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Changing Israel from Without

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Source: Consortium News

Israeli author and academic Ilan Pappe.
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Ilan Pappe, an Israeli citizen born in Haifa to German-Jewish parents who had fled the Nazis, became a teacher, author and strong critic of Zionism which he saw evolve from a desire for a safe haven for Jews into a system of racial intolerance toward the human rights of Palestinians.

His criticism of Zionism and his eventual support for a boycott strategy to compel a change in Israel's policy toward Palestinians led to his departure from the University of Haifa in 2007 and his move to Exeter University in Great Britain, where he has continued his writing and his criticism of Israeli behavior.

Pappe's books include The Bureaucracy of Evil: The History of the Israeli OccupationThe Boycott Will Work: An Israeli PerspectiveThe Case for Sanctions Against IsraelThe Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in IsraelGaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the PalestiniansOut of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel; and The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947--1951. His next book, Peoples Apart: Israel, South Africa and the Apartheid Question, is due out next month.

Pappe was interviewed by Dennis J Bernstein for the Flashpoints show on March 19.

DB: Why don't you give us your best shot of what life is like for Palestinians now, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I mean, are they better off than 20 years ago?

IP: No, no, they are probably not. I think the different experiences Palestinians are going through, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it depends where you are geographically. But, in general, each and every one of them is subjected to a policy of oppression and occupation, and is under the danger of being either ethnically cleansed or killed or imprisoned.

I think the worst place, nowadays, is probably the Gaza Strip, where the ghettoization of the Strip continues, especially with the new policies of the Egyptian government, that in a way copies the Israeli policies now. And so the siege is even tighter than it was before, and most human rights organizations are fearful of huge human catastrophe that can happen in any day in Gaza.

In the West Bank, I think, that your listeners may remember or not remember, the West Bank is divided according to the Oslo Agreement to three areas; to areas A, B and C. Area C, which is almost half of the West Bank, is under direct Israeli control. And the Israelis are looking for ways of getting rid of the people who live there. So, I think, in the West Bank, this is the area where people are under an imminent danger of being ethnically cleansed.

But I don't think it's much better elsewhere, in terms of economic conditions, social conditions, and the fact that for more than 45 years these people are at the mercy of the Israeli military and its absolute control of their life.

DB: And the huge wall, the house demolitions in Jerusalem, and the expanded settlement building make it for ... if I get this right, from the Palestinian side, impossible to even begin to think about any kind of negotiations.

IP: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that the Israelis back in '67 already had this formula that for some reason Jewish citizens or inhabitants need space beyond the place of habitation. They need a garden, they need a park, they need some sort of an expansion. Palestinians, according to the Israelis, need only the place where they live. I mean, physically live, so towns are not allowed to expand, villages are not allowed to expand. And, their idea ... the Israeli basic idea of a state of Palestine is in a similar way. So it will have, at best 50 -- 40 percent of the West Bank, and the rest would be enclaves such as the one in Gaza. This is no way any human society could exist for very long, definitely not to be defined as a state or as an autonomous political creation.

DB: Let's talk about this use of the word apartheid, as it refers to Israel and South Africa. And in the new book, that's not out yet, in Peoples Apart: Israel, South Africa and the Apartheid Question, you do come head-on at the notion of apartheid as it relates to Israel and South Africa.

IP: Yeah. I think that the idea of comparing apartheid South Africa to Israel became more and more relevant since we discovered that, for many people especially in the West, a better understanding, what goes on in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians is the South African model. So it started as an activist idea with Israeli Apartheid Week all over American and later on European campuses.

But I think what the book, I am editing, is doing, it tries to take it one step further. It involves the academic community. So we take a serious look at the two case studies. And I think what we find, and we're not the only ones, but I think that's one of the first books to do it in a thorough, systematic way, is that historically, you are talking about two settler colonialist societies that adopted very similar ideas and attitudes towards the native population.

And if you move to 1948, which is the year which apartheid officially was announced [in South Africa], it is the year when Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinians, not surprisingly, the same year. You can see that also more recent history has a lot in common in the way that the native population is referred to.

And I think the most important part of this comparison is to seek the solutions that were relevant for bringing down apartheid, and to adapt them to the case of Israel and Palestine. That means getting out of the idea of the two-states model. That means understanding that Palestinians, also those who live in Israel, not just in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are under an oppressive regime. Understanding that the Israeli legal infrastructure, its practices, its policies, its ideology, the basic ideology that underlines the whole idea of a Jewish state has a lot in common with the ideology that underlined the apartheid regime in South Africa.

So you have a whole, kind of issues in the past, in the present and in the future that make this comparison a very powerful idea. Not only for analyzing what's going on, but also as a prognosis of how to get out of it. As a counter idea to the mainstream idea of peace that has been, sort of conducted in the last 25 years by this country where we are here, the American kind of led peace process, leading nowhere, it will end nowhere.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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