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It’s All Been Said Before

Allison Kaplan Sommer has reacted with surprise to an interview with Israeli historian Benny Morris, saying it is going to make waves – of the tidal variety.

But what’s really going to cause a stir is Morris’s continued post-intifada evolution rightward in his political views – endorsing the historic Palestinian transfer he describes under the rubric of “we might have been bad, but they are much, much worse.”

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.”

I hope Benny has some really loyal close friends and family, because he’s going to need some support, seeing how he’s royally pissing off both the left and the right at the same time…..

Many other bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon, including Roger L. Simon (“Allison Kaplan Sommer is correct in declaring the Benny Morris Interview in Friday’s Haaretz a “bombshell.”), Michael J. Totten and Silent Running (“I’m in full agreement with Roger Simon and Alison Kaplan Sommer in saying this interview will be seen as a seminal turning point in modern Jewish political thinking”).

While I agree that the interview is interesting, I am perplexed by the import given to his statements by these bloggers, considering that Morris has been saying this for years. And I am not merely talking about what Allison calls “Morris’s continued post-intifada evolution rightward.”

Consider the following interview with Morris from December 2001 by Yedioth Aharonoth reporter Meron Rappaport.

Q: Don’t you feel uneasiness, disgust, when you reveal such events?

A: As an historian it makes me happy. At last I can discover things that other people have not known. People might expect me to feel shocked at such things, but I do not. I don’t look at it from a moral angle. I only search for the truth. This is what an historian ought to look for. Recently I was happy to find a number of documents that raise suspicion that massacres were committed in Abu Shusha, a village near Ramle. It is not clear how many were killed there – probably a few dozen. […]

Also [regarding the evidence] in the new book, one definitely can say that there was not an intentional, clear policy to expel the Palestinians from their localities. The initiative came mainly from commanders in the field who either understood that it was preferable to evacuate the Arabs in order not to have “a fifth column” behind their back, or because they understood that this was expected of them. What was systematic was the decision not to let the Arabs come back. […] The government took this decision in July 1948, and it was immediately implemented on the ground. They shot anyone that tried to return to his village, and destroyed their crops. […]”

“In most wars, the population escapes from the battle”, Morris explains. “In WWII, five million French escaped from Paris, but the Germans did not let them return. We did not let the Arab refugees return”.

Don’t let the comparison to the Germans mislead you. Morris believes that this was a just policy: “I don’t look at it from a moral perspective. This is a matter of efficiency.” […]

Morris defines what happened here in 1948 as “partial ethnic cleansing”. But don’t be mistaken: for him, it is not a negative concept: “What happened in ’48 was inevitable. If the Jews wanted to establish a state in Eretz Israel that will be located on an area which is a little larger than Tel Aviv, a removing of [a] population was needed. I don’t see it as morally defective. Without a population expulsion, a Jewish state would not have been established. And I morally accept the erection of the Jewish state. If not the expulsion, the state established would have been with a large Arab minority, with a large fifth column as Sharet [Israel’s first Foreign Minister in Ben Gurion’s government, considered to be a dove] with other leaders, correctly named them. […]

A tidal wave? I doubt it. Maybe a small ripple.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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