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Undressing the lie

Ten myths about Israel
With Ten Myths of Israel, author Ilan Pappe shows how easy "truth" can be constructed and sold to uncritical masses. What consequences does this have for the objective, fact-based truth? The book is appalling reading, and a "must" for anyone interested in Middle East, democracy, politics and history.


Israel builds its self-understanding – and marketing of the state – on the narrative of the Jews who finally got their safe home in the "land without people", about the "Arab aggressors" and about Israel as "the only democracy in a sea of ​​despots". Strong alliances and powerful friends protect the state of Israel because of this long thread of narrative. A number of other conflicts also have links to the dispute over the small patch of land, which extends only a few kilometers from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea. In other words, "everyone" has a form about Israel and Palestine.

A whole sea of ​​books have been written about this conflict, from different angles. Now comes another book, translated into Norwegian, written by Ilan Pappe, who is considered one of the three great Israeli voices among the "new" historians. These historians came on the scene just after the first intifada – the first Palestinian popular uprising, lasting from 1987 – 1993. The news shows pictures of Palestinian children and youths throwing stones at Israeli armed soldiers in tanks. Suddenly, the image of Israeli David against Arab Goliath was not so easy to maintain.

Photo: Osama Silwadi.
Photo: Osama Silwadi.

Historians gained access to important archives, from a time that was shrouded in various national history stories – or disaster stories. Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe all published controversial and interesting books during this period, each of which, in their own way, derided Israeli myths: Shlaim showed in 1988, with source references, that the claim that all the Arab states had been united to destroy the new Israeli the state that saw the light of day in 1947 was a fake. It was also controversial that he demonstrated that Israel had sought a peaceful solution in the first war that arose. Morris was, if possible, even tougher when he proved again that year, with solid source evidence, that the Israelis had driven the Palestinians to flight in 1948 – it was not their own leaders who had urged them to flee, as Israel claims.

Here is a correspondence from 1938, reproduced between Martin Buber, David Ben Gurion and Mahatma Gandhi.

An activist professor. Ilan Pappe also published a book in 1988. He went a step further than Morris and wrote that Israel was actively egging on war in 1948. And what happened next was ethnic cleansing (known as the Nakba – Arabic for "the Great Disaster," ed.). In retrospect, Morris and Pappe have separated: Morris believes that Israel's actions can be defended and explained, on the other hand, Pappe has become more activist and has taken a clear political stance. He believes what Israel did and did was wrong and wrong. Today, he uses his historical insight to explain, influence and try to change. He is a historian – and an activist. He has paid dearly for this: It became impossible for him to continue as an outspoken researcher at the University of Haifa in Israel. Paper is held today at the University of Exeter in England.

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Unlike some other historical books Ten myths about Israel very easy to read. But don't get me wrong – it's not easy, but on the contrary thoroughly thorough and thorough. The book is divided into three main sections: In the first, under the heading The fallacies of the past, follows six chapters. Here, Pappe delivers on what is probably known to many, but which nevertheless feels new and different when I read it in this context. The first myth to fall is that Palestine was a nation of land in 1947. It wasn't. As Papa quotes from a delegation of early Zionists: "The bride is beautiful, but married to another man."

Ilan Pappe

That the Jews were "a people without land" is myth number two. This chapter is an interesting review of British interests and the Palestinian mandate, which was under British rule from 1922 – 1945, as well as Bible interpretations. The third myth is "Zionism is Judaism". Here, an interesting correspondence from 1938 is reproduced, between philosopher Martin Buber, Zionist leader David Ben Gurion – who ten years later became Israel's first prime minister – and the great Indian freedom hero Mahatma Gandhi. The first two wanted to exploit Gandhi's credibility as a peace icon and have him support the Jews' demands for their own homeland. But Gandhi would not. He believed that Jews and Muslims had to continue living together side by side; one cannot claim the right to a land based only on biblical texts.

Relentless storyteller. Papa is particularly hard-hitting when discussing the next two myths: "Zionism is not colonialism" and "the Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948". These are familiar claims to many, yet heartbreaking reading. Paper describes how half of the Palestinians living in Israel in 1948 were exiled and pressed, that over 500 Palestinian villages in today's Israel were leveled with the earth and new Israeli cities were built over. He describes it all as ethnic cleansing and provides evidence that and how it has been and is being forced to move Palestinians after 1948 and to this day.

He describes it all as ethnic cleansing – and provides documentation.

The next myth to be discovered is in the chapter The Six Day War in 1967 was an "involuntary war". Here was most new to me: Papa believes that Israeli strategists here finally met the original goal of 1948 – to incorporate the rest of historic Palestine, but without giving Palestinians any rights. And this is how Israel intends to keep the situation, according to Papa.

The shorter second section is called Current fallacies and addresses what the paper calls "the myth of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East", "the Oslo myths" and "the Gaza myth". Paper strips Israel of democratic legitimacy, in light of the state's treatment of the country's number one minority, the Palestinians. About Gaza, Papa uses strong words and calls it "a silent genocide".

The third and last part is called The way forward. Here, Pappe addresses what he calls "the myth that the two-state solution is the only way forward". Paper advocates for one state, based on universal suffrage, for all. Real politics is something like this probably light years away. That does not mean that it would not have been the right thing to do. It adds extra weight to the arguments coming "from within", from an Israeli citizen. The book is vital.

Paper strips Israel of democratic legitimacy.

An ambitious publisher. In 2017 there were a number of markings related to the fact that it was both 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and 70 years since the UN's Palestine Sharing Plan. It was therefore good timing when the ambitious and very active Solum Bokvennen Forlag got the book launched during the Saladin days at the Literature House in Oslo in March this year. There was not a single vacant room in the hall during Dad's lecture. This is actually the first book of him translated and published in Norwegian. It's incredible.

Unfortunately, the book is marred by a bit of slack translation. The script had been on an extra elaboration. But that being said: The substance is so exciting, so provocative and so thought-provoking that you fly through the pages. In addition, the publisher has struggled to include an afterword written by Jørgen Jensehaugen, associate professor of history at the Inland University College. It is short, pointy and enlightening. Here, Dad's writing is put into a larger context, which lifts the entire book. Every publisher should think that way, in my opinion. Contextualisation is a useful tool.

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Andrew P. Kroglund
Andrew P. Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer. Also Secretary General of BKA (Grandparents' Climate Action).

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