Ilan Pappe: The Only Option is Prison
In part two of their discussion, journalist Max Blumenthal talks to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe about how the mere presence of Palestinians in Israel threatens the Israeli narrative
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Hi. I’m Max Blumenthal for The Real News.
We’re in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club for an event on the Israel Lobby. And I’m here with Ilan Pappé.
I want to ask you a historical question that kind of relates to your next book, “The Biggest Prison on Earth”. A lot people associate Gaza with the biggest prison on earth, but Gaza … really, and the siege of Gaza, the panopticon that encompasses the lives of all 1.8 million people in the Gaza Strip, really represents the culmination of the historical process that you chart in your book.
You’ve basically gone into the archives, the Israeli State Archives, and exposed how the occupation was constructed from using arcane Ottoman law, British Colonial law.
What was most remarkable about your archival research? What did you find that you didn’t already know?
ILAN PAPPÉ: First of all, two things. One is that I didn’t realize how systematic, in a way, was the thinking about the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip before ’67. I mean, I read Tom Segev’s book, “1967”, and other books, and I knew that…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Just to interrupt. You were… I mean, a lot of people don’t know that, from 1948 to 1966, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Golan began, were under military occupation, and that occupation in 1967 was simply replaced by the police that we see in the Galilee.
ILAN PAPPÉ: Exactly. Exactly. And I lived through that period myself, so I remember the greater Israel lobby before ’67. I knew there was a public atmosphere that really pushed the Israeli government to occupy the West Bank, and regarded — especially the West Bank, less the Gaza Strip –- and regarded the decision not to occupy in ’48 as a big mistake, because the opportunity was there in 1948.
What I didn’t realize was how systematic was the idea of transferring the military rule that was already imposed on the Palestinian minority in Israel; in saying, in ’63 after Ben Gurion, who was the last obstacle for abolishing this rule — because he wanted to keep the rule — now in ’63 he left the political arena, as an important figure.
And this is the moment when they are beginning to prepare the personnel that imposes the military rule on the Palestinians inside Israel, and say to them, you have a new mission. There’s another Palestinian group that waits for you. And the apparatus, not only the apparatus itself, the same people that were at the head of the apparatus, became the first governor-generals, legal advisors to the occupation in the first and second year of …
MAX BLUMENTHAL: So they just transferred it over…
ILAN PAPPÉ: Transferred… They had a ready-made mechanism for control.
The second thing that I found, especially from the Cabinet meetings in June –- again, something I suspected, but it was nice to see it confirmed, in a way –- was that there was a unanimous Israeli perception of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that was not reflected in the public debate in the Israeli society itself.
The Israeli society itself, you could have said there was a debate between what one can call the redeemers: those who believed that the West Bank was the ancient land of Israel, and therefore ’67 was an historical opportunity to redeem an ancient omen; and the custodians: those who said, no, we’re keeping it until we have bilateral peace with Jordan –- at that time nobody talks about the Palestinians.
Now, actually, everyone in the government, whether they were from the socialist left in … the ultra-orthodox, Labour, of course, that was the dominant power, but also Likud, becomes now an important political power in Israel, they all agree that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will have to be part of Israel. The question is how you do it.
And this is the debate. So the debate from ’67 onwards was technical, on how to keep the territories, not whether to keep the territories. And I was surprised how openly they talk in the Cabinet about the peace process as one of the best means of keeping the territories. Because…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And this was in the ’60s.
ILAN PAPPÉ: In June ’67, the first few days after the Occupation. Especially the 18th, the 19th, the 20th of June, there were long debates in the Cabinet about that. And actually, you know, you read later on, Danny Schorr and other people, who sort of explained that what is important about the peace process is the process itself. It wasn’t born… Danny Schorr did not invent it. It was born there. And I think that not one Israeli government deviated from this idea; that you have to be strategically savvy with how you do it; but of course, there was no question of going back to what I’ve even called the Auschwitz borders.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right.
ILAN PAPPÉ: And the whole book says that they developed two versions of a prison. That’s why I called it, “The Biggest Prison”. There was the kind of open prison model, which is… if the Palestinians accept our idea that we control the space, but we don’t have to control the people, they can live in an open prison; which gives them some sort of privileges, like working outside the prison, running their own life in the prison.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Maybe … East Jerusalem would be…
ILAN PAPPÉ: In Jeru… yeah. Yeah. But also, you know, even Ramallah or these densely… what Yigal Alon called the densely populated Palestinian areas.
And then there is the maximum-security prison, when the Palestinians are being punished for not accepting the open prison.
And you can see how they try to work out two things. One is how to convince the world that the open prison model is actually a peace process, reconciliation, final end to the conflict. And how they try to convince the Palestinians that they have a lot to lose if they will replace the open prison with a maximum-security prison.
And I think what happens today is that they are moving to a different model, which is, like, let’s just make all of it Israel, and police the Palestinians wherever they are with mini-prisons everywhere. I don’t think there is going to be… the biggest prison will remain Gaza, but I think the rest of the West Bank, the Galilee, if they can do it — hopefully we will be able to challenge it — but the idea is to have these little autonomous prisons without territorial continuity…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Without Palestinian nationality.
ILAN PAPPÉ: Without Palestinian nationality; and somehow have a way of relaxing the oppression if you can, with economic prosperity. Of course, there’s no reality… there’s nothing grounded in reality, the way they think about the future.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right.
ILAN PAPPÉ: But they have the power to continue the model on the ground itself.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, let me ask you in closing, I mean, going forward, this sounds to me like the plan that’s being offered by the Jewish Home Party, which is sort of the right wing party of the settlers, Naftali Bennett, and it’s a rising force in Israeli society.
ILAN PAPPÉ: Right.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: To what extent is Netanyahu and mainstream Likud moving towards this kind of one State apartheid reality, where they’ll formalize Israel usurping or annexing much of the West Bank? And to what extent do you think Washington will accept it? Because we’ve seen mixed signals from Trump. On the one hand you have David Friedman, the Ambassador, who’s in with the Beit El settlers, obviously on board with this kind of plan. And then you see Jason Greenblatt going over, and he’s more on board with the all process and no peace kind of tactic that you just described. Where are we heading?
ILAN PAPPÉ: Well, I think even the Israeli electorate, on a certain level, thinks both options are fine, in a way, that’s why I’ll tell you what is my vision for the future.
I don’t think that Netanyahu will be there forever. That’s very clear. And you’re right: one of the alternatives is the Jewish Home, and Naftali Bennett or people like him, taking Israel into this path on which you don’t play the charades anymore, and you just openly talk about a one state, that is one apartheid state, and you wait to see every moment, every juncture, to see how the world reacts, and you slow down the process according to the international community reaction and according to developments around you.
And then you have Yair Lapid, who has even more… who is now more popular in the polls than Netanyahu, who is a bit kind of an old timer Zionist in a way, who will say the status quo is fine. I mean, why should we change it? We can maintain the status quo forever. We’d need to continue to talk about the peace and the process; and he may convince –- whether it’s Trump or someone else –- that actually the old American hallow talk about the process that everybody knew had no influence on the reality on the ground, is still the best model for everyone concerned.
And maybe there will be a third Palestinian Intifada, there will be this Israeli reaction –- I’m talking from their perspective, not my perspective…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right. Right.
ILAN PAPPÉ: …we have the military power to quell it.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right.
ILAN PAPPÉ: It’s actually quite good for the army to be involved in such operations; against Gaza or against the Lebanon, or against… After all…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: It seems like they’re moving towards the latter at this point.
ILAN PAPPÉ: They do. They do, because…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Towards Lebanon.
ILAN PAPPÉ: …the military otherwise is idle, and there is a sense that the military will not be able, and the DNA of the military has long been to be a big police force.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah.
ILAN PAPPÉ: The elite units of Israel have not done any –- supposedly –- daring operations of the kind that made Hollywood films, like Entebbe, or…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah.
ILAN PAPPÉ: …you know, raiding on an Egyptian radar, or even killing PLO leaders in Lebanon…
MAX BLUMENTHAL: They go kill some Turkish activist…
ILAN PAPPÉ: Exactly. They’re killing civilians.
So the elite units are killing civilians as part of the policing of six million Palestinians within the new one state that they have created.
So, they have to be trained and kept alive in this kind of active role; and the big question is not, will there be an Israeli… internal Jewish Israeli repugnance against it? No, there won’t be, I can assure you. The sight is too indoctrinated to be repulsed by this.
The big question is, really, the international community. Will it… with the facts unfolding again and again, and the picture becomes clearer by the day, would they continue to be blind intentionally?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And we’ve seen the international community issue two major reports, which amounted to kind of saying that water is wet, and the sky is blue, which is first…
ILAN PAPPÉ: Right.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: …Zionism is racism and Israel’s an apartheid state. Both were retracted almost immediately.
ILAN PAPPÉ: Yeah. But the messengers were killed, not the message.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: The messengers were killed but not the message; but when you kill the messenger, you can’t embrace the recommendations and formalize them into any kind of legal repercussions or enforcement mechanism.
ILAN PAPPÉ: I agree. But I think that the messengers are growing in numbers, and that it’s far more diversified. The people who are now willing to say these things come from different places where they haven’t come before.
I’m not trying to draw too optimistic a picture, but I think that Israelis are beginning to lose it in their ability to use timidity, bribery and intimidation to kill the messengers. Whenever they… and it also has to do with the cyberspace. We are in it now.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, you’re still alive.
ILAN PAPPÉ: (laughs) I’m still alive. And even if I’m not alive, there are other people who would do this. We are not loners. We’re not the only ones –- neither you, nor I. It is there. It’s already there in the cyber highway and information highway. It is there, and they will not be able to stop it.
Unfortunately, of course, while we are waiting for this to have tangible impact on the ground, the clock of destruction is faster and it continues, and I think that’s why we all support the BDS because we would like to see a more concentrated reaction, even if we are not sure where we are going to.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right.
ILAN PAPPÉ: We want to voice our objection to the oppression as it happens on the ground on a daily basis. Yeah.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: We keep hearing the time is running out, time is running out, and BDS is sounding the alarm that time has run out. And I think as Bobby Sands would’ve said, “Our time will come.”
ILAN PAPPÉ: Yeah.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Ilan Pappé. Thanks a lot.
ILAN PAPPÉ: Thank you.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I’m Max Blumenthal in Washington, D.C., for The Real News.