Page 1 of 2 BOOK REVIEW Shaking the pillars of Israel's history The Idea of Israel - A History of Power and Knowledge by Ilan Pappe
Reviewed by Jim Miles
This is a powerfully written, unsettling work that relates the story of Israel from the perspective of how ideas are changed and manipulated for the benefit of the state. Unfortunately the majority of citizens of most countries are susceptible to the ideation/ideology of the mainstream of political thought as it is supported by the mainstream press.
In the case of Israel, image and ideation, its narrative and ideology, are of paramount importance for the survival of the state beyond its military strength and relatively successful integration
into the globalized corporate governed world.
For a brief decade, generally within the 1990s, the Israeli narrative, its foundational ideas, were challenged by a small group of academics known as the new historians. In a factual sense they brought forward many details about the story of Israel - using newly released and openly available Israel Defense Forces (IDF) archives - that contradicted the narrative preferred by the Israeli government and its supporters.
They were successful at opening up a dialogue about the 1948 Nakba/war of independence, the post-1967 settlement plans, and for both dates, the knowledge of expulsions, massacres, and ethnic cleansing. But that success had limited reach within Israel, as the new historians were an academic minority, and only in infrequent media presentations - stage, theatre and film in particular - was there any other real arena of success.
It did create some significant stirrings abroad, but the main feature in other countries, again apart from a few vocal academics, was a broad base of apathy and disinterest, cultivated by a corporate controlled media supporting - again, the corporate governed globalized world.
This is the story that is developed within Ilan Pappe's latest work, The Idea of Israel. Pappe follows the historical timeline within this ideational confrontation, starting with the 1948 Nakba and its "traditional" perspective before the age of the new historians.
In this original perspective, the "land without people" became an insult to the Zionists by the very presence of the Palestinians. It involved the physical conflict between Palestinians and the Zionists, with the Palestinians - when they were acknowledged at all - denigrated as primitive and backwards, requiring "modernization". Their resistance was a surprise, with unknown rational, arising "out of the blue" and being "tantamount to terrorism."
As the discourse was written by the Israelis, the "unexplained violence was identified academically as an essential feature of Arab culture and life". The violence as depicted in the cinema "need not be explained, merely described", with an "absence of logical explanation" other than that of a "meaningless and cruel assault". The cinematic representation was a "combination of a racist superiority complex intertwined with pathological hate".
At first, the post-Zionist movement was represented by academics reacting with "disgust at abhorrent conduct" of the Israelis towards the Palestinians and the "intellectual rejections of paradoxes and absurdities of ideological dogma".
During the 1970s and 1980s undercurrents of criticism emerged which "exposed some basic Zionist truisms as doubtful at best and as fallacies at worst. ... It became apparent ... that society was ridden with tensions between various cultural and ethnic groups, and was only precariously cemented together by the lack of peace and the continual sense of crisis."
The new historians discussed many myths concerning the 1948 Nakba. Pappe discusses the UN Partition plan, the lack of popularity of Grand Mufti al-Husayni, the desire of the Arab world to destroy Israel (in spite of their secret agreement with Jordan contradicting this), the exodus because the Palestinians were told to leave rather than being forced, the Israeli David versus the Arab Goliath, and the Israeli rejection of the offering of peace.
Later on these ideas were revitalized after the Second Intifada, the lack of success at Camp David, and the events of 9/11 and the al-Aqsa mosque. They have been revitalized with the neo Zionist's new discourse on Israeli history.
But before getting there, Pappe examines different aspects of the presentation of the new historians and post Zionism in the 1990s. It was "a decade in which the entire idea of Israel was questioned" and serves as a "convenient term for measuring the distance that these scholars travelled out of the Zionist camp" yet were "still close enough to the tribal space to return to its warm embrace". It was in Pappe's view, the "only positive result of these two monumental events [the Intifada, and Oslo Peace Accords]".
Topics of discussion covered the obvious history but also economic realities, nationalism in relation to biblical myths, settlers, exile, socialism and class distinctions, militarism, colonialism, and feminism and gender being "most influential."
The next topic is the Holocaust and its myths wherein the Israelis "perfected such manipulation as a diplomatic tool in its struggle against Palestinians", which was "consensual and widespread". Critics of Holocaust ideation called it "excessive and abusive preoccupation", with "perverted moral values and judgement". It "prevented them from seeing the Palestinians in a more realistic light and impeded a reasonable political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict."
Within that context Pappe examines early Jewish sympathy to the Nazis (anti-British, expulsion from Germany as a good, and a negation of the diaspora). He looks at the Warsaw uprising as represented as a distinctly Jewish event and not as one of several reactions to knowledge of one's ultimate death at the hands of the Nazis.