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Jeff MeyerhoffBald Ambition Jeff Meyerhoff, M.A., L.S.W. is the author of "Bald Ambition: A Critique of Ken Wilber's Theory of Everything" and other essays on integral theory. He majored in economics and sociology and has studied philosophy, psychology, politics and spirituality. He's been employed as a social worker for the last 25 years. His weekly radio show, "The Ruminator," is archived at His blog is and his email is [email protected].

From: Integral Thoughts on the Middle East Conflict


Facts and Judgments

More of a Third Reply to Ray Harris

Jeff Meyerhoff

In his "Reply to Meyerhoff, Part 2," Ray Harris rightly shows that a summary of Benny Morris's work that I used was not up-to-date, being from an earlier edition of Morris's book on the Palestinian refugees. This is the kind of critical commentary that I assumed would be the basis of our discussion. It comes quite late, but it is good to see; however, I don't see that it helps Harris's argument.

Benny Morris may be the most well known of the Israeli new historians. His exhaustively researched studies of the origins of Israel have altered the terms of the scholarly debate. But it is important, especially regarding Morris, to distinguish between the facts he adduces and his ethical and political judgments of those facts. While Harris is right to question my source, we have to be careful not to conflate fact and judgment. First the facts.

Recall that the point of contention was why the Palestinian Arabs living in Palestine in 1947 and 1948 left their homes. To what degree was their flight caused by Jews, rather than by the Arab leaders themselves. Regarding the causes of the flight of the Palestinians and the loss of the large majority of their land during the 1948 war, Harris had asserted that

it is also true to say that hardcore Arabs played on the fear of Zionism to basically scare the bejesus out of non-aligned Arabs (and Christians). Arab villagers were told the Jews were going to rape their women and kill their children. During the '48 war tens of thousands of Arabs fled their villages in 'fear' of such an attack, not because they were 'actually' attacked. These form the bulk of the refugees.[1]

Harris is right that the quote I gave from a French journalist summarizing Benny Morris's research regarding the Palestinian's flight said that Morris "found only six cases of departures at the instigation of local Arab authorities" while Harris now informs us that Morris's new research shows that "many of those who left the villages did so with the encouragement of the Palestinian leadership itself." While Harris is right that I should have quoted from the revised edition of Morris's study, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, even if I had it still would have provided the evidence that Harris's assertion above is false.

Perhaps Harris misspoke, but Morris does not claim, as does Harris, that the exodus of "the bulk of the [Palestinian] refugees" was due to "hardcore Arabs" scare stories; in fact, in the very interview with Benny Morris that Harris uses to make his point, Morris repeatedly refers to the Jewish "expulsion," "transfer" and "ethnic cleansing" of the Palestinians. Morris even goes so far as to chide David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, for only expelling most of the Palestinian Arabs and not all of the Palestinian Arabs. So Harris is right to inform us that Morris revised his statistics of "Arabs who left because of Arab causes," but that does not support the assertion Harris made which I was contradicting.

In addition, Harris writes that "tens of thousands of Arabs fled their villages," yet Morris, and most historians, routinely cite the number of Palestinians who fled during this period as 700,000. How could "tens of thousands" of fleeing Arabs "form the bulk of the refugees" if many hundreds of thousands fled?

Finally, those "hardcore Arabs" who Harris says scared "the bejesus" out of their more moderate Arab brethren by saying that "the Jews were going to rape their women and kill their children," were accurate, as Morris harrowingly documents. Ironically, Morris actually documents more of these crimes in the revised edition that Harris chides me for neglecting.

Facts, Judgments and Prejudices

The interview Harris cites where Morris gives his views is actually an edited version. Were the reader to look at the whole interview, I don't think it would have the effect Harris desires.[2] Morris's moral callousness is chilling as he bluntly states what was done to the Palestinian natives and then justifies it because the country established was his country, Israel. Others, not so ethically impaired, might feel the need to retain some moral decency. In an odd way this interview reinforces what I have been saying. There were terrible actions committed by immigrants in displacing a native population and now, when the nation created by those immigrants itself has produced scholars who have exposed its crimes, the recourse for those needing to continue to justify their nation is to say, as does Benny Morris, "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands." I don't feel comfortable with that kind of immoral realpolitik.

I mentioned a "whiff of prejudice" in Harris's over-broad, negative generalizations of Islam and Arabs, but with Benny Morris it becomes a stench. He says:

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.

[Interviewer:] 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."

And Morris continues: "until the medicine is found" "to heal the Palestinians," "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."

Harris objected to my comparison between the European Jewish settlers displacing the native Arab population and the Puritans from England displacing the native American population, but Morris explicitly compares them. "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." As Morris acknowledges, the Americans committed genocide and the Israeli's only committed "ethnic cleansing," but both are justified in his moral world. Isn't this the typically crude dehumanization of one's enemy that causes and perpetuates violence?

Regarding the issue that initially divided Harris and I - whether Palestinian and Arab hatred of Israel was primarily due to religious differences or political and economic injustice - the interviewer and Morris agree on Jewish culpability.

[Interviewer:] 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.

[Morris:] "True."

But Morris goes on to make a very revealing analogy which argues against his own point. In addition to Jewish culpability in the Palestinian catastrophe, he also says there is something more to the Palestinian's hatred of Jews and Israel. He says,

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 [the 1948 catastrophe] 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.

The inadequacy of this analogy is striking. It actually argues for the opposite of Morris's point. The two examples he cites - of Africans oppressed by Europeans and Jews by Germans - have now been resolved. The oppression, unlike the Palestinians by the Jews, has ceased. That is why the oppressed in the two examples are not committing terrorism. The logic of the analogy suggests that if the Israeli-Palestinian situation was also resolved the terrorism would cease. And I have already described the international consensus on resolving the situation and the US and Israeli rejection of that consensus.

Like the interviewer, Avi Shavit, we need to distinguish two Benny Morris's, "citizen Morris and historian Morris." "Historian Morris" provides the evidence from which I make my critical, myth-debunking case; "citizen Morris," accepts the facts reported by "historian Morris," but judges the cruelties and injustices perpetrated in the founding and maintenance of the state of Israel as necessary and good.

Harris's citing "citizen Morris" as evidence for the validity of his views does not make it so. Those political opinions themselves have to be validated by the documentary record. I could go through each of Morris's contentions and describe why I agree and disagree, but I think the result would be the same as the one I complained about in my previous piece. Assertions are made, I counter them with citations from the scholarship, and Harris makes more undocumented assertions. That is a futile debate.[3]


[1] Harris, Ray, "Reply to Meyerhoff," in the section entitled "Land and Immigration" at

[2] Shavit, Ari and Morris, Benny, "Survival of the Fittest, an interview with Benny Morris," at

[3] I chided Harris for defending outdated Israeli myths and demonstrated that the debate had moved on by quoting the participants in the debate contradicting the myths he was still asserting. As a reply, he says that I am stuck in the past because I still cite Simha Flapan who died in 1987. Note the difference here. I counter Harris's assertions with arguments, he focuses on persons - Flapan, Chomsky, Finkelstein - as he does with his focus on "controversial" scholars. The question is not when Flapan wrote, it is the fact that his assertions have been confirmed.

Jeff Meyerhoff 2007

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