A Powerful Voice: An Interview with Ilan Pape.

Painting a worrying picture and offering ways to alleviate the Palestinians plight.

By Liam Bailey 

Prominent Israeli academic and author Ilan Pape is openly critical of Israel. In his latest article, he called Israel’s policies in the West Bank ethnic cleansing and felt safe to call their actions in Gaza “measured genocide”.

Let us not forget that Ilan Pape is an Israeli and for him to accuse his own homeland of these things must be very hard indeed, and without a strong basis I’m sure he would reduce the terms to something much weaker. Secondly Ilan Pape has extensive experience of the conflict; he is senior lecturer in the University of Haifa Department of political Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Haifa.

He has also written books on the subject, including, among others: The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (London and New York 1992), The Israel/Palestine Question (London and New York 1999), A History of Modern Palestine (Cambridge 2003), The Modern Middle East (London and New York 2005) and his latest, Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).

An Israeli with so much knowledge criticizing his homeland makes him a powerful voice. Ilan agreed to answer a few questions of mine on the above matters by e-mail.

Liam Bailey: Do you believe Israel will ever commit to peace?

Ilan Pape: Not in the near future and maybe not in the longer run. There is a need for a revolutionary change in global and regional balances of power before a genuine process of change takes place in Israel itself. If ever this happens, and it is likely to happen at one point, these are time consuming processes. Israel has to be de-Zionised to a point before any genuine reconciliation can be attempted.

LB: Do you think Israel would be more committed to peace if the U.S allowed resolutions against Israel, and threatened to withdraw U.S aid unless they make more concessions to achieve sustainable peace with the Palestinians?

IP: Yes by all means this is one of the revolutionary changes in the global balances I was taking about, above. It will be a crucial factor in forcing a new thinking within Israel and it would be a very positive message to the Arab world to believe once more in the possibility of peace.

LB: Do you share the opinion that the recent Gaza ceasefire was nothing more than appearing as committed to peace to guarantee continued U.S support from a Democrat Congress?

IP: I think the ceasefire was less to do with US policy as with two other factors: one, Israelis want to see how a civil war inside Gaza serves them and secondly, foolishly, Hamas and Fatah are willing to divert their energies and attention from fighting the occupation into trying to struggle one against the other.

LB: When this article is published, going by my past articles, I will be inundated with e-mails and comments saying that genocide in Gaza is a ludicrous suggestion, that Israel is only attacking Gaza in self defence, and that if the Palestinians would stop launching rockets and committing other acts of terrorism Israel would stop retaliating. What would you say to those people?

IP: The Israeli actions, as the Israeli army admits, increase the motivation for more rockets and missiles. The Israeli army itself admits the punitive actions have very little to do with the missile attacks and are meant to achieve ‘deterrence’. Moreover, ever since 1993, whenever any Palestinian group was willing to ceasefire and give a chance for a peace dialogue, the Israeli army immediately launched a provocative action so that the lull would not continue for too long. After the recent ceasefire was agreed upon, the Israeli army arrested a large number of leaders and killed activists and civilians in the West Bank; knowing perfectly well that this was a cassis belle in the eyes of the Palestinian groups.

LB: You paint a convincingly horrifying picture that Israel is actively committing measured genocide in Gaza and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. The only problem I have is that both policies cannot be achieved quickly, and will likely run through several governments. How can the people in Israel who want to carry these actions through be sure that the people don’t elect a more liberal government, which would put a stop to their well laid plans?

IP: The cleansing of the Jewish space or the area of Palestine that all the Zionist parties, including the liberal ones, covet as a State, is a pillar in Zionist thought. As long as Israel is a Zionist state there is ‘no danger’ that a counter policy would ever be adopted by a Zionist government. After all, it was liberal Zionists who committed the greatest act of ethnic cleansing so far, the 1948 one, and a pure Jewish space is accepted by liberals as well, as a noble target. They are willing to be happy with a smaller part of the land for achieving this goal but there their liberalism ends. This is why there is ‘no rush’ and in fact it is a liberal Zionist concept that a slow measure nowadays is best for silencing world criticism or internal doubts.

LB: I know one Israeli, Reuven Kossover who openly criticises the government, but not for the Gaza siege or the years of disproportionate reactions and collective punishment, but because they don’t do enough to squash the resistance. He believes that Israel should either declare a border excluding Judea, Samaria and Gaza and expel all hostile Arabs from green line Israel, or annex Gaza and the West Bank completely and expel the hostile Arabs. In your experience do a lot of Israelis share similar opinions?

IP: I think yes, but I do think when it comes to voting we alternate every few years between the ‘Left’ a slower pace of ‘squashing’ and the ‘right, an accelerated one. From the victim’s point of view, alas, the result is the same.

LB: How do you think Israel can be stopped from committing ethnic cleansing and genocide?

IP: Only through a coordinated campaign like the one that stopped the apartheid system in South Africa. But for the boycott, divestment and sanction campaign to succeed you also need a strong, united and well orientated Palestinian leadership and strategy. We lack both.

LB: It is currently in the news that Israel faces an existential threat from Hamas and Hezbollah and most Israelis believe Ahmadinejad is synonymous with a second holocaust. Do you share the opinion that Israel currently poses a far bigger threat to the Arab world than the Arab world does to Israel?

IP: Indeed, Israel is an unfinished project of statehood, and would go to any length to impose its will until most of the West Bank would be annexed to it, together with the Golan Heights and strategic control up to the Litani River in Lebanon. Anyone that stands in the way is or will be attacked.It is interesting that Israeli generals here say that Hizballah and Hamas are mere irritations and not strategic threats, which I think is an accurate description.LB: It seems to me that the fear of a counter-attack by Israel, the U.S, or both obliterating Iran completely will prevent Ahmadinejad from launching a nuclear attack, or any kind of attack. If it occurs to me then someone in Israel’s leadership must also realize the great threat their nuclear arsenal projects. Am I right that Israel always presents fears for its existence, allowing it to remind people of the holocaust at regular intervals, to stop the world criticising its actions against Palestinians?

IP: Yes the manipulation of the Holocaust memory is to allow the policies I have described above to be carried out without interruption. But I do think the fear in Israel is not from a nuclear attack from Iran, it is clear that the worst that can happen is deterrence policies such as the ones that took place in The Cold War. The fear is from a serious challenge to Israel’s absolute military hegemony in the area.

LB: Or does Israel do the above so that anyone who reads they are committing genocide will not believe it because of the way them and their ancestors suffered at the hands of the Nazi’s.

IP: I think what the Israelis rely on are two things. The slow measures that can obfuscate the general picture and hide the accumulative effect and secondly, the Jewish communities who would back unconditionally even the worst Israeli atrocities.

LB: Finally, I read the other day about a new youth movement –similar to the Hitler youth– that has been formed by Israeli MP, Ariyah Eldad. Its stated aims are hiking scouting and promoting the forced transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank. The group’s formation is clear evidence of his intention to carry on Israel’s policies into the next generation. Eldad said he formed the group because he was being asked by a lot of youths while touring schools, “where are we to go?” “What can we do now?” Do you believe he is telling the truth and that his group will attract significant numbers of Israeli youths?

IP: I am sure this will be a very popular youth movement given the present mood in the country, but the Israeli establishment will be very careful from openly endorsing it.

My interview with Ilan Pape has reinforced my view that this conflict is a long way from a peaceful solution. I just hope that the campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions will achieve more popular support and have the desired effect of changing Israeli policies.

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