Professor Ilan Pappé brings the Israeli-Palestinian discussion to Vancouver
All the coverage of the Middle East lately has been about the Arab Spring — the struggles for liberation from autocratic rule. But strangely, there is hardly any mention of its impact on the region’s longest running conflict: the Israeli-Palestinian question.
University of Exter professor Ilan Pappé spoke about this at the Vancouver Public Library on May 5, on a visit hosted by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, and Building Bridges Vancouver.
Pappé is an Israeli historian whose work draws on Israeli records of the events around the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, and the years that followed. His work has attracted controversy in his home country, including death threats which caused him to move to Exeter University in the UK.
The author of many books including The Modern Middle East, The Forgotten Palestinians, and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, his work challenges the official Israeli narrative of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” His works outline the expulsion and disenfranchisement of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. According to Pappé, the official version of this history distorts perceptions of the current situation and any potential future for the Arab and Jewish inhabitants of the region.
Speaking to a large and enthusiastic audience, Pappé attacked “the false paradigm of peace” which dominates discussion and diplomacy concerning Israelis and Palestinians. The emphasis on (perpetually stalled) negotiations and their goal of a two-state solution suggests that there are two equal parties, equally at fault for the conflict, with both sides gaining some benefit from negotiations. He asserts that the failing negotiations merely offer a distraction, while the state of Israel continues its policy of annexing more land through settlements.
Pappé traced the origin of the “two-state solution” to the mid-1960s. It was first conceived by Israeli ministers who had been military officers in 1948. The plan required control of the West Bank, and while ethnic cleansing of the area was eventually ruled out, the “state” envisioned for the Palestinians was to be a small portion of the West Bank, without any real autonomy. Rather than removing the Palestinians, a military occupation would control every aspect of their lives.
The conditions in which the inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip live have shifted from “open air prison” to “maximum security prison”, Pappé said. The construction of the wall through the West Bank, the blockade in force since 2007, and the invasion of Gaza in 2009 show a worsening of the appalling conditions for Palestinians. Arbitrary arrest, imprisonment without charge, and the constant threat of violence characterize their lives. The situation has been compared to the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa by many, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Currently, more than 1500 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike to protest these conditions.
Yet if the two-state solution is a false paradigm, in Pappé's view, what are people left with?
According to Pappé (and the late scholar Edward Said), one state which gives equal rights and citizenship to both Jewish and Arab people is the only fair and just solution. He notes that the 11 million Palestinians today are more than double the size of the population in the West Bank and Gaza. The rest of the dispossessed live in and outside of refugee camps in Jordan, Egypt, and across the world. Any solution to the conflict must recognize them, he said, and what has been done to them.
This proposal seems unlikely to gain much traction while the two-state solution dominates discussion and diplomatic effort. Indeed, it seems impossible. “I am not interested in what is possible but in what is just,” said Pappé, “and if the just is not possible, I will work for it until it is possible.”