Benny Morris: Moral Bankruptcy of a Zionist Historian
Ari Shavit has published an astonishing & deeply disturbing interview, Survival of the Fittest, with the Zionist historian Benny Morris in Haaretz. In the interview, Morris reveals an outspoken anti-Arab racism and a willingness to discard all moral qualms in the effort to condone acts of Israeli terror during the 1948 War. I have read deeply both in historical sources and secondary research about Zionism and this is perhaps the most deplorable, troubling and ultimately maddening article on the Israeli-Arab conflict I’ve ever read.
Benny Morris, Zionist historian
photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
What makes Morris’ words even more disturbing is that in his Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (1987), he for the first time laid out for the all Israelis and the world to see the atrocities and expulsion ordered by Israeli military and political leaders against the Arab population within Israel.
Before that, Israelis honored a national myth which proclaimed the 1948 War as a glorious, magical and morally untainted victory attained by our glorious boys in shining armor atop white horses. While this was a comforting myth, many Israeli knew vaguely that bad things were probably done in their name. But David Ben Gurion, who Morris names as the explicit architect of the expulsion and transfer of Israeli Arabs, hushed up these acts of terror. Very few who knew of these crimes ever spoke publicly about them.
Uprooted Palestinian children in 1948
I can remember visiting Peretz Kidron in London in 1979 while he was Israel correspondent for Pacifica Radio News. He told me he had recently translated Yitzchak Rabin’s autobiography, Pinkas Sherut (The Rabin Memoirs in the English-language edition) into English. Kidron mentioned that Rabin had admitted to him that Israeli troops had deliberately and systematically expelled Arabs. At my urging, he called in a report to Pacifica on the subject. But this type of public admission was rare until Morris came along. With the publication of his book, for the first time Israelis could see documented historical evidence, both oral and written, that such crimes happened and were ordered (not just improvised).
In Morris’ upcoming revision of his earlier book, he deepens his research, finds many more incidences of mass murder and rape, and for the first time finds strong evidence that the entire policy of expulsion and transfer originated with Ben Gurion himself. These are bold, shocking and ultimately convincing accusations.
But the problem with Morris is that while his research appears to be impeccable, the moral and political conclusions he draws are utterly divorced from the facts which he himself has uncovered. In fact, Morris believes that “preserving my people is more important than universal moral concepts.” An incredibly jarring and bizarre statement, what Morris means to say is that Israel’s moral depradations were not only understandable, they were the ONLY policy that Israel could adopt to prevent its annihilation.
Even more stunning is Morris’ denunciation of Ben Gurion for not going far enough. That’s right, it wasn’t enough that Ben Gurion expelled hundreds of thousands of Arabs, he should have expelled every last one of them. By not doing so, Ben Gurion (or so Morris’ twisted rhetoric goes) may have ensured the ultimate destruction of the Jewish State.
Another memorable quotation: “In certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. 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.” So in adopting Lenin’s despicable and smirky defense of Bolshevik terror, Morris means us to feel we’re now on high moral ground??
And further, in answer to Shavit’s question:
And you take that in stride? War crimes? Massacres? The burning fields and the devastated villages of the Nakba [Arabic for “catastrophe”)?
“You have to put things in proportion. These are small war crimes. All told, if we take all the massacres and all the executions of 1948, we come to about 800 who were killed. In comparison to the massacres that were perpetrated in Bosnia, that’s peanuts.
I’m not sure the notion of a “small” war crime has ever been tested in a war crimes tribunal. Perhaps Morris would like to try his hand at that some day? We’re supposed to feel assuaged that during the War of Independence the Palmach massacred a mere 800 innocent Arabs and raped 12 women most of whom were murdered (according to Morris’ own research)?
Very rarely, aside from the writings of Adolph Hitler or Macchiavelli, have I ever read words so utterly devoid of moral underpinning and so coldly cruel and unblinking. My fingers are almost shaking with anger as I type this post at the white hot pace of moral indignation.
Morris’ deep-seated anti-Muslim racism is also deeply disturbing and completely divorced from any historical understanding of Islam or Arabs:
“There is a deep problem in Islam. It’s a world whose values are different. A world in which human life doesn’t have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien. A world that makes those who are not part of the camp of Islam fair game. Revenge is also important here. Revenge plays a central part in the Arab tribal culture. Therefore, the people we are fighting and the society that sends them have no moral inhibitions. If it obtains chemical or biological or atomic weapons, it will use them. If it is able, it will also commit genocide.”
While Morris appears to be a formidable Zionist historian, his grasp of Islam and Arab culture is nil.
And in one of his valedictory pieces of advice for Israeli policy makers, he unveils this charming statement about the Palestinians:
“Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another.”
He also calls them “serial killers” who should be locked up or executed.
While I strongly support Israel and her right to exist, I’m sorry to say that Benny Morris represents the ultimate, sordid decline of mainstream Zionism and its historians. Having dropped any pretence of moral foundations, the Zionist school represented by Morris justifies itself purely as a naked and aggressive means of ensuring the survival of the Jewish State.
I rather believe with Martin Luther King that our survival is not something that can be justified “at any price.” Survival is not an end in itself, but rather a means to contribute to the human race and civilization. If we have no overarching values or principles to contribute to humanity then what is our survival really worth?