Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: Benny Morris Reconsiders

In an about-turn that will horrify his former Liberal allies, Benny Morris argues in the Guardian that "perhaps, had [Ben-Gurion] gone the whole hog, today's Middle East would be a healthier, less violent place, with a Jewish state between Jordan and the Mediterranean and a Palestinian Arab state in Transjordan". He adds: "Perhaps it was the very indecisiveness of the geographic and demographic o
Published: Sunday, October 06, 2002 11:48 PM



The radical Israeli historian who did more than any other to force his country to face up to its responsibility for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the 1948 war now believes the Middle East might be at peace if David Ben-Gurion had expelled all the Palestinians.

In an about-turn that will horrify his former Liberal allies, Benny Morris argues in the Guardian that "perhaps, had [Ben-Gurion] gone the whole hog, today's Middle East would be a healthier, less violent place, with a Jewish state between Jordan and the Mediterranean and a Palestinian Arab state in Transjordan". He adds: "Perhaps it was the very indecisiveness of the geographic and demographic outcome of 1948 that underlies the persisting tragedy of Palestine."

Mr. Morris's remarks will be highly controversial, both because of his stature as one of Israel's leading so-called "new historians" and because the idea of "transfer" - expelling all Palestinians - has recently gained currency among Israeli right-wingers.

Mr. Morris, who once went to jail rather than serve in the Israeli military, shocked many in February when he declared in the Guardian that he no longer believed that a two-state solution could bring peace to the region.

During the 1948 war, initiated by the Jewish state's Arab neighbours, more than 700,000 Palestinians abandoned their homes, many of them driven out by Israeli forces. Around 150,000 remained within Israel's 1948 borders, a population which has now swelled to around one million Israel's total population of six million.

During the late 1980s Mr. Morris, who now teaches history at Ben-Gurion University, and a handful of other revisionist scholars used archive material to challenge Israel's prevailing "patriotic history", according to which the Palestinians had left of their own free will. They were bitterly criticized by many on the Israeli right who accused them of offering intellectual aid to the enemy.

Last night Professor Avi Shlaim, another eminent Israeli historian who challenged the orthodoxy, said: "What Israel carried out in 1948 was ethnic cleansing and what Benny is telling us now is that Ben-Gurion should have been more thorough and comprehensive in his policy of ethnic cleansing. Benny seems to have lost his moral bearings."

Prof Shlaim added: "It is very ironic that Benny Morris, who has done more than any other scholar to reveal the full extent of Israel's expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 has come full circle and is today suggesting that Israel did not expel enough Palestinians in 1948. What this boils down to is that Benny Morris seems to have joined the ranks of the Israeli right. The Israeli right has no other solution to the conflict except transfer and Benny seems to be endorsing that policy. "

In his article, Mr. Morris says he wonders what Ben-Gurion, Israel's first leader, would have made of Palestinian suicide bombings and "the tone of rejectionism that characterizes much Palestinian rhetoric" and he concludes: "Perhaps he would now regret his restraint."

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Ian Katz writes for The Guardian , where this article originally appeared.