Not “self defence” but “incremental genocide” – lan Pappe on how Israel’s assault on Gaza started almost seven decades ago
(AWTWNS 28 July 2014)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 28 July 2014 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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Not “self defence” but “incremental genocide” –
lan Pappe on how Israel’s assault on Gaza started almost seven decades ago

28 July 2014. A World to Win News Service. Why is it that U.S. President Barack Obama can shamelessly justify and back up Israel’s assault on Gaza because “Israel has the right to defend itself”, supposedly an indisputable principle, while downgrading the deaths of more than a thousand Palestinians – three-quarters of them civilians according to the UN, including 226 children (up to 28 July) – to the secondary category of a cause for “concern”?

How can there be any meaning to the term “self-defence” when applied to a state that maintains an armed blockade around Gaza to punish the whole population, that annexed Jerusalem and is stepping up the brutality of its military occupation of the West Bank, which it is also annexing? These measures, illegal under international law, would be considered aggression if carried out by any other country. (In brandishing sanctions and Nato against Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, isn’t the U.S. accusing it of Israeli-like activities?) How can the Western powers claim to represent “justice” when it applies such double standards?

Where is the slightest “concern” about justice for Palestine? And when it comes to the “peace” the U.S. and other countries say they want to broker, what kind of “peace” for Palestinians has there been since Israel was founded?

Israel’s murder of at least nine unarmed demonstrators in the West Bank on 24 and 25 July provides further evidence, as if any were needed, of Israel’s aims in the destruction it has rained down on Gaza: to crush all Palestinian resistance and indeed any kind of opposition to the denial of Palestinians’ national rights upon which the existence of Israel rests.

The attitude of the U.S. and those allied with it against Palestine is criminally hypocritical, but there is a logic to it. Palestinian lives matter little for those whose starting point is that the Zionist state must be preserved at all cost.

Israel, the U.S. and the European powers would like to keep the focus on Hamas, whose goal is religious rule and not national liberation, but Israel constructed a state defined by religion and began its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians long before Islamism was the factor that it has become in today’s world, spurred on by Zionist crimes and Western support for them. The key to sorting out right and wrong in this war is the nature of the Israeli state now and since its inception in 1948.

The historian Ilan Pappe, an Israeli who was forced to leave Israel in an attempt to silence him, has studied and written extensively on this question. In an interview with Michael Slate on a non-commercial U.S. radio network, he explained how today’s war on Gaza is a continuation of Israeli policies and the inherent dynamic of Zionism itself since that state’s founding. (See the review of Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine in AWTWNS 080512.)

Following are edited excerpts from that interview. The full transcripts of Pappe and Slate’s remarks and an audio of the interview are available on (Revolution no. 346)

There’s a certain aspect of Israeli actions that is different maybe from many other atrocities that are going on even as we speak in other parts of the world. It is this righteousness that accompanies this, and that pretends that this is done in the name of high values, of enlightenment, democracy, and so on. Actually, when the Israelis give a warning to some of the houses, they give you 57 seconds to leave the house. Now try and be on the fifth floor in any part of the world and leave in 57 seconds. This is ridiculous, but this is as cruel a technique as the very destruction of the house and the killing of the people in it. It’s a rare combination of high tech, a very extremist ideology in many ways, and long, long periods of dehumanization of the almost two million people who are incarcerated in this big ghetto that is Gaza – and their only crime is being Palestinian.

I’m not sure whether they target children as such, but I think there’s something more important going on here. It’s a combination of three factors; one is, I call it the laboratory, or the lab factor. The urban space of Gaza is a lab for the Israeli military industry and other military industries, probably also in the United States, to experiment with new weapons. That’s one factor which makes it so horrible. And then of course they don’t differentiate between women, men, young men, warriors, or children. The second one is the dehumanization, this idea that the Palestinians are the enemy, whether it’s a village, whether it’s a house, whether it’s a kindergarten, it’s the face of the enemy, the enemy that you only see through the eyes of the military gun or aircraft or ship, and it becomes a legitimate military target. On top of it you have this self-confidence that you are doing a pharmaceutical, surgical operation, because you have such sophisticated high tech. It’s obscene.

Children are not specifically being targeted in this operation. But there’s a certain horrific perception of what is a Palestinian child. It goes back to 1948. The orders that the Israeli troops received before occupying either a neighbourhood, a town, or a village were the men of fighting age should be separated from the rest of the population, either killed or sent to prisons. Now, the troops wanted to know how do you define a man of fighting age – and that’s back in 1948, right? The army orders say very clearly, “Anyone above the age of ten.” I think it began there, that children are potential terrorists, are potential enemies, they’re not just children.

Today we have special courts for children, where sometimes the whole class is brought in shackled as if they are mass murderers. It also reminds me of 2002, when the Israeli army had this habit of midnight tank tours in the refugee camp of Jenin at midnight that terrified the children there, and really disturbed for years to come a whole generation of children. But I think the key is the dehumanization, and you can hear it in the Israeli media and those in America who support Israel. It’s to talk about Gaza as if it’s a battlefield, as if all you have there is a desert and you have tank brigades facing each other. Not understanding that you’re talking about the most densely populated urban space in the world. So any movement with a tank, any bomb from the air, any shell by a gunboat brings mass destruction, and it’s ridiculous to talk about surgical precision or any humane consideration in this operation.

We have to remember how it also began even in the short term, let alone a more general historical context. It began in 2006, when Israel, with the help of the United States, ghetto-ized Gaza, without any way of getting in or getting out, and slowly cutting their rations of food and strangulating them. It was very clear that even if they had not been bombing Gaza every two years from the air, the sea and the land, they were creating a situation in terms of human conditions that in the long run by itself can turn into a genocide.

I call it incremental genocide, because you can see this combination of the military on the one hand, and that narrative that somehow legitimises, in the West, this ghetto-ization of almost two million people. How else can it end, if not with a massive destruction of the Gaza Strip?

Israel every now and then gets the green light from the West to do what it does. And every time after such a wave, eventually it is absolved from any real condemnation, or is not held accountable. And the reason is that they succeed in selling a narrative which says, “We did what we did as a reaction to the last Palestinian action in this ghetto of Gaza. Namely, because they launched missiles against Israel, we did what we did. So how can you not justify us?” Immediately we’ll hear President Obama say, “Israel has a right to defend itself.” And all the leaders of the Western world would follow suit. But this is taken out of context.

It’s almost like you watch a clip of a person hitting someone in the face, and the person who was hit in the face shoots the guy who hits him. And you say, well, he was right maybe to shoot him because the guy was hitting him. You don’t see the early bits of the clip. This was the last punch this person was able to give because he was outnumbered by six hooligans who were beating him to death. This is what I mean. You need to see the whole picture to also understand where the Palestinian rockets come from. Why do they come the way they come into Israel? And this is so true even if you just widen the camera a little bit, not to 1948, not even to 1967, which I think is even more important. Even if you widen it to three or four weeks ago, and you see that Israel arrested all the Hamas elected members of Parliament – and re-arrested all the people it had pledged to release from jail according to the prisoner exchange deal it had signed – you can see who started this present crisis.

But it goes deeper into the question that while the Israelis think that they know what they’re doing in the West Bank, they think that they can divide the West Bank into two parts: one part they would annex to Israel, and the rest they will enclave, maybe even call it a state, or hope that the people somehow will be attached or expelled to Jordan. They can’t do the same in the Gaza Strip because of the geopolitical situation there. So they’re faced with an area which is locked. And what they want is to forget about it. They really want to throw the key of this huge prison into the sea. But the “inmates”, so to speak, rebelled. And when [the “inmates”] rebel, [Israel] uses this lethal combination I’ve talked about, of tanks, helicopters, F-16s, gunships and the most horrific repertoire of new kinds of weapons we don’t even know of, as a punishment for people’s unwillingness to live forever in a situation of a ghetto.

There’s this mythology that [when the Zionists first came] Palestine was empty. By the way, the Zionist leaders, those who were in the core leadership, knew that the land was not empty. They knew very well. They envisaged “a land without people” knowing that there were people on the land. The question was, in the words of the prophet of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, “Can we find a way of spiriting away the people from this country?” And they found a way. They eventually in 1948 found a way in massively expelling the people.

The website of the State Department defines very clearly ethnic cleansing as an act where you have two ethnic groups, and one ethnic group is determined to purify this mixed area by every means possible. In fact, the State Department website, and this is something that international jurists agree upon, they say that even if people left because they were frightened, from a mixed area, not allowing them to come back is an act of ethnic cleansing. So even the Israeli narrative that argues with me and says, “No, no. We didn’t intend to expel them. They just ran away,” that does not absolve them from the crime of ethnic cleansing. Because even if people left because they were frightened, not allowing them to come back home is an act of ethnic cleansing.

You have an ideological movement that in 1948 faces a reality by which its own ethnic group is only 30 percent of the population, and 70 percent of the population are the native, indigenous people of Palestine. And it sees that population, to the last person in it, as a threat to its survival, to its ability to create a pure Jewish state, and is determined to use every possible means to achieve this purity, then the movement itself is committed to the ideology of ethnic cleansing. And the first proof of that claim was in 1948. But it didn’t end in 1948. Israel found out from 1948 onwards until today that there are two means of achieving this ethnic purity. One is of course directly expelling people, as they did in 1948, and, not in small numbers, after 1967: 300,000 Palestinians were expelled from the West Bank by force by Israel.

But the other means, much more popular, much more favourable from an Israeli’s point of view after 1948, was not allowing people to move, to leave, to expand. They have to be enclaved. To stay in enclaves, like Bantustans [in apartheid South Africa]. And if they’re there, they are physically within the state of Israel, they don’t have to be counted demographically. So they’re not part of the community of citizens. They don’t have rights. They are citizen-less citizens. Gaza is the worst example of that, of course. It’s much better to be in Ramallah in the West Bank than in Gaza. But it’s the same principle. What do we do when we think that we can only exist without having any Palestinians among us, but half of the population insists on being Palestinian. They remain Palestinians. So your whole preoccupation as a state, as an ideological movement, as a military establishment is with this demographic reality.

Most of Israel’s strategy revolves around what they call the demographic question, which is a horrible thought if you think that Zionism speaks in the name of the victims of Nazism. And what was the main obsession of Nazism? It was the demography of the Jews, the existence of the Jews demographically within the realm of Nazi Germany. That those who speak in the name of these victims are using demography as the principal way of assessing whether they are secure or not is more than irony. It’s macabre.

Maybe we’ll go a little bit back in time for just one second to put this in the right context. There was a crucial period, more or less between February 1947, when Britain declared its intention to leave Palestine, and the 15th of May, 1948, the day Israel was officially founded. Through that year and a half, we have very solid documentation to show how the Zionist leadership set on this question, sort of pondered within a small group of decision makers, how to deal with this demographic issue, namely the presence of so many Palestinians in what they saw as the future Jewish state.

It took time for them to find a way to do it. But eventually, when they have defined precisely the space in which they want to have the Jewish state – the reason they had to define the space was that they had a secret agreement with the Jordanians that not the whole of Palestine would become Israel, that part of Palestine, that is the West Bank today, would be annexed to Jordan in return for very minimal Jordanian resistance in 1948. But the rest was to be Israel. And in that part, which is almost 80 percent of Palestine, you had, as far as the Zionist leaders were concerned, too many Palestinians.

Around March/April 1948, eventually the pondering ended, the tactical debates came to a close, and the people with the power to decide in the Zionist movement made a conscious decision to get rid of the Palestinians in the area that would become the Jewish state, namely 80 percent of Palestine. And for that reason they prepared a master plan, called Plan D, because there were earlier drafts of that plan, which divided Palestine into areas, and in each area, a different military unit or brigade operated, with direct orders to get rid of the Palestinian population. The operation started three months before the British left, and that’s why the British are accountable for some of it, because they were watching as most of the towns of Palestine were ethnically cleansed by the Jewish forces, and they did nothing to stop it, although they were obliged to do it under the charter of the mandate they had received from the League of Nations after the First World War. The other half of the people, which was mostly the people in the countryside, was expelled after Britain left Palestine and Israel was declared.

There was an attempt by the Arab world to try and stop it, while sending troops on the 15th of May into Palestine. But they sent a relatively small number of troops, and they had their own agendas, and apart from a few cases, they were unable to stop the ethnic cleansing until it just petered out, because the Israelis were exhausted, around the end of 1948. Out of one million Palestinians who lived in what became Israel, about 100,000 were left.

Let me explain the logic of it. Basically, generals who supervise an act of ethnic cleansing are content with people leaving forever their places. Namely, if they can intimidate you enough to leave your house, they would be pleased. They won’t necessarily chase you and kill you. It’s not genocide in the sense that there was no idea of exterminating the people, but just making sure that they’re dispossessing them. However, it’s a bit like the Gaza Strip today. Palestine is a human habitat. And you can’t always do it that way. And quite a lot of people resist. People don’t want to leave a home where they’ve lived for centuries, if not a millennium. So if there were the smallest resistance to the order to evict – and these people knew that the moment they leave their house, the house would be detonated, and their village or neighbourhood would be flattened – the smallest token of resistance, the response to this was very, very brutal.

Sometimes it was not just massacring people because they resisted. In some cases, people were massacred because of bad planning by the Israeli army. The idea was always to leave one flank of the neighbourhood or the village open so that the people could be chased out of there. But in some cases, the Israelis themselves closed the places from four flanks. And then they found the people in there, and the military orders show very clearly that, especially when you have a concentration of young men, and remember our definition of young men in 1948, anyone above the age of 10, Israel doesn’t know what to do with them, and sometimes the order to slaughter came just from the fact that people maybe even wanted to run away, but were unable. That reminds me a little bit of Gaza today.

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