says he was always a Zionist. People were mistaken when they labeled him a
post-Zionist, when they thought that his historical study on the birth of the
Palestinian refugee problem was intended to undercut the Zionist enterprise.
Nonsense, Morris says, thatís completely unfounded. Some readers simply misread
the book. They didnít read it with the same detachment, the same moral
neutrality, with which it was written. So they came to the mistaken conclusion
that when Morris describes the cruelest deeds that the Zionist movement
perpetrated in 1948 he is actually being condemnatory, that when he describes
the large-scale expulsion operations he is being denunciatory. They did not
conceive that the great documenter of the sins of Zionism in fact identifies
with those sins. That he thinks some of them, at least, were unavoidable.
Two years ago,
different voices began to be heard. The historian who was considered a radical
leftist suddenly maintained that Israel had no one to talk to. The researcher
who was accused of being an Israel hater (and was boycotted by the Israeli
academic establishment) began to publish articles in favor of Israel in the
British paper The Guardian.
citizen Morris turned out to be a not completely snow-white dove, historian
Morris continued to work on the Hebrew translation of his massive work
ďRighteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001,Ē which
was written in the old, peace-pursuing style. And at the same time historian
Morris completed the new version of his book on the refugee problem, which is
going to strengthen the hands of those who abominate Israel. So that in the
past two years citizen Morris and historian Morris worked as though there is no
connection between them, as though one was trying to save what the other
insists on eradicating.
will appear in the coming month. The book on the history of the Zionist-Arab
conflict will be published in Hebrew by Am Oved in Tel Aviv, while the
Cambridge University Press will publish ďThe Birth of the Palestinian Refugee
Problem RevisitedĒ (it originally appeared, under the CUP imprint, in 1987).
That book describes in chilling detail the atrocities of the Nakba. Isnít Morris
ever frightened at the present-day political implications of his historical
study? Isnít he fearful that he has contributed to Israel becoming almost a
pariah state? After a few moments of evasion, Morris admits that he is.
Sometimes he really is frightened. Sometimes he asks himself what he has
He is short,
plump, and very intense. The son of immigrants from England, he was born in
Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh and was a member of the left-wing Hashomer Hatzaíir youth
movement. In the past, he was a reporter for the Jerusalem Post and refused to
do military service in the territories. He is now a professor of history at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beíer Sheva. But sitting in his armchair
in his Jerusalem apartment, he does not don the mantle of the cautious
academic. Far from it: Morris spews out his words, rapidly and energetically,
sometimes spilling over into English. He doesnít think twice before firing off
the sharpest, most shocking statements, which are anything but politically correct.
He describes horrific war crimes offhandedly, paints apocalyptic visions with a
smile on his lips. He gives the observer the feeling that this agitated
individual, who with his own hands opened the Zionist Pandoraís box, is still
having difficulty coping with what he found in it, still finding it hard to
deal with the internal contradictions that are his lot and the lot of us all.
Q: Benny Morris, in the month ahead the new version
of your book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem is due to be
published. Who will be less pleased with the book - the Israelis or the
Morris: The revised book is a double-edged sword. It is
based on many documents that were not available to me when I wrote the original
book, most of them from the Israel Defense Forces Archives. What the new
material shows is that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had
previously thought. To my surprise, there were also many cases of rape. In the
months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah [the pre-state defense force
that was the precursor of the IDF] were given operational orders that stated
explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the
At the same
time, it turns out that there was a series of orders issued by the Arab Higher
Committee and by the Palestinian intermediate levels to remove children, women
and the elderly from the villages. So that on the one hand, the book reinforces
the accusation against the Zionist side, but on the other hand it also proves
that many of those who left the villages did so with the encouragement of the
Palestinian leadership itself.
to your new findings, how many cases of Israeli rape were there in 1948?
About a dozen.
In Acre four soldiers raped a girl and murdered her and her father. In Jaffa,
soldiers of the Kiryati Brigade raped one girl and tried to rape several more.
At Hunin, which is in the Galilee, two girls were raped and then murdered.
There were one or two cases of rape at Tantura, south of Haifa. There was one
case of rape at Qula, in the center of the country. At the village of Abu
Shusha, near Kibbutz Gezer [in the Ramle area] there were four female
prisoners, one of whom was raped a number of times. And there were other cases.
Usually more than one soldier was involved. Usually there were one or two
Palestinian girls. In a large proportion of the cases the event ended with
murder. Because neither the victims nor the rapists liked to report these
events, we have to assume that the dozen cases of rape that were reported,
which I found, are not the whole story. They are just the tip of the iceberg.
to your findings, how many acts of Israeli massacre were perpetrated in 1948?
In some cases four or five people were executed, in others the numbers were 70,
80, 100. There was also a great deal of arbitrary killing. Two old men are
spotted walking in a field - they are shot. A woman is found in an abandoned
village - she is shot. There are cases such as the village of Dawayima [in the
Hebron region], in which a column entered the village with all guns blazing and
killed anything that moved.
cases were Saliha (70-80 killed), Deir Yassin (100-110), Lod (250), Dawayima
(hundreds) and perhaps Abu Shusha (70). There is no unequivocal proof of a
large-scale massacre at Tantura, but war crimes were perpetrated there. At
Jaffa there was a massacre about which nothing had been known until now. The
same at Arab al Muwassi, in the north. About half of the acts of massacre were
part of Operation Hiram [in the north, in October 1948]: at Safsaf, Saliha,
Jish, Eilaboun, Arab al Muwasi, Deir al Asad, Majdal Krum, Sasa. In Operation
Hiram there was a unusually high concentration of executions of people against
a wall or next to a well in an orderly fashion.
That canít be
chance. Itís a pattern. Apparently, various officers who took part in the
operation understood that the expulsion order they received permitted them to
do these deeds in order to encourage the population to take to the roads. The
fact is that no one was punished for these acts of murder. Ben-Gurion silenced
the matter. He covered up for the officers who did the massacres.
are telling me here, as though by the way, is that in Operation Hiram there was
a comprehensive and explicit expulsion order. Is that right?
Yes. One of
the revelations in the book is that on October 31, 1948, the commander of the
Northern Front, Moshe Carmel, issued an order in writing to his units to
expedite the removal of the Arab population. Carmel took this action
immediately after a visit by Ben-Gurion to the Northern Command in Nazareth.
There is no doubt in my mind that this order originated with Ben-Gurion. Just
as the expulsion order for the city of Lod, which was signed by Yitzhak Rabin,
was issued immediately after Ben-Gurion visited the headquarters of Operation
Dani [July 1948].
saying that Ben-Gurion was personally responsible for a deliberate and
systematic policy of mass expulsion?
1948, Ben-Gurion is projecting a message of transfer. There is no explicit
order of his in writing, there is no orderly comprehensive policy, but there is
an atmosphere of [population] transfer. The transfer idea is in the air. The
entire leadership understands that this is the idea. The officer corps
understands what is required of them. Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer
was a ďtransferistĒ?
Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state
with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such
state. It would not be able to exist.
hear you condemning him.
right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being.
That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of
the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.
When ethnic cleansing is
Morris, for decades you have been researching the dark side of Zionism. You are
an expert on the atrocities of 1948. In the end, do you in effect justify all
this? Are you an advocate of the transfer of 1948?
There is no
justification for acts of rape. There is no justification for acts of massacre.
Those are war crimes. But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime.
I donít think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You canít make an
omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands.
talking about the killing of thousands of people, the destruction of an entire
A society that
aims to kill you forces you to destroy it. When the choice is between
destroying or being destroyed, itís better to destroy.
something chilling about the quiet way in which you say that.
expected me to burst into tears, Iím sorry to disappoint you. I will not do
So when the
commanders of Operation Dani are standing there and observing the long and
terrible column of the 50,000 people expelled from Lod walking eastward, you
stand there with them? You justify them?
understand them. I understand their motives. I donít think they felt any pangs
of conscience, and in their place I wouldnít have felt pangs of conscience.
Without that act, they would not have won the war and the state would not have
come into being.
You do not
condemn them morally?
perpetrated ethnic cleansing.
circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term
is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the
choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocideóthe annihilation of your
peopleóI prefer ethnic cleansing.
was the situation in 1948?
That was the
situation. That is what Zionism faced. A Jewish state would not have come into
being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary
to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was
necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse
the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys
and our settlements were fired on.
ďto cleanseĒ is terrible.
I know it
doesnít sound nice but thatís the term they used at the time. I adopted it from
all the 1948 documents in which I am immersed.
are saying is hard to listen to and hard to digest. You sound hard-hearted.
sympathy for the Palestinian people, which truly underwent a hard tragedy. I
feel sympathy for the refugees themselves. But if the desire to establish a
Jewish state here is legitimate, there was no other choice. It was impossible
to leave a large fifth column in the country. From the moment the Yishuv
[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. To uproot it in the course of war.
another thing: the Arab people gained a large slice of the planet. Not thanks
to its skills or its great virtues, but because it conquered and murdered and
forced those it conquered to convert during many generations. But in the end
the Arabs have 22 states. The Jewish people did not have even one state. There
was no reason in the world why it should not have one state. Therefore, from my
point of view, the need to establish this state in this place overcame the
injustice that was done to the Palestinians by uprooting them.
speaking, you have no problem with that deed?
correct. Even the great American democracy could not have been created without
the annihilation of the Indians. There are cases in which the overall, final
good justifies harsh and cruel acts that are committed in the course of
And in our
case it effectively justifies a population transfer.
take that in stride? War crimes? Massacres? The burning fields and the
devastated villages of the Nakba?
You have to
put things in proportion. These are small war crimes. All told, if we take all
the massacres and all the executions of 1948, we come to about 800 who were
killed. In comparison to the massacres that were perpetrated in Bosnia, thatís
peanuts. In comparison to the massacres the Russians perpetrated against the
Germans at Stalingrad, thatís chicken feed. When you take into account that
there was a bloody civil war here and that we lost an entire 1 percent of the
population, you find that we behaved very well.
through an interesting process. You went to research Ben-Gurion and the Zionist
establishment critically, but in the end you actually identify with them. You
are as tough in your words as they were in their deeds.
You may be
right. Because I investigated the conflict in depth, I was forced to cope with
the in-depth questions that those people coped with. I understood the
problematic character of the situation they faced and maybe I adopted part of
their universe of concepts. But I do not identify with Ben-Gurion. I think he
made a serious historical mistake in 1948. Even though he understood the
demographic issue and the need to establish a Jewish state without a large Arab
minority, he got cold feet during the war. In the end, he faltered.
sure I understand. Are you saying that Ben-Gurion erred in expelling too few
If he was
already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. I know
that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types.
But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if
the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a
large expulsion and cleansed the whole country - the whole Land of Israel, as
far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake.
If he had carried out a full expulsion - rather than a partial one - he would
have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.
I find it
hard to believe what I am hearing.
If the end of
the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because
Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and
volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel
place, would you have expelled them all? All the Arabs in the country?
But I am not a
statesman. I do not put myself in his place. But as an historian, I assert that
a mistake was made here. Yes. The non-completion of the transfer was a mistake.
Do you advocate a transfer today?
If you are
asking me whether I support the transfer and expulsion of the Arabs from the
West Bank, Gaza and perhaps even from Galilee and the Triangle, I say not at
this moment. I am not willing to be a partner to that act. In the present
circumstances it is neither moral nor realistic. The world would not allow it,
the Arab world would not allow it, it would destroy the Jewish society from
within. But I am ready to tell you that in other circumstances, apocalyptic
ones, which are liable to be realized in five or ten years, I can see
expulsions. If we find ourselves with atomic weapons around us, or if there is
a general Arab attack on us and a situation of warfare on the front with Arabs
in the rear shooting at convoys on their way to the front, acts of expulsion
will be entirely reasonable. They may even be essential.
the expulsion of Israeli Arabs?
Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them
an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column.
In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state.
So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as
in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt
(after an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and
biological missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians
attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen. If
the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified.
being tough, you are also very gloomy. You werenít always like that, were you?
point began after 2000. I wasnít a great optimist even before that. True, I
always voted Labor or Meretz or Sheli [a dovish party of the late 1970s], and
in 1988 I refused to serve in the territories and was jailed for it, but I
always doubted the intentions of the Palestinians. The events of Camp David and
what followed in their wake turned the doubt into certainty. When the
Palestinians rejected the proposal of [prime minister Ehud] Barak in July 2000
and the Clinton proposal in December 2000, I understood that they are unwilling
to accept the two-state solution. They want it all. Lod and Acre and Jaffa.
so, then the whole Oslo process was mistaken and there is a basic flaw in the
entire worldview of the Israeli peace movement.
Oslo had to be
tried. But today it has to be clear that from the Palestinian point of view,
Oslo was a deception. [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat did not change for the
worse, Arafat simply defrauded us. He was never sincere in his readiness for
compromise and conciliation.
really believe Arafat wants to throw us into the sea?
He wants to
send us back to Europe, to the sea we came from. He truly sees us as a Crusader
state and he thinks about the Crusader precedent and wishes us a Crusader end.
Iím certain that Israeli intelligence has unequivocal information proving that
in internal conversations Arafat talks seriously about the phased plan [which
would eliminate Israel in stages]. But the problem is not just Arafat. The
entire Palestinian national elite is prone to see us as Crusaders and is driven
by the phased plan. Thatís why the Palestinians are not honestly ready to forgo
the right of return. They are preserving it as an instrument with which they
will destroy the Jewish state when the time comes. They canít tolerate the
existence of a Jewish state - not in 80 percent of the country and not in 30
percent. From their point of view, the Palestinian state must cover the whole
Land of Israel.
If so, the
two-state solution is not viable; even if a peace treaty is signed, it will
I support the two-state solution. Itís the only alternative to the expulsion of
the Jews or the expulsion of the Palestinians or total destruction. But in
practice, in this generation, a settlement of that kind will not hold water. At
least 30 to 40 percent of the Palestinian public and at least 30 to 40 percent
of the heart of every Palestinian will not accept it. After a short break,
terrorism will erupt again and the war will resume.
prognosis doesnít leave much room for hope, does it?
Itís hard for
me, too. There is not going to be peace in the present generation. There will
not be a solution. We are doomed to live by the sword. Iím already fairly old,
but for my children that is especially bleak. I donít know if they will want to
go on living in a place where there is no hope. Even if Israel is not
destroyed, we wonít see a good, normal life here in the decades ahead.
harsh words an over-reaction to three hard years of terrorism?
The bombing of
the buses and restaurants really shook me. They made me understand the depth of
the hatred for us. They made me understand that the Palestinian, Arab and
Muslim hostility toward Jewish existence here is taking us to the brink of
destruction. I donít see the suicide bombings as isolated acts. They express
the deep will of the Palestinian people. That is what the majority of the
Palestinians want. They want what happened to the bus to happen to all of us.
too, bear responsibility for the violence and the hatred: the occupation, the
roadblocks, the closures, maybe even the Nakba itself.
You donít have
to tell me that. I have researched Palestinian history. I understand the
reasons for the hatred very well. The Palestinians are retaliating now not only
for yesterdayís closure but for the Nakba as well. But that is not a sufficient
explanation. The peoples of Africa were oppressed by the European powers no
less than the Palestinians were oppressed by us, but nevertheless I donít see
African terrorism in London, Paris or Brussels. The Germans killed far more of
us than we killed the Palestinians, but we arenít blowing up buses in Munich
and Nuremberg. So there is something else here, something deeper, that has to
do with Islam and Arab culture.
trying to argue that Palestinian terrorism derives from some sort of deep
There is a
deep problem in Islam. Itís a world whose values are different. A world in
which human life doesnít have the same value as it does in the West, in which
freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien. A world that makes those
who are not part of the camp of Islam fair game. Revenge is also important
here. Revenge plays a central part in the Arab tribal culture. Therefore, the
people we are fighting and the society that sends them have no moral
inhibitions. If it obtains chemical or biological or atomic weapons, it will
use them. If it is able, it will also commit genocide.
I want to
insist on my point: A large part of the responsibility for the hatred of the
Palestinians rests with us. After all, you yourself showed us that the
Palestinians experienced a historical catastrophe.
True. But when
one has to deal with a serial killer, itís not so important to discover why he
became a serial killer. Whatís important is to imprison the murderer or to
image: Who is the serial killer in the analogy?
who want to take our lives. The people the Palestinian society sends to carry
out the terrorist attacks, and in some way the Palestinian society itself as
well. At the moment, that society is in the state of being a serial killer. It
is a very sick society. It should be treated the way we treat individuals who
are serial killers.
that mean? What should we do tomorrow morning?
We have to try
to heal the Palestinians. Maybe over the years the establishment of a
Palestinian state will help in the healing process. But in the meantime, until
the medicine is found, they have to be contained so that they will not succeed in
them in? To place them under closure?
a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really
cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be
locked up in one way or another.
War of Barbarians
Morris, have you joined the right wing?
No, no. I
still think of myself as left-wing. I still support in principle two states for
donít believe that this solution will last. You donít believe in peace.
In my opinion,
we will not have peace, no.
is your solution?
generation there is apparently no solution. To be vigilant, to defend the
country as far as is possible.
Yes. An iron
wall is a good image. An iron wall is the most reasonable policy for the coming
generation. My colleague Avi Shlein described this well: What Jabotinsky
proposed is what Ben-Gurion adopted. In the 1950s, there was a dispute between
Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett. Ben-Gurion argued that the Arabs understand only
force and that ultimate force is the one thing that will persuade them to
accept our presence here. He was right. Thatís not to say that we donít need
diplomacy. Both toward the West and for our own conscience, itís important that
we strive for a political solution. But in the end, what will decide their
readiness to accept us will be force alone. Only the recognition that they are
not capable of defeating us.
left-winger, you sound very much like a right-winger, wouldnít you say?
Iím trying to
be realistic. I know it doesnít always sound politically correct, but I think
that political correctness poisons history in any case. It impedes our ability
to see the truth. And I also identify with Albert Camus. He was considered a
left-winger and a person of high morals, but when he referred to the Algerian
problem he placed his mother ahead of morality. Preserving my people is more
important than universal moral concepts.
Are you a
neo-conservative? Do you read the current historical reality in the terms of
I think there
is a clash between civilizations here [as Huntington argues]. I think the West
today resembles the Roman Empire of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries: The
barbarians are attacking it and they may also destroy it.
are barbarians, then?
I think the
values I mentioned earlier are values of barbariansóthe attitude toward
democracy, freedom, openness; the attitude toward human life. In that sense
they are barbarians. The Arab world as it is today is barbarian.
And in your
view these new barbarians are truly threatening the Rome of our time?
Yes. The West
is stronger but itís not clear whether it knows how to repulse this wave of
hatred. The phenomenon of the mass Muslim penetration into the West and their
settlement there is creating a dangerous internal threat. A similar process
took place in Rome. They let the barbarians in and they toppled the empire from
really all that dramatic? Is the West truly in danger?
Yes. I think
that the war between the civilizations is the main characteristic of the 21st
century. I think President Bush is wrong when he denies the very existence of
that war. Itís not only a matter of bin Laden. This is a struggle against a
whole world that espouses different values. And we are on the front line.
Exactly like the Crusaders, we are the vulnerable branch of Europe in this
situation as you describe it is extremely harsh. You are not entirely convinced
that we can survive here, are you?
possibility of annihilation exists.
describe yourself as an apocalyptic person?
Zionist project is apocalyptic. It exists within hostile surroundings and in a
certain sense its existence is unreasonable. It wasnít reasonable for it to
succeed in 1881 and it wasnít reasonable for it to succeed in 1948 and itís not
reasonable that it will succeed now. Nevertheless, it has come this far. In a
certain way it is miraculous. I live the events of 1948, and 1948 projects
itself on what could happen here. Yes, I think of Armageddon. Itís possible.
Within the next 20 years there could be an atomic war here.
is so dangerous for the Jews and if Zionism makes the Arabs so wretched, maybe
itís a mistake?
was not a mistake. The desire to establish a Jewish state here was a legitimate
one, a positive one. But given the character of Islam and given the character
of the Arab nation, it was a mistake to think that it would be possible to
establish a tranquil state here that lives in harmony with its surroundings.
leaves us, nevertheless, with two possibilities: either a cruel, tragic
Zionism, or the forgoing of Zionism.
so. You have pared it down, but thatís correct.
agree that this historical reality is intolerable, that there is something
inhuman about it?
thatís so for the Jewish people, not the Palestinians. A people that suffered
for 2,000 years, that went through the Holocaust, arrives at its patrimony but
is thrust into a renewed round of bloodshed, that is perhaps the road to
annihilation. In terms of cosmic justice, thatís terrible. Itís far more
shocking than what happened in 1948 to a small part of the Arab nation that was
then in Palestine.
So what you
are telling me is that you live the Palestinian Nakba of the past less than you
live the possible Jewish Nakba of the future?
Destruction could be the end of this process. It could be the end of the
Zionist experiment. And thatís what really depresses and scares me.
of the book you are now publishing in Hebrew is ďVictims.Ē In the end, then,
your argument is that of the two victims of this conflict, we are the bigger
We are the greater victims in the course of history and we are also the greater
potential victim. Even though we are oppressing the Palestinians, we are the
weaker side here. We are a small minority in a large sea of hostile Arabs who
want to eliminate us. So itís possible than when their desire is realized,
everyone will understand what I am saying to you now. Everyone will understand
we are the true victims. But by then it will be too late.
interview first appeared in Haaretz.