A recent reading of an old article written by the late Edward Said, the well-known Palestinian author, writer and cultural critic, revealed a rare meeting in Paris to discuss the core issues of the Palestine/Israel conflict. The participants were Israel’s rising ‘new’ historians at the time (professor Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris, Itamar Rabinowitch and Zeev Sternhell) and their Palestinian counterparts (Elie Sanbar, Nur Masalha and Said himself).
In the article, Edward Said noted that during the informal discussions which took place, the Israeli side (with the rare exception of professor Pappe) spoke of ‘the need for detachment, critical distance and reflective calm’, while the Palestinian was ‘much more urgent, more severe and even emotional in its insistence on the need for a new history’.
Said’s article touched on the core subject of the meeting: the need to look at the history of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict from the Palestinian point of view and to bring to the fore the events that lead to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. Despite the attempt by some of the Israeli historians to admit that ‘an injustice’ may have been committed by the Israelis in 1948, the belief amongst most of them was that it was ‘a necessary conquest’. Only professor Pappe spoke with powerful eloquence delivering, in Said’s words, ‘an espousal of the Palestinian point of view and…[providing] the most iconoclastic and brilliant of the Israeli interventions’.
Yes, the Israelis in Paris said, they wanted peace, but, no, they did not inflict the Nakba of 1948 on the Palestinians.
Again, Edward Said wrote, with the exception of professor Pappe, the rest of the Israeli team members, showed a ‘profound contradiction, bordering on schizophrenia that informs their work’. They seemed to hesitate ‘when pushed hard by either Pappe or by the Palestinians’.
The Paris meeting took place in early May 1998. The Oslo euphoria was still in the air and (hold your breath) Benyamin Netanyahu was enjoying his first term as Israel’s Prime Minister (1996-1999). Under him, Israel held all the Palestinian territories occupied by force in 1948, 1949 and 1967 (and for those who need a reminder, that’s ALL of historic Palestine); it had the most formidable military power in the region; it dictated all the rules of occupation on an occupied civilian population in the OPT and it had the luxury of time and space at its disposal.
Slow forward seven years to May 2005, when George W. Bush was claiming the mantle of yet another failed peace process (on the back of his criminal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan) and Sharon was bulldozing his way through the Palestinian Territories with his Apartheid Wall. Professor Pappe wrote a devastatingly insightful article entitled: “The Palestine Peace Process: Unlearned Lessons of History“. This article echoed the failures of all the previous peace processes since Oslo, but, predictably, all later peace processes launched since his article was written. A lot of processes, it seems, and no peace.
In his article, professor Pappe, with the vision of a sharp historian, warned that ‘unless the US can now begin to pay attention to the lessons of history [read 1948], this new round of peace talks will not only end in failure, but the hopes currently aroused will turn once again into despair, fury and a renewed wave of violence and devastation’. We now know what happened to Bush and to his peace process.
Fast forward to the present day, November 2010, (twelve and a half years after the Paris meeting), and we have Benjamin Netanyahu again as Prime Minister, the illegal occupation of the OPT still continues with even more devastation across the whole landscape of Palestine, the Israeli military machine is pumped up by more nuclear arsenals and (hold your breath again) a new peace process launched by Barak Obama, the U.S President riding high (at the time of his election) on the biggest public support of any previous American president. Yet, no sooner had Obama’s peace process been launched than the quick sands of the Middle East began to swallow it without mercy. Across the Palestinian landscape, and especially in occupied East Jerusalem, more demolition of Palestinian homes, more confiscation of farms, olive groves and more outright property theft of private houses by right-wing Zionist settlers under the protection of Israeli law and its military machine take place as the international community watches helplessly.
What does this all show?
It confirms what we have always believed: that the Zionist project of occupying and holding on to all of historic Palestine was, is and continues to be the prime and sole objective of the Zionist leadership in Israel. For this to happen and in an effort to smooth the path infront of such a colonial juggernaut, Israeli media has been put to sleep and the Israeli military leadership was made the only news outlet spurting out the sanitized version of the news to an indifferent Israeli public.
Since the Paris meeting and since professor Pappe’s prophetic article, the only bright light shining out of Israel (and now out of the UK) remains professor Pappe’s consistent and brave call for a debate on the 1948 Nakba. The other ‘new historians’ who met in Paris, remain mysteriously silent and surprisingly elusive about this issue.
It is clear to the informed reader and observer of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that nothing will move on any future process to achieve a just and lasting peace in historic Palestine unless the 1948 Nakba, the Return of the Palestinian Refugees and rule of International Law have been embraced and made the basis for the next peace process.
Finally, it is also clear that the Zionist leaders occupying the Israeli Knesset have now become aware that their colonial juggernaut is running out of fuel. So, in order to pump more colonial life into it, they have come up with the racist “Oath to the Jewish Nation“. Its twin tank has been filled with the illegal call to punish all those who commemorate the 1948 Nakba.
A new mirage or a new reality?
* Antoine Raffoul is a Palestinian architect living and practising in London. He was born in Nazareth and was expelled with his family from Haifa in April 1948. He is the Founder and Co-ordinator of 1948: Lest.We.Forget. a campaign group for truth about Palestine. He can be reached at email@example.com.