Ilan Pappé makes a succinct statement in the introduction to his latest book: “Indeed, Israel is one of a few states considered by many to be at best morally suspect or at worst illegitimate. What is challenged, with varying degrees of conviction and determination, is not the state itself but rather the idea of the state.” This describes accurately the extended challenge that new historians, in their questioning of classical Zionism and Zionist hegemony, have had to deal with.
Departing from the obvious but often neglected fact that Israel is the product of European colonialism and Western imperialism, the idea of Israel as an entire exercise in manipulation is conveyed powerfully in this book, which charts the attempts at deconstructing the Zionist narrative and their repercussions, had the endeavours not been so drastically curtailed.
Recognising the dependence of the state upon narrative structure and myth, a group of Israeli “new historians” embarked upon a challenge to the Zionist hegemonic narrative that not only imposed fabrications upon the colonised land of Palestine, but also relied heavily upon state institutions, notably academia, to create and perpetuate false narratives. The intention was to create foundations for Zionism’s mythical claims which would help to promulgate a moral image of Israel, compatible with the regurgitated hypocrisy of the settler-colonial state as “the only democracy in the Middle East”.
Pappé illustrates the integral role which academia played in establishing Zionist historiography, formulated in the early years following the 1948 Nakba upon orders from Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. In the absence of structured methodology, Zionist historians were required to amalgamate ideology and fact in order to construct a common narrative that, even remotely, attempted to substantiate claims to land with invented history. Given the importance of academic narrative in order to sustain the Zionist-imposed collective memory, an exposure of the flaws within historiography, had it been allowed to proceed unhindered, would have provided a formidable rethinking of the colonial violence upon which the state of Israel is founded. It should be remembered that this eliminated the existence of the Palestinian population and resistance (through what Pappé has called ethnic cleansing) in order to accommodate the idea upon which Israel was constructed.
Seen within the backdrop of history, academia and collective memory, Pappé identifies several aspects that have been challenged by Israel’s new historians, including Zionist narrative and discourse; Palestinian resistance prior to the Nakba and in later decades; theoretical discussions of power and its influences; and Israel’s strategy of marketing the Holocaust. The mainstream perception of Israel is generally compatible with Israel’s fabrication of history. Hence the initiative to indulge in research utilising archive material that was previously inaccessible initiated new discussion. The immediate impact was perceived as a threat to Zionist settler-colonialism, challenging the loyalty manufactured by the state as a requirement to disrupt any process of objectivity. Read more.