Pappe’s Discomfort

Ilan Pappe is an important voice. One of those courageous historians, brave enough to open the Pandora box of 1948.  Back in the 1990s Pappe, amongst a few other Israeli post-Zionists, reminded Israelis of their original sin — the orchestrated, racially-driven ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of Palestine – the Nakba.

But like many historians, Pappe, though familiar with the facts of history, seems either unable to grasp,  or reluctant to address, the ideological and cultural meaning of those facts.

In his recent article, “When Israeli Denial of Palestinian Existence Becomes Genocidal,” Pappe attempts to explain the ongoing Israeli dismissal of the Palestinian plight. Like Shlomo Sand, Pappe points out that Israeli President Shimon Peres’ take on history is a “fabricated narrative”.

So far so good, but Pappe then misses the point. For some reason, he believes that Peres’ denial of the Palestinians’ suffering is a result of a ‘cognitive dissonance’; i.e., a discomfort experienced when two or more conflicting ideas, values or beliefs are held at the same time.

But what are those conflicting ideas or values upheld by Israelis and their President which cause them so much ‘discomfort’? Pappe does not tell us. Nor does he explain how Peres has sustained such ‘discomfort’ for more than six decades. Now, I agree that Peres, Netanyahu, and many Israelis often exhibit clear psychotic symptoms, but one thing I cannot detect in Peres’ utterances or behavior is any ‘discomfort’.

I obviously believe that Pappe is wrong here.  Expulsion, ethnic cleansing, as well as the ongoing abuse of human rights in Palestine are actually consistent with Jewish nationalist supremacist culture and also with a strict interpretation of Jewish Biblical heritage.

Pappe writes:

The perpetrators of the 1948 ethnic cleansing were the Zionist settlers who came to Palestine, like Polish-born Shimon Peres, before the Second World War. They denied the existence of the native people they encountered, who lived there for hundreds of years, if not more. 

Here Pappe is correct, but then he continues: 

The Zionists did not possess the power at the time to settle the cognitive dissonance they experienced: their conviction that the land was people-less despite the presence of so many native people there.

But Pappe fails to point at any symptom of such a dissonance. Could it be that the Director of the Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter is just ignorant?

Certainly not, Pappe is far from being ignorant.  Pappe knows the history of Zionism and Israel better than most people. He knows that ‘Zionist settlers’ like ‘Polish-born Shimon Peres’ were ideologically and culturally driven.  But then why would a professor of history attempt to turn a blind eye to the ‘ideology’ and the ‘culture’ of those early Zionists?

The early Zionists were neither blind nor were they stupid. They saw the Arabs in the land of Palestine – in the fields, in the villages and in the towns – but, being driven by a racial, supremacist and expansionist philosophy, they probably regarded the Arab as sub-human and so easily dismissed their rights, their culture, their heritage and indeed, their humanity.1

But, even though a cultural and ideological analysis resolves the proposed alleged ‘dissonance’ and illuminates the historical complexity, Ilan Pappe avoids elaborating on those issues. I have a good reason to believe that the truth is just too offensive for Pappe’s audience to digest. So instead, Pappe continues with his psychological model: “They (the Zionist) almost solved the dissonance when they expelled as many Palestinians as they could in 1948 — and were left with only a small minority of Palestinians within the Jewish state.”

Yet again, it could be helpful if Pappe provided the necessary ‘historical’ evidence that would prove that the Nakba, was indeed an attempt to ‘resolve an internal Zionist collective cognitive dissonance’. I assume that Pappe knows very well that it is actually that lack of such a “cognitive dissonance” that drives a few Israeli individuals such as Uri Avnery, Gideon Levy and Pappe himself towards universalism, humanism and pro-Palestinian activism.

I guess that Pappe’s new cognitive analytical model is telling us very little about Zionism, Israel, or Shimon Peres, but it actually tells us a lot about Pappe and the grave state of the Palestinian solidarity intellectual discourse. The discomfort he talks about is, in fact, his own: the clash between known and accepted facts and logical conclusions and the task he has accepted of squaring the circle, of wrapping up a racist, supremacist project in psychobabble wrapping and presenting it as nothing less than a pandemic of ‘cognitive dissonance.’

For some reason many of us insist on producing ‘inoffensive’ chronicles of Israeli barbarism and Jewish nationalism that attempt to mask and deflect from rather than pointing to the obvious cultural and ideological kernel of the problem.

Yet, the question that bothers me is how is it possible that a leading academic exhibits such a problematic understanding of a conflict after studying it for three decades.

The answer is pretty embarrassing. Pappe is actually a serious scholar and a gracious human being.  However, in the current intellectual climate, Pappe, like many others, cannot freely explore the truth of Zionism and the Jewish State. The shocking truth is that Pappe was much more provocative and intellectually intriguing while teaching in Haifa University than now when he directs the institute of Palestinian Studies at Exeter University.  It is a fair assumption that telling the truth about the culture that drives the Jewish State would cost Pappe his UK academic career and obviously the support within the Jewish so-called ‘left’, let alone the Soros-funded Palestinian collaborators.

So instead of searching for the truth, Pappe and others end up searching for some ‘inoffensive’ models – anything to sustain the image of ‘solidarity.’ 

I do not have any doubt that Pappe knows by now that Israelis are far from being tormented by the Palestinian plight. They are not exactly regretting the Nakba either, they certainly do not sob over their past racist assault on the people of the land of Palestine. And as Israeli polls reveal time after time, most Israelis would support a second Nakba as much as they supported the criminal carpet bombardment of civilian population at the time of operation Cast Lead.  Pappe knows very well that Israeli racist policies and collective attitudes are culturally and ideologically rather than politically driven. Israel is the Jewish State and its politics is dictated by a new Hebraic interpretation of Jewish culture and Judaic heritage.

Pappe is a humanist, and I want to believe that in the small hours, he himself feels some discomfort. Deep down, Pappe must know the truth. He knows what drives Zionism and Israeli militarism. He knows it all, but, for obvious reasons, he must keep silent and wraps the conflict up with faulty terminology and ‘inoffensive’ cognitive models.

Instead of engaging in an open discourse and digging into the truth of the conflict, we see our leading scholars actively engaged in concealment of the truth. This is actually a tragedy, for the Palestinian Solidarity discourse is now an intellectual desert. We have murdered and buried our most inspirational thinkers2 and poets. We replaced them with rigid slogans and banal Herem 3 culture.

Interestingly enough, by the time Pappe finished writing his paper, he himself was no longer so convinced by his own model. He writes:

It is bewildering to learn that the early Zionists denied the existence of Palestinians in 1882 when they arrived; it is even more shocking to find out that they deny their existence — beyond sporadic ghettoized communities — in 2013.

The meaning of this is clear: we are dealing here with a total and categorical dismissal of otherness. This is not a symptom of ‘cognitive dissonance’ but rather a historical continuum of a psycho-pathological condition that is inherent to the politics of the chosen. It is the direct outcome of Judeocentric supremacy — the very domain Pappe and others prefer not to tackle.

At the end of his paper, Pappe claims that Peres is a ‘madman’ who ignores “millions and millions of people, many of them under his military or apartheid rule while he actively and ruthlessly disallows the return of the rest to their homeland.”  But if Peres is a ‘madman’, he is unlikely to be riddled with discomfort. If Peres is mad, he is not in a state of ‘dissonance’, struggling to integrate conflicting ideas. On the contrary, Peres is, in his awfulness, entirely at peace with himself.

As far as I am concerned, Shimon Peres is not mad at all. He is evil, coherent and consistent. He is the president of the Jewish State, and it’s high time that Ilan Pappe openly faced up to this — and to what it means.

  1. Interestingly enough, it was actually the notorious right-winger Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky who was amongst the first to deal with the necessity to address the complexity of dealing with the indigenous population within the context of the Zionist dream. It was the rabid ultra-nationalist Jabotinsky, rather than the Zionist ‘left’ who regarded the Arabs as proud, highly cultural people that must be confronted militarily. In that regard, I would recommend reading Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall. []
  2. Just in the last year we have seen the BDS campaigning against Prof Norman Finkelstein, Greta Berlin, MP George Galloway, and many others. []
  3.  Hebrew word for Excommunication and Boycott []

Gilad Atzmon, now living in London, was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He is the author of The Wandering Who and one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. He can be reached at: atz@onetel.net.uk. Read other articles by Gilad, or visit Gilad's website.