Ilan Pappé

Ilan Pappé was right on The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

The Palestine Project
3 min readMay 19, 2021

By Kathleen ChristisonAP news • March 18, 2019

Two recent letter writers — Karen K. Milstein (“Lannan misfires,” Letters to the Editor, Feb. 2) and Susan Raku (“Misrepresents Israel,” Letters to the Editor, Feb. 13) — criticized Israeli historian Ilan Pappé for allegedly distorting Israeli history.

Pappé spoke at a Lannan Foundation event at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in January. Charging that Pappé “fabricates … omits … and consistently misinterprets” historical evidence about Israel, Milstein denied that Israel has ever ethnically cleansed Palestinians. Raku disputed Pappé’s assertions that Israel practices apartheid, charging that he “intentionally misrepresents” Israel.

On the subject of ethnic cleansing in 1948, a historical event that Milstein disputes, it is important to know that Pappé’s evidence comes from Israel’s own contemporaneous Hebrew-language military archives. His 2006 book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, clearly documents the intentional expulsion of over half of Palestine’s Arab population at the time, totaling approximately 750,000.

No other Israeli historian or political leader has disputed the evidence Pappé laid out. In fact, in two well-publicized Israeli press interviews in 2005 and again last month, another historian, Benny Morris, justified the ethnic cleansing because Arab society threatened Israeli Jews.

In fact, the Palestinians’ expulsion was a boon to Israel. Although Israel and its supporters do not like to acknowledge this, Israel would not have become a Jewish-majority state if there had been no “cleansing” of those 750,000 Palestinians.

Both Milstein and Raku object to Pappé’s portrayal of Israel as still practicing a slow ethnic cleansing and imposing an apartheid system. But both writers counter only with information about Palestinian citizens of Israel, omitting mention of the far greater numbers of Palestinians (5.2 million) living under Israeli control in the territories Israel has occupied since 1967.

This encompasses the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — where Palestinians live without citizenship, without any voice in their governance by Israel, unable to travel inside Israel or even to Jerusalem, and under a different legal system from the Israeli Jewish settlers who live among them in Jewish-only colonies — without, in short, any of the benefits of Israel’s vaunted democracy.

The 1.8 million Palestinian Israeli citizens are descended from the small remnant of the Palestinian population not ethnically cleansed in 1948. They do enjoy some benefits of democratic citizenship — they can vote, some sit in the Israeli Knesset, one (of 15 justices) sits on the Israeli Supreme Court. But, despite the claim that they “can live wherever they wish,” they may not own or lease any of the 73 percent of Israeli land that is officially “held in trust for the Jewish people.” Although they enjoy a higher standard of living than their kin in the occupied territories, they are deprived of the high standard their fellow Jewish citizens enjoy in health care, education, welfare services and municipal services.

Most critically, the status of Palestinian citizens was officially subordinated to that of Jews by Israel’s “nation state law” passed in July 2018. This law, practiced in the breech for the first 70 years of Israel’s existence, was passed as a basic law, which in Israel gives it the status of a constitutional provision. The law declares that the land of Israel is “the historical homeland” of the Jewish people and the state of Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people.” The right to exercise national self-determination in Israel, the law declares, “is unique to the Jewish people.” This gives Israeli apartheid the status of law.

The Lannan Foundation, which these and other letter writers have criticized for sponsoring Pappé, deserves great credit for bringing this excellent historian to Santa Fe to shed real light on the long Palestinian struggle for independence from Israeli control, which Americans have seriously misunderstood for most of our lifetimes.

Kathleen Christison has written several books on the Palestinian-Israeli situation. She lives in Santa Fe.