Benny Morris, the Israeli historian who has documented Israeli-Palestinian history so meticulously, is again bemoaning that a full ethnic cleansing was not completed in 1948.
In a long interview with Ofer Aderet in Haaretz (published in English today), Morris says:
If the War of Independence had ended with an absolute separation of populations – the Palestinian Arabs on the east side of the Jordan River and the Jews on the west side – the Middle East would be less volatile and both peoples would have suffered less over the past 70 years. They would have been satisfied with a state of their own, not exactly what they wanted, and we would have received the whole Land of Israel.
This is almost an identical repeat of what he said to Ari Shavit in a 2004 interview. There, he said:
If [David Ben-Gurion] was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types. 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.
But notice – Morris is changing his euphemisms. He used to call the ethnic cleansing of Palestine “transfer” (although he had a Freudian slip on “cleanse” with Shavit) but now, with Aderet, he’s calling it “separation of populations”. This is precious, really. It also points a dark and sinister finger at the notion of “separation” which has become a very central code-word for Zionist leftists and centrists. This “separation”, suggested also by other more colorful euphemisms such as “divorce”, has also been a central talking point for people like the late Amos Oz. So here, Morris, who also wants to somehow be known as a leftist, is making clear that “separation” is part of a genocidal scheme. He would not call it genocidal, and he denies that what he’s describing is ethnic cleansing, but that’s what it really is.
Morris is apparently trying to appear contained in his interview with Aderet. Morris says about that interview with Shavit: “Possibly I should have tempered my language”. Aderet reminds us that Morris said things like those mentioned above, that he prefers “ethnic cleansing of others”, as well as:
Something like a cage has to be built for them [the Palestinians]. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal out there that has to be locked up in one way or another.
So now we supposedly get the ‘well-tempered’ Morris. But his racism is on full display. He frames murder as a natural ‘Arab’ tendency:
[I]f an Arab murders an Arab in an Arab village, they automatically blame the police for not patrolling enough, but they will not blame themselves and say that Arabs murder Arabs because it seems quite natural there… In the Arab world – and the Israeli Arabs are part of it – you find a lack of self-criticism. It’s always the stranger who’s to blame. The Briton, the American, the Russian, the Jew, the Israeli – someone else is to blame for your troubles. They breed much more crime, in comparison to Jewish society. If you were to tell me that they are poorer and therefore they have more property crimes and theft, I would say: That’s right, poor societies breed material crime. But we’re talking about murder in far larger numbers. It’s not a matter of money. It’s the society’s nature.
The schism between Morris the historian and Morris the political pundit is maddening. In the Aderet piece, we are introduced in length to Morris the historian, and it’s a very long and worthy read, before we are met with Morris the political pundit. Aderet tells us about a book that Morris has co-authored with Dror Ze’evi, about the Turkish 30-year genocide of Christians, between 1894 and 1924. This is novel, and will hit many with surprise, because that which is more widely known about (yet still institutionally denied as such by both US and Israel for political reasons) is the Armenian genocide from around 1915. Yet Morris and Ze’evi uncover a much wider genocide, including between 1.5 million and 2.5 million Christians – Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. The perpetrators were the Turks and their Muslim helpers, who included Kurds, Circassians, Chechens and Arabs. Three Turkish regimes were involved, from the Ottoman Empire to Ataturk’s republic.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is remembered as a leader who left a legacy of secularization and modernization – there’s even a street in Tel Aviv named for him. But your study portrays him quite negatively.
Somehow his image as an enlightened individual was entrenched and preserved in the West, but he was the one who saw to the liquidation of the last of the Armenians who remained in Turkey, and he also brought about the murder of hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Assyrians, and the exile of many others. Although Ataturk is considered to have been anti-Islamic, he mobilized Islam to execute that scheme, and he is the one who did away with the remnants of the Christian communities in Turkey. Nonetheless, the charge of ethnic cleansing never stuck to him. The Turkish documents concerning Ataturk’s activity are deposited in the Turkish Military Archive in Ankara and are inaccessible to researchers. However, testimonies by Western diplomats and missionaries indicate that he said, in their presence and to them – and more than once in 1922 – that he wanted a Turkey “void of Christians” and that he had ordered the implementation of a policy that would lead to that end, which meant either exile or massacre.
These are revelations of some magnitude. One should take the hat off for those who have diligently researched such murderous crimes, despite an institutionalized Turkish campaign of denial and obfuscation. But where does this lead Morris? Any self-reflection about how his wish for an Israel “free of Palestinians” (mostly Muslim, but not only) may be similar to Turkish wishes for a country “free of Christians”? Does Morris get that he is genocidal? Why doesn’t the charge of “ethnic cleansing” stick to Morris, who wonders how it didn’t stick to Ataturk? Morris doesn’t get it at all.
Morris marks a clear schism between Morris the historian and Morris the political pundit:
I tended rightward in the political context, not the historiographic one; I am still a historian and not a politician.
Morris explains his move rightwards around 2000 thus:
The change I underwent is related to one issue: the Palestinians’ readiness to accept the two-state solution and forgo part of the Land of Israel.
See, Morris is really talking like a messianic Zionist: “The land of Israel”. The land simply belongs to “Israel”, and Palestinians simply have to forgo a claim to part of it, as if they didn’t already.
Morris supposedly had a revelation in the wake of the 2nd Intifada from 2000, that Palestinians would not agree to give up their original demand “to have the whole Land of Israel in their possession and under their sovereignty”:
There will not be a territorial compromise, there will not be peace on the basis of the country’s division, mainly because the Palestinians cling to their desire to have control of the whole Land of Israel and to eradicate Zionism.
Morris still criticizes Prime Minister Netanyahu for “his unwillingness to talk to the Palestinians about a territorial compromise” and that “he doesn’t put anything on the table that will draw them into discussions”.
But why “discussions”, if Morris doesn’t believe in it anyway? Morris explains:
Even if territorial compromise with the Palestinians is not realistic in this generation, as was also the case earlier, you have to play the diplomatic game – even if you know it won’t lead anywhere – in order to retain the West’s sympathy. You have to look like you’re pursuing peace, even if you’re not.
Let’s pause here – this is really some admission. Morris says that the only point of the “diplomatic game” is to keep up an appearance, in order to “retain the West’s sympathy”. Yes, you heard it here. The ‘peace process’ serves no other function than that of a “diplomatic game”. Here Morris echoes former Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir, who in the very beginning of the famous ‘peace process’ in Madrid in 1991, coined the ‘teaspoon policy’: endless negotiating sessions at which countless teaspoons amounting to mountains of sugar would be stirred into oceans of tea and coffee, but no agreement would ever be reached.
Morris the political pundit needs to lie in order to maintain his point. Aderet asks him about Barak’s supposed ‘generous offer’ in 2000, which amounted to Bantustans. Aderet:
But what about Israel’s part in the failure of negotiations? Other historians maintain that in 2000, Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat a map that would have fragmented the West Bank, and that there was no way he could have agreed to it.
Anyone who says that Barak and Bill Clinton made the Palestinians an offer they could not agree to is lying. Dennis Ross, the principal negotiator, has already shown in his book that that claim is bullshit. The lack of territorial continuity would only have been between Gaza and the West Bank. They were offered a contiguous territorial bloc of 95 percent of the West Bank, and they rejected it. But the story here is not one plan or another, but the fact that they want 100 percent of the territory of Mandatory Palestine. They were merely playing a game when they said they were ready for a compromise.
This is a lie. What Barak offered was actually an outset of 77% of the West Bank for the first 6 to 21 years, growing later, if all went well, by another 10%, but anyway, indeed fragmented Bantustans.
But what does Morris care. At this point in the interview, it is Morris the political pundit, and Morris qualifies that he’s not a politician anyway. So he apparently feels free to regurgitate the lies of his buddy Barak, who indeed was a politician, a Prime Minister no less, who lied his socks off while saying that lying is a particular Palestinian trait. Barak:
They (the Palestinians, and especially Arafat) are the products of a culture in which to tell a lie… creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category… The deputy director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation told me that there are societies in which lie detector tests don’t work, societies in which lies do not create cognitive dissonance [on which the tests are based].
Barak and Morris sound so similar, I would have thought they were twins.
Although he’s a historian, Morris does allow himself to rewrite history that is later than 1948. He does this in his attempt to distance himself from other historians who were part of his “new historians” group, like Tom Segev.
Take Tom Segev, for example, who in his book ‘1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East,’ maintains that we went to war out of greed for land and expansionism, but the truth is that greed was engendered in the wake of the war and not before it.
Morris is contesting that, but Segev’s book is quite impeccable, and there is ample documentation for that greed, even in a very literal sense. Moshe Dayan said about the skirmishes with Syria in the run-up to the 1967 war:
I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was… The kibbutzim there saw land that was good for agriculture. And you must remember, this was a time in which agricultural land was considered the most important and valuable thing… I can tell you with absolute confidence, the delegation that came to persuade Eshkol to take the heights was not thinking of these things. They were thinking about the heights’ land. Listen, I’m a farmer, too. After all, I’m from Nahalal, not from Tel Aviv, and I know about it. I saw them, and I spoke to them. They didn’t even try to hide their greed for that land.”
That’s very literal greed. And that is besides the political greed of ‘finishing the job’, which was a general motivation of taking over the rest of historic Palestine and ‘finishing the job’ of 1948.
So who is Morris trying to fool? As a liberal Zionist, Morris portrays the classical contradiction of the ethnic-cleanser who seeks to portray himself as a liberal (so he calls the ethnic cleansing “transfer” and then “separation”). Furthermore, Morris the historian appears to face the contradiction of having made findings that point to a genocidal scheme, yet faced with a need to minimize this so that it would not apply to the Zionist case. It’s as if Morris the Zionist pundit is constantly interfering with the work of Morris the historian. So when it comes to Turkish perpetration of genocide, it’s ok for him to call it that. But in the Zionist case, the findings need to be toned down in their overall moral appraisal. Thus, Morris says about the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948:
It’s a semantic debate. If you take 50 prisoners, line them up against a wall and kill them, as happened in the village of Jish [Gush Halav, in Upper Galilee] in 1948, that is a massacre. That didn’t happen in Deir Yassin, where they killed a few here and a few there, seized a few captives and killed them, and there are others who were not killed. Overall, about 100 civilians were killed there. So the question is: Do you lump a few atrocities together and arrive at 100, and call that a massacre, or do you say: A few families were killed here and there, deliberately or not deliberately, in different places and at different moments, so maybe it’s a series of atrocities against civilians and not a massacre?”
Are we getting this? The Irgun terrorists “killed a few here and a few there”, and it became about 100 civilians, and it’s “deliberately or not deliberately”, so maybe it’s just a few atrocities and not even a massacre.
You know what – maybe Benny Morris is not even a historian. Since his bias to exonerate the Zionist project is so great, Morris the Zionist sheds a huge shadow of historical revisionism upon Morris the supposed forensic historian.
I would like to thank Morris for uncovering Turkish genocide. But seeing how he simultaneously whitewashes Zionist crimes, this leads me to believe that Morris has an insidious political agenda with this uncovering – to dwarf the crimes of the Zionist venture. Knowing that mere numeric comparison cannot suffice to hide the Zionist crimes, Morris also resorts to historical revisionism, even of his own findings. He even advocates that it didn’t go far enough then – there should have been a complete “separation of populations”…
But Morris can’t even separate Morris the Zionist from Morris the historian. So in the end, at least for me, he’s just Benny Morris, the racist, genocidal ethnic cleanser.
H/t Pabi Shrestha Arihant