Pappe follows Israeli troops from region to region, from month to month, and documents the killings of Palestinians and the destruction of their villages, cities, and neighborhoods one by one, not bypassing cases of cold-blooded massacres (31 "confirmed" ones and six other probable ones (p. 258)), occasional cases of rape, and other atrocities. Pappe rebuffs Israeli academia for disregarding and concealing the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and its continuous consequences, poking fun at the economists for failing to assess the extent of Palestinian properties lost in the 1948 destruction; of the geographers for failing to chart the amount of refugee land Israel confiscated; the philosophers for failing to contemplate the moral implications of the Nakba that Israel perpetrated; and the
historians for failing to supply the fullest picture of the war and the ethnic cleansing.
ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe. Oxford, UK: Oneworld, 2006. xviii + 261 pages. Notes to p. 281. Chron. to p. 287. Maps. to p. 294. Tables. Bibl. to p. 300. Index to p. 313. $27.50.
Reviewed by Uri Ram
It would be hasty to assume that the book The Ethnic Cleansing of
Palestine by Ilan Pappe will put an end to the debate on what really happened in Israel/Palestine in 1948. On the contrary, the book will, if anything, inflame this debate. Yet, whatever else historians will have to say on this or that account, the book is bound to make its mark on Israeli historiography. It is published two decades after another benchmark book on the very same issue, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (1987) by Benny Morris. While in the heydays of the "New Historians" epoch (the early 1990s) these two historians were grouped together, with the passage of time it became clear that Morris is much closer to the Zionist narrative than is Pappe.
With the publication of the book under review, we now have Morris's "war paradigm" versus Pappe's own "ethnic cleansing paradigm" regarding the expulsion/evacuation of the Palestinians in 1948-49. Pappe defines the difference between the two paradigms as follows: " When it created its nation-state, the Zionist movement did not wage a war that 'tragically but inevitably' led to the expulsion of 'parts' of their indigenous
population, but the other way round: the main goal was the ethnic
cleansing of all of Palestine which the movement coveted for its new state" (p. xvi).
Morris's book was received at the time as sensational for making the claim that Israel is responsible in part for the refugee problem. In Morris's famous conclusion to his study, the uprooting of 650,000 to 700,000 Palestinians and the destruction of their 431 villages was in part a result of local decisions of military officers in the circumstances of war . with no evidence found to an overall policy of expulsion or an explicit order to such an effect . and in part a result of decisions taken by the Palestinians themselves out of fear and (or) with the hopes of a fast return as victors. Pappe rejects this equity in responsibility and also proposes different numbers. He refers to an expulsion of 800,000 people and a destruction of 531 villages (p. xiii) and not as a by product of the war, but rather as an inevitable outcome of the Zionist logic and of a master plan that was issued by Israel's supreme political leadership and executed summarily by its military forces. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, then, is about the responsibility for the expulsion of the Palestinians and the destruction of their villages and neighborhoods, and its novelty is in putting the onus, and the whole of it, on Israel.
The main claim made in this book is that in 1948 Israel perpetuated against the Palestinians what is now called "ethnic cleansing," which is defined in international law as a crime against humanity. Pappe is adamant that what happened in Palestine in 1948 forms "a clear-cut case" of "ethnic cleansing," which he defines as follows:
ethnic cleansing is an effort to render an ethnically mixed country homogeneous by expelling a particular group of people and turning them into refugees while demolishing the homes they were driven out from. There may well be a master plan, but most of the troops engaged in ethnic cleansing do not need direct orders: they know beforehand what is expected of them. Massacres accompany the operations, but where they occur they are not part of a genocidal plan: they are a key tactic to accelerate the fight of the population earmarked for expulsion (p. 3).
The book opens with a building labeled the "Red House" and it ends with another building labeled the "Green House," both located in Tel Aviv. The Red House had been the site of the headquarters of the Histadrut (Hebrew Federation of Labour) and later the Hagana (the Israeli military
underground), where a "Consultancy" of 11 people oversaw Israel's war, and on March 10, 1948 decided upon "Plan D." In Pappe's reading, "Plan D" "called for the systematic and total expulsion [of the Palestinians] from their homeland" (p. 28). The plan provided the actual means whereby the Zionist leadership would obtain its boldest strategic goal of "obtaining as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians" (p. 42). These are the wordings of the plan as cited by Pappe:
These operations [or taking over territories] can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their rubble), and especially those population centers that are difficult to control permanently; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidance/; encirclement of the villages, conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wired out and the
population expelled outside the borders of the state (cited on p. 82).
In Israeli mainstream historiography this plan is usually interpreted as a tactical command that relates to the eventualities that might develop on the ground and the way the troops should face them. This is by and large also Morris's view. But Pappe considers this to be "the master plan for the expulsion of all the villages in rural Palestine" (p. 82), adding that obviously in the given circumstances there would not have been a village in which no resistance would have happened and that similar instructions were given with regard to Palestinian urban centers.
The bulk of the book dwells on the development of the Israeli policy of expulsion, its planning, and finally its execution in the war of 1948-49. Pappe follows Israeli troops from region to region, from month to month, and documents the killings of Palestinians and the destruction of their villages, cities, and neighborhoods one by one, not bypassing cases of cold-blooded massacres (31 "confirmed" ones and six other probable ones (p. 258)), occasional cases of rape, and other atrocities. The final part of the book covers in a more cursory way the period between 1949 and today. It reviews such issues as the abuses of military command to which the Arabs remaining in Israel were committed, the Kfar Qassim massacre of 1956, the desecration of holy sites, the continuous confiscation of Arab lands under pretexts of security, and the physical cover-up of the remains of destructed villages with forests and resort parks, which he terms "memoricide." Finally, the book emphasizes the continuation into the present times of the same fundamental principles that brought to the 1948 Nakba . the exclusivist ethno-nationalism that continues to propel the "peace process" and the demographic scare in Israel since the 1990s. He alludes in this regard to "Fortress Israel," which he likens to the medieval crusaders kingdom and to apartheid South Africa.
The overall tone of the book is of historical realism accompanied by a moral indictment. Pappe's politics are simple . some might regard it as simplistic . if Israel would only admit its crimes and repent them by letting the refugees return, everybody would be able to sit secure under their vine and fig trees. But what is the international theory or
historical experience that such an optimism might be founded upon? Pappe's own book, after all, is a testimony to the potential cruelty of
The book ends up with the "Green House" . the faculty club building of Tel Aviv University, which is the reconstructed house of Shaykh Muwannis, the only remaining house from a village with this name that is buried under the university. Pappe rebuffs Israeli academia for disregarding and concealing the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and its continuous consequences, poking fun at the economists for failing to assess the extent of
Palestinian properties lost in the 1948 destruction; of the geographers for failing to chart the amount of refugee land Israel confiscated; the philosophers for failing to contemplate the moral implications of the Nakba that Israel perpetrated; and the historians for failing to supply the fullest picture of the war and the ethnic cleansing. He omits the sociologists whom he could have blamed for failing to provide an account of the 40 years occupation of the Palestinian territories from 1967. On the background of the campaigns to boycott Israeli academia, Pappe counterbalances here the argument against the boycott that upholds Israeli academia as a (the last?) bulwark against the occupation. In sum, Ilan Pappe provides here a most important and daring book that challenges head-on Israeli historiography and collective memory and even more importantly Israeli conscience.
February 19, 2008