By Ilan Pappe
A mini-intifada is taking place this 2022 autumn in Palestine, spreading over Jenin, Nablus and Jerusalem. What is incredible is not that these uprisings occur, but rather the way the Israeli media is trying to explain their occurrence. One ex general after the other, on ex secret service expert after the other, provide an analysis that is familiar for anyone studying the history of colonialism in Asia and Africa. European colonialist policy makers always attributed resistance to the colonisation as the outcome of “incitement” and never attributed the revolts against them to their own callous oppression.
The daily humiliation in the checkpoints, the collective punishmentsthat include closure and endless curfews, the mass arrests without trial including of children, tortures in the interrogations, confiscation of land, ethnic cleansing operations and settlers’ attacks are all not sufficient causes, in the view of this narrative, for an ongoing uprising. Unemployment among the youth, the absence of any vision for a different future and the international indifference also do not factor into the analysis not just of the securitization sector but also in that provided by very respected doyens of the Israeli academy. They appear constantly in TV studios and explain how the violent nature of “Arabs” and “Muslims” are the sole causes for this and previous uprisings.
Who are the inciters is never totally clear from the analysis. Usually, the “culprits” is the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. However, the fingers are pointed to all kinds of organizations such as the Islamic Jihad, the Fatah and a new group called “the Lions’ Den” situated in Nablus. The contradictions have never bothered the analysts with their clear narrative which needed to have inciters and an easily incited crowd.
The depiction of the Palestinian liberation struggle as a series of senseless assaults by an incited mob is very familiar for those us exposed to the Israeli educational textbooks and public discourse. The Israeli academia provided scholarly scaffolding for this narrative and
articulated it in a more sophisticated discourse.
This analysis had been put forward already after the first significant Palestine uprising during the Mandatory period in 1929 (_thawrat al-Buraq_). While the British inquiry commission that was set up after the uprising, did attribute that particular uprising to the Zionist policy of land purchasing that pauperised rural Palestine, the Zionist assessment was that pro-Arab British officers and “fanatic” religious leaders incited the uprising which was carried out by “criminal gangs”. In 2022, the same Zionist discourse is employed for depicting the present Palestinian resistance (that already cost the life of more than 100 young Palestinians) as a mixture of criminal gangs and incited youth.
It is important to acknowledge the explanation official Israel, and by extension its civil society, provides for the present and past Palestinian uprisings. This discourse analysing Palestinian violence as the product of an “Arab culture” and “Islamic primitivism” is
widely shared within Israel.
These images and prejudices are deeply rooted, and are planted and replanted in every new generation of young Israelis passing through the educational system, the media, the political discourse and the socialisation processes, the most important taking place during the compulsory military,
Realising that this is the state of affairs, one can understand the failure of the so-called peace process that began in earnest in 1967. The process was initiated and managed by cynical politicians, but also by some genuine peace makers, mostly Americans. One of its basic assumptions was that there was a “peace camp” in Israel that would be willing to compromise with the Palestinians. Their optimism stemmed from the success of brining about two bilateral peace agreements between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
Two agreements between governments but without any genuine new relationship between the societies involved. More importantly, the nature of the conflict between Israel and these two Arab states was very different from the Palestine question. It is not a war between two
states, it is an anti-colonial struggle for decolonisation.
The total dehumanisation of the Palestinians, the total denial of their rights and of their attachment to their homeland, and the willingness to go to any extreme to turn Palestine into a de-Arabized space, lead to two undeniable conclusions. The first is that there is no peace camp in Israel and therefore any anticipation of a change within Israeli Jewish society and its consensual attitudes towards the Palestine issue is unrealistic. The second and interconnected conclusion is that the only way official Israel would stop its criminal policies towards the Palestinians, is by strong external pressure on it, the kind of pressure
that was directed against Apartheid South Africa. This pressure is required today more than ever before as so many Palestinians are under an existential danger. This year alone, more than 150 Palestinians were killed by the Israelis and the casualties are growing exponentially in the last few weeks.
There is another manifestation to this dehumanisation which is hardly noticed outside Israel. And these are the daily murders committed by criminal gangs within the Palestinian minority inside Israel, the 48 Arabs. Every day, someone is murdered among this community, sometimes more than one person a day is assassinated. Among those caught in the crossfire are also children. Allowing criminal gangs, a free hand in oppressed society as means of depoliticising them was done elsewhere. In the USA, this method was employed to kill in its bud the political resistance of African Americans, by allowing the drug deals to take over neighbourhoods and slums.
In Israel, such policies were already enacted in the early 1950s as mentioned but they have reached unprecedented levels in the last few years. The situation was aggravated after the Oslo accord, when Israel extracted a large number of its Palestinian collaborators and forced
them on the 48 Arabs community. Some of them are armed, have good connections to the security services and thus enjoy some sort of immunity. Some of them are part of this new gangland within the Palestinian villages and neighbourhood inside Israel.
This immunity coupled with an obvious lack of any attempt by the Israeli police to interfere significantly in the gang wars and crimes is an intentional policy of neglect that is substantiated by the narratives spanned by the Israel academia and media about this situation. There are two features in this narrative. The first is that high levels of
murderous crime like this are inevitable in an Arab society and there is not much Israel can do. The second is that it is the responsibility of the leaders of the Arab community themselves to put a stop to the killings. Both assertions are racist and stem from the same ideology and mentality that dehumanises the Palestinians living in the Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
This attitude became part of the DNA of Zionism and Israel as is typical to settler colonial movements and apartheid states. However, it petered out and is less significant in many other places where settler colonialism reigned. The reason that this DNA is still there in Israel has also to do with the international reaction to Zionism and later Israel. The total silence in the West in the face of the 1948 ethnic cleansing encouraged the new state of Israel to continue such polices in the future. Thus, ethnic cleansing policies are still enacted today, and they can only be perpetrated if the victims are dehumanised, as were the hundred and fifty Palestinians who have been killed by Israel since the beginning of this year. The killing will continue to be justified on the basis of this dehumanisation, and the question is will the international community continue to provide immunity to policies that it condemns and reject categorically when they are enacted in places such as the Ukraine or Iran?
6 December 2022
Illan Pappe is an expatriate Israeli historian and socialist activist. He is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, director of the university’s European Centre for Palestine Studies, and co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies. He is also a member of JUST’S International Advisory Panel (IAP)