On Palestine | Noam Chomsky & Ilan Pappe

Given the current situation in Palestine, with Israeli soldiers (Israeli Offence Force – IOF) storming into the Al Aqsa mosque on one of the holiest nights in the Islamic calendar, guns a-blazing, attacking
innocent worshipers congregating to pray the night prayer during Ramadan, I thought it was imperative upon me to learn more about the Israel/Palestine ‘conflict’ (I’ll come back to this word).The pretext to this latest attack was the usual “Hamas hiding” somewhere, and just like that Israel is given carte blanche to annihilate a civilian population already living in some of the worst conditions on Earth. The news media was predictably silent on the attack, but social media was abuzz with contradictory information, with people taking sides and words were hurled like weapons at those with opposing opinions.

Whilst I’ve always been pro-Palestinian and have read a number of Chomsky’s other works on the struggle to liberate Palestine, as well as a few essays by Edward Said, I approached this book with the expectation of educating me with some of the historical elements of the liberation movement as
well as the shift in thinking with regards to the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and the two-state solution. I had not read anything by Ilan Pappe before and was really interested in his perspective as an Israeli Historian and because I was curious about the difference of opinions
between the authors, as Chomsky had always influenced most of what I believed.

To start, On Palestine is a comparatively short text, only 204 pages, compared to the much larger volumes on the “conflict” found elsewhere. There is a short introduction by Frank Barat, a human rights activist who instigated the coming together of these great minds and the discussion throughout the book. Following this the book is divided into two parts: part one, the bulk of the book, is broken into five dialogues between Chomsky and Pappe and part two is reflections, short individual essays, which have been edited from previous works.

Each of the dialogues look at distinct parts: The Past, The Present, The Future, Inside Israel and Inside the United State, and each conversation brings with it further understanding of where we find ourselves today and the importance of dismantling the current narrative, hijacked by right wing (but let’s be honest, most of the press) media outlets that any criticism of Israel is anti Semitic and that Israel has a right to exist. For example, the liberation struggle is often described as “historical” and “deeply
rooted” when in fact the Nakba, when Palestinians were displaced by the creation of the new state of Israel was in 1948, that’s not even a century old. The “Zionism as colonialism” argument is critical as it explains the current Israeli policies of Judaization and settlement expansion and is consistent with early Zionist perceptions of their project.
“the analysis through the colonialist perspective also challenges the Israeli claim of “complexity” now desperately used by Israeli scholars to fend off the inevitable comparison between the situation
in Palestine and South Africa. The historical timeline is indeed unusual, it involves a nineteenth – century colonialist project extended into the twenty-first century”

The section on the past is particularly interesting as it sets the scene for much of the support Israel has today, motivated by British, and Western, Islamophobia. It also asks ‘Could Israel have formed without the Holocaust’ which is followed by a conversation about historical timing and broader geopolitical agendas, including the need to break up the dominance of the Arab/Muslim domination by strategically creating a Jewish State. The discussions in “The Present” section looks at the role of activism, particularly the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement with comparisons to the grassroots activism that helped achieve the end of Apartheid. “By the 1990s the apartheid regime had virtually no international support. Only two countries – The USA and Britain… that was sufficient for the regime, as long as
they had US support they did not care, like Israel right now” Their analysis of BDS, including that of an academic boycott of Israel, and if it has any hope of affecting US foreign policy, is voiced alongside concerns of how these movements are organised and what they do to improve the conditions on the ground in places like Gaza. There is far more optimism when they discuss the ever-
growing Youth Activism, in and outside Palestine, with comparisons of other social justice movements spearheaded by young activists such as the civil rights and the anti-war movement. The power of mass popular activism can and has changed US policies although it is of course difficult to
measure the impact of activism.

The third discussion looks to the future and begins with the question “Is an Israeli Spring possible?” it is the followed by a look at Palestinian society and politics recognising that the current system is
stacked against them so dis-participating might be the only way forward. This naturally leads the conversation to the one state verse two states debate. The final two sections of the first part of the book look inside Israel and The United States. Inside
Israel is led by Ilan Pappe, an Israeli Historian and looks at state propaganda and the difficulty of escaping the narrative within Israel especially with regards to cause and effect, the issue of knowledge and education. It also looks at the work done by Pappe at dismantling the myths around
Israel, including the idea that the Bible designates Israel to the Jewish people by looking at the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl. Inside The United States is a discussion with Chomsky and looks
at the nature of negotiations and the role the Palestinian Authority plays within them. This conversation is set in the broader context of the area with a look at what is happening in neighbouring countries such as Syria and the implications of a US attack (note, this book was published in 2015)

On Palestine is a no-nonsense guide to the occupation of Palestine. This short concise book will inform the reader of all that they need to know about the colonisation of Palestine and hopefully encourage further reading. This is not a conflict, this is a classic case of land grab, of colonialism. Palestinians lived in Palestine until the British decided to divide the land up and create a new state, Israel, displacing millions of Palestinians who are now refugees. They have a right to return to their
land just like any dispossessed people. The occupation of Palestine must be seen clearly for what it is, a settler colonial project, and thus the argument for a two-state solution falls short. If you have any interest in the region’s politics and /or in human rights then this is the perfect book to begin your journey.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this books and others covering the occupation of Palestine, especially if you have any further reading recommendations.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. I haven’t read this but when I was in Bethlehem some years ago with my family, I decided to read Karen Armstrong’s Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths because I wanted to read something that went back further than the contemporary situation and also because that is where my children’s ancestors come from. I was also interested to read a book on the region from the perspective of a woman. It is an amazing read and I highly recommend it, though best read slowly over time.
    Last year I read The Woman from Tantoura (which I reviewed on my blog if you are interested), a novel, but one that begins in Palestine and follows this woman to all the other places she seeks refuge.


    1. this_hybrid_reads says:

      Thank you for both those recommendations, I will certainly look into them.


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