Book Review: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine February 28, 2015 14:00

By Ilan Pappé, Oneworld Publications, Ltd., 2006, 256 pp. 

Get the book here!

Reviewed by Albert Regan Doyle

Every country has some shameful things in its past, right? Well, Ilan Pappe’s latest book shows that the Nakba—Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Arabs, the murder of thousands, the theft of their land, and the forced dispersal of over 700,000 refugees—happens to be essential to the very existence of the present day State of Israel. Virtually unique in the world, today’s Israel could not exist as a “Jewish state” without the crimes committed then. But they are erased from Israeli consciousness and memory, unmentioned in Israeli schools and, like the 531 Arab villages utterly destroyed and replaced by forests, parks and Israeli developments, ignored in Israeli academic discourse.

But not if Ilan Pappé has his say. Like the late Israel Shahak, Pappé says the problem is Israel’s Zionist ideology—not to be confused with the Jewish religion, which is practiced by only a minority of Israelis. The problem is the Zionist philosophy itself, that the country is for Jews alone. According to Pappé, “Israel has no choice but willingly to transform itself one day into a civic and democratic state”—a single state for Arabs and Jews. And that’s not going to happen soon.

Since gaining access to the records of the original Nakba, and above all, unlike the other Israeli “new historians,” getting in touch with the narrative of the displaced Palestinians, Pappé has come to recognize the enormity of the crime committed by David Ben-Gurion and the other early Zionist leaders, and which is carried on to this day. As he says in his introduction: “When it created its nation-state, the Zionist movement did not wage a war that ”˜tragically but inevitably’ led to the expulsion of ”˜parts of’ the indigenous population, but the other way round: the main goal was the ethnic cleansing of all Palestine, which the movement coveted for its new state.” It is this reality which much of the West strangely refuses to acknowledge and which is the source of the continuing conflict in Palestine and the Middle East today. The apparent reason—misplaced Holocaust guilt/sympathy and fear of the anti-Semitism charge.

Pappe’s book will command attention because of his sources. He recites in horrifying detail the “cleansing” of Arabs from villages, towns and cities by the Zionist terrorist forces. This was all carefully planned to drive out the Palestinian Arabs and seize their land and property. It is a sickening tale of violence against mostly innocents, many of whom were killed, with others forced out of Palestine into refugee status which still exists. There are other crimes which Pappe describes in nauseating detail that makes a cynical farce of Israel’s boast of “purity of arms.” Many villages were ground to rubble so their inhabitants could not return. Instead they are denied the right of return, in defiance of international law and United Nations resolutions, since their return would end the Zionist plan for Palestine. Pappé’s accounts are documented from official records and military orders and the diaries of Ben-Gurion, who once said, “I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.” That was one of his less indictable statements, by the way. The man makes Slobodan Milosevic look like a Boy Scout.

For many readers, the book’s other startling revelation will be to learn that Ben-Gurion and his cohorts were never seriously concerned about “Arab armies” crushing the supposedly beleaguered young state about which we hear today. Armed by the communist bloc and with better quality soldiers, many with wartime experience, the Zionists always felt they could handle the military situation, while their slick diplomatic front man, Abba Eban, was telling lies to the world.