The historian, Prof. Benny Morris of Ben Gurion University, is a kind of born-again Dr. Strangelove. In an interview with Ari Shavit (Ha-artez ), one is hard put to decide which of the two parts of the interview is the more hair-raising. In the first part Morris provides us with new evidence from the Israel Army Archives relating to events of the nakba or calamity which overtook the Palestinian Arabs in 1948. In the second part, he appears to justify a possible second nakba “should it be necessary,” in order to save the State of Israel and Zionism.
In answer to Shavit’s question about new evidence from the first nakba and the number of Israeli massacres that took place in 1948, Morris answers: “Twenty-four. In some cases we’re talking about the execution or 4 or 5 people, in others about 70-80 or 100. […] The most serious cases were Salicha (70-80 dead), Dir Yassin (100-110). Lud (250), Dowima (hundreds)… in Tantura there is no iron-clad proof of a large massacre but war-crimes were committed there, in Jaffa there was a massacre about which no one yet seems to know anything…there were systemized executions of people against a wall or near a well.”
A number of rapes also took place. “In Akko four soldiers raped a girl and then murdered her and her father. In Jaffa members of the Kiryati Brigade raped one girl and tried to rape others. In Honiun in the Galilee two girls were raped and murdered. There are one or two cases of rape in Tantura. In Kfar Abu Shosha near Gezer four women were held prisoner and one was raped a number of times… most of the time more than one soldier was involved. For the most, there were one or two Palestinian girls and most of the cases ended in murder. Because of the fact that neither the victims nor the perpetrators of rape like reporting these events, one can assume that the dozen or so cases of reported rape that I found are only part of the story. We are talking only about the tip of the iceberg.”
Even before Morris could be asked if these were “exceptional occurrences” – an apologetic form of expression used by Israelis to cover up iniquitous acts, Morris declared: “These weren’t incidental acts. There was a pattern to it. It seems that the officers who took part in the operation understood that the orders they received allowed them to do what they did in order to encourage the population to get moving. The fact of the matter is that no one was ever punished for these murders.” When asked if the orders came from above, he answered: “Yes. The commander of the northern front, General Moshe Carmel, issued an order in writing to his units to speed up the expulsion of the Arab population. Carmel did this immediately after Ben-Gurion turned up at the Northern Command in Nazareth. I haven’t got the slightest doubt but that the order came from him. It was just like the order to evict the Arabs from the city of Lud (Lydda) which was signed by Yitzhak Rabin and issued just after Ben Gurion visited the headquarters of Operation Danny there.” Morris also testifies to the fact that “Ben Gurion hushed up the whole business, covering up for the officers involved in the massacres.” (This is the same Ben Gurion who appealed time and again to the people of Israel to “be a light unto the gentiles.”)
Still in all, the Israeli public swallowed all the “explanations” hook, line and sinker. It was trivialized: “things like this happen in all wars.” It was distorted: “they themselves fled at the instigation of their leaders.” It was justified: “for the sake of the establishment of the state.” Consequently, one can understand how, today, the army denies carrying out a massacre in Jenin and the public accepts the explanation unconditionally. Furthermore, only recently there was an academic furor over what happened in Tantura, mentioned here by Morris. Teddy Katz, an MA student at Haifa University, was sued by members of the Alexandroni Brigade for assuming in his thesis that there may have been a massacre in 1948. The university appointed a committee to re-evaluate the thesis for which he had been awarded high marks. And, as usually happens here, both Katz and Ilan Pappe, a tenured lecturer from the university who defended his findings, were mercilessly attacked. It was even suggested that Pappe be suspended. As of now, no one has yet apologized, despite Morris’s testimony that “while there is no iron-clad proof that there was a large massacre (my emphasis, S.A.), war crimes were committed there.” Not to mention the fact that it all came from the horse’s mouth, the IDF Archives.
One should not wonder at the intensity of public feeling aroused by any public discussion of the ’48 war: the wellbeing of Israel’s collective conscience is at stake.
The simple fact is – and one should accept it honestly: Israel was established on the ruins of another people. This is not only a moral question. It is, primarily, the key to understanding the Palestinians and not only achieving peace with them but conciliation as well. Ironically, it is Morris who has, in his books, contributed significantly to understanding what happened in 1948. It is the subject which embodies all of the duplicity and linguistic ambiguity of Zionist ideology.
Zionism speaks in the name of a people (the Jews) who were, on the one hand, exiled from their land and, on the other, responsible for evicting another people (the Palestinians) from theirs. It speaks in the name of a people who suffered oppression, cruelty and domination down through history and now cruelly oppresses and dominates the Palestinians. It speaks in the name of a people who were imprisoned in ghettoes and now imprison the Palestinians in ghettoes in the occupied territories. It speaks in the name of a people who were exiled from their land 2000 years ago and now refuse the right of return to the Palestinians whom we ourselves exiled only 55 years ago. In the name of a past, which is mythological to some extent, Israel demands rights for itself which it has denied another people.
In the second half of the interview, Benny Morris justifies the evictions that took place in 1948, although previously it had been thought that he condemned them.
He no longer believes that the eviction were war crimes. “You cannot make an omelet without breaking a couple of eggs.” With the help of this kind of metaphor one can justify the most heinous of crimes. “But you are talking about the destruction of an entire society,” insists the interviewer. Morris responds: “If you thought I was about to burst out crying, I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He adds” “You have to destroy any society that threatens to kill you.”
With regard to the eviction of the 50,000 Arabs of Lod, he has absolutely no pangs of conscience: “There are certain historical conditions under which ethnic cleansing is justifiable.” (“Historical circumstances” seem always to work to the detriment of the other guy.) And as if to rankle the interviewer, he even adds: “I realize that the term is really objectionable in 21st-century discourse, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide – the genocide of my own people – I prefer ethnic cleansing.”
Professor Morris enhances his historical justification of eviction and massacre with an example from across the sea: “Even the great American democracy could not have come into existence without the extinction of the Indians. There are situations in the course of history where the general, final good justifies acts of cruelty.”
Morris’s central argument for the eviction of the Arabs in 1948 is that without it, the establishment of the State of Israel would not have been possible: “A Jewish state would not have been possible without the uprooting of those 700,000 Palestinians … therefore it was necessary to uproot them … to cleanse the hinterland and the border areas.” He then projects his views on the present situation: “The Arabs of Israel are a time bomb … both demographically and from a security point of view, they can endanger the country.” He continues with an overt threat: “If Israel finds itself in a situation which is an existential threat as it was in 1948, it is possible that it may have to act as it did then. If we are attacked … I can envisage evictions. It can happen. If the threat to Israel is existential, eviction will be justified.”
Morris’s justifications for the destruction of a society and culture are simply hair-raising. A lot of people will ask what caused Benny Morris, at one time one of the leading post-Zionist historians, to change his mind. I can offer one explanation. The horrors of the uprooting and eviction of an entire people – one that constituted the majority of the population of Mandatory Palestine – can be justified only if one accepts a narrow ethno-centricity in place of the universal values of equality and freedom for all peoples. This is, apparently, the road taken by Benny Morris.
The Zionist leadership could not possibly have come right out in 1948 and said that the creation of a Jewish State entailed the conquest of the entire country and the dispossession and eviction of most of the Arab population. But this is exactly what happened and it is this that Morris has to justify. The moment that he decided that Zionism took priority over all else, he had to justify the iniquities of 1948. – particularly because it was he himself who had published and publicized what happened at the time.
Morris does not have to explain why his people are right in their struggle against another people – as an ordinary chauvinist must. He has to explain why his people destroyed another people. The answer cannot be historical-factual – as should be the answer of a professional historian. It has to be total, all inclusive. Therefore his answer is: either them or us. “We had to destroy them. Otherwise they would have destroyed us.” He doesn’t offer any historical proof. And, unfortunately, this has become, over the years, the justification for all of Israel’s wars, until this very day.
His worst but probably most relevant example, I’m sorry to say, is the destruction of the Indian population of North America by white settlers. Morris writes: “The great American democracy could not have come into existence were it not for the destruction of the Indians.” He could also have offered us the examples of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and large parts of South America where “white” Europeans displaced the local population. His justification of the destruction of native populations places Zionism squarely in the camp of the colonialists. And, indeed, the Zionist movement was a somewhat later version of European colonialism.
Zionism was born at the end of the nineteenth century during the heyday of colonialism. It was only natural and quite acceptable in those days for white settlers to displace native populations. One could not possibly imagine the success of Zionism had Palestine then been inhabited by the British, the French or any other “white” people. One needn’t be an historical determinist in order to understand that white settlement among a native population must of necessity result in a conflict between the two. It is true that the Jews of Israel have not yet confronted their dark colonialist past, yet Morris is only too happy to whitewash it with the help of the slaughter of the Indians.
Colonialist tradition is alive and kicking today in the occupied territories of Palestine – which is what gives Morris’s remarks such menacing overtones. He is threatening the Palestinians with another nakba and justifying it in advance. “If you ask me whether or not I support the transfer of the Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza and even the Galilee and the Triangle, I can say not at the moment (emphasis mine, S.A.) Under different, apocalyptic circumstances, which may materialize in the next five or ten years, I can imagine evictions – they may even be necessary.” In general he believes that “the only partial transfer (by Ben Gurion in 1948) was a mistake.”
Benny Morris himself is not only an identifiable symptom but also an ideological flag bearer of the neo-fascist wave now sweeping over Israel.
Finally, I would like to ponder the question if the eviction of the Palestinians in 1948 was “necessary.” If Israel had accepted the partition borders, the nakba might not have been “necessary.” The subject of population transfers and peace might have come under discussion. It has recently been published that Nahum Goldmann, then President of the World Zionist Organization, asked Israel to defer the declaration of statehood. He was of the opinion that it would have been possible to come to terms with the Arabs on the issues. But, it appears, the colonialist drive of the Yishuv and its leadership could not be satisfied with the partition borders – especially when it was clear that it was more powerful than the Palestinians and the Arab States.