Friday, November 02, 2007

A History of Modern Palestine

I have recently read most of a history of the geographical area known as Palestine in the last 150 years written by Ilan Pappe, one of a very small breed of so-called Israeli revisionist historians . He was until recently a lecturer at Haifa University in Israel and now at Exeter University in the UK. Pappe's revisionism is his challenging the classic Israeli historiography of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I am not a historian but, unlike most Jewish Israelis, I have talked to enough Palestinians to believe that the history of the State of Israel on which I (and most Jews) was brought up on is at best biased, partial and one-sided. Winston Churchill said that "History is written by the victors". Israel was the victor and imbued with a literary and cultural superiority over the Palestinians such that their narrative and perspective has little been heard in the West.

Ilan Pappe is definitely a radical by Jewish Israeli standards and he challenges the mythological and passionately-held Israeli narrative. It is a difficult position to hold. For me, the hysteria, hate and disdain which Pappe gets in Israel for his writings are merely a confirmation that there is clearly something in what he says. Otherwise there wouldn't be this ten-ton outpouring against him. Privately Pappe seems a very learned, cultured, reasonable man.

This history is different from others I have read in several ways. Firstly it is a history of a land, not that of a national entity. Nor is it a history of the conflict although it obviously covers much of the conflict. Its starting point is the end of the Crimean War which signalled, according to Pappe, the start of the European "invasion" of Palestine. The book is clearly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause but there is fair representation of the Zionist/Israeli position. Pappe does not spare the Palestinians from criticism. To his credit, Pappe does not hide his sympathies but he definitely goes against the trend of justifying the modernizing spirit of the Western world

The new insights I gained from this book were
1) Jewish colonialisation of Palestine was only one (even if, ultimately, the most significant) of the Western colonizing and 'modernizing' forces seeping into Palestine from the 1850s
2) throughout the period described the Palestinians (indeed the Arabs) were/are split, factionalised, tribalised and unable to agree and work on a common agenda. Unlike the Jews who managed to overcome their differences to work on a common agenda, the Arabs were divided, leaderless and pursuing several opposing agendas
3)The Hashemite monarchy of Jordan was a less-than-effective opposition for the Israelis because of their own political and territorial objectives in the WestBank.

It is very refreshing to read a history that presents the position of both sides and Pappe definitely has the credentials of a professional historian. I wouldn't be surprised that if his book were gone over with a tooth comb one might find some inconsistencies and inaccuracies but this is irrelevant. What is important is the main gist and that it would be a refreshing change if such histories were widely read by Israelis and Palestinians. One looks forward to the day when Palestinian historians will come up with a book this this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The prospects for peace

My (96-year old) Dad asked me today whether I think we are any closer to peace now with the various peace activities that I am involved in. I don't think so. He is worried that a new Intifada might break out after the upcoming Annapolis conference fails. He thinks (and I tend to agree) that the Palestinians (as usual) are asking for the moon. It may seem just (maybe even reasonable) to them but Ehud Olmert gives no impression of being able (politically) or inclined to 'give' them anything on any of the substantive issues - the right of return or greater Palestinian control over Palestinian areas.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Going on a cruise

It's trivial, it's almost ridiculous but it illustrated to me for the nth time the incredible divide between us Israelis (mostly western, Jewish and middle class) and Palestinians who live so close to us in very difficult circumstances.

I am off in a couple of days on a family adventure - a cruise in the Mediterranean on one of those nice cruise ships. Not a vacation that I would have thought of - it's also rather expensive even for middle-class bourgeois types like myself - but my father (95 years old and in amazing shape) suggested it and invited us, so who could or would refuse. I don't expect to have email contact for a couple of weeks so I prepared the following signature on my emails:

Please note that I will be away from my desk (on a cruise vacation in the Mediterranean) until 4th August and therefore unlikely to see or to reply to any emails till then. Thanks for your patience!

Today I got a call from a Palestinian activist in Gaza who belongs to the Fatah and with whom I had some dealings in the past in the framework of Middleway, a Jewish-Arab peace NGO. We hadn't heard from some time from this Palestinian but I heard that he called a colleague a few days ago and told her that his house had been blown up by the Hamas. Today he told me that he just came out of hospital and asked me to send him an email. He probably wants help of some kind. I clicked the Compose button and the above signature came up and suddenly I thought to myself - what would he think? I'm going on a cruise and he's a Fatah member in Gaza.

A British playwright once described the experience of driving (in the "good" old days) with a British diplomat from Tel Aviv to Gaza - a journey of barely 2 hours without checkpoints. He said it was like traveling from California to Bangladesh. Two worlds. Will we ever be able to bridge them?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Palestine splits in two

For those of us in Israel who yearn and work for peace and a decent life for ALL the people of Israel and Palestine, the latest situation in Gaza raises many issues.

Firstly, it is unclear what exactly has happened in Gaza. What we do know is that armed factions of Hamas have attacked Fatah installations and offices and have killed Fatah supporters, sometimes with great brutality.

Some Arab observers have likened the situation in Gaza to putting 2 children in a closed room with one slice of bread, "so you shouldn't be surprised if they fight". The other possible conclusion is that Palestinian Arabs have a strong predisposition of trying to resolve disputes by violent and bloody means which the developed world no longer accepts.

It is unclear whether these actions by the armed factions of Hamas were supported by the Hamas Prime Minister and other Hamas leaders including Haled Mashal in Damascus and whether there is or was a political objective behind it. One suspects that it was not planned or thought out and I doubt whether the Hamas leadership (if indeed it is behind this) thought of the possible results. Reports claim that they declare the indivisibility of Palestine and their desire for a continued joint government with Fatah. If so, this is a mighty strange way of going about it. Not only has President Abbas dismissed the former government, appointed a Fatah-based emergency government in its place but he has also declared Hamas an illegal organisation.

The perception is that Palestine has been efffectively split into two statelets, one under the control of the fundamentalist Hamas in Gaza and one under the control of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. This effectively helps Israel which has been trying to isolate Gaza from the West Bank for years, and enable Israel and the West to ease restrictions on the Palestinians in the West Bank.

The surrounding Arab governments, especially Egypt, who, in any case view the Hamas - offshoot of Egypt's Islamic Brotherhood - view the takeover of Gaza by Hamas by violent means with great concern.
Iran 5 minutes from Askhlelon

This was the headline of last Friday's (15th June) edition of Yediot Achronot, Israel mass circulation tabloid daily newspaper. This brilliant headline was the newspaper's calming way of bringing home to the (mostly Jewish) fearful Israeli population that we have something new to worry about.

The news (and it is news) behind the headline is that the armed factions of the Hamas have, during last week, captured or destroyed the remaining strongholds of the Fatah in Gaza, thus taking control of Gaza in some way (more of the implications of that in a separate post).

Iran is supected or accused of supporting the Hamas and Iran is currently Israel's number 1 bogeyman . Iran, as you know, is suspected of developing nuclear weapons and the repeated declarations of Iran's Preseident Ahmedinajad about the iminent or desired demise of the State of Israel cause many Israelis to fear Iran greatly.

What better way for Israel's hysterical media to turn up the fear and to suggest that the threat of Israel's annihalition is now only 5 minutes from Israel's southern coastal town of Ashkelon ? Maybe, one day the media will pay the price for their bloodcurdling.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Building an Arab house

On 19th May, Irit, Einat, my girls, my Dad and I joined our friends Ibtisam and Subchi in the village of Faradis to celebrate building of their new house.

We wish them all happiness and success for the completion of the house and the peace center that Ibtisam plans there.


You can see pictures of the celebration at

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Just discovered this similarly named Arab-Israeli Peace Blog - must check it out....David

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This illustration of Iran's Presdident Ahmedinajad (seen at an exhibition at the Museum of Illustration in New York) is a classic demonisation of an unloved foreign leader. Note the missiles as sharp molar in his mouth. Not exactly peace oriented.... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Diwan bookshop in Cairo

The most attractive bookshop I found in Cairo for English (and other European language ) books is Diwan. It is in the upper middle class district of Zamalek. The shop is very attractive with a wide range of books in English, CDs and a small cafe. An island of Western culture and modernity in Cairo

  • Address: 159,26th of July st.Zamalek
  • Phone: +202- 7362578