The Israeli historian and human rights activist Ilan Pappe came to prominence in the early 1990s, a few years after Israel declassified documents that shed new light on the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and the events leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel. With a group of scholars who came to be known as the New Historians, much of Pappe’s work has sought to recognise and revisit this historical moment – what is known as the Palestinian Catastrophe or Nakbah – and to construct a historical narrative in opposition to the prevailing view.
One of Pappe’s most important and controversial books, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), traces the beginnings of the Zionist ideology in the early twentieth century and offers a detailed account of the systematic expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. According to Pappe, this event cannot be understood as a spontaneous act of war. Rather, it was the result of a premeditated strategy that amounts to ethnic cleansing; a strategy which, Pappe argues, continues to guide Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. His many other books and articles constitute attempts to develop this argument from the inception of Zionism to the present day.
Pappe’s writings have been met with acclaim, criticism and violent denunciations. He has received death threats, been denounced by the Knesset, and was forced to leave his post at the University of Haifa, Israel, in 2008. He is currently Professor of History at the University of Exeter and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies.
While this interview took place, Israel had already begun its ground invasion of Gaza. The civilian death-toll mounted daily, and Israel consistently ignored calls for restraint. On 24 July, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to launch an international inquiry into possible Israeli war crimes, with the US opposing the decision and seventeen countries abstaining.
Pappe was, at the time of this interview, in Israel. The following was conducted between 21 and 26 July 2014 by email.