The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel

  • Ilan Pappe
  • Yale University Press
  • 320 pp.
  • July 20, 2011

In a well-documented work, one of Israel’s “New Historians” challenges the standard version of the country’s national origins.

Reviewed by Nader Entessar

Ilan Pappé, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and a professor of history and director of the European Center for Palestine Studies at Britain’s University of Exeter, is one of Israel’s “New Historians” who have sought to challenge the standard version of the story of Israel’s national origins. That story holds that on the advice of Arab leaders, Palestinians willingly fled their homes and there was no systematic Israeli policy for their expulsion. Now, heavily using British and Israeli government documents released in the early 1980s, Pappé provides a new narrative that highlights how Israel’s future leaders meticulously drafted and implemented plans to expel some 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. The Forgotten Palestinians is the first work in English to present a comprehensive history of the plight of the Palestinian citizens of Israel before a Western audience.

The early Israeli settlers were unable to expel all Palestinians, and today’s Palestinian citizens of Israel — the “Forgotten Palestinians” —  continue to present a challenge to those who wish to create an exclusively Jewish state. In this meticulously researched and forcefully argued book, Pappé combines a rare gift of passionate activism for social justice with the erudition of a scholar in demonstrating how Palestinian citizens of Israel — who now constitute nearly 20 percent of the country’s population — continue to be marginalized in their own homeland and what this tells us about majority-minority relations in the Israel of today and tomorrow.

The condition of the Palestinians in Israel is by no means uniform. Under the law, they enjoy equal voting rights with the country’s Jewish citizens, and as Pappé notes, the number of Palestinians in the Israeli civil service is growing along with the number of Palestinian students and academics in the country’s educational institutions. Additionally,  individual Palestinian citizens of Israel have attained success in fields such as business, medicine and law. Invariably, professional success has led to a level of confidence and self-assertiveness among many Palestinian citizens of Israel that has hitherto been absent.  Notwithstanding this reality, Palestinian life in Israel remains highly precarious, and Pappé undertakes to dissect myriad obstacles that still make the Palestinians second-class citizens in Israel.

In recent public opinion surveys, a majority of young, high-school-age Israelis indicated they did not believe in full citizenship rights for Palestinians in Israel and didn’t object to the expulsion of Palestinian citizens from Israel. Similarly, there seems to be strong support for the transfer of the country’s Palestinian citizens to a “Bantustan” in the occupied West Bank, a policy long championed by Israeli hardliners,  including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai. Pappé describes instances of what he calls “latent apartheid” in Israel.  For example, ArCafé, a large and popular chain of coffee bars, declared in June 2006 that its stores would henceforth employ only those who served in the Israeli military. Since only Jews and members of the small Druze and Bedouin minorities are allowed to serve in the army, this hiring policy effectively prevented the Palestinian citizens of Israel from being hired by ArCafé while circumventing an Israeli law that forbids hiring practices that discriminate on the basis of race or religion.

There are numerous obstacles of both the legal and subtle variety that have prevented Israeli Palestinians from owning land and real estate in the country. As Pappé indicates, Israel’s Palestinians currently own about 2.5 percent of the country’s land. This percentage has remained relatively constant over the years even though the number of Palestinians in Israel now stands at 1.5 million. As a result of segregation in the country’s educational institutions up to the college or university level, Jewish and Israeli Arab children have limited opportunities to interact with each other, thus helping to perpetuate stereotypes and animosity between the two communities.

Palestinian Israelis also have to endure restrictions on their daily lives. For example, all Israeli citizens,  including Palestinian Arabs, must adhere to loyalty laws that require them to recognize Israel as a Jewish Zionist state and prohibit them from commemorating the Nakbah (Catastrophe Day), when Israel was established in 1948 and the Palestinians lost their land. This ban applies to both public demonstrations and school curricula and textbooks. Even Israeli Palestinians with spouses from the West Bank have been separated from their loved ones because of regulations that allow Israeli security forces to raid Palestinian homes and expel the noncitizen spouses.

This is an excellent and highly informative book about an aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has received only scant attention in the West. Pappé has relied on an impressive array of archival and interview material to write a first-class scholarly book that is also highly readable.

Nader Entessar is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of South Alabama. He is the author of several articles on the Middle East and is the author, most recently, of  Kurdish Politics in the Middle East.

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