“Historical disinformation, even of the most recent past, can do tremendous harm.” Ilan Pappé’s latest publication, “Ten Myths About Israel” (Verso Books, 2017), opens with an overview of the intentional violence inflicted upon Palestinians through several forms of colonial violence. Applying a thorough analysis of the myths perpetuated by Israel to sustain its presence in Palestine, Pappé exposes the fabricated Zionist historical framework and explains its impact upon the Palestinian people and their land.
The historian identifies ten fundamental myths which are discussed in separate chapters. The analysis incorporates the historical framework, its absorption by the international community and its repercussions upon Palestinian memory and the scarce options available for anti-colonial struggle and autonomy. The approach chosen by Pappé enables the reader to embark upon a historical journey, while at the same time providing an opportunity to apply that knowledge to the present circumstances.
The intention to embark upon ethnic cleansing is evident from the earliest colonisation period in the late 1880s. Commencing with the myth of a barren, empty land — “a land without a people for a people without a land” as the early Zionist Jews claimed —Pappé shows that displacement of the indigenous population was already part of the earliest colonial ideology. He describes the preliminary thought as containing “all the ingredients that would turn these ideas into the future justification for erasing and denying the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population.”
Alongside the political persuasion occurring at an international level, the early settlers expressed abhorrence at finding the land already well-populated with Palestinians. With a growing assimilation of settlers to the political movement, the Zionist narrative was able to utilise two main premises, with one taking precedence over the other. The purported need to safeguard “persecuted Jews” was eclipsed, as Pappé states, “by the wish to take as much of Palestine as possible with as few [existing] inhabitants as was practical.”
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Another myth promoted by Israel is the dissociation between Zionism and colonisation. In this chapter Pappé evokes two themes: the logic of dehumanisation attributed to Patrick Wolfe, and the author’s own observation of the logic of elimination. He provides an invaluable reference for the current colonisation process, as it shows the intent to colonise all of Palestine while affirming that the colonisation process is still incomplete. Hence the relevance of Pappé’s statement with reference to the colonisation process before 1948 regarding the settler ideology, that the only way to ensure “an exclusive demographic majority, was to remove the natives from their homeland.”
To consolidate this aim, the myth of voluntary abandonment of Palestine by the Palestinians was prioritised by Zionism and promoted internationally, to the point that the right of return also became a lost clause, buried beneath Israeli demands and manipulation. “For many years the refugee problem was expunged from the international agenda,” explains the author. In order for the international community to reach a silent consensus with Israel regarding its non-compliance with the Palestinians’ right of return, the atrocities of the Nakba were normalised in such a matter that promoted their dehumanisation. Pappé notes that despite there being no evidence of the Palestinian people leaving their land willingly, the myth was incorporated into the official narrative and disseminated as fact. Given the international community’s refusal to oppose Israel’s colonial agenda, it was easy for the state to implement a perpetual war narrative. The 1967 war, which was the next step in colonising yet more Palestinian territory, can be seen as a prelude to the current violence which has made it almost impossible for Palestinians to articulate their vision of freedom. “Talking about peace,” says Pappé, “does not mean they cannot establish on the ground irreversible facts that will defeat the very idea of peace.”
Adding the myth of Israel as a democracy also enabled Israel to enforce two restricting options on Palestinians: permanent incarceration or retribution. However, the democratic myth encouraged acceptance of Israel as a “benevolent occupier” and also contributed towards the failure of the Oslo Accords, which extended the enforced compromise imposed upon “a defeated, colonised people.” Oslo reinforced the concept of partition, thus eliminating any possibility of a proper implementation of the Palestinian right of return. Pappé refutes the peace process illusion, arguing that Oslo required the abandonment by the Palestinian leadership of the right of return.
At the helm of opposing Oslo was Hamas, which has also received its share of manipulation within the Israeli and international narratives. From distortion of Hamas as a terror organisation, the opportunistic withdrawal from Gaza in return for colonising the West Bank and the Israeli military aggressions against Gaza — which the author describes as “an incremental genocide” — Israel has incarcerated Palestinians in Gaza on account of “security concerns” and with scant opposition from the international community.
The book’s concluding chapters are an important resource. Pappé deems the two-state paradigm “an Israeli invention” and, throughout the book, with his meticulous narration of facts which shatter the colonial myths, he gives evidence of a cycle that has its origins in the earlier partition plan for Palestine. Exacerbating the conditions on the ground benefits Israel when it comes to the two-state implementation. Colonisation has already rendered it impossible, despite the international community preferring to tether Palestinians to terminology that offers no solution.
The other overlooked but intrinsically important distinction is Pappé’s insistence upon differentiating between colonisation and occupation. “Although they themselves will still call it occupation, what they are living through is rooted in something else much harder to defeat or change – colonisation.” While this reference omission is not only limited to Palestinians, the failure to articulate settler-colonialism can only contribute to Israel’s process of elimination with regard to the indigenous population.
Pappé’s book is methodical, presenting facts with precision and yet easy to follow due to clarity in the historical timeline. It manages to dissolve the Israeli narratives through facts which Israel and the international community have striven to obliterate and manipulate. The truth, however, as the book shows, is always accessible. Moving beyond that accessibility towards an avenue for assertion would expose Israel’s colonial violence and in return, the legitimacy of Palestinian rights.