Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Idea of History: A History of Power and Knowledge’ is an excellent read. It is well-structured and cohesive and coherent to a point where you can familiarise yourself with the narrative, even if a lot of the reference is new to you. Should there be a need, however, to acquire a more detailed background knowledge of the topic, then the author’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine‘ and ‘The Forgotten Palestinians‘ might represent good starting points.
The book is divided into three parts and covers the classical Zionist, post-Zionist and Neo-Zionist narratives. Pappe begins by taking us through that school of fabrication which viewed “Palestine as land without people, for a people without land”; a school where there was “no contradictions between ideology and professionalism” and which ensured that the Nakba was erased from Israeli academic discourse. This classical Zionist narritve was perfect for the oxymoronic “Jewish democracy” established through an oxymoronic “purity of arms” on someone else’s land.
The author then goes on to talk about post-Zionism and places its’ starting point, as he says, “artificially”, in 1994, one year after the Oslo Accords, while connecting it to developments in Israeli society and the emergence of the “new historians” in the late 80s. That is certainly valid, because not only might these historians be seen as the ideological precursors of post-Zionism, but the developments that led to Oslo also facilitated a climate where, for a time at least, serious research could be undertaken and the right moral conclusions could be drawn. It might be advisable not to overestimate their influence, but they were there, and they were being seen and heard. Moreover, that also meant that the Palestinian narrative was being discussed in the public space. However, things were to change, and, beginning with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin at the end of 1995, a new Zionist consensus was to assert itself during the next five years.
Of course, the genie was already out of the bottle and there could be no going back to the gobbledygook fabrication of classical Zionism. The Nakba happened, the land was not empty and there had been an ethnic cleansing. That is why, we now have the spectre of neo-Zionists, such as Benny Morris, who, no longer in complete denial, although he does continue to argue that there was no systematic plan in 1948 to expel the Palestinians, contend that in Israel’s case, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, are justified.
This is the current prevailing consensus in Israel and, of course, as Pappe says, it has far-reaching political implications for it not only shows that Israel is “unwilling to reconcile with the past and with the Palestinians “, but that the Zionist state is “overtly confident that its policies of ethnic cleansing and dispossession can be morally justified and politically maintained as long as there are Western academics and politicians who are reluctant to apply the same set of values and judgements to the Jewish state that they would have quite brutally to countries in the Arab and Muslim world.” That, however, might lead to a different discourse. However, it would not be unrelated and it would also be concerned with power and knowledge. Therefore, it might be appropriate to finish with Edward Said’s quote on page 27 of Pappe’s book, which was taken from Said’s 1999 publication ‘After the Last Sky’.
“To most people Palestinians are visible principally as fighters, terrorists, and lawless pariahs. Say the word “terror” and a man wearing a keffiyeh and mask and carrying a Kalashnikov immediately leaps before one’s eyes. To a degree, the image of a helpless, miserable-looking refugee has been replaced by this menacing one as a the veritable icon of ‘Palestine’.” This might be part of the Zionist narrative, but it is one which is in keeping with the world view that Zionism and its allies are creating of the extended Muslim and Arab world. For just as no images of maimed and dead children in Gaza reach our screens, so too is the reality of dead Arab and Muslim children from Afghanistan to Libya, Somalia to Syria, either being kept hidden, or justified, in that Orwellian world where knowledge is a victim of power.