The new book Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians will surely attract the attention of Palestine solidarity activists because of the implied promise of a collaboration between its prominent co-authors, Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé, and because of its highly topical focus on Gaza. Unfortunately, readers will likely be disappointed.
The title is misleading, probably intended to capitalize on outrage over Israel’s cruel siege and brutal attacks on Gaza, as well as its deadly raid on the Freedom Flotilla earlier this year. However, only two of the eight chapters of Gaza in Crisis are specifically devoted to Gaza. The slim, 200-page volume is actually a collection of disparate essays written by either Pappé or Chomsky; the only evidence of interaction between the two is in the introduction and Chapter 6, “The Ghettoization of Palestine.” Both were written as an interview with the two authors by Frank Barat, a London-based activist. However, even in these chapters, Chomsky and Pappé merely share their independent opinions, leaving readers hungering for an actual give and take.
Similarly, both newcomers to the issue and veteran activists will likely be left dissatisfied by the book’s lack of a clear target audience. Gaza in Crisis assumes too much knowledge for the novice and is a bit redundant for those who are well-read. One highlight, however, is Chapter 2: “Clusters of History: US Involvement in the Palestine Question.” In this chapter, Pappé analyzes the US-Israel relationship and instead of pointing only at the powerful Israel lobby, he includes factors such as the emergence of Christian Zionism, the decline of influence of “Arabists” in the State Department, US geopolitical interests in the region and the institutionalization of the never-ending “peace process.”
Whereas readers’ understanding of the motivations of US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians will be broadened by Pappé’s essay, activists will be left confounded by Chomsky’s conclusions regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Chomsky claims the time is not yet “ripe” and thus BDS simply won’t be effective. In the case of South Africa, he says, there was widespread condemnation of apartheid even in the mainstream media and among corporations. In the case of Israel, however, Chomsky warns that the “preparatory educational and organizing work has scarcely been done.” Yet he fails to acknowledge both the potential of BDS to educate and build that momentum — especially considering its successes over the past year. Papée, however, sees BDS as “the only nonviolent strategy open for Palestinians at this stage.”
Readers may be similarly confused by the mixed messages delivered by the two scholars on the “one-state solution,” seen as the alternative to the moribund two-state proposal. Pappé and Chomsky join the increasingly mainstream consensus deriding the notion that a truly viable, independent Palestinian state is actually possible. “The ‘facts on the ground,’” writes Pappé, “have rendered a two-state solution impossible a long time ago.” He adds that “There was never and will never be Israeli consent to a Palestinian state apart from a stateless state within two Bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel controls indirectly through proxies such as a collaborationist Palestinian Authority.”
However, the two scholars do not see a one-state solution on the horizon. Chomsky warns that a one-state solution will “arise only on the US model: with extermination or expulsion of the indigenous population.” Pappé concurs, concluding that the growing lack of faith in the viability of two states is not likely to produce a dramatic change of orientation or policy among the political power brokers. Readers are left feeling confused and demotivated by the seemingly hopeless conundrum: the possibility of two states has been extinguished by facts on the ground, but Israel won’t agree to one, democratic state.
Instead, Chomsky advocates a binational state, with two fairly distinct societies living side by side, governed by autonomous systems. However, no reasoning is offered as to why Israelis — if the decision is going to be left up to them — would accept this alternative. After all, it would still require Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in equality.
In contrast, Pappé advocates a “back-door” approach to lobbying for one country. The movement should focus its energies on “unmasking the paradigm of parity” — the common belief that the wrongs that must be redressed began in 1967 rather than 1948. In other words, once the discussion is changed from an exclusive focus on the occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, to the expulsion from historic Palestine in 1948, the concept of one state will become a natural progression.
Meanwhile, to help lay the groundwork for a one-state movement that is “potent, popular and political,” says Pappé, several projects should be taken on: a survey of attitudes toward the idea; a campaign to educate key stakeholders on the option; work teams to begin proposing a possible constitution, educational system, etc.; guidelines for an economic system; and citizenship laws.
Neither Chomsky nor Pappé are optimistic about what the administration of US President Barack Obama can accomplish. Chomsky writes in the final chapter that “there should be little difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not closed tight by rigid doctrine dismiss Obama’s yearning for human rights and democracy as a joke in bad taste.” Rather, it will be up to civil society to force change from below. As Pappé adds, “The lesson to activists is stark and simple — the future lies in their hands, including the fate of Palestine.”
For readers who want a compendium of some of Chomsky’s and Pappé’s most trenchant observations on the conflict, including the Israeli raid on the Freedom Flotilla, this is their book. Although their observations on possible avenues to justice such as BDS and the one-state solution are not always in line with where the activist community is moving, Chomsky and Pappé always challenge and test. Rather, what is lacking is a combination of their two perspectives into a more coherent map of the present and blueprint for the future.
Pam Bailey is a peace activist and communications professional from Maryland who recently received a Community Human Rights Award from the UN Association of the National Capitol Area. She can be contacted at peacenut57 A T yahoo D O T com.