Does the 'Father' of the 1948 Ethnic Cleansing Narrative Really Want to Recant His Words?Historians in the News
tags: Israel, Benny Morris, Ethnic Cleansing
Our emotions and beliefs can inform our recounting of history. We’ve seen another example of this in the recent contretemps between historians Benny Morris and Daniel Blatman about whether Israel was guilty of ethnic cleansing in 1948 – and what it says about Israel's burden of responsibility regarding the conflict.
Blatman quoted Morris, the "new historian," to back up his claim that Israel had engaged in ethnic cleansing during the 1948 War of Independence. Morris’ reaction was visceral: he attacked Blatman personally, accusing him of having “betrayed his profession” as a historian “when he attributed to me [Morris] things I have never claimed and distorted the events of 1948.”
Benny Morris is the most well known, if not the only prominent, Israeli historian to change his political stripes. In fact, he was the leading new historian of a group of scholars that “sought to reexamine the Zionist enterprise,” as he put it, and whose historiography was “replete with descriptions of savagery by Jewish troops and Zionist political skullduggery.”
The violence of the second intifada, which erupted in 2000, caused him to withdraw his support of the Oslo peace process and become a harsh critic of the Palestinian leadership. It also seems to have affected his interpretation of history and his own works, which – though – he has not disavowed.
But the thing about historiography is that like a writer’s novel, once a historic work is in the public domain, the readers become empowered to interpret the written word and the author loses ownership over them.
The Benny Morris of 2016 can assert that he never claimed that Israel had engaged in “ethnic cleansing,” but that is certainly the impression many readers got from his seminal works like “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem,” first published in 1988, and “Righteous Victims,” which came out in 2001. ...
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