- The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine
Ilan Pappe has added another work to the many that have already been written in English on the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. These include works by Walid Khalidi, Simha Flapan, Nafez Nazzal, Benny Morris, Nur Masalha, and Norman Finkelstein, among others. All but one of these authors (Morris) would probably agree with Pappe's position that what happened to the Palestinians in 1948 fits the definition of ethnic cleansing, and it certainly is not news to Palestinians themselves, who have always known what happened to them. But Pappe's concern here is public opinion as well as historiographical debate:
The "new history" narrative and recent Palestinian historiographical inputs somehow failed to enter the public realm of moral conscience and action. . . . I want to make a case for the paradigm of ethnic cleansing and use it to replace the paradigm of war as the basis for the scholarly research of and public debate about 1948. I have no doubt that the absence so far of the paradigm of ethnic cleansing is part of the reason why the denial of the catastrophe has been able to go on for so long.(xvi)
His commitment to shifting the paradigm from war to ethnic cleansing is a direct challenge to Morris, who even now clings to his thesis that the Palestinian refugee crisis was "born of war not by design."1 This is somewhat bizarre, given that Morris himself continues to mine the Israeli archives for examples of atrocities and direct expulsions: in his article "Revisiting the Palestinian Exodus of 1948," in his book Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (an updated version of the original Birth published in 1987), and most recently in his book 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War.2 Pappe's call for a shift from "born of war" to ethnic cleansing has ramifications beyond the scholarly debate with Morris, however. It is a plea to the majority of Israelis (and to those in the West who support the Israeli state unconditionally) to give up the excuse that in war "stuff happens" and to accept that a crime was committed against the Palestinians in 1948, so that everyone, Israelis and Palestinians alike, can move forward to a better future.
Most of the book is devoted to telling a familiar story, at least to this reviewer: conquest of most of Palestine by a well-organized and determined colonial settler state and the expulsion-carried out through a variety of tactics including atrocities-of as many of the non-Jewish inhabitants as possible. It is based on secondary sources (Morris shows up in the footnotes quite a bit) and some primary sources drawn mainly from the Israeli archives. One of the new elements in Pappe's narrative is his use of the label "The Consultancy" to name the group of men (Ezra Danin, Yehoshua Palmon, and Eliahu Sasson, among others) who regularly consulted with David Ben Gurion before and throughout the war. Although the minutes of many of these consultations were not recorded, the group's discussions and decisions do show up in Ben-Gurion's diaries and the private archive of Israel Galili, who was, according to Pappe, present at all the meetings. In Pappe's account the Consultancy planned and helped to implement the ethnic cleansing. He also presents Plan Dalet as a master plan of expulsion-a theme of revisionist scholarship for a long time. The cohesion and stability of the Consultancy as a group is a crucial part of Pappe's argument in favor of the ethnic cleansing label. In chapter 1 he offers the following definition of ethnic cleansing: "It is a well-defined policy of a particular group of persons to systematically eliminate another group from a given territory on the basis of religious, ethnic or national origin. Such a policy involves violence and is very often connected with military operations" (1, my emphasis). This is a quotation from Drazen Petrovic writing in...