Friday, October 24, 2014

Ilan Pappé's Vision of the Broad Shape of Change in Israel/Palestine

Ilan Pappé
(Photo by Paula Geraghty in Ceasefire Magazine)
Israeli historian Ilan Pappé (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine) spoke in Chicago last night to a crowd of about 150 gathered in Lincoln Park.

Pappé speaks so authoritatively about the history of the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinian people that one feels a natural inclination to place a high degree of confidence in his predictions about the future as well.

Pappé expects the next decade to bring a "far  more cruel, racist Israel," which clearly will bring greater hardship for Palestinians who will bear the brunt, but, he believes, will ultimately drive the world to see the truth of the situation there.

He puts his hope in three developments:

(1) A growing BDS movement.

(2) The de-fragmentation of Palestinian society.

(3) More and more Israelis "coming along" (i.e. recognizing what is required for justice and acting accordingly)

There was so much valuable information and so many observations that require unpacking that I will start with brief comments on these three developments, as a placeholder for further consideration.

"An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards
the Gaza Strip on Saturday as Israeli forces pressed
ahead with a ground offensive."(Source: Baz
Ratner/Reuters/Landov,from 89.3 KPCC website.)
A growing BDS movement

Ilan Pappé says the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) movement is urgent and essential to stopping the destruction and injustices perpetrated by the Israeli government. BDS is something that we, on the outside, can bring about. He hastens to add that a second step will be necessary - to build the new post-apartheid society in Israel/Palestine -- and that work can only be done by the people living there, themselves.

I have concerns about "BDS" -- I think it throws together several distinct tactics in a way that is too brittle.

I'm particularly interested in the role of U.S. progressive Christians in acting for justice in the Holy Land. In certain ways, I believe, BDS oversimplifies the call, when in fact U.S. progressive Christians can be called to engage with the issue in a very deep and long-term way.  In other ways, I think BDS sometimes misses the most obvious area(s) on which particular groups should focus.

For instance, a particular focus of people in Chicago, I believe, should be the weapons supplied to Israel by local company Boeing Corporation. Boeing weapons include the Apache helicopter gunships and F-151 fighter jets used by Israel.

Stopping Boeing's role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine should be a priority for people in Chicago who are working for justice in Israel/Palestine.

Yasser Arafat 
"Early on, he had made it his personal trademark
to drape the scarf over his right shoulder only,
arranging it in the rough shape of a triangle, to
resemble the outlines of historic Palestine."
(Wikipedia: keffiyeh)
The de-fragmentation of Palestinian society 

Pappé had fascinating insights on the development of the Palestinian movement.  Again and again he praised Palestinian steadfastness, and had very clear-eyed comments about the relevance and utility of Fatah and Hamas at specific times.  He also said he thinks something new is evolving.

He said the richness of communications media -- yes, including Facebook -- means that the efforts of Israel to fragment Palestinian society and prevent the formation of strong identity is being overcome. He referred to what is happening now as the "de-fragmentation" of Palestinian society.

This really gave me pause.  It made me wonder, "Are we in the U.S. really making any progress understanding Palestinian identity? What would it take to make progress on this?"

More and more Israelis "coming along"

The most challenging part Pappé's talk was when he described the evolution of opinion among Israeli Jews (as well as American Jews): Zionism, liberal Zionism, messianic Zionism, neo-Zionism, and more. On the one hand, he described a state dictum of Israel ("as much of Palestine as possible, with as few Palestinians as possible") that is so intransigent, and a trajectory of events that he predicts will bring about a "far  more cruel, racist Israel" in the next decade; and yet on the other hand he expresses hope in more and more Israelis "coming along," i.e. recognizing what is required for justice and acting accordingly.

Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park, PA
(Photo: Balthazar Korab Ltd in Forward magazine)
I was struck when he said "It is high time we stop being intimidated by accusations of anti-semitism" and that we need to "dissociate Zionism from Judaism." I have written in recent weeks about this very perception.

I wonder if, for those of us in the U.S., what really matters is to be able to see (and encourage?) U.S.-based Jews who are "coming along."  Jews in the U.S. are our important point of engagement, and have a lot of input on this issue.

I suppose being a great historian only partially qualifies Pappé to predict the future. However, I think the 3-part framework he set out -- BDS, Palestinian identity, Israeli opinion -- usefully defines priorities to which those working for justice in Israel/Palestine should attend. For my own part, I intend to think more deeply about each of these and share my thoughts in future blog posts.

Related posts

Now that the Israeli government's killings in Gaza are front-page news -- particularly the way military aircraft is being used to mow down innocent men, women, and children -- Boeing's involvement is in everyone's face.

(See Boeing Has an Israel Problem . . . and Chicago Has a Boeing Problem)

Steven Salaita has forced us to speak quite openly about three rather distinct things that get treated (incorrectly) as if they were the same thing: the state of Israel (and whether you criticize it or support it); the ideology of Zionism (and whether you criticize it or support it); and the religion of Judaism (and whether or not you share in its values and beliefs).

(See "What good is a tweet?" (The Packing and Unpacking of Meaning and the Steven Salaita Case) )

When Chicagoans fully succeed in fully connecting the dots -- especially to the crimes being committed in their name with their tax dollars and the weapons produced by their favored corporate citizen, Boeing -- I think there will be some new and different phone calls taking place . . .

(See What's New in Chicago: Connecting the Dots - US Aid, Boeing Weapons, Gaza Massacre, Chicago Complicity )