Ilan Pappe has been a professor of history at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom since 2007. Prior to that, he taught for 23 years at Haifa University in Israel. Pappe, a Jew, has established a reputation as a passionate critic of Israel. Both in the classroom and in his writings, he has long accused Israel of committing “crimes against humanity.” He has lectured widely on this theme at the invitation of such organizations as the Middle East Studies Association, the Muslim Students Association, and the Muslim Student Union.
Pappe was born in Israel in 1954, to German Jews who had fled Nazi tyranny prior to the start of World War II and then relocated in Palestine before the 1948 formation of the Israeli state. At 18, he served in the Israeli army and was stationed in the Golan Heights during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1978, and in 1984 he earned a Ph.D. from Oxford University. In 1996 he ran in the Knesset elections on the Communist Party-led Hadash ticket. From 1993 to 2000, he served as the Academic Director of the Research Institute for Peace at Givat Haviva, and he chaired the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies.
A committed Marxist, Pappe says that he was transformed from a “typical” Jew to a vehement critic of Zionism when he studied history in the 1980s. “I re-examined the events of 1948, which changed my perceptions and I realized how the Israeli state was formed at the expense of the Palestinians,” he declares. “I don’t subscribe to the view that a community which has a claim to a land that goes back thousands of years had the right to occupy it by dispossessing indigenous communities.”
Pappe is a prominent member of the New Historians, a group of Israeli academics who claim -- contrary to what most historians heretofore have believed -- that the Palestinians in 1948 did not flee their homes of their own free will, but rather that they were chased out or expelled by the Israeli army. The New Historians deny that the balance of power in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war favored the Arabs, claiming instead that Israel had the advantage in terms of both manpower and weaponry. The New Historians further deny that the five Arab armies that invaded Israel on the day of its creation had a coordinated plan to destroy the infant state, maintaining instead that the Arabs were divided on that issue. And the New Historians blame Israeli rather than Arab intransigence for having derailed any possibility of peace in the region.
Pappe came under fire from fellow academics in 2000, when he publicly supported a thesis by Haifa University peace activist Theodore Katz which claimed that Israel had committed a massacre in the Palestinian village of Tantura during the 1948 war. No record of the incident had ever previously been noted by either Israeli or Palestinian historians. In December 2000, Katz was sued for libel by members of the Alexandroni Brigade, an Israel Defense Forces contingent that had fought in the war, and he eventually retracted his allegations regarding the massacre. Pappe, however, continues to defend the claim.
In May 2002, a special disciplinary court was convened to try Pappe and have him fired from Haifa University for teaching from an exclusively pro-Palestinian perspective. “My intent to teach a course on the Nakbah next year and my support for boycott on Israel has led the university to the conclusion that I can only be stopped by expulsion,” said Pappe. (In Arabic, Nakbah means “catastrophe” and is a term used by the Palestinian Authority and terrorist groups generally to describe the creation of Israel in 1948.) Because of an uproar from Pappe’s supporters, his trial was suspended and he was retained as a member of the Haifa faculty.
During a 2002 radio debate with Israeli scholar David Meir-Levi, Pappe let slip out a revealing admission: "I care less about veracity because I have an agenda to advance."
In his 2003 book A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Pappe writes: “This book is written by one who admits compassion for the colonized not the colonizer; who sympathizes with the occupied not the occupiers.... Mine is a subjective approach...”
Pappe has openly expressed support for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas “in its resistance against the Israeli occupation.” “The advance of Hamas,” Pappe says, has been due not to any hateful or genocidal impulse inherent in radical Islam, but rather to Palestinian “disappointment with the political regimes and their Western supporters,” and to the “sense of defeat” that had resulted from “the failure to liberate Palestine by the more secular forces.”
In 2006 Pappe published The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, wherein he writes: “It’s very clear to me that the case of the expulsion of the Palestinians [by Zionists] in 1948 is a classical example of ethnic cleansing. I’m not just using it [the term] as an adjective to create sensation.”
In 2008 Pappe added that he had observed a "creeping ethnic cleansing taking place in the last eight years in the Greater Jerusalem area and alongside the apartheid wall," a reference to the security fence that Israel was constructing in the West Bank to prevent future acts of Palestinian terrorism. "I'm also worried that if the Israelis feel that the Palestinian minority within Israel threatens their democratic majority, they would not hesitate to exercise ethnic cleansing in this case as well."
At a May 14, 2008 Muslim Student Union event at UC Irvine, Pappe likened the relationship that exists between Israel and the Palestinians to the that which exists between a rapist and a violated woman:
"A rapist and a raped woman are not engaged in conflict.… Let's call a spade a spade. If it's occupation, it's occupation. If it's expulsion, it's expulsion. There is nothing that protects the Israelis better than the concept of a conflict. The fact that the crime is not even acknowledged either by Israel or by the West is sometimes worse than the crime itself."
Strongly opposing U.S. aid to Israel, Pappe claims that the American “policy of supporting Israel and seeking friendship with the Arabs cannot go hand-in-hand.”
In 2007 Pappe relocated to the United Kingdom with his family, claiming that he had found it increasingly difficult to live in Israel where his views were “unwelcome.” In actuality, Aharon Ben-Ze’ev, the president of Pappe’s longtime employer, Haifa University, had called for Pappe to resign, stating that “it is fitting for someone who calls for a boycott of his university to apply the boycott himself.”
Pappe occasionally writes for the website Electronic Intifada.