Confronting intimidation, working for justice in Palestine

Demonstration in commemoration of the killing of Mustafa Tamimi, Nabi Salih, West Bank (16 December 2011).

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

If we had a wish list for 2012 as Palestinians and friends of Palestine, one of the top items ought to be our hope that we can translate the dramatic shift in recent years in world public opinion into political action against Israeli policies on the ground.

We know why this has not yet materialized: the political, intellectual and cultural elites of the West cower whenever they even contemplate acting according to their own consciences as well as the wishes of their societies.

This last year was particularly illuminating for me in that respect. I encountered that timidity at every station in the many trips I took for the cause I believe in. And these personal experiences were accentuated by the more general examples of how governments and institutions caved in under intimidation from Israel and pro-Zionist Jewish organizations.

A catalogue of complicity

Of course there were US President Barack Obama’s pandering appearances in front of AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, and his administration’s continued silence and inaction in face of Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, siege and killings in Gaza, ethnic cleansing of the Bedouins in the Naqab and new legislation discriminating against Palestinians in Israel.

The complicity continued with the shameful retreat of Judge Richard Goldstone from his rather tame report on the Gaza massacre — which began three years ago today. And then there was the decision of European governments, especially Greece, to disallow campaigns of human aid and solidarity from reaching Gaza by sea.

On the margins of all of this were prosecutions in France against activists calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and a few u-turns by some groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Europe caving in under pressure and retracting an earlier decision to cede connections with Israel.

Learning firsthand how pro-Israel intimidation works

In recent years, I have learned firsthand how intimidation of this kind works. In November 2009 the mayor of Munich was scared to death by a Zionist lobby group and cancelled my lecture there. More recently, the Austrian foreign ministry withdrew its funding for an event in which I participated, and finally it was my own university, the University of Exeter, once a haven of security in my eyes, becoming frigid when a bunch of Zionist hooligans claimed I was a fabricator and a self-hating Jew.

Every year since I moved there, Zionist organizations in the UK and the US have asked the university to investigate my work and were brushed aside. This year a similar appeal was taken, momentarily one should say, seriously. One hopes this was just a temporary lapse; but you never know with an academic institution (bravery is not one of their hallmarks).

Standing up to pressure

But there were examples of courage — local and global — as well: the student union of the University of Surrey under heavy pressure to cancel my talk did not give in and allowed the event to take place.

The Episcopal Bishops Committee on Israel/Palestine in Seattle faced the wrath of many of the city’s synagogues and the Israeli Consul General in San Francisco, Akiva Tor, for arranging an event with me in September 2011 in Seattle’s Town Hall, but bravely brushed aside this campaign of intimidation. The usual charges of “anti-Semitism” did not work there — they never do where people refuse to be intimidated.

The outgoing year was also the one in which Turkey imposed military and diplomatic sanctions on Israel in response to the latter’s refusal to take responsibility for the attack on the Mavi Marmara. Turkey’s action was in marked contrast to the European and international habit of sufficing with toothless statements at best, and never imposing a real price on Israel for its actions.

Do not cave in to intimidation

I do not wish to underestimate the task ahead of us. Only recently did we learn how much money is channeled to this machinery of intimidation whose sole purpose is to silence criticism on Israel. Last year, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — leading pro-Israel lobby groups — allocated $6 million to be spent over three years to fight BDS campaigns and smear the Palestine solidarity movement. This is not the only such initiative under way.

But are these forces as powerful as they seem to be in the eyes of very respectable institutions such as universities, community centers, churches, media outlets and, of course, politicians?

What you learn is that once you cower, you become prey to continued and relentless bashing until you sing the Israeli national anthem. If once you do not cave in, you discover that as time goes by, the ability of Zionist lobbies of intimidation around the world to affect you gradually diminishes.

Reducing the influence of the United States

Undoubtedly the centers of power that fuel this culture of intimidation lie to a great extent in the United States, which brings me to the second item on my 2012 wish list: an end to the American dominance in the affairs of Israelis and Palestinians. I know this influence cannot be easily curbed.

But the issue of timidity and intimidation belong to an American sphere of activity where things can, and should be, different. There will be no peace process or even Pax Americana in Palestine if the Palestinians, under whatever leadership, would agree to allow Washington to play such a central role. It is not as if US policy-makers can threaten the Palestinians that without their involvement there will be no peace process.

In fact history has proved that there was no peace process — in the sense of a genuine movement toward the restoration of Palestinian rights — precisely because of American involvement. Outside mediation may be necessary for the cause of reconciliation in Palestine. But does it have to be American?

If elite politics are needed — along with other forces and movements — to facilitate a change on the ground, such a role should come from other places in the world and not just from the United States.

One would hope that the recent rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah — and the new attempt to base the issue of Palestinian representation on a wider and more just basis — will lead to a clear Palestinian position that would expose the fallacy that peace can only be achieved with the Americans as its brokers.

Dwarfing the US role will disarm American Zionist bodies and those who emulate them in Europe and Israel of their power of intimidation.

Letting the other America play a role

This will also enable the other America, that of the civil society, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the progressive campuses, the courageous churches, African-Americans marginalized by mainstream politics, Native Americans and millions of other decent Americans who never fell captive to elite propaganda about Israel and Palestine, to take a far more central role in “American involvement” in Palestine.

That would benefit America as much as it will benefit justice and peace in Palestine. But this long road to redeeming all of us who want to see justice begins by asking academics, journalists and politicians in the West to show a modicum of steadfastness and courage in the face of those who want to intimidate us. Their bark is far fiercer than their bite.

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.




The anguished cries of the tormented Palestinians are beginning to be heard over the spurious cries of Anti-Semitism from the Zionist lobby. Civil society is doing more for peace in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict than the political elites and the BDS movement is playing a major part in this. I share your hopes for the coming year as the Palestinians have suffered for far too long.


The world is waking up to the fact that the US is a major obstacle to meaningful negotiations for peace in Palestine. Also with the increasing use of social media sites by progressive groups, more people are becoming increasingly aware about Palestine and the zionist propaganda machine and its influence in the mass media.


Now that the Israel Lobby is in large part comprised of Evangelical Christians, which constitute most of the Southern United States, it seems likely that the U.S. role will increase.


Certainly, educating the great American public is one of our major tasks here in the USA, where the mainstream media, fearful of the Israel lobby, has so distorted the facts.
BDS flashmobs are a fun way of educating the public about Israeli land -grabbing of Palestinian land, as well as showing, "we are not afraid of you."
Brides Boycott Ahava and SodaStream You Tube shows one small example. See

Distributing booklets for people to read is another. "Is Israel an Apartheid state?" is a good one.


Alison Weir's website "If Americans Knew" is facts and figures on Israel-Palestine well explained. the bias in the US MSM (and the British and Frenc) means that most of the populations are misinformed.


Recent news releases from Israel share new exploration for uranium is taking place near Arad as a result of findings confirmed during geological surveys at the Dead Sea. Seems like there is a more practical reason than "security" for the Bedouins to be settled. Thanks Ilan for mentoring how to be "steadfast".


to let wisdom prevail, for the sake of academic freedom, of the wellknown reputation of this University. I only do wish the University staff standfulness and sagesse against any kind of unethical smashing by sionist freedom-haters. If the leaders of Exeter University would not withstand outside pressure, the University will be damaged, much more than you ever could, Professor Pappe. Which academic institution of value would not aknowledge the quality of your research!

The year 2012 will be the year of opposing Israeli Apartheid. Your research, Pr. Pappe, has given historiens and the world the keys. Thank you!

I wish you - and the University of Exeter! - all the best for the upcoming New Year!


I much appreciate your piece about fortitude in the face of adversity. I ignore your unfortunate comment about the report which my colleagues and I were responsible for writing.
What now perplexes is that Palestinian HR entities seem also to be distancing themselves especially if one proposes discussion on such issues as: Gaza offshore gas-fields ( and the exploration of same by or on behalf of the State of Israel); the liklihood of the "Falluja effect" as toxicities from weapons begin to manifest themselves; the loss through draining, desertification, sewage-saturation; of arable land. Not to mention the extension of the so-called buffer zone by 1,000 m. in some critical areas. I could go on...... Desmond


It happened before, and it will happen again: whenever the reality of the Zionist project gets exposed by sectors of civilized society (irrespective of how slow or disjointed this process may be), intimidation, harassment and discrimination are surely to follow usually funded and led by the Israeli Ministry of mis-Information and its Jewish/Neo-Christian lobby groups in the West. This is good news for respected campaigners and historians like Ilan Pappe because it shows that their message is getting through. The more effective the message, the more intimidation the messenger will receive. But we must not dispair, nor should we forget that the Israeli project itself is rotten at its core because it is based on theft, Apartheid policies and the total disregard for international law. No world power, colonial society or even a great empire has been able to sustain such a system for too long. They normally implode or self-destruct. Intimidation will seem, then, like a slap on the wrist. No problem.


Thanks, Ilan, for your uplifting words. We know that the Zionist hoodlums leave no stone unturned to smear your name. I admire you for your fortitude and I admire all the friends of Palestine, who refuse to give in to Zionist intimidation and stay right on course in the struggle for justice for Palestine.
Above all I salute the people of Palestine. It remains admirably steadfast in the face of brutal unrelenting zionist pressure. Who cannot but be impressed by so much 'sumud'!?
I am confident that in 2012 international support for the BDS campaign will continue to grow stronger and that the campaign will reach a new level of sophistication. Best wishes to all!
Ben Alofs
Family physician
North Wales


Thank you for being what you are Illan. You are a brave man. Keep strong and keep working. Justice will one day prevail


Thanks Ilan Pappe. It is an uphill battle to bring facts to the mesmerised public. I have just read in the site www.redress cc about the NYC/Cornell/ Israeli Technion huge science project with lots of words on "human rights". So much kudoss is given to Israel for things that should be considered shameful (drones, surveillance equipment, lethal weapons, nukes) and somehow "helping humanity" is allowed to be quoted!


Thank you Ilan for helping to give a voice to the Palestinians.
But it is also up to us to keep writing to our MPS and to keep writing to the media whenever we see instances of bias and misinformation. Together we can make a noise.