Ilan Pappe: What Drives Israel?





[Ilan Pappe is professor of history at the University of Exeter, and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies. His books include The Ethnic Cleansing Of Palestine and A History Of Modern Palestine. His forthcoming memoir, Out Of The Frame (published this October by Pluto Press), will chart his break with mainstream Israeli scholarship and its consequences.]

Probably the most bewildering aspect of the Gaza flotilla affair has been the righteous indignation expressed by the Israeli government and people.

The nature of this response is not being fully reported in the UK press, but it includes official parades celebrating the heroism of the commandos who stormed the ship and demonstrations by schoolchildren giving their unequivocal support for the government against the new wave of anti-Semitism.

As someone who was born in Israel and went enthusiastically through the socialisation and indoctrination process until my mid-20s, this reaction is all too familiar. Understanding the root of this furious defensiveness is key to comprehending the principal obstacle for peace in Israel and Palestine. One can best define this barrier as the official and popular Jewish Israeli perception of the political and cultural reality around them.

A number of factors explain this phenomenon, but three are outstanding and they are interconnected. They form the mental infrastructure on which life in Israel as a Jewish Zionist individual is based, and one from which it is almost impossible to depart – as I know too well from personal experience.

The first and most important assumption is that what used to be historical Palestine is by sacred and irrefutable right the political, cultural and religious possession of the Jewish people represented by the Zionist movement and later the state of Israel.

Most of the Israelis, politicians and citizens alike, understand that this right can’t be fully realised. But although successive governments were pragmatic enough to accept the need to enter peace negotiations and strive for some sort of territorial compromise, the dream has not been forsaken. Far more important is the conception and representation of any pragmatic policy as an act of ultimate and unprecedented international generosity.

Any Palestinian, or for that matter international, dissatisfaction with every deal offered by Israel since 1948, has therefore been seen as insulting ingratitude in the face of an accommodating and enlightened policy of the “only democracy in the Middle East”. Now, imagine that the dissatisfaction is translated into an actual, and sometimes violent, struggle and you begin to understand the righteous fury. As schoolchildren, during military service and later as adult Israeli citizens, the only explanation we received for Arab or Palestinian responses was that our civilised behaviour was being met by barbarism and antagonism of the worst kind....

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Robert Lee Gaston - 6/20/2010

It could be that the daily rocket bombardment from Gaza has something to do with it?

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