When Israeli denial of Palestinian existence becomes genocidal

Close-up, profile portrait of Israeli president

Sixty-five years on, Israeli President Shimon Peres still denies the existence of the indigenous population of Palestine.

World Economic Forum Flickr

In a regal interview he gave the Israeli press on the eve of the state’s ” Independence Day,” Shimon Peres, the current president of Israel, said the following:

“I remember how it all began. The whole state of Israel is a millimeter of the whole Middle East. A statistical error, barren and disappointing land, swamps in the north, desert in the south, two lakes, one dead and an overrated river. No natural resource apart from malaria. There was nothing here. And we now have the best agriculture in the world? This is a miracle: a land built by people” (Maariv, 14 April 2013).

This fabricated narrative, voiced by Israel’s number one citizen and spokesman, highlights how much the historical narrative is part of the present reality. This presidential impunity sums up the reality on the eve of the 65th commemoration of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine. The disturbing fact of life, 65 years on, is not that the figurative head of the so-called Jewish state, and for that matter almost everyone in the newly-elected government and parliament, subscribe to such views. The worrying and challenging reality is the global immunity given to such impunity.

Peres’ denial of the native Palestinians and his reselling in 2013 of the landless people mythology exposes the cognitive dissonance in which he lives: he denies the existence of approximately twelve million people living in and near to the country to which they belong. History shows that the human consequences are horrific and catastrophic when powerful people, heading powerful outfits such as a modern state, denied the existence of a people who are very much present.

This denial was there at the beginning of Zionism and led to the ethnic cleansing in 1948. And it is there today, which may lead to similar disasters in the future — unless stopped immediately.

Cognitive dissonance

The perpetrators of the 1948 ethnic cleansing were the Zionist settlers who came to Palestine, like Polish-born Shimon Peres, before the Second World War. They denied the existence of the native people they encountered, who lived there for hundreds of years, if not more. The Zionists did not possess the power at the time to settle the cognitive dissonance they experienced: their conviction that the land was people-less despite the presence of so many native people there.

They almost solved the dissonance when they expelled as many Palestinians as they could in 1948 — and were left with only a small minority of Palestinians within the Jewish state.

But the Zionist greed for territory and ideological conviction that much more of Palestine was needed in order to have a viable Jewish state led to constant contemplations and eventually operations to enlarge the state.

With the creation of “Greater Israel” following the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the dissonance returned. The solution however could not easily be resolved this time by the force of ethnic cleansing. The number of Palestinians was larger, their assertiveness and liberation movement were forcefully present on the ground, and even the most cynical and traditionally pro-Israel actors on the international scene recognized their existence.

The dissonance was resolved in a different way. The land without people was any part of the greater Israel the state wished to Judaize in the pre-1967 boundaries or annex from the territories occupied in 1967. The land with people was in the Gaza Strip and some enclaves in the West Bank as well as inside Israel. The land without people is destined to expand incrementally in the future, causing the number of people to shrink as a direct consequence of this encroachment.

Incremental ethnic cleansing

This incremental ethnic cleansing is hard to notice unless one contextualizes it as a historical process. The noble attempt by the more conscientious individuals and groups in the West and inside Israel to focus on the here and now — when it comes to Israeli policies — is doomed to be weakened by the contemporary contextualization, not the historical one.

Comparing Palestine to other places was always a problem. But with the murderous reality in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, it becomes an even more serious challenge. The last closure, the last political arrest, the last assault, the last murder of a youth are horrific crimes, but pale in comparison to nearby or far-away killing fields and areas of colossal atrocities.

Criminal narrative

The comparison is very different when it is viewed historically and it is in this context that we should realize the criminality of Peres’ narrative which is as horrific as the occupation — and potentially far worse. For the president of Israel, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, there were never Palestinians before he initiated in 1993 the Oslo process — and when he did, they were only the ones living a small part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In his discourse, he already eliminated most of the Palestinians. If you did not exist when Peres came to Palestine, you definitely do not exist when he is the president in 2013. This elimination is the point where ethnic cleansing becomes genocidal. When you are eliminated from the history book and the discourse of the top politicians, there is always a danger that the next attempt would be your physical elimination.

It happened before. The early Zionists, including the current president, talked about the transfer of the Palestinians long before they actually disposed them in 1948. These visions of a de-Arabized Palestine appeared in every Zionist diary, journal and inner conversation since the beginning of the 20th century. If one talks about nothingness in a place where there is plenty it can be willful ignorance. But if one talks about nothingness as a vision or undeniable reality, it is only a matter of power and opportunity before the vision becomes reality.

Denial continues

Peres’ interview on the eve of the 65th commemoration of the Nakba is chilling not because it condones any violent act against the Palestinians, but because the Palestinians have entirely disappeared from his self-congratulatory admiration for the Zionist achievement in Palestine. It is bewildering to learn that the early Zionists denied the existence of Palestinians in 1882 when they arrived; it is even more shocking to find out that they deny their existence — beyond sporadic ghettoized communities — in 2013.

In the past, the denial preceded the crime — a crime that only partially succeeded but for which the perpetrators were never brought to justice. This is probably why the denial continues. But this time, it is not the existence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians which is at stake, but that of almost six million who live inside historic Palestine and another five and half million living outside Palestine.

One would think only a madman can ignore millions and millions of people, many of them under his military or apartheid rule while he actively and ruthlessly disallows the return of the rest to their homeland. But when the madman receives the best weapons from the US, Nobel Peace Prizes from Oslo and preferential treatment from the European Union, one wonders how seriously we should take the Western references to the leaders of Iran and North Korea as dangerous and lunatic?

Lunacy is associated these days, it seems, to possession of nuclear arms in non-Western hands. Well, even on that score, the local madman in the Middle East passes the test. Who knows, maybe in 2014 it would not be the Israeli cognitive dissonance that would be solved, but the Western one: how to reconcile a universal position of human and civil rights with the favored position Israel in general and Shimon Peres in particular receives in the West?

The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.




Over the years, from December 1947 until this day, incremental ethnic cleansing in Palestine, aside from the horrific group ethnic cleansing in 1947-1949, has amounted to a war crime under any international law. If you murder 1400 people in one stroke or several thousands over a period of several years - and still get away with it, then you are to be held accountable for war crimes all the same. One may think that incremental killings in historic Palestine may go unnoticed, but we should never expect the mother, the father, the sister and the brother of those thus mudered, to feel the same.


It is just not true that Palestine was a 'barren' land before the Zionists came. During the Ottoman period Palestine exported soap, sugar, barley, oranges, and cotton throughout the empire. The latter part of the 19th century saw a large increase in citrus production, especially the Jaffa orange, with growing exports, including to Europe. During the Mandatory period the Zionist incomers became involved, introducing innovative European irrigation techniques. The Jaffa orange industry is a good example of what can be achieved by Arabs and Jews working in partnership. [Source: Wikipedia page 'Jaffa Orange'.]


I wish people would not talk about the 'pre-1967 borders', by which they mean the 1949 Armistice Line. The legal borders of Israel are those it declared on 14th May 1948, and on which it was recognized by other states, namely those specified in the UN Partition Plan of 1947. In 1949 Israel wanted the Armistice Line to become its border, but this was firmly rejected by the UN. Calling the Armistice Line a border serves the Zionist cause, because it disguises the illegal action of Israel in applying Israeli civil law in the territories, outside the Partition Plan lines, that it captured in the 1948-49 war. This incorporated them de facto into the Israeli State, in total defiance of the Laws of War and of Chapter XI of the UN Charter, which applies to States that are in the position of administering territory belonging to a non-self-governing people.


My friend Sa'ed Abu Hijleh would be proud!


Without diverting from the core argument of professor Pappe's magnificent piece, it is to be said that, in our view, even the borders created by UNRES 181 are illegal and should not have been forced down the throat of a nation mandated by an Empire which sold Palestine down the drain.


181 was a General Assembly resolution that recommended the division of Palestine into an Arab State and a Jewish State. It said that either the Jewish side or the Arab side could declare independence according to the Plan. The Zionist leaders declared the establishment of the State of Israel, with borders as specified in the Plan, and it was recognized by the United States within a few minutes. It was Israel that implemented the plan, and it became a legally constituted independent sovereign state from the moment of its recognition.

Of course, all its activities OUTSIDE those declared borders have been illegal in international law.


Thank you Professor Pappe for your dogged exposure of Zionist myths. Can't be a coincidence that the US, Canada and Australia who give diplomatic impunity to Israel's ethnic cleansing, have appalling histories of ethnic cleansing their own indigenous peoples who live today under thinly veiled apartheid policies.


¿Se puede invadir un país, sin dominar el territorio? ¿Se puede invadir un país para dominarlo y apoderarse de él, sin cometer un genocidio, ya sea lento o rápido? ¿Se puede hacer un genocidio sin crueldad, sin violencia ni guerra? ¿Por qué se invade un país, generando odio, maldad, brutalidad, violencia, si eso no tiene futuro? Pues el mundo los odiará por sus barbaridades que se cometen como en todos los genocidios. Aunque callen por no perder la influencia de un lugar estratégico para hacer de tapón y de policía de la zona, inestable y fronteriza con países y culturas consideradas enemigas.
Dicho todo esto, la realidad es que hay un país que se quiere apoderar de otro, y ya tiene una gran parte de él colonizado, con sus estructuras, carreteras, servicios, poblados, etc. ¿Se les puede echar de allí –ya sean mil, dos mil, un millón-? Seguramente no sería posible que se fueran sin echarlos a la fuerza, con violencia.
Lo que sí que es factible, es que se sometan a la ley del país que quieren arrebatar totalmente. Y para ello, sin el apoyo internacional, de los países que dominan el mundo, a su interés y manera, para contener y obligar al país violento, genocida, invasor, nada se puede hacer. Los invasores, una vez ya han empezado a invadir, y se han instalado, no suelen renunciar a ese trozo de tierra que ya consideran suyo. Por lo que ha de haber una presión, que los obligue, que los despierte a la realidad, de su crueldad, de su maldad genocida, invasora. Que les haga ver lo descabellado, lo enloquecedor, que es el pretender invadir un país, a la fuerza, cometiendo un genocidio, con su horror y holocausto.


Can you invade a country, without dominating the territory? Can you invade a country to dominate and grab it without committing a genocide, whether slow or fast? Can you make a genocide without cruelty, without violence and war? Why invade a country, generating hatred, malice, brutality, violence, if that has no future? For the world will hate you its current atrocities like all genocides. Although keep silent by the influence of a strategic place to plug and police in the area, unstable and bordering countries and cultures considered enemies.
All that said, the reality is that there is a country that wants to take over the other, and you have a lot of it colonized, with its structures, roads, services, towns, etc.. Can they drive out-whether a thousand, two thousand, a million-? Surely it would be possible to leave without throwing them in the force, violence.
What I do is feasible, is to submit to the law of the country that want to take away completely. And for that, without international support, countries that dominate the world, to their interest and thus to contain and force the violent country, genocide, invader, nothing can be done. The invaders once have begun to invade, and installed, are not giving up that piece of land and call their own. So there must be a pressure, which obliges them, to wake them up to reality, his cruelty, his malice genocidal invasion. That will make them see the folly, the maddening, which is trying to invade a country, by force, committing genocide, with its horror and holocaust.


Sounds a bit like australia.

Terra Nullius

In 1770 Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay, home of the Eora people, and claimed possession of the East Coast of Australia for Britain under the doctrine of 'terra nullius'

According to the international law of Europe in the late 18th century, there were only three ways that Britain could take possession of another country:

• If the country was uninhabited, Britain could claim and settle that country. In this case, it could claim ownership of the land.

• If the country was already inhabited, Britain could ask for permission from the indigenous people to use some of their land. In this case, Britain could purchase land for its own use but it could not steal the land of the indigenous people.

• If the country was inhabited, Britain could take over the country by invasion and conquest- in other words, defeat that country in war. However, even after winning a war, Britain would have to respect the rights of indigenous people.

Strangely Britain did not follow any of these rules in Australia. Since there were already people living in Australia, Britain could not take possession by "settling" this country. However from the time of Captain Cook's arrival the British Government acted as if Australia were uninhabited. So, instead of admitting that it was invading land that belonged to Aboriginal people, Britain acted as it were settling an empty land. This is what is meant by the myth of terra nullius.

" The illegal occupation of Australia was a premeditated act of genocide to wipe out Indigenous life and remains the longest running undeclared ongoing genocidal war. With no Treaties or evidence of consent to colonise traditional lands, Indigenous Australia never ceded sovereignty and is under no jurisdiction of the Crown or backward British colonial law."

Both citings from here,


How can a whole society with its leaders continue to lie about its short history for decades and act in such a criminal way when the whole world lay bare the reality of Israel's history and its barabric actions? There is insanity in the air of that state. One adds the nuclear heads hidden in the Negev desert and the threat to our humanity become a horrible reality. A big reverence to the brave Professor Ilan Pappe working tireless to enlighten our misled humanity.