Are we occupiers?
After Kennedy’s assassination, black leader Malcolm X, said that the arrow would find its way back to the archer’s chest. He meant that the violence practiced by US society against its black citizens and the world in general would come back to haunt it. Israeli society is also going through unfortunate events, during which humanitarian principles – which Israeli society was supposedly created for – are acquiring all forms of racism, violence, militarism, and Western fundamentalist messianism. The occupation is digging in deeper even as they talk about “disengagement,” and the possibility to create an independent sovereign Palestinian state continues to deteriorate. Moreover, the offensive, racist view of the Palestinians as a people and the wall as the application of a racist Zionist Ashkenazi ideology make it difficult to expand Israeli identity to achieve humane, democratic principles based on equality.
Recently, after the announcement of the boycott against Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities, an unprecedented attack was launched against Ilan Pappe. His photo was attached to newspaper articles, and the journalist Ariel Segal – who described the website of Hagada Hasmalit as extreme leftist – wrote that he is not urging an attack on Ilan Pappe, but a boycott of him. This violent remark indicates that Segal thought, for a moment, that it was permissible to attack Ilan Pappe, which is a very grave matter. Segal’s entire article was based on a statement from 1948 that the Palestinians would destroy the state of Israel (although they had no chance of doing so if we consider Israeli might) and an assumption that they still held this opinion (regardless of the fact that no matter how long the Palestinians keep throwing stones, they will not get a state from Israel). Journalists Eyal Levy and Ben Dror Yemini wrote a story about the boycott for the society and politics section of Ma’ariv. They, too, concentrated on the figure of Ilan Pappe (whose picture was placed in the middle of the article, lacking only a target on his head). Both of them called for a boycott of Pappe and slandered him without meeting him face to face and listening to his opinion as part of a complete debate.
The fierce battle over historical memory is what created Israeli methods against the Palestinians. I would like to remind all of us – we Israeli citizens who live in the state of Israel – that there is brutal oppression occurring just a few hours away from our country in which we enjoy freedom. Ilan Pappe is one of the few Israeli citizens who are prepared to cling onto the full right of Palestinians to human rights and self-determination in the context of a sovereign state. It is unfortunate that instead of concentrating on the significance of the occupation and the wall, the lack of dialogue, and Israel’s inhumanity and brutality towards the Palestinian people and Arab identity specifically, cultural and media institutions in Israeli society are busy slandering a new external enemy named Ilan Pappe. Soon we will probably have to sign an oath of loyalty to Israel when we apply to universities, similar to that imagined in Catch-22. Or perhaps Ilan Pappe will be expelled from Israel and sent to live with Vanunu in East Jerusalem, forbidden from leaving Israel so that he does not talk about the big secret of the occupation.
The state of Israel is not the victim, but the aggressor. It is the one that sends the brigades of young soldiers to the territories, soldiers filled with hatred for Palestinians and the Middle East and armed with lethal Western weapons. It is the one that is not prepared to return the territories it occupied, and it is the one that is not prepared to engage in dialogue on all topics, including the right of return. It is also the one that yielded to the worst sort of demagoguery from its leaders directed against an entire people and their right to self-determination.
The writer Gadi Taub urged that measures be taken against Pappe. Is he equally prepared to urge that measures be taken against the state of Israel due to the brutal occupation and violent oppression it practices against the Palestinians in the territories (and Israel deals with its Palestinian citizens in a similar manner)? Allow me to respond in the negative: He will not do that because these are the morals of the strong.
Malcolm X said that a black man in American society cannot face a white man with the same strength a white man can use against him. He called on blacks to realize this in order to develop their own self worth and ability to defend themselves. Malcolm X gave American blacks a new sense of self, one capable of ridding itself from all the racism, oppression, and self-loathing they inherited from the white man to enable them to regain their consciousness and work for their future. Ilan Pappe realized the same thing and took advantage of his cultural position (in the full meaning of the word) to confront the occupation authority in order to create a new Israeli society of opportunity, hope, dialogue, and liberation for both peoples. In taking a stand, he said that he was calling for an end to the oppression of Palestinians, which finds its way back into society through different means, one of which is Sephardic Jews’ erasure of their identity. At the same time, Pappe said that he could still be an Israeli who works within Israeli institutions while demanding a different future for himself and all citizens.
The sociologist Uri Ram raised some important questions about the boycott, and I support his proposal for a public debate on the issue. But it is difficult to ignore the strength of the local cultural institutions that, in the name of Ashkenazi Zionism, attempt to derail the debate to the person of Ilan Pappe, instead of a discussion of the occupation and the walls that have been erected around Qalqiliya and other cities. Thus, they talk about Teddy Katz’s thesis instead of talking about the unemployment rate in the occupied territories, now standing at 70%. They talk about Pappe’s desire – and I don’t know where they got this – to destroy the state of Israel. (Is he actually capable of that?) But it is extremely difficult for them to talk about the reality on the ground only a few hours away from us, in which Palestinian men and women are indiscriminately killed while we rush to complain that they called us occupiers. What, are we really occupiers?
* April 30, 2005. Hebrew version. The Opinion was first published on Left Bank Magazine.