Above: Political cartoon expressing the view of many Palestinians (3)
When initially reading the title of the book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Ilan Pappe, the title brought fourth many questions for me; the one of the utmost importance in regards to this essay is what exactly is ethnic cleansing? There are many different definitions for the term ethnic cleansing; one definition provided by the Merriam Webster online dictionary is the following:
“The expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity” (1)
The situation in Palestine is close to this definition but not a perfect fit. Palestinian’s for the majority of the Arab / Israeli Conflict have made up a majority of the population, or at the very least a slight minority. Where this definition is correct in application is everywhere else. Palestinians have faced expulsion, imprisonment, and death at the hands of the Israelis and although they are considered by most to make up the majority they are definitely not the dominant power.
The author starts off the first chapter with a quotation of what ethnic cleansing means to him. The definition he adheres to is as followed:
“It is the present writer’s view that ethnic cleansing is a well-defined policy of a particular group of persons to systematically eliminate another group from a given territory on the basis of religious, ethnic or national origin. Such a policy involves violence and is very often connected with military operations. It is to be achieved by all possible means, from discrimination to extermination, and entails violations of human rights and international humanitarian law…” (2)
Although this definition doesn’t seem that different than the definition listed in Merriam Webster dictionary I feel that it is essential for the writer to establish what he defines as ethnic cleansing so he will then be able to defend his view adequately. Defining ethnic cleansing may seem like a frivolously act by some but it is necessary for several reasons.
One of the main reasons it is relevant to list a definition of a term such as ethnic cleansing is because it reminds the reader what exactly the term entails. I will be very honest, at the beginning of the semester when I was purchasing this book for class, when I first saw the title and saw ethnic cleansing my mind didn’t go towards the Arab / Israeli Conflict. When I saw the term ethnic cleansing I initially thought Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Darfur, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Bosnia, Armenian’s under Ottoman rule ; but Palestine never really came to mind for me. I think there are several reasons for this and a logical explanation to why I never considered Israeli actions towards indigenous Palestinians as ethnic cleansing.
One of the major reasons for this point of view is ignorance; I am ashamed to admit it in all honesty but ignorance towards the entire situation in Palestine is a major reason I held the views I did towards the conflict. I am a lifelong resident of the United States and other than a recent stent in listening to the BBC online I have always been exposed to American media and by default American views on situations. The American government has been very biased in this fight since the late 1940’s. The United States government supported the Israeli government through the Cold War and despite the end of the Cold War has continued to do so. I am not saying that it is wrong that the United States and Israel should be allies; but when you are trying to negotiate a peace between two warring “nations,” isn’t it a better approach to treat both sides as equals and not to give one side a clear favor? When one is trying to get two sides to agree to something it is better for the mediator to be un-biased and in regards to the Arab / Israeli Conflict the United States is definitely biased. I was honestly unaware of the violent actions taken by the Israeli government towards the indigenous Palestinian population. I knew that Israel was guilty of being oppressive towards the Palestinians but I never understood to what extent Israel went to oppress the Palestinians. I attribute this ignorance towards the United States and its pro-Israeli bias; the media in this nation only gives one side of the story and I feel that if one wants to truly understand the issue, perspective needs to be critically analyzed and both sides of the story need to be evaluated and reported, not just one side of the issue.
Now again, to establish to my readers that I am not biased as well or even Anti-American, I am going to state that all media is biased to a certain degree and that media leans to a particular societies views of moral rights and wrongs whether they realize it or not. There are no universal moral guidelines, although some moral rules are accepted by all like views on murder, rape, theft, and other ideas; although some will argue that different societies even view what is right and wrong on these issues differently as well.
Regardless of a person’s cultural background, ethnic cleansing is commonly accepted as wrong in all modern developed societies. So how could it be that a people morally opposed to ethnic cleansing can stand idly by and watch it happen? The answer to this question I guess again falls to ignorance. I realize I speak for myself and myself only when I say this but in the past when I heard the term ethnic cleansing I thought of murder and death. If that is the view of ethnic cleansing that one hold s true to and is unaware of the 1948 Arab / Israeli War as well as other examples of Palestinian ethnic cleansing how can that person see the actions taken by Israel as ethnic cleansing? The answer is that a person does not see it as ethnic cleansing at all and this I believe is why the majority of Americans do not see any fault in Israel’s actions of the past and present.
The combination of taking a course that was focused solely on the Arab / Israeli conflict and having the author define ethnic cleansing was enough to open my eyes to what ethnic cleansing really is. I realize that this seems naive and some would view me as a “sheep” but when one is exposed to the news about the conflict that most American’s are who can fault American’s for having the views that they do?
A counter to this argument would be that we live in a inter connected online world and that access to what is really going on is now attainable for the masses so the view that Israel is completely in the right is now indefensible. I understand this point of view and I think that the growing of news on the internet has caused many American’s to change their views on the Arab / Israeli conflict. For far too long we in America have taken for granted that our media is being honest; but in today’s world where news corporations like Fox News and MSNBC are broadcasting into more and more homes and ideologues like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz are becoming more and more isolated from the center a lot of Americans are taking it upon themselves to get news for themselves and not absorb the fundamentalist dribble that is force fed to them by these cooprorate media entities. More and more Americans are tuning in, reading, and listening to news sources such as NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera to name a few. I do not feel that any of these news organizations are completely biased either but they appear to have a less motivated agenda and the only agenda for media in my opinion is to educate the masses on the truth and not feed them propaganda.
So in closing has ethnic cleansing occurred in Palestine? The answer to that question is absolutely, yes in my opinion. Is the book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” by Ilan Pappe a good read for anyone trying to understand the Arab / Israeli Conflict better? Again in my humble opinion I would say yes as well. If someone was to ask me where the best place to get news on the region is I don’t know if I could answer that. When reading books and articles on the region as well as watching or listening to news the one thing I always keep an eye and ear out for is; does the source use facts and statistics or rhetoric? Rhetoric may be inspiring but in that same regard Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot were magnificent in rhetoric and monsters in real life; do not let the rhetorical argument win the day.
1. "Ethnic - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary." Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 01 May 2011. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethnic>.
2. Pappé, Ilan. Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006. Print.
3. Lat Uff 2. "Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine by ~Latuff2 on DeviantART." Latuff2 on DeviantART. Deviant Art. Web. 01 May 2011. <http://latuff2.deviantart.com/art/Ethnic-cleansing-in-Palestine-160496766>.