Books Chapter & Verse

Ilan Pappe talks about the Middle East: 'Change will come'

Speaking to the Monitor about his new book 'The Biggest Prison on Earth,' historian Ilan Pappe says that – ultimately – he is 'confident of a peaceful scenario.'

Historian Ilan Pappe's earlier books include 'Ten Myths About Israel' and the bestselling 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.'
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  • Steve Donoghue

Historian Ilan Pappe's new book The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories continues his work of shining new analytical light on the seemingly intractable Israel-Palestine conflict, following up earlier books such as "Ten Myths About Israel" and the bestselling "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine." Pappe recently talked with Monitor contributor Steve Donoghue about his work.

Q: Your new book is already sparking the kind of controversy that greeted "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" and "Ten Myths About Israel" – this must be a familiar pattern to you by now, yes? Do you find that the tenor of this conversation has changed at all over the years? Is there more receptivity to your work, for instance?

It depends where. Around the world, yes, the tenor has changed. There is more readiness to change the language that describes Israeli actions in the past and the present; there is less disbelief when a systematic abuse or dispossession is shown as a structure or strategy rather than a policy. As for Israel, the same denial and unwillingness to face the unpleasant chapters of the past persists.

Q: That assertion – that Israeli dispossession of Palestinians is an outcome of premeditated state strategy rather than a policy adapted to circumstances – contradicts the attractive notion of a fledgling state merely doing what it must to survive. It paints a far uglier picture.

This is not an attempt to demonize the Israelis or Israel. My main argument is that the Zionist movement in Palestine until 1948 and the state of Israel are a settler colonial project that is still intact today. The nature of such a project is that the settlers in this particular case study see themselves as natives who return to their home and see the natives as aliens, who at best can be tolerated if they do not challenge to the settlers' power and ownership. So this is not a matter of planning only or strategic clarity.

Q: Settler colonialism seldom bodes well for the natives, and it certainly hasn't for the Palestinian population now living in what you describe in the book as "the ultimate maximum security prison." In "The Biggest Prison on Earth" you're careful not to offer false or cheap hope for any good resolution to this problem – but do you see any such resolution as possible?

To be honest not in the short run. However, I do believe that in the long run the basic features of the project will diminish and hopefully disappear. I am confident of a peaceful scenario: not in a big bang but in bottom-up evolution. Change will come first and foremost due to Palestinian steadfastness and popular resistance, the intensification of the international pressure on Israel, and it will be cemented by joint Palestinian and Jewish effort to reformulate the relationship between them on the basis of equality, democracy, and respect for human and civil rights.

Joint life on equal footing is possible – the main obstacle is the state's ideology that dehumanizes the Palestinians and refuses to allow them equal and normal life for the sake of what is deemed "Jewish Security" – namely an ethnic Jewish state that forever has a Jewish majority by all means possible and provides privileges and exclusivity for the Jewish people in it. This is an obsolete ideology and world view which will not hold water for too long in a world that wishes and struggles to ensure that more and more people would be liberated from tyranny, bigotism, religious fanaticism, and racism.