Eve B. St-Cyr | Contributor
When we think of historians and the world of academia these days, rarely do we envision death threats and accusations of treason – but these things may tend to happen. This is the case with Dr. Ilan Pappé , who was the guest speaker at the April 30th conference that was touring Canada, titled: The False Paradigm of Peace: Revisiting the Palestine Question. The talk was organized by the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
A revisionist historian and author of numerous books Pappé has specialized in reinterpreting the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. He is part of a generation of historians that saw the opening of Israel’s national archives in the course of the 1980’s. Pappé has made an argument for the need for a fresh perspective on the nature of the occupation and colonization of the West Bank, and for the understanding of Israeli-Palestinian relations overall. According to a report in the Guardian by Chris Arnot, Pappé left Israel, where he was born and saught sanctuary in the English West Country in 2005 and 2006. This was after he ” found himself in the eye of a storm,” the article stated.
In light of the Israeli Cabinet meetings of June 1967 in Jerusalem, Pappé argues, that the restrictions imposed on Palestine were part of a conscious effort by of the Israeli leadership to exercise control over their surrounding geography. “The 13th government of Israel was very unique in that it housed all the Zionist parties of Israel. Never before and never after did Israel have such a government. You had the most extreme people of the Right; on the Left; the most extreme religious people, and secular people – in short, every shade in the Israeli Zionist political spectrum was represented in that government. […] The decision that was taken was of a consensus. That is why it has held water for so many years. Whatever this government decided was never challenged, was never deviated.”
Israel’s containment plan for Palestinians included the implementation of military courts and taxation systems, and a massive bureaucracy to control the Palestinian demographics in the West Bank. “They were ready,” says Pappé.
He notes that, as an ideological product of that reality, the occupation and colonization of the West Bank will continue as long as Israel entertains diplomatic peace negotiation processes on the international scene. In other words, because Israel maintains that it is willing to sit at the negotiating table and talk of peace, no other viable options for actually achieving peace can come about.
By offering to revisit the paradigm of peace Pappé proposes that the conception of the Israel/Palestine conflict as a battle between two equal national parties beckons a reconsideration of the realities of a sovereign state for Palestine.
Indeed, as Dr. Pappé underlines in his repudiation of the classic Camp David “2 State Solution”, Partition has a pretty bad rap overall. From India to Africa, one can note innumerable examples of the folly of colonial and post-colonial geographical developments.
The solution, he hints, is to first recognize the ghettoization of occupied Palestinian territories: “Is there such a thing as a benign occupation? Media will never pick up on the daily; every minute of every hour, abuse, that has been ongoing for 45 years,” he says. “There is a fourth generation of children being born with out knowledge of the sea, or the next village for that matter.”
Pappé also argues that the international community’s moral support for peace negotiations will only succeed if the immunity for the past offenses of the parties are lifted.
“The last thing I enjoy is being the person that holds up a mirror to his society’s face and says, ‘Look how ugly you are.’ Some people like to challenge and incite their neighbours, he says, “I’m not like that… But, I’m a historian, and this is the truth the way I see it: The story of a victim and a victimizer. And the victim is the Palestinians. Without idealizing the Palestinians -victims are not necessarily nice people, but they are still victims.”
Pappé likens the occupation of Palestine to South Africa’s Apartheid regime, where tactics of economic strangulation; collective punishment; restrictions on freedom of movement; imposed curfews; roadblocks, checkpoints and security-enforced identity verification are daily occurrences, and amount to an infringement of the basic Human Rights of Palestinians.
A complex issue, no doubt, and one that includes decades of history and struggle. According to Pappé, allowing Palestinians refugees to return to Israel is the first step to securing a move from confrontation to reconciliation and a tentative peace in the region.