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Q&A with Ilan Pappé, Israeli Historian, Socialist Activist And Author



© Photo: Paula Geraghty

Q1/ You are currently launching your new title: ‘The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge’, can you briefly summarise what this title examines and tell us how you came to write this book? 

Israel is the only state in the world that is still obliged to brand itself domestically and internationally as a valid entity and which strives to convince itself and others that its narrative of how and why it was born is the only possible and truthful version of events.  This branding effort appears in the work of scholars as well as that of filmmakers. The narrative thus is presented as both a scientific truth and as a fictional plot. The book follows this branding through the efforts in the 1990s,  inside the state, to challenge its validity and morality and examines the failure of this challenge in recent years and describes its move to the outside world.

The book was written out of my ongoing interest in two themes: the history of Israel and Palestine on the one hand, and the relationship between power and knowledge on the other. The need of Israelis to prove their valid claims through scientific research as well as movie plots is a fascinating case in the history of knowledge production in the Western world. Focusing on this aspect also explains where today is the main struggle against Israel and Zionism: in the field of narration, historiography and moral debates. While Israel had the upper hand militarily and maybe diplomatically, in this area it is losing the moral ground rapidly and ominously for the Jewish State.

Q2/ How does this title differ/or build upon your other work or other books on this subject?  

I was involved directly in the challenge I describe above both in books I have written such as The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and have also written about my particular part of the struggle in Out of the Frame.  It is time now to take stock and view the process so far.

Q3/ Can you tell us a bit about the process you went through when writing this title?

I have been working for five years on this book, but the main push came when Israel began the campaign Brand Israel in 2005. Suddenly I understood what I was looking for. Only when I finished the book, I realized how topical it became when the government of Israel declared that the campaign of ‘delegitimisation’ of the state is more dangerous to Israel than the Iranian nuclear threat.

The book also became a tribute to Edward Said who wrote in 1982 that the Palestinians have a permission to narrate their own version in their liberation struggle for their rights and self-determination. The ‘permission’ had been taken and the results can be seen vividly today.

Q4/ Has the novel had the kind of response that you expected it to have? 

Too early to judge. But you can see the beginnings of reactions in my facebook pages here.

Join Ilan Pappé at The Mosaic Rooms 7pm, 26 February 2014, for the launch of ‘The Idea of Israel: A history of power and knowledge’. Find out more here.

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