Getting Israeli historian Ilan Pappe on Q&A on Monday night was quite a coup. In fact, I can't even remember any program ever on ABC television devoted, even if not in its entirety, to the issue of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Q&A, September 17 2012, was memorable for many things.
First, there was an uncharacteristic silence from the ms media's most vociferous Zionist, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, foreign editor of the Australian. As he himself remarked at one point, "Haven't I been magnificently silent through all that debate? It is the longest debate on Israel ever held in Australia in which I haven't spoken, you know."
And better for him to have remained magnificently silent than to flaunt his abysmal ignorance thus:
"I comprehensively reject Ilan's narrative of Israel. I think it's wrong in every respect. I haven't had time to read all of Ilan's books but I read this week devastating critiques of them by historians, who are very critical of Israel, for their factual inaccuracy. Benny Morris and others who are very critical of Israel, not servants of the Israeli Government."
Who is he trying to fool? For one, Sheridan wouldn't know a book by Pappe if it hit him in the face. For another, portraying Morris as a trenchant critic of Israel simply means he hasn't read Morris either.
Happily, apart from the above, this pompous windbag had little else to say other than to moan irrelevantly about Israel's so-called legitimacy coming under attack, crack this little funny - "There is no country in the Middle East which better observes the human rights of all its citizens than Israel" - and draw a false analogy between Arab Jewish immigrants to Israel and ethnically-cleansed Palestinians.
The only real attempt to land a few blows on Pappe came from Zionist barrister Irving Wallach. Of course, we'd heard Wallach's line a thousand times before: the Palestinians were the authors of their own misfortune. If only they'd accepted the 1947 UN partition plan! Then, presumably, Israeli forces would have advanced no further than a line on a map drawn by a UN committee and the Palestinians would now be partying in at least 44% of their ancestral homeland. One (just one!) of the problems with this little fantasy can be summed up by the rhetorical question: Since when have lines on a map ever been an obstacle to Zionist expansionism? Wallach then followed this with: If only the Palestinians hadn't been led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini*, a man who'd spent the war years in Nazi Germany schmoozing with Adolf Hitler!
Despite Pappe's categorical dismissal of Wallach's 'if onlys' as "Israeli propaganda," credulous ringmaster Tony Jones was mightily impressed by the second at least:
Jones: OK. All right. Let's settle this issue of the Mufti of Jerusalem because I have seen those pictures. I have seen the history. He was connected to Hitler. [What exactly have you been reading, Tony?]
Wallach: Yeah, definitely. Absolutely.
Jones: There isn't any doubt about that.
They hadn't, however, reckoned on Pappe's succinct presentation of the bleeding obvious:
"Stupid behaviour by a Palestinian leader does not justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. A Palestinian refusal to accept the partition may or may not be justified. What is not justified is punishing the Palestinians by depopulating half of [Palestine]. We have to understand what happened in 1948. Imagine half the population of a country [being] forcibly expelled. Half the villages destroyed. Half the towns demolished. Is this the right kind of punishment for for a leader who made a stupid mistake in World War 2? This was not a tragedy. This was a crime against humanity."
The insularity and self-absorption of one elderly Zionist questioner (on video) was breathtaking. He wanted to know why Q&A "coincided with the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah," thus "preventing observant Jews from being able to attend as members of the audience or even to watch the broadcast."
This provided an opening for another jab by Wallach, for whom defending Israel from a prominent critic obviously took precedence over Rosh Hashana: "Look, can I say this about Ilan's whole point of view, and that is: it is designed and intended to perpetuate a conflict model and narrative." There was, said Wallach, a war, but both sides have been moving towards a two-state solution. He went on portentously, "if you want to carry on in Ilan's fashion and throw around cliches and accusations then a couple of things follow. Firstly, you have to seriously consider surrendering your claim to be an objective historian. Secondly, you have to accept that what you want to do is encourage ongoing conflict and battles and death and destruction between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. If you want to go along the conflict road, then forget about peace. If you want to promote Israel as a pariah state for your own political and ideological agenda, go ahead. History will not thank you for it."
Wallach's little homily, which smeared Pappe as a promoter of violence while ignoring the fact that the root of all violence in Palestine/Israel stems solely from the Zionist movement's goal of imposing a sectarian 'Jewish' state on the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, led to the following revealing exchange:
Pappe: Can I...?
Jones: Ilan, yes, you have to respond to that.
Pappe: Can I respond? First of all, I don't think Israel's seeking legitimcy [as such]. Israel is seeking legitimacy as a racist state within the community of civilised states.
Wallach (interrupting): Look, pardon me, can we stick to the facts?
Pappe (as if bone-weary of Zionist claptrap): No. No. Please no.
Wallach: Please stick to the facts.
Pappe: I didn't interrupt you. You taught me a lesson about being polite so try to apply it to yourself. Now, Israel wants to remain both a racist and a democratic state. This is an oxymoron... Secondly, the documentation for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine [and] for Israel's criminal policies since is there and most Israeli historians recognise that. So the debate in Israel is not over facts but morals. Whether it was right, as Benny Morris says, in self-defence, to ethnically cleanse another people, or whether it was immoral. I say it was immoral, not Jewish, inhuman and finally...
Jones: What's being challenged is the documentation.
Pappe: No. No.
Jones: Which, as a historian, you are relying on. [Jones, like Doogue, who knows little or nothing about the Palestinian Nakba is challenging Ilan Pappe? Is this chutzpah or what?]
Pappe: The documentation is not challenged. Nobody challenges it.
Wallach (taking advantage of Jones insufferable chutzpah): And Tony, if I might say so, what's also challenged...
Pappe (trying to close the door on this peddler of Zionist snake oil): No, let me finish.
Wallach (channelling Benny Morris):... is the slur of an ethnic cleansing as opposed to war followed by refugees. That's what's under challenge.
Pappe: Yes. Now...
Wallach: And in that regard Ilan is on his own...
Pappe: In that regard, you could look...
Wallach: Ilan is on his own as regards the historians. He's on his own.
Pappe: I am totally alone - with 5-6 million Palestinians and another 10 billion people in the world. Now, the point I'm making...
Sheridan (ever the smartarse heckler from Greg & Tony Do Monash): There are only 6 billion people in the world. [Actually its over 7 billion.]
Pappe: Six billion. That's right. I extended it to the universe. I'm sure even aliens understand that the Zionist version is wrong. Now, the...
Sheridan: I'm sure the aliens watch the ABC.
MULTIPLE SPEAKERS TALK AT ONCE
Jones (having allowed Wallach and Sheridan to interrupt Pappe repeatedly, now proceeds to cut him short in favour of the two panellists, Moore and Davidson, who know nothing about the issue): I'm going to get you to sum up because we haven't heard from at least two of our panellists for quite a while.
Pappe: I know but let me make a final, very important point. By the time the so-called war started on May 15, 1948, when the Arab armies entered Palestine, half of the Palestinians had already become refugees. This was [before] the war. And this was the plan, the unpleasant reality that Israelis have to come to terms with if Jews and Arabs are ever to have peace and reconciliation.
The idiocy of the decision to include Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore on the panel became apparent when she rambled vacuously: "Well, I just think that history's fine and I acknowledge that there have been terrible experiences of the Jewish people during particularly the Hitler era and for Palestinians as well but, you know,, I think we really should be talking about solutions here. I think of the families of the two communities and, you know, the bloodshed that continues, and I really think we should all be working very hard to try and find solutions."
You're kidding me! Pappe had to be cut short for that? History's fine, like, but hey, it's behind us. Now let's all shake hands and move on. Jeesus! Is it too much to expect people like Moore to say simply: Hey, I'm a whizz on the Sydney CBD but this Jew/Palestinian thingy? Forget it! And if Tony Jones asked her if she'd learnt anything from Ilan Pappe, all she had to do was ask, Alan who? But no, she not only blaahed the above but went on to rhubarb the following:
"You know, Europeans came to this country 200 years ago. The Aboriginal community had been here for 60,000 years. Now the Europeans dispossessed the Aboriginal people of their land and we're now working very hard on reconciliation and making amends and so I really think reconciliation and coexistence and solutions for the Palestinian and Israeli communities should be the goal of everyone involved in this issue."
Such is the 'quality' of Australia's political class (not sure if class is quite the right word here, know what I mean?).
Tony Jones asked if her if she was equating Aboriginal dispossession with Palestinian dispossession. It's "comparable," she replied, apparently in blissful ignorance (after all these years) of the fact that millions of Aboriginal people are not living in refugee camps in PNG and New Zealand.
For Wallach, however, any suggestion of comparability between indigenous Palestinians and indigenous Australians was to venture into dangerous territory. This mere inkling of a truth - that in fact both peoples were steamrolled by a belligerent, relentless, and unforgiving settler-colonial project - simply had to be scotched. Hence the following:
"[C]an I say this about this question of Aboriginal people: my first job as a solicitor was with the South Coast Aboriginal Legal Service... One of the things that surprised me was the number of my Koori clients coming up to me and saying, Mate, we appreciate what you're doing. We feel just like you and your people, the Jews. We went through exactly what you're going through." (There are two ways of looking at this. The less charitable is simply to dismiss it as poppycock. After all, unless Wallach wore a neon sign on his head saying Wandering, Suffering Jew, his Aboriginal clients would likely have perceived in him little more than another, albeit sympathetic and helpful, white man. The more charitable interpretation is to assume that Wallach did indeed talk to his clients about the fate of his relatives in Nazi-occupied Poland, in which case the word may well have got around, incurring the reaction he describes. What is certain, however, is that if his Aboriginal clients had heard the real story of the Palestinian Nakba, they'd have identified with the Palestinians, not the Zionist terror gangs of the Haganah, Irgun and Stern.)
I particularly enjoyed this delicious exchange between a member of the studio audience and Pappe:
Marrianne Fraser: After all the pogroms throughout the centuries, with Jews never being able to own land in any country they lived in [???] and being forced from their homes time and again as portrayed so well in my favourite musical Fiddler on the Roof, and after the Holocaust, isn't it just for Jews to have been given a place to call their own?
Pappe: You know, this kind of question always reminds me of people setting off in search of a refuge for battered women and abused children. They find a home where another family lives, throw them off the balcony, and their home becomes the refuge. Of course Jews are entitled to a safe place, and in many ways the Palestinians were willing to give them a safe haven. What they were not willing to give them was the right to take over their homeland. I think there's a difference between giving people a refuge (which, for some reason, you Australians refuse to give these poor boat people) [and a group who come to take over your country]. Imagine if these boat people today were knocking on your door saying, Dear Australians, 2,000 years ago Australia used to be my homeland. You must give us half now and the rest later on. This would never be accepted by anyone in Australia and rightly so.
Finally, who could forget this wonderful contribution from someone known only as 'audience member'?:
"We keep speaking about the history, 1948 and all that. I was privileged to have worked in Israel and Palestine for the last 18 months, and was even able to attend a meeting with the current mayor of Jerusalem. At the time he had just announced 5,000 more Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, but when we questioned him about that he just laughed and said, 'I've only announced 5,000 but there are 90,000 planned,' so the ethnic cleansing is still going on as far as I'm concerned."
[*Re Haj Amin, I'll be doing a post in the near future.]