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An Interview with Ilan Pappe

Article/book #: 65345
Title: An Interview with Ilan Pappe
By: Baudouin Loos (interviewer)   Ilan Pappe (interviewee)  
Date of issue: Monday, 29 November 1999



Ilan Pappe in not an ordinary Israeli citizen. "I am the most hated Israeli in Israel ", he says of himself without any pride. Pappe, with several others, leads the "new historians' school" which took off in the eighties as a result of the new availability of state archives concerning the "Independence War". The new historians have done a lot to dismantle the Israeli myths of the foundation of the country. Now they are working on other issues: no Israeli sacred cows will have the opportunity to escape!

Unlike other new historians, Pappe makes no secret of his political, or ideological agenda. "We are all political", he argues. "There is no historian in the world who is objective. I am not as interested in what happened as in how people see what's happened".

Pappe's most known book is " The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1947-1951 " I.B. Tauris, London & New York , published in 1992.

Q. With people like Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev, Simha Flappan and others, you are a prominent (and the most controversial) member of the school of "new historians" in Israel . Could you summarize the major trends of the contribution of the new Israeli historians to the Israeli narrative?

A. It is an intellectual movement that started ten years ago, not only of historians, but also of people who deal with culture, academicians, journalists, artists, novelists, etc, who looked critically at Israel 's past. I would say they adopted major chapters in the Palestinian interpretation, narrative, of the past. The particular aspect of the historians' work is that they did it with the help of archives and with their professional expertise, and that added a certain validity in the eyes of the public to these interpretations. Because, in the past, you could have heard the same arguments made by Palestinians or by very extreme Israeli leftists, but this time the very same things were substantiated by historic research works.

There are several topics that those new academics, intellectuals, researchers dealt with. The major chapter in 1948. It's what they are known for. They undermined some of the major foundation's myths of Israel . First, they didn't accept that there was a war between a Jewish David and an Arab Goliath. "The few against the many". They claimed there was a parity on the battlefields and even, as the war progressed, there was an advantage to the Jewish and then Israeli forces. Additionally, they found out that the most efficient Arab army -- the Jordanian Army -- had a secret agreement with the Jews/Israelis prior to the war. "Collusion across the Jordan ", as Avi Shlaim put it (the title of his famous book). That understanding -- a division of Palestine between the Jordanians and the Jews, instead of between the Jews and the Palestinians -- to a large extent determined the fate of the war. Then they undermined the myth of the Arabs voluntary flight. They claimed with various degrees of conviction that the Arabs were expelled, that mass expulsions took place in 1948, and then Israel did everything to prevent the return of the refugees.

And, lastly, they undermined the myth of " Israel the peace-seeker". They said that there was a chance to peace after 1948 but that was missed because of Israel 's intransigence and inflexibility, rather than because of the Arab inflexibility. (That was my major contribution.)

The new history, now in Israel , doesn't only deal with 48. It analyzes Zionism as a colonialist phenomenon from the late 19th century. It goes on to revisit the fifties: they are very critical on both domestic and foreign security policy of Israel in those years. The myth till 1967 was that Israel was a small isolated country surrounded by hostile enemies. It was also undermined: they claimed that Israel was quiet aggressive, capable of leading powerful policies. And, domestically, Israel discriminated against its Arab citizens as it did, on similar ground, discriminate against the Jews it absorbed from Arab countries.

So far, the last topic is the attitude of the Jewish community in Palestine during the mandatory years toward the Holocaust. It's a very touchy subject. The Zionist leadership came out as very pragmatic and it put the interest of the Jewish community in Palestine above that of the Jewish community in Europe even in the time of absolute danger as happened during WWII.

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