By Gilad Atzmon
Ilan Pappe is an important voice. One of those courageous historians, brave enough to open the Pandora box of 1948. Back in the 1990s Pappe, amongst a few other Israeli post-Zionists, reminded Israelis of their original sin – the orchestrated, racially-driven ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of Palestine – the Nakba.
But like many historians, Pappe, though familiar with the facts of history, seems either unable to grasp or reluctant to address the ideological and cultural meaning of those facts.
In his recent article, When Israeli Denial of Palestinian Existence Becomes Genocidal, Pappe attempts to explain the ongoing Israeli dismissal of the Palestinian plight. Like Shlomo Sand, Pappe points out that Israeli President Shimon Peres’ take on history is a “fabricated narrative.”
So far so good, but Pappe then misses the point. For some reason, he believes that Peres’ denial of the Palestinian’s suffering is a result of a ‘cognitive dissonance.’ i.e. a discomfort experienced when two or more conflicting ideas, values or beliefs are held at the same time.
But what are those conflicting ideas or values upheld by Israelis and their President which cause them so much ‘discomfort’? Pappe does not tell us. Nor does he explain how Peres has sustained such ‘discomfort’ for more than six decades. Now, I agree that Peres, Netanyahu and many Israelis often exhibit clear psychotic symptoms, but one thing I cannot detect in Peres’ utterances or behavior is any ‘discomfort’.
I obviously believe that Pappe is wrong here – expulsion, ethnic cleansing as well as the ongoing abuse of human right in Palestine, are actually consistent with Jewish nationalist supremacist culture and also with a strict interpretation of Jewish Biblical heritage.
Pappe writes, “The perpetrators of the 1948 ethnic cleansing were the Zionist settlers who came to Palestine, like Polish-born Shimon Peres, before the Second World War. They denied the existence of the native people they encountered, who lived there for hundreds of years, if not more.” Here Pappe is correct, but then he continues: “The Zionists did not possess the power at the time to settle the cognitive dissonance they experienced: their conviction that the land was people-less despite the presence of so many native people there.” But Pappe fails to point at any symptom of such a dissonance. Could it be that the Director of the Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter is just ignorant?
Certainly not, Pappe is far from being ignorant. Pappe knows the history of Zionism and Israel better than most people. He knows that ‘Zionist settlers’ like ‘Polish-born Shimon Peres’ were ideologically and culturally driven. But then why would a professor of history attempt to turn a blind eye to the ‘ideology’ and the ‘culture’ of those early Zionists?
The early Zionists, were neither blind nor were they stupid. They saw the Arabs in the land of Palestine – in the fields, in the villages and in the towns – but, being driven by a racial, supremacist and expansionist philosophy, they probably regarded the Arab as sub-human and so easily dismissed their rights, their culture, their heritage and indeed, their humanity.
But, even though a cultural and ideological analysis resolves the proposed alleged ‘dissonance’ and illuminates the historical complexity, Ilan Pappe avoids elaborating on those issues. I have a good reason to believe that the truth is just too offensive for Pappe’s audience to digest. So instead, Pappe continues with his psychological model: “They (the Zionist) almost solved the dissonance when they expelled as many Palestinians as they could in 1948 — and were left with only a small minority of Palestinians within the Jewish state.”
Yet again, it could be helpful if Pappe provided the necessary ‘historical’ evidence that would prove that the Nakba, was indeed an attempt to ‘resolve an internal Zionist collective cognitive dissonance’. I assume that Pappe knows very well that it is actually that lack of such a „cognitive dissonance” that drives a few Israeli individuals such as Uri Avnery, Gideon Levy and Pappe himself towards universalism, humanism and pro-Palestinian activism.
I guess that Pappe’s new cognitive analytical model is telling us very little about Zionism, Israel or Shimon Peres but it actually tells us a lot about Pappe and the grave state of the Palestinian solidarity intellectual discourse. The discomfort he talks about is in fact his own: the clash between known and accepted facts and logical conclusions and the task he has accepted of squaring the circle, of wrapping up a racist, supremacist project in psychobabble wrapping and presenting it as nothing less than a pandemic of ‘cognitive dissonance.’
For some reason many of us insist on producing ‘inoffensive’ chronicles of Israeli barbarism and Jewish nationalism that attempt to mask and deflect from rather than pointing to the obvious cultural and ideological kernel of the problem.
Yet, the question that bothers me is how is it possible that a leading academic exhibits such a problematic understanding of a conflict after studying it for three decades.
The answer is pretty embarrassing. Pappe is actually a serious scholar and a gracious human being. However, in the current intellectual climate, Pappe, like many others cannot freely explore the truth of Zionism and the Jewish State. The shocking truth is that Pappe was much more provocative and intellectually intriguing while teaching in Haifa University than now when he directs the institute of Palestinian Studies at Exeter University. It is a fair assumption that telling the truth about the culture that drives the Jewish State would cost Pappe his UK academic career and obviously the support within the Jewish so-called ‘left’, let alone the Soros funded Palestinian collaborators.
So instead of searching for the truth, Pappe and others end up searching for some ‘inoffensive’ models – anything to sustain the image of ‘solidarity.’
I do not have any doubt that Pappe knows by now that Israelis are far from being tormented by the Palestinian plight. They are not exactly regretting the Nakba either, they certainly do not sob over their past racist assault on the people of the land of Palestine. And as Israeli polls reveal time after time, most Israelis would support a second Nakba as much as they supported the criminal carpet bombardment of civilian population at the time of operation Cast Lead. Pappe knows very well that Israeli racist policies and collective attitudes are culturally and ideologically, rather than politically driven. Israel is the Jewish State and its politics is dictated by a new Hebraic interpretation of Jewish culture and Judaic heritage.
Pappe is a humanist and I want to believe that in the small hours, he himself feels some discomfort. Deep down, Pappe must know the truth. He knows what drives Zionism and Israeli militarism. He knows it all but, for obvious reasons, he must keep silent and wraps the conflict up with faulty terminology and ‘inoffensive’ cognitive models.
Instead of engaging in an open discourse and digging into the truth of the conflict, we see our leading scholars actively engaged in concealment of the truth. This is actually a tragedy, for the Palestinian Solidarity discourse is now an intellectual desert. We have murdered and buried our most inspirational thinkers and poets. We replaced them with rigid slogans and banal Herem culture.
Interestingly enough, by the time Pappe finished writing his paper, he himself was no longer so convinced by his own model. He writes, “It is bewildering to learn that the early Zionists denied the existence of Palestinians in 1882 when they arrived; it is even more shocking to find out that they deny their existence — beyond sporadic ghettoized communities — in 2013.”
The meaning of this is clear: we are dealing here with a total and categorical dismissal of otherness. This is not a symptom of ‘cognitive dissonance’ but rather a historical continuum of a psychopathological condition that is inherent to the politics of the chosen. It is the direct outcome of Judeocentric supremacy – the very domain Pappe and others prefer not to tackle.
At the end of his paper, Pappe claims that Peres is a ‘madman’ who ignores “millions and millions of people, many of them under his military or apartheid rule while he actively and ruthlessly disallows the return of the rest to their homeland.” But if Peres is a ‘madman’, he is unlikely to be riddled with discomfort. If Peres is mad he is not in a state of ‘dissonance’, struggling to integrate conflicting ideas. On the contrary, Peres is, in his awfulness, entirely at peace with himself.
As far as I am concerned, Shimon Peres is not mad at all. He is evil, coherent and consistent. He is the president of the Jewish State and it’s high time that Ilan Pappe openly faced up to this – and to what it means.
 Interestingly enough, it was actually the notorious right-winger Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky who was amongst the first to deal with the necessity to address the complexity of dealing with the indigenous population within the context of the Zionist dream. It was the rabid ultra-nationalist Jabotinsky, rather than the Zionist ‘left’ who regarded the Arabs as proud, highly cultural people that must be confronted militarily. In that regard, I would recommend reading Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall.
 Just in the last year we have seen the BDS campaigning against Prof Norman Finkelstein, Greta Berlin, MP George Galloway and many others.
 Hebrew word for Excommunication and Boycott
When Israeli denial of Palestinian existence becomes genocidal
by Ilan Pappe
In a regal interview he gave the Israeli press on the eve of the state’s ” Independence Day,”Shimon Peres, the current president of Israel, said the following:
“I remember how it all began. The whole state of Israel is a millimeter of the whole Middle East. A statistical error, barren and disappointing land, swamps in the north, desert in the south, two lakes, one dead and an overrated river. No natural resource apart from malaria. There was nothing here. And we now have the best agriculture in the world? This is a miracle: a land built by people” (Maariv, 14 April 2013).
This fabricated narrative, voiced by Israel’s number one citizen and spokesman, highlights how much the historical narrative is part of the present reality. This presidential impunity sums up the reality on the eve of the 65th commemoration of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine. The disturbing fact of life, 65 years on, is not that the figurative head of the so-called Jewish state, and for that matter almost everyone in the newly-elected government and parliament, subscribe to such views. The worrying and challenging reality is the global immunity given to such impunity.
Peres’ denial of the native Palestinians and his reselling in 2013 of the landless people mythology exposes the cognitive dissonance in which he lives: he denies the existence of approximately twelve million people living in and near to the country to which they belong. History shows that the human consequences are horrific and catastrophic when powerful people, heading powerful outfits such as a modern state, denied the existence of a people who are very much present.
This denial was there at the beginning of Zionism and led to the ethnic cleansing in 1948. And it is there today, which may lead to similar disasters in the future — unless stopped immediately.
The perpetrators of the 1948 ethnic cleansing were the Zionist settlers who came to Palestine, like Polish-born Shimon Peres, before the Second World War. They denied the existence of the native people they encountered, who lived there for hundreds of years, if not more. The Zionists did not possess the power at the time to settle the cognitive dissonance they experienced: their conviction that the land was people-less despite the presence of so many native people there.
They almost solved the dissonance when they expelled as many Palestinians as they could in 1948 — and were left with only a small minority of Palestinians within the Jewish state.
But the Zionist greed for territory and ideological conviction that much more of Palestine was needed in order to have a viable Jewish state led to constant contemplations and eventually operations to enlarge the state.
With the creation of “Greater Israel” following the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in1967, the dissonance returned. The solution however could not easily be resolved this time by the force of ethnic cleansing. The number of Palestinians was larger, their assertiveness and liberation movement were forcefully present on the ground, and even the most cynical and traditionally pro-Israel actors on the international scene recognized their existence.
The dissonance was resolved in a different way. The land without people was any part of the greater Israel the state wished to Judaize in the pre-1967 boundaries or annex from the territories occupied in 1967. The land with people was in the Gaza Strip and some enclaves in the West Bank as well as inside Israel. The land without people is destined to expand incrementally in the future, causing the number of people to shrink as a direct consequence of this encroachment.
Incremental ethnic cleansing
This incremental ethnic cleansing is hard to notice unless one contextualizes it as a historical process. The noble attempt by the more conscientious individuals and groups in the West and inside Israel to focus on the here and now — when it comes to Israeli policies — is doomed to be weakened by the contemporary contextualization, not the historical one.
Comparing Palestine to other places was always a problem. But with the murderous reality in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, it becomes an even more serious challenge. The last closure, the last political arrest, the last assault, the last murder of a youth are horrific crimes, but pale in comparison to nearby or far-away killing fields and areas of colossal atrocities.
The comparison is very different when it is viewed historically and it is in this context that we should realize the criminality of Peres’ narrative which is as horrific as the occupation — and potentially far worse. For the president of Israel, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, there were never Palestinians before he initiated in 1993 the Oslo process — and when he did, they were only the ones living a small part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In his discourse, he already eliminated most of the Palestinians. If you did not exist when Peres came to Palestine, you definitely do not exist when he is the president in 2013. This elimination is the point where ethnic cleansing becomes genocidal. When you are eliminated from the history book and the discourse of the top politicians, there is always a danger that the next attempt would be your physical elimination.
It happened before. The early Zionists, including the current president, talked about the transfer of the Palestinians long before they actually disposed them in 1948. These visions of a de-Arabized Palestine appeared in every Zionist diary, journal and inner conversation since the beginning of the 20th century. If one talks about nothingness in a place where there is plenty it can be willful ignorance. But if one talks about nothingness as a vision or undeniable reality, it is only a matter of power and opportunity before the vision becomes reality.
Peres’ interview on the eve of the 65th commemoration of the Nakba is chilling not because it condones any violent act against the Palestinians, but because the Palestinians have entirely disappeared from his self-congratulatory admiration for the Zionist achievement in Palestine. It is bewildering to learn that the early Zionists denied the existence of Palestinians in 1882 when they arrived; it is even more shocking to find out that they deny their existence — beyond sporadic ghettoized communities — in 2013.
In the past, the denial preceded the crime — a crime that only partially succeeded but for which the perpetrators were never brought to justice. This is probably why the denial continues. But this time, it is not the existence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians which is at stake, but that of almost six million who live inside historic Palestine and another five and half million living outside Palestine.
One would think only a madman can ignore millions and millions of people, many of them under his military or apartheid rule while he actively and ruthlessly disallows the return of the rest to their homeland. But when the madman receives the best weapons from the US, Nobel Peace Prizes from Oslo and preferential treatment from the European Union, one wonders how seriously we should take the Western references to the leaders of Iran and North Korea as dangerous and lunatic?
Lunacy is associated these days, it seems, to possession of nuclear arms in non-Western hands. Well, even on that score, the local madman in the Middle East passes the test. Who knows, maybe in 2014 it would not be the Israeli cognitive dissonance that would be solved, but the Western one: how to reconcile a universal position of human and civil rights with the favored position Israel in general and Shimon Peres in particular receives in the West?
The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.