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Ilan Pappe on Beyond Chutzpah

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    Norman Finkelstein Challenges the Conventional Line on Israel. Occupation Hazard By Ilan Pappe BOOKFORUM Feb/March 2006 http://www.bookforum.com/pappe.html Why
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2006
      Norman Finkelstein Challenges the Conventional Line on Israel.

      Occupation Hazard
      By Ilan Pappe
      Feb/March 2006

      Why is the history of modern Palestine such a matter of debate? Why
      is it still regarded as a complex, indeed obscure, chapter in
      contemporary history that cannot be easily deciphered? Any
      abecedarian student of its past who comes to it with clean hands
      would immediately recognize that in fact its story is very simple.
      For that matter it is not vastly different from other colonialist
      instances or tales of national liberation. It of course has its
      distinctive features, but in the grand scheme of things it is the
      chronicle of a group of people who left their homelands because they
      were persecuted and went to a new land that they claimed as their own
      and did everything in their power to drive out the indigenous people
      who lived there. Like any historical narrative, this skeleton of a
      story can be, and has been, told in many different ways. However, the
      naked truth about how outsiders coveted someone else's country is not
      sui generis, and the means they used to obtain their newfound land
      have been successfully employed in other cases of colonization and
      dispossession throughout history.

      Generations of Israeli and pro-Israeli scholars, very much like their
      state's diplomats, have hidden behind the cloak of complexity in
      order to fend off any criticism of their quite obviously brutal
      treatment of the Palestinians in 1948 and since. They were aided, and
      still are, by an impressive array of personalities, especially in the
      United States. Nobel Prize winners, members of the literati, and high-
      profile lawyers—not to mention virtually everyone in Hollywood, from
      filmmakers to actors—have repeated the Israeli message: This is a
      complicated issue that would be better left to the Israelis to deal
      with. An Orientalist perception was embedded in this polemical line:
      Complex matters should be handled by a civilized (namely, Western and
      progressive) society, which Israel allegedly was and is, and not
      entrusted to an uncivilized (i.e., Arab and regressive) group like
      the Palestinians. The advanced state will surely find the right
      solution for itself and its primitive foe.

      When official America endorsed this Israeli position, it became the
      so-called Middle Eastern peace process, one that was too
      sophisticated to be managed by the Palestinians and hence had to be
      worked out between Washington, DC, and Jerusalem and then dictated to
      the Palestinians. The last time this approach was attempted, in the
      summer of 2000 at Camp David, the results were disastrous. The second
      intifada broke out, and it rages on as this article goes to press.

      The Zionist narrative is as simple a story as the history of the
      conflict itself. The Jews redeemed their lost and ancient homeland
      after two thousand years of exile, and when they "returned" they
      found it derelict, arid, and practically uninhabited. There were
      others on the land, but they were basically nomads, the kind of
      people you could, as Theodor Herzl wrote in 1895, "spirit away"
      outside the Promised Land. Still, the empty land somehow remained
      populated, and not only this, but the elusive population rebelled and
      tried to harm the Jewish returnees. Like any other narrative, this
      one too can be laid out elegantly and scholarly or conveyed coarsely
      and simply. It can appear as a sound bite on American television when
      a suicide bombing is "contexualized," or it can dominate a book
      produced by one of the prestigious university publishing houses in
      the West. But however verbose or taciturn Israel's advocates may be,
      the historical narrative they insist on broadcasting is a false
      representation of the past and present realities in the land of

      In academia, the Israeli claim of complexity and the Zionist time
      line as a whole have been exposed as propaganda at best. Similarly,
      the pendulum has swung in favor of many principal chapters in the
      Palestinian narrative, regarded hitherto as an Oriental fable. The
      emergence of critical and post-Zionist scholarship in Israel helped
      this process along by providing internal deconstruction of the
      Zionist metanarrative and accepting many historical claims made by
      the Palestinians, especially with regard to the events of 1948. The
      group of "new Israeli historians" who have focused on 1948 have
      endorsed the basic Palestinian argument that the native people were
      forcefully dispossessed in what today would be called an ethnic-
      cleansing operation.

      But outside the universities, particularly in the United States,
      public figures continue to be embarrassingly and unapologetically pro-
      Israeli. Few have dared to challenge these self-appointed ambassadors
      because many of them are quite often influential journalists, highly
      placed lawyers, or former politicians, ex-hostages of the American
      Israel Public Affairs Committee in its most active years. Norman G.
      Finkelstein is one of the few who has. In 1984 he confronted head-on
      Joan Peters's From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish
      Conflict Over Palestine, which claimed that most of the Palestinians
      made their way into the territory only in the 1920s and '30s—an
      assertion so ridiculous it made Peters's book easy prey. Finkelstein
      tore her argument to shreds.

      Now, in Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse
      of History, Finkelstein goes after bigger targets and challenges some
      of the most sacred taboos in the American public arena regarding
      Zionism and Israel. One such exposure involves the misuse, indeed
      abuse, of Holocaust memory in defense of Zionism. Any substantial
      criticism of Israel is immediately branded by apologists for the
      state as a new wave of anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League's
      grotesque manipulation of the message of Mel Gibson's film The
      Passion of the Christ and its purported association with the
      Palestinian struggle against occupation makes one wonder how
      intelligent people—even basically moral people—could spin such
      idiotic tales and arouse unwarranted, hysterical reactions with the
      effect of papering over Israeli atrocities on the ground. The
      puzzlement grows when one reads Finkelstein's industrious, at times
      sarcastic book, which shows how easy it is to distinguish what
      happened in fact from what Israeli sources (and their American
      defenders) say happened. Scholarly work by historians Finkelstein
      does not particularly care for because of their political positions
      (such as Benny Morris) and self-inhibited Israeli human rights
      organizations such as B'Tselem show that even within their apologetic
      and cautious representations there are few doubts remaining on two
      issues: that Israel forcibly ejected the Palestinians in 1948 and
      that it has abused, oppressed, and humiliated those that remained
      ever since 1967.

      I will spare most of the individuals for the purposes of this review;
      they are all named in the book. One after another, the most famous
      figures in the American Zionist establishment—and some fellow
      travelers, like the current president of Harvard—are all shown here
      to subscribe to the exact same message: Criticism of Israel feeds a
      new wave of anti-Semitism in the United States. Reading their
      declarations in a single place, one can appreciate the madness of
      their views, and Finkelstein has not missed a thing.

      And to his further credit, he does not dismiss the possibility that
      anti-Jewishness has in fact risen as a result of Israeli brutality in
      the occupied territories. But the cry of anti-Semitism is not a
      response to this development; it is rather, in his words, "an
      ideological weapon to deflect justified criticism of Israel and,
      concomitantly, powerful Jewish interests."

      No one co-opts intelligence in defense of a fable better than Alan
      Dershowitz. Finkelstein observes that, unlike Elie Wiesel, a troubled
      Jew who cannot apply his universal moral standards to the state of
      Israel and thus legitimizes all its misdeeds and crimes by default,
      Dershowitz comes from the realm of criminal law and has himself
      stated that "the criminal lawyer's job, for the most part, is to
      represent the guilty, and—if possible—to get them off." Israel must
      be guilty in Dershowitz's mind, as becomes apparent in The Case for
      Israel, which defends his client's most obvious crime—its human
      rights record. It would have been a more "complex" case had he chosen
      to stand for Israel's right to exist or its wish to represent world
      Jewry, but no: He opted to cleanse the most glaringly unpleasant
      feature of the Jewish state since its inception—its treatment of the
      Palestinians. In so doing, Dershowitz attacks everyone from Amnesty
      International and the United Nations to Israeli human rights
      organizations and Jewish peace activists, on top of course of
      condemning anyone who is Palestinian or pro-Palestinian. They are all
      part of the new anti-Semitism.

      The most original aspect of Finkelstein's book is his deconstruction
      of Dershowitz's praise for the Israeli Supreme Court and his own
      examination of the court's record. Finkelstein's book is full of
      evidence of Israeli oppression that in itself is essential reading
      for those who wish to judge Dershowitz's propagandist claims. But the
      Israeli Supreme Court is one of the strongest links in an otherwise
      very weak chain on which Dershowitz hangs his defense of Israel. It
      is after all a body commended throughout the world for its
      professionalism and impartiality. Finkelstein systematically shows
      how the most callous aspects of the occupation—torture centers,
      demolition of houses, targeted killings, and denial of medical care—
      were in fact legitimized a priori by the Israeli Supreme Court. The
      court, and the legal system as a whole, like the Israeli media and
      academia (neither of which is treated in the book), are essential
      components in the state oppression and occupation of the West Bank.
      Much more work needs to be done in this direction; hopefully
      Finkelstein will be one of many who further analyze this atrocious

      The concluding section of Finkelstein's book is devoted to the
      historiographical aspects of Dershowitz's work. We can only concur
      with Finkelstein that "next to Alan Dershowitz's egregious
      falsification of Israel's human rights record and the real suffering
      such falsification causes, Dershowitz's academic derelictions seem
      small beer." In fact the coda is anticlimactic in such a powerful
      book, but to be fair it appears as an appendix and not as an integral
      part of the work. Morris stars as the main source for refuting
      Dershowitz's historical claims; it would have been better to use
      Palestinian historians and oral history sources in addition to
      Morris. But this does not undermine the overall service Finkelstein
      has performed in exposing one critical layer of knowledge production
      concerning Palestine that for years defeated any attempt for the
      Palestinian plight to receive a fair hearing from the American
      public. The Palestinians deserved, but never received, the same
      empathy and support good-hearted Americans usually lend to occupied,
      oppressed, and persecuted people the world over—even those harassed
      by their own government. Shrewd advocates of the occupier and the
      oppressor—abusing Holocaust memory and heightening years of anti-
      Semitism—succeeded for a long time in stifling solidarity with the
      Palestinians. This book cracks the wall of deception and hypocrisy
      that enables the daily violation of human and civil rights in
      Palestine. As such, it has the potential to contribute to the removal
      of the real wall that shuts out those in the occupied territories.

      Ilan Pappe is the author, most recently, of The Modern Middle East
      (Routledge, 2005).



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