British human rights activist Frank Barak cooperated with Noam Chomsky, perhaps the world’s most insightful and conscientious thinker, and with Ilan Pappe, Israel’s sharpest, bravest and most conscientious historian, to present to the world a balanced narrative of the Middle East. He says: “I sincerely believe that what is happening in Palestine would never have lasted this long if the public were properly informed about what had been really taking place in this part of the Middle East.”
Whether this book will contribute to a just solution cannot be stated. But Drs. Chomsky and Pappe have produced a book that is accurate, thoughtful, constructive and humane.
While the focus here is on Gaza, where 200,000 people are living in sub-human conditions because of the U.S.-backed Israeli siege and attacks on defenceless civilians, this study provides a historical perspective on the conflict.
It draws a bleak picture. On one side are the Israelis, bolstered by unlimited U.S. economic, military, diplomatic and intelligence support. On the other are the helpless Palestinians, reduced to despair and hunger by their opponents but enjoying the moral support of most of the world.
The book denies that the Palestinians fled from their homes in 1948 to enable Arab armies to defeat Israel. It says that Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and David Ben Gurion had stated long before Israel’s creation that the Palestinians would have to be removed. And they were.
The UN Partition Plan, agreed to under U.S. pressure because President Henry Truman relied on his Zionist advisers for his election, offered the 660,000 Jews, out of a population of two million, 56 per cent of the land. Many of the Jews were recent arrivals in Palestine while the Arabs had lived there for generations.
The Haganah-led and state-sponsored ethnic cleansing began in December 1947, before Israel was created, and continued till 1954. Of the 900,000 Palestinians living in what became Israel only 100,000 remained. The others were expelled, and thousands were killed.
The Israeli Arabs were kept under military rule for more than two decades. Even now numerous laws in Israel discriminate against Muslim and Christian Arabs and make them second-class citizens. But they enjoy political freedom and are even represented in the Knesset.
Arabs who came under Israeli rule after the 1967 war enjoy no such rights. Israeli leaders, led by General Moshe Dayan, decided not to expel them but to deny them political, civic and other rights and to make their lives miserable through checkpoints, curfews, arrests, detention for years without charges and denial of building permits and other amenities. These actions were designed to force them out eventually.
Since 1967, the Israeli policy, having taken 80 per cent of Palestine, is to grab major chunks of the remaining 20 per cent also. Palestinians can have a ministate in some arid Bantustans, which will also be controlled by the Israelis. Israel also refuses to accept responsibility for what it did to Palestinians during 1948-1954 and opposes their return to their homes. But Jews from anywhere can enter Israel and get citizenship.
Chomsky and Pappe state that the Israeli policy of dispossessing Palestinians and subsidizing illegal settlers — who now number half a million in occupied territories — has made a two-state solution impractical. The Palestinians are suffering. But Israel has also moved away from Jewish values and turned into an oppressor.
To have its way, Israel has often attacked Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, freely using U.S. arms and deadly weapons, like phosphorus bombs, on civilians. Many observers, including a former UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, the former foreign minister of Nicaragua, and even Jewish observers have described these actions as genocide.
Chomsky and Pappe assert that this has been possible because of U.S. support. Since 1949 the U.S. has given Israel more than $100 billion in grants and $10 billion in special loans. Over 20 years $5.5 billion was given to Israel for military purchases. The U.S. also shields Israel diplomatically.
The scholars assert that U.S. support for Israel rests on three tiers mostly: AIPAC, the powerful lobby, the military industrial complex and Christian Zionists. The U.S. arms industry benefits from the testing of new weapons in attacks on civilians from the air, sea and land. The U.S. sells or gives the most sophisticated arms to Israel and less lethal weapons to others. A New America Foundation report said that “U.S arms and military training played a role in 20 of the world’s 27 major wars in 2007.”
Christian Zionists also support Israel unconditionally on Biblical grounds. They believe that the Jews should settle in the Holy Land so that the Messiah will come and convert them to Christianity, by force if necessary, and that will lead the world to redemption. But support for Israel is falling rapidly among American Jews, especially the young, who are decent people and find the Israeli policy repugnant and contradictory to Jewish values.
Chomsky and Pappe feel that as the internet and social media bring out the truth in the Middle East, world opinion will turn even more against Israel and the U.S. — perhaps in the U.S. itself. How this will work out is not clear. Probably Israel will have no choice but to give Palestinians equal rights in Israel and their basic rights in the Israeli-occupied territories. That could bring Israel to a one-state solution in which Palestinians will again become a majority in their own country.
This is a depressing but thoughtful book written by two of the world’s eminent thinkers. It should be read widely by those who believe in human rights, equality, dignity, justice and peace for all human beings.