Interview With Ilan Pappe
- Ilan Pappe on the Israel-Palestine conflict
Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006
from International Middle East Media Center
My name is Ilan Pappe, I am a lecturer at Haifa University, in Israel.
I am a long time activist, for peace, human rights, civil rights;
basically, an historian who wrote several books on the Arab-Israeli
conflict, focusing particularly on the 1948 events and their impact on
the current situation.
Q: So why did you decide to become an expert, or study the question of
the Palestinians and the formation of Israel?
I realized at the very early stage that the research of history in
the cases of people like myself, or as anyone knows in Israel and
Palestine, is not just an intellectual pursuit; that the reality, the
realities of conflict are informed by what happened in the past. And
therefore I thought that not only historians, professional
historians, but the society at large should look deeply into the past
if it wishes to understand the present better. And I also understood
that the way history is taught, being taught and researched in Israeli
academia is very loyal to the Zionist ideology, and it was very clear
for me, from the early stage in my professional carrier that writing
history books, and teaching history courses about the Palestine past,
is also a political act, an ideological act, not just an intellectual act.
Ever since then I am still convinced that my way of activism, which
connects my professional history of writing, and my political activity
in the present, is tightly closed together and I think this is why I
still insist also on continuing researching the past, and being active
in the present.
Q: When you began to study this, I mean, what conclusions did you come
to about, about the state of Israel and the situation of the
I think what came out is something which I think many, many
Palestinians before me realized, but for me it took this individual
journey into the past to understand that. I was taught as an Israeli
academic that there is a very complex story there, and in fact what
you find out is that this is a very simple story, a story of
dispossession, of colonization, of occupation, of expulsion. And the
more I go into it, the clearer the story becomes, even it becomes
simpler, and it also brought me to think of the state of Israel, and
the Jewish majority in it, in very much the same terms that I used to
think about places such as South Africa, and the white supremacy
regime there. So I think this is the natural, main conclusion.
Q: The theory of Zionism was that if Jews had their own state that
would be a solution to anti-Semitism, and that they will need a state
to really defend Jews. What is the reality today?
Well, the reality is first of all that if you create a Jewish state,
even if, and I will come back to it in a second, even if a Jewish
state is the only solution for anti-Semitism, definitely it cannot be
a solution if that state is being built at the expense of a native
population. I mean, the fact that in 1948 the Palestinians were
ethnically cleansed from their homeland, dispossessed, did not allow
Israel to become a safe place. Or the fact that the Zionists'
forefathers decided to create a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab
world was also not a good formula to insure security. So the timing
and the location of the project of building a Jewish state by itself
had the seeds of insecurity. So it could not really solve the problem
of anti-Semitism, and as we know, it, in many ways, increased
anti-Semitism after the Second World War.
But even more than that, I think that one of the major conclusions of
Jews who were not Zionists, after the second world war, was that Jews
should take a very active part in building a world where not only
anti-Semitism, but basically racism and ideologies of that kind, would
not have hold of the people's minds and hearts. And I think this is
why you saw, after second world war, many Jews trying to be active in
movements such as the civil rights movement, in the socialist
movement, and so on; exactly motivated by this belief that the right
answer to anti-Semitism was not Zionism but rather an international
Of course, there are different versions. One can do it from the
liberal side, one can do it from the socialist side, but I think
basically it is the same idea. However, I think that these
alternatives were weakened by the hold Zionism took over the Jewish
story, if you want. Or the Jewish representation in the period after
the second world war.
Q: How has Zionism, the ideology of Zionism, affected Israel, and how
does the Israeli working class see itself, if you want?
There is a parallel, not the right word, I am looking for. The ethnic
origin of the working class in Israel is very distinct. Most of the
working class peoples in Israel, ever since the creation of the state,
are/were either Jews coming from Arab countries, or Palestinians.
These were Palestinians who were not expelled in 1948 and became the
Arab minority inside Israel. This correspondence between the ethnic
origin of people and their class, socio-economic position in society,
informs the role in the state no less than the class-consciousness, so
So, on the one hand, it was easy, relatively easy, to take the
Palestinian working class and to enroll them for instance to the
Israeli Communist Party, which was the most popular party among the
Palestinians in Israel in the 60s and the 70s. On the other hand, a
big failure was with the Jews coming from Arab countries, because they
will be asked that their only ticket to be integrated into the Jewish
society was to be anti-Arab. And they chose nationalism, nationalism
rather than socialism, as the best way of improving their position in
life. That meant that the socialist left, so to speak, in Israel, was
very weakened by the fact that it really only consisted of Arabs and
not of any significant numbers of Jews.
Q: What has been the recent struggle that you've been engaged in at
the University -why don't you talk about how that began, and why that
I should being by saying that I think the very important, precondition
for any genuine reconciliation in Israel and Palestine is an
Israel-Jewish ability to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing of 1948. I
think the Israelis have a mechanism of denial that educated a whole
society to totally obliterate from its memory the terrible crimes that
the Jews had committed against the Palestinians in 1948, and even
afterwards. I am totally convinced that such an acknowledgement, very
much like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, is
a precondition for any genuine reconciliation, and therefore my main
struggle in the Israeli universities is to allow at least the
universities to become a source where people can learn about that
I encourage students to go and research 1948, and one of these
students in his research exposed an unknown massacre in 1948, which
was another important brick in the story that we are trying to build.
He was a very brave student, most of the students of mine and of
others do not dare to write about 1948, and he was disqualified for
that. And, I struggled against the university, and because of my
struggle against it, and my other political activities, which include
the call for boycott and divestment against Israel, the university
tried to expel me in May, 2002. And had it not been for the
international uproar, they probably would have succeeded, despite the
fact that I have a tenured position.
I think this is a bad sign, but it is also a good sign. It is a good
sign that there is a feeling in the Israeli academia that if someone
tells the truth about what happened in the past, people are not stupid
and they are not morally corrupted, and they will do something. And I
think the major Israeli struggle is to prevent people like myself to
have access to the public, and the main struggle of people like myself
is to find alternative ways to get to the people. And for some
reasons, which are not always positive, but that is the reality.
Israeli Jews, like American Jews, would rather hear it from an Israeli
Jew than from a Palestinian. Because what I am saying, the
Palestinians have been saying from many years, but for understandable
reasons it is much easier for the Israeli public to hear me.
Q: What was the massacre that the student of yours described? And what
was the excuse or justification for his disqualification?
Right. The massacre was in the village of Tantura, which is south of
Haifa, and the largest massacre in the war. The Israeli army used to
occupy the Arab villages in the way that usually left one flank opened
so that the people could be expelled through that side. In several
cases, like in the case of Tantura, this did not happen. They made a
mistake, it was not on purpose, and they closed the village from all
four flanks. One of the reasons, on the west the village was on the
sea, and the Israeli navy blocked the village. So in situations like
these, the Israeli soldiers used to massacre the people rather than
cleanse them. And about 230 people, mostly young men and middle-aged
men, were massacred and the women and children were expelled to
Jordan. That is what he exposed.
Why was he disqualified? The student could not find enough archival
evidence, because the Israeli army was trying to hide the events. So
he did something, which we call a professional historiography, a oral
history. So he went to interview both Jewish soldiers who participated
in the massacre, and Palestinian survivors. And both confirmed that
the massacre took place. Now, they found six places in his master
dissertation where he did not, when they checked his tapes of the
interviews, what was said in the tapes did not accurately correspond
to what he transcribed. But none of these sections of the interviews
made any difference to the overall conclusion. And as we all know,
even very experienced professors, if you check them very thoroughly
with their sources, there will be some discrepancies between their
sources and what happened. And on the basis of that, he was
disqualified whereas students and veteran professors, who had many
more known mistakes in their works, would never be challenged in such
Q: So that was a pretext?
Oh, yes, definitely that was a pretext. The academic authorities
wanted to send a message, and they succeeded, unfortunately. They sent
a message to graduate students: don't touch that subject because you
are going to hurt your career chances.
Q: So this is a forbidden subject?
Yes, this is a forbidden subject in Israel. Any many of my students,
who were in the midst on working on 1948, after this incident, decided
to change their subject.
Q: And on what basis did they try to expel you from your position?
Well, they had just a long list of accusations, but if I summarize
it, it boils down to three main issues: One, is my accusation against
the university in this affair, where I accused the university of moral
corruption, and they said that this was disloyalty to the institute
and they found in the context a clause which allows them to expel
someone on the basis of that.
Secondly, I taught against their authorization a course on the 1948
Nakba, the catastrophe, the Palestinian catastrophe. That was another
reason. And thirdly, my support for the idea of boycotting and
sanctioning and divestment against Israel.
They learned in the context that you can bring to court for not being
loyal to the state, not only loyal to the institution. So, I think,
my trial, my would-be-trial because the trial eventually did not
take place - exposed how undemocratic Israel is when it comes to
anyone challenging its Zionist character. It is a democracy in the
sense that once you are within the Zionist frame of mind, you can
really say what you want, and people even will protect your rights to
say this. But once you challenge Zionism itself, the democracy ceases
to exist and you are being treated as a traitor.
Q: One of your positions is that you are against the idea of a Jewish
state, and when you say that you are not within the framework of a
Zionism. Is that what you are talking about?
Yes, yes, definitely. Its sort of a bizarre thing, because, as I say,
instead of Israel we should have a democratic secular state, this is
tantamount to treason in Israel. This is regarded as treason. But on
the other hand it is very difficult to take someone within the Israeli
context to court and say: "this guy is dangerous because he is for
democracy and secularism." And I think, they have been lying for so
many years that the indoctrination was so effective that Jews will
never come to that conclusion, and once we are there, they found it
very difficult to deal with it.
You know, when a Palestinian says he is for a secular democratic
state, they will say "Yes, and they don't mean it, we know exactly
what they want." But when someone who is a product of the
Israeli-Jewish system says it, they are going to check the production
line !! How did it happen? That's an abberation and I think they are
totally bewildered by that.
Q: And what was the response of the media in Israel to your trial,
and their efforts to expel you from your position at the university?
Well, unfortunately, the media, especially in the last five years, was
not really supportive of any critical approach and it's very tragic
that both the media and the academia, which are supposed to be the
most critical segments in a secular society, as against religious
institutions, cease to play that role.
I remember that they never played it, but definitely in the last five
or ten years they are totally conformist and they support the
government; very few voices of dissent, and I was only attacked in the
Q: You were on national television?
Yes, but I learnt very soon that the only reason I am invited - so I
stopped doing it - was to stage a public trial against me. Nobody gave
me a chance to speak, they would bring me to a studio to do a kind of
a public trial. So I understood it was an ambush and I ceased to go to
television studios because it was useless, and they did not allow me
The encouraging side of the story is the society itself: I got a lot
of emails, of letters and phone calls of support from many many
Israeli Jews whom I never met before, and even in the town where I
live people used to stop and shook my hand. And I have a feeling,
because a lot of people are not aware of it, that there is a kind of a
terror, and intimidation of the Jews in Israel. They are frightened of
saying aloud that they feel because it is such a closed society, that
you are nearly ostracized. It is not like America where you can away
to some other places, it is a very closed society, and it affects your
family, it affects your career if you are doing something, which is
easily labeled as treason.
But I think people really felt that I, and others like me, were
voicing what they were feeling. For many. many months now, but still
they don't dare to say now because the price is too high.
Q: What was the role of the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union, and
your own union at the university?
Well, it goes back to the history of socialism and Zionism in
Palestine, which we have to be aware of. Socialism, in the case of
Zionism, and the Histadrut is the main organization that fuses
together, these two ideologies, socialism and Zionism. There was a
very limited interpretation of socialism; it was really employing
socialism as a means in the hand of a colonialist movement. Socialism
was used to at best, at best, to co-opt Arab workers, but more often
to expel them from the labor market. This is true about the Mandatory
period, between 1918 and 1948, and I don't think anything changed.
The Histadrut as a general trade union is a body, which does not
stand to the workers, or to the unions, but to the Zionist ideology.
Without Histadrut, it would have been impossible to colonize the
Occupied Territories as a labor market. Without Histadrut it would
have been impossible to build the labor market in Israel during the
years of occupation in such a way that the Palestinians became really
slaves, slave workers rather than equal workers. So, as a union of
teachers, or academics, on that level it is even worst. I mean, the
Histadrut does not at all dare to take any position against the
Occupation, against the government's policies. It pays lip service to
the idea of social equality, and so on. But it does not really do
anything. It is a sad story.
Q: How are Palestinian workers, Arab workers, treated in Israel?
Very unfairly, very unfairly. I mean they suffer from two levels of
discrimination. Until the 1980s, they constituted a very important
part of the unskilled working labor market, and the skilled worker
market, but more in the field of construction and services and so on.
To put it more simply, one can say they did all these jobs that most
Israeli Jews did not want to perform. But they were badly paid
compared to Jewish workers, and there was a kind of institutionalized
system that discriminated against them on every level of workers
rights, from the salary down to the insurance policies, welfare system
and everything. The things got worst in the late 1980s, because in the
late 1980s there was a big immigration of Russians into Israel, almost
Some of them were pushed into the labor market to replace the
Palestinian workers from the jobs that they were allowed to have. So
the on one hand, you had a glass ceiling that did not allow the
Palestinian workers to go into the more attractive jobs, so to speak,
and since the 1980s even these limited jobs were not available and
were given by private and public businesses to Russian immigrants.
Q: So the future, within an Israeli state, for the Palestinians, is
Not at all. In fact, it is even dangerous. Israel controls the life
of two groups of Palestinians: there are the Palestinians citizens
inside Israel and there are the Palestinians under Occupation. These
are very two different groups. I think the group under Occupation is
under grave threat, there is still a very serious possibility that
this people will be ethnically cleansed, once again, and that mass
killing will be performed against it.
Here we are really talking about almost genocide, in the future.
Although I don't think this will really happen and I hope that the
world will not stand aside. But for the Palestinians in Israel, where
this danger is not that imminent, the future means even less rights,
social rights, civil rights, human rights, than they have now. They
still have limited of these, but it will become worst. The Jewish
state will become more ethnic, more racist, more exclusive, and anyone
who is not a Jew, or is not regarded as Jew, will suffer from it more
in the future than he or she suffers today.
Q: When you began this call for boycott and divestment in Israel,
first of all, what kind of support did you get? May be you can talk
about England, and the reaction of the government, and the Israeli state?
This I don't want to take the credit for it. I did not start it. I
think it is very important for people to understand that large
segments of the civil society, in the US and in Europe, for many years
now, feel that enough is enough with regard to the Israeli policies in
Palestine. And I think many good people were waiting for their
governments to do it, because all the time there was the talk of the
"peace process," the diplomatic effort, and they did not want to
But I think people now realize that the diplomatic effort is helping
the Occupation, and is not going to bring an end to the Occupation.
And with this realization, there was a lot of energy, especially in
Europe, especially in Britain, that people wanted to do something. And
they are the ones who brought out the idea of boycott, and similar
people in America brought up the idea of divestment; because I think
they were veterans of the campaign against South Africa, I think that
is where the idea emanated. But when we heard about it in Israel, the
most progressive left decided to support it. That support gave a lot
of impetus, a lot of encouragement to the people abroad to continue,
and when the Palestinian society under Occupation voiced its support
for this idea as the best strategy, it really burst out.
In England, a very important group of people belonging to the
Association of University Teachers, which is called the AUT, a very
important trade union, felt I think rightly so- that in the campuses
of the universities, because you know, England is very close to
Israel. Most of the Israelis are Anglophones, they really like
England, academics really like to go to England and we have a very
good system that allows people to go abroad. Academic institutes
encourage people to go abroad, to expand their academic knowledge. And
they felt that all these Israelis were coming to the British campuses,
for short terms or long terms. They were the experts on the Arab
world; they were experts on thehuman rights and civil rights. I mean
the discrepancy between the ideologies they represented, and what they
were talking about, was such that it was like having the Israeli
embassy taking over the academics in Britain. And they decided, but at
least they want to start in England, by an official boycott on anyone
who officially represents the Israeli academia.
I don't think they wanted to prevent individual Israelis from coming
and talking and dialoguing. I think they were right in pointing to the
role of the Israeli academia, as being the main spokespersons,
spokesmen for the cause. And they passed a motion for boycott, which
was accepted. And the Zionist lobby woke up and put a lot of pressure
Q: What did they do?
They hired a very important law firm in England that charged the AUT
executive committee with anti-Semitism if they would continue. Of
course, I don't think they would have won the case, but you can see
the AUT executive committee saying to themselves, it is not worth it,
we don't want to go, which is a pity, they should have shown more
solidarity. But they were really intimidated by this. There was a
proper libel suit, and if you know the English law, it is even more
difficult to catch someone in England than it is here in Israel. But
nonetheless they were intimidated, and even more that they mobilized
all the Jewish historians of the Holocaust, and everything. They
equated the AUT decision to a decision of the Holocaust denial. This,
of course is very stupid, and so on, but it worked on people.
But I must tell you that the AUT people have not given up, they are
preparing a new motion, they are trying a new strategy, they are
working from one chapter to the other to convince people and the most
interesting thing is that the boycott is working, de facto. I mean,
the decision of the AUT to retract angered people so much that most of
the British members of the AUT actually thought that they did not care
whether an official decision was taken or not, they think that it is
the right way forward.
Q: Now, the Zionists in the Israeli state, did they have a history of
accusing people who are critical of Zionism, of being anti-Semites, or
Jews of being self-hating Jews?
Oh yes, I think there are many many chapters from the very beginning
of Zionism, from different sources, Jews criticized the idea; it could
be from a settler point of view, it could been from an orthodox point
of view. I think one of the most telling chapters of this, is the
struggle, in a way the unfortunately unsuccessful struggle of Zionism
against the Bund in the Jewish international socialist movement in
post second world war Europe. As you know, the Jews who survived the
Holocaust were in camps, which were called the displaced persons
camps. And, in fact, many of the Jewish survivors liked the idea of
both the internationalist approach, as we talked about it before, or
even the socialist one.
And the Zionists did not only argue with these people, they used a
lot of violence. There is a book by an historian, called Yossi
Gussinsky, about this struggle, and in fact what the Zionists did,
they recruited young Jews to the Jewish underground, the Haganah, so
that these people would not be distracted, and won over by a group of
international ideologies, or a group which connected Judaism with an
international prospective. And that's just one historical example, and
you know we have the history of more non-Zionist groups inside Israel,
they are being isolated, like Maspen, who were spied on by the secret
services, and later there was the other group that was imprisoned.
Definitely, this is something the Zionists are willing to fight with
all the force against.
Q: Did you hear about the role of the AFT, American Federation of
Teachers, in opposing this boycott?
Yes, I did, and there was also a role played by all kinds of
professional associations in the American academia, like the Political
Science Association, and so one. And I was not surprised. I did not
really think that anyone in the American trade unions, or labor
movements, would follow their British colleagues. I think we need a
much more, a lot of groundwork here before this will happen. But it
really begs these questions, which I hope, that's another part of the
campaign, which people tend to ignore.
It is not just about stopping money into getting to Israel so that the
Occupation can continue. I think it is an educational thing, it is to
ask American taxpayers, to ask American workers, to ask American human
rights and civil rights activists why the only case in the world where
you don't voice a clear position, whereas in any other cases you do,
is the case of Israel. What makes it so different, and I think the
more we will hear the Jews asking these questions, I hope this will
convince them that they had it wrong all these years from excluding
Israel from the same criteria in which they would judge other cases in
Q: What has been the role of Israel and Zionism, in relation to
Well, I think it starts with colonialism, before imperialism. It is
very clear that without the adoption of Zionism as a colonialist
project by the British Empire, there would not have been a Jewish
settlement in Palestine. That's very clear. They needed the British
military power, political power in order to start the project, that's
very clear. Without it, it would not have occurred. And then I think
that it is fair to say that without serving the American imperialism
as a front base, I doubt it whether Israel would have existed or
survived. So I think that one of the important lessons the Israelis
have still to learn, if they are so closely connected to an empire
such as the US, and they are not thinking of any alternative ways of
existing within a certain society, or certain area, when the empire
will fall, they are likely to fall too. This is something most
Israelis do not realize unfortunately.
Q: So the role the US is decisive in keeping Israel?
Oh, yes, absolutely, it is decisive. In any way you look at it, from
the financial assistance, not only the grants, but also the loans,
from the military assistance, from the diplomatic immunity that
America gives Israel at the UN through its veto, voting. And we have
seen it in times like the 1973 War, when really the Americans were
willing to go to a nuclear war in order to save Israel.
Q: Some supporters of Israel in the US would say it is not fair to
compare Israel to the apartheid state of South Africa, and that Israel
is a democratic state what is the relationship of apartheid in South
Africa to Israel?
I think like many cases in history, there are similarities and
dissimilarities. But I think in a general picture, the similarities
are more than the dissimilarities. The apartheid in South Africa was a
petty apartheid; it had this abusive side to it which included
segregation in buses, services and so one, ways of course of
dispossession, tortures and so on. This side of the petty apartheid
doesn't exist in Israel, there is no segregation on that level. But in
many ways, if you include the Occupation inside the apartheid regime
in Israel, it is worst than the apartheid in South Africa.
So there are sides to the Israeli apartheid, let's say the external
side may seen less threatening and more "democratic", but the essence
of the regime is as bad, if not worst in many ways. And I think the
most important thing is the land issue. The basic feature for
apartheid in Israel is the issue of land, not allowing Palestinians to
have any relations to landownership, land transactions, and so on.
Many people don't know that the land in Israel belongs to the Jewish
people, and because of that it cannot be sold and transacted with
Q: Is that legal?
It's legal, it is part of the Israeli constitution in law that 93% of
the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Hence the
Palestinians who are 20% of the population have only access to 7% of
the land, which is of course where they have also to compete with the
money and power of the Jewish private sector. But as far as land, as
state-owned land is concerned, the vast majority of it belongs to the
state. This is the reason why since 1948 you have hundreds of new
Jewish settlements, neighborhoods being constructed and not one new
Arab village or neighborhood was built. We are talking about an Arab
population that has a natural growth which is three times more than
the Jewish one, and yet they are limited into a space in which they
are not allowed to expand. That is, I think, the worst side of
apartheid in that part of Israel. Of course, the Occupation and the
regime of Occupation in the West Bank and in the Gaza strip is
definitely worse than an apartheid system.
Q: What is the role of the Jewish National Fund?
Very important. The Jewish National Fund has a double role. A
historical role in 1948 in turning the villages and the lands from
which the Palestinians were dispossessed, into a Jewish land. This,
the major role of this organization was historically to make sure that
every land and house, and asset taken from the Palestinian side, is
not moved to the state, but is moved to the Jewish people so to speak,
so that it can never be re-Arabized, if you want, again.
Today the JNF plays a different role. In a way it continues to play
this role in the West Bank, where it is an active government agency
that tries to dispossess Palestinians, and take their land and
transfer it to Jews. Inside Israel it is a very vast landowner; every
land that is owned by the JNF is a land that only Jews can have. For
example, in the Galilee, where the JNF owns land, there are many
settlements, and the JNF can force the settlement, and forces the
settlement not to accept any Arabs into their settlement under that
law. It is a very important tool of colonization, in the past and in
the present. And in the present it is a kind of custodian of the
Jewish character of the land, which has many implications for
Q: So it enforces the apartheid regime?
I would say it is the main agency of apartheid in Israel.
Q: The US is interested in pushing its economic policies,
privatization, free trade zones, in the Middle East, and also in Iraq.
What is the role of Israel in pursuing these policies and pushing them
in the Middle East?
I think it is a double role. One is that the Israeli chiefs of the
economy, about ten years ago, decided to install in Israel a very
extreme model of a Reaganite economy. That by itself serves a lot of
American interests. But more important, I think, is the fact that
Israel is playing through the American intervention either in Iraq,
but also in countries such as Egypt and the Gulf states, and so on, a
very important role in solidifying the capitalist system of a new
Middle East. The reason that Israel can play such an important role in
such a future is both because it has succeeded in selling itself to
the Americans as an Orientalist country. That is to say a country,
which knows the Arabs well. So if you want to have business in the
Arab world, you'd better have some Israeli advisors, or you'd better
have your headquarters in Israel because we understandyou, and we
understand the Arab world. That's one way.
The second reason is that the Israeli financial institutes, the
high-tech institutes, and so one, are so more advanced in that
respect, that they will benefit, and are benefiting already, from that
kind of capitalist economy, whereas more traditional economic sectors
of the Arab world are going to suffer. It is like taking two societies
in a very different economic capacity, and imposing them on this free
market ideology, which doesn't give equal opportunities but rather
says: we are all starting from the same departure point, but of course
we are not equal in our resources and abilities. And in that respect
the Israeli economic system has such a big advantage that I am afraid,
that given the chances, it can really exploit the situation in such a
way that would even alienate Israel further from the Arab world.
Q: Are you familiar with the role of Intel building a plant on
Yes, I think this is one the reasons that the divestment movement in
the US targeted several projects, in order to bring the message home
to the American public, that it is not just a genuine American policy
that supports the Israeli Occupation, that people are making money out
of the Israeli Occupation. Caterpillar was one example with these huge
machines that were used for 48 years to destroy houses on the one
hand, wipe out villages and construct apartheid wall.
And Intel is another place where, we have to understand, there is very
limited space in the Occupied Territories. And when that space is
confiscated, for the sake of creating industrial plants, these
industrial plants are serving two purposes. One is to employ
Palestinian workers in conditions which are much cheaper to the
employers, than they would be in Israel, because the Histadrut does
not provide them any protection as workers. And the other way is
because land is so cheap, and when you have a land like Intel in the
Occupied Territories, that means they don't pay any taxes. So the
profits are very very high if you move a section of your business into
the Occupied Territories. This is just a model for the future, it
won't end there. This is, I think, a very important part of the
American direct support for the Occupation.
Q: Is there any opposition in the Jewish working class to Zionism?
Not really, unfortunately. There used to be. When the Communist
Party was active and strong, in the 1950s and 1960s, it succeeded in
convincing workers that there is a direct link between Zionism and
workers interests. However, as I describe the process by which the
working class is made up of Jews and non-Jews who still think that
their ticket for integration is through nationalism, and not through
working-class consciousness, I think that we have to admit that in
this sense there is no good news to report.
Q: The supporters of Israel, left supporters of Israel, basically say
that the two-state solution is the only real possibility for Israel,
and that's why they push its support in the US. What is your answer to
I can see a support for a two-state solution emerging, immediately
after the Six-Day war, when Israel did not yet annex the East
Jerusalem, did not yet build one Jewish settlement in it. There was a
lot of logic of saying that despite, despite the fact that it is only
20% of Palestine could be a basis for a Palestinian state, next to
Israel, and that these two states, in the future, would develop in
such a way that they might turn it into one state, and even find a way
of solving the refugees problem. But this is all water under the bridge.
In 2005, with the number of Jewish settlements, with the Greater
Jerusalem becoming one third of the West Bank, and the local, and
global, and regional balances of power, I think a two-state solution
can only become an indirect way for continuing the Occupation. And as
I said before, if we understand that the diplomatic effort has
deepened the Occupation, has not brought an end to it, so in the case
of the two-state solution we have to liberate ourselves from that
paradigm. It can only help the Occupation and the Zionist
colonization, and only the beginning of ideas of one-state solution
can create a different future there.
Q: The US government has had large numbers of neo-cons, Zionists,
Wolfowitz First of all, what do you think about that role of these
people inside the US government, and the whole situation as far as the
US expansion of war in the Middle East?
I think that neo-conservatism is mainly a product of the Cold War,
and I think as happened in Israel, so in the US, a lot of people
benefit economically, sociologically, politically, from a situation of
conflict which begins with the producers of arms, and it ends with the
people who have a hold on the decision-making apparatus in the name of
And of course this was all lost in a way when the Soviet Union
collapsed, and the cold war ended. And I think this group of people
were looking for a new bogey man, a new threat to the national
security of the US and they found it because of the very strong
influence, I think, of Israel among other things, in the Arab world
and the Islamic world. Of course, movements such as the Islamic
Al-Qaeda did not help. They provided the pretext, and the context for
even pushing these ideas even further. And what we have now is the
same people, a next generation, who would do all they can to
perpetuate the conflict, because they benefit from the conflict. They
benefit from situations of wars, of conflicts, and so on, and I think
this is what enforces their hold over the American policy making in
the world at large, and in the Middle East in particular.
Of course, in the Middle East, they are aided by another group of
people, the Christian Zionists which should not be underrated, where
it comes from a more deep fundamental religious ideology, when these
forces fused together you have a very aggressive American policy in
the Middle East which has all the features of the colonialist policy
in the late 19th century, and will end in the same way I think. People
will learn that you cannot occupy and colonize for too long.
But it is very disturbing because any American action in the Middle
East also complicates the relations between the US and the Muslim
world at large, and I think destabilizes the world. And when we talk
about destabilization, it means that the human societies do not attend
to their crucial problems, but rather deal with problems which are
made up by people such as the neo-cons. Problems that would not really
exist, I mean there is not really that much of a cultural clash
between Muslims and Americans, but it serves very well the neo-cons
through political scientists such as Samuel Huntington to say that
there is a fundamental clash. We are not talking here about two human
societies, but rather of "aliens and humans." You know, you go to
Hollywood, to the American television, and you can see how the
cultural production has come, how the cultural production reinforces
these images, which serve the capitalist interests of neo-cons and
Q: Have you been surprised about the media in the US, the way they
present the Palestinian situation and the Israeli situation?
Yes, I was surprised because I remember different chapters in the
American media coverage of the Middle East in the 50s and the 60s,
which I think was better. But what really surprises me was not so much
the bias I was prepared for the bias, I was not prepared for the
stupidity, I mean for the superfluous. You know, it is almost like an
insult to intelligence the way they describe things there. It is not
even by taking sides. I would have understood taking sides, like
saying this is a situation: we describe it as it is, but we take the
Israeli side. I would have been against it, I don't think it is a fair
media coverage, but at least it comes from somewhere. But what we have
here is a very simple, childish, way of describing this as a kind of a
war between the forces of evil and the forces of good. Almost, there
is no difference between Star Wars foes in Hollywood and the way the
major TV channels here describe the situation there on the ground.
That, as I said, is an insult to intelligence.
Q: The majority of Americans were in favor, initially of supporting
the war in Iraq. What was the situation in Israel: is there a growing
opposition to this invasion?
I think the support in Israel was even stronger than in America. It
was quite amazing to read the Israeli press, and to hear Israelis
being very enthusiastic before the invasion of Iraq, and after the
invasion of Iraq. If you want, one can define the Israeli sentiment
as, "now the Americans will understand that." So don't expect any
opposition in Israel to the war in Iraq. There is no opposition
whatsoever, there is only support; much more than there is in the US.
Of course, I did not talk about the Palestinians in Israel who were
totally against the war, or some other Jews. There is an interesting
group of Iraqi Jews who signed a petition against the war, showing
solidarity to Iraqis for being Iraqis, knowing that the war would kill
a lot of Iraqis, but, unfortunately, there was no continuation for
that. I was among several dozens of people, we demonstrated against
the war, but it is really a pathetic number, it is not very impressive.
Q: Is this economic crisis ,the privatization, the taxes on the
Israeli working-class, had any kind of reverberation politically?
It's surprising how we are all waiting for it to happen. Israelis
have the widest gap between the haves and the haves-not index of
social and economic inequality in the Western World, so to speak,
Israel is number one. You would expect that this would produce some
sort of social protest, to be translated, and every now and then it
was, like in the time of the Israeli Panthers, the Black Panthers
movement, and before that. But every time this is done, the Israeli
government is doing one or two things: it creates a situation of war
so that these social protests will not mature, and that's one of the
reasons why the Israeli army went into such a harsh response against
the second uprising in the Territories, in 2000, because of the
relative calm the social protests were sanctioning , especially in the
development towns where most of the African Jews live and work, or do
not work because the unemployment is very high. And that's one thing
The second thing they do, they try to employ some kind of election
policies' economics, which give a lot of benefit to people for a very
short period before elections to silence down people. But I think it
won't help them in the long run. Twenty-five percent of the Israelis
have a very acceptable, even high standard of living, which is a large
number compared to many societies in the Third World. And that gives
the Israeli political system some sort of stability. But 75% live
very close, if not below, what we call in Israel, the poverty line.
And this gap eventually will explode. Now, one of the reasons it does
not explode, as I said before, is the Israeli ability to create a
continuous situation of conflict, so that you are not allowed to deal
with your social and economic problems. But I don't think it will hold
water for too long.
Q: What is the role of the Labor Party in this coalition government?
There was a good article today in "Ha'aretz" by Gideon Levy who, I
think rightly, said to people who are voters of the Labor Party, to
vote for the worst people they can. There is now an actual competition
for leadership. And he said, "don't vote for anyone who relatively may
keep this party alive" and he gave the names. "Vote for these people,
they are surely going to destroy the party, once and for ever, which
is the only chance for building on its ruins a genuine Labor Party".
And this is typical of Levy who always knows how to articulate things
better than we all, really summarizes the situation of the Labor
party. It's a shadow party of the Likud, it's a party that believes in
capitalism, and a free market model of the worst kind; it's support of
the Occupation, it has nothing to offer. Any day that this party is
alive prevents any other political, genuine political force of
socialism from emerging in Israel as an alternative.
Q: That sounds like the Democratic Party.
Yes. I mean I am not a great expert on America, but yes, that's my
feeling. I watch the Democrats and the Republicans, within a very
limited prism as an Israeli, but definitively it is true, and,
unfortunately, of some of the social democratic parties in Europe as well.
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