Debunking Israel's 'New Historians'

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Debunking Israel's 'New Historians'

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Rewriting Israel's History

by Efraim Karsh
Middle East Quarterly
June 1996
Efraim Karsh is director of the Mediterranean Studies Programme at King's College, University of London, and editor of the quarterly journal Israel Affairs.
One of the reasons I gave up political history was that it is very difficult not to direct it towards the future, towards your idea of what ought to happen. And that somehow distorts your view of what has happened.

Albert Hourani

As Israel edges toward peace with the Palestinians, old, highly controversial, and seemingly defunct issues are back on the table, such as the legal status of Jerusalem and the question of the Palestinian refugees. The refugees and their present rights inspire two very different approaches. The Israeli view, based on an assessment of the 1947-49 period that ascribes primary responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy to an extremist and short-sighted leadership, sees Palestinian wounds as primarily self-inflicted and so not in need of compensation. In contrast, Palestinian spokesmen justify their "right of return" to the territory that is now part of the State of Israel (or an alternative compensation) by presenting themselves as victims of Jewish aggression in the late 1940s.

Ironically, it is a group of Israelis who have given the Palestinian argument its intellectual firepower. Starting in 1987, an array of self-styled "new historians" has sought to debunk what it claims is a distorted "Zionist narrative." How valid is this sustained assault on the received version of Israel's early history? This question has real political importance, for the answer is bound to affect the course of Israeli-Palestinian efforts at making peace.

The New Historians and Their Critics

Simha Flapan, the left-wing political activist and editor of New Outlook who inaugurated the assault on alleged "Zionist myths," made no bones about his political motivations in rewriting Israeli history, presenting his book as an attempt to "undermine the propaganda structures that have so long obstructed the growth of the peace forces in my country."1 But soon after, a group of Israeli academics and journalists gave this approach a scholarly imprimatur, calling it the "new history."2 Its foremost spokesmen include Avi Shlaim of Oxford University, Benny Morris of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Ilan Pappé of Haifa University. Other prominent adherents include Tom Segev of the Ha'aretz newspaper, Benjamin Beit Hallahmi of Haifa University, and researchers Uri Milstein and Yosi Amitai.

Above all, the new history signifies a set of beliefs: that Zionism was at best an aggressive and expansionist national movement and at worst an offshoot of European imperialism;3 and that it was responsible for the Palestinian tragedy, the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict, and even the Middle East's violent history.

In an attempt to prove that the Jewish State was born in sin, the new historians concentrate on the war of 1947-49 (in Israeli parlance, the War of Independence). Deriding alternative interpretations as "old" or "mobilized," they dismiss the notion of a hostile Arab world's seeking to destroy the Jewish state at birth as but a Zionist myth. They insist that when the Jewish Agency accepted the U.N. Resolution of November 1947 (partitioning Mandatory Palestine into Arab and Jewish states), it was less than sincere.

It is obviously a major service to all concerned to take a hard look at the past and, without political intent, to debunk old myths. Is that what the new historians have done? I shall argue that, quite the contrary, they fashion their research to suit contemporary political agendas; worse, they systematically distort the archival evidence to invent an Israeli history in an image of their own making. These are strong words; the following pages shall establish their accuracy.

A number of scholars have already done outstanding work showing the faults of the new history. Itamar Rabinovich (of Tel Aviv University, currently Israel's ambassador to the United States) has debunked the claim by Shlaim and Pappé that Israel's recalcitrance explains the failure to make peace at the end of the 1947-49 war.4 Avraham Sela (of the Hebrew University) has discredited Shlaim's allegation that Israel and Transjordan agreed in advance of that war to limit their war operations so as to avoid an all-out confrontation between their forces.5 Shabtai Teveth (David Ben-Gurion's foremost biographer) has challenged Morris's account of the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem.6 Robert Satloff (of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) has shown, on the basis of his own research in the Jordanian national archives in Amman, the existence of hundreds of relevant government files readily available to foreign scholars,7 thereby demolishing the new historians' claim that "the archives of the Arab Governments are closed to researchers, and that historians interested in writing about the Israeli-Arab conflict perforce must rely mainly on Israeli and Western archives"8 -- and with it, the justification for their almost exclusive reliance on Israeli and Western sources.

This article addresses a different question. The previous critics have looked mostly at issues of politics or sources; we shall concentrate on the accuracy of documentation by these self-styled champions of truth and morality. By looking at three central theses of the new historians, our research reveals a completely different picture from the one that new historians themselves have painted. But first, let us examine whether the alleged newness of this self-styled group is justified.

New Facts

The new historians claim to provide factual revelations about the origins of the Israeli-Arab conflict. According to Shlaim, "the new historiography is written with access to the official Israeli and Western documents, whereas the earlier writers had no access, or only partial access, to the official documents."9

The earlier writers may not have had access to an abundance of newly declassified documents, which became available in the 1980s, but recent "old historians," such as Rabinovich and Sela, have made no less use of them than their "new" counterparts, and they came up with very different conclusions. Which leads to the self-evident realization that it is not the availability of new documents that distinguishes the new historians from their opponents but the interpretation they give to this source material.

Further, much of the fresh information claimed by the new historians turns out to be old indeed. Consider Shlaim's major thesis about secret contacts between the Zionist movement and King `Abdallah of Transjordan. He claims that "it is striking to observe how great is the contrast between accounts of this period written without access to the official documents and an account such as this one, based on documentary evidence."10 Quite the contrary, it is striking to see how little our understanding has changed following the release of state documents. Shlaim himself concedes that the information "that there was traffic between these two parties has been widely known for some time and the two meetings between Golda Meir [acting head of the Jewish Agency's political department] and King `Abdullah in November 1947, and May 1948 have even been featured in popular films."11 Indeed, not only was the general gist of the `Abdallah-Meir conversations common knowledge by 1960,12 but most of the early writers had access to then-classified official documents. Dan Kurzman's 1970 account of that meeting is a near verbatim narration of the report prepared by the Jewish Agency's political department adviser on Arab affairs, Ezra Danin.13 Shlaim also relies on Danin's report, adding nothing new to Kurzman's revelations.

Much of the fresh information claimed by the new historians turns out to be old indeed ...

... As for new interpretations, some are indeed new, but only because they are flat wrong.

Similarly, Shlaim places great stress on a February 1948 meeting between the prime minister of Transjordan, Tawfiq Abu'l-Huda, and the foreign secretary of Great Britain, Ernest Bevin, claiming the latter at that time blessed an alleged Hashemite-Jewish agreement to divide Palestine. But this meeting was already known in 1957, when Sir John Bagot Glubb, the former commander of the Arab Legion, wrote his memoirs,14 and most early works on the Arab-Israeli conflict used this information.15

Morris's foremost self-laudatory "revelation" concerns the expulsion of Arabs from certain places by Israeli forces, at times through the use of violence. This was made known decades earlier in such works as Jon and David Kimche's Both Sides of the Hill; Rony Gabbay's A Political Study of the Arab-Israeli Conflict; and Nadav Safran's From War to War.16

Eager to debunk the perception of the 1947-49 war as a heroic struggle of the few against the many, the new historians have pointed to an approximate numerical parity on the battlefield.17 Yet this too was well known: school-children could find it in historical atlases, university students in academic books.18 Ben-Gurion's autobiographical account of Israel's history, published nearly two decades before the new historians made their debut on the public stage, contains illuminating data on the Arab-Israeli military balance; his edited war diaries, published by the Ministry of Defense Press in 1983, give a detailed breakdown of the Israeli order of battle: no attempt at a cover-up here.19

New Interpretations

As for new interpretations, some are indeed new, but only because they are flat wrong. Ilan Pappé has gone so far as to argue that the outcome of the 1947-49 war had been predetermined in the political and diplomatic corridors of power "long before even one shot had been fired."20 To which, one can only say that the State of Israel paid a high price indeed to effect this predetermined outcome: the war's six thousand fatalities represented 1 percent of Israel's total Jewish population, a higher human toll than that suffered by Great Britain in World War II.21 Further, Israel's battlefield losses during the war were about the same as those of the Palestinians; and given that its population was roughly half the latter's size, Israel lost proportionately twice the percentage of the Palestinians.22

Other interpretations ring truer, but only because they are old and familiar. Shlaim concedes that his charge of Jordanian-Israeli collusion is not a new one but was made decades before him.23 In fact, this conspiracy theory has been quite pervasive. In Arab historiography of an anti-Hashemite caste, "the collusion myth became the crux of an historical indictment against the king for betraying the Arab national cause in Palestine."24 On the Israeli side, both left- and right-wingers have levelled this same criticism at the government's conduct of the 1947-49 war. Shlaim has hardly broken new ground.

Shlaim's main claim to novelty lies in his challenging "the conventional view of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a simple bipolar affair in which a monolithic and implacably hostile Arab world is pitted against the Jews."25 But this "conventional view" does not exist. Even such passionately pro-Israel feature films on the 1947-49 war as Exodus and Cast a Giant Shadow do not portray "a monolithic and implacably hostile Arab world pitted against the Jews," but show divided Arab communities in which some leaders would rather not fight the Jews and others would cooperate with the Jews against their Arab "brothers." And what applies to popular movies applies all the more to scholarly writings. Not one of the studies by the "old historians" subscribes to the stereotypical approach attached to them by Shlaim.

The same applies to Morris. His claim that "what happened in Palestine/Israel over 1947-9 was so complex and varied ... that a single-cause explanation of the exodus from most sites is untenable"26 echoes not only Aharon Cohen's and Rony Gabbay's conclusions of thirty years earlier27 but also the standard explanation of the Palestinian exodus by such "official Zionist" writers as Joseph Schechtman: "This mass flight of the Palestinian Arabs is a phenomenon for which no single explanation suffices. Behind it lies a complex of apparently contradictory factors."28

Even the claim to novelty is not new! Aharon Klieman, the quintessential "old historian," wrote in his study of Hashemite-Zionist relations, published just two years before Shlaim's book, that "it has been a commonplace to present the Palestine or the Arab-Israeli conflict in all its historical stages as a simple bilateral conflict. . . . It is a mistake to present the Arab side to the equation as a monolithic bloc. The `Arab camp' has always been divided and at war with itself."29

At times, the new historians themselves realize they are recycling old ideas. For example, Shlaim acknowledged that their arguments were foreshadowed by such writers as Gabbay, Israel Baer, Gabriel Cohen, and Meir Pail.30 In all, the new historians have neither ventured to territory unknown to earlier generations of scholars, nor made major factual discoveries, nor provided truly original interpretations, let alone developed novel historical methodologies or approaches. They have used precisely the same research methods and source-material as those whose work they disdain -- the only difference between these two groups being the interpretation given to their findings. Let us now turn to the accuracy of those interpretations.

I. Pushing Out the Arabs

The new historians make three main claims about the Zionist movement in the late 1940s: it secretly intended to expel the Palestinians, it conspired with King `Abdallah to dispossess the Palestinians of their patrimony, and it won British support for this joint effort. Are these accusations accurate?

Morris writes that "from the mid-1930s most of the Yishuv's leaders, including Ben-Gurion, wanted to establish a Jewish state without an Arab minority, or with as small an Arab minority as possible, and supported a `transfer solution' to this minority problem."31 He argues that the transfer idea "had a basis in mainstream Jewish thinking, if not actual planning, from the late 1930s and 1940s."32 But Morris, the new historian who has made the greatest effort to prove this thesis, devotes a mere five pages to this subject. He fails to prove his claim.

First, the lion's share of his "evidence" comes from a mere three meetings of the Jewish Agency Executive (JAE) during June 7-12, 1938. Five days in the life of a national movement can scarcely provide proof of longstanding trends or ideologies, especially since these meetings were called to respond to specific ad hoc issues. Moreover, Morris has painted a totally false picture of the actual proceedings of these meetings. Contrary to his claim that the meetings "debated at length various aspects of the transfer idea,"33 the issue was discussed only in the last meeting, and even then as but one element in the overall balance of risks and opportunities attending Britain's suggested partition rather than as a concrete policy option. The other two meetings did not discuss the subject at all.34

Secondly, Morris virtually ignores that the idea of transfer was forced on the Zionist agenda by the British (in the recommendations of the 1937 Peel Royal Commission on Palestine) rather than being self-generated.35 He downplays the commission's recommendation of transfer, creates the false impression that the Zionists thrust this idea on a reluctant British Mandatory power (rather than vice versa), and misleadingly suggests that Zionist interest in transfer long outlived the Peel Commission.36

Thirdly, and most important, Morris systematically falsifies evidence, to the point that there is scarcely a single document he relies on without twisting and misleading, either by a creative rewriting of the original text, by taking words out of context, or by truncating texts and thereby distorting their meaning. For example, Morris finds an alleged Zionist interest in the idea of transfer lasting up to the outbreak of the 1948 war. Yes, Morris concedes, Ben-Gurion in a July 1947 testimony to the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) "went out of his way to reject the 1945 British Labour Party platform `International Post-war Settlement' which supported the encouragement of the movement of the Palestine Arabs to the neighboring countries to make room for Jews."37 But he insinuates that Ben-Gurion was insincere; in his heart of hearts, he subscribed to the transfer idea at the beginning of the 1947-49 war. Becoming a mind-reader, Morris discerns the transfer in a Ben-Gurion speech in December 1947:

There was no explicit mention of the collective transfer idea.

However, there was perhaps a hint of the idea in Ben-Gurion's speech to Mapai's supporters four days after the UN Partition resolution, just as Arab-Jewish hostilities were getting under way. Ben-Gurion starkly outlined the emergent Jewish State's main problem -- its prospective population of 520,000 Jews and 350,000 Arabs. Including Jerusalem, the state would have a population of about one million, 40% of which would be non-Jews. "This fact must be viewed in all its clarity and sharpness. With such a [population] composition, there cannot even be complete certainty that the government will be held by a Jewish majority ... There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60%." The Yishuv's situation and fate, he went on, compelled the adoption of "a new approach ... new habits of mind" to "suit our new future. We must think like a state."38

Morris creates the impression here that Ben-Gurion believed only transfer would resolve the problem of a substantial Arab minority in the Jewish State.

Is this mind-reading of Ben-Gurion correct? Was there really a hint of the transfer idea in his speech? Here is the text from which Morris draws his citation:
In the territory allotted to the Jewish State there are now above 520,000 Jews (apart from the Jerusalem Jews who will also be citizens of the state) and about 350,000 non-Jews, almost all of whom are Arabs. Including the Jerusalem Jews, the state would have at birth a population of about one million, nearly 40 per cent of which would be non-Jews. This [population] composition does not constitute a solid basis for a Jewish State; and this fact must be viewed in all its clarity and sharpness. With such a composition, there cannot even be complete certainty that the government will be held by a Jewish majority ... There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60 per cent, and so long as this majority consists of only 600,000 Jews. . . .
We have been confronted with a new destiny -- we are about to become masters of our own fate. This requires a new approach to all our questions of life. We must reexamine all our habits of mind, all our systems of operation to see to what extent they suit our new future. We must think in terms of a state, in terms of independence, in terms of full responsibility for ourselves -- and for others.39

This original text suggests that Morris has distorted the evidence in three ways.

First, Morris omits Ben-Gurion's statement that there can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as the Jewish majority "consists of only 600,000 Jews." He distorts Ben-Gurion's intention by narrowing the picture to a preoccupation with the 60-40 percent ratio, when its real scope was a concern about the absolute size of the Jewish population.

Secondly, Morris creates the impression that Ben-Gurion's call for a "new approach . . . new habits of mind" applied to the Arab minority problem, implicitly referring to transfer. In fact, it applied to the challenges attending the transition from a community under colonial domination to national self-determination.

Thirdly, he omits Ben-Gurion's statement on the need to take "full responsibility for ourselves -- and for others." Who are these others but the non-Jewish minority of the Jewish State?

Worse, Morris chooses to rely on a secondary source rather than consult the primary document; and for good reason, for an examination of the original would easily dispel the cloud of innuendo with which Morris surrounded Ben-Gurion's speech:

. . . There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60 percent, and so long as this majority consists of only 600,000 Jews.

From here stems the first and principal conclusion. The creation of the state is not the formal implementation process discussed by the UN General Assembly. . . . To ensure not only the establishment of the Jewish State but its existence and destiny as well -- we must bring a million-and-a-half Jews to the country and root them there. It is only when there will be at least two millions Jews in the country -- that the state will be truly established.40

This speech contains not a hint of the transfer idea. Ben-Gurion's long-term solution to the 60-40 percent ratio between the Jewish majority and non-Jewish minority is clear and unequivocal: mass Jewish immigration.

As for the position of the Arabs in the Jewish State, Ben-Gurion could not be clearer:
We must think in terms of a state, in terms of independence, in terms of full responsibility for ourselves -- and for others. In our state there will be non-Jews as well -- and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well.41
Ben-Gurion envisaged Jewish-Arab relations in the prospective Jewish State not based on the transfer of the Arab population but as a true partnership among equal citizens; not "fortress Israel," a besieged European island in an ocean of Arab hostility, but a Jewish-Arab alliance.
These passages make it clear that Benny Morris has truncated, twisted, and distorted Ben-Gurion's vision of Jewish-Arab relations and the Zionist position on the question of transfer. All this is especially strange given that Morris contends that the historian "must remain honour-bound to gather and present his facts accurately."42

II. Collusion Across The Jordan

Shlaim traces Israel's and Transjordan's alleged collusion to a secret meeting on November 17, 1947, in which King `Abdallah and Golda Meir agreed supposedly to frustrate the impending U.N. Resolution on Palestine and instead divide Palestine between themselves. He writes that
In 1947 an explicit agreement was reached between the Hashemites and the Zionists on the carving up of Palestine following the termination of the British mandate . . . it was consciously and deliberately intended to frustrate the will of the international community, as expressed through the United Nations General Assembly, in favour of creating an independent Arab state in part of Palestine.43
Is there any evidence for this alleged conspiracy? No, none at all. First, a careful examination of the two documents used to substantiate the claim of collusion -- reports by Ezra Danin and Eliyahu Sasson, two Zionist officials -- proves that Meir implacably opposed any agreement that would violate the U.N. partition resolution passed twelve days later. In no way did she consent to the Transjordan annexation of Arab areas of Palestine. Rather, Meir made it eminently clear that:

* Any Zionist-Hashemite arrangement would have to be compatible with the U.N. resolution. In Danin's words: "We explained that our matter was being discussed at the UN, that we hoped that it would be decided there to establish two states, one Jewish and one Arab, and that we wished to speak now about an agreement with him [i.e., `Abdallah] based on these resolutions."44 In Sasson's words: "Replied we prepared [to] give every assistance within [the] frame [of the] UN Charter."45

* The sole purpose of Transjordan's intervention in post-Mandatory Palestine would be, in Meir's words, "to maintain law and order and to preserve peace until the UN could establish a government in that area,"46 namely, a short-lived law-enforcement operation aimed at facilitating the establishment of a legitimate Palestinian government. Indeed, even `Abdallah did not expect the meeting to produce any concrete agreement. In Danin's words: "At the end he reiterated that concrete matters could be discussed only after the UN had passed its resolution, and said that we must meet again immediately afterwards."47

Secondly, Meir's account of her conversation with 'Abdallah -- strangely omitted in this context by Shlaim (though he cites it elsewhere in his study) -- further confirms that Mandatory Palestine was not divided on November 17, 1947.

For our part we told him then that we could not promise to help his incursion into the country [i.e., Mandatory Palestine], since we would be obliged to observe the UN Resolution which, as we already reckoned at the time, would provide for the establishment of two states in Palestine. Hence, we could not -- so we said -- give active support to the violation of this resolution.48

Thirdly, Shlaim's thesis is predicated on the idea of a single diplomatic encounter's profoundly affecting the course of history. He naïvely subscribes to the notion that a critical decision about the making of war and peace or the division of foreign lands is made in the course of a single conversation, without consultations or extended bargaining. This account reflects a complete lack of understanding about the nature of foreign policymaking in general and of the Zionist decision-making process in particular.

Fourthly, as mere acting head of the Jewish Agency's political department, Meir was in no position to commit her movement to a binding deal with King `Abdallah, especially since that deal would run counter to the Jewish Agency's simultaneous efforts to win a U.N. resolution on partition. All she could do was try to convince `Abdallah not to oppose the impending U.N. partition resolution violently and give him the gist of Zionist thinking.
Fifthly, Meir's conversation with `Abdallah was never discussed by the Jewish Agency Executive, the Yishuv's effective government. The Yishuv's military operations during the 1947-49 war show not a trace of the alleged deal in either their planning or their execution. Quite the contrary, the Zionist leadership remained deeply suspicious of 'Abdallah's expansionist ambitions up to May 1948.

Lastly, while the Jewish Agency unquestionably preferred `Abdallah to his Palestinian rival, the Jerusalem mufti Hajj Amin al-Husayni, this preference did not lead the agency to preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state. As late as December 1948 (or more than a year after `Abdallah and Meir had allegedly divided Palestine), Ben-Gurion stated his preference for an independent Palestinian state to Transjordan's annexing the Arab parts of Mandatory Palestine. "An Arab State in Western Palestine is less dangerous than a state that is tied to Transjordan, and tomorrow -- probably to Iraq," he told his advisers. "Why should we vainly antagonize the Russians? Why should we do this [i.e., agree to Transjordan's annexation of Western Palestine] against the [wishes of the] rest of the Arab states?"49

In short, not only did the Zionist movement not collude with King `Abdallah to divide Mandatory Palestine between themselves but it was reconciled to the advent of a Palestinian state. `Abdallah was the one who was violently opposed to such an eventuality and who caused it to fail by seizing the bulk of the territory the United Nations had allocated to the Palestinians.

III. Collusion With Great Britain

Shlaim writes that "Britain knew and approved of this secret Hashemite-Zionist agreement to divide up Palestine between themselves, not along the lines of the U.N. partition plan."50 This alleged British blessing was given in the above-noted conversation between Bevin and Abu'l-Huda, in which the foreign secretary gave the Transjordanian prime minister
The green light to send the Arab Legion into Palestine immediately following the departure of the British forces. But Bevin also warned [Trans]jordan not to invade the area allocated by the U.N. to the Jews. An attack on Jewish state territory, he said, would compel Britain to withdraw her subsidy and officers from the Arab Legion.51
This thesis is fundamentally flawed. True, the British were resigned to Transjordan's military foray into post-Mandatory Palestine, but this was not out of a wish to protect Jewish interests. Rather, it was directed against those interests: Israel was intended to be the victim of the Transjordanian intervention -- not its beneficiary.

* Contrary to Shlaim's claim, the British government did not know of a Hashemite-Zionist agreement to divide up Palestine, both because this agreement did not exist and because `Abdallah kept London in the dark about his contacts with the Jewish Agency. The influential British ambassador to Amman, Sir Alec Kirkbride, was not aware of the secret Meir-`Abdallah meeting until well after the event.52 How then could the British bless a Hashemite-Zionist deal?

* Glubb's memoirs alone indicate that Bevin gave Abu'l-Huda a green light to invade while warning him, "do not go and invade the areas allotted to the Jews."53 In contrast, declassified British documents unequivocally show that Bevin neither encouraged Abu'l-Huda to invade the Arab parts of Palestine as "the obvious thing to do," as claimed by Glubb, nor warned him off invading the Jewish areas. Bevin said only that he "would study the statements which his Excellency had made."54 Shlaim's choosing an old and partisan account over a newly released official document suggests a desperate attempt to prove the existence of such a warning.

* The British archives are bursting with evidence that the foreign secretary and his advisers cared not at all whether `Abdallah transgressed Jewish territory; they only wanted to be sure he did not implicate Britain in an embarrassing international situation. Shortly after the Bevin-Abu'l-Huda meeting, Bernard Burrows, head of the Eastern department, wrote (with Bevin's approval) that
It is tempting to think that Transjordan might transgress the boundaries of the United Nations Jewish State to the extent of establishing a corridor across the Southern Negeb [i.e., Negev] joining the existing Transjordan territory to the Mediterranean and Gaza . . . [thereby] cutting the Jewish State, and therefore Communist influence, off from the Red Sea.55
More important, on May 7, 1948, a week before the all-Arab attack on Israel, Burrows suggested to the Foreign Office intimate to King `Abdallah that "we could in practice presumably not object to Arab Legion occupation of the Nejeb [i.e., Negev]."56 In other words, not only was the Foreign Office not opposed to Transjordan's occupation of the Jewish State's territory but it encouraged `Abdallah to go in and occupy about half of it.

* Having grudgingly recognized their inability to prevent the partition of Palestine, British officialdom wished to see a far smaller and weaker Jewish state than that envisaged by the U.N. partition resolution and did its utmost to bring about such an eventuality. Limitations of space do not allow a presentation of the overwhelming documentary evidence of British efforts to cut Israel "down to size" and stunt its population growth through the prevention of future Jewish immigration.57 Suffice to say that British policymakers sought to forestall an Israeli-Transjordanian peace agreement unless it detached the Negev from the Israeli state.


Recently declassified documents in Israeli and Western archives fail to confirm the picture of the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict painted by the new historians. The self-styled new historiography is really a "distortiography." It is anything but new: much of what it presents is old and much of the new is distortion. The "new historians" are neither new nor true historians but rather partisans seeking to give academic respectability to longstanding misconceptions and prejudice on the Arab-Israeli conflict. To borrow the words of the eminent British historian E.H. Carr, what the new historians are doing is to "write propaganda or historical fiction, and merely use facts of the past to embroider a kind of writing which has nothing to do with history."58

Returning to political issues of today: the Palestinian claim to national self-determination stands on its own and does not need buttressing from historical falsification. Quite the contrary, fabricating an Israeli history to cater to interests of the moment does great disservice not only to historical truth but also to the Palestinians that the new historians seek to champion. Instead, they should heed Albert Hourani's advice. Securing the future means coming to terms with one's past, however painful that might be, not denying it.

1 The Birth of Israel: Myths and Reality (New York: Pantheon, 1987), p. 4; see also pp. 10 and 233.

2 The new historians make much of their relatively young age: "Most of them, born around 1948, have matured in a more open, doubting, and self-critical Israel than the pre-1967, pre-1973, and pre-Lebanon War Israel of the old historians." Of course, biological age indicates little about outlook. The opponents of the new historians also matured "in a more open, doubting, and self-critical Israel," many of them belonging to the same age group and having lived in the same milieu as the new historians. Moreover, some new historians are older than the "old" historians, especially Flapan, who was born in 1911 and thus precisely a member of that generation that "had lived through 1948 as highly committed adult participants in the epic, glorious rebirth of the Jewish commonwealth" and that was consequently derided by the new historians as being "unable to separate their lives from the events they later recounted, unable to distance themselves from and regard impartially the facts and processes through which they had lived." Benny Morris, 1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 7.

3 Avi Shlaim writes: "At the time of the Basle Congress, Palestine was under the control of the Ottoman Turks. It was inhabited by nearly half a million Arabs and some 50,000 Jews. . . . But, in keeping with the spirit of the age of European imperialism, the Jews did not allow these local realities to stand in the way of their own national aspirations." Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 2.Ilan Pappé has been far more outspoken in articulating Zionism as a brand of Western colonialism that "gained control over a land that is not theirs at the end of the nineteenth century." See, for example, "Damning the Historical Forgery," Kol Ha-ir, Oct. 6, 1995, p. 61.

4 Itamar Rabinovich, The Road Not Taken: Early Arab-Israeli Negotiations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

5 Avraham Sela, "Transjordan, Israel and the 1948 War: Myth, Historiography, and Reality," Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 28, No. 4Oct. 1992, pp. 623-89.

6 Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 286; Shabtai Teveth, "The Palestine Arab Refugee Problem and its Origins," Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2Apr. 1990, pp. 214-49.

7 Robert Satloff's review of Morris's Israel's Border Wars, in Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 31, Number 4 Oct. 1995, p. 954.

8 Benny Morris, "A Second Look at the `Missed Peace,' or Smoothing Out History: A Review Essay," Journal of Palestine Studies, Autumn 1994, p. 86.

9 Avi Shlaim, "The Debate about 1948," International Journal of Middle East Studies, Aug. 1995, p. 289. See also Morris, 1948 and After, p. 7.

10 Shlaim, Collusion, p. viii.11 Shlaim, "The Debate about 1948," p. 296.

12 Jon Kimche and David Kimche, Both Sides of the Hill (London: Secker and Warburg, 1960), p. 60; Marie Syrkin, Golda Meir: Woman with a Cause (London: Victor Gollancz, 1964), pp. 195-202.

13 Dan Kurzman, Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War (New York: New American Library, 1972), pp. 42-44.

14 Sir John Bagot Glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1957), pp. 63-66.

15 For example, Kurzman, Genesis 1948, pp. 116-17; Zeev Sharef, Three Days (London: W.H. Allen, 1962), p. 77; and Kimche and Kimche, Both Sides of the Hill, p. 39. As we shall see (on p. XX), the newly released official British documents do shed fresh light on the Bevin-Abu'l-Huda meeting but completely in the opposite direction from that claimed by Shlaim.

16 Kimche and Kimche, Both Sides of the Hill, pp. 227-28; Rony Gabbay, A Political Study of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Arab Refugee Problem (A Case Study) (Geneva: Libraire E. Droz, 1959), pp. 108-11; and Nadav Safran, From War to War: The Arab-Israeli Confrontation 1948-1967 (Indianapolis, Ind.: Pegasus, 1969), pp. 34-35.

17 Morris, 1948 and After, pp. 13-16; Shlaim, "The Debate about 1948," pp. 294-95.

18 See, for example, Moshe Lissak, Yehuda Wallach, and Eviatar Nur, eds., Atlas Karta Le-toldot Medinat Israel: Shanim Rishonot, Tashah-Tashak (Karta Atlas of Israel: the First Years, 1948-61),(Jerusalem: Karta, 1978); Safran, From War to War, p. 30.

19 David Ben-Gurion, Medinat Israel Ha'mehudeshet, vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1969), pp. 70-71, 98, 102, 106, and 115; idem, Israel: A Personal History (London: New English Library, 1972), pp. 61, 90; G. Rivlin and E. Orren, eds., Yoman Ha-milhama, 3 vols. (Tel Aviv: Misrael Ha-bitahchom, Ha-hotsa'a La-or, 1983), particularly vol. 3, pp. 1013-19.

20 Ilan Pappé, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951 (London: I.B. Tauris, 1992), p. 271.

21 See, for example, Martin Gilbert, The Second World War (London: Fontana, 1990), p. 746; National Register of the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man, Statistics of Population on 29 September 1939 (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office (hereafter HMSO), 1939.

22 "Casualties in Palestine since the United Nations Decision, Period 30th November, 1947 to 3rd April, 1945," CO 733/483/5, p. 19.

23 Shlaim, "The Debate about 1948," p. 296. On the Jordanian side, Col. `Abdallah at-Tall, who served as a messenger between King `Abdallah and the Zionists during the armistice talks at the end of the 1947-49 war, then defected to Egypt and wrote about his experiences in Karithat Filastin: Mudhakkirat `Abdallah at-Tall, Qa'id Ma`rakat al-Quds (Cairo: Al-Qalam, 1959). On the Israeli side, Lt. Col. Israel Baer, an adviser to Ben-Gurion later convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, told about the negotiations in Bithon Israel: Etmol, ha-Yom, Mahar (Tel Aviv: Amikam, 1966).

24 Sela, "Transjordan, Israel and the 1948 War," pp. 623-24. See also his article "Arab Historiography of the 1948 War: The Quest for Legitimacy," in Laurence J. Silberstein, ed., New Perspectives on Israeli History (New York: New York University Press, 1991), pp. 124-54.

25 Shlaim, "The Debate about 1948," p. 297.26 Morris, Palestinian Refugee Problem, p. 294.

27 Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World (London: W.H. Allen, 1970), pp. 458-66; Gabbay, A Political Study, pp. 54, 85-98.

28 Joseph B. Schechtman, The Arab Refugee Problem (New York: Philosophical Library, 1952), p. 4.

29 Aharon Klieman, Du Kium Le-lo Shalom (Unpeaceful Coexistence: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians) (Tel Aviv: Ma`ariv, 1986), pp. 15-16.

30 Shlaim, "The Debate about 1948," p. 289. And, years earlier, Arnold Toynbee, Alfred Lillienthal, Noam Chomsky, and Edward Said all used these same arguments.

31 Morris, 1948 and After, p. 17. "Yishuv" refers to the Zionist community in Palestine before the establishment of Israel.

32 Morris, Palestinian Refugee Problem, p. 24.

33 Ibid., pp. 25-26.

34 Protocols of the Jewish Agency Executive meetings of June 7, 9, and 12, 1938, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem.

35 The Peel report suggested the partition of Mandatory Palestine into two states, Arab and Jewish; to reduce frictions between the two communities, the commission also suggested a land and population exchange, similar to that effected between Turkey and Greece after the First World War. See Palestine Royal Commission, Report, Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty, July 1937, Cmd. 5479 (London: HMSO, 1937), pp. 291-95.

There being far more Arabs in the Jewish state-to-be than the other way around (225,000 vs. 1,250), Ben-Gurion and some other Zionist proponents of partition viewed this exchange (or transfer, as it came to be known) as a partial compensation for the confinement of the prospective Jewish state to a tiny fraction of the Land of Israel.

Yet they quickly dismissed this idea, as shown by the fact that not one of the 30-odd submissions the JAE made to the Palestine Partition Commission (the Woodhead Commission, 1938) suggested population exchange and transfer.

36 Morris, The Birth, pp. 27-28.

37 Ibid., p. 28.

38 Ibid. Morris traces the speech to Dec. 3, 1947, as is done in the secondary source from which he borrowed it. In the original source, however, the date given is Dec. 13, 1947.39 Rivlin and Orren, eds., Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. I, p. 22.

40 Ben-Gurion, Ba-ma'araha, vol. IV, part 2 (Tel Aviv: Hotsa'at Mifleget Poalei Eretz Yisra'el, 1959), pp. 258-59 (emphasis added).

41 Ibid., p. 260.

42 Morris, 1948 and After, p. 47.

43 Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan, p. 1; idem, The Politics of Partition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. viii (this is an abridged and slightly revised edition of Collusion). Other new historians have taken up this thesis. Thus, Pappé: "The common ground for the agreement was a mutual objection to the creation of a Palestinian state. . . . The Jewish Agency in particular abhorred such a possibility, asserting that the creation of a Palestinian state would perpetuate the ideological conflict in Palestine" (The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, p. 118).

44 Ezra Danin, "Siha in Abdallah, 17.11.47," Central Zionist Archives, S25/4004.

45 Sasson to Shertok, Nov. 20, 1947, Central Zionist Archives, S25/1699.46 Danin, "Siha in Abdallah."

47 Ibid.

48 Golda Meir's verbal report to the Provisional State Council on May 12, 1948, Israel State Archives, Provisional State Council: Protocols, 18 April - 13 May 1948, Jerusalem, 1978, p. 40.[Eds: the collection had an English title. Yeshivat Minhelet Ha-am, 12/5/48.]

49 Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. III, Dec. 18, 1948, p. 885.50 Shlaim, "The Debate," p. 297.

51 Ibid., p. 293.

52 See, for example, Kirkbride's telegram to Bevin dated Nov. 17, 1947, displaying total ignorance of the Abdullah-Meir meeting, which was held that very day (FO 816/89). For further evidence of British ignorance of the alleged Hashemite-Jewish deal, see a personal and secret letter from H. Beeley, Eastern Department, Foreign Office, to T.E. Bromley, Jan. 20, 1948, FO 371/68403/E1877; and Michael Wright, "Brief for Conversation with Transjordan Prime on Palestine," Feb. 6, 1948, FO 371/6837/E1980G.

53 Glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs, p. 66.

54 Mr. Bevin to Sir Alec Kirkbride (Amman), "Conversation with the Transjordan Prime Minister," Feb. 9, 1948, FO 371/68366/E1916/G.55 Memorandum by Bernard Burrows, Feb. 9, 1948, FO 371/68368/E296.

56 Bernard Burrows, "Palestine After May 14," May 7, 1948, FO 371/68854/E6778.

57 For a discussion of this issue, see Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History: "The New Historians" (London: Frank Cass, forthcoming).

58 E.H. Carr, What is History? (Harmondworth: Penguin, 1984), p. 29.

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Re: Debunking Israel's 'New Historians'

Post by Mindstorm »

Historical Fictions

by Efraim Karsh
Middle East Quarterly
September 1996

My article, "Rewriting Israel's History," argued that the self-styled "new historians" are neither new nor true historians but partisans seeking to provide academic respectability to long-standing misconceptions and prejudices about the Arab-Israeli conflict. They are scarcely "new" since most of their "factual discoveries" (and some of their interpretations) effectively reinvent the wheel; and they are anything but true historians because, taking in vain the name of the archives, they violate all tenets of bona fide research in their endeavor to rewrite Israeli history in an image of their own devising. The replies by Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, and Avi Shlaim to my article fully vindicate this thesis.

Benny Morris

For years, Benny Morris has had it easy. By inundating his readers with primary sources, he created the impression, one that even his critics accepted, that his work is solidly grounded in facts. But this is a false picture, for he has been misusing those facts. My article shows that on one of the most bitter bones of contention in the historiography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue of "transfer," Morris has been prepared systematically to falsify evidence in an attempt to create history in an image of his own devising. There is scarcely a single document he has not twisted either by creative rewriting, taking things out of context, truncating texts, or giving a false description of the contents of documents.

That Morris dismisses my article as undeserving of "serious attention or reply" is not difficult to understand: facts speak for themselves and he has nothing to say to mitigate the damning evidence.

Ilan Pappé

Pappé resembles an old music box, which, no matters when one turns it on, invariably plays back the same tune. He faults me for confusing reality and ideology; but is that not precisely what he does when he accuses me of subscribing to the "Zionist historiographical perspective," a bogey the new historians created to discredit their critics and divert the debate from the real issue: good vs. bad scholarship?

Pappé fails to address a single factual assertion made in my article, let alone refute it; rather, he takes issue with a string of assertions of his own devising, not addressing those I brought up in the article. For example, he holds that my facts "are mostly claims made by mainstream historians." Wrong: not one of my facts comes from other historians, mainstream or otherwise. Rather, I introduced the article by mentioning what others have written on the new historians to acquaint the reader with the state of the debate, a common scholarly practice. Moreover, had Pappé troubled himself to read my article, he would have noted that it does what no one else has done before -- namely, examine the archival source-material used by the new historians and thus prove their foul play.

Similarly, Pappé announces that the new historians proved "that there was parity on the battlefield in the 1948 war" and lauds this as part of a "de-Zionized view" of history. If this is the case, then most Israeli writings on the war, including David Ben-Gurion's war diaries and autobiographical account, are "de-Zionized." For, as my article showed, the existence of approximate numerical parity on the battlefield had been known in Israel for decades before the new historians appeared.

Avi Shlaim

Shlaim offers a far more sophisticated, though equally misconceived, reply. Unlike Morris or Pappé, he attempts to rebut my facts; like Pappé, his rebuttal contains distortions about his and my writings.

Broadly speaking, Shlaim recalls the man of the joke who, having killed his parents, pleads for clemency on grounds of orphanhood. Having made his reputation as a leading new historian, and stating at the outset of his reply that there is a "`new' or revisionist school of writing about Israel's history" to which he belongs, Shlaim then denies membership in this self-styled group and seeks to disguise its ideological luggage and virulently anti-Israel agenda. "it should be stressed at the outset that there is no club, society, or trade union, let alone a political party with card-carrying members, of new historians," he writes, as if the new historians had ever been conceived in such absurd terms. Shlaim should have the integrity to stand up and be counted.

Shlaim also attempts to disown the two primary factors on which the new historians, including himself, have consistently based their claim to newness: relatively young age and access to newly declassified documents. He accuses me of charging the new historians of making much of their age as if it is me, and not the new historians themselves, who made this meaningless allegation in the first place. Shlaim then accuses me of a "totalitarian conception of history" by writing that I expect "all readers of official documents to come up with the same conclusions." But I did not say this and do not believe it. I actually wrote that mere access to newly released documents is not in itself reason to claim newness, for documents are open to alternative interpretations -- precisely the opposite of what Shlaim misattributed to me.

Shlaim charges me of trying to have it both ways by criticizing his collusion theory as familiar while taking him to task for this interpretation. I see no contradiction in simultaneously faulting Shlaim for taking up an old conspiracy theory and calling it totally misconceived. This new historian is not even new in being wrong.

Shlaim argues that "surely what matters is not whether the interpretation I advance is old or new . . . but whether it is sound or not." True, of course; but it sounds hollow coming from a new historian. If it matters not whether one's interpretation is new or old, why then the hullabaloo about a "new historiography"? My article will have achieved one of its main objectives if Shlaim drops his title of new historian and focuses instead on issues of substance.

The `Abdallah-Meir Meeting

Concerning the important `Abdallah-Meir meeting in November 1947, Shlaim says that "extensive quotations from the reports of all three Jewish participants support [his] account of this meeting," while my article gives "a highly selective and tendentious account designed to exonerate the Jewish side of any responsibility for frustrating the U.N. partition plan." A few responses:

First, why does Shlaim presume that I see a need to "exonerate the Jewish side" for such cooperation? He himself has praised the alleged collusion as "a reasonable and realistic strategy for both sides."1

Secondly, extensive quotations from the reports of all three Jewish participants do not support Shlaim's account. My article shows that the report of Golda Meir (the most important Israeli participant and the person who allegedly clinched the deal with `Abdallah) is conspicuously missing from Shlaim's book, despite his awareness of its existence.

Thirdly, my account is not "selective and tendentious"; Meir did not accept `Abdallah's intention to annex the Arab parts of Western Palestine but emphasized her intent only to speak about an agreement based on the imminent U.N. Partition Resolution; and she would only accept Transjordan's intervention in Palestine "to maintain law and order until the UN could establish a government in that area," namely, a short-lived law-enforcement operation to implement the U.N. Partition Resolution, not obstruct it. In his reply, Shlaim cites only the second point in Meir's above response (though failing to grasp its true meaning) and ignores her first. Who is tendentious here?

Further, having now to deal with Meir's report, Shlaim concedes she told `Abdallah that "we could not promise to help his incursion into the country." But he then twists her words by claiming that
The understanding was not that the Jews would actively help `Abdallah capture the Arab part of Palestine (in defiance of the U.N.) but that (1) he would take it himself, (2) the Zionists would set up their own state, and (3) after the dust had settled, the two parties would make peace.
But there is not a hint in Meir's report of anything remotely reminiscent of this claim. Had he not (tendentiously) truncated Meir's statement as quoted in my article, the reader would easily realize that she insisted on abiding by the U.N. Resolution, not violating it.

Shlaim's emphatic claim that his collusion thesis is predicated on more than a single episode does not hold water. Yes, Shlaim's Collusion across the Jordan ostensibly deals with thirty years of contacts between `Abdallah and the Zionist movement, but it focuses on the short period around the 1947-49 war: of the book's 623 pages, less than 30 concern pre-1947 Hashemite-Zionist relations.

Shlaim traces the "collusion" to the November 1947 Meir-`Abdallah conversation, which can scarcely qualify as the culmination of a sustained and protracted Hashemite-Zionist dialogue, let alone a negotiations process.

Limitations of space do not allow a detailed rebuttal of the collusion myth; I invite the interested reader to consult my forthcoming book Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians."2 Let me state here only that Shlaim's book ignores the Zionist decision-making mechanism and process, which explains why his reply does not address my critical points: a) Meir was not authorized to make a decision of this magnitude; b) no agreement that bound the Zionist movement could conceivably be reached without the authorization of the Jewish Agency Executive (JAE), the effective government of the Yishuv; c) the JAE showed no awareness of the existence of any such agreement; and d) the people who mattered most in the formulation of Zionist foreign policy, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, preferred an independent Palestinian state to Transjordanian expansion, and they did so well after the Abdallah-Meir meeting.

Great Britain's Role

Shlaim's other thesis, about Great Britain, is equally misconceived. In his reply, Shlaim cites the following passage from his book:
By secretly endorsing Abdullah's plan to enlarge his kingdom, Britain became an accomplice in the Hashemite-Zionist collusion to frustrate the United Nations partition resolution of 29 November 1947 and to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state.3
One need go no further than Shlaim's concluding chapter to belie this fantastic claim:
Britain was careful not to get involved in active collusion with Abdullah in frustrating the United Nations partition scheme and gave only implicit agreement to Abdullah's plan. The point of the agreement was not to prevent the birth of a Palestinian state, since by that time it was clear that the Palestinian leaders were not prepared to set up a state in part of Palestine, but to prevent the Jews from occupying the whole of Palestine.4
Shlaim here concedes that the Anglo-Transjordanian collaboration was aimed not against Palestinians but against Jews.

Shlaim himself having debunked the main thrust of his own conspiracy theory, I limit the remainder of my response to dispelling his claims about its specifics:

* I wrote that London did not know of a Hashemite-Zionist agreement to divide up Palestine between themselves; ipso facto it could not have blessed such an agreement. In his reply, Shlaim does not contest this extensively referenced assertion; I take his silence for agreement.

* Shlaim charges me of distorting his account of the February 1948 meeting between Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and Tawfiq Abul Huda, the Transjordan Prime Minister, in which Britain allegedly approved the Hashemite-Zionist collusion. Let's look at the record.

First, Shlaim overlooked a critical piece of primary source-material on the meeting, which makes his account partial at best. He has identified two records: the 1957 memoirs of Sir John Glubb and a minute dated February 9, 1948, by Bernard Burrows, head of the Middle East Department at the Foreign Office. He neglects another contemporary report, prepared by Bevin on February 10 and cabled to the British ambassador in Amman, Sir Alec Kirkbride, the following morning. This third report negates Shlaim's account of the meeting.

Secondly, Shlaim concedes that "what Glubb represents as an explicit warning appears [in the original report] as a question." Yet he gives Glubb's old and partisan account priority over the newly released official document. Further, he twists the original report in order to prove its concomitance with Glubb's claim. "When Glubb's account is taken in conjunction with the briefs prepared for Bevin," he writes, "it appears highly probable that the latter in fact used the opportunity to warn Abul Huda against attempting to seize any of the Jewish areas."5 There is no need for Shlaim's elaborate detective work of second-guessing Bevin through tertiary accounts because the two contemporary reports of the meeting are perfectly clear: Bevin did not tell Abul Huda that invading the Arab parts of Palestine was "the obvious thing to do," as claimed by Glubb, and he did not warn him off invading the Jewish areas. All he said was that he "would study the statements which his Excellency had made."

But even if we read the original reports in conjunction with the briefs prepared for Bevin by his advisers, Shlaim's conspiracy theory does not stand. There were two such briefs, both of which underscored the dilemma confronting British policymakers at the time: whether to limit `Abdallah's intervention to the Arab parts of Palestine and let him be damned in Arab eyes forever, or to encourage him to invade the Jewish areas and run the risk of a harsh international response. Contrary to Shlaim's claim, Bevin's advisers could not make up their mind between these two evils and their clear preference was therefore for the foreign secretary to reserve any comment. Significantly enough, in his book Shlaim omits this recommendation, thus misrepresenting the gist of the briefs.6 But even if both briefs would have made the recommendation alleged by Shlaim, then, as is clearly borne out by Bevin's two reports, their advice was not acted upon. In actual fact, Bevin did follow the advice by refraining from commenting on Abul Huda's proposed line of action.

* Shlaim charges me of distorting the gist of another memorandum, written by Burrows following the meeting and envisaging the detachment of the Negev from the Jewish state-to-be. "Karsh does not say," writes Shlaim, "that Burrows himself described this as one of several considerations not suitable for circulation outside the Foreign Office." Several problems here: First, the detachment of the Negev (and other territories) from the prospective Jewish state was not just "one of several considerations" but a key element of Bevin's political-strategic vision, as evidenced by countless documents in the British archives7 of which Shlaim seems to be unaware. Secondly, I challenge Shlaim to explain why he believes that the memorandum was "not suitable for circulation outside the Foreign Office," when it is minuted at its bottom that "this was briefly discussed with the S.ofS. [i.e., Secretary of State Bevin] who did not object to the substance of the above minute being confidentially discussed with the State Depat. I attach a draft tel."8 Shlaim has inverted Burrows's memorandum, turning black into white. This is not a matter of having a different interpretation from mine; it is a blatant misrepresentation of the substance of a historical document. And it was to caution against precisely this form of malpractice, all too common in the new historians' writing, that I wrote my article.

* The most preposterous of Shlaim's misperceptions is his depiction of Bevin as "the guardian angel of the infant [Israeli] state."9 My heart goes out to Shlaim, whose mother persuaded him into eating his porridge on false pretences. (Fortunately, Bevin never figured in my childhood memories.) But for the rest of us, it clear that Bevin did not hold the view Shlaim ascribes to him but was an arch enemy of the Jewish struggle for national revival. He adamantly refused to help implement the U.N. Partition Resolution of November 1947; he had a long record of trying to prevent Jewish immigration to the British Palestine and then the State of Israel; he oversaw the policy of detaining tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors in camps in Cyprus; he would not recognize Israel for nine months and vehemently opposed Israel's admission to the United Nations; and, despite his awareness that "life for the Jews in such a small State would sooner or later become intolerable and it could be eliminated altogether,"10 he tirelessly worked to make the Jewish state smaller and weaker than what was envisaged by the U.N. Partition Resolution.

In conclusion, to Shlaim's accusing me of "distorting and misrepresenting the work of [my] opponents," I can only say that he who dwells in a glass house should not cast the first stone. In his reply, Shlaim misrepresented Burrows's memorandum and falsely claims to have used the reports of all three Jewish participants in the Meir-`Abdallah meeting when in fact he deliberately withheld Meir's report. Had I not pointed out this fact in my article, he would still pretend this invaluable primary source does not exist. Who is distorting and misrepresenting?

That Shlaim, Pappé, and Morris remain unmoved by the damning evidence in my article is scarcely surprising. Yet I hope that readers will see that their supposed works of history are, in E.H. Carr's words, "propaganda or historical fiction [which uses] facts of the past to embroider a kind of writing which has nothing to do with history."11

1 Avi Shlaim, "The Debate about 1948," International Journal of Middle East Studies, Aug. 1995, p. 298.

2 Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians" (London: Frank Cass, forthcoming).

3 Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 1.

4 Ibid., p. 618.

5 Ibid., pp. 137-38.

6 Ibid., p. 135.

7 See telegram from Bevin to Sir Alec Kirkbride, Nov. 11, 1947, telegram 493, FO 816/89; Harold Beeley, "Possible Forms of Arab Resistance to the Decision of the United Nations," Dec. 22, 1947, FO 371/68364/E11504; "Relations Between H.M.G. and Transjordan," comments by Bevin's advisers on Clayton's conversation with Samir Pasha on Dec. 11, 1948 (Cairo telegram 67 of Dec. 12, 1948), FO 371/62226/E11928; M.T. Walker, "Arab Legion after May 15th," Mar. 3, 1948, FO 371/38366/E1916/G; Bernard Burrows, "Palestine After May 14", May 7, 1948, FO 371/68554/E6778; and "Record of Meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Discuss the Palestine Situation", May 25, 1948, FO 800/487.

8 FO 371/68368/E2696.

9 Shlaim, Collusion, p. 618.

10 Bernard Burrows, "Conversation with Musa el-Alami", Dec. 6, 1947, FO 371/61585/E11764.

11 E.H. Carr, What Is History? (Harmondworth: Penguin, 1984), p. 29.

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Re: Debunking Israel's 'New Historians'

Post by Mindstorm »

David Ben-Gurion - Setting the Record Straight

This is a little history outing the liar Benny Morris and his fellow new historians and all the Islam apologists.

The problem according to Efraim Karsh is that Benny Morris and a few other "new historians" decided to re-write history. At first, Karsh thought that it was perhaps an oversight on Morris's part, but Karsh became aware of countless errors after he had finished checking out the entire book. Considering that Morris is/was a professor of History in the Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University it didn't really makes sense.

According to Karsh, he read the quote that Israel bashers keep pushing themselves. The claim that Ben-Gurion stated 'we must expel Arabs and take their places' in the English version of Benny Morris's book --The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949-- which reminded him of reading something a little different in the Hebrew edition.

In the Hebrew edition of Benny Morris's book --Leidata shel Be ayat Ha-plitim Ha-falestinim 1947-1949-- it had the quote "We do not wish, we do not need to expel Arabs and take their place ..." According Karsh he originally thought that it was a simple mix-up.

This link from Google Books, along with David Ben-Gurion on Wikiqoute was supplied by another FFI poster and it came in very handy.

From Google Books you are able to see 4 more images relating to this topic, but it is somewhat difficult to put together without the book.


Karsh looked up the entire documentation for the complete book and it was completely re-written to distort the original meaning.

Karsh states
"By now my curiosity was growing by the hour. Morris, after all, is not just another historian interacting with his facts. He is a prominent and vociferous member of a rapidly expanding group of Israeli and Jewish 'revisionists', or 'new historians' as they call themselves, claiming to have uncovered the 'historical truth' about the creation of the State of Israel and the advent of the Arab-Israeli conflict."
Karsh goes on and states that he had stayed out of the historical debate up until that point, but was quite dismayed at the "possibility of falsification of documentation."

He lists some reasons why Morris would have acted this way and one of them was because Morris was possibly angry for not moving forward in the academia world as fast as he thought he should have. He goes into lengthy detail here about Morris's possible motives and why Morris was unable to climb to the top as fast as he wanted.

To add to the story Karsh went to the original source where the documents were stored. The original documents were there for any 'new historian' to see and it was open to any other historian/writer, from around the world, who wanted to check the original documents in Hebrew. The question for Karsh was why did Morris quote the truth about Ben-Gurion in the Hebrew version of his book and alter the documentation in the English version of his book. karsh gives his reasons - who can read Hebrew and with the documentation in Israel it would be easy to check up on what Ben-Gurion had written in his papers. Those English readers in the rest of the world would not simply fly to Israel so they could check the original documentation. Even if they were able to what would be the reason? So Morris knew he could get away the new revisionist history.

Karsh goes on to explain why this lie has propagated through the Middle East and the world. For any historian worth his salt (and this is backed up by everyone in this field) they would only use original sources -- no matter how many places they would have had to travel to get them. Only a complete hack of a writer --which many Palestinian Arabs are-- would use second and third hand sources. Instead of them checking out the originals they just bought into the lie of Morris et al, because of their deep hatred of Israel. Of course it wasn't only the Palestinian Arabs who were completely lazy and deceitful -- many Israeli haters, from the West, in their long fight to destroy Israel through propaganda, jumped onto the fray.

After a long feud that quite a few historians, from around the world, jumped into - Morris was proven to be a liar. First of all, one doesn't really need to go through all of this if one understands Hebrew and is willing to read Morris's book in Hebrew or can read Ben-Gurion's original documents. But as we all know it is the regular readers that aren't going to do that.

And as I stated earlier it was not only this lie that was in his book - the book happened to be riddled with them. Once again it is worth mentioning - anytime Morris needed to use Ben-Gurion's original papers to quote in the Hebrew edition he (Morris) was right on the money with the exact quote. Only later did Morris start taking liberties with the original sources in his Hebrew edition of some other papers he had read of Ben-Gurion's.

Karsh never mentioned this part, but it would seem to me that as Morris started making a name for himself as an apologist, he took more chances or just became sloppy because he hadn't been outed yet and thought no one would question him.

As noted this went on for sometime, but the pressure was building for Morris to come clean Karsh writes ...
Before long, however Morris was forced to shed his facade of indifference. When The Economist and the Times Literary Supplement (London) published several examples of his falsification of archival documentation, Morris begrudgingly conceded the correctness of my interpretation of every single document published by the two magazines, while simultaneously seeking to disguise the real nature of his misconduct. 'Karsh has a point', he wrote to the Times Literary Supplement. 'My treatment of the transfer thinking before 1948 was, indeed, superficial.' He also acknowledged my refutation of his misinterpretation of an important speech made by David Ben-Gurion of 3 December 1947: 'he is probably right in rejecting the "transfer interpretation" I suggested in The Birth to a sentence in that speech'. In his attack of my book in the Journal of Palestine Studies Morris went a step further by admitting that, with regard to the same quote, 'Karsh appears to be correct in charging that I "stretched" the evidence to make a point.'

The truth is fundamentally different. What is at hand here is neither the misinterpretation of a certain sentence in Ben-Gurion's speech nor even the 'stretching of the evidence': it is a deliberate and complex attempt to misrepresent the contents of this speech so at to portray a false picture of the moral and political world-view of Israel's founding father.

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Fabricating Israel History : The 'New Historians' by Efraim Karsh

Second Revised Edition : ISBN 071468063-X
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Re: Debunking Israel's 'New Historians'

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Benny Morris and the Reign of Error

by Efraim Karsh
Middle East Quarterly
March 1999

Efraim Karsh is professor of Mediterranean studies at King's College, University of London, and editor of Israel Affairs.

As a general rule, every war is fought twice: first on the battlefield, then in the historiographical arena. The Arabs failed to destroy the State of Israel in 1948; in the next fifty years, they and their Western partisans waged a sustained propaganda battle to cast the birth of Israel as the source of all evil. In the late 1980s this effort received a major boost with the advent of a group of Israeli academics calling themselves the New Historians who claim to have discovered archival evidence substantiating the anti-Israeli case.

These politicized historians have turned the saga of Israel's birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims and the reverse. The Jewish acceptance of the United Nations Resolution of November 29, 1947, partitioning Mandatory Palestine into two new states-Jewish and Arab-is completely ignored or dismissed as a disingenuous ploy; similarly, the violent Palestinian and Arab attempt to abort this resolution is overlooked. The concerted Arab attack on the newly-established State of Israel in mid-May 1948 is whitewashed as a haphazard move by ill-equipped and poorly trained armies confronted with a formidable Jewish force. It has even been suggested that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, were the target of this concerted Arab attack.1

So successful has this effort been that what began as propaganda has become received dogma. It is striking to see how popularity has widely come to be equated with veracity, as if the most commonly held position must by definition be the correct one. I personally learned this when some critics rejected my exposure of the New Historians methods2 not on scholarly grounds but because my work ran counter to the popular view. Thus Joel Beinin of Stanford University questioned my conclusions on the grounds that "many of the arguments of the `new historians' are widely accepted today in liberal Israeli intellectual circles."3 Of course, fashion and popularity cannot authenticate incorrect historical facts and argument. For this reason, it is important to return to the heart of the matter and reexamine the factual basis underlying the anti-Israel indictment.

Toward this end, I shall focus on a key charge: the claim by Benny Morris of Ben-Gurion University, a leading New Historian, that the Zionist and Israeli establishments have systematically falsified archival source material to conceal the Jewish state's less-than-immaculate conception.4 Through a detailed reexamination of the same documentation used by Morris, I shall seek to establish just how reliable his work is and whether it forms a legitimate basis for the revisionist theories he espouses.

First, a note of caution: A rigorous scrutinizing of primary source-material, especially in translation, does not make for the easiest of reading; comparing texts requires more than the usual concentration. I hope the reader will bear with me, though, for this is the only way to get at the bottom of some vexing and critical disputes.

Morris engages in five types of distortion: he misrepresents documents, resorts to partial quotes, withholds evidence, makes false assertions, and rewrites original documents.

I. Misrepesentation

The first problem concerns a faulty account of the contents of documents. Morris tells of statements never made, decisions never taken, events that never happened. Consider, for example, the Israeli cabinet meeting of June 16, 1948, about which Morris commits a double misrepresentation: he misattributes a decision to bar the return of the Palestinian refugees to this meeting; then he charges the Israeli establishment with concealing this nonexistent decision!

On the first matter, Morris writes that
The cabinet meeting of 16 June 1948 was one of the war's most important. It was at that session that, without a formal vote, agreement was reached among the thirteen ministers of Israel's "Provisional Government" to bar a refugee return. The decision in effect sealed the fate of the 700,000 or so Palestinians who had become, or were to become, dispossessed exiles.5
Did it seal their fate? This cabinet meeting took place one month after the war began, at the time of the conflict's first armistice, with fighting to be resumed within three weeks. Its protocol tells nothing of a decision "to bar a refugee return." In fact, it indicates there was no discussion of this issue, much less a decision. Only three participants (Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and Agriculture Minister Aharon Tzisling) referred to refugees at all, and they did so only in the context of a general survey of the situation. All three cabinet members feared that so long as the war was not over, the return of refugees would tilt the scales in the Arabs' favor. However, while two cabinet members (Sharett and Ben-Gurion) believed that the refugees should not return after the war, a third (Tzisling) emphatically argued they should. Where is the consensus of the cabinet Morris alleges?

On the second matter, Morris charges that later published accounts of this cabinet meeting hide what happened at it. But a look at the works in question, notably two of David Ben-Gurion's books,6 shows not a shred of evidence to support this contention. Ben-Gurion's account of the meeting (as quoted by Morris) is a near-verbatim reiteration of the original minutes, espousing Ben-Gurion's view that the refugees should not be allowed back.

The following discussion demonstrates the intricate dynamics of distortion, whereby one misrepresentation inevitably leads to another. Having falsely claimed the existence of an Israeli cabinet decision to bar a refugee return, Morris has no choice but to distort not only the documents related to this meeting but also those of a subsequent Israeli consultation, about the possibility of refugee return, so as to avoid exposure of his original claim.

This high-level consultation was held on August 18, 1948. Morris writes that the meeting, which included Ben-Gurion, his Arab affairs advisers, and his key ministers, was called "to discuss the problem of the Arab refugees and ways to prevent their return."7 In fact, as the meeting's agenda8 and Ben-Gurion's diary9 make clear, it attempted to determine the issue of "whether or not to return Arabs." The preliminary remarks of another participant, Director of the Jewish National Fund's (JNF) Land Development Division Yosef Weitz confirms this point: "We should not discuss the [abandoned] property here: there is a custodian attached to the treasury. Discussion of this matter will divert us from the main issue: to return [the refugees] or not to return?"10 In the event, no collective recommendations were made on this issue, which was left for a government decision.11 Morris withholds these facts from his readers.12

Rather than give the full title of the meeting's original minutes, as recorded by Yaacov Shimoni of the foreign office ("A Précis of a Meeting at the Prime Minister's Office on the Problems of the Arab Refugees and their Return"), Morris truncates it to merely "A Précis,"13 thereby omitting any mention of a possible Palestinian return.

Morris also hides from his readers the widespread consensus among participants at this August 1948 meeting to allow Arabs who had fled to other parts of Israel from their places of residence to return to their original dwellings. In the words of Minister of Police and Minorities Bechor Shalom Shitrit: "The Arabs of Israel who had left their places but remained inside-those should be returned."14 Under a section of the discussion titled "The return of Arabs who had fled their places but remained inside Israel?" Sharett put the idea in far more elaborate form:
These should be returned to their places, with full ownership of their lands etc., and with full [citizenship] rights. We should not, as a matter of principle, discriminate against an Arab who had stayed inside [Israel] and thereby accepted its rule. He should enjoy full rights, including his property [rights]-unless there are decisive emergency considerations, security-wise. This should be the instruction to governors, commanders, etc.15
To return to the cabinet meeting of June 16, 1948, the original, untruncated text of Foreign Minister Sharett's words as recorded by Ben-Gurion reads:
Apart from the boundaries question, namely the external perimeter of the state's territory, there is the question of the future of the Arab community which had existed in Israel's territory prior to the outbreak of the present war: Do we imagine to ourselves [ha'im anahnu metaarim le'atsmenu] a return to the status quo ante, or do we accept the [present] situation as a fait accompli and fight over it?16
Morris presents it this way:
"Can we imagine to ourselves a return to the status quo ante?" the foreign minister asked rhetorically. "They are not returning [or "they will not return"- "hem einam hozrim"], and that is our policy: they are not returning."17
Morris omits both the beginning of Sharett's presentation, which places his words in context, and the second half of his question (about accepting the situation or fighting it). These changes permit him to turn a weighty issue for decision into a rhetorical question. He further exacerbates the distortion by mistranslating Sharett's genuine question, "Do we imagine to ourselves," as the rhetorical assertion "Can we imagine to ourselves." Moreover, by linking Sharett's conclusion to his truncated question, he jumps over the lengthy consideration of the pros and cons of each option.18 Revealingly, in a Hebrew version of this same article, Morris did not misrepresent Sharett's words,19 perhaps because Hebrew readers can check for themselves the veracity of his citation.

II. Partial Quotes

Through the omission of key passages, Morris repeatedly distorts many quotations. He makes a specialty of partial quotes from Ben-Gurion's books, in the process turning their original intention upside down. Morris claims that Ben-Gurion sought to hide his own views,20 but this is also wrong.

Departed Palestinians. Consider, for example, the following partial quote, about the same meeting and from a book by Ben-Gurion, in which he discusses the departed Palestinians. The original text reads as follows:
And we must prevent at all costs their return meanwhile [i.e., until the end of the war]. We, as well as world public opinion cannot ignore the horrible fact that 700,000 [Jewish] people are confronted here with 27 million [Arabs], one against forty. Humanity's conscience was not shocked when 27 million attacked 700,000-after six million Jews had been slaughtered in Europe. It will not be just if they demand of us to allow back to Abu Kabir and Jaffa those who tried to destroy us.21
Morris provides only this truncated text:
And we must prevent at all costs their return meanwhile ... . It will not be just if they demand of us to allow back to Abu Kabir and Jaffa those who tried to destroy us.22
The innocent looking ellipses hide an insightful glimpse into Ben-Gurion's mindset, namely, his perception of the 1948 War as a concerted attempt by the Arab world to destroy the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine) shortly after the Holocaust. This was a central component in the prime minister's thinking, one that Morris must deny in his attempt to misrepresent the 1948 War as a confrontation between a Jewish Goliath and an Arab David. And again, by omitting a key passage, Morris misleads his readers into thinking that this paragraph in Ben-Gurion's book differs from the original meeting protocol; in fact, it is a near-verbatim rendition of it, and not the "falsification" that Morris claims to find.

Jaffa. Here is the complete text of a paragraph from a book Ben-Gurion published in 1951:
Jaffa will become a Jewish city. War is war; it is not us who wanted war. Tel-Aviv did not wage war on Jaffa, Jaffa waged war on Tel-Aviv. And this should not happen again. We will not be "foolish hasidim." Bringing back the Arabs to Jaffa is not just but rather is foolish. Those who had gone to war against us-let them carry the responsibility after having lost.23
As quoted by Morris, this paragraph reads:
Jaffa will become a Jewish city ... . Bringing back the Arabs to Jaffa is not just but rather is foolish. Those who had gone to war against us-let them carry the responsibility after having lost.24
By dropping the middle part of this passage, Morris withholds from his readers Ben-Gurion's elaborate reasoning for barring an Arab return to Jaffa. He also hides the striking similarity between this later rendition and the original protocol-which would refute his charge that Israelis falsify the historical record.
In another passage, Morris writes:
Interestingly, in Medinat Yisrael Ben-Gurion did not republish his statement that "Jaffa will become a Jewish city." Perhaps he felt in 1969 that Israel-or the world-had become somewhat more sensitive than it had been in 1952 to anything smacking of racism.25
Leaving aside the curious expectation that two books on different subjects should precisely replicate each other, a glance at Ben-Gurion's account of the cabinet meeting reveals that "Jaffa will become a Jewish city" meant that through the vicissitudes of the war, Jaffa would become part of the Jewish state rather than of an Arab state, as envisaged by the U.N. partition resolution. Morris omits Sharett's words at the same meeting that explain this:
As regards Jaffa, a very serious question arises yet again: can we agree, after the experience we had just gone through, to the restoration of the status quo ante: that Jaffa will return to be an Arab city, at a time when the risk is so great? Even then, when we agreed to the exclusion of Jaffa from the territory of the [Israeli] state, many [people] questioned [our decision]; but there was the assumption that just as they held [Jewish] Jerusalem [hostage], we held Jaffa. But now we realize what a fifth column it was! And having removed this troublesome spot, returning Jaffa to foreign sovereignty, which is likely to be [our] enemy for many years to come-is a very grave question.26
Arab rights. Ben-Gurion had the following to say about Arab rights, according to the original protocol of a meeting:
We must start working in Jaffa. Jaffa must employ Arab workers. And there is a question of their wages. I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has also the right to be elected president of the state, should he be elected by all. If in America a Jew or a black cannot become president of the state-I do not believe in the quality of its civil rights. Indeed, despite the democracy there, I know that there are plots that are not sold to Jews, and the law tolerates this; and a person can sell his plot to a dealer on condition that it not be bought by a Jew ... Should we have such a regime-then we would have missed the purpose of the Jewish State. And I would add that we would have denied the most precious thing in Jewish tradition. But war is war. We did not start the war. They made the war. Jaffa waged war on us, Haifa waged war on us, Bet She'an waged war on us. And I do not want them again to make war. That would be not just but foolish. This would be a "foolish hasid." Do we have to bring back the enemy, so that he again fights us in Bet She'an? No! You made war [and] you lost.27
His later account of his words read:
Jaffa must employ Arab workers. And there is a question of their wages. I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has also the right to be elected president of the state, should he be elected. If in America a Jew or a black cannot become president of the state-I do not believe in the quality of its civil rights. But war is war.28
But then here is Morris reporting on Ben-Gurion's views:
He favored giving work to the Arabs who had remained in Jaffa (about 3,000 of the original 70,000): "I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has the right also to be elected president of the state ... . But war is war."29
Why Morris omitted key passages from his article is easy to guess, for it was precisely Ben-Gurion's relentless commitment to democracy and his perception of Israel's Arabs as full and equal members of the Jewish state (i.e., Israel as a genuine "state of all its citizens")30 that Morris has so vehemently denied. Moreover, the original protocol offers a more elaborate exposition of Ben-Gurion's democratic values than the shorter account he chose to bring in his book. Where, then, is Ben-Gurion's attempt at a cover-up?[/size]

III. Withholding Vital Evidence

Morris repeatedly omits key words or even sentences from his quotations, thus distorting their meaning; or he places the quotes out of context; or he portrays them in false light. At times he even omits entire passages, then has the nerve to castigate the speaker or writer for the absence of these very passages!

Take Ben-Gurion's discussions with his advisers on January 1-2, 1948, to determine the strategy of the Yishuv against Palestinian attempts to subvert the U.N. Partition Resolution of November 1947 through violence. Morris compares the thirteen-page description of these deliberations in Ben-Gurion's diary with the eighty-one page stenographic typescript of the proceedings and found a "few but telling" differences.31 Leaving aside the fact that it is technically impossible for a thirteen-page diary entry to replicate a eighty-one page stenographic typescript fully, Morris neglects to inform his readers of much key information.

The first of these differences concerns a statement by Gad Machnes, one of Ben-Gurion's advisers on Arab affairs. Morris writes that:
Machnes kicked off the discussion by stating: " ... The Arabs were not ready when they began the disturbances. Moreover, most of the Arab public did not want them." Ben-Gurion, in his diary, rendered this passage thus: "The Arabs were not ready"-completely omitting Machnes's opinion that "most" of the Arabs did not want the disturbances.32
Morris does not mention that Ben-Gurion's diary entry is replete with references to the Arab masses' lack of interest in war.33

Indeed, Ben-Gurion repeatedly tells of his conviction that the Palestinian masses did not want war but had this imposed on them by an intransigent leadership. He reiterated this theme both in his meetings with Sir Alan Cunningham, the British high commissioner in Palestine,34 and expressed it publicly. On November 25, 1947, for example, he stated that "it should be borne in mind that the masses of the Arab people-forcibly silenced and deprived of political expression-are not keen to rush to battle."35

Second, Morris writes that "Machnes went on to enjoin the Haganah to retaliate against Arab provocations 'with strength and brutality,' even hitting women and children."36 Morris withholds from his readers, however, that "strength and brutality" refers here not to indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian society as a whole, but as a means of last resort and to pinpoint retaliation against specific and well-identified perpetrators of armed attacks on Jews. Here is the full citation of Machnes's words from the meeting's original protocol:
I think that today there is no question whether or not to respond. But for the response to be effective, it must come in the right time and the right place and take the form of a strong punishment. Blowing up a house is not enough. Blowing up a house of innocent people is certainly not enough! The response must be strong and harsh because it must create the
impression, must punish [the perpetrators of violence] and must serve as a warning. If our responses are not impressive-they will create the opposite impression. These matters necessitate the utmost precision-in terms of time, place, and whom and what to hit ... If we operate against, say, a specific family in a known place, a known village [i.e., identified perpetrators of violence], then there should be no mercy! But only a direct blow and no touching of innocent people! We have already reached a position that necessitates a strong response. Today one should not even avoid hitting women and children. For otherwise, the response cannot be effective.37
Whereas Machnes recommended a highly discriminate response, Morris misquotes him as suggesting precisely the opposite.

Third, Morris misrepresents Yigal Allon, commander of the Palmach, as advocating political assassinations: " ... Eliminating a few personalities at the right time-is very important."38 The actual text reads as follows:
In conclusion, I would like to say that we cannot shift to a pattern of personal terrorism. But the elimination of a few individuals at the right time is a very important thing.39
By removing Allon's first sentence Morris turned his position upside down. Allon rejected political assassination as a modus operandi, as opposed to the targeting of specific individuals who had a direct bearing on the prosecution of the war.

Apart from this meeting, Morris distorts the views of Yosef Weitz (a secondary Zionist figure who Morris inflates into a straw-man of gigantic proportions) and thereby withholds revealing information on the Palestinian side. Weitz' diary as found in the archive tells about an incident on May 4, 1948, as follows:
A delegation from the Jezreel Valley and Bet She'an informs that the Arab Legion entered the [Arab] town of Bet She'an; ordered the women and children to leave the town and barricaded itself inside it. The question arose: should we attack the town or lay siege to it? This issue was discussed yesterday at the regional headquarters. An attack necessitates far larger forces than those available at the area, while the siege might take a long time and might trigger an invasion of foreign forces from Transjordan and an increase of the [Arab] Legion's forces [in the area]. No decision was reached. The local committee [of Jewish settlements] supports an attack, and came to ask me to influence the commanders here. I complained that this valley was still seething with enemies. And I am afraid that we are on the verge of defeat, because the British army, which had suddenly returned to the country, intends forcefully to impose "peace" on both parties and will prevent us from undertaking vigorous actions at a time when we have the upper hand. "The Bet She'an Valley is the gate to our state in the Galilee, and nobody should stand on its threshold to disturb us,"-I said-"the evacuation of the valley [pinuyo shel ha-`emek] is the order of the day."40
Morris reports this episode as follows, writing about Weitz:
On 4 May, he complained to the local Jewish leaders that "the valley was still seething with enemies ... I said-the eviction [of the Arabs] from the valley is the order of the day." The passage was deleted from the published diary.41
Note that Morris mistranslates "evacuation" of the valley as "eviction [of the Arabs]," though Weitz clearly refers to the valley, not the Arabs. Even if Weitz implies their eviction, Morris undoubtedly has taken liberties with the translation. Also, by quoting a tiny fraction of this lengthy paragraph out of its real context, Morris withholds from his readers Weitz's thinking about the strategic importance of the Bet She'an Valley for Israel's security and his recurrent fears of Jewish defeat (a far cry from the militant mood misattributed to him by Morris).42

No less importantly, Morris hides revealing information about the departure of Palestinians as the result of Arab pressure. For example, on March 28, 1948, Weitz recorded in his published diary:
Haifa-R. Baum told me that the inhabitants of Qumia, about three hundred people, left the village yesterday having asked the [British] authorities to vacate them. They were in a difficult economic position and the [Arab] gangs had struck fear into them. The people cried on Baum's shoulders about the difficulty of leaving their place.43
Morris ignores this entry altogether.

IV. Making False Assertions

Unconcerned with the necessities of scholarly rigor, at times Morris does not even take the trouble to provide evidence for his charge of Zionist wrongdoing. He expects his readers to take on trust his assertions that fundamental contradictions exist between published accounts and the underlying documents. In fact, these contradictions do not exist.

For example, Morris charges Ben-Gurion of omitting passages from the protocol of the (above-noted) consultation on August 18, 1948:
Both Shitrit and Weitz spoke of the need to buy land. As Shitrit put it: "There are many Arabs who wish to leave-they must be found and bought out."
Morris then recounts what other participants said and then returns to these two:
Ben-Gurion's three-and-a-half page diary description of that meeting completely omits mention of Weitz's proposals to destroy the villages and prevent Arab harvesting. It also fails to mention Weitz's and Shitrit's proposal to encourage Arab emigration through offers to purchase land.44
But did Ben-Gurion's diary actually not mention these proposals? Here is the original text:
Shitrit: Many Arabs do not want to return to the country and we must immediately buy their land.
Weitz: As for the cultivation of the land: if we do not wish the Arabs to return, and we require only food-then we should cultivate only the land necessary for growing food-100,000 dunams of the best land, and from the rest-lease and buy as much as possible ... one has to prepare plans for settling the Arabs in the neighboring states.45
In fact, Ben-Gurion scrupulously recorded the meeting in his diary.

Similarly, Morris charges Yosef Weitz of another distortion:
On 12 January 1948, six weeks into the war, Weitz traveled to Yoqne'am, an agricultural settlement southeast of Haifa, where he discussed with Yehuda Burstein, the local Haganah intelligence officer, "the question of the eviction of [Arab] tenant-farmers from Yoqne'am and [neighboring] Daliyat [al-Ruha] with the methods now acceptable. The matter has been left in the hands of the defense people [the Haganah] and during the afternoon I spoke with the [Haganah] deputy district commander." This whole passage was omitted from the published diary.46
Was it? Let us look at the published diary:
Haifa, 11.1: I discussed with the Haifa people [i.e., officials] the question of the [Arab] tenant-farmers in Yoqne'am and Daliya. Is it not the time now to get rid of them? Why should we continue to keep these thorns among us, at a time when they pose a threat to us? Our people weigh and reflect [on the matter].47
Equally false is Morris's claim that Weitz omitted from the published diary his advocacy that Bedouin farmer tenants from the Ghawarna clan be vacated from Jewish land in the Haifa bay. As Morris puts it:
A member of Kfar Masaryk came to see Weitz in Tel Aviv and complained, "astonished," that these bedouin had not yet been evicted. Weitz promptly wrote a letter "to the [Haganah] commander there and to [Mordechai] Shachevitz [Weitz's land-purchasing agent in the area] to move quickly in this matter." A week later, Shachevitz informed Weitz that "most of the beduins in the [Haifa] bay [area] had gone, [but] some fifteen-twenty men had stayed behind to guard [the clans' property]. I demanded that they also be evicted and that the fields be plowed over so that no trace of them remains." Again, no trace of any of this is to be found in Weitz's published diary entries.48
Really? A look at Weitz's published account reveals the following:
Haifa, 27.3-Today we discussed the Ghawarna Bedouins in our bay, who must be sent away from there so as to prevent them from joining our enemies...

Haifa, 26.4- ... In the bay [area] I saw the lands cleared of the Ghawarna, most of whom had left. In the northern part [of the bay] the shacks had been destroyed and the land was being plowed over. In the southern part, the operation had yet to be completed. In war-as in war.49
It gets worse. Morris misrepresents the latter entry from Weitz's diary. He holds that Weitz "recorded that the northern part of the Zevulun Valley was completely clear of bedouin."50 Not so: as we have just seen, Weitz's published account specifically refers to the departure of the Ghawarna Bedouins, rather than of Bedouins as a whole, and from the Haifa Bay, rather than the Zevulun Valley-precisely as it appears in the original diary.51 Had Morris quoted the diary correctly, he would have negated his false claim that no trace of this episode is to be found in the published diary entries, since he had himself acknowledged that "Weitz included this passage in his published entry for 26 April."52

Morris then accuses Weitz of wholesale falsification of the personal diaries of Yosef Nahmani, longtime director of the JNF Office in the eastern Galilee, which Weitz edited after Nahmani's death. Morris writes:
On 30 December 1947, a squad of IZL terrorists threw a bomb at a bus stop outside the oil refinery complex just north of Haifa, killing about half a dozen Arabs, some of them workers at the plant, and wounding others. Within hours, in a spontaneous act of vengeance, Arab workers at the plant turned on their Jewish colleagues with knives and sticks, slaughtering thirty-nine of them. Nahmani jotted down in his diary (on 30 December):

... [1] was told about the bomb that Jews threw into a crowd of Arab workers from the refinery and there are dead. The Arabs [then] attacked the Jewish clerks ... and killed some of them ... . This incident depressed me greatly. After all, the Arabs [in Haifa] had declared a truce and why cause the death of innocent people and again ignite the Arabs ...
Morris quotes more of Nahmani, musing on the significance of this event, then adds his own comment:
Weitz, in Nahmani, completely omitted this passage (though he did include a brief excerpt from Nahmani's entry for 30 December-dealing with other matters altogether). However, he published part of Nahmani's entry for 31 December, reading: "The disaster that struck the workers at the Haifa oil refinery depressed me greatly." For Israeli readers in 1969, this passage, in the way it appears, could only be taken to refer to the massacre of the Jewish refinery workers and not to the killing of the Arab workers at the bus stop that preceded it.
But did Weitz really seek to shield his fellow Israelis from the less savory aspects of their past by expunging all traces of Jewish-initiated violence? Hardly. The page in Nahmani's published diary that Morris quotes contains no less than two other entries specifically dedicated to this issue:
Tiberias, 19.12-this morning we learnt from the Galileans who came to Tiberias about the bombing of houses in Kasas [in retaliation for a mob attack on a Jewish guard] and there are fatalities: ten dead Arabs, including five children. This is appalling. Indiscriminate acts of retaliation hitting innocent people will mobilize all of the Arabs against us and help the extremists who will immerse the country in a whirlpool of bloodletting. The Kasas incident greatly depressed me.

Tiberias, 21.12-I participated in a meeting of representatives of those Galilee settlements which maintain contacts with Arabs and propagate the preservation of relations with them [i.e., the Arabs]. I raised the Kasas incident and said that this act indicated that the generation at the helm had no moral inhibitions against bloodshed.54
Further showing the complete inaccuracy of Morris's claim that Weitz hid the less savory episodes, Weitz's own published diary offered a candid description of the refinery episode four years before Nahmani's was published:
What happened this week at the Haifa refinery shocked all of us, on both accounts: the bomb throwing into a crowd of Arab workers was a crime on the part of our "secessionists" [i.e., the IZL]. For while we favor "a retaliatory action," we are totally opposed to a provocative attack. I do not find any supportive circumstances, not even one in a thousand, to justify this act by the secessionists, which caused to a certain extent the Arab riots in the refinery and the massacre of forty Jews. I said to a certain extent, because it is argued that incitement for an attack of the Jewish workers has been sensed for quite some time and that the attack would probably have occurred in any event. However, it is clear today that this provocative act caused the spilling of our precious blood.55
Thus did Weitz make not the slightest attempt to cover up IZL's responsibility for what he called a "crime" in the refinery. His omission of the above entry in Nahmani's diary obviously had nothing to do with the "political and propagandistic intent" Morris attributes to him.56 To the contrary, as activists in the Labor movement, Weitz and Nahmani had no compunction about publicly disowning the activities of the smaller underground groups, the IZL and Lohamei Herut Israel (LEHI, Fighters for Israel's Freedom), which they deemed as morally reprehensible and politically detrimental. Hence the striking similarity in Weitz's and Nahmani's responses to the IZL attack at the refinery; hence the negative references to IZL terrorist acts recurring in their published diaries. Where is the cover up?

V. Rewriting Original Documents

Falsification means the reader is presented with allegedly direct quotations from original documents that are in fact rewritten texts containing at best altered words or sentences, and at worst sentences invented by Morris and then misrepresented by him as authentic.

Take Morris's citation of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's words at the Israeli cabinet meeting of June 16, 1948:
But war is war. We did not start the war. They made the war, Jaffa went to war against us. So did Haifa. And I do not want those who fled to return. I do not want them again to make war.57
The key sentence here ("I do not want those who fled to return") is simply not found in the text of the meeting protocol. It reads as follows:
But war is war. We did not start the war. They made the war. Jaffa waged war on us, Haifa waged war on us, Bet She'an waged war on us. And I do not want them again to make war. That would be not just but foolish. This would be a "foolish hasid." Do we have to bring back the enemy, so that he again fights us in Bet She'an? No! You made war [and] you lost.58
It bears noting that in the Hebrew version of his article, Morris did not put words into Ben-Gurion's mouth,59 presumably because Hebrew readers can check for themselves the veracity of his citation.

Morris has Ben-Gurion telling a Jewish Agency Executive meeting (on June 7, 1938) that
"The starting point for a solution of the Arab problem in the Jewish state" was the conclusion of an agreement with the Arab states that would pave the way for a transfer of the Arabs out of the Jewish State to the Arab countries.60
The original protocol has nothing about transferring "Arabs out of the Jewish State to the Arab countries," a phrase entirely of Morris' own making. The actual text reads:
The starting point for a solution of the question of the Arabs in the Jewish State is, in his [i.e., Ben-Gurion's] view, the need to prepare the ground for an Arab-Jewish agreement.61
On another occasion, Morris rewrites words or sentences in primary documents to misrepresent their meaning. He quotes the January 12, 1948, entry in Yosef Weitz's diary and has Weitz discussing the eviction of Arab tenant-farmers from "Daliyat,"62 which he identifies as "Daliyat al-Ruha," an Arab locality. Weitz's diary in fact refers to Dalia, a Hebrew kibbutz, a neighboring and wholly different place from "Daliyat." By Arabizing the name of a Hebrew settlement Morris creates the absolutely false impression that the tenant farmers were to be evicted from Arab, rather than from Jewish land.

On other occasions, Morris rewrites entries in the Weitz and Ben-Gurion diaries to implicate the prime minister in Weitz's (alleged) activities. Writes Morris:
According to the original Weitz diary entry for 5 June, Weitz had informed Ben-Gurion that the committee had already begun "here and there destroying villages." In the published diary, Weitz had amended this to "here and there 'improving' villages" (the single quotes presumably designed to signal his more perceptive readers what was actually meant). In both versions, Weitz wrote that Ben-Gurion "gave his approval" to this work.63
Morris goes on to characterize these as "the Transfer Committee's proposals" and to indicate that Ben-Gurion approved of them.64 But did Weitz really tell Ben-Gurion that the "committee had already begun" destroying villages? Did Ben-Gurion authorize "the Transfer Committee's proposals"? Not at all, as Weitz himself explains:
I said that I [and not the "Transfer Committee" as misquoted by Morris] had already given instructions to start here and there "improving" villages-and he approved it. I contented myself with this.65
Weitz's resort to the first person is important: as director of the Jewish National Fund's Land Development Division he was directly involved in the question of abandoned Palestinian villages. Moreover, the "Transfer Committee" Morris writes of never came into being. During this same meeting, Ben-Gurion specifically told Weitz that he rejected outright the very existence of such a committee. As Weitz put it: "He would like to convene a narrow meeting and to appoint a committee to handle the issue. He does not agree to the [existence] of our temporary committee."66

Having withheld these critical facts, Morris then has the nerve to charge Ben-Gurion with taking great care "to avoid leaving footprints of his own involvement"67 in the activities of the Transfer Committee. To substantiate this false claim, Morris rewrites the entry in Ben-Gurion's diary pertaining to the meeting. The actual text reads as follows:
He [i.e., Weitz] proposes to discuss with the Arab Governments help in settling these Arabs in the Arab states. This is [far too] premature and untimely.68
Morris turns this into:
But how did Ben-Gurion record the self-same meeting? "It is too early and untimely ... to discuss with the Arab Governments help in resettling these Arabs in the Arab states ... ."69
Morris restructures Ben-Gurion's diary entry to remove the fact that Weitz proposed resettling refugees in the Arab states and Ben-Gurion rejected the idea. This permits Morris to conceal Ben-Gurion's rejection of a pivotal component of Weitz's thinking and to paint a false picture of a complete meeting of minds, if not a straightforward collusion. As Morris puts it:
Indeed, according to Weitz, Ben-Gurion had not only approved the "whole policy," but had thought that the proposed actions in Israel (destruction of villages, prevention of harvesting, settlement of Jews in abandoned sites) should take precedence over efforts to resettle refugees elsewhere (meaning negotiating with Arab countries about resettlement, assessing compensation and so forth).70
The reality was quite different. Ben-Gurion did not accept Weitz's suggestions about settling the Arabs abroad. Rather, Ben-Gurion deemed the latter issue irrelevant and unwarranted because the war was far from over and he had not yet made up his mind about the solution to the refugee problem.

VI. Conclusions

A deep-rooted and pervasive distortion lies at the heart of the revisionists' rewriting of Israel's early history. A close inspection shows Morris's claim that the Zionist movement and the State of Israel are "among the more accomplished practitioners of this strange craft"71 of record falsification to be totally false. If anything, it shows that Morris himself is a master at that very same "strange craft." Morris not only fails to show rewriting by the authorities but he himself is the one who 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. For, if the veracity of one's quotes and factual assertions cannot be taken for granted, then the entire raison d'être of the historical discourse will have been lost. It also fits the psychological pattern of projection: a falsifier tends to see in others a mirror image of himself. In the colloquial, it takes one to know one.

Regrettably, Morris's distortions in the article under consideration are neither a fluke nor an exception. As I have sought to demonstrate elsewhere, they typify the New Historians' whole approach.72 Lacking evidence, they invent an Israeli history in the image of their own choosing.

[1] Yezid Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement 1949-1993 (Oxford and Washington DC: Clarendon Press and the Institute for Palestine Studies, 1998), p. 3.

[2] Efraim Karsh, "Rewriting Israel's History," Middle East Quarterly, June 1996, pp. 19-29; idem., Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians" (London: Frank Cass, 1997).

[3] Joel Beinin, review of Fabricating Israeli History in the Middle East Journal, Summer 1998, p. 449.

[4] Benny Morris, "Falsifying the Record: A Fresh Look at Zionist Documentation of 1948," Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 1995, pp. 44-62.

[5] Ibid., p. 56. For clarity's sake, we are placing all quotations from Morris in bold and all additions by this author in brackets [].

[6] Be-hilahem Israel (Tel-Aviv: Hotsaat Mifleget Poalei Eretz Israel, 1951), pp. 130-131 and Medinat Israel Ha-mehudeshet (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, 1969), pp. 163-168.

[7] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 49.

[8] Yaacov Shimoni, "Beayot Gush Bet: Hahzarat Plitim O Ii Hahzaratam." Recorded in "Tamtsit Dvarim Be-yeshiva Be-misrad Rosh Ha-memshala al Beayot Ha-plitim Ha-arvim Ve-shuvam," Aug. 18, 1948, ISA, FM 2444/19, p. 2. The other item on the agenda was the question of abandoned Arab property.

[9] Diary of David Ben-Gurion, Aug. 18, 1948, Ben-Gurion Archive, Sde Boker (hereafter BGA); David Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama (Tel-Aviv: Misrad Ha-bitahon, Ha-hotsa'a La'or, 1983), vol. II, p. 652 (emphasis added).

[10] Shimoni, "Tamtsit," p. 1.

[11]Ibid., p. 4; BGA; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. II, p. 654.

[12] Morris, "Falsifying", p. 49.

[13] Ibid., p. 61, fn. 21.

[14] Shimoni, "Tamtsit," p. 2 (emphasis in the original).

[15] Ibid., p. 3 (emphasis in the original).

[16] Ben-Gurion, Medinat Israel, p. 164.

[17] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.

[18] Ben-Gurion, Medinat Israel, pp. 164-165; "Partikol-Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, Israel State Archives, pp. 19-20.

[19] Benny Morris, "'U-sfarim U-gvilim Be-zikna Regilim': Mabat Hadash al Mismachim Zioni'im Merkazi'im," Alpayim, 12 (1996): 98.

[20] Morris, "Falsifying", pp. 50-51.

[21] Ben-Gurion, Be-hilahem Israel, p. 131. See also "Partikol-Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, p. 36.

[22] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.

[23] Ben-Gurion, Be-hilahem Israel, pp. 130-131.

[24] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.

[25] Ibid.

[26] "Partikol-Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, pp. 15-16.

[27] Ibid., pp. 34-35.

[28] Ben-Gurion, Medinat Israel, p. 167.

[29] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.

[30] David Ben-Gurion, Ba-ma'araha, vol. IV, part 2 (Tel-Aviv: Hotsaat Mifleget Polaei Eretz Israel, 1959), p. 260.

[31] Morris, "Falsifying", p. 51.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ben-Gurion quoted Eliyahu Sasson, director of the Arab section of the Jewish Agency's Political Department: "It is true that the wider Arab public was not swayed by the disturbances; the villager, the merchant, the worker, and the citrus-grower did not want [war] and do not want [it] now. But the Mufti wanted-and succeeded in implicating the country." Ben-Gurion recorded another Arab specialist, Ezra Danin: "He [Danin] disputes Sasson's opinion that the Mufti achieved more than he had hoped. To the contrary, he expected the Arabs to follow him more than it actually happened." And yet another comment in the same vein, this time by Joshua Palmon: "Are there or are there not disturbances? In the vicinity of Beit-Govrin, in the south up to Yazur there are no disturbances. Most of the Arabs want peace." BGA; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. I, pp. 99-102.

[34] Thus, for example, in his meeting with Cunningham on October 2, 1947, Ben-Gurion argued that "he himself felt that the mass of the people in Palestine wished peace." Eleven days later he told Cunningham that "there were a large section of Arabs who were against the Mufti and wished to cooperate." On January 6, 1948, four days after the meeting cited by Morris, Ben-Gurion claimed that "the felaheen did not want trouble and the Jews were not going to provoke them." Cunningham Papers, St. Antony's College, Oxford, V/1.

[35] Ben-Gurion, Ba-ma'araha, p. 254.

[36] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 51.

[37] "Partikol Meha-yeshiva Be-inyanei Shem," Jan. 1-2, 1948, Ha-kibbutz Ha-meuhad Archive, Ramat-Efal, Israel, Galili Section, Box 45, File 1-4, pp. 3-4.

[38] Morris, "Falsifying," pp. 51-52.

[39]"Partikol Meha-yeshiva Be-inyanei Shem," p. 46.

[40] Yosef Weitz diary, May 4, 1948, Central Zionist Archives, A246/13, pp. 2373-74.

[41] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Yosef Weitz, Yomani Ve-igrotai La-banim (Tel-Aviv: Masada, 1965), vol. III, p. 257.

[44] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 49.

[45] BGA; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. II, pp. 653-54.

[46] Morris, "Falsifying," pp. 46-47.

[47] Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, p. 223. Though dated January 11, 1948, rather than January 12 as in the original diary, there is no doubt that this is the meeting referred to by Morris, not least since Weitz held his meetings in Haifa (and not in Yoqne'am as Morris states). See, Yosef Weitz diary, Jan. 12, 1948, A246/12, p. 2290.

[48] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47. Kfar Masaryk is a kibbutz.

[49] Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, pp. 257, 273.

[50] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47.

[51] Yosef Weitz diary, Apr. 26, 1948, A246/13, p. 2367.

[52] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47.

[53] Ibid., pp. 53-54. IZL stands for Irgun Zvai Leumi, or National Military Organization.

[54] Yosef Nahmani, Ish Ha-Galil (Ramat-Gan: Masada, 1969), p. 246.

[55] Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, p. 218 (entry for Jan. 3, 1948).

[56] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 53.

[57] Ibid., p. 58.

[58] "Partikol-Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, pp. 35-36.

[59] Morris, "'U-sfarim U-gvilim Be-zikna Regilim'," p. 99.

[60] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 24.

[61] "Partikol Yeshivat Hanhalat Ha-sokhnut Ha-yehudit Le-Eretz Israel, Shenitqaima Be-Yerushalaim Be-yom," June 7, 1938, Central Zionist Archives, p. 11.

[62] Morris, "Falsifying," pp. 46-47.

[63] Ibid., p. 48.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, p. 298 (diary entry for June 5, 1948). See also Yosef Weitz diary, June 5, 1948, A246/13, p. 2411.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Morris, "Falsifying," p. 49.

[68] BGA, entry for June 5, 1948; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. II, p. 487.

[69] Morris, "Falsifying", p. 49.

[70] Ibid., p. 48.

[71] Ibid., p. 44.

[72] See, for example, Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History, passim, and "'Falsifying the Record': Benny Morris, David Ben-Gurion, and the 'Transfer' Idea," Israel Affairs, Winter 1997, pp. 47-71.

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Re: Debunking Israel's 'New Historians'

Post by Mindstorm »

Benny Morris's Reign of Error, Revisited

The Post-Zionist Critique

by Efraim Karsh
Middle East Quarterly
Spring 2005, pp. 31-42

The collapse and dispersion of Palestine's Arab society during the 1948 war is one of the most charged issues in the politics and historiography of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Initially, Palestinians blamed the Arab world for having promised military support that never materialized.1 Arab host states in turn regarded the Palestinians as having shamefully deserted their homeland. With the passage of time and the dimming of historical memory, the story of the 1948 war was gradually rewritten with Israel rather than the Arab states and the extremist and shortsighted Palestinian leadership becoming the main if not only culprit of the Palestinian dispersion. This false narrative received a major boost in the late 1980s with the rise of several left-leaning Israeli academics and journalists calling themselves the New Historians, who sought to question and revise understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict.2 Ostensibly basing their research on recently declassified documents from the British Mandate period and the first years of Israeli independence, they systematically redrew the history of Zionism, turning upside down the saga of Israel's struggle for survival. Among the new historians, none has been more visible or more influential than Benny Morris, a professor at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, whose 1987 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949, became the New Historian's definitive work.

Prominent Palestinian politicians such as Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Hanan Ashrawi cited the "findings" of the New Historians to support extreme Palestinian territorial and political claims. Academics lauded Morris for using newly available documents to expose the allegedly immoral circumstances of Israel's creation. With frequent media exposure, the New Historians had an impact on mainstream Israeli opinion, which became increasingly receptive to the notion that both the fault and the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict lay disproportionately with Israel's own actions.

Such plaudits, however, were undeserved. Far from unearthing new facts or offering a novel interpretation of the Palestinian exodus, The Birth recycled the standard Arab narrative of the conflict. Morris portrayed the Palestinians as the hapless victims of unprovoked Jewish aggression. Israel's very creation became the "original sin" underlying the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Had there been an academic foundation to Morris's revisionism, such acclaim may have been warranted. But rather than incorporate new Israeli source material, Morris did little more than rehash old historiography. While laying blame for the Palestinian refugee crisis on the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces and its pre-state precursor, the Haganah, Morris failed to consult the millions of declassified documents in their archives, even as other historians used them in painstaking research.3

Once this fact was publicly exposed,4 Morris conceded that he had "no access to the materials in the IDFA [Israel Defense Forces Archive] or Haganah archive and precious little to firsthand military materials deposited elsewhere."5 Yet instead of acknowledging the implications of this omission upon his conclusions, Morris sought to use this "major methodological flaw" as the rationale for a new edition of The Birth, which he claimed would include new source-material.6

Dishonest Revisionism

Readers will be disappointed if they hope to find evidence of renewed intellectual honesty in this new edition, published in 2004 as The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited.7 Morris continues to ignore archival evidence both of relentless Arab rejection of Jewish statehood and of demonstrated commitment to Israel's destruction. Available Arabic sources little utilized by Morris include not only official documents but also religious incitement and numerous statements by politicians, intellectuals, and journalists.

While Morris perfunctorily acknowledges Palestinian and Arab culpability for the 1948 war,8 The Birth Revisited continues to portray Israeli actions as the main trigger of the Palestinian exodus. Morris explains,
this is not a history of the 1948 war or a history of what the Arabs did to the Jews but a history of how and why the Palestinian refugee problem came about. In this context, what Jews did to Arabs, including massacres, played a role; what Arabs did to Jews was barely relevant.9
It is doubtful whether Morris believes his own assertion. In his writings and interviews over the past few years, he acknowledged that in war, the activities of one belligerent affect all others. "From the moment the Yishuv [the 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," he argued in January 2004.10 Four months later he put the same idea in somewhat blunter terms: "When an armed thug tries to murder you in your home, you have every right to defend yourself, even by throwing him out."11

Not only does Morris miss the opportunity to reconcile his evolving positions regarding Arab and Palestinian culpability for the origin and perpetuation of the refugee problem, but he also intensifies efforts to give academic respectability to the Arab indictment of Zionism as "a colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement ... intent on politically, or even physically, dispossessing and supplanting the Arabs."12 In the original version of The Birth, Morris traced this alleged intention to the late 1930s and 1940s, claiming that Zionist leaders had despaired of achieving a Jewish majority in Palestine through mass immigration and had instead come to view the expulsion or "transfer" of the Arab population as the best means "to establish a Jewish state without an Arab minority, or with as small an Arab minority as possible."13

In reality, the archives show that, far from despairing of mass immigration, Zionist leaders in the 1930s worried about the country's short-term absorptive capacity should millions of Jews enter Palestine. While in an implicit acknowledgment of their inaccuracy, Morris removed some of The Birth's most inaccurate or distorted quotes about transfer,14 he, nevertheless, reverts to the problematic technique of relying on a small number of Zionist statements either taken out of context or simply misrepresented. In The Birth Revisited, Morris takes his initial claim further by attempting to prove, in a new chapter trumpeted as one of the book's chief innovations, that "the displacement of Arabs from Palestine or from areas of Palestine that would become the Jewish State was inherent in Zionist ideology" and could be traced back to the father of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl.15

Distorting Herzl

Consider, for example, Morris's charge that Herzl wished to dispossess Palestinian Arabs because of his fear that the Jewish state would lack viability if it were to contain a large Arab minority. Morris bases this assertion only upon a truncated paragraph from Herzl's June 12, 1895 diary entry, which had already been a feature of Palestinian propaganda for decades.16 But this entry was not enough to support such a claim. Below is the complete text, with the passages omitted by Morris in italics:
When we occupy the land, we shall bring immediate benefits to the state that receives us. We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly … It goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor, and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion. This is another area in which we shall set the entire world a wonderful example … Should there be many such immovable owners in individual areas [who would not sell their property to us], we shall simply leave them there and develop our commerce in the direction of other areas which belong to us.17
By omitting the opening sentence, Morris hides the fact that Herzl viewed Jewish settlement as beneficial to the indigenous population and that he did not conceive of the new Jewish entity as comprising this country in its entirety. This is further underscored by Herzl's confinement of the envisaged expropriation of private property to "the estates assigned to us"—another fact omitted by Morris. Any discussion of relocation was clearly limited to the specific lands assigned to the Jews, rather than to the entire territory. Had Herzl envisaged the mass expulsion of population, as claimed by Morris, there would have been no need to discuss its position in the Jewish entity. Morris further ignored context. There was no trace of a belief in transfer in either Herzl's famous political treatise, The Jewish State (1896), or his 1902 Zionist novel, Altneuland (Old-New Land).18 Nor for this matter is there any allusion to "transfer" in Herzl's public writings, his private correspondence, his speeches, or his political and diplomatic discussions. Morris simply discards the canon of Herzl's life work in favor of a single, isolated quote.

Most importantly, Herzl's diary entry makes no mention of either Arabs or Palestine, and for good reason. A careful reading of Herzl's diary entries for June 1895 reveals that, at the time, he did not consider Palestine to be the future site of Jewish resettlement but rather South America.19 "I am assuming that we shall go to Argentina," Herzl recorded in his diary on June 13. In his view, South America "would have a lot in its favor on account of its distance from militarized and seedy Europe … If we are in South America, the establishment of our State will not come to Europe's notice for a considerable period of time."20 Indeed, Herzl's diary entries during the same month illustrate that he conceived all political and diplomatic activities for the creation of the future Jewish state, including the question of the land and its settlement, in the Latin American context. "Should we go to South America," Herzl wrote on June 9, "our first state treaties will have to be with South American republics. We shall grant them loans in return for territorial privileges and guarantees." Four days later he wrote, "Through us and with us, an unprecedented commercial prosperity will come to South America."21

In short, Morris based his arguments on a red herring. He not only parsed a quote to distort its original meaning, but he ignored the context, which had nothing to do with Palestine or Arabs.

Misrepresenting the Early Zionists

Morris applies similar distortions to other early Zionist leaders. He repeatedly takes isolated and unrepresentative assertions out of context while omitting the often overwhelming evidence that undercut his thesis. For example, Morris takes an extraordinary approach to Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forerunner of today's Likud party. While Morris cites a number of quotes showing Jabotinsky's public rejection of transfer—for example, his testimony before the 1936 Peel Commission, which investigated the roots of the Arab uprising—he, nevertheless, makes the unsubstantiated assertion that Jabotinsky "generally supported transfer."22 Just as with his treatment of Herzl, Morris's conclusions fly in the face of the historical record. In 1934, for example, Jabotinsky's Revisionist Party prepared a draft constitution for Jewish Palestine that put the Arab minority on an equal footing with its Jewish counterpart "throughout all sectors of the country's public life." The two communities were to share the state's duties, both military and civil service, and enjoy its prerogatives. Jabotinsky proposed that Hebrew and Arabic should enjoy equal rights and that "in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice versa."23

Morris also twists the historical record to indict Arthur Rupin, who headed the Zionist Organization's Palestine office. Morris's condemnation of Rupin revolves around the latter's sole suggestion at a 1911 meeting of "'a limited population transfer' of peasants to Syria."24 Again, Morris cites selectively in order to make his comment appear to be something it was not. The original document shows that Rupin was not discussing Palestine's Arab population as a whole but rather those Arabs squatting on land purchased by Jews. Far from becoming policy, Rupin's limited proposal was rejected. Morris further makes no mention of Rupin's comments two years later at the eleventh Zionist congress, where he stated, "It is, of course, useless to content ourselves with merely assuring the Arabs that we are coming into the country as their friends. We must prove this by our deeds."25

Morris's treatment of Rupin shows shoddy scholarship. Part of the problem is that Morris neglected to examine the original document. He, instead, points readers to his own book, Righteous Victims, which in turn cited the polemical book, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of Transfer in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948,26 by the London-based Israeli Arab academic, Nur Masalha. Masalha worked from Walter Laqueur's A History of Zionism (1972), which itself was based on an earlier study by the Israeli scholar Paul Alsberg, once chief archivist of Israel's State Archives. The inaccuracy developed with Morris's trust of Masalha, who dismissed the historical context. As Laqueur explained in his original work:
[T]he idea of a population transfer was never official Zionist policy. Ben-Gurion emphatically rejected it, saying that even if the Jews were given the right to evict the Arabs, they would not make use of it. Most thought at that time that there would be sufficient room in Palestine for both Jews and Arabs following the industrialization of the country and the introduction of intensive methods of agriculture. Since no one before 1914 expected the disintegration of the Turkish Empire … the question of political autonomy did not figure in their thoughts. They were genuinely aggrieved that the Arabs were not more grateful for the economic benefits that they had come to enjoy as the result of Jewish immigration and settlement.27
Morris also butchers Chaim Weizmann's record by claiming that Weizmann "suggested to British Colonial Secretary Lord Passfield that a solution to Palestine's problems might lie across the Jordan: Palestine's troublesome Arabs could be transferred over the river."28 In fact, it was Passfield, not Weizmann, who made this suggestion. As Weizmann recounted:
Lord Passfield agreed with the force of the argument; at the same time he said one had to stabilize conditions in the country. He didn't think it was an insuperable difficulty, and there could be no question of conceding anything to the Arabs which was against the spirit of the Mandate, and the report did not concede anything. Possibly, he said, Transjordan might be a way out.29
Morris repeats the same distortion with regard to a January 1941 conversation between Weizmann and Ivan Maiskii, the Soviet ambassador in London, by claiming that Weizmann initiated talk of a transfer when the opposite was true.30 "The British are hardly likely to agree to this," Weizmann told Maiskii. "And if they don't agree, what happens next?"31

In July 1937, the Peel Commission recommended partition of Palestine into two states: a Jewish state to comprise 15 percent of the territory west of the Jordan River and an Arab state, to be united with Transjordan, itself carved from eastern Palestine in 1921. To prevent friction between the two communities, the commission suggested "a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population" between the Jewish and the Arab states. The idea was not to transfer either community outside the bounds of Palestine but rather to the territories of the respective Arab and Jewish states, nor even to transfer the Jewish state's entire Arab population.32 Here is how Morris related Weizmann's reaction to the report:
After seeing a copy of the Peel Commission Report, Weizmann met Colonial Secretary William Ormsby-Gore, in secret, on 19 July 1937, and wholeheartedly endorsed the transfer recommendation: "I said," Weizmann reported, "that the whole success of the [partition] scheme depended on whether the Government … [carried] out this recommendation." Ormsby-Gore "agreed that once the Galilee was given to the Jews … the position would be very difficult without transfer."33
But, when Morris's omissions are restored, Weizmann's reaction was actually quite different. Again, text removed by Morris is included in italics.
I said that the whole success of the scheme depended on whether the Government genuinely did or did not wish to carry out this recommendation; the transfer could be carried out only by the British Government, and not by the Jews. I explained the reasons why we considered this proposal of such importance. Mr. Ormsby-Gore said that he was proposing to set up a committee for the twofold purpose (a) of finding land for the transferees (they hoped to find land in Transjordan, and possibly also in the Negev), and (b) of arranging the actual terms of the transfer … He agreed that once [the] Galilee was given to the Jews, and not the Negev, the position would be very difficult without transfer.34
By twisting quotations to fit his thesis, Morris misrepresents Weizmann, who did not meet Ormsby-Gore to express his delight, as Morris implies, but rather to inform the colonial secretary of Jewish apprehensions about the Peel report. As Weizmann related in his report, "I said that I had come to see him to try and clarify a number of points. The Jews were perplexed, and a great many of them were against the partition scheme."35 While Weizmann was concerned about the British government's intention to carry out the proposed population exchange, Morris rewrote the passage to imply that Weizmann spoke about its actual implementation.

Distorting Ben-Gurion

Perhaps no figure is a greater victim of Morris's distortions than David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father and the man who announced the Jewish state's independence. By discrediting Ben-Gurion, Morris seeks to indict Israel's birth. As in the first edition, the base for Morris's assertions that Ben-Gurion was a strong transfer advocate revolves around misreading of the Peel Commission and the subsequent Woodhead Commission.

Morris describes a July 1936 meeting between Ben-Gurion and the high commissioner for Palestine. According to Morris:
by 1936, the mainstream Zionist leaders were more forthright in their support of transfer. In July, Ben-Gurion, the chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive and de facto leader of the Yishuv, and his deputy, Moshe Shertok (Sharett), the director of the agency's political department, went to the high commissioner to plead the Zionist case on immigration, which the Mandatory was considering suspending: Ben-Gurion asked whether the government would make it possible for Arab cultivators displaced through Jewish land purchase … to be settled in Transjordan. If Transjordan was for the time being a country closed to the Jews, surely it could not be closed to Arabs, also. The high commissioner thought this a good idea … He asked whether the Jews would be prepared to spend money on the settlement of such Palestinian Arabs in Transjordan. Mr. Ben-Gurion replied that this might be considered.36
By linking the issue of Jewish immigration to expulsion of Palestinians, Morris implies a zero-sum relationship between the two. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Zionists in general and Ben-Gurion in particular had since the early twentieth century emphasized that there was sufficient room in Palestine for the two communities. Indeed, the "transfer issue" was not raised at the above meeting at all.

And Morris's first ellipsis in the passage he did quote? He omitted Ben-Gurion's mention of western Palestine, thereby obfuscating the Zionist leader's perception of Transjordan as "eastern Palestine." Such a perception would undercut Morris's thesis that the Zionists sought to expel the Arabs from Palestine.37

Further compounding this misrepresentation, Morris takes out-of-context a Ben-Gurion quote from a November 1, 1936 Jewish Agency Executive meeting. In reporting Ben-Gurion's words, he omits those words present in the original document, represented below in italics:
We will tell [the Peel Commission] that Palestine extends over both banks of the Jordan River, and that we have the right to settle there. But if because of security considerations, the time is not yet ripe for our settlement there (and the government acknowledges our right to do so, albeit not in public), why can't we acquire land there for Arabs, who wish to settle in Transjordan? If it was permissible to move an Arab from the Galilee to Judea, why is it impossible to move an Arab from the Hebron area to Transjordan, which is much closer? He, Mr. Ben-Gurion, sees no fundamental difference between the eastern and the western parts of Palestine.

Dr. Hexter: It is clear that any agricultural question in the country is tied to political issues.

Mr. Ben-Gurion: If the government agrees to move the Arabs from place to place, why shouldn't it agree to move peasants to Transjordan? There are vast expenses of land there and we [in western Palestine] are over-crowded.

Rabbi Fishman asks whether the removal of Arabs to Transjordan does not imply an acknowledgement that we have no rights in Transjordan?

Mr. Ben-Gurion: Certainly not. We now want to create concentrated areas of Jewish settlement, and by transferring the land-selling Arab to Transjordan, we can solve the problem of this concentration.38
By misrepresenting the original text, Morris seeks to create an impression that Ben-Gurion endeavored to expel the Arabs out of Palestine when, what he discussed, was resettlement within Palestine. After all, the record demonstrates repeatedly that Zionists viewed Transjordan as an integral part of Palestine in accordance with the League of Nations mandate.39

Morris repeats the same distortion when describing a later Jewish Agency Executive meeting:
[T]he Jewish Agency Executive—the "government" of the Yishuv—discussed transfer [Morris writes]. On June 7, 1938, proposing Zionist policy guidelines, Ben-Gurion declared: "The Jewish State will discuss with the neighboring Arab states the matter of voluntarily transferring Arab tenant-farmers, laborers, and peasants from the Jewish state to the neighboring Arab states."40
Morris creates the impression that Ben-Gurion proposed his policy guidelines in the midst of a discussion of the transfer idea and that these guidelines revolved around that idea. In fact, there was no discussion of transfer at that particular meeting. The agenda included eight items, of which the question of the Arabs in the prospective Jewish state ranked sixth. Of the eighteen packed pages of the meeting's protocol, only four lines referred to the possibility of the voluntary removal of some Arabs who, "of their free will" (mi-toch retsonam ha-hofshi), might choose to leave the Jewish state.41

Without evidence, Morris speculates that "some executive members may have regarded this [the granting of full equality to the Arab citizens of the prospective Jewish state] as for-the-record lip service and posturing for posterity."42 But the fact remains that the meeting dealt with the position of the Arab minority in the prospective Jewish state—not their expulsion. Not only was this tolerant vision of Arab-Jewish coexistence inherent in Ben-Gurion's strategic thinking from the 1910s until the 1948 war, but also many of the guidelines presented at this meeting became Israel's established policy toward its Arab minority.

Such selective rendering is reflective of Morris's method. He repeatedly takes a statement out of context and then dismisses the rest of the text as insincere propaganda. Thus, for example, at the November 1, 1936 Jewish Agency Executive meeting, he ignores Ben-Gurion's statement, "We do not deny the right of the Arab inhabitants of the country, and we do not see this right as a hindrance to the realization of Zionism."43 He likewise dismisses as phony "professions of liberal egalitarianism"44 Ben-Gurion's assertions, in an October 1941 internal policy paper, that "Jewish immigration and colonization in Palestine on a large scale can be carried out without displacing Arabs," and that "in a Jewish Palestine the position of the Arabs will not be worse than the position of the Jews themselves."45

The list of Morris's inaccuracies extends even further, though. In April 1944, the British Labor Party adopted an election platform, which among other positions advocated a transfer of Arabs out of Palestine. According to Morris, "the publication of the resolution prompted a debate on May 7 in the Jewish Agency Executive—not so much about the notion of transfer (all were agreed about its merits if not its practicality) as about how the Zionist leadership should react."46 Reality, however, was quite different. The meeting was not convened in response to the Labor resolution but to hear a political report by Moshe Sharett, then head of the Jewish Agency's political department, upon his return from a working trip to London. This focused on a number of issues that preoccupied the Zionist movement at the time, from the acrimonious working relationship between Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, to the rescue of the remnants of European Jewry, to Jewish immigration to Palestine, to general U.S. and British policy. Labor's election platform occupied a minor place in Sharett's presentation (about two of seventeen pages)—not surprising given Labor's position as an opposition party at the time. There was no debate whatsoever at the May 7 meeting although some participants did express their views.

Again, Morris provides only a truncated rendition of Ben-Gurion's comments, ignoring all that text highlighted with italics below:
This resolution has three phases: 1) [the creation of] a Jewish state; 2) the expansion of the Jewish state's borders; 3) transfer. The first thing should be received with great satisfaction; at least from a moral point of view, it is very satisfactory. As for the second thing, we will certainly not bemoan it. The third thing [transfer] can be problematic.

When I heard about these things from the newspapers, I had some difficult thoughts. This question troubled me last night, and even more so yesterday. I asked myself: "What if I happened to be in London, and they came to ask me whether or not to introduce [the transfer issue], or if after introducing this [clause] they asked me whether or not to leave it in place?" I would like to tell [you] the conclusion I reached, and it might not be the correct one. I can't say that I have a feeling of complete certainty. There are pros and cons in this issue. The question is that of weighing one factor against the other, and should we not be able to do something to keep the first two items alone, should we do this [i.e., support the keeping of the transfer issue as well]? And I reached the conclusion that it is better that this thing remains.47
By ignoring the most important elements of the Labor resolution, Morris withholds the real gist of Ben-Gurion's reasoning. In contrast to Morris's claim, far from relishing the introduction of transfer into Labor's platform, Ben-Gurion viewed it as an unwarranted impediment that might complicate an otherwise historic platform. Had transfer been proposed on its own, Ben-Gurion would have dismissed it out of hand:
Were they to ask [me]: "What should be our [i.e. the British Labor's] program?" I would find it inconceivable to tell them transfer. Were they to ask me whether to introduce this [transfer] as well [in addition to the proposal on a Jewish state], I would not have advised them to do so, because talk on the subject might cause harm … But now we are confronted with a fait accompli. It is not the Jews who made or publicized this [proposal] but rather gentiles. Englishmen made this proposal and advertised it.48
None of this elaborate reasoning is noted by Morris.

In the end, whatever was said at the Jewish Agency Executive meeting is immaterial simply because the Zionist movement rejected the British Labor Party's transfer recommendation. In the original edition of The Birth, Morris concedes that "Ben-Gurion, testifying before UNSCOP [United Nations Special Commission on Palestine] on 8 July 1947, went out of his way to reject the 1945 British Labor Party platform 'International Post-war Settlement' which supported the encouragement of the movement of the Palestine Arabs to the neighbouring countries to make room for Jews."49 In the revised edition, he ignores this fact altogether in an attempt to create the false impression of Zionist endorsement of the proposal.

Morris's misrepresentation is all the more significant since just months after Ben-Gurion's testimony before the U.N. Special Commission on Palestine, the Palestinian Arabs launched a war to abort the U.N.'s partition resolution of November 29, 1947. Having falsified Ben-Gurion's actual position, Morris claims that "by 1948, transfer was in the air." While he concedes that "the Yishuv and its military forces did not enter the 1948 war, which was initiated by the Arab side, with a policy or plan of expulsion," he argues that lack of an official policy made little difference, since "thinking about the possibilities of transfer in the 1930s and 1940s had prepared and conditioned hearts and minds for its implementation in the course of 1948."50 Morris cites no evidence to support this claim nor could he, for there was never any Zionist attempt to inculcate the "transfer" idea in the hearts and minds of Jews. He could find no evidence of any press campaign, radio broadcasts, public rallies, or political gatherings, for none existed.

In contrast to Morris's thesis—and the rhetoric of many Arab politicians at the time—Ben-Gurion told his party members, "In our state there will be non-Jews as well—and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well."51 In line with this conception, committees laying the groundwork for the nascent Jewish state discussed in detail the establishment of an Arabic-language press, Arab health care, incorporation of Arab officials into the government, integration of Arabs within the police and the ministry of education, and Arab-Jewish cultural and intellectual interaction. No less importantly, the Haganah's military plan to rebuff an anticipated pan-Arab invasion was itself predicated, in the explicit instructions of Israel Galili, the Haganah's commander-in-chief, on the "acknowledgement of the full rights, needs, and freedom of the Arabs in the Hebrew state without any discrimination, and a desire for coexistence on the basis of mutual freedom and dignity."52


The Birth Revisited is a misnomer. Rather than offer a reassessment of Morris's previous writings on the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, The Birth Revisited is but a longer replica of its dishonest and shoddy predecessor. To downplay his failure to consult the most important archives in the preparation of The Birth, Morris argued that "the new materials … tend to confirm and reinforce the major lines of description and analysis, and the conclusions, in The Birth."53 And so, The Birth Revisited continues the stubborn refusal of Morris to base his arguments and conclusions on archival evidence and the historical record. Far from confirming and reinforcing his arguments, archival documents demonstrate that "the Palestinian refugee problem" was the creation of Palestinian and other Arab leaders, not of the Zionists.

Ironically, Morris's press comments from the time during which he drafted The Birth Revisited again contradict his conclusions, squarely putting the blame for the Palestinian tragedy on "the instinctive rejectionism that runs like a dark thread through Palestinian history."54 Yet this is not good enough. For the damage done by Morris's written words outweigh his more truthful public assertions. His books have become a staple of the academic curriculum in both Western and Israeli universities. And so the younger generation of students will continue to be inculcated with the lies and distortions on the origin of the Palestinian refugee problem. That Morris admits errors, but continues to print them, raises questions about whether the star New Historian is motivated more by headlines than by truth. Regardless, it is both truth and scholarship which suffer.
Efraim Karsh is director of the Mediterranean Studies Programme at King's College, University of London, and editor of the quarterly journal Israel Affairs. He is the author of Arafat's War: the Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest (Grove Press).

[1] Sir J. Troutbeck, "Summary of general impressions gathered during weekend visit to the Gaza district," June 16, 1949, FO 371/75342/E7816, p. 123.

[2] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Avi Shlaim, Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Reality (New York: Pantheon, 1987); Ilan Pappé, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951 (London: I.B. Tauris, 1992).

[3] Among these were Uri Milstein, Shabtai Teveth, Elhannan Orren, Michael Bar-Zohar, Dan Kurzman, Yitzhak Levi, Yuval Arnon-Ohana, and Shmuel Dotan.

[4] See, for example, Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians," 2nd rev. ed. (London: Cass, 2000), pp. 195-6.

[5] Morris, "Revisiting the Palestinian Exodus of 1948," in Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, eds., The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 37.

[6] Morris, "For the Record," The Guardian, Jan. 14, 2004.

[7] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

[8] Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 7, 588 (hereinafter The Birth Revisited).

[9] Ibid. p. 7.

[10] Ari Shavit, "Survival of the Fittest," interview with Benny Morris, Ha'aretz Weekly Magazine (Tel Aviv), Jan. 1, 2004.

[11] The New Republic, May 3, 2004.

[12] Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1999), pp. 652, 654.

[13]> Morris, The Birth, p. 24; idem, 1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 17.

[14] The most egregious of these was the distortion of an October 1937 letter from David Ben-Gurion to his son. Morris cited the letter as saying, "We must expel Arabs and take their place," when Ben-Gurion actually said the opposite.

[15] Morris, The Birth Revisited, pp. 5, 60, 588.

[16] See, for example, Walid Khalidi, ed., From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948 (Washington D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971), pp. 118-9; David Hurst, The Gun and the Olive Branch (London: Futura, 1978), p. 18; Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), p. 13.

[17] Morris, The Birth Revisited, pp. 40-1; Raphael Patai, ed., The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol. 1 (New York: Herzl Press and Thomas Yoseloff, 1960), pp. 88, 90 (hereafter Herzl diaries).

[18] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 41.

[19] Herzl diaries, p. 133. Four days earlier, Herzl recorded in his diary, "In Palestine's disfavor is its proximity to Russia and Europe, its lack of room for expansion as well as its climate, which we are no longer accustomed to." He saw only one major advantage in this location: "the mighty legend" (idem, p. 56).

[20] Herzl diaries, pp. 69-70, 134.

[21] Ibid. pp. 70, 92, 134-5.

[22] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 45.

[23] Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Jewish War Front (London: Allen and Unwin, 1940), pp. 216-7.

[24] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 41.

[25] Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism (New York: MJF Books, 2003; reprint of the original 1972 edition), pp. 230-1.

[26] Washington D.C., Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992.

[27] Laqueur, A History of Zionism, p. 232.

[28] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 44.

[29] Chaim Weizmann, "Awaiting the Shaw Report" (report on a conversation with Lord Passfield on Mar. 6, 1930), in The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Series B (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1983), p. 591.

[30] Morris, The Birth Revisited, pp. 52-3.

[31] "Meeting: I.M. Maiskii—Ch. Weizmann (London, 3 February 1941)," in Documents on Israeli-Soviet Relations, 1941-1953, part I (London: Frank Cass, 2000), pp. 4-5.

[32] Palestine Royal Commission, Report, Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty, July 1937, Cmd. 5479 (London: HMSO, 1937), pp. 291-93 (hereinafter, Peel report).

[33] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 62, fn. 24.

[34] Ibid. pp. 56-7.

[35] Chaim Weizmann, "Summary Note of Interview with Mr. Ormsby Gore, Colonial Office, Monday, July 19th, 1937, at 10.45 a.m.," Weizmann Archive, p. 56.

[36] Morris, The Birth Revisited, pp. 45-6.

[37] "Note of a Conversation between Mr. D. Ben-Gurion and Mr. M. Shertok and His Excellency the High Commissioner on Thursday, July 9th, 1936, at Government Offices," Central Zionist Archives (CZA), S25/19, pp. 4-5.

[38] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 46, compared with "Protocol of the Meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, held in Jerusalem on Nov. 1, 1936," CZA, S100-20A, pp. 8-9.

[39] Peel report, pp. 228, 304.

[40] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 49.

[41] "Protocol of the Meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, held in Jerusalem on Jun. 7, 1938," CZA S100/24b, pp. 5970-1 (lines of action 18, 22).

[42] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 50.

[43] "Protocol of the Meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, held in Jerusalem on Nov. 1, 1936," CZA, p. 7.

[44] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 63, fn. 31.

[45] David Ben-Gurion, "Outlines of Zionist Policy—Private and Confidential," Oct. 15, 1941, CZA Z4/14632, p. 15 (iii & iv).

[46] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 54.

[47] Ibid., p. 55, compared with "Protocol of the Meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, held in Jerusalem on May 7, 1944," CZA, S100, p. 10177.

[48] "Protocol of the Meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, May 7, 1944," p. 10178.

[49] Morris, The Birth, p. 28

[50] Morris, The Birth Revisited, p. 60.

[51] David Ben-Gurion, Ba-ma'araha, vol. IV, part 2 (Tel-Aviv: Misrad Ha'bitahon, 1959), p. 260.

[52] Rama to brigade commanders, "Arabs Residing in the Enclaves," Mar. 24, 1948, Haganah Archives 46/109/5.

[53] Morris, "Revisiting the Palestinian Exodus of 1948," p. 37.

[54] Morris, "The Rejection," review of Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, The Palestinian People: A History, in The New Republic, Apr. 21, 2003.

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