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Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected]. Ray has written about Christianity (see his essay "Christianity: The Great Lie") and Islam (see: "The Many Faces of Islam", among many others in the Reading Room). I have asked Ray to write about his views on the Middle East problem for a long time. "Integral notes on the Israel/Arab conflict" was his response to that request.

From: Integral Thoughts on the Middle East Conflict

Reply to Meyerhoff

Part 2

Ray Harris

I thought I had finished replying to Meyerhoff but something kept nagging me and that was his use of Benny Morris in support of the claim that the main reason Palestinians fled in 48 was Jewish terror and expulsion, so I double-checked. In support of his argument Meyerhoff uses a quote from Le Monde Diplomatique from 1997. Let's revisit that quote.

In the opening pages of "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem", Benny Morris offers the outlines of an overall answer [to the question of the degree of Palestinian expulsion by the Jews]: using a map that shows the 369 Arab towns and villages in Israel (within its 1949 borders), he lists, area by area, the reasons for the departure of the local population.... In 45 cases he admits that he does not know. The inhabitants of the other 228 localities left under attack by Jewish troops, and in 41 cases they were expelled by military force. In 90 other localities, the Palestinians were in a state of panic following the fall of a neighbouring town or village, or for fear of an enemy attack, or because of rumours circulated by the Jewish army - particularly after the 9 April 1948 massacre of 250 inhabitants of Deir Yassin, where the news of the killings swept the country like wildfire. By contrast, he found only six cases of departures at the instigation of local Arab authorities.

But surely Meyerhoff must know that Morris produced a second edition of his groundbreaking book and called it The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited? Surely to be fair Meyerhoff must quote the current position of Morris?

To publicize the book Morris did a number of interviews in 2004 in which he modified some of his earlier views. I publish these excerpts to indicate that Israeli history is bitterly contested and that both sides can be accused of revisionism and propaganda. I also publish these excerpts to bring Meyerhoff up to date on at least some aspects of the debate. In an interview in Al Haaretz (30/1/2004 ) Morris is asked these questions (my emphasis in bold).

Ben-Gurion was a "transferist?"

BM: 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.
AS: I don't hear you condemning him.
BM: 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.

Now I'm not going to say that Ben Gurion was right. Elsewhere in the interview Morris says that rapes and atrocities did occur, but he goes onto say.

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 [IDF] 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.

Which is precisely my original contention and which would seem to contradict Meyerhoff's quote, which states that Morris claimed there were only six departures at the hands of Palestinian authorities – yet Morris now says that 'many' left.

In regard to the actual events of 48 he goes on to say,

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.

For an historical contrast the reader might also want to study the period known as Black September when Palestinian militants called fedayeen started to attack Jordanians. In the final crackdown it has been estimated that tens of thousands died, many civilians (see Wikipedia's general outline). One might also want to consider the massacre at Hama, where the Syrian army ruthlessly put down a rebellion by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (related to Hamas) in 1982 in which most of the old town was destroyed and according to the Syrian Human Rights Committee, between 30,000 to 40,000 were killed – just for perspective.

In regard to Arafat and the PLO, Morris had this to say,

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 forego 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.

In The Atlantic, March 25, 2004 Benny Morris stated,

I may have been mistaken in one small thing—which may not be that small—and that is the very question of Israel's existence. I assumed in the 1980s that the struggle for Israel's existence had been settled, in the sense that Israel was not going to be destroyed, and that the propaganda aspect of its battle for existence would remain marginal. But in the last few years it seems that this propaganda aspect is more important than I had anticipated. And clearly, what I revealed in the 1980s could be used by enemies of Israel. I didn't anticipate this wave of anti-Israeli feeling, not only in the Arab world but in the rest of the world, too.
And Arabs would say that this isn't true, that the Zionists went into the war with a master plan to expel all the Arabs. As proof of this they point to the discussions about transfer and a consensus during the 1930s and '40s. Now, in the first edition, I didn't give the subject sufficient space or sufficient importance. I noticed that Zionist leaders had occasionally discussed the subject in the 1930s and the 1940s against the backdrop of the persecution of Jews in Europe and against the backdrop of the Holocaust, when there was a driving urgency for the Jews to find a safe haven in Palestine. The Arabs didn't want the Jews to come here, so they populated the land. Therefore in some way they would have to be displaced if there was to be room for those Jews the Zionist movement wanted to save from Europe. We're talking about millions of people. So you can see that there were these discussions and there was support for the idea of transfer. But what emerges from the wider reading that I did during the last few years before producing this new version of the book is that the loose talk, the occasional discussions about the subject, never amounted to anything concrete.

Now, I just want to draw the reader's attention to one telling sentence – 'The Arabs didn't want the Jews to come here, so they populated the land.' Of course, this statement deserves closer examination but Morris seems to be saying that the Arabs tried to out populate the Jews through Arab immigration to deny Jewish immigration – fill the land before they do! Is this right?

Further in The Atlantic interview Morris is asked about his vision of the future.

I think I'm basically depressed. I think unless there is a basic change of heart and mind — a change of mindset — among Palestinians and in the Arab world in general about Israel, we're in for a continuous struggle over the coming decades. Basically what is needed here is a compromise based on two states, and that in effect requires Arab acceptance of Israel's legitimacy. But so long as there is this view of Israel as a cancer in the Middle East — which like a Crusader's stake must be uprooted and will be uprooted — there will be no compromise here. It doesn't matter what agreement is signed or what temporary ceasefires occur. In the long term of history, it's meaningless. So long as Israel's legitimacy is questioned, its existence is not assured.

Here Morris is stating that the problem is Arab intransigence, not Israeli.

I presume Meyerhoff cites Morris because he is a lauded New Historian and because he respects his scholarship. I wonder what he makes of some of Morris's more recent views? Now I am sure that there has been a response from Finklestein and Chomsky but this will only prove my original contention that Israeli history is bitterly contested. Now I'm not going to say this is the final word because the debate is still going on, but as integral thinkers we need to 'integrate' often complex, opposing and changing views.

And on a final note, Meyerhoff quotes Simha Flapan – Flapan died in 1987. I have read several references to the fact that Benny Morris relied heavily on Flapan's research. Might I suggest that the debate has moved on?

Ray Harris, March 2007

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