ILAN PAPPE: Confronting intimidation, working for justice in Palestine



Sonja Karkar – editor of… – writes:

As 2012 begins in earnest, Ilan Pappe’s words are certainly worth reflecting on.  For too long have our leaders particularly, but also much of the public, been held in thrall by the dramatic Israel tableau  – biblical entitlement, land redemption, the light of the world – without any regard for the real human drama going on behind the pastiche of concocted stories.  Only very recently have the cracks begun to show a very ugly side to the Jewish narrative of longing for Zion and another people’s narrative that has been deliberately hidden and demonised.  Aside from the gross injustice Israel’s creation had perpetrated on the indigenous Palestinian population and society of the time and which its subsequent actions have never attempted to make right, Israel’s apartheid character is being exposed
every day, and with it the quest for Jewish supremacy.  It is impossible to ignore when even Israel’s politicians are quite blatant about their intentions to make all of the land – historic Palestine – exclusively Jewish.

For more than 60 years, most Palestinians have been living as prisoners and pariahs in their own land or as stateless people caught frozen in time in the refugee camps still clinging to their inalienable right to return home. Others in the Diaspora may have been more fortunate, but it does not make
the pain of loss, indignity and separation any less.   If Israel hoped to see the Palestinian identity ground into the soil of their homeland or wither away waiting to return, it is beginning to realise that no matter what atrocities or hardships it imposes on the Palestinians, these long-maligned people are not about to go quietly into the sunset.   Millions of Palestinian men, women and children have not forgotten, will not forget and remain steadfast in their determination to get justice.  Finally, public
opinion is seeing Israel for what it is, but timidity and intimidation still prevent a good number from speaking out and holding Israel accountable.  Too many of our politicians, journalists and other public figures fear that their positions, ambitions and good standing will be compromised if they criticise Israel, so they “cower” says Ilan Pappe.  Turning public sentiment into political action is the challenge we face today.  It is not impossible.

Confronting intimidation,
working for justice in Palestine


by Ilan Pappe
The Electronic Intifada
9 February 2012

If we had a wish list for 2012 as Palestinians and friends of Palestine, one
of the top items ought to be our hope that we can translate the dramatic
shift in recent years in world public opinion into political action against
Israeli policies on the ground.

We know why this has not yet materialized: the political, intellectual and
cultural elites of the West cower whenever they even contemplate acting
according to their own consciences as well as the wishes of their societies.

This last year was particularly illuminating for me in that respect. I
encountered that timidity at every station in the many trips I took for the
cause I believe in. And these personal experiences were accentuated by the
more general examples of how governments and institutions caved in under
intimidation from Israel and pro-Zionist Jewish organizations.

A catalogue of complicity

Of course there were US President Barack Obama’s [1] pandering appearances
in front of AIPAC, [2] the Israeli lobby, and his administration’s continued
silence and inaction in face of Israel’s colonization of the West Bank,
siege and killings in Gaza, ethnic cleansing of the Bedouins [3]  in the
Naqab [4]  and new legislation discriminating against Palestinians in

The complicity continued with the shameful retreat of Judge Richard
Goldstone [6]  from his rather tame report on the Gaza massacre [7]  — which
began three years ago today. And then there was the decision of European
governments, especially Greece, [8] to disallow campaigns of human aid and
solidarity from reaching Gaza by sea.

On the margins of all of this were prosecutions in France [9]  against
activists calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) [10]  and a
few u-turns by some groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in
Europe caving in under pressure and retracting an earlier decision to cede
connections with Israel.

Learning firsthand how pro-Israel intimidation works

In recent years, I have learned firsthand how intimidation of this kind
works. In November 2009 the mayor of Munich was scared to death by a Zionist
lobby group and cancelled my lecture there. More recently, the Austrian
foreign ministry withdrew its funding for an event in which I participated,
and finally it was my own university, the University of Exeter, once a haven
of security in my eyes, becoming frigid when a bunch of Zionist hooligans
claimed I was a fabricator and a self-hating Jew.

Every year since I moved there, Zionist organizations in the UK and the US
have asked the university to investigate my work and were brushed aside.
This year a similar appeal was taken, momentarily one should say, seriously.
One hopes this was just a temporary lapse; but you never know with an
academic institution (bravery is not one of their hallmarks).

Standing up to pressure

But there were examples of courage — local and global — as well: the student
union of the University of Surrey under heavy pressure to cancel my talk
[11]  did not give in and allowed the event to take place.

The Episcopal Bishops Committee on Israel/Palestine in Seattle faced the
wrath of many of the city’s synagogues and the Israeli Consul General in San
Francisco, Akiva Tor, [12] for arranging an event with me in September 2011
in Seattle’s Town Hall, but bravely brushed aside this campaign of
intimidation. The usual charges of “anti-Semitism” did not work there — they
never do where people refuse to be intimidated.

The outgoing year was also the one in which Turkey [13] imposed military and
diplomatic sanctions on Israel in response to the latter’s refusal to take
responsibility for the attack on the Mavi Marmara [14]. Turkey’s action was
in marked contrast to the European and international habit of sufficing with
toothless statements at best, and never imposing a real price on Israel for
its actions.

Do not cave in to intimidation

I do not wish to underestimate the task ahead of us. Only recently did we
learn how much money is channeled to this machinery of intimidation whose
sole purpose is to silence criticism on Israel. Last year, the Jewish
Federations of North America [15]  and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs
[16]  — leading pro-Israel lobby groups — allocated $6 million to be spent
over three years to fight BDS campaigns and smear the Palestine solidarity
movement. This is not the only such initiative under way.

But are these forces as powerful as they seem to be in the eyes of very
respectable institutions such as universities, community centers, churches,
media outlets and, of course, politicians?

What you learn is that once you cower, you become prey to continued and
relentless bashing until you sing the Israeli national anthem. If once you
do not cave in, you discover that as time goes by, the ability of Zionist
lobbies of intimidation around the world to affect you gradually diminishes.

Reducing the influence of the United States

Undoubtedly the centers of power that fuel this culture of intimidation lie
to a great extent in the United States, which brings me to the second item
on my 2012 wish list: an end to the American dominance in the affairs of
Israelis and Palestinians. I know this influence cannot be easily curbed.

But the issue of timidity and intimidation belong to an American sphere of
activity where things can, and should be, different. There will be no peace
process or even Pax Americana in Palestine if the Palestinians, under
whatever leadership, would agree to allow Washington to play such a central
role. It is not as if US policy-makers can threaten the Palestinians that
without their involvement there will be no peace process.

In fact history has proved that there was no peace process — in the sense of
a genuine movement toward the restoration of Palestinian rights — precisely
because of American involvement. Outside mediation may be necessary for the
cause of reconciliation in Palestine. But does it have to be American?

If elite politics are needed — along with other forces and movements — to
facilitate a change on the ground, such a role should come from other places
in the world and not just from the United States.

One would hope that the recent rapprochement between Hamas [17]  and Fatah
[18] — and the new attempt to base the issue of Palestinian representation
on a wider and more just basis — will lead to a clear Palestinian position
that would expose the fallacy that peace can only be achieved with the
Americans as its brokers.

Dwarfing the US role will disarm American Zionist bodies and those who
emulate them in Europe and Israel of their power of intimidation.

Letting the other America play a role

This will also enable the other America, that of the civil society, the
Occupy Wall Street movement, [19] the progressive campuses, the courageous
churches, African-Americans marginalized by mainstream politics, Native
Americans and millions of other decent Americans who never fell captive to
elite propaganda about Israel and Palestine, to take a far more central role
in “American involvement” in Palestine.

That would benefit America as much as it will benefit justice and peace in
Palestine. But this long road to redeeming all of us who want to see justice
begins by asking academics, journalists and politicians in the West to show
a modicum of steadfastness and courage in the face of those who want to
intimidate us. Their bark is far fiercer than their bite.

The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is Professor of History and
Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of


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