Book Review: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

By Iqbal Jassat

Ilan Pappe: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. (Oneworld Publications Limited – England); ISBN 978-1-85168-567-0

The International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms [IALANA] describe “whistleblowers” as those who stir up public attention to legally or ethically dubious practices of the powerful, practices that might inflict harm on the community of citizens or the general public.

Indeed IALANA acknowledges the role of one such brave and courageous person who blew the whistle on Israel’s nuclear programme, Vanunu.

In similar vein one could also argue that Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian, academic and author of a number of books, has with his groundbreaking book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine unearthed some of Israel’s well-kept dark secrets on the real story behind the events of 1948.

Published in 2006, this devastating account of the veiled history leading up to the creation of Israel and since has succeeded in uncovering gory details based on conscientious and painstaking research. Not surprising therefore that Pappe’s timely study has been reprinted several times.

While the title appears to be controversial and deemed to be provocative by the Israeli establishment, it certainly lends itself as the most appropriate statement of a carefully planned strategy and as the blurb on the inside cover says, lies at the root of today’s ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Pappe’s fearlessness in digging for an accurate version of what the Israelis misleadingly refer to as ‘The War of Independence’ did not come without any personal pain. In a note of acknowledgement to the suffering caused to his wife and children, Pappe explains that this book is another attempt to tell them, as much as anyone else, “why our beloved country is devastated, hopeless and torn by hatred and bloodshed”.

In mapping out this vast volume of new research, the author is in direct conflict with “the tale Israeli historiography had concocted” which “spoke of a massive ‘voluntary transfer’ of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians………”

Citing the example of Benny Morris, another noted Israeli historian, in the context of the battle over memory in Palestine leading to an era in the 1980’s of the so-called ‘new history’ characterized by a revision of the Zionist narrative of the 1948 war, Pappe points out the limitation of reliance on documents from Israeli military archives.

Nonetheless, he does concede that despite a very partial picture, revisionists did succeed in showing how false and absurd the Israeli claim that Palestinians had ‘left of their own accord’ was.

Pappe’s scholarly treatise is equally compelling on two profoundly significant levels, which he refers to as manifestations of denial. The first, he says, was the denial exercised by peace brokers as they consistently sidelined, if not altogether eliminated, the Palestinian cause and concerns from any future peace arrangement. The second was the categorical refusal of the Israelis to acknowledge the Nakba and their absolute unwillingness to be held accountable, legally and morally, for the ethnic cleansing they committed in 1948.

This 300page book is divided into 12 chapters and contains a comprehensive selection of maps and tables. Since its publication, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine has become a sought-after treatise for many serious scholars, analysts and commentators on the Middle East. Its breathtaking depth of details alongside the memory of a Palestine whose villages were deliberately destroyed; whose people – around a million – were expelled from their homes at gunpoint and whose civilians were massacred; makes it an invaluable addition to the study of the Nakba, now in its 60th year.

-Iqbal Jassat is the chairman of the South Africa-based Media Review Network ( He contributed this article to

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