Benny Morris Revealed the Truth About Zionism

Roundup: Media's Take

Ghada Karmi, a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, and author of In Search of Fatima; in the Guardian (March 18, 2004):

It is not simply Israel's current hardline government that is to blame for the subjugation of Palestinians, but Zionism itself Israel's deputy defence minister, Ze'ev Boim, recently wondered whether there was a genetic defect that made Arabs terrorists. "What is it with Islam in general and the Palestinians in particular?" he asked on Israel army radio. "Is it some sort of cultural deficiency? Is it a genetic defect?"...

For those who have forgotten or never understood what Zionism meant in practice, the Israeli historian Benny Morris's latest revelations and comments - published in the Israeli daily Haaretz and in the Guardian - make salutary reading. They have raised a storm of controversy, perhaps because they were too honest about an ideology that some would rather keep hidden. Morris, who first exposed the dark circumstances of Israel's creation in his groundbreaking 1988 book on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, explains the Israeli project with a brutal candour few Zionists have been prepared to display.

Using Israeli state archives for his recently revised study, he reminds us that Israel was set up by expulsion, rape and massacre. The Jewish state could not have come into being without ethnic cleansing and, he asserts, more may be necessary in future to ensure its survival. This bald assertion should shock no one, for it is entirely consistent with the basic Zionist proposition of an ethnically pure state. Palestine's indigenous population was a clear impediment to this aim, which is why the concept of transfer was so central to Zionist thinking long before 1948 - advocated by Zionism's leaders and expressed through a series of specific expulsion plans from the mid-1930s onwards. These led inexorably to the 1948 Palestinian exodus and the refugee tragedy that persists today.

In an attempt to evade responsibility, Zionists have long tried to suggest that, but for the Arabs' "unprovoked" attack on Israel in 1948, there would be no refugees. This idea is both pernicious and false. Between January and the end of May 1948, a mere two weeks into the war, a third of the Palestinian population (my own family included) had left, most of them expelled. The "war" itself was more of a civil conflict and could not alone have accounted for the mass exodus. The Arab armies were notoriously ill-equipped and poorly trained and no match for the superior Zionist forces. Though ultimately ineffective, they came to defend the hapless Palestinians and to prevent their territories from being totally overrun....

Though creating Israel entailed Palestinian suffering, Morris argues, it was for a noble aim. That is why Zionism is still a dangerous idea: at its root is a conviction of moral rightness that justifies almost any act deemed necessary to preserve the Jewish state. If that means massive military - including nuclear - force, unsavoury alliances, theft of others' resources, aggression and occupation, the brutal crushing of all resistance - then so be it. No one should be under any illusion that Zionism is a spent force, regardless of current discourse about "post-Zionism". That a benign Zionism, sympathetic to Palestinians, also exists means little while these basic tenets remain.

We must thank Morris for disabusing us of such notions. But a project that is morally one-sided and can only survive through force and xenophobia has no long-term future. As he himself says: "Destruction could be the end of this process."


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