Why Israel wants to erase context and history in the war on Gaza

The dehistoricisation of what is happening helps Israel pursue genocidal policies in Gaza.

By Ilan Pappe

Nakba 1948 people fleeing
Palestinians carry their possessions, as they flee from there homes in Al-Jalil in 1948 [File: Reuters]

On October 24, a statement by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres caused a sharp reaction by Israel. While addressing the UN Security Council, the UN chief said that while he condemned in the strongest terms the massacre committed by Hamas on October 7, he wished to remind the world that it did not take place in a vacuum. He explained that one cannot dissociate 56 years of occupation from our engagement with the tragedy that unfolded on that day.

The Israeli government was quick to condemn the statement. Israeli officials demanded Guterres’s resignation, claiming that he supported Hamas and justified the massacre it carried out. The Israeli media also jumped on the bandwagon, asserting among other things that the UN chief “has demonstrated a stunning degree of moral bankruptcy”.

This reaction suggests that a new type of allegation of anti-Semitism may now be on the table. Until October 7, Israel had pushed for the definition of anti-Semitism to be expanded to include criticism of the Israeli state and questioning the moral basis of Zionism. Now, contextualising and historicising what is going on could also trigger an accusation of anti-Semitism.

The dehistoricisation of these events aids Israel and governments in the West in pursuing policies they shunned in the past due to either ethical, tactical, or strategic considerations.

Thus, the October 7 attack is used by Israel as a pretext to pursue genocidal policies in the Gaza Strip. It is also a pretext for the United States to try and reassert its presence in the Middle East. And it is a pretext for some European countries to violate and limit democratic freedoms in the name of a new “war on terror”.

But there are several historical contexts for what is going on now in Israel-Palestine that cannot be ignored. The wider historical context goes back to the mid-19th century, when evangelical Christianity in the West turned the idea of the “return of the Jews” into a religious millennial imperative and advocated the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine as part of the steps that would lead to the resurrection of the dead, the return of the Messiah, and the end of time.

Theology became policy toward the end of the 19th century and in the years leading up to World War I for two reasons.

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First, it worked in the interest of those in Britian wishing to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and incorporate parts of it into the British Empire. Second, it resonated with those within the British aristocracy, both Jews and Christians, who became enchanted with the idea of Zionism as a panacea for the problem of anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe, which had produced an unwelcome wave of Jewish immigration to Britain.

When these two interests fused, they propelled the British government to issue the famous – or infamous – Balfour Declaration in 1917.

Jewish thinkers and activists who redefined Judaism as nationalism hoped this definition would protect Jewish communities from existential danger in Europe by homing in on Palestine as the desired space for “rebirth of the Jewish nation”.

In the process, the cultural and intellectual Zionist project transformed into a settler colonial one – which aimed at Judaising historical Palestine, disregarding the fact that it was inhabited by an Indigenous population.

In turn, the Palestinian society, quite pastoral at that time and in its early stage of modernisation and construction of a national identity, produced its own anti-colonial movement. Its first significant action against the Zionist colonisation project came with al-Buraq Uprising of 1929, and it has not ceased since then.

Another historical context relevant to the present crisis is the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine that included the forceful expulsion of Palestinians into the Gaza Strip from villages on whose ruins some of the Israeli settlements attacked on October 7 were built. These uprooted Palestinians were part of the 750,000 Palestinians who lost their homes and became refugees.

This ethnic cleansing was noted by the world but not condemned. As a result, Israel continued to resort to ethnic cleansing as part of its effort to ensure that it had complete control over historical Palestine with as few of the native Palestinians remaining as possible. This included the expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians during and in the aftermath of the 1967 war, and the expulsion of more than 600,000 from the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip ever since.

There is also the context of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Over the past 50 years, the occupational forces have inflicted persistent collective punishment on the Palestinians in these territories, exposing them to constant harassment by Israeli settlers and security forces and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of them.

Since the election of the present fundamentalist messianic Israeli government in November 2022, all these harsh policies reached unprecedented levels. The number of Palestinians killed, wounded and arrested in the occupied West Bank skyrocketed. On top of that, Israeli government policies towards Christian and Muslim holy places in Jerusalem became even more aggressive.

Finally, there is also the historical context of the 16-year-long siege on Gaza, where almost half of the population are children. In 2018, the UN was already warning that the Gaza Strip would become a place unfit for humans by 2020.

It is important to remember that the siege was imposed in response to democratic elections won by Hamas after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the territory. Even more important is to go back to the 1990s, when the Gaza Strip was encircled by barbed wire and disconnected from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords.

The isolation of Gaza, the fence around it, and the increased Judaisation of the West Bank were a clear indication that Oslo in the eyes of the Israelis meant an occupation by other means, not a path to genuine peace.

Israel controlled the exit and entry points to the Gaza ghetto, monitoring even the kind of food that entered – at times limiting it to a certain calorie count. Hamas reacted to this debilitating siege by launching rockets on civilian areas in Israel.

The Israeli government claimed these attacks were motivated by the movement’s ideological wish to kill Jews – a new form of Nazim – disregarding the context of both the Nakba and the inhuman and barbaric siege imposed on two million people and the oppression of their compatriots in other parts of historical Palestine.

Hamas, in many ways, was the only Palestinian group that promised to avenge or respond to these policies. The way it decided to respond, however, may bring its own demise, at least in the Gaza Strip, and may also provide a pretext for further oppression of the Palestinian people.

The savageness of its attack cannot be justified in any way, but that does not mean it cannot be explained and contextualised. As horrific as it was, the bad news is that it is not a game-changing event, despite the huge human cost on both sides. What does this mean for the future?

Israel will remain a state established by a settler-colonial movement, which will continue to influence its political DNA and determine its ideological nature. This means that despite its self-framing as the only democracy in the Middle East, it will remain a democracy only for its Jewish citizens.

The internal struggle inside Israel between what one can call the state of Judea – the settlers’ state wishing Israel to be more theocratic and racist – and the state of Israel – wishing to keep the status quo – that preoccupied Israel until October 7 will erupt again. In fact, there are already signs of its return.

Israel will continue to be an apartheid state – as declared by a number of human rights organisations – however the situation in Gaza unfolds. The Palestinians will not disappear and will continue their struggle for liberation, with many civil societies siding with them and their governments backing Israel and providing it with an exceptional immunity.

The way out remains the same: a change of regime in Israel that brings equal rights for everyone from the river to the sea and allows for the return of Palestinian refugees. Otherwise, the cycle of bloodshed will not end.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Information Clearing House.





12 responses to “Why Israel wants to erase context and history in the war on Gaza”

  1. scrdmgl Avatar

    If there is an entity that truly deserves that fate is the Zionist Entity, the sooner the better.
    Delenda est Israel. (Cato the elder)

  2. Gene Avatar

    “The Palestinians have unwittingly sacrificed themselves for the purposes of enlightening the entire planetary civilization to the profound evil and satanic nature of the Zionist State of Israel,” wrote the Armchair Prophet. A profound statement. Gaza is Christ, and Israel is Israel. But Gaza is also Amalek, Palestine. Amalek was Christ from the beginning, but we didn’t see it, because we were told that Christ was Yahweh’s son, and one with him. Now we can begin to see our tragic mistake. This is our wake up call. Let us face the truth about Yahweh (Jews God) and the chosen people he created in his image (or the other way around). According to Aljazeera, atleast 13500, including 5000 children have been massacred by Israel in it current Genocide in Gaza. The Jews have turned Gaza into a graveyard for children.

    1. Prometheus Avatar

      Not ‘the Jews’…
      ..rather a z€a£oU$ imperial mercenary war-cult Zionist faction, which Ilan traces to 19th century Christian evangelicals (actually it goes back further, to 16th century Reformation Puritan British Israelism, which in turn was a throwback to Roman Catholic fundamentalist Crusades and feudal warlord colonisation, preceded in turn by the pre-Christian Roman occupation).
      Herzl mobilised this Jewish faction and a Jewish wealthy faction in the City of £ondon imperial counting-house read the tealeaves, as oil replaced coal for ye olde wave-ruling navy (Churchill being at that he£m) and Suez was the juglar for extraction, not least from India.

      Also, the traumatised refugees from Hitler’s predations (he was funded and armed by the same gent£emen to have another try at carving Russia up, as had been attempted in the 1850s Crimea under Pa£merston, who mapped the five-way split, just as they carved Africa in 1884 in Berlin) were then funnelled in to garisson what has become Fort Zion in the Wild East for the U$ sheriff and his Nato po$$€.

      Note Biden’s plaintive pleas for a pause…even as he sends carrier groups and ups the funding, nudge nudge.

      It ain’t them dastardly Jews (who are waking from the hasbara-indoctrination nightmare in increasing numbers and returning to their diaspora humanism, basically what your ‘christ’ figure was preaching to an apparently receptive public before he was terminated for his heresy) but ye $€£f-sanctified KKKri$tian Zionists.

  3. gcw919 Avatar


  4. gcw919 Avatar

    The suppression of the Palestinian people becomes all the more egregious because it is funded by American taxpayers, and allowed by an administration utterly lacking in humanity. The “indispensable nation”, indeed.

  5. Mike Avatar

    “The Israeli media also jumped on the bandwagon, asserting among other things that the UN chief “has demonstrated a stunning degree of moral bankruptcy”. Look who is talking about moral bankruptcy!!!!!! They lie and believe their lies. Can’t understand how Hamas was able to cross the most fortified barrier in the world on Oct 7 and it took more than 3 hours for the IDF to wake up and go on killing everyone on its way to create the condition for the massacre of Gaza, just as the US Airfare was sleeping for more than two hours while hijacked civilian airplanes were freely maneuvering in the skies of the USA on Sept 11. Do you see a similarity here???

  6. DBanfield. Avatar

    The Hamas invasion was planned by Netanyahu the only reason they got through.This gave the Israelis the excuse to invade Gaza eliminating Palestinians to the final status of stealing the oil and gas reserves.

    1. Woopy Avatar

      In reality it was a false flag setup.

  7. Gene Avatar

    I agree with most of Pappe critique. However, if you analyze carefully you will find out that the Israeli Nazis are targeting Palestinian children with the aim of exterminating the Palestinians as people. At least 13700, including more than 5000 children have been massacred by the Jewish Nazis in the current Genocide in Gaza. The UN Secretary Gutteres said: Israeli Jews have turned “Gaza into a graveyard for children”. Norman Finkelstein analysis is accurate. Israel is worse than Nazi Germany and South Africa under Apartheid.

  8. W. Poe White Avatar
    W. Poe White

    The Zionists want to erase context and actual history with respect to the Palestinians for the same reason they erase context and actual history with regard to what happened during WWII. The atrocity propaganda that has been drummed into our heads since the 1960s or 1970s onward (though, significantly, NOT during the war or from 1945 – c.1965) consists of half-truths, gross exaggerations, omissions and outright fabrications – all presented without context and historical background.

    In particular, there is neither physical nor documentary evidence for a campaign of industrial mass murder in gas chambers. Nor is there hard evidence that anywhere close to 6 million Jewish civilians murdered by whatever means.

    The vast majority of deliberate killings of Jewish civilians by the Germans and their allies occurred in German-occupied Soviet territory during a terrible total war in which the Soviets were utterly ruthless and mass murderous – as they had been since the 1917 revolution. There was an ongoing serious Soviet partisan warfare against the German occupation troops. Jews supported the Soviet partisans and many Jews were themselves partisans. The killings of Jewish civilians have to understood in this context. Jews were executed for supporting the Soviet partisans, suspicion of supporting the partisans or in reprisal for partisan attacks. They were not being killed simply for being Jewish. Nor is there any evidence that there was a campaign to exterminate all Jews in Europe. This outrageous claim is a textbook example of the BIG LIE.

    These killings of Jewish civilians might well be deemed atrocities but the Soviets were equally, or rather, more brutal. Nor were the UK and US more restrained. The UK and US carried out a mass murderous campaign of area bombing which deliberately targeted civilian populations. This mass homicidal bombing is itself a major atrocity – as was the bombing of Japan by the US. After the war officially ended in Europe something like 1 million German prisoners died in Eisenhower’s Rhine Meadows open air death camps. At least 2 million German civilians died in Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of Germans from the East.

    Yes, context matters very much indeed!

    Freedom of speech and freedom to conduct objective scholarly research into what really happened in German controlled territory 1939-1945 needs to be restored. The Big Lie of the Holocaust needs to be exposed to the genuine objective research and critique to break the grip of Zionist Jewish supremacism over the West and end the Zionist establishment’s perpetual wars for perpetual shalom.

  9. Billy Corr Avatar
    Billy Corr

    Human shields and sacrifices. See the cartoon:


  10. philosophyofgoodnews Avatar

    It is the result of pursuing the “chosen” philosophy with destruction, including self-destruction. How does all this end is the question.