Book Review #11

The ongoing statelessness of Palestinians is at the heart of one of the most important debates in history: the debate on the circumstances which gave birth to the Palestinian refugee problem. I developed a passion for this debate at the start of this year during my Conflict and Security in the Middle East and North Africa classes. There are so many arguments, counter-arguments, and complex evidence to analyse that it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture. On Palestine is a compelling book that helped me better understand the Arab-Israeli conflict, both in terms of historical debates and future perspectives. It is a mix of interviews, essays, and dialogues between Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé, two Jewish reknown professors and Historians. They discuss potential “solutions” to the conflict, including the widely debated two-state vs one state approach. The “two-state solution” would result in an independent Israel and Palestine, each running their countries differently. The “one-state approach” seeks to merge Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank into one country. Each approach comes with certain consequences, both positive and negative, which the two authors skillfully explore.

Beyond conflict-resolution, Chomsky and Pappé also discuss the history of the conflict, shedding light on the works of Israeli revisionists: a historiographical current that emerged in the 1980s to challenge the traditional Israeli narrative which states that the Arabs left on orders of their own leaders, thus denying responsibility for the exodus. I was quite surprised to learn that there is a large body of researchers who have specialized in comparing the situation in Palestine and Israel with the time of the apartheid in South Africa. According to the authors; one fundamental difference between the two is that the black population in South Africa represented the primary source of labour, while in Palestine, Israel does not “need” the Palestinian population. Obviously, this has massive implications in terms of domestic policies, and unfortunately, humanitarian tragedies. 

What I’ve enjoyed most while reading this book is that both authors have very different views and experiences stemming from their intellectual/Activist background. Ilan Pappé is an Israeli scholar who grew up in Haifa, and who openly denounces the traditional Israeli narrative about the conflict which he has been taught from the earliest years of his childhood. While Chomsky also railed against Israel, as a US Foreign Policy critic, he also emphasized the role of the United States in perpetuating the conflict. Both authors examined in their discussion important concepts to grasp the situation in Palestine including but not limited to settler colonialism, Zionism, and nationalism. It is definitely a book that challenges the way you think and makes you consider diverse perspectives, all the while making it easier to understand a complex yet ever-so timely conflict. 

Here are two quote that will stay with me:

“How, then, does one become an activist?

The easy answer would be to say that we do not become activists; we simply forget that we are. We are all born with compassion, generosity, and love for others inside us. We are all moved by injustice and discrimination. We are all, inside, concerned human beings. We all want to give more than to receive. We all want to live in a world where solidarity and companionship are more important values than individualism and selfishness. We all want to share beautiful things; experience joy, laughter, love; and experiment, together.”

“The last paradox is that the tale of Palestine from the beginning until today is a simple story of colonialism and dispossession, yet the world treats it as a multifaceted and complex story—hard to understand and even harder to solve.”

― Noam Chomsky, On Palestine

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