The crisis that exists between Israel and the area that was once the nation of Palestine has evolved into one of the most tragic the world has seen. Anger on both sides and the failure of mediation on more than one occasion has resulted in the continuation of the long feud. Each side has its supporters and detractors refusing to abandon their beliefs and stance of the matter. My interest in the conflict propelled me to acquire this high recommended book on the issue written by Israel historian and social activist, Ilan Pappe (1954-). Pappe was born in Haifa and continues to educate millions about the true origins of the raging battle. This phenomenal account of the history of Palestine and its current day status is a must read by anyone seeking to understand the origins of the matter. To be fair, Pappe is not anti-Israel, but he does however, confront many facts about the history of Palestine that are often very uncomfortable. But any good researcher should do just that and it is in this area that Pappe shines through.
The book begins in the early 1800s in Palestine before the appearance of large numbers of Europe’s Jews. This is a history that is often neglected and unknown by many. The Palestine we see is far different from the one that exist today. As a part of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine is protected by the ruling authorities in Istanbul intent on maintaining the empire’s domain at any costs. Incredibly, even then, there existed smaller religious minorities freely allowed to practice their faiths. But sadly at the 1900s approached, the future of Palestine took a dark turn, one that is fully explored by Pappe and is sure to leave the reader speechless. But his research and conclusions are critical to understanding the cause of the Palestinian people and the effects of Zionism on foreign territory and domestic policy.
The term Zionism and Judaism are sometimes believed to be the same thing. But as we learn throughout the book, they are in fact two different things and not necessarily operating in the same spectrum. In the book, we are introduced to the founder of the Zionist cause, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) and his successors that carried the Zionist cause setting their sights on a Jewish homeland. Palestine became their choice and their mission created a conflict that continues to this day. Pappe does a meticulous job of exploring all of these polarizing figures and their role in the affair. But what is often left out of the conflict is the role of the British government, heavily complicit in the developments in the area and subsequently in the deadly aftermath. The relationship between the British Government, Palestinian rulers and the new Zionist immigrants proved to be a power keg determined to detonate at any minute. Two world wars and three agreements later paved the way for the creation of Israel in 1948 and the loss of land by the native Palestinians. It was the beginning of a war that has claimed thousands of lives and brought shame to those involved and resulted in the meddling by several foreign nations allied to the Israeli or Palestinian cause.
On December 23, 2016, the UN passed a resolution ordering Israel to stop building settlement east of Jerusalem in Palestinian territory. The order has been ignored by Israel which continues to build settlements. The abstinence of the United States in voting on the resolution strained the relationship between Israel and its American ally. The decision by the White House to abstain is in direct contrast to the policy of the US for several decades which actively supported the Israel government. America’s complicity in the conflict, as well as that of Great Britain, France and other Arab nations seeking to exploit the situation, created a power vacuum which has no clear ending in sight and helped plunged the Middle East into a cycle of revolution, mayhem and death. Today it remains to be seen if a two-state solution will ever truly work between the two battle nations.
Throughout the book, many figures make an appearance and their roles in the conflict are explored in-depth. Forgotten name such as Menachem Begin (1913-1992), David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995), Gamal Abdel-Nasser (1918-1970), Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) and Fayṣal al-Awwal ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn (1883-1933)(Faisal I of Iraq) will jump out at some readers triggering an avalanche of dormant facts and others unknown. But their names, actions and stories are beyond critical in understanding the evolution of the tragedy. And like a jigsaw puzzle, the back door political deals, covert operations, overt discrimination, greed and betrayal help set the stage for the region as we know it today. Right-wing and left-wing groups proliferate on each side of the conflict rendering a peaceful solution seemingly unattainable. But regardless, the United States continues to condemn the Israeli occupation and has added allies from dozens of countries and even domestic groups in Israel in opposition to the government’s expansionist policies. Pappe refers to it as the post-Zionist era in which literature and film seeks to tell the real story of the Zionist cause and its devastating effects on the people of Palestine. For them, their struggle continues but they too deal with domestic right-wing groups, the most famous of which are the PLO and Hamas. Their objectives and those of the Likud, lead by Binyamin Netanyahu, serve as fuel to a towering inferno.
Perhaps in the next decade or two we will finally see peace between Israel and Palestine. I certainly hope it occurs before more death and destruction of the land they both call home occurs. Attempts to form a settlement have ultimately fell short time and time again but I and many in the world remain optimistic. For those who are unsure of what really needs to be done or are unaware of the origins of the dispute, this book by Pappe, is the place to start.