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Benny Morris changes his mind (again)


In the last episode of the exciting saga of Benny Morris, he was for expelling the Arabs from Israel. At least that is what we all understood. Those who specialize in demonizing Israel had a field day with Morris's comments in his recent interview in Ha'aretz newspaper. However, we cannot blame them, because that is what virtually everyone understood him to say.

Morris did hedge his remarks. If one reads very carefully through that interview, very very carefully, one can find that he doesn't advocate expulsion right now. But if "one" is an an extremist looking for justifications for expelling the Arabs, or for material to smear Israel, then "one" doesn't read carefully, one chooses exactly those parts of Morris's message that suit one's own message. There were lots of "ones" who did not read carefully. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that exactly the same thing happened with regard to Morris's historical writings. Everyone thought that Morris was condemning the actions of the Zionists. It turns out that according to him, Ben-Gurion did the right thing in 1948.

Morris now insists that, today at least (or for this weekend) he is not in favor of expelling Palestinians. Presumably, he is still sticking to his guns about his version of what happened in 1948. He still insists that transfer occurred then as a matter of policy and that it was a good thing, and that transfer is a part of the Zionist ethos.

Morris also, apparently, stands by his insistence in the interview that the expulsion of Arabs was part of a deliberate plan that Zionist leaders, including Ben-Gurion, had in mind in 1947, before the war began. I submit that there was no such plan, and that there is no real evidence for such a plan, and that Morris has fabricated a case. I will repeat what I have stated previously. There was expulsion, and it was deliberate, and it increased in frequency beginning especially in July of 1948, and it culminated in an order not to allow refugees to return. However, expulsion of Arabs was not part of Zionist ideology and was not planned on a mass scale or contemplated in 1947.

After due consideration, it is possible that Morris will retract these charges too, and claim that he was misunderstood. Indeed, in his book, Birth of the Palestininian Refugee Problem, 1948 and again in Righteous Victims, Morris makes the case that there was a plan, and then says there was no plan, and contradicts himself again and again, so that the reader can pick and choose which statements and summaries to accept. Poor Benny, he is so misunderstood!

But what he says in the Ha'aretz interview is clear enough:

Of course. Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist.

Not only does he insist that Ben-Gurion believed in transfer. The wording implies that Morris believes in it.

What sort of evidence does Morris offer that the expulsion was deliberate? He makes a great issue out of order to "clean the area." In one sense, it is true that "lenakot" means "clean" in Hebrew. But Morris claims that "lenakot et hashetach" refers to ethnic cleansing. This is a classic example of substituting a literal translation for actual meaning. "Panim" means "face" in Hebrew, and "Al" means "on." But "Al Hapanim" doesn't mean "On the face." It is an expression that means that a situation is catastrophic. Lenakot et Hashetach means "to clear the area," but Morris doesn't explain this. That is the way it is used in the army and that is the way it is used in Hebrew subtitles of foreign films. Could it possibly be that Morris doesn't know this? This is the interview question and his reply:

The term 'to cleanse' is terrible.

[Morris:]"I know it doesn't sound nice but that's the term they used at the time. I adopted it from all the 1948 documents in which I am immersed."

The documents are in Hebrew, and therefore they do not use the English word "clean," but rather the Hebrew word, "lenakot." In the Hebrew version of the interview, the difference is not apparent of course. But Morris's books are in English, and he has probably made a historic mistranslation, though it is common in semi-broken English of some Israelis. The key is in the words added as an afterthought by Morris
It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on."

Replace "cleanse" by "clear."

The intention then, was to clear the area of enemy combatants. In the Jerusalem corridor, the villages had long since been taken over by Arab irregulars, and the inhabitants had fled. This is not ethnic cleansing of innocent civilians based on their group membership.

Morris also, apparently, stands by his implication in the interview that Ben Gurion or someone in the Zionist executive somehow ordered all the massacres, even Deir Yassin.

"The worst cases were Saliha (70-80 killed), Deir Yassin (100-110), Lod (250), Dawayima (hundreds) and perhaps Abu Shusha (70).

"That can't be chance. It's a pattern."

The massacre at Deir Yassin was committed by Irgun and Lehi troops, and not by any forces under the command of Ben-Gurion or the Zionist executive. Nobody in Israel believes that the Zionist Executive knew there would be a massacre in Deir Yassin, or that even the Irgun leaders thought there would be a massacre. It is not clear that Ben Gurion knew in advance that there would be an attack at Deir Yassin. In fact, the massacre at Deir Yassin disproves Morris's thesis that "expulsion was in the air" prior to the war, and that soldiers were quietly encouraged to do it. The Zionist Executive publicly apologized to King Abdullah of Jordan and disowned the actions of the Irgun and Lehi. The condemnation of the attack on Deir Yassin was unequivocal, and every Haganah and Palmach soldier used Deir Yassin as an example of what not to do and how not to act for many years after.

So it looks like Morris is trying to fabricate a case that the Zionist leadership planned the expulsion of the Palestinians and committed "ethnic cleansing."

But Morris at least does tell us, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn't support expulsion now. At least not today. This is what Morris says now, in a recantation published in Ha'aretz January 23:

I do not support the expulsion of Arabs from the territories or from the State of Israel! Such an expulsion would be immoral, and is also unrealistic.

Really, Professor Morris? Was he misquoted in his interview? According to that interview, heclaimed that transfer was committed in 1948 as a matter of policy, that transfer and expulsion in 1948 were right and that Ben Gurion should have "finished the job" in 1948 and expelled all the Arabs from Palestine. Here is Morris, in his own words:

Point #1 - Benny Morris thinks the expulsions of 1948 were necessary and approves of them:

This is what hesaid:

I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands."
There was no choice but to expel that population.

Point #2 - Benny Morris thinks the Arabs should all have been expelled in 1948:

...But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country - the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion - rather than a partial one -he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."

If Morris believes the Arabs should have been expelled in 1948, then it is hard to understand why he thinks they shouldn't be expelled now, but indeed he does not believe so, as he stated in the interview:

"If you are asking me whether I support the transfer and expulsion of the Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza and perhaps even from Galilee and the Triangle, I say not at this moment. I am not willing to be a partner to that act. In the present circumstances it is neither moral nor realistic. The world would not allow it, the Arab world would not allow it, it would destroy the Jewish society from within.

In the present circumstances it is not moral, but in 1948 it would have been moral according to Benny Morris. Perhaps. Nonetheless, it seems that few writers have made more publicity for themselves, or done more damage, by deliberate obscurantism, obfuscation and self-contradiction than Benny Morris. A writer who is always misunderstood is not doing his job. A writer who cannot get the message across clearly most of the time is not a good writer. Instead of being acclaimed and awarded accolades, a writer who cannot make his point understood should get some lessons in remedial writing.

Ami Isseroff

Right of Reply / I do not support expulsion

By Benny Morris

A few days after the publication of the interview with me ("Survival of the fittest," Haaretz
Magazine, January 9), an angry Israeli-Arab student came to my office at Ben-Gurion University. He
suggested that the Holocaust never happened (he cited what he called "an important and
world-renowned Egyptian historian"), and claimed that the Twin Towers in New York were destroyed at
the order of the CIA or the Mossad, and that Israeli soldiers and pilots in the territories are
deliberately targeting and murdering innocent civilians. I mention this so that we all understand
the kind of world we in the Middle East are living in.

The war being waged against us since September 2000 is three-dimensional: On one level, which
is the one highlighted by Palestinian spokespersons, a struggle is being waged for liberation from
Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; on the second level, the Palestinians -
according to spokesmen for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah militants - are waging a war to eradicate
the Zionist state and to restore their "rights" over all of Palestine; on the third level, the
Palestinians' struggle is part of the global struggle being waged by jihadist Islam against the
"Western Satan," with Israel being a vulnerable extension of Western culture in our region.

For jihadist Islam, Israel represents the embodiment of all the values it abhors - democracy
and freedom, openness, tolerance and pluralism, individualism and secularism, criticality (including
the value of expressing self-criticism, which is absent from their culture), women's rights,
liberalism and progress, sexual freedom - while the proponents of jihad aspire to return to the days
in which the sword of Islam ruled from India to the Atlantic Ocean and minorities quaked under its
shadow. These jihadists - and the societies that support them and dispatch them - who rejoice in the
streets whenever a building is brought crashing down upon hundreds or thousands of occupants or a
bus is reduced to a smoldering hulk, deserve the name "barbarians." It's unfortunate that many in
the West and in the extreme Israeli left prefer to ignore the second and third dimensions and to
view the Palestinian struggle solely through the prism of the first dimension, resistance to

A central accusation in the letters to Haaretz Magazine ("The judgment of history," January
16) concerned the issue of "ethnic cleansing." I will repeat my words, which apparently did not
register (perhaps because of the misleading title on the cover): I do not support the expulsion of
Arabs from the territories or from the State of Israel! Such an expulsion would be immoral, and is
also unrealistic. What I said was, that if in the future, these communities were to launch massive
violence against the State of Israel in combination with a broad assault on Israel by its neighbors,
and endanger its survival, expulsions would certainly be in the cards. As for Israeli Arabs, my
comments may be seen to represent a minatory road sign pointing in two possible directions: They
could, as a whole, choose the path of loyalty to the Jewish state and integration within it as equal
citizens, and thus enjoy quiet, prosperous lives; or they could choose the path of disloyalty to the
state and of active and violent support for those who seek its demise. The latter path - with which
many Israeli Arabs identified in October 2000 and with which many in its leadership seem to identify
today, in one convoluted way or another - will help lead to either the destruction of the Jewish
state or to their being uprooted.

A general comment on the matter of ethnic cleansing: I am aware that "ethnic cleansing" is not
politically correct and is morally problematic. But, what can we do - the history of the 20th
century is replete with instances of ethnic cleansing that occurred under catastrophic circumstances
and were ultimately beneficial for humanity, including for the expulsees themselves. Was not the
expulsion of the Sudeten Germans (after World War II) - who contributed to the destruction of the
Czechoslovak Republic - justified? And didn't it contribute, in the end, to their happiness, and
certainly to the happiness of the Czech people? In the final analysis, didn't the ethnic cleansing
perpetrated by the Turks against their Greek minority and by the Greeks against their Turkish
minority after World War I contribute to the welfare and happiness of the two peoples, and to the
peace that has prevailed between the two nations ever since?

One more thing: Among the biggest religio-ethnic cleansers in human history, in the distant
past and in our time, has been the Arab Islamic nation. Mohammed and his men cleansed the Arabian
Peninsula of its Jewish tribes, in part through the mass slaughter of the men and the enslavement
and forced conversion of the young women. (According to the Koran, in one day, Mohammed's men
massacred 800-900 men of the Bani Qureiza tribe - a larger number than all the Arab victims of
Jewish massacres through the whole of the 1948 war.) In the ensuing centuries, the Muslim empires
and the Arab states, with the help of the pogrom and the law, uprooted from their midst or forcibly
converted most of their Christian communities and ethnically cleansed themselves of their Jewish
communities. Has a single word of criticism about any of this history ever been voiced by MK
Mohammed Barakeh and Dr. Haggai Ram and their friends? (And, by the way, every Jewish community that was conquered by the Arab armies in the course of the 1948 war, including the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, was ethnically cleansed and every site was completely leveled.)

In the modern age, no one has been more racist and more intolerant of "the other" - Kurd, Jew,
Sudanese Christian and animist, Maronite Christian, etc. - than the Arab states. The constitution of
Jordan, one of the more moderate Islamic Arab states, even includes a clause prohibiting Jews from
being Jordanian citizens. The Arabs' attempt to annihilate the Jewish Yishuv [pre-state community in
Palestine] in 1948 compelled Israel to uproot them from the Jewish territory.

Mr. Barakeh: Enough of your hypocrisy. Only one side in the conflict in our region is under
the threat of annihilation and that's the Jewish side, and you know it. So it was in 1948 (see, for
example, the declaration by Azzam Pasha, Secretary of the Arab League, on the eve of the Pan-Arab
invasion of Palestine, about how the anticipated slaughter of the Jews would rival the carnage
wreaked by the Mongols during their 13th-century invasion of the Middle East), and so it could also
be in the future. The deep hatred among the Arabs of Palestine and the proximate Muslim world for
the Zionist enterprise constitutes an infrastructure for such a future genocide. There is no such
hatred for anyone among the Jews or in me.

In our region, the side that has been engaging for generations now in the systematic
dehumanization of the adversary is the Palestinian side against the Jews - see the Hamas charter and
the official political manifests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who represent at least half of the
Palestinians in the territories, which routinely refer to the Jews, in accordance with Islamic
tradition, as "sons of monkeys and pigs," "killers of prophets" and as a "lowly people." Yes, I will
stick to the definition "savage beasts" to describe suicide bombers who are prepared to massacre
dozens or even thousands of civilians in buses and skyscrapers in cities in Israel and the West.

In 1988, I regarded the Palestinian rebellion ("the first intifada") as a legitimate struggle
for liberation from occupation. And I believe that most of the Palestinian stone-throwers then saw
their struggle that way. This is why I felt it was right to refuse to serve in the territories, and
to sit in prison. (Incidentally, I do not recall seeing the names of my morally enlightened
colleagues from Ben-Gurion University appearing on the list of refuseniks then, just as I did not
come across them during my service in the Paratroop brigades.)

In 2000, the Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat, began a war that combined the three
dimensions I've mentioned and whose ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel (or, "flying the
flag of Palestine over the walls of Jerusalem," as Arafat coyly puts it) - just as Saladin destroyed
the Crusader Kingdom. In Arafat's eyes, we are the "new Crusaders." This is the main reason why
Arafat, in the name of the Palestinian people and without argument on the part of his colleagues,
rejected the Barak-Clinton peace proposals of December 2000, which included Israeli withdrawal from
about 95 percent of the West Bank and from 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, the evacuation of most of
the settlements, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. He
rejected the proposals because he and his people want the entire country (their intransigence over
the "right of return" is not a tactical matter).

And in so doing, Arafat remained consistent with the rejectionist heritage of his people, who
in 1937 rejected the compromise proposed by the Peel Commission; in 1947-48, rejected the compromise
proposed by the UN (the Partition Proposal); and in 1978, rejected the Egyptian-Israeli compromise
(the Camp David Accords, in which the Palestinians were offered autonomy, which would in time have
evolved into a Palestinian state).

Unfortunately, the destruction of Israel and the right of return of the refugees have become a
key component of Palestinian identity, and as long as this component does not vanish, there is no
possibility of an historic compromise. And without a compromise that is based on two states, in the
end, only one state will remain here - either a Jewish one without a large Arab minority, or an Arab
one with a Jewish minority that will continuously dwindle until it disappears, just as the Jewish
communities disappeared from the Islamic world in the last century (after all, what Jew in his right
mind would want to live as a minority in an Islamic state headed by the terrorist from the Muqata'a
and the wheelchair-bound fanatic from Gaza?).

As for the near future, Israel must get out of most of the West Bank and from Gaza and East
Jerusalem, with or without an agreement, and a fence will separate the two peoples (and if the
Palestinians see it as prison, they are the ones responsible for its construction). As long as the
Arabs' intentions toward us are murderous, there is no option but to complete the fence, but not
along the planned route. The Israeli government is using a just enterprise to make unjust gains.

The compression of the seven hours of my interview with Ari Shavit into two pages did not do
me justice, at least in terms of the tone. From a whole range of statements on different issues, the
harshest ones were chosen, sometimes without nuances or qualifications. I admit, I slipped here and
there - I do not support and did not support the extermination of the Indians, and I regret the use
of the word "cage."

One last thing. I find it odd that the editors of Haaretz Magazine chose to accompany an
article dealing with the tragedy of two peoples with photographs of a smiling Benny Morris. Contrary
to the implication, I do not rejoice over bloodletting and expulsion. I also do not understand why
the English edition of the magazine chose to entitle the interview, "Survival of the fittest." I did
not use that expression and I abhor it.

In any event, I will be the first to rejoice if my judgments and predictions are proved wrong.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000167.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 7 comments

Benny Morris do't changes his mind
Benny Morris make a nice changes for his new book...... GEYZI

Posted by Geyzi Shavit @ 01/23/2004 02:56 PM CST

The Zionist movement ought to look carefully at its East European roots. I say this as an East European myself. It would surprise the rightous Jews that left East Europe, fed up with their pewrsecution, only to do to Palestinians what was done onto them. The history of the Balkans and the Arab-Israeli conflict suffers some dire pathologic parallels, products of stress, fear and frustration brought on by insecurity. A perpetual war culture takes over, forcing all inot inescapable behavioral and thinking grooves about the "other." One only wonders if the right-Zionists are not a peculiar dialectic between certain Hitlerian and Stalinists traits.

This in no way deminishes my support for Zionism and admiration for Israel as "a light" onto its neighbors. But on the dark side, it reminds us all of the evil capacity of all humans under stress. Note how a liberal of the Western Jewish tradition as Morris finds himself speaking like what some call a "Zionazi." He has abrogated his liberal stand, conceeding that he has no alternative to the Sharonista solution of hate, rage and violence in the name of expansive security. This does not make him evil, it only draws attention to the fact that man-- even as historian-- often fails to learn from history and the victim thus finds himself perpetrator in the same generation. I can only hope that introspection guided by the best of the rich Jewish tradition of rightousness will replace confabulatory self-defense. For it is not by fooling others but by informing one's self that you make your life a source of satisfaction.

Benny Morris' honestty is a great service to his fellow men. We should engage him in dialog with respect and admiration. what he said does not make him a criminal. On the contrary, it makes him heroic for his honesty. If more people on both sides were like him, the problems of the region would not seem so intractable.

Now we must all work with what he gave us and look into our own souls. There lies our humanity and our frailty. It is only when collaborative that we together beat the devils within us.

Posted by Daniel E. Teodoru @ 01/24/2004 01:49 AM CST

Wow! This is confusing. Benny Morris says:

"I do not support the expulsion of
Arabs from the territories or from the State of Israel! Such an expulsion would be immoral, and is
also unrealistic."

But then later on in his rebuttal he says:

"...only one state will remain here - either a Jewish one without a large Arab minority, or an Arab
one with a Jewish minority that will continuously dwindle until it disappears..."

Now, how do you achieve the one Jewish state result mentioned in the second paragraph without performing the actions of the first? Maybe all the Arab Muslims will convert to Judaism? Highly unlikely. So, since Mr. Morris says that it is Israel's inevitable fate to either expel the Arabs or disappear, and we all know that states do not normally and willingly go down the path of their own destruction, how does Israel expel the Arabs but not support that because it is immoral and impractical?

I am also confused because Mr. Morris offers example after example of situations that resuled in massive people relocations and states that many of them ended up as "good things".

So, should Israel seek a solution that includes the expulsion of all the Arabs?

A two-state solution is not likely to work since the Palestine being currently envisioned has no economic underpinnings that can make it be successful. If the policial borders are drawn (whether along the 1967 lines or not), what kind of country will it be? What will it live on? The land is not particularly agriculturally productive, the Arab population has not proven itself capable of becoming a large intellectual resource for the world. And, if Arafat is to be believed then there are somewhere between 5 and 15 million "Palestinians" who cannot wait to return to their "own" land. So, what will all these people do to live on?

The payments from Iraq to terrorist families have stopped and perhaps soon so will the payments from Saudi Arabia. Since that represented a large economic influx into the area, what will the people live on?

Posted by Goombah @ 01/25/2004 10:32 PM CST

I've been told that the English version of the original Hebrew text of the interview has been considerably shortened and poorly translated. Is it true, and is it possible that some of the contradictions result from this?

Posted by Miranda @ 01/26/2004 04:51 AM CST

Comments on Comments:
To Miranda:
You can go through yards and yards of Benny Morris, and there would be the same contradictions. Look at the contradictions in this article, in the interview, in his book. On one page he says that the Arabs were expelled. On the next, that they were not expelled, that they left because of a variety of factors. There were written orders, there were no written orders. And here he says he is not for transfer but he also says it is the only solution.

To Goombah -
RE Morris -see above. There is no use trying to figure out what he means.

TO Geyzi -
I think you are right if you mean that he is trying to get publicity. Perhaps it is not conscious - just a subconcious adatptive behavior that takes into account that the best way to sell books is to get publicity and the best way to do that is to take controversial stands, and then when people are tired of those, reverse yourself.

Ami Isseroff

RE What people will live on - not much. Contributions from EU and USA. Unfortunately they have not developed much infrastructure, and a lot of the industry was dependent on markets in Israel, which don't exist any more. There is widespread unemployment and poverty since the Intifada.

Posted by Moderator @ 01/26/2004 11:44 PM CST

The most despicable statement made by Benny Morris is that Israelis used rape as a means of expelling Palestinians.Among all the things that make me proud of Israel, is the fact that Israeli soldiers have not engaged in rape in all their victories. Almost all other wars in the history of the world have led to rape of the defeated female population.

Posted by Lou Billinkoff @ 01/29/2004 08:39 PM CST

I guess I just interpret Benny Morris differently. I think people tend to read too much into his argument. He's basically saying this: if a group of people have the intention of annihilating you, it is not wrong to expel them, even though it may ultimately be an injustice. And all he's saying now is that the day may come where Israel finds itself in a situation where it will not be wrong to expel the rest of the Palestinians. Benny Morris is not necessarily wrong; he's just really irresponsible. And it's not because antisemites and anti-Zionists are going to use his comments for negative purposes, it's because right-wingers will claim that it's all right to expel the Palestinians before. Morris would, of course, argue that it's not time.

But I don't think we should ignore him, because deep down, there are a lot of people who feel the same way, including (and perhaps especially) peaceniks. I think during Oslo a certain naivete exists amongst us Zionists that we would never do something as immoral as expel the Palestinians from the West Bank. Every day the Intifada continues and suicide bombings persist, it becomes more and more possible that we might actually consider doing something like expulsion, and I think that scares the crap out of a lot of us.

Posted by Michael Brenner @ 02/08/2004 12:41 PM CST

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