“Atonement for the holocaust, the Europeans decided, would happen in Palestine.”
paraphrased from Ilan Pappe, Israeli Historian
Date: 29th of November 2008
Location: Khalili lecture theatre, SOAS, London
Organised by: SOAS Palestine society, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and BRItish Committee of the Universities of Palestine
Videos of the talks available at: http://www.bricup.org.uk/video/video.html
The theme of this meeting has to be: pessimism. That was the feeling I was left with hearing the speeches of the panel members, in spite of the fact that two of them are vehement anti-Zionist Israelis which is always a good thing.
Professor Illan Pappe, Israeli historian, formerly at Haifa university, who for a multitude of reasons including his opposition to the Israeli government, relocated to Exeter University in the UK, kicked off the meeting. He spoke of three avenues that required reassesment 1) impunity 2) immunity and 3) visions for the future.
On impunity: western society have made significant steps in charting Zionist policy and says focus has to be put on the period spanning 1948 till present. Academics have a niche in this aspect as they can focus on information and narratives of Palestinian suffering, to challenge the distorted and manipulated version produced by the Israelis. The USA being the weakest link in all this, as re narrating the Palestinian experience is an uphill struggle as they are up against the ingrained beliefs of an American society that justifies their policy in the Middle East.
It is very important to break through inhibitions in describing events for what they were, call ethnic cleansing as what it is, the challenge being that it reminds Jews of their own history of persecution in Europe. Even though the balance of power decided the outcome, changing the mentality and attitudes of those on the ground may result in a long term change of policy.
On immunity: we must expose Israel for what it is and its actions of occupation, colonization and discrimination. Public mood and opinion must change, but he is unsure of how to translate this to a change in government policy. As an example he cited the 6 day war, and how they (Israeli government) guilted the West again by going on about how they averted yet another holocaust (loolt says what???!!!).
Read this bit: Time has frozen for western policy makers, beginning with 1948 when they made the conscious decision that the Palestinians would pay so that Europe could resume normality. This resulted in the brutalization of Palestinians at the hands of the Zionists. Atonement for the holocaust, the Europeans decided, would happen in Palestine. The Germans never offered the Jews a state. Since the world did nothing when the Zionists massacred and dispossessed over 1/2 the Palestinian population in 1948, gave the Zionists immunity to carry on with their policy and build a mega prison. To keep millions of people without an identity and with no future, punishing them when they revolted.
This immunity however was severely challenged by the mere suggestion of an academic boycott, and that this crack in their security wall of immunity may result in some positive affect.
Finally on the issue of visions for the future: even though the facts of the Israeli persecution of the Palestinians is documents and an undeniable fact, but it has yet to be universally accepted or even acknowledged. We would need to succeed in changing this and hence undermining western immunity for past and present crimes, and hence potential future crimes which he is sure will happen. The recipe for this success is a combination of narratives of Palestinian and Zionist history with boycott/sanctions of Israel as well as a clear prism of what we want the future reality to be.
Another interesting point that he made is that issues of boycott and changing western attitudes is the premise of activists outside of Palestine, since within Palestine the issue of simple survival is the peoples priority and they worry about that rather than western attitudes towards them.
Dr Karma Nabulsi, Palestinian lecturer in International relations at Oxford university since 2005, and PLO representative at the UN between 1977 and 1990, followed. She stressed that ‘not giving up’ the struggle is the cornerstone for it to work. Since statistics are important in reminding us why we participate in activism for Palestine she ran through a list of statistics to highlight the effetcs occupation has on education:
- 30% of Gaza students do not have textbooks due to Israeli restrictions on printing paper.
- 346 students are incarcerated in Israeli prisons. Political incarcerations in including the president of Birzeit student union, they are imprisoned with no charges bring brough against them.
- 57% if Al-Najah university students need to cross checkpoints to get to university, and some cannot even get to their Jenin campus.
- 9% have missed classes due to the checkpoints.
- 84% prefer to avoid travel.
- 64% have been physically abused at checkpoints.
- Nearly 100% feel angry and nervous at checkpoints.
- The ‘security wall’ runs through the Abu Dis campus.
- Since 2004 Gaza students are prevented from studying in West Bank universities, which is quite serious since not all courses are offered in Gaza universities.
- Gazan students who received places in Israeli universities are prevented from taking up said places.
- Studying abroad is often the only choice, but they cannot take up these places since they are prevented from leaving Gaza.
The denial of education is directly causing the drop of skills, which is serious for Palestinian economy since it is based on education. Dr Nabulsi then went through the history of education in Palestine, and how the Palestinians were instrumental in introducing modern education to the rest of the Arab world. The drop in Palestinian education has also increased the Palestinians sense of isolation resulting in boredom and frustration
Gideon Levy, former aid to Shimon Peres, reporter for the Israeli Haaretz paper since 1982 and a self confessed shamed to be Israeli. He described himself as growing up as a typical Israeli, believing the propaganda that they were the ‘one and only just side in the Middle East’ and the ‘ultimate victim’, even serving in the army and as aid to Shimon Peres. When he joined the Haaretz, he by chance visited the Occupied territories in the late 80s, these territories were considered as the ‘liberated territories’ in post-1967 israel, and he admits he knew what every Israeli knew, namely nothing. Nothing was reported on these places in the Israeli media, and he decsribed his ‘find’ as every journalists dream, as a guarnteed exclusive on every piece he wrote. The Israelis he said did not want to speak or report on what was going on. The Israeli obliviousness to the status of things was exemplified in Ehud Baraks ignorance of the fact that Israeli reporters were banned from entering Gaza. Occupation was not on the Israeli agenda, it was not discussed and the IDFs actions were never critised, and the society were ready with their ‘shields’ of anti-semitism and their percieved status of the ultimate victime to counteract such criticisms.
Levy recounted an experience he has in Jenin, he was passing through a checkpoint, and was stuck behind an ambulance with its’ lights on, and he waited for 1/2 an hour before he approached the driver to ask what was going on, and was shocked and angered at the reply that the soldiers always made them wait for an hour before they dealt with them. He challenged the soldiers, who proceeded to put guns to his head, and freaked them out with his question “what if your mother was in the ambulance?”. He concluded from this that occupation can only survive through the dehumanistion of the Palestinians. He followed this with an ‘anecdote’ of when he wrote about how the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians at the checkpoints was worse than their treatment of animals and was bombarded with letters from animal rights groups protesting this!
He expounded on the issue of dehumanization as a tool of occupation when he fingered the Israeli media as being an active participant in this. The occupation was not just about the army, the mossad and the settlers (whom ‘we all hate’), but that the entire Israeli society was involved by their lack of morality, as well as the legal system with its’ extreme discrimination in its treatment of Jews and Arabs.
The Israeli peace camp was the next in line to be lambasted by him, whom he described as non-existent and could all fit in a London phone booth. He joked about how they always voted in favor of peace in the polls but then went on to vote for Netanyahu. That they supported the two state solution, but not now and with no dismantling of settelements. They are all in favour of negotiations, with no action. Since Annapolis, one year ago, 500 Palestinians have died including 65 children, new apartments in East Jerusalem have increased 6 fold since the previous year and there are 100 more checkpoints. The point being that these negotiations are pointless without action.
Another anecdote was inserted here, on how George Bush was paradise for Israel and that Olmert even had a portrait of him in his living room. Bush allowed them to do whatever they wanted, which Levy said was nt friendship (loolt wonders whether this was becuase he made it easier for their true nature to be exposed).
Interestingly he stated that more bloodshed was a way for progress, stating the example of Golda Meirs refusal to speak with Egpyt that changed post the Yom Kippur war, and after the 1st intifada (loolt ponders whether he is aware of Kings work on the non-violence of the 1st intifada). That otherwise the situation would become stagnant and the Palestinian situation would become worse.
He has no expectations from Obama, and believes that Europe has been neutralised through zionist manipulation of anti-semitism.
He wants Israelis to feel ‘less comfortable’ with their actions. He cautioned against the use of comparisons with the Nazi regime as it shut down the minds of Israeli and was hence counterproductive. He joked about how Africans were insulted that apartheid was compared to the Zionist regime since they never went as far as sending tanks into refugee camps. He also worried that the use of boycotts would strengthen their feeling of victimhood.
A final point: Illan Pappe made a crucial point regarding Israeli policy. The media is not equipped or paid to report on cumulative events and even though the events in the West Bank are as bad as those in Darfur for example but the beauracratic daily oppression of Palestinians is harder to portray and hence expose, which is an Israeli expertise.
Let us also not forget that what is happening in Gaza is genocide (breaking through inhibitions again), the Israelis has not idea what to do with the Gazans but to exterminate them, and they are doing it, slowly and deliberately.
Illan Pappe: http://ilanpappe.com/
Gideon Levy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideon_Levy
SOAS Palestine Society: http://www.palestinesociety.org/
Palestine Solidarity Campaign: www.palestinecampaign.org
BRitish Committee for Universities in Palestine: http://www.bricup.org.uk/