Saturday, 2 May 2015

Thinking the Palestinian Disaster - Born of Design, Not War

I have been reading Ilan Pappe's book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).   The book is notable for its effort to shift understanding of what happened in Palestine in 1947-1949 from a paradigm or framework of 'war' (where the emergent Jewish state was at war with Palestinian guerrillas and with the neighbouring Arab states, and the refugee problem was an unfortunate and unlooked-for outcome (though fortuitous and God-given, for Zionism) of that fighting) to the paradigm or framework of 'ethnic cleansing' (where a conscious effort and prepared plan for the pushing out of the Palestinian population was executed, both before and then in parallel with the war with the Arab states).  Pappe is not the first author to make this argument - it was made by Nur Masalha, Norman Finkelstein and most notably Walid Khalidi before him.  But he makes the case interestingly, charting the expulsions of Palestinians at times on a village-by-village basis.  Sadly, the book is undertheorised - there is a large literature now on 'ethnic cleansing', including important and powerful studies by the likes of Michael Mann and Ben Kiernan, but Pappe makes no effort to learn from this body of work - poorly edited, and not always referenced with the rigour such a potentially controversial argument needs, and this has permitted Pappe's rivals and enemies, notably Benny Morris, to launch powerful attacks on the book and its thesis. 

This thesis is of the greatest importance.  Mann argues that ethnic cleansing is or can be the 'dark side of democracy'.  By this he means that in many democracies a dangerous isomorphism emerges between the demos, and a dominant ethnos; i.e. that 'the people' in whom sovereignty is vested becomes identified with a particular ethnos or ethnic group.   The reason this idea is of great significance in regard to Israel/Palestine is because it allows us to think Israel's democracy and its ethnic exclusivity together, dialectically, in the manner of the Israeli geographer Oren Yiftachel, who has famously dubbed Israel an 'ethnocracy'.  This in turn allows us to wedge open the description of Israel as 'Jewish and democratic', and to show its inconsistencies and hypocrisies.

This critical task is particularly important as we approach the sixty-seventh anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel and the Nakba that overlaps and intertwines with it, and the forty-eighth anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.  Just look at those comparative timelines.  It's time we recognised that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the Golan is no anomaly, but is fundamental to the nature of Israel as it has developed.  The occupation is, in a strong sense, Israel writ openly.   Whereas inside the Green Line, the mailed fist of ethnic supremacism wears the velvet glove of putative democracy, in the Territories the gloves are off, and the hidden violence of the 'Jewish' state is exposed in all its narcissism, cynicism and brutality.

Here are the links to a battery of articles - particularly concerned with Palestinian testimonies of the Nakba - posted by the Journal of Palestine Studies for free, to mark this moment:

Author: Fauzi Al-Qawuqji 

Author: Fauzi Al-Qawuqji

Author: Fawaz Turki

 Authors: Mamdouh Nofal, Fawaz Turki, Haidar Abdel Shafi, Inea Bushnaq, Yezid Sayigh, Shafiq al-Hout, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, and Musa Budeiri

Author: Ghada Karmi

Author: Adel Manna’ 

Author: Muhammad Hallaj

Author: Sami Hadawi


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