Socialist Worker

Israel: a state based on violence from its birth

by John Rose
Issue No. 1895

In 1987 an Israeli historian called Benny Morris published a book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. It caused a sensation at the time. Using official Israeli military archives, it confirmed the Palestinian case that the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948 had depended upon armed terror-resulting in the forcible 'transfer', or expulsion, of three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs. This was something that the Zionists - the ideologues who advocate an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine - had always denied.

They did so not least because it robbed the Israeli state of much of the moral credibility it had derived in the shadow of the Nazi Holocaust. Morris's research enhanced the political and moral claims of the Palestinians, that 1948 had indeed been a 'Nakba' - a 'Catastrophe'. Former colleagues taunted Benny Morris with the label 'Israel hater'. The Israeli academic establishment boycotted him.

The left embraced him. Morris was also a refusenik - he had refused military service in the West Bank and Gaza. And yet Morris himself had doubts about the left. He couldn't deny that he had strengthened the left wing case against Zionism. But he was a Zionist himself. How could he resolve this contradiction? Well, he has spent the last 17 years trying to work it out, and the results are truly shocking.

Even Ha'aretz, Israel's main liberal newspaper, called them 'chilling' after an extraordinary interview with Morris on 9 January earlier this year. Two of his former colleagues on the Israeli left, professors Avi Shlaim and Baruch Kimmerling, have attacked what can only be described as Morris's fascist conclusions.

Morris has deepened his research, in a new book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge University Press), and uncovered what he describes in the Ha'aretz interview as 'far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought. To my surprise, there were also many cases of rape.' He confirms the best known case of Deir Yassin, where Zionist forces massacred Palestinian villagers in 1948, and many others. He has no hesitation in describing them as 'war crimes'.

He reports on one operation which had 'an unusually high concentration of executions of people against a wall or next to a well in an orderly fashion'. Nor were these excesses or the chance acts of soldiers out of control. Morris insists, 'Here is 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. 'No one was punished for these acts of murder. Ben Gurion [Israel's first prime minister] silenced the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres.

'Ben Gurion was projecting a message of transfer. There is no explicit order, but the idea of transfer is in the air. The entire leadership understands that this is the idea. Ben Gurion was a transferist.'

At this point in the interview, the Ha'aretz reporter pauses. 'I don't hear you condemning Ben Gurion,' he tells Morris. Morris's reply comes as a bombshell. '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.' Later Morris adds, 'If you expected me to burst into tears, I'm sorry to disappoint you.'

Morris readily uses the term ethnic cleansing and justifies it: '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.' Actually, Morris does begin to criticise Ben Gurion. But not in the way the Ha'aretz reporter expected. The reporter is so astonished that he has to ask Morris to repeat what he has just heard.

Morris: 'I do not identify with Ben Gurion. I think he made a serious historical mistake in 1948. Even though he understood the demographic issue, he got cold feet.' Reporter: 'I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that Ben Gurion erred in expelling too few Arabs?'

Morris: '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.'

Reporter: 'I find it hard to believe what I'm hearing.'

Morris: '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.'

There was worse to come. Morris continues the interview with predictions that 'total transfer' may be necessary in the future. His contempt and racist hatred for the Arab world and the Islamic religion is unrestrained:

'There is a deep problem in Islam. It's a world whose values are different. Human life doesn't have the same value as it does in the West. They are barbarians.' If there cannot be transfer tomorrow, then '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.'

Perhaps we should thank Benny Morris for revealing to us the true character of Zionism, its fanaticism and its unreason, and for his warnings about the future.

Morris: '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 with 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.'

Reporter: 'If Zionism is so dangerous for the Jews and if Zionism makes the Arabs so wretched, maybe it's a mistake? Which leaves us, nevertheless, with two possibilities: either a cruel, tragic Zionism or the forgoing of Zionism.'

Morris: 'Yes, that's so. You have pared it down, but that's correct.'

John Rose's book The Myths of Zionism will be published by Pluto Press in September.

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Sat 3 Apr 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1895
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