Hans-Lukas Kieser, Seminar für Zeitgeschichte
der Universität Fribourg, Sommersemester 2004.
Seminar «Vertreibung und Völkermord im 20. Jahrhundert:
Das Paradigma von Lausanne 1923»
"When ethnic cleansing is justified"... (Benny Morris)
"Survival of the fittest", Haaretz , 8. Januar
Auch online auf http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/380986.html
By Ari Shavit
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 leadership itself."
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
"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 the north. 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
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
Survival of the fittest (cont.)
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 of 1948?
"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 to destroy."
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
"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 transfer.
"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,
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
"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."
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."
If that's so, then the whole Oslo process was mistaken and there is
a basic flaw in the entire worldview of the Israeli peace movement.
"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 sea?
"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 of Israel."
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
Your prognosis doesn't leave much room for hope, does it?
"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
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 Nakba itself.
"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
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 killers."
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 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
"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
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
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 danger?
"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 correct."
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."
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