionist state.

So is elementary morality. So is the absence of anything other than an ersatz, fake state-sponsored culture that (as I read Pappe) the universities have played an important role in creating.

One must remember that there are important strands of Jewish religious and secular cultures which are not Zionist and sometimes even anti - Zionist. At the time of Israel's creation, there were non-Zionist Jews living in the country who opposed the expulsion of the Palestinians, sometimes with local success.This does not stop Zionist propagandists, from conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Judaism and, of course, anti-Semitism. Sir Martin Gilbert [of the UKs Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war] was doing it on Israeli army radio only recently.

In 1995, I travelled to Jerusalem to initiate discussions on a distance-learning doctoral programme between the University of Sussex (where I worked) and an Israeli higher education institution. I knew so little about Israel that I did not really register why some of my Sussex colleagues were less than enthusiastic about partnering with an Israeli institution. There was a peace process, wasn't there, which meant (among other things) that I had been able to walk alone all the way round the top of the Old City walls taking photographs, some of them showing the young Israeli soldiers looking down from the walls to observe the comings and goings of the Muslim/Palestinian markets. And when I was unexpectedly introduced to Yasser Arafat in Bethlehem, I simply wished him Good Luck ... (this encounter is recounted in "A Christmas Carol" - go to Stories at www.selectedworks.co.uk )

I knew enough to keep quiet about that odd encounter when going through the Security de-briefing on my way out at Ben-Gurion airport. But otherwise: Such ignorance! I am embarassed. My own Owl of Minerva is very clearly flying only after dusk.

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