- Benny Morris says he was always a Zionist. People were
mistaken when they labeled him a post-Zionist, when they thought that his
historical study on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem was intended
to undercut the Zionist enterprise.
- Nonsense, Morris says, that's completely unfounded. Some
readers simply misread the book. They didn't read it with the same detachment,
the same moral neutrality, with which it was written. So they came to the
mistaken conclusion that when Morris describes the cruelest deeds that
the Zionist movement perpetrated in 1948 he is actually being condemnatory,
that when he describes the large-scale expulsion operations he is being
denunciatory. They did not conceive that the great documenter of the sins
of Zionism in fact identifies with those sins. That he thinks some of them,
at least, were unavoidable.
- Two years ago, different voices began to be heard. The
historian who was considered a radical leftist suddenly maintained that
Israel had no one to talk to. The researcher who was accused of being an
Israel hater (and was boycotted by the Israeli academic establishment)
began to publish articles in favor of Israel in the British paper The Guardian.
- Whereas citizen Morris turned out to be a not completely
snow-white dove, historian Morris continued to work on the Hebrew translation
of his massive work "Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab
Conflict, 1881-2001," which was written in the old, peace-pursuing
style. And at the same time historian Morris completed the new version
of his book on the refugee problem, which is going to strengthen the hands
of those who abominate Israel. So that in the past two years citizen Morris
and historian Morris worked as though there is no connection between them,
as though one was trying to save what the other insists on eradicating.
- Both books will appear in the coming month. The book
on the history of the Zionist-Arab conflict will be published in Hebrew
by Am Oved in Tel Aviv, while the Cambridge University Press will publish
"The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited" (it
originally appeared, under the CUP imprint, in 1987). That book describes
in chilling detail the atrocities of the Nakba. Isn't Morris ever frightened
at the present-day political implications of his historical study? Isn't
he fearful that he has contributed to Israel becoming almost a pariah state?
After a few moments of evasion, Morris admits that he is. Sometimes he
really is frightened. Sometimes he asks himself what he has wrought.
- He is short, plump, and very intense. The son of immigrants
from England, he was born in Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh and was a member of the
left-wing Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement. In the past, he was a reporter
for the Jerusalem Post and refused to do military service in the territories.
He is now a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
in Be'er Sheva. But sitting in his armchair in his Jerusalem apartment,
he does not don the mantle of the cautious academic. Far from it: Morris
spews out his words, rapidly and energetically, sometimes spilling over
into English. He doesn't think twice before firing off the sharpest, most
shocking statements, which are anything but politically correct. He describes
horrific war crimes offhandedly, paints apocalyptic visions with a smile
on his lips. He gives the observer the feeling that this agitated individual,
who with his own hands opened the Zionist Pandora's box, is still having
difficulty coping with what he found in it, still finding it hard to deal
with the internal contradictions that are his lot and the lot of us all.
- Rape, massacre, transfer
- Benny Morris, in the month ahead the new version of your
book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem is due to be published.
Who will be less pleased with the book - the Israelis or the Palestinians?
- "The revised book is a double-edged sword. It is
based on many documents that were not available to me when I wrote the
original book, most of them from the Israel Defense Forces Archives. What
the new material shows is that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre
than I had previously thought. To my surprise, there were also many cases
of rape. In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah [the pre-state
defense force that was the precursor of the IDF] were given operational
orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel
them and destroy the villages themselves.
- "At the same time, it turns out that there was a
series of orders issued by the Arab Higher Committee and by the Palestinian
intermediate levels to remove children, women and the elderly from the
villages. So that on the one hand, the book reinforces the accusation against
the Zionist side, but on the other hand it also proves that many of those
who left the villages did so with the encouragement of the Palestinian
- According to your new findings, how many cases of Israeli
rape were there in 1948?
- "About a dozen. In Acre four soldiers raped a girl
and murdered her and her father. In Jaffa, soldiers of the Kiryati Brigade
raped one girl and tried to rape several more. At Hunin, which is in the
Galilee, two girls were raped and then murdered.
- There were one or two cases of rape at Tantura, south
of Haifa. There was one case of rape at Qula, in the center of the country.
At the village of Abu Shusha, near Kibbutz Gezer [in the Ramle area] there
were four female prisoners, one of whom was raped a number of times. And
there were other cases. Usually more than one soldier was involved. Usually
there were one or two Palestinian girls. In a large proportion of the cases
the event ended with murder. Because neither the victims nor the rapists
liked to report these events, we have to assume that the dozen cases of
rape that were reported, which I found, are not the whole story. They are
just the tip of the iceberg."
- According to your findings, how many acts of Israeli
massacre were perpetrated in 1948?
- "Twenty-four. In some cases four or five people
were executed, in others the numbers were 70, 80, 100. There was also a
great deal of arbitrary killing. Two old men are spotted walking in a field
- they are shot. A woman is found in an abandoned village - she is shot.
There are cases such as the village of Dawayima [in the Hebron region],
in which a column entered the village with all guns blazing and killed
anything that moved.
- "The worst cases were Saliha (70-80 killed), Deir
Yassin (100-110), Lod (250), Dawayima (hundreds) and perhaps Abu Shusha
(70). There is no unequivocal proof of a large-scale massacre at Tantura,
but war crimes were perpetrated there. At Jaffa there was a massacre about
which nothing had been known until now. The same at Arab al Muwassi, in
- About half of the acts of massacre were part of Operation
Hiram [in the north, in October 1948]: at Safsaf, Saliha, Jish, Eilaboun,
Arab al Muwasi, Deir al Asad, Majdal Krum, Sasa. In Operation Hiram there
was a unusually high concentration of executions of people against a wall
or next to a well in an orderly fashion.
- "That can't be chance. It's a pattern. Apparently,
various officers who took part in the operation understood that the expulsion
order they received permitted them to do these deeds in order to encourage
the population to take to the roads. The fact is that no one was punished
for these acts of murder. Ben-Gurion silenced the matter. He covered up
for the officers who did the massacres."
- What you are telling me here, as though by the way, is
that in Operation Hiram there was a comprehensive and explicit expulsion
order. Is that right?
- "Yes. One of the revelations in the book is that
on October 31, 1948, the commander of the Northern Front, Moshe Carmel,
issued an order in writing to his units to expedite the removal of the
Arab population. Carmel took this action immediately after a visit by Ben-Gurion
to the Northern Command in Nazareth. There is no doubt in my mind that
this order originated with Ben-Gurion. Just as the expulsion order for
the city of Lod, which was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, was issued immediately
after Ben-Gurion visited the headquarters of Operation Dani [July 1948]."
- Are you saying that Ben-Gurion was personally responsible
for a deliberate and systematic policy of mass expulsion?
- "From April 1948, Ben-Gurion is projecting a message
of transfer. There is no explicit order of his in writing, there is no
orderly comprehensive policy, but there is an atmosphere of [population]
transfer. The transfer idea is in the air. The entire leadership understands
that this is the idea. The officer corps understands what is required of
them. Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer is created."
- Ben-Gurion was a "transferist"?
- "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."
- I don't hear you condemning him.
- "Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he
did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is
impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish
state would not have arisen here."
- When ethnic cleansing is justified
- Benny Morris, for decades you have been researching the
dark side of Zionism. You are an expert on the atrocities of 1948. In the
end, do you in effect justify all this? Are you an advocate of the transfer
- "There is no justification for acts of rape. There
is no justification for acts of massacre. Those are war crimes. But 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."
- We are talking about the killing of thousands of people,
the destruction of an entire society.
- "A society that aims to kill you forces you to destroy
it. When the choice is between destroying or being destroyed, it's better
- There is something chilling about the quiet way in which
you say that.
- "If you expected me to burst into tears, I'm sorry
to disappoint you. I will not do that."
- So when the commanders of Operation Dani are standing
there and observing the long and terrible column of the 50,000 people expelled
from Lod walking eastward, you stand there with them? You justify them?
- "I definitely understand them. I understand their
motives. I don't think they felt any pangs of conscience, and in their
place I wouldn't have felt pangs of conscience. Without that act, they
would not have won the war and the state would not have come into being."
- You do not condemn them morally?
- They perpetrated ethnic cleansing.
- "There are circumstances in history that justify
ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse
of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and
genocide - the annihilation of your people - I prefer ethnic cleansing."
- And that was the situation in 1948?
- "That was the situation. That is what Zionism faced.
A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of
700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There
was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse
the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads.
It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our
settlements were fired on."
- The term `to cleanse' is terrible.
- "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."
- What you are saying is hard to listen to and hard to
digest. You sound hard-hearted.
- "I feel sympathy for the Palestinian people, which
truly underwent a hard tragedy. I feel sympathy for the refugees themselves.
But if the desire to establish a Jewish state here is legitimate, there
was no other choice. It was impossible to leave a large fifth column in
the country. From the moment the Yishuv [pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine]
was attacked by the Palestinians and afterward by the Arab states, there
was no choice but to expel the Palestinian population. To uproot it in
the course of war.
- "Remember another thing: the Arab people gained
a large slice of the planet. Not thanks to its skills or its great virtues,
but because it conquered and murdered and forced those it conquered to
convert during many generations. But in the end the Arabs have 22 states.
The Jewish people did not have even one state. There was no reason in the
world why it should not have one state. Therefore, from my point of view,
the need to establish this state in this place overcame the injustice that
was done to the Palestinians by uprooting them."
- And morally speaking, you have no problem with that deed?
- "That is correct. Even the great American democracy
could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians. There
are cases in which the overall, final good justifies harsh and cruel acts
that are committed in the course of history."
- And in our case it effectively justifies a population
- "That's what emerges."
- And you take that in stride? War crimes? Massacres? The
burning fields and the devastated villages of the Nakba?
- "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. In comparison to the massacres
the Russians perpetrated against the Germans at Stalingrad, that's chicken
feed. When you take into account that there was a bloody civil war here
and that we lost an entire 1 percent of the population, you find that we
behaved very well."
- The next transfer
- You went through an interesting process. You went to
research Ben-Gurion and the Zionist establishment critically, but in the
end you actually identify with them. You are as tough in your words as
they were in their deeds.
- "You may be right. Because I investigated the conflict
in depth, I was forced to cope with the in-depth questions that those people
coped with. I understood the problematic character of the situation they
faced and maybe I adopted part of their universe of concepts. But I do
not identify with Ben-Gurion. I think he made a serious historical mistake
in 1948. Even though he understood the demographic issue and the need to
establish a Jewish state without a large Arab minority, he got cold feet
during the war. In the end, he faltered."
- I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that Ben-Gurion
erred in expelling too few Arabs?
- "If he 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."
- I find it hard to believe what I am hearing.
- "If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy
one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer
in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the
West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself."
- In his place, would you have expelled them all? All the
Arabs in the country?
- "But I am not a statesman. I do not put myself in
his place. But as an historian, I assert that a mistake was made here.
Yes. The non-completion of the transfer was a mistake."
- And today? Do you advocate a transfer today?
- "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. But I am ready to
tell you that in other circumstances, apocalyptic ones, which are liable
to be realized in five or ten years, I can see expulsions. If we find ourselves
with atomic weapons around us, or if there is a general Arab attack on
us and a situation of warfare on the front with Arabs in the rear shooting
at convoys on their way to the front, acts of expulsion will be entirely
reasonable. They may even be essential."
- Including the expulsion of Israeli Arabs?
- "The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide
into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that
is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and
security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel
again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it
may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt (after
an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and biological
missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians
attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen.
If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified."
- Cultural dementia
- Besides being tough, you are also very gloomy. You weren't
always like that, were you?
- "My turning point began after 2000. I wasn't a great
optimist even before that. True, I always voted Labor or Meretz or Sheli
[a dovish party of the late 1970s], and in 1988 I refused to serve in the
territories and was jailed for it, but I always doubted the intentions
of the Palestinians. The events of Camp David and what followed in their
wake turned the doubt into certainty.
- When the Palestinians rejected the proposal of [prime
minister Ehud] Barak in July 2000 and the Clinton proposal in December
2000, I understood that they are unwilling to accept the two-state solution.
They want it all. Lod and Acre and Jaffa."
- f that's so, then the whole Oslo process was mistaken
and there is a basic flaw in the entire worldview of the Israeli peace
- "Oslo had to be tried. But today it has to be clear
that from the Palestinian point of view, Oslo was a deception. [Palestinian
leader Yasser] Arafat did not change for the worse, Arafat simply defrauded
us. He was never sincere in his readiness for compromise and conciliation."
- Do you really believe Arafat wants to throw us into the
- "He wants to send us back to Europe, to the sea
we came from. He truly sees us as a Crusader state and he thinks about
the Crusader precedent and wishes us a Crusader end. I'm certain that Israeli
intelligence has unequivocal information proving that in internal conversations
Arafat talks seriously about the phased plan [which would eliminate Israel
in stages]. But the problem is not just Arafat. The entire Palestinian
national elite is prone to see us as Crusaders and is driven by the phased
plan. That's why the Palestinians are not honestly ready to forgo the right
of return. They are preserving it as an instrument with which they will
destroy the Jewish state when the time comes. They can't tolerate the existence
of a Jewish state - not in 80 percent of the country and not in 30 percent.
From their point of view, the Palestinian state must cover the whole Land
- If so, the two-state solution is not viable; even if
a peace treaty is signed, it will soon collapse.
- "Ideologically, I support the two-state solution.
It's the only alternative to the expulsion of the Jews or the expulsion
of the Palestinians or total destruction. But in practice, in this generation,
a settlement of that kind will not hold water. At least 30 to 40 percent
of the Palestinian public and at least 30 to 40 percent of the heart of
every Palestinian will not accept it. After a short break, terrorism will
erupt again and the war will resume."
- Your prognosis doesn't leave much room for hope, does
- "It's hard for me, too. There is not going to be
peace in the present generation. There will not be a solution. We are doomed
to live by the sword. I'm already fairly old, but for my children that
is especially bleak. I don't know if they will want to go on living in
a place where there is no hope. Even if Israel is not destroyed, we won't
see a good, normal life here in the decades ahead."
- Aren't your harsh words an over-reaction to three hard
years of terrorism?
- "The bombing of the buses and restaurants really
shook me. They made me understand the depth of the hatred for us. They
made me understand that the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim hostility toward
Jewish existence here is taking us to the brink of destruction. I don't
see the suicide bombings as isolated acts. They express the deep will of
the Palestinian people. That is what the majority of the Palestinians want.
They want what happened to the bus to happen to all of us."
- Yet we, too, bear responsibility for the violence and
the hatred: the occupation, the roadblocks, the closures, maybe even the
- "You don't have to tell me that. I have researched
Palestinian history. I understand the reasons for the hatred very well.
The Palestinians are retaliating now not only for yesterday's closure but
for the Nakba as well. But that is not a sufficient explanation. The peoples
of Africa were oppressed by the European powers no less than the Palestinians
were oppressed by us, but nevertheless I don't see African terrorism in
London, Paris or Brussels. The Germans killed far more of us than we killed
the Palestinians, but we aren't blowing up buses in Munich and Nuremberg.
So there is something else here, something deeper, that has to do with
Islam and Arab culture."
- Are you trying to argue that Palestinian terrorism derives
from some sort of deep cultural problem?
- "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."
- I want to insist on my point: A large part of the responsibility
for the hatred of the Palestinians rests with us. After all, you yourself
showed us that the Palestinians experienced a historical catastrophe.
- "True. But when one has to deal with a serial killer,
it's not so important to discover why he became a serial killer. What's
important is to imprison the murderer or to execute him."
- Explain the image: Who is the serial killer in the analogy?
- "The barbarians who want to take our lives. The
people the Palestinian society sends to carry out the terrorist attacks,
and in some way the Palestinian society itself as well. At the moment,
that society is in the state of being a serial killer. It is a very sick
society. It should be treated the way we treat individuals who are serial
- What does that mean? What should we do tomorrow morning?
- "We have to try to heal the Palestinians. Maybe
over the years the establishment of a Palestinian state will help in the
healing process. But in the meantime, until the medicine is found, they
have to be contained so that they will not succeed in murdering us."
- To fence them in? To place them under closure?
- "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."
- War of barbarians
- Benny Morris, have you joined the right wing?
- "No, no. I still think of myself as left-wing. I
still support in principle two states for two peoples."
- But you don't believe that this solution will last. You
don't believe in peace.
- "In my opinion, we will not have peace, no."
- Then what is your solution?
- "In this generation there is apparently no solution.
To be vigilant, to defend the country as far as is possible."
- The iron wall approach?
- "Yes. An iron wall is a good image. An iron wall
is the most reasonable policy for the coming generation. My colleague Avi
Shlein described this well: What Jabotinsky proposed is what Ben-Gurion
adopted. In the 1950s, there was a dispute between Ben-Gurion and Moshe
Sharett. Ben-Gurion argued that the Arabs understand only force and that
ultimate force is the one thing that will persuade them to accept our presence
here. He was right. That's not to say that we don't need diplomacy. Both
toward the West and for our own conscience, it's important that we strive
for a political solution. But in the end, what will decide their readiness
to accept us will be force alone. Only the recognition that they are not
capable of defeating us."
- For a left-winger, you sound very much like a right-winger,
wouldn't you say?
- "I'm trying to be realistic. I know it doesn't always
sound politically correct, but I think that political correctness poisons
history in any case. It impedes our ability to see the truth. And I also
identify with Albert Camus. He was considered a left-winger and a person
of high morals, but when he referred to the Algerian problem he placed
his mother ahead of morality. Preserving my people is more important than
universal moral concepts."
- Are you a neo-conservative? Do you read the current historical
reality in the terms of Samuel Huntington?
- "I think there is a clash between civilizations
here [as Huntington argues]. I think the West today resembles the Roman
Empire of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries: The barbarians are attacking
it and they may also destroy it."
- The Muslims are barbarians, then?
- "I think the values I mentioned earlier are values
of barbarians - the attitude toward democracy, freedom, openness; the attitude
toward human life. In that sense they are barbarians. The Arab world as
it is today is barbarian."
- And in your view these new barbarians are truly threatening
the Rome of our time?
- "Yes. The West is stronger but it's not clear whether
it knows how to repulse this wave of hatred. The phenomenon of the mass
Muslim penetration into the West and their settlement there is creating
a dangerous internal threat. A similar process took place in Rome. They
let the barbarians in and they toppled the empire from within."
- Is it really all that dramatic? Is the West truly in
- "Yes. I think that the war between the civilizations
is the main characteristic of the 21st century. I think President Bush
is wrong when he denies the very existence of that war. It's not only a
matter of bin Laden. This is a struggle against a whole world that espouses
different values. And we are on the front line. Exactly like the Crusaders,
we are the vulnerable branch of Europe in this place."
- The situation as you describe it is extremely harsh.
You are not entirely convinced that we can survive here, are you?
- "The possibility of annihilation exists."
- Would you describe yourself as an apocalyptic person?
- "The whole Zionist project is apocalyptic. It exists
within hostile surroundings and in a certain sense its existence is unreasonable.
It wasn't reasonable for it to succeed in 1881 and it wasn't reasonable
for it to succeed in 1948 and it's not reasonable that it will succeed
now. Nevertheless, it has come this far. In a certain way it is miraculous.
I live the events of 1948, and 1948 projects itself on what could happen
here. Yes, I think of Armageddon. It's possible. Within the next 20 years
there could be an atomic war here."
- If Zionism is so dangerous for the Jews and if Zionism
makes the Arabs so wretched, maybe it's a mistake?
- "No, Zionism was not a mistake. The desire to establish
a Jewish state here was a legitimate one, a positive one. But given the
character of Islam and given the character of the Arab nation, it was a
mistake to think that it would be possible to establish a tranquil state
here that lives in harmony with its surroundings."
- Which leaves us, nevertheless, with two possibilities:
either a cruel, tragic Zionism, or the forgoing of Zionism.
- "Yes. That's so. You have pared it down, but that's
- Would you agree that this historical reality is intolerable,
that there is something inhuman about it?
- "Yes. But that's so for the Jewish people, not the
Palestinians. A people that suffered for 2,000 years, that went through
the Holocaust, arrives at its patrimony but is thrust into a renewed round
of bloodshed, that is perhaps the road to annihilation. In terms of cosmic
justice, that's terrible. It's far more shocking than what happened in
1948 to a small part of the Arab nation that was then in Palestine."
- So what you are telling me is that you live the Palestinian
Nakba of the past less than you live the possible Jewish Nakba of the future?
- "Yes. Destruction could be the end of this process.
It could be the end of the Zionist experiment. And that's what really depresses
and scares me."
- The title of the book you are now publishing in Hebrew
is "Victims." In the end, then, your argument is that of the
two victims of this conflict, we are the bigger one.
- "Yes. Exactly. We are the greater victims in the
course of history and we are also the greater potential victim. Even though
we are oppressing the Palestinians, we are the weaker side here. We are
a small minority in a large sea of hostile Arabs who want to eliminate
us. So it's possible than when their desire is realized, everyone will
understand what I am saying to you now. Everyone will understand we are
the true victims. But by then it will be too late."