|Born||8 December 1948|
Ein HaHoresh, Israel
|Alma mater||Hebrew University of Jerusalem|
University of Cambridge
|Known for||One of Israel's "New Historians"|
|Parent(s)||Ya'akov and Sadie Morris|
Benny Morris (Hebrew: ; born 8 December 1948) is an Israeli historian. He was a professor of history in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Beersheba, Israel. He is a member of the group of Israeli historians known as the "New Historians," a term Morris coined to describe himself and historians Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappé.
Morris's work on the Arab-Israeli conflict and especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has won praise and criticism from both sides of the political divide. Regarding himself as a Zionist, he writes, "I embarked upon the research not out of ideological commitment or political interest. I simply wanted to know what happened."
Morris was born on 8 December 1948 in kibbutz Ein HaHoresh, the son of Jewish immigrants from the United Kingdom. He was born to Ya'akov Morris, an Israeli diplomat, historian, and poet and Sadie Morris, a journalist. According to The New Yorker, Benny Morris "grew up in the heart of a left-wing pioneering atmosphere".
His parents moved to Jerusalem when Morris was a year old. In the wake of his father's diplomatic duties, the family spent four years in New York when Morris was nine, and another two years there when he was 15.
Morris served in infantry, including in the paratroops, during 1967-1969. He was wounded in 1969 by an Egyptian shell at the Suez Canal, and was released from the army four months later. He completed his undergraduate studies in history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received a doctorate in modern European history from the University of Cambridge.
After graduation from the University of Cambridge he returned to Jerusalem and worked as a correspondent for The Jerusalem Post for 12 years. In 1982, he covered the Lebanon War, and also served as a reservist, taking part in the siege of Beirut in a mortar unit. In 1986, he did reserve duty in the West Bank. In 1988, when his artillery unit was called up for reserve duty in Nablus, he refused to serve and spent three weeks in jail.
While working at The Jerusalem Post in the 1980s, Morris began reading through Israeli government archives, at first looking at the history of the Palmach, then turning his attention to the origins of the 1948 Palestinian exodus. Mainstream Israeli historiography at the time explained the 1948 Palestinian exodus from their towns and villages as having been driven by fear, or by instructions from Arab leaders. Morris found evidence that there had been expulsions in some cases.
This section contains too many or overly lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (February 2019)
Most recently (July 2019), Morris has sharply criticized the restrictions under the Netanyahu government of access to historical documents related to the Palestinian Nakba, and he has expressed empathy for all victims of atrocities in the 1948 war. He writes:
"No reasonable person still believes that there were no acts of expulsion and massacre by the Jewish side in the 1948 war, which was launched by the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states and which in my view was a justified war in defense of the Jewish community. It was a war in which the Arabs also committed massacres (at the Haifa refineries and in Kfar Etzion) and expulsions (from the Jewish Quarter in the Jerusalem's Old City, for example), though to a lesser degree".
In 2008, Morris summarised his political views of the Arab-Israeli conflict in The Irish Times (and other publications):
"There was no Zionist 'plan' or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of 'ethnic cleansing'" and "the demonisation of Israel is largely based on lies--much as the demonisation of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies. And there is a connection between the two."
Critics allege that Morris's first book is biased. Morris believes they failed to read his book with moral detachment, assuming that when he described Israeli actions as cruel or as atrocities, he was condemning them. In fact, he supports Israeli actions during 1948 such as the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinian Arabs, claiming that the only alternative to expelling them was the genocide of the Jewish population in Israel. In a 2004 interview in Haaretz with Ari Shavit he stated:
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.
Morris also said that Israel was justified in uprooting the Palestinian 'fifth column' after the Arabs attacked the infant state, and that proportion should be employed when considering the "small war crimes" committed by Israel in 1948:
You have to put things in proportion. These are small war crimes. All told, if we take all the massacres and all the executions of 1948, we come to about 800 who were killed. In comparison to the massacres that were perpetrated in Bosnia, that's peanuts. In comparison to the massacres the Russians perpetrated against the Germans at Stalingrad, that's chicken feed. When you take into account that there was a bloody civil war here and that we lost an entire 1 percent of the population, you find that we behaved very well.
His work has been criticised by Arab writers for failing to act on the evidence he found of forced evictions. In the Haaretz interview, he said:
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 don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes.
When Shavit called the 1948 Palestinian exodus "ethnic cleansing", Morris responded, "[t]here are 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 genocide--the annihilation of your people--I prefer ethnic cleansing." Morris criticised David Ben-Gurion for not carrying out such a plan, saying: "In the end, he faltered. ... If he had carried out a full expulsion--rather than a partial one--he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."
My turning point began after 2000. I wasn't a great optimist even before that. True, I always voted Labor or Meretz or Sheli 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.
Morris still describes himself as being left-wing because of his support for the two-state solution, but he believes his generation will not see peace in Israel. He has said, "I don't 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." On the subject of "people the Palestinian society sends to carry out the terrorist attacks," who he calls "serial killers" and "barbarians who want to take our lives," Morris said:
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.... Palestinian society is a very sick society. It should be treated the way we treat individuals who are serial killers. 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 murdering us.... Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another.
In the same Haaretz article Morris called Israeli Arabs "a time bomb."
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....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.
Morris called the Israel-Palestinian conflict a facet of a global clash of civilisations between Islam and the Western World in the Haaretz interview, saying, "There is a deep problem in Islam. It's a world whose values are different. A world in which human life doesn't have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien...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."
He sees the Jews as the greater victims:
"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, that's terrible. It's far more shocking than what happened in 1948 to a small part of the Arab nation that was then in Palestine...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 it's possible than [sic] 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."
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times in July 2008, Morris wrote: "Iran's leaders would do well to rethink their gamble and suspend their nuclear program. Bar this, the best they could hope for is that Israel's conventional air assault will destroy their nuclear facilities. To be sure, this would mean thousands of Iranian casualties and international humiliation. But the alternative is an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland." In an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard Morris argues that a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran may have to be used as a last resort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
In a 2019 interview with Haaretz, Morris took a more pessimistic view: "I don't see how we get out of it", he says in reference to Israel's continued existence as a Jewish state. "Already today there are more Arabs than Jews between the [Mediterranean] sea and the Jordan. The whole territory is unavoidably becoming one state with an Arab majority. Israel still calls itself a Jewish state, but a situation in which we rule an occupied people that has no rights cannot persist in the 21st century, in the modern world. And as soon as they do have rights, the state will no longer be Jewish." He added: "The Palestinians look at everything from a broad, long-term perspective. They see that at the moment, there are five-six-seven million Jews here, surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs. They have no reason to give in, because the Jewish state can't last. They are bound to win. In another 30 to 50 years they will overcome us, come what may" and "Those among the Jews who can, will flee to America and the West."
Commenting on the post-2000 reversal of position by Morris, Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote that Morris' more recent "thesis about the birth of the Palestine refugee problem being not by design but by the natural logic and evolution of war is not always sustained by the very evidence he himself provides: 'cultured officers ... had turned into base murderers and this not in the heat of battle ... but out of a system of expulsion and destruction; the less Arabs remained, the better; this principle is the political motor for the expulsions and atrocities' [quoting from Morris' major 2004 work: 'The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited']".
Norman Finkelstein describes this enigma as: "Thus, as already mentioned, the scholarly consensus is that Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948. Israel's leading historian on the topic, Benny Morris, although having done more than anyone else to clarify exactly what happened, nonetheless concludes that, morally, it was a good thing--just as, in his view, the 'annihilation' of Native Americans was a good thing--that, legally, Palestinians have no right to return to their homes, and that, politically, Israel's big error in 1948 was that it hadn't 'carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country--the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan' of Palestinians".:5
Historian Avi Shlaim, expands on Morris' 'conversion':
"His 1988 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, drove a coach and horses through the claim that the Palestinians left Palestine of their own accord or on orders from their leaders. With a great wealth of recently declassified material, he analysed the role that Israel played in precipitating the Palestinian exodus. ... The hallmark of his approach was to stick as closely as possible to the documentary evidence, to record rather than to evaluate. While his findings were original and arresting, he upheld the highest standards of historical scholarship, and he wrote with almost clinical detachment. ... The message, pithily summed up in a long interview that Benny gave to Yediot Aharonot about his highly publicised conversion, is that 'the Arabs are responsible'. Where no evidence is available to sustain the argument of Arab intransigence, Benny makes it up by drawing on his fertile imagination. ... His post-conversion interpretation of history is old history with a vengeance. It is indistinguishable from the propaganda of the victors."
Ari Shavit, senior correspondent at Haaretz, commented on Morris' justification for the expulsion of the Arabs in 1948 by contrasting (the more recent) "citizen" Morris with (the earlier) "historian" Morris, and noting that, at times "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."
In his book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947--1949 (1988), Morris argues that the 700,000 Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947 left mostly due to Israeli military attacks; fear of impending attacks; and expulsions. He argues that there was no centralised expulsion policy as such, but expulsions were ordered by the Israeli high command as needed. The official position in Israel was that the Palestinians had left voluntarily, or under pressure from Palestinian or other Arab leaders. At the same time, Morris documents atrocities by the Israelis, including cases of rape and torture. The book shows a map of 228 empty Palestinian villages, and attempts to explain why the villagers left. In 41 villages, he writes, the inhabitants were expelled by the IDF; in another 90, residents fled because of attacks on other villages; and in six, they left under instructions from local Palestinian authorities. He was unable to find out why another 46 villages were abandoned.
In his updated The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), Morris answers critics of the first version and adds material from the opening of new Israeli government archives. He writes that the contents of the new documents substantially increase both Israeli and Palestinian responsibility for the refugee problem, revealing more expulsions and atrocities on the Israeli side, and more orders from Arab officials to the Palestinians to leave their villages, or at least to send their women and children away. Morris writes that his conclusions are unlikely to please either Israeli or Palestinian propagandists, or "black-or-white historians".
1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians is a collection of essays dedicated to the Palestinian exodus of 1948 and subsequent events. It analyses Mapai and Mapam policy during the exodus, the IDF report of July 1948 on its causes, Yosef Weitz's involvement in the events, and some cases of expulsions that occurred in the fifties. Although Morris dismisses the claim that the Palestinians were systematically expelled due to orders from Israeli officials, he nevertheless cites an IDF Intelligence Report that concludes that 70% of the exodus was caused by Israeli forces and 'Jewish dissidents
The IDF report lists: 'the factors that precipitated the exodus in order of importance--
Collectively these 3 factors were considered to be responsible for causing 70% of the exodus, according to the IDF report. Furthermore, Morris states 'the report makes no mention of any blanket order issued over Arab radio stations or through other means, to the Palestinians to evacuate their homes and villages' despite as Morris states the IDF 'monitoring Arab radio transmissions'.
Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 is based largely on secondary works and gives a synthesis of existing research on the various subjects and periods covered. Morris writes "a history of this subject, based mainly on primary sources is, I suspect, beyond the abilities of a single scholar. There are simply too many archives, files, and documents. Nonetheless, parts of the present book-the coverage of the 1948 war and the decade after it, and of certain episodes that occurred during the 1930s and the 1982-85 Lebanon War--are based in large measure on primary sources."
Edited by Morris, this collection of articles was written by "traditionalists and revisionists who openly and directly lay out their key insights about Israel's origins". The articles can be downloaded from the website of the University of Michigan Press.
In 1948, Morris gives a detailed account of the war between various factions that year that caused the creation of the modern state of Israel. Yoav Gelber writes, "1948 is a praiseworthy achievement of research and analysis, the work of a historian unwilling to rest on his already considerable laurels." Gelber disagrees with some of Morris's analysis, in particular with the idea that the 1948 war was more a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam than a nationalist struggle. He also argues that Morris overestimates Israel's military strength, and disagrees with Morris about the aims of King Abdullah of Jordan.
Morris contends that there is no two-state solution to the Middle East crisis, and that the One-state solution is not viable because of Arab unwillingness to accept a Jewish national presence in the Middle East and cultural differences including less Arab respect for human life and rule of law. He suggests the possibility of something like a Three-state solution in the form of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan.
The Thirty-Year Genocide, Turkey's Destruction of its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924 (2019)(co-authored with Dror Ze'evi)
The book describes the Ottoman\Turkish destruction of the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian communities by the successive Ottoman, Young Turks' and Ataturk regimes, in which some two million Christians were murdered by their Muslim neighbors.
Avi Shlaim, retired professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, and himself a New Historian, writes that Morris investigated the 1948 exodus of the Palestinians "as carefully, dispassionately, and objectively as it is ever likely to be", and that The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem is an "outstandingly original, scholarly, and important contribution" to the study of the issue.
Many of Morris's critics cling to the tenets of "Old History", the idea of an Israel born untarnished, a David fighting the Arab Goliath, Shlaim writes. He argues that these ideas are simply false, created not by historians but by the participants in the 1948 war, who wrote about the events they had taken part in without the benefit of access to Israeli government archives, which were first opened up in the early 1980s. Another group of Morris's critics such as Avraham Sela, as well as historians on the left such as Ilan Pappé, argue that he has relied too heavily on Israeli sources and hardly at all on the Arabs. Norman Finkelstein, Nur Masalha and others argue that Morris has been too soft on the Israelis, often ignoring the force of his own evidence. Efraim Karsh alleges that Morris has distorted source material, an allegation not accepted by other historians.
Efraim Karsh, professor of Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, writes that Morris engages in what Karsh calls "five types of distortion". According to Karsh, Morris "misrepresents documents, resorts to partial quotes, withholds evidence, makes false assertions, and rewrites original documents... [he] tells of statements never made, decisions never taken, events that never happened ... at times [he] does not even take the trouble to provide evidence..... He expects his readers to take on trust his assertions that fundamental contradictions exist between published accounts and the underlying documents.....he 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." In addition he claimed to expose a serious gap between Morris' text and the original diary of Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel.
Yezid Sayigh, professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London, writes of Karsh's criticism, "[t]his is not the first time that Efraim Karsh has written a highly self-important rebuttal of revisionist history. He is simply not what he makes himself out to be, a trained historian (nor political/social scientist)." (Karsh responds that he has an undergraduate degree in modern Middle Eastern history, and Arabic language and literature, and a doctorate in political science and international relations.) Sayigh urges academics to compose "robust responses [to Karsh] that make sure that any self-respecting scholar will be too embarrassed to even try to incorporate the Karsh books in his/her teaching or research because they can't pretend they didn't know how flimsy their foundations are".Ian Lustick, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, writes of Karsh's attacks on the New Historians that, "however likely readers are to be impressed by the intensity of Karsh's pristine faith in Zionism, they are sure to be stunned by the malevolence of his writing and confused by the erratic, sloppy nature of his analysis. Errors, inconsistencies and over-interpretations there may be in some of the new Israeli histories, but nothing in them can match the howlers, contradictions and distortions contained in [Karsh's Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians]."
Morris responds that Karsh's article is a "mélange of distortions, half-truths, and plain lies that vividly demonstrates his profound ignorance of both the source material (his piece contains more than fifty footnotes but is based almost entirely on references to and quotations from secondary works, many of them of dubious value) and the history of the Zionist-Arab conflict. It does not deserve serious attention or reply."Anita Shapira, Dean of Tel Aviv University, argues "thirty of [Karsh's] references actually refer to writings by Shlaim and Morris, and fifteen others cite primary sources, and the rest refer to studies by major historians...."
Morris elsewhere argues that Karsh "belabor[s] minor points while completely ignoring, and hiding from his readers, the main pieces of evidence" and argued, "... Karsh, while claiming to have 'demolished' the whole oeuvre, in fact deal[t] with only four pages of Birth. These pages tried to show that the Zionist leadership during 1937-38 supported a 'transfer solution' to the prospective Jewish state's 'Arab problem.'" Commenting on the Revisited version of Morris'work, Karsh states that in "an implicit acknowledgement of their inaccuracy, Morris has removed some of The Birth's most inaccurate or distorted quotations about transfer."
Both Finkelstein and Masalha prefer the conclusion that there was a transfer policy.
In a reply to Finkelstein and Masalha, Morris answers he "saw enough material, military and civilian, to obtain an accurate picture of what happened", that Finkelstein and Masalha draw their conclusions with a pro-Palestinian bias, and that with regard to the distinction between military assault and expulsion they should accept that he uses a "more narrow and severe" definition of expulsions. Morris holds to his conclusion that there was no transfer policy. Shlomo Ben Ami states that Benny Morris' conclusion is not supported by the evidence that he himself (Morris) presents such as his statement that, "cultured officers . . . had turned into base murderers and this not in the heat of battle . . . but out of a system of expulsion and destruction; the less Arabs remained, the better; this principle is the political motor for the expulsions and the atrocities".
Benny Morris wrote a review critical of Ilan Pappé's book A History of Modern Palestine for The New Republic. Morris called Pappé's book "truly appalling". He says it subjugates history to political ideology, and "contains errors of a quantity and a quality that are not found in serious historiography". Replying, Pappé accused Morris of using mainly Israeli sources, and disregarding Arab sources, which he cannot read.
Michael Palumbo, author of The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People from Their Homeland, reviewing the first edition of Morris's book on Palestinian refugees, criticises Morris's decision, which Palumbo thinks characteristic of Israeli revisionist historians generally, to rely mainly on official, "carefully screened" Israeli sources, especially for radio transcripts of Arab broadcasts, while disregarding unofficial Israeli sources such as transcripts from the BBC and CIA, many of which point to a policy of expulsion. He says Morris failed to supplement his work in Israeli archives, many still classified, by U.N., American, and British archival sources that Palumbo considers objective on such issues as IDF atrocities, as well as oral testimonies of Palestinians and Israelis, which can be reliable if their substance can be independently verified. Palumbo says:
Morris' regard for documentation is indeed commendable, were it not for his tendency to choose sources which support his views, while avoiding those document collections which contain information inconsistent with his principal arguments. His decision not to use the testimony of Israeli veterans is unfortunate, since some of them have spoken candidly about Israeli atrocities and expulsion of civilians at Deir Yassin, Lydda-Ramle and Jaffa.