Benny Morris

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Benny Morris
Born 8 December 1948(1948-12-08)
Ein HaHoresh, Israel
Residence Israel
Nationality Israeli
Alma mater Hebrew University of Jerusalem
University of Cambridge
Occupation Historian
Known for One of Israel's "New Historians"

Benny Morris (Hebrew: בני מוריס‎‎; born 8 December 1948[1] in Ein HaHoresh, Israel) is professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Be'er Sheva, Israel. He is a key member of the group of Israeli historians known as the "New Historians".

Morris's work on the Arab-Israeli conflict and especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has won praise and criticism from both sides of the political divide. He is accused by some academics in Israel of only using Israeli and never Arab sources, creating an "unbalanced picture".[2] Regarding himself as a Zionist, he writes, "I embarked upon the research not out of ideological commitment or political interest. I simply wanted to know what happened."[3]


Morris was born in Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh, the son of Jewish immigrants from the United Kingdom.[4] His father, Ya'akov Morris, was an Israeli diplomat, historian, and poet.[5] According to The New Yorker, Benny Morris "grew up in the heart of a left-wing pioneering atmosphere".[6]

His parents left their kibbutz and moved to Jerusalem when Morris was a year old, so that Morris could spend more time with them: kibbutz life had entailed a degree of separation.[citation needed] In the wake of his father's diplomatic duties, the family spent four years in New York when Morris was nine, and another two years there when he was 15.

Morris served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War. He was wounded in 1969 by an Egyptian shell at the Suez Canal, and was released from the army four months later. He completed his undergraduate studies in history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received a doctorate in Anglo-German relations from the University of Cambridge.[citation needed]

Journalistic career and military refusal

After graduation from the University of Cambridge he returned to Jerusalem and worked as a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post for 12 years.[citation needed] In 1982, he covered the Lebanon War, and also served as a reservist, taking part in the siege of Beirut in a mortar unit.[6] In 1986, he did reserve duty in the West Bank. In 1988, when he was called up for reserve duty during the First Intifada, he refused to serve and spent three weeks in jail.[citation needed]

It was while working at The Jerusalem Post in the 1980s that Morris began reading through Israeli government archives, at first looking at the history of the Palmach, then turning his attention to the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem. Mainstream Israeli historiography at the time explained the 1948 Palestinian exodus from their towns and villages as having been driven by fear, or by instructions from Arab leaders. Morris found evidence that, in fact, there had been expulsions, which he made public in 1988 in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949.[citation needed]

Morris coined the term "New Historians" to describe himself, and historians Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe. All three were attacked by the Israeli right, accused of being antisemites and Arab lovers, and compared to Holocaust deniers.[citation needed]

When Conrad Black bought the Post in 1990, Morris was one of the Israeli left-wing journalists. He continued to write as a freelance, producing Israel's Secret Wars, co-written with Ian Black of The Guardian, and Righteous Victims, a history of the Arab–Israeli conflict.[citation needed]

Political views

Critics on the Israeli right have alleged that Morris's first book betrayed Arab sympathies and have criticized his work as biased for that reason. Morris responds that they failed to read his book with moral detachment. They assumed that, when he described Israeli actions as cruel or as atrocities, he was condemning them. In fact, he writes, he not only fails to condemn, but in many cases supports Israeli actions during 1948. That support does not stop him from wanting to describe them.[4]

His work has been cited and criticized by Arab writers for failing to use the evidence he found of forced evictions of Palestinians in 1948 from their homes and land.[7] His views seemed to harden in 2000 after the Palestinian rejection of President Clinton's peace accords and the beginning of the Second Intifada:

My turning point began after 2000. I wasn't a great optimist even before that. True, I always voted Labor or Meretz or Sheli 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.[4]

Morris still describes himself as left-wing because of his support for the two state solution, but he has said that his generation will not see peace in Israel.[4] He has said, "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."[4] According to The Economist: "Mr Morris also said, in an interview that stunned his supporters, that Israel was justified in uprooting the Palestinian 'fifth column' once the Arabs had attacked the infant state, and that the number executed or massacred—some 800, on his reckoning—was 'peanuts' compared with, say, the massacres in Bosnia in the 1990s."[8] On the subject of Israel's Arab citizens, Morris has argued:

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...[4]

Morris has called the Israel–Palestinian conflict a facet of a global clash of civilizations between Islamic fundamentalism and the Western World, saying, "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.[4] He also says "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."[4]

When a Haaretz interviewer called the 1948 Palestinian exodus "ethnic cleansing", Morris responded, "[t]here 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."[4]

Morris endorses the creation of a Palestinian state, as reducing the urge for violence against Israelis. But he thinks Israel needs take measures to protect her citizens in the meantime:

"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.

"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." This was said in the context of Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers during the Second Intifada.

In the end, he says, the Jews, in their restored existence as a national state, are the greater victims, past and potential:

"...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."

"...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."

Morris wrote in the Irish Times, "There was no Zionist 'plan' or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of 'ethnic cleansing'" and "the demonisation of Israel is largely based on lies—much as the demonisation of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies. And there is a connection between the two."[9] Morris has criticized David Ben-Gurion for not carrying out such a plan, saying "In the end, he faltered... If he had carried out a full expulsion—rather than a partial one—he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."[4]

Selected book summaries

1948 Palestinian exodus
Man see school nakba.jpg

Main articles
1948 Palestinian exodus

1947–48 civil war
1948 Arab-Israeli War
1948 Palestine War
Causes of the exodus
Nakba Day
Palestine refugee camps
Palestinian refugee
Palestinian right of return
Present absentee
Transfer Committee
Resolution 194

Mandatory Palestine
Israel's declaration of independence
Israeli-Palestinian conflict history
New Historians
Palestine · Plan Dalet
1947 partition plan · UNRWA

Key incidents
Battle of Haifa
Deir Yassin massacre
Exodus from Lydda

Notable writers
Aref al-Aref · Yoav Gelber
Efraim Karsh · Walid Khalidi
Nur Masalha · Benny Morris
Ilan Pappe · Tom Segev
Avraham Sela · Avi Shlaim

Related categories/lists
List of depopulated villages

Related templates

The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949 (1988)

In his first The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949 (1988), Morris argues that the 700,000 Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947 left mostly due to Israeli military attacks; fear of impending attacks; and expulsions. He argues that there was no centralized expulsion policy as such, but expulsions were ordered by the Israeli high command as needed. This was a controversial position when Morris first wrote of it; the official position in Israel was that the Palestinians had left voluntarily, or under pressure from Palestinian or other Arab leaders. At the same time, Morris documents atrocities by the Israelis, including cases of rape and torture. The book shows a map of 228 empty Palestinian villages, and attempts to explain why the villagers left. In 41 villages, he writes, the inhabitants were expelled by the IDF; in another 90, residents fled because of attacks on other villages; and in six, they left under instructions from local Palestinian authorities. He was unable to find out why another 46 villages were abandoned.

The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004)

In his updated The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), Morris answers critics of the first version and adds material from the opening of new Israeli government archives. He writes that the contents of the new documents substantially increase both Israeli and Palestinian responsibility for the refugee problem, revealing more expulsions and atrocities on the Israeli side, and more orders from Arab officials to the Palestinians to leave their villages, or at least to send their women and children away. Morris writes that his conclusions are unlikely to please either Israeli or Palestinian propagandists, or "black-or-white historians".[10]

1948 and After (1994)

1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians is a collection of essays dedicated to the Palestinian exodus of 1948 and subsequent events. It analyses Mapai and Mapam policy during the exodus, the IDF report of July 1948 on its causes, Yosef Weitz's involvement in the events, and some cases of expulsions that occurred in the fifties. Although Morris dismisses the claim that the Palestinians were systematically expelled due to orders from Israeli officials, he nevertheless cites an IDF Intelligence Report that concludes that 70% of the exodus was caused by Israeli forces and 'Jewish dissidents[11]

The IDF report lists: 'the factors that precipitated the exodus in order of importance—

  1. direct, hostile Jewish [Haganah/IDF] operations against Arab settlements.
  2. the effect of our [Haganah/IDF] hostile operations on nearby Arab settlements
  3. Operations of the Jewish dissidents [the Irgun Z'va'i Leumi and Lohamei Herut Yisrael]'[12]

Collectively these 3 factors were considered to be responsible for causing 70% of the exodus, according to the IDF report. Furthermore, Morris states 'the report makes no mention of any blanket order issued over Arab radio stations or through other means, to the Palestinians to evacuate their homes and villages'[13] despite as Morris states the IDF 'monitoring Arab radio transmissions'. Confirming as has been argued elsewhere, notably by Avi Shlaim in 'the debate about 1948' that the myth of the invading 'Arab armies' calling Palestinians to flee is totally unsustainable and without substance.

Righteous Victims (1999)

Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist–Arab Conflict, 1881–2001 is based largely on secondary works and gives a synthesis of existing research on the various subjects and periods covered. Morris writes "a history of this subject, based mainly on primary sources is, I suspect, beyond the abilities of a single scholar. There are simply too many archives, files, and documents. Nonetheless, parts of the present book-the coverage of the 1948 war and the decade after it, and of certain episodes that occurred during the 1930s and the 1982–85 Lebanon War—are based in large measure on primary sources." [14]

Making Israel (2008)

Edited by Morris, this collection of articles was written by "traditionalists and revisionists who openly and directly lay out their key insights about Israel's origins".[15] The articles can be downloaded from the website of the University of Michigan Press.[16]

1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War (2008)

Morris gives a detailed account of the 1948 Palestine war. Yoav Gelber writes, "1948 is a praiseworthy achievement of research and analysis, the work of a historian unwilling to rest on his already considerable laurels." Gelber disagrees with some of Morris's analysis, in particular with the idea that the 1948 war was more a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam than a nationalist struggle. He also argues that Morris overestimates Israel's military strength, and disagrees with Morris about the aims of King Abdullah of Jordan.[17]

One State, Two States (2009)

Morris contends that there is no two-state solution to the Middle East crisis, and that the One-state solution is not viable because of Arab unwillingness to accept a Jewish national presence in the Middle East. He suggests the possibility of something like a Three-state solution in the form of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan.[18]

Praise and criticism

Avi Shlaim, professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, and himself a New Historian, writes that Morris investigated the 1948 exodus of the Palestinians "as carefully, dispassionately, and objectively as it is ever likely to be", and that The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem is an "outstandingly original, scholarly, and important contribution" to the study of the issue.[2]

Many of Morris's critics cling to the tenets of "Old History", the idea of an Israel born untarnished, a David fighting the Arab Goliath, Shlaim writes. He argues that these ideas are simply false, created not by historians but by the participants in the 1948 war, who wrote about the events they had taken part in without the benefit of access to Israeli government archives, which were first opened up in the early 1980s. Another group of Morris's critics, primarily Orientalists such as Avraham Sela, but also historians on the left such as Ilan Pappe, argue that he has relied too heavily on Israeli sources and hardly at all on the Arabs. Norman Finkelstein, Nur Masalha and others argue that Morris has been too soft on the Israelis, often ignoring the force of his own evidence.[19] Efraim Karsh alleges that Morris has distorted source material, an allegation not accepted by other historians.[20][21]

Efraim Karsh

Efraim Karsh, professor of Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, writes that Morris engages in what Karsh calls "five types of distortion". According to Karsh, Morris "misrepresents documents, resorts to partial quotes, withholds evidence, makes false assertions, and rewrites original documents... [he] tells of statements never made, decisions never taken, events that never happened ... at times [he] does not even take the trouble to provide evidence..... He expects his readers to take on trust his assertions that fundamental contradictions exist between published accounts and the underlying documents.....he systematically falsifies evidence. Indeed, there is scarcely a document that he does not twist. This casts serious doubt on the validity of his entire work."[22]

Yezid Sayigh, professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London, writes of Karsh's criticism, "[t]his is not the first time that Efraim Karsh has written a highly self-important rebuttal of revisionist history. He is simply not what he makes himself out to be, a trained historian (nor political/social scientist)." (Karsh responds that he has an undergraduate degree in modern Middle Eastern history, and Arabic language and literature, and a doctorate in political science and international relations.) Sayigh urges academics to compose "robust responses [to Karsh] that make sure that any self-respecting scholar will be too embarrassed to even try to incorporate the Karsh books in his/her teaching or research because they can't pretend they didn't know how flimsy their foundations are".[20] Ian Lustick, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, writes of Karsh's attacks on the New Historians that, "however likely readers are to be impressed by the intensity of Karsh's pristine faith in Zionism, they are sure to be stunned by the malevolence of his writing and confused by the erratic, sloppy nature of his analysis. Errors, inconsistencies and over-interpretations there may be in some of the new Israeli histories, but nothing in them can match the howlers, contradictions and distortions contained in [Karsh's Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians]."[21]

Morris responds that Karsh's article is a "mélange of distortions, half-truths, and plain lies that vividly demonstrates his profound ignorance of both the source material (his piece contains more than fifty footnotes but is based almost entirely on references to and quotations from secondary works, many of them of dubious value) and the history of the Zionist–Arab conflict. It does not deserve serious attention or reply."[23] Anita Shapira, Dean of Tel Aviv University, argues "thirty of [Karsh's] references actually refer to writings by Shlaim and Morris, and fifteen others cite primary sources, and the rest refer to studies by major historians...." [24]

Morris elsewhere argues that Karsh "belabor[s] minor points while completely ignoring, and hiding from his readers, the main pieces of evidence" and argued, "... Karsh, while claiming to have 'demolished' the whole oeuvre, in fact deal[t] with only four pages of Birth. These pages tried to show that the Zionist leadership during 1937–38 supported a 'transfer solution' to the prospective Jewish state's 'Arab problem.'"[25]

Finkelstein and Masalha

From the other side Morris has been criticised by Norman Finkelstein[26][27] and Nur Masalha.[28] They argue that Morris's conclusions have a pro-Israeli bias, in that:

  • Morris did not fully acknowledge that his work rests largely on selectively released Israeli documentation, while the most sensitive documents remain closed to researchers.
  • Morris treated the evidence in the Israeli documents in an uncritical way, and did not take into account that they are, at times, apologetics.
  • Morris minimized the number of expulsions: Finkelstein asserts that in the table in which Morris summarizes causes of abandonment, village by village, many cases of "military assault on settlement (M)" should have been "expulsions (E)".
  • Morris's conclusions were skewed with respect to the evidence he himself presents, and when the conclusions are harsh for the Israelis he tended to give them a less incriminating spin.

Both Finkelstein and Masalha prefer the conclusion that there was a transfer policy.

In a reply to Finkelstein and Masalha,[29] Morris answers he "saw enough material, military and civilian, to obtain an accurate picture of what happened", that Finkelstein and Masalha draw their conclusions with a pro-Palestinian bias, and that with regard to the distinction between military assault and expulsion they should accept that he uses a "more narrow and severe" definition of expulsions. Morris holds to his conclusion that there was no transfer policy.

Ilan Pappé

Benny Morris wrote a fiercely critical review of Ilan Pappé's book A History of Modern Palestine[30] for The New Republic.[31] Morris called Pappé's book "truly appalling". He says it subjugates history to political ideology, and "contains errors of a quantity and a quality that are not found in serious historiography". In his reply, Pappé accused Morris of using mainly Israeli sources, and disregarding Arab sources, which he cannot read. Pappé says Morris has held "racist views about the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular" since the late 1980s. He also attributed Morris's perceived rightward drift since the late 1980s to political opportunism.[32][33]

Michael Palumbo

Michael Palumbo, author of The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People from Their Homeland,[34] reviewing the first edition of Morris's book on Palestinian refugees, criticizes Morris's decision, which Palumbo thinks characteristic of Israeli revisionist historians generally, to rely mainly on official, 'carefully screened' Israeli sources, especially for radio transcripts of Arab broadcasts, while disregarding unofficial Israeli sources such as BBC and CIA transcripts, many of which point to a policy of expulsion.[35] He says Morris failed to supplement his work in Israeli archives, many still classified, by U.N., American, and British archival sources that Palumbo considers objective on such issues as IDF atrocities,[36] as well as oral testimonies of Palestinians and Israelis, which can be reliable if their substance can be independently verified.[37] Palumbo says:

Morris' regard for documentation is indeed commendable, were it not for his tendency to choose sources which support his views, while avoiding those document collections which contain information inconsistent with his principal arguments. His decision not to use the testimony of Israeli veterans is unfortunate, since some of them have spoken candidly about Israeli atrocities and expulsion of civilians at Deir Yassin, Lydda–Ramle and Jaffa.[38]

Published works

See also


  1. [1]|Retrieved 2011-7-6
  2. 2.0 2.1 Shlaim, Avi. "The Debate about 1948", International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol 27, No. 3 (1995), pp. 287–304.
  3. Morris 2004, p. 3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Shavit, Ari. "Survival of the fittest": Part I, Part II. Ha'aretz Friday Magazine, January 9, 2004. and Shavit, Ari (2004-01-16). Survival of the Fittest? an Interview with Benny Morris (Originally published on January 9, 2004 in Ha'aretz Friday Magazine ). Archived from the original on 2010-05-23. Retrieved on 2010-05-23.
  5. Wilson, Scott. Israel Revisited, The Washington Post, March 11, 2007
  6. 6.0 6.1 Remnick, David. Blood and Sand: A revisionist Israeli historian revisits his country's origins. The New Yorker, May 5, 2008.
  7. Said, Edward. (1998) "New History, Old Ideas" in Al-Ahram weekly, 21–27 May.
  8. The Economist, 'Nations and narratives', November 2, 2006.
  9. Morris, Benny. The Irish Times, 21 February 2008, reported by Jeff Weintraub
  10. Morris 2004, p. 5.
  11. Morris, 1994, p. 101.
  12. Morris, 1994, p. 88.
  13. Morris 1994, p. 100.
  14. Righteous Victims First Vintage, New York 2001, with a new final chapter.
  15. Google book review of the book written by Zeev Maoz, Professor of Political Science at the University of California.
  16. Making Israel, University of Michigan Press.
  17. Yoav Gelber, "The Jihad That Wasn't", Azure, Autumn 2008, No. 34.
  18. Goldberg, Jeffrey. No Common Ground, The New York Times, May 20, 2009.
  19. Fogelman, Shay (3 June 2011). "Port in a storm". Haaretz Magazine. Retrieved on 26 April 2012.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Karsh, Efraim. The Unbearable Lightness of my Critics, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2002.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Lustick, Ian. Israeli History: Who is Fabricating What?, Survival, Volume 39, Issue 3 Autumn 1997, pp. 156–166.
  22. Benny Morris and the Reign of Error, Middle East Quarterly; see also Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians.
  23. Morris, 1996, "Undeserving of a Reply", The Middle East Quarterly
  24. Anita Shapira, The Past Is Not a Foreign Country, The New Republic, 29 November 1999.
  25. Morris, Benny. "Review of 'Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians".' by Efraim Karsh", J. Palestine Studies 27(2), p. 81–95.
  26. N. Finkelstein, 1995, Image and Reality of the Israel–Palestine conflict, Verso, London, ISBN 1-85984-339-5
  27. N. Finkelstein, 1991, "Myths, Old and New", J. Palestine Studies, 21(1), p. 66–89
  28. N. Masalha, 1991, "A Critique of Benny Morris", J. Palestine Studies 21(1), p. 90–97
  29. Morris, 1991, "Response to Finkelstein and Masalha", J. Palestine Studies 21(1), p. 98–114
  30. Pappe, Ilan. A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-521-55632-3
  31. Morris, Benny. Politics by Other Means, The New Republic, March 22, 2004
  32. Shehori, Dalia. (2004, May 5). One man's history is another man's lie. Haaretz.
  33. Pappé, Ilan. (2004, March 30). Response to Benny Morris' "Politics by other means" in The New Republic. The Electronic Intifada.
  34. Palumbo, Michael. The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People from Their Homeland. Quartet Books, 1989, ISBN 0-7043-0099-0
  35. Palumbo, Michael. "What Happened to Palestine? The Revisionists Revisited", originally published in The Link, September – October 1990, Volume 23, Issue 4 p. 4
  36. Palumbo, Michael. "What Happened to Palestine? The Revisionists Revisited", p. 7
  37. Ahmad H. Sa'di, Lila Abu-Lughod, Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the claims of memory, Columbia University Press, 2007 p.30
  38. Palumbo, Michael. "What Happened to Palestine? The Revisionists Revisited", p. 4

External links