Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for November 2014

(With apologies to Aldous Huxley)

“Activism, scholarship, dissemination of information, persuasion, protest, and solidarity are the most powerful weapons that powerless people have. Let us use them wisely.”

These words- which provide bloggers with a worthwhile goal other than mere narcissism- come from the pen of Ilan Pappé, one of Israel’s most courageous and controversial scholar-activists. Pappé is one of a band of revisionist historians who, since the release of pertinent British and Israeli government documents in the early 1980s, have been re-writing the story of Israel’s creation in 1948 and confronting the dominant master-narrative of Israeli society.

According to the latter, Israel is the innocent victim engaged in a continuous struggle for survival against dark, irrational forces pitted against it on all sides. This myth is swallowed wholesale by many in Israel as well its supporters worldwide. Pappé has argued that in understanding the current plight of Palestinians we should go back to 1948, even 1882, not 1967. The Israeli state has from its inception been expansionist and colonialist. The expulsion of Palestinians from their towns and villages at the very outset of Israel’s creation constituted the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine, in accordance with Plan Dalet, drawn up in 1947 by Israel’s future leaders. Moreover, the Zionist ideology that produced the 1948 ethnic cleansing is the one that keeps refugees in their camps today, discriminates against Palestinians inside Israel, and oppresses those under occupation in the West Bank and imprisonment in the Gaza Strip.

We can argue, as scholars regularly do, about the historical roots to the conflict and whether “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” is the appropriate description; but what we cannot do is deny the present unacceptable reality. What we see in “Greater Israel” is a sovereign state ruling directly its own citizens and, at the same time, ruling indirectly (through its proxies) an occupied and imprisoned community in Gaza and the West Bank. This is the status quo that the government in Israel wants to maintain. Every act of violence by Hamas or unrepresentative Palestinians (as in the recent horrific attack by two axe-wielding men on a Jewish synagogue) is exploited by government propaganda to stereotype and caricature all Palestinians and to tighten its stranglehold on Gaza and the West Bank, crushing Palestinian aspirations for an end to the 66-year dispossession and conquest.

Mainstream Western media are not only highly selective but fickle when it comes to reporting on the Middle East. The 50 day war in Gaza this summer has been quickly forgotten, a war in which Israel killed 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. Courageous human rights and peace groups within Israel (B’Tselem and Break the Silence) are investigating independently what happened in Gaza, as the official army investigation will be a cover-up.

While the attack on the Jewish synagogue was front-page news in many Western TV and print media, the routine killing and maiming of Palestinians civilians by Israeli forces and settlers is ignored in mainstream coverage. Since 2000, about 9 times as many Palestinians have been killed as Israelis. About 20 times more Palestinian children have been killed than Israeli children, and about 7 times more Palestinians injured. To learn these facts, I have to trawl independent media sites, such as al-Jazeera, Counterpunch and Znet. Or consult my colleagues in Palestine.

A report by the International Crisis Group, issued in July, advocates that the PA-Hamas unity government formed in April 2014 be reinstated and actively supported by the West as well as the major Arab states. (Middle East Briefing No. 39, available at Note that in signing this agreement last spring, Hamas explicitly agreed to renounce violence and implicitly accepted the moderates’ strategy of negotiations for peace. Netanyahu saw the unity agreement as a threat and hence launched his all-out attack on Hamas activists in the West Bank that quickly led to war.

Monoethnic, despotic regimes in many countries (such as my own) look to Israel’s example in how to deal with their own intransigent ethnic and religious minorities. Seize land, re-settle it with members of the majority community, protect the latter by sending in an occupation army, label all attacks on the new settlers as “terrorist” or “extremist” acts and use them to justify further acts of repression.

The recent decisions by the Swedish government and the British parliament to recognize a Palestinian state (the UN General Assembly has already recognized Palestine) are largely symbolic gestures. They are welcome as expressions of solidarity with suffering Palestinians. But in practice they amount to little. While insisting that everybody recognizes Israel’s “right to exist”, Israel will never recognize the Palestinians’ “right of return”, let alone their right to liberation and self-determination. Israel’s settlement and development programs in the occupied territories- all illegal, as Israel was informed in 1967 by its highest legal authorities and affirmed recently by the World Court- are designed to undermine the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

As long as it is protected by its rich, benevolent Uncle Sam, Israel can continue to thumb its nose at international law and the international community. (See Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians)

This is why, despite the international consensus on a “two-state solution”, several Arab and Jewish intellectuals and activists have advocated (over several decades) an alternative path to follow: namely, exerting pressure on Israel to become a full-fledged pluralist (or binational) democracy– one that respects the human rights and civil liberties of all its citizens and subjects, and enabling the mutual recognition of collective cultural and religious identities. There are civil society groups within Israel, as well as NGOs working among Palestinians, who continue to promote this vision. They need our blessings and our prayers.

[See for a BBC HardTalk interview with Ilan Pappe]



November 2014