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A Shared History, a Different Conclusion

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 11, 2007

HAIFA, Israel -- Ilan Pappe, one of the revisionist scholars known in Israel as the "new historians," began his career in some of the same wartime archives as Benny Morris. But his own ideological journey has taken him to the far shore of Israel's political gulf and nearly complete isolation.

The two disagree not on the facts about Israel's founding that they helped uncover but on what lessons they hold nearly six decades later. Morris maintains the rise of radical Islam is largely responsible for the region's strife; Pappe is virtually alone among Jewish Israelis in blaming the Zionist project to create a Jewish state in the Arab Middle East for the lack of peace.

"Zionism is far more dangerous to the safety of the Middle East than Islam," Pappe says.

The 52-year-old historian is a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa, which overlooks the thriving port where Pappe's parents arrived from Germany seven decades ago. Many of the relatives who stayed behind perished in the Holocaust. Pappe's family was apolitical. He served in the Golan Heights during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

What Pappe calls his "journey to the margins and beyond" began at Oxford University, where under the guidance of the renowned Arab historian Albert Hourani he wrote a doctoral thesis that became his first book, "Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict." He mixed with Palestinian intellectuals when the Palestine Liberation Organization was outlawed in Israel.

"My research debunked all of the lessons about Israel's creation that I had been raised on," Pappe says.

In his view, Israeli professors were not criticizing Israel's occupation of Palestinian land with the same stridency in academic conferences abroad as they did in the op-ed pages back home. He increasingly believed that land included all of Israel, not just the territories Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East War.

In 1996, Pappe joined Hadash, the mostly Arab anti-Zionist communist party and ran unsuccessfully for parliament. His work two years later organizing campus events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "the catastrophe," as Palestinians call the 1948-49 war, placed him at odds with the university's politically powerful Land of Israel Studies department.

The university president began calling for his resignation.

"The debate that year prepared the way for the big battle -- the second intifada," Pappe says. "I looked around and I was alone."

Relatives stopped speaking to him over his rejection of the Jewish state in the dedication of his 2003 book, "A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples." He dedicated it to his sons: "may they live not only in a modern Palestine but in a peaceful one."

"When I was struggling against public denial of what occurred in 1948, I was still hopeful," Pappe says. "But the fact that denial has disappeared is even more worrying. It means that my outlook and theirs is unbridgeable. This is a basic problem of morality and ethics now."

Israel's war with the radical Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah last summer convinced Pappe of something he suspected for years: His views are irrelevant inside Israel.

Both Kiryat Tivon, the upper-middle class enclave in the Galilee where he lives, and his university were within Hezbollah rocket range. But he said his neighbors, most of them dovish professionals, "sent their sons to fight and fled for the south," never questioning the government's decision to go to war following the capture of two soldiers.

"That strengthened my conviction that I have very little to do here anymore," said Pappe, whose most recent book is titled "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine."

He has accepted a post at the University of Exeter in England and will move there later this year.

"It will be an attempt to see if one can live outside this place," Pappe says.

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