'My suffering is nothing compared to Palestinians'Written by Azman Abdul Hamid
At the coffee house of a hotel here, people were moving about oblivious to the presence of a renowned Israeli historian.
“I only arrived just hours ago, but I am impressed with what I have seen and heard so far.
“I envy all of you for the peace and harmony that you enjoy here. Hopefully, we can have this one day back home.”
Professor Ilan Pappe, 65, is a professor at the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
He was on his first visit to Malaysia. Pappe has for many years fought against the Zionist regime’s oppressive policies towards the Palestinians.
Because of his views, he has not only come under fire and criticism from fellow Jews, but has also suffered in many ways.
“As an Israeli with such a stand in support of the Palestinians and for peace as well, I have paid a heavy price. I was kicked out of the University of Haifa in 2007.
“Since then, I am unable to teach in any academic capacity in Israel, so this is why I moved partly to England because I needed an academic position.
“The effect of this is that you lose contact with your society, and in a way in their eyes (Jews), you are seen and labelled as a traitor, so it has been anything but easy.
“But I’m not the only one, as there are several of us. When I talk to colleagues or compatriots who underwent a similar journey or trajectory, there is an interesting point.
“Despite the fact that we cannot go back any more to where and what we once were, we are at total peace with ourselves, because we know we are doing the right thing and it’s much stronger than tribal affiliations.
“Despite losing some of our reference points in society, I should also make it clear that I am very strongly supported by the Palestinians which gives me a lot of strength.
“My suffering is nothing compared to what they have and are still going through,” said Pappe.
He also revealed that when more of the Jewish public began to know of his efforts in defending the human and civil rights of the Palestinians, things began to get out of hand. The safety of his family came under threat.
“The main problem were the death threats. This is the main reason why I left for England.
“Such threats started when my children were very young. But then a few years ago, the situation got better so my wife and children went back because I wanted them to know and see first-hand the struggles on both sides of the divide.
“With Israel being such an indoctrinated society, the Israeli government does not have to deal directly with people like me.
“It is society, as in the university, the neighbours from who we bore the brunt of most of the dissent and dissatisfaction. Even some of our family members and relatives shunned us.”
Being an accomplished academician, for years Pappe has been trying to change the mindset of fellow Israeli Jews towards their Palestinian neighbours through education and subtle social engagement.
“I do what I can with other people. I am not just working for the Palestinians, which is the most important thing for me.
“I am also of the opinion that I am doing a good service for my fellow Jews despite the fact that they think otherwise.”
Growing up in Israel, at the age of 18, Pappe was drafted into the Israeli Defence Force.
He saw action in the Golan Heights during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the experience was just part of what shaped his outlook and stand against Zionism.
“For me, it’s very difficult to talk about an epiphany or the big event that started or changed it all. As a soldier during the war, I never thought philosophically, all I wanted was to survive the war and get home.
“The big moment was getting out of Israel for the first time, going to study abroad in England
“While I was at Oxford University in the early 80s pursuing my tertiary education, I chose an Arab supervisor and then suddenly I began to see things from a different perspective.
“I do not think that I would be who I am today if I had stayed back in Israel and completed my education there,” stressed Pappe.
From a young age, he already had a different outlook from his peers and he was not afraid to speak up or question what he thought was incorrect or a fabrication of the truth.
“I was born and grew up in Haifa, and there is a big piazza called the Liberation Piazza. And once, during a school field trip there, I remember asking my teacher how and why did such a place get its name.
“My teacher replied that it was to commemorate liberation from the Palestinians.
“Then I retorted that the Palestinians did not occupy us and in fact it was the other way around.
“For me it should have been called the Piazza of Occupation,” he recalled.
At present, Pappe is the director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies and a fellow of the Institute of the Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter.
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and 1978 and after he received a doctorate in history from Oxford University in 1984, he taught at the University of Haifa until 2007.
During those years, he was also the chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Haifa.
Pappe is also the author of 20 books and many articles on the history of the Middle East in general and Palestine in particular.
Among his works are A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples (2003); The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007) and On Palestine (with Noam Chomsky 2014).
His most recent book is The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Israeli Occupation (2018).
Pappe delivered his lecture entitled ‘Palestine is still the issue’ at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation on Saturday, organised by the International Movement for a Just World (in cooperation with the institute)
Published in: New Straits Times, Monday 20 January 2020