Review: Ilan Pappe’s Ten Myths About Israel

Mike Downham reviews Ilan Pappe’s recent book Ten Myths About Israel

Israel, Palestine, Zionism, Ant-Zionism, Apartheid, Occupation, Colonialism, Ilan Pappe, Verso, Verso Books, anti-colonialism, Hamas, resistance, ethnic cleansing, history

Contrary to Henry Ford’s claim, history is certainly not bunk. We cannot change the world we live in without understanding how the world came to be as it is. And yet so much of what is presented to us as history, written or otherwise communicated largely by the right, is not history but propaganda. The land enclosures (England) and clearances (Highland Scotland) are hailed as ‘improvements’. The Russian Revolution was Stalinist in its intentions from the start. The oil era, we are told, started in 1859 when pay-dirt was discovered in Pennsylvania, though oil had by then been extracted earlier in Burma over several pre-colonial centuries, and so on. Those who stand up to set the historical record straight, as Jeremy Corbyn bravely attempted following the Manchester attack, are hounded down by the ruling class and its press lackeys.

So Ilan Pappe, radical Israeli historian, has done a brave and highly necessary job in exposing ten myths that are internationally accepted as historical facts for the origins of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He does this in a clear and coherent way, which broke through my weariness with the complexities and frustrations of the conflict and its daunting duration, stretching back 125 years since the first Jews from Eastern Europe began to settle in Palestine in 1882. By the time you have read this short book you will understand and be able to argue with confidence that:

  1. Palestine was NOT an empty land in 1948
  2. The Jews were NOT a people without land
  3. Zionism is NOT the same as Judaism
  4. Zionism is a settler colonial movement NOT different from other settler colonial movements
  5. The Palestinians did NOT leave their homeland voluntarily in 1948
  6. The June 1967 War was NOT a war of no choice for the Israelis
  7. Israel is NOT a democracy
  8. The Oslo process (1993) was NOT a genuine peace process undermined by Yasser Arafat
  9. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was NOT a gesture of peace, Hamas is NOT a terrorist organisation, and Israel’s devastation of Gaza has NOT been in self-defence
  10. The Two State Solution is NOT a solution

Pappe also reminds us of the central role Britain played in enabling the Zionist settlement of Palestine – most critically through Balfour’s promise in 1917 of full British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and in 1948 when Britain knowingly left the Palestinians to the mercy of Israeli ethnic cleansing. He shows how British support for Zionism emerged out of a toxic mix of imperialism and Christian belief. As socialists we are not in the business of picking up nationalist guilt from the actions of previous generations, but we do need to understand the sensitivities of Palestinians in relation to Britain’s half-hearted and patronising interventions.

More important for revolutionary socialists is to draw attention to the capitalist root of Zionism. Pappe stops short of making this connection explicit, most likely because he judged that to do so would render his book still less politically acceptable. But the case he makes for Israel being a settler colonial state is robust, giving us all the ammunition we need to point our finger once again at profit, and to support solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian workers as the only sustainable way forward.

When the Nazis mass murdered the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe, they not only butchered millions, but destroyed a culture and way of life.  It was a culture that did not require power over any territory, let alone any territorial claim to ancestral lands, and its development was driven by a search for safety within societies which refused to integrate Jews as equals. It was a culture with a strong mixing of bourgeois liberal ideals, born out of the French Revolution, when Jews gained many of their legal freedoms, and, by the end of the 19th century, with socialist internationalism. As far as both of these strands are concerned  Zionism was a minority feature.

Though many Israelis continue to assert it, history does not support the claim that the Holocaust was a justification for, as Jenny Diski has put it, the military occupation of Palestine and the devastation of the freedom, livelihood and culture of its people – or, as Ilan Pappe puts it, incremental genocide. It is vital that we grasp the fact that what Israel is doing in the 21st century, however acceptable it might have been to the world of the 19th century, had in the course of the 20th century come to be internationally recognised as completely unacceptable racism, on a par with the genocide of indigenous people, for example in the USA, and with the segregation of apartheid South Africa. It is vital that we understand this, not just in solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians, but also because right wing movements across the world are currently cosying up to Netanyahu to learn from him how to get away with treating some sections of their populations as less than human.

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