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A dreamer of nightmares: Ilan Pappe’s foolish plan to dismantle Israel

By Clive Kessler - posted Thursday, 20 September 2012

What, I wonder, does Ilan Pappe imagine he is doing in Australia?

And what good do his local sponsors think he might be able to accomplish by urging here in our midst the voluntary self-dissolution of Israel, its excision from the global network of sovereign states that constitutes international political society?

Pappe’s position is confused but his purpose is clear. While other nations are entitled to express their common historical identity through the political vehicle and public life of a state, for Pappe and his champions Israel and the Jewish people uniquely are not


The reason for this special disqualification is never made fully clear. All that is clear is that these dreamers of nightmares would make Israel a Chosen Nation, one singularly chosen for delegitimation and dismantling.

Let us be clear.

There has been a continuing and unbroken Jewish connection to the land of Israel since biblical times.

The ancient Jewish connection is not simply the defining presence of the land of Israel in the historical consciousness — in language, culture and religion — of the Jews. It is a matter of the unbroken historical presence, physical and demographic, of Jews in the land of Israel since late biblical times, despite the Romans’ attempts at diasporic expulsion.

That unbroken connection to the land long predates the birth of Muhammad and the rise of Islam. As all of Islam’s own classical sources record, when the Byzantine Patriarch Sophronius handed the keys of Jerusalem to the Caliph Omar in 638, there was a substantial Jewish population in the city and land.

After the Roman dispersion the Jewish presence waxed and waned but it persisted. The expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 prompted a significant Jewish return to the Holy Land and an augmentation of its Jewish population, notably to the northern city of Safed, home of the mystics and Kabbalists, but also to Jerusalem.


The idea that the land was “empty of Jews” until, motivated by so-called “post-Holocaust guilt”, the world suddenly “gave” Palestine to them, and that the newly intruding Jews then acquired it from the Palestinians by theft, is an historical absurdity. But that fatuous claim is basic to the political position of those who think like and follow Pappe. This fantasy has even become the “standard received knowledge”, the “default position” of the uninformed.

In “Israel/Palestine” both sides now have strong historical claims of substantial connection to the land. But these deeply rooted claims, if asserted absolutely, are mutually exclusive. So some process of conciliation and mutual recognition of entitlements is necessary.

The essential problem remains how to realise the right of national self-determination of two peoples claiming the same land. The failure yet to achieve that outcome of “two states for two peoples” is a sad fact for which each side in its own way is partly responsible, since each is ultimately part of the problem.

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About the Author

Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology at The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

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