Ten Myths about Israel: A Book Review
“Historical disinformation, even of the most recent past, can do tremendous harm,” Israeli historian and University of Exeter professor Ilan Pappé writes in his latest book, Ten Myths About Israel, published by Verso Books in 2017. Pappé is an Israeli Jewish historian who described how Palestinian families were made refugees from their homes. His work is largely based on official Israeli historical documents from 1948 that were only declassified 30 years later. In this brief clip, Pappe summarizes his findings.
In this longer, very revealing interview, Pappe describes the evolution of his own understanding. He found that much of what he had been taught about the founding of Israel was in conflict with the historical record. He describes how his academic work in this area has affected him and how it has been received in the larger Israeli community.
So, what are the myths behind the creation of the state of Israel?
Perhaps Pappé — who obtained his BA degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1979 and who’s research focuses on multiculturalism, Middle Eastern History, and the analysis of power — can answer this question.
Questions Without Answers
The book begins with an overview of international violence Palestinians have dealt with throughout history. The book is divided into 10 myths about Israel’s presence in Palestine (and its impact on the Palestinian people). This analysis is a combination of historical framework, its reception internationally, and the repercussions on Palestinian collective memory and the few options available for autonomy.
The book’s strength comes from not only allowing the reader to undergo a historical voyage with the author, but also apply the knowledge of the journey to present circumstances in Israel and Palestine.
The author often asks questions without providing answers, as he invites readers to consider prior knowledge and information learned in the text to form their own opinions. Were the Jews a people without a land?
- Was it a question of national security to bomb Gaza?
- Did the Palestinians leave their homeland voluntarily in 1948?
- Was Palestine an empty land at the time of the Balfour Declaration?
An Author in Exile
Ten Myths about Israel was originally brought to publication in Germany in 2016, under the working title, What’s Wrong with Israel? The Ten Main Myths of Zionism. The media generally ignored the book in both Germany and the U.S. in favor of works employing less biting language. In response, the publishing house softened the book’s title and cover image. Finally, it was re-published a year later.
Israeli historian Pappé lives in exile in Britain. Pappé discusses in the book how Israel’s historical presence in Palestine was always viewed in light of biblical rhetoric. Even Theodor Herzl, he writes, considered Uganda and other places for the Jews to call their homeland. When they found their roots in Palestine, “the Bible became both the justification and the guideline” of Israel’s presence in Palestine.
The author expresses other opinions which may be viewed as unpopular by supporters of Israel:
- The expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 was “ethnic cleansing.”
- The 1967 War or the Six-Day War was not an act of self-defense of a “little David” against a “Goliath” but an attack by Israel, which was prepared cold by the Israeli security establishment for years before.
The Importance of Palestinian Rights
Pappé’s book follows a certain methodology, offering detailed made easy to understand by a clear historical timeline. And by offering facts which manage to dissolve common Israeli narratives as “myths,” the book exposes Israeli violence and asserts the importance of Palestinian rights.
By dispelling common myths — which are probably taught in Israeli classrooms, the very ones the author sat in as a student in Israel himself — Pappé tries to bring awareness to the current situation in Israel and Palestine. The idea of “ethnic cleansing” reoccurs throughout the text, as the author attempts to disprove the myth of Palestine as an empty, unclaimed land or “a land without a people for a people without a land.”
Removal of the Palestinian Indigenous Population
In the text, Pappé demonstrates the removal of the Indigenous population was a major part of the creation of Israel, and the results of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War would contain “all the ingredients that would turn these ideas into the future justification for erasing and denying the basic rights of the Indigenous Palestinian population.”
Pappé still goes a step further. He notes that early settlers in Palestine were frustrated to find that the land was already populated with Palestinians. He weighs the need to protect “persecuted Jews” after The Holocaust. When that need was eclipsed and Israel became a state, Pappé writes that it was only “by the wish to take as much of Palestine as possible with as few [existing] inhabitants as was practical.”
Myths About Israel: Connecting the Past with the Present
The events of 1948 come full circle when Pappé dispels myths about Israeli settler ideology. Israel has historically justified civilian settlements by stating that a temporary use of land and buildings for various purposes is permissible under a plea of military necessity and that the settlements fulfill security needs. Pappé argues that this logic does not make sense and that the only way to guarantee “an exclusive demographic majority” in Israel “was to remove the natives from their homeland.”
Here, the false idea of voluntary abandonment by Palestinians is a theme presented in all the author’s myths. The author creatively and elegantly connects this idea to the present need to support Palestinian rights in Israel and abroad.
Pappe’s other books include of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, The Modern Middle East, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Israel and South Africa: The Many Faces of Apartheid, and Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.