gaza the nakbah and occupation

Would you like Maccabees with that? — ii

Monday, 12 February 2024 4:24 pm

For Australian followers of global politics the past four months have witnessed a confluence of two major political moments. As Australian voters entered the final week of the Voice referendum campaign, on the other side of the world Hamas launched a terrorist assault against Israel, one that's been described as unprecedented in its brutality.


So the week beginning Saturday 7 October 2023 looked like this:

Day 1 - Hamas attacks Israel, striking both military and civilian targets and on an extraordinary scale for such a timeframe. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declares that Israel is at war.

Day 2 - Hezbollah launches cross-border shelling attacks from Lebanon into Israel's north.

Day 4 - First confirmed Israeli strikes on Gaza.

Day 6 - Israel calls on the 1-million+ residents of Gaza City to evacuate to the south, preparatory to planned ballistic strikes.

Day 7 - Australia votes 'No' to a proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament.


The Australian Indigenous Voice and the Palestinian Territories. The common thread, let me suggest, is colonialism. Yes, the C-word. The self-seeking unwelcome appropriation of land, territory, from existing inhabitants, by an uninvited foreign entity. (The Dictionary of Lance). And then to wrap it up, as Churchill observed, the winners write the history. In that week, Australians heard it in stereo, from home and abroad. And in both cases our evident sympathies favoured the incoming colonisers over the colonised indigenous. Again.


Yes, that's putting it bluntly; some might say provocatively. And that's not my usual style. But if you will, this is my lead-in drum roll for what is a very confronting piece of very modern history that violently flies in the face of the narrative most of us know. It is the one we know because it was was written by the winners. It was ever thus, in war, conquest and colonisation. And whenever an established history is assailed by an alternative telling of the story - not by the winners, a fierce contest is assured. A truth war.


Because Christians are 'truth people', ambassadors of the One who is the Truth (John 14:6), we of all people are bound to pursue truth in all things, comfortable or not, consensual or not, popular or not. These few months have been a truth journey indeed for me. For as long as I've been aware of the Israel-Palestine conflict, I've preferred to sit on the fence, this being "such a complex matter", served with a generous side of bothsidesism. It's not that it now isn't complex; I'm sure it will remain so. But these latest events have rendered fence-sitting no longer tenable, at least for me. Too many splinters.


In these months I've listened to a range of people, some I know (virtually at least), others expert historians, both Jews and Palestinians among them. The most significant, recommended by a respected friend, has been Ilan Pappe's critical book, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" (2006)


The core theme of the book is the history of the Nakbah (1948-49), it's omission from most popular histories of modern Israel, and therefore from public consciousness and analysis across the western world. Pappe, an Israeli Jew and former professor at Haifa University, provides in meticulous detail an account of events on the ground in the initial implementation phase of the State of Israel from its formal 1948 inception, as well as the 'pre-history' or foundations of the Zionist movement that led to it. 


One of the great strengths of the book is its thoroughness with primary sources. Chief among these are volumes of documents from the state archives of Israel, notable among them the diaries of David Ben-Gurion, founding leader and first Prime Minister of Israel. Also archives of military operations. The archival material documents both the plans and intentions of Israel's founders, and numerous military assaults on existing Palestinian cities and villages, on a substantial scale. The latter comprises both forced abandonment of settlements by their long-time residents (dispossession in other words; hence the book title's "Ethnic Cleansing"), and also civilian assaults and executions, of a kind to which the term "war crimes" could reasonably apply. Documentary evidence is supported often by records of interview with eye witnesses.


That's what "the Nakbah" is. And Pappe's critical point of application is that if the concerned watching world is serious about peace in that land today, the Nakbah history must be known and acknowledged. (Again, note that Pappe is an Israeli Jew). Or, in the language of both post-apartheid South Africa and Australia's Uluru Statement, there must be truth-telling. And in light of John 14:6 (see my comments above), I would submit that followers of Jesus should be among the first listeners not the last resisters.


Until recently, at least for me, 'Nakbah' was a word I'd vaguely heard somewhere sans translation, and the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began at 1967. And that tends to be the default popular version. On reflection, that I sense is why it  has made so little sense to me for so long. And it's why Pappe's title is compulsory reading, in my view. I'm very grateful to my friend who made me aware of it.


Pappe has numerous critics, some quite vehement. That is entirely unsurprising in the context of so grand a "truth war" (my term; see above) as this one. Much is at stake. I haven't studied the critics at length. What I have seen confirms my own thoughts. In a nutshell, it's down to the primary sources. These are available to all serious scholars, meaning Pappe could readily be challenged on claims of historical fact. They don't feature in the largely philosophical criticisms I've noticed.


I began the previous post with a reference to the Maccabean revolt. I'm still going to make my readers wait till part 3 for a proper explanation. (I think that's called marketing). But to drop a single crumb here ... How might my or your biography read if our homes had been occupied by a foreign entity, confining us to the chook pen in the backyard for decades? And has Israel ever been in the pen?