The meeting was organised by the Surrey University Palestinian Society supported by the Surrey Islamic Society and WS PSC and held at the university. About 55 people attended.
Ilan Pappe is the reputed Israeli professor of history who was forced out of Haifa University in 2007 because his views were contrary to Israeli dogma and he supported the academic boycott of Israel. He is now at Exeter University.
Dalia Barakat introduced him and said there had been pressure at the last minute to cancel the meeting through a complaint to the Student’s Union. Studentrights.org.uk had also posted an article on its web site about this meeting attacking Pappe as biased and “ ...ignorant of the basic facts” [a quick inspection of their web site reveals it as one largely devoted to defending Israeli policies while masquarading under a misleading name - GAR].
Pappe said there continued to be an organised attempt to suppress his views through pressure from Jewish groups and from the Israeli Embassy, as had happened to Norman Finkelstein. He considers that an objective understanding of what happened in 1948 remained crucial to progress today. The UN declaration of 30 November 1947 terminating the UK mandate and establishing a partition marked its start.
Official Israel developed a narrative which considers it ‘a great day’ in which a ‘miraculous’ victory was won against all odds, secured “a land without people for a people without land” (a phrase which originated in England) and that the Palestinians had been told to leave their homes by Arab leaders. However no professional historical work was done until the 1980ies - it relied on subjective memoirs and the like.
His group started research on the archives which then became available from Israel, UK, US and UN and essentially concluded that the official narrative was a fabrication: there were people there, the bulk of the refugees were driven out before the war with the Arab states started on 15 May 1948 on the basis of a plan elaborated by Jewish groups one or two years earlier, there was no call to them that they should leave, and there was no ‘miracle’ - the military odds were with the Jewish armed forces. In a sense the war was not the cause of the ethnic cleansing but its excuse to avoid a comparison with the cleansing of the Jews from Europe by the Nazis just a few years earlier, and it has gone on ever since.
Their analysis was opposed for 15 years then was adopted by the so-called New Historians. However the old line remained the narrative which continues to be peddled by the unrepresentative official western Zionist lobbies and by the media in the US and Europe, and there was after a few years a counter offensive by establishment historians.
In his view, there were three preconditions for any real progress towards peace:
1. An acknowledgement in Israel and in the West of the truth about 1948;
2. Israel has to be held accountable for its actions since 1948, and
3. ...only after that can there be an acceptance by the Arabs of the Jewish presence in Palestine.
There were many questions.
Does he favour the one state solution? Yes, anything else means an acceptance of racialism. How long might it take? Maybe one generation, who knows.
Why does West back Israel? In Europe, supporting Israel is a form of atonement for the Holocaust; also a New Israel legitimized a New West Germany post Nazis. In the US, there is the new Christian Zionism, the financial and other powers of the Jewish lobby, the self interest of the military-industrial complex.
Is there a parallel between the Algerian war of independence in 1962 and what might happen in Israel? Not really - the French colons had a base back in France to which they could retreat, unlike the Jewish people now established for 3 generations.
In South Africa the Jewish community, having lived with apartheid, was for a time against Zionist policies, but this was later suppressed. The collapse of apartheid happened when the Whites finally perceived that it was wrong and costly and could not go on. Did he agree that it was necessary for Jewish communities abroad as well as in Israel to come to a similar conclusion before a solution, and that the campaign for sanctions and boycotts was perhaps the most effective tool? Yes, the parallel here was close.
He was warmly applauded and thanked for his talk.