Politics by Other Means by Benny Morris

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Politics by Other Means
by Benny Morris

A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples
By Ilan Pappe
(Cambridge University Press, 333 pp., $22)
Post date 03.17.04 | Issue date 03.22.04


Ilan Pappe and I walked a stretch together in uneasy companionship, but we have now parted ways. In the late 1980s and early 1990s we belonged to a group dubbed the "New Historians" of Israel, which also included Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev. This group, contrary to the conspiratorial image projected by our critics, was never a close-knit or monolithic school of intellectuals who plotted together around the table at Friday-night meals. Some of us barely knew one another. Each, in different institutions and different cities and different countries (indeed, only Pappe was on the faculty of an Israeli university), had plied his craft alone and reached his conclusions on his own. But we had all written histories focusing on Israel and Palestine in the 1940s, and they had all appeared, mostly in English, in the late 1980s, and taken together they had shaken the Zionist historiographic establishment and permanently undermined the traditional Zionist narrative of the Israeli-Arab conflict.  

In some measure, our histories also undermined the traditional Arab narratives of the conflict (as in my book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, which argued that there had been no Zionist master plan of expulsion and that no systematic policy of expulsion was implemented in 1948). But the thrust of the "New Historiography" was that the century-old conflict was not a straightforward clash between good and evil, that it could not be properly understood in black-and-white terms. Both sides, it was implied if not argued explicitly, had strong claims, and both sides had just grievances. The documentation released in American, British, U.N., and (principally) Israeli archives in the 1980s showed that the Zionist side was not blameless in the conflict, and had sometimes made wrong decisions and indulged in policies and practices that were morally dubious if not downright unethical. 

But that was the limit of our consensus. Propagandistic or official historians usually sound the same happy note, and for the same reasons; but dissenting historians usually are polyphonic, and the relationships among them are often troubled, if not flatly unhappy. In the case of Pappe and myself, there was always methodological discord. We both knew that official Zionist historiography was deeply flawed and needed to be reassessed and rewritten on the basis of the evidence that had become available; but we approached history, and the writing of history, from antithetical standpoints. Pappe regarded history through the prism of contemporary politics and consciously wrote history with an eye to serving political ends. My own view was that while historians, as citizens, had political views and aims, their scholarly task was to try to arrive at the truth about a historical event or process, to illuminate the past as objectively and accurately as possible. I believed, and still believe, that there is such a thing as historical truth; that it exists independently of, and can be detached from, the subjectivities of scholars; that it is the historian's duty to try to reach it by using as many and as varied sources as he can. When writing history, the historian should ignore contemporary politics and struggle against his political inclinations as he tries to penetrate the murk of the past. Pappe--and, implicitly, my Zionist critics such as Anita Shapira and Shabtai Teveth--have argued that no one is capable of abandoning his educational, ideological, and political baggage, and that I, too, have been motivated, consciously or subconsciously, by my politics and have reflected (according to Pappe) my solid Zionist convictions or (according to the establishment Zionists) my solid anti-Zionist convictions. 

 From the first Pappe allowed his politics to hold sway over his history. Initially he was rather restrained. His first book, Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-51, published in 1988, was bland and flat in tone. Perhaps this was due to its origins as a doctoral dissertation; perhaps there were other reasons. In any event, the book avoided blunt iconoclasm, and its innovations are extremely hesitant (unlike Avi Shlaim in his Collusion Across the Jordan, published the same year, where it was trenchantly argued that the Yishuv--the Jewish community in Palestine--and the Hashemite rulers of Jordan had colluded to limit their war in 1948 and to nip in the bud the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, as endorsed by the U.N. partition resolution of November 1947). In his second book, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951, which appeared in 1992, Pappe allowed his politics more leeway, and they are apparent in his descriptions and in his interpretations; but here, too, there is an effort toward objectivity and accuracy. 

In both books Pappe in effect tells his readers: "This is what happened." This is strange, because it directly conflicts with a second major element in his historiographical outlook. Pappe is a proud postmodernist. He believes that there is no such thing as historical truth, only a collection of narratives as numerous as the participants in any given event or process; and each narrative, each perspective, is as valid and legitimate, as true, as the next. Moreover, every narrative is inherently political and, consciously or not, serves political ends. Each historian is justified in shaping his narrative to promote particular political purposes. Shlomo Aronson, an Israeli political scientist, years ago confronted Pappe with the ultimate problem regarding historical relativism: if all narratives are equally legitimate and there is no historical truth, then the narrative of Holocaust deniers is as valid as that of Holocaust affirmers. Pappe did not offer a persuasive answer, beyond asserting lamely that there exists a large body of indisputable oral testimony affirming that the Holocaust took place.  

This broaches the third element in Pappe's historiographical approach: his faith that oral testimony is valuable and valid, and that historians should base their narratives also on the testimony and the memory of witnesses, even decades after the event. But in his new book, as in his previous books, Pappe makes no use at all--or almost no use--of oral testimony, basing his work on primary and secondary written sources. Perhaps he does not really believe in the value of oral history; or perhaps he found the work involved too stressful and time-consuming. In any event, A History of Modern Palestine makes no use of oral sources.  

My own view is that the historian must base his work on primary written sources, that is, on contemporaneous documents, and must be exceedingly wary of oral history, especially when the events that are being remembered are morally sensitive and politically charged, and occurred many years ago. In the absence of contemporary documents, the historian may occasionally draw upon oral testimony for "color" or a sense of atmosphere, but never to reconstruct what actually happened.  

Since so much of the debate about the New Historians is political, I should add that Pappe and I differ not only in our methods but also in our politics. We are both men of the left; but whereas since the late 1960s I have consistently voted Labor or Meretz (a Zionist party to the left of Labor), Pappe, so far as I know, has always voted the Israel Communist Party ticket (under its different names) and has figured repeatedly in the party's list of Knesset candidates. During the past few years Pappe has veered even further leftward. Although his party still advocates a two-state solution, Pappe, like his mentor Edward Said, believes that the only solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a single bi-national state in all of Palestine. (I shall return to this theme.)  

 So, as I say, Pappe and I always were uncomfortable companions in our historical travels. The outbreak, at the end of September 2000, of the current intifada, which I regard as a Palestinian rebellion against the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and as a political-terroristic assault on Israel's existence (and also as an offshoot of fundamentalist Islam's ongoing assault on the West, in which Israel, unfortunately, figures as a front-line outpost), has, like a giant centrifuge, sent the New Historians spinning toward opposite corners of the political universe. It has separated the anti-Zionist goats from the Zionist sheep, and has accentuated their goatish and sheepish natures. By now it would not be incorrect to call Pappe, as well as Shlaim, an anti-Zionist.  

Shlaim's The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, which was published five years ago, is highly critical of the Zionist movement and Israel. Since the start of the current intifada, he has moved steadily to the left--or is it, really, to the right? After all, he shares his anti-Israeli analysis with European neo-fascists and the Islamic jihadists, who openly advocate Israel's destruction in the name of medieval religious values. In an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, Shlaim recently identified with the anti-Semitic British official James Troutbeck, who in June, 1948 described the emergent state of Israel--the one that had just been assaulted by a bevy of Arab states, in defiance of the United Nations Partition Resolution of November, 1947--as a gangster state headed by "an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders." "Today," Shlaim continued, "a similar sense of moral outrage is felt toward the rightist government of Ariel Sharon by people throughout the world." 

As for Pappe, the outbreak of the Palestinian revolt has thrust him into academic and political prominence as one of the most outspoken Israeli advocates of a Western boycott of Israel's universities. During the past three years, many pro-Palestinian academics in the West have campaigned (not very successfully) to persuade their universities to cut off contact with their Israeli counterparts and to block research and investment funds from reaching Israel's universities; academic journals have refused to consider or to publish papers by Israelis; a handful of academics have refused to supervise Israeli postgraduate students; and scholars, such as Eugene Rogan, head of the Middle East Centre at Oxford's St. Antony's College, have refused to give lectures in a country governed by Ariel Sharon (presumably they would give lectures in countries run by the likes of Bashar al-Assad and the Ayatollah Khamenei). Pappe has been at the forefront of this effort. It is worth noting that he has not declined to receive wages from a university subsidized by the government whose policies he finds so repulsive. It is also worth noting--here Pappe's logic becomes as flawed as his ethics--that Israel's academic community, the one that has been boycotted by "progressives" in the West, has been in the vanguard of the struggle within Israel to recognize the Palestinians and to reach a political compromise. Israel's universities, as Prime Minister Sharon and Education Minister Limor Livnat regularly recognize, are a mainstay of the Israeli left--and none more so than Haifa University, Pappe's own institution, which has the highest proportion of Arab staff and students (the latter about 20 percent) in Israel.  

This has been Pappe's political evolution. A History of Modern Palestine is a milestone in his evolution as an historian. He sets out to tell the story of Palestine, which he far less frequently also refers to as the Land of Israel, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, starting with Napoleon's invasion in 1799. It is mainly the story of two peoples--Arabs and Jews--and the interaction between them. Needless to say, a great many pages are devoted to the development of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; but Pappe is at pains, as he tells us in his foreword, not to confine himself to the usual tale of high politics and military history--to the thoughts, the words, and the actions of leaders and generals. In keeping with the politically correct norms of the profession in the contemporary West, he focuses, rather, on "the victims" of "the invasions, occupations, expulsions, discrimination and racism" to which Palestine has been subject. His "heroes," he says, are the "women, children, peasants, workers, ordinary city dwellers, peaceniks, human rights activists"--and his "'villains' ... the arrogant generals, the greedy politicians, the cynical statesmen and the misogynist men."  

It goes almost without saying that Pappe's "victims" are primarily Palestine's Arabs; and all, or almost all, of the "greedy" and the "cynical" are Israelis. In fairness I should add that he does dish up some "misogynist" Palestinians, which is not surprising, given the fact that in Arab and Islamic societies women are by tradition, and often by law, third-class members, who often lack basic rights (in some countries they have no vote, in others they cannot drive cars, and so on). In this respect, Palestinian society is similar to Syrian or Jordanian or Egyptian society, but Pappe papers this over by repeatedly pointing to the continuously "improving" nature of Palestinian women's status at certain points in time--for example, during the two Palestinian intifadas or rebellions against Israel. 

Unfortunately, much of what Pappe tries to sell his readers is complete fabrication. In trying to demonstrate women's growing political involvement (and, incidentally, Israeli beastliness), he tells us at one point that "one third of the overall [Palestinian] casualties [in the intifada of 1987-1991] were women," and that "rural women" took "a central role, boldly confronting the army." Among urban women, the proportion of participants in the intifada was even higher, he says. All of this is pure invention. In fact, women constituted about 5 percent of the Palestinian casualties in the first intifada. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, eleven hundred Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli army and security personnel during that uprising, and of these, fifty-six were women. Even a cursory glance at film footage of the intifada's riots shows that there were generally no female participants. Women did make an appearance, in small numbers, when pleading with soldiers not to take away arrested men for questioning or when mourning male casualties lying bloodied in the streets; but the women remained remarkably absent from the front lines of the intifada--as they remained, and still remain, absent from the front lines of the current intifada and from the coffee shops of the West Bank and Gaza and other venues where serious matters in the Arab Middle East are discussed, and sometimes decided. Indeed, the recent surge in Islamic fundamentalism in Palestinian society has restricted women even more firmly to hearth and home than was the case before the 1970s. Arafat, with his good sense for public relations, inducted two women--Hanan Ashrawi and Umm Jihad--into the political elite, and Arafat's Fatah has dispatched a handful of female suicide bombers into Israel's cities, but these are token representations of a gender that is essentially disempowered in Palestinian society. 

Pappe's periodic insertion of women into the unfolding history is artificial, often absurd, and occasionally without foundation in the sources. He tells us--without offering any source or concrete example--that, following the Young Turks' reformist revolution in Istanbul in 1908, "women [in Palestine] too--but the elite only--began attempting to change their lives.... They organized on a gender basis for the first time." Organized what? He doesn't tell us. And then he adds: "True, only among the Zionist immigrants did women actually work--but even here rhetoric was more abundant than fundamental change in gender relations." In other words, after completely inventing a small feminist revolution among Palestinian women, Pappe, implicitly admitting that nothing of the sort occurred, goes on to assail the Zionists for being no better. The comparison is ridiculous. While women were certainly discriminated against in the workplace and in wages, they have always been full citizens in the Zionist community: they worked in the fields and factories, and they voted for candidates in the Zionist institutions, and they were elected to office. There was nothing comparable in pre-1948 Palestinian Arab society. 

Since contemporary historiography apparently requires it, Pappe also injects children into Palestinian social history. Children were always there, of course, but very few sources discuss them, and their impact on the development of Palestine, at least until the intifadas, was probably insubstantial. Yet a politically correct historian worth his spurs cannot exclude them, and so Pappe writes: "It is also possible to say that 1908 marked a new beginning for children in Palestine." What he means by this assertion, or on what he bases it, is never elucidated. Did children suddenly get the vote? Did they get more candy? Did they cry less? Pappe does not say. What he does say is that in the Palestinian Arab school system corporal punishment continued to be the norm through the first half of the twentieth century. He also assumes that, since the Young Turks revolution of 1908 led to an increase in education throughout the Ottoman Empire, there must have been more or better schooling in Palestine too, hence the improvement in the lot of Palestinian children. (But if children were being routinely flogged in the schools, perhaps an increase in schooling--if this in fact occurred--would not necessarily have been a good thing.)  

Keeping up with historiographical fashion leads to confusion. Nations and nation-states are retrograde and nasty, almost by definition. At the outset of his book Pappe informs his readers that he intends to "de-nationalize" the history of modern Palestine: a worthy postcolonial or at least postmodern goal. But how does one "de-nationalize" what is essentially a history of a conflict between two nations or peoples? One strategy, seemingly--it is the one Pappe adopts--would be to focus on the economic and social developments in Palestine rather than on the country's politics. But alas, here, too, the historian immediately comes up against the "national" problem, inasmuch as Palestine's two national or ethnic communities essentially developed and grew separately, on national lines. Indeed, by the 1920s they had even spawned two separate "national" economies.  

Pappe recognizes the trap almost as soon as the word "de-nationalize" escapes his lips, and in mid-paragraph he dexterously switches gears, telling his readers that, at the least, he intends to "bi-nationalize" his history: unlike many of his predecessors from the Zionist and Arab camps, he will tell Palestine's history from both the Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jewish perspectives. And as the book unfolds, Pappe describes the separate socio-economic and political development of each people at each stage of the country's history before reviewing their interactions.  

 It all sounds very reasonable and very tolerant, but in fact Modern Palestine is really the story of one people, the Palestinians, who, according to Pappe, unequivocally "turn towards ... nationalism" in 1912 (most historians would place this "turn" a bit later, in the 1920s and 1930s). They are put upon and invaded and subjugated and in part exiled by another people, an invading people, the Zionist Jews. Pappe barely mentions the Jewish habitation of, and rule over, Israel during the thousand years between Joshua's invasion and the crushing of the Bar-Kochba Revolt against Rome in 135 C.E. And while he mentions the causes that during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries propelled a fraction of the Jewish people to head for the land in the Levant--anti-Semitic discrimination and violence in the Christian, and later the Muslim, world--Pappe's heart is clearly not in it. He sees the "invasion" and the inevitable clash solely from the Arabs' perspective.   i

In Pappe's account, there is no faulting the Palestinians for regularly assaulting the Zionist enterprise--in 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48, the late 1960s and early 1970s, 1987, and 2000--as there can be no criticizing them for rejecting the various compromises offered by the British, the Americans, the Jews, and the world community in 1937, 1947, 1977- 1978, and 2000. The Palestinians are forever victims, the Zionists are forever "brutal colonizers." To his credit, Pappe wears his heart on his sleeve. There is no dissembling here. He even tells us in his acknowledgments--as if he cannot wait to inform his readers of his loyalties-- that while his "native tongue is Hebrew," "today [he] converses more and more in Arabic," and his "love of the country [Palestine]" is matched only by his "dislike of the state [Israel]." 

 Tony Judt once described in these pages an encounter with students in a graduate seminar in modern European history in an American university:

After some probing ... [the] students would start to confess that they were actually in a state of panic. To be sure, they could expatiate at length on theories of nationalism. They had mastered the disputes surrounding the nature of fascism or the gendered impact of industrialization. They knew how to "explain" history.... But they had not the foggiest notion what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.

They simply did not know history. Judt could almost have been describing Ilan Pappe, his colleague in the "one-state solution." Pappe, too, is mortally ignorant of the basic facts of the Israeli-Arab conflict. This book is awash with errors of a quantity and a quality that are not found in serious historiography. And, in Pappe's case, it is not just a matter of sloppiness or indolence in checking facts; the problem goes deeper. It can almost be called a deliberate system of error.  

The multiplicity of mistakes on each page is a product of both Pappe's historical methodology and his political proclivities. He seems to admit as much when he writes early on that

my [pro-Palestinian] bias is apparent despite the desire of my peers that I stick to facts and the 'truth' when reconstructing past realities. I view any such construction as vain and presumptuous. This book is written by one who admits compassion for the colonized not the colonizer; who sympathizes with the occupied not the occupiers; and sides with the workers not the bosses. He feels for women in distress, and has little admiration for men in command.... Mine is a subjective approach....

For those enamored with subjectivity and in thrall to historical relativism, a fact is not a fact and accuracy is unattainable. Why grope for the truth? Narrativity is all. So no reader should be surprised to discover that, according to Pappe, the Stern Gang and the Palmach existed "before the revolt" of 1936 (they were established in 1940-1941); that the Palmach "between 1946 and 1948" fought against the British (in 1947-1948 it did not); that Ben-Gurion in 1929 was chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive (he was chairman from 1935 to 1948); that the Arab Higher Committee was established "by 1934" (it was set up in 1936); that the Arab Legion did not withdraw from Palestine, along with the British, in May, 1948 (most of its units did); that the United Nations' partition proposal of November 29, 1947 had "an equal number of supporters and detractors" (the vote was thirty-three for, thirteen against, and ten abstentions); that the "Jewish forces [were] better equipped" than the invading Arab armies in May, 1948 (they were not, by any stretch of the imagination); that the first truce was "signed" on June 10, 1948 (it was never "signed," and it began on June 11); that in August, 1948 "the successful Israeli campaigns continued, leading to their complete control of Palestine, apart from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" (the Second Truce prevailed during August and September, and warfare was resumed only in mid-October); that the Grand Mufti fled Palestine in 1938 (he left in October, 1937); that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was "built ... in 1920" (it was founded in 1925 and constructed during the following decades); that Tel Aviv was "founded ... on a Saturday morning in July 1907" (it was in 1909); that the late nineteenth-century Zionist pioneers known as the Biluim established "the first Zionist settlements in Palestine" (they did not), and that they "were led" by Moshe Lilienblum and Leon Pinsker (they were not); that "the Israeli Foreign Office ... translated [U.N. Security Council Resolution 242] into Hebrew in a way that implied that it did not have to withdraw from all the territories it had occupied [in the Six Day War]" (the resolution, in the authoritative English original, speaks of withdrawal "from [occupied] territories," not "the territories" or "all the territories"); that in 1979 there were "1.8 million [Palestinian] refugees" in Lebanon, and in 1982 "well beyond two million" (on both dates the number was around two hundred thousand); that Black September, the Jordanian crackdown against the PLO, took place in 1969 (it was in 1970); that the first settlements in the West Bank were established in 1968 (they were established in 1967); that there was an anti-Hashemite "uprising" in Jordan in 1956 (there were anti-Hashemite or anti-Baghdad Pact riots in Jordan in 1955, but not an uprising); that "the negotiations on Palestine's future produced [during World War I] three documents: the Husayn-McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration" (only the last focused on Palestine's future); that "in September 1918 the north of Palestine was taken quietly [by the British army]" (it was taken in battle, the Battle of Armaggedon or Meggido); that "300 Jews" and a similar number of Arabs were killed in the Arab rioting of 1929 (just over one hundred Jews and a similar number of Arabs died); and so on and on and on. 

Again, Pappe's errors are not merely a matter of sloppiness born of a contempt for that leaven of dullards, "the facts." The book is also awash with errors resulting from the writer's ideological preferences, his interest in blackening the Zionists and whitening the Palestinians. His description of the events of 1920 (in which Pappe proves the dictum that necessity--in this case, an ideological imperative--is the mother of invention) is surely a classic of the genre:

In April 1920, a Nabi Musa rally [a Muslim celebration commemorating the prophet Moses] clashed with the most aggressive of the Zionist organizations, Beitar, whose members marched provocatively in the streets of Arab Jerusalem at the time of the feast, and a day of violence ended with deaths on both sides.... A [British] commission of inquiry, the Palin Commission, concluded the obvious: that there was growing dissatisfaction among the Palestinian elite with the British pro-Zionist ... policy.

In fact, Pappe's evenhandedness, while morally commendable, is out of place. There was no "provocative" Jewish march through Arab Jerusalem; there was no march at all. What occurred was an unprovoked assault on Jewish passersby and shops by a politically and religiously inflamed Muslim mob. The subsequent British investigation, embodied in the Palin Report, found that a Muslim Arab religious procession, incited by, among others, Haj Amin al Husseini and Arif al-Arif (a Palestinian journalist), had attacked Jews along Jaffa Road in Jewish (West) Jerusalem and then inside the Old City. Beitar, the youth movement of the right-wing Revisionist Movement, was founded in 1923, so clearly it could not have had a hand in the events of 1920. (Even a postmodernist can see that!) The Palin Report, acknowledging the pogrom for what it was, stated that "all the evidence goes to show that these [Arab] attacks were of a cowardly and treacherous description, mostly against old men, women and children--frequently in the back" (though, to round out the picture, Palin did attribute the rising tide of Arab anger to Britain's pro-Zionist policy).  

Brazen inaccuracy similarly marks Pappe's treatment of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. Pappe writes that the Arab Higher Committee had tried to "negotiate a principled settlement with the Jewish Agency" (it did not); that in "October 1936" the AHC "declared a general strike" (it was declared in May, 1936 and ended in October); that "in August [1937]" Palestinians assassinated "Major Andrew," the British acting Galilee district commissioner (his name was Lewis Andrews, he was a civilian, and he was assassinated in September); and that "quite a few" of the Palestinian dead in the 1936-1939 rebellion were women (there are no accurate figures, but there can be no doubt that only a handful of the three thousand to six thousand Palestinian dead were women, who generally took no part in the rioting and the fighting).  

Pappe writes that "in the 1969 election, the moderate Eshkol could not prevail against the more inflexible Golda Meir" (Eshkol simply died in office, and his party, Mapai, selected Meir as his successor, and later, in the general elections of 1969, the incumbent prime minister Meir, heading the Mapai list, ran against, and beat, a collection of right-wing, religious, and left-wing parties); that there were one million Palestinians living outside Palestine by the end of the 1948 war (the number was no more than three hundred thousand); that "the fida'iyyun [literally, self-sacrificers or guerrillas] ... activities initially consisted of attempts to retrieve lost property" (this was probably true of infiltrating Palestinian refugees, but the fida'iyyun, set up by Egypt only in 1954-1955, from the first were engaged in intelligence and terrorist activities, not in property retrieval); that "Lebanon was destroyed in [Israeli] carpet bombing from the air and shelling from the ground" in 1982 (Lebanon was not destroyed, though several neighborhoods in a number of cities were badly damaged, and there was no "carpet bombing"). Again, the list is endless. 

Where Pappe's ideological bent is not responsible for outright inventions and errors, it leads instead to narrative lopsidedness. He devotes a full seven pages to instances of Zionist-Arab cooperation and co-existence (which he calls "cohabitation") during the Arab revolt of 1936- 1939, but only two pages to the actual revolt and its consequences. Surely the revolt itself was far more important than the handful of concurrent inconsequential Arab-Jewish contacts aiming at coexistence. And Pappe devotes a mere sixteen pages to the revolutionary upheaval of the 1948 war--surely the central event in Palestine's modern history--and two of those pages are maps. Still, 1948 does relatively well in this regard: the 1973 war--which Pappe describes as a "devastating Israeli defeat," echoing Arab propaganda, and the "bloodiest Arab-Israeli confrontation" (in fact, the war of 1947-1949 was bloodier)--gets about half a page. I should add also that Hafez Assad of Syria did not embark on the 1973 war in order to resume the peace process with Israel; he simply wanted to re-conquer the Golan Heights (and perhaps thus to avoid entering a peace process). 


Pappe dedicates his book to "Ido and Yonatan, my two lovely boys. May they live not only in a modern Palestine, but also in a peaceful one." His choice of the term "Palestine" rather than "Israel" would seem to indicate that Pappe is looking forward to a polity that will emerge after Israel's disestablishment or demise. He obviously supports a single bi-national state in all of Palestine. And he is no fool. He must know what such a state will look like. A bi-national state, if established tomorrow, would contain roughly five million Jews and four and a half million Arabs (1.3 million Israeli Arabs, including the Arabs of East Jerusalem; two million West Bank Arabs; and close to one and a half million Arabs of the Gaza Strip). There would be instant chaos, as Arab and Jewish communities would vie for dominance and try to settle old scores, and as the two to three million refugees from 1948 and their descendants, now resident in the West Bank and Gaza, would make tracks for, and try to repossess, lost houses and lands in pre-1967 Israel.  

Moreover, were the "right of return" to be adopted--as would be demanded by Palestine's Arabs and the surrounding Arab world, perhaps with European endorsement--another million Arabs would pour into the country from the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, instantly creating an Arab majority in the "bi-national" state. If that state were democratic, the majority would determine its character, and in fairly short order it would become an Arab state with a gradually decreasing Jewish minority. Without doubt, the Arab majority would pass legislation blocking further Jewish immigration into the country; and, equally without doubt, Jews would begin to leave.  

But even without implementation of an instant or gradual return of refugees from outside Palestine, Pappe's binational state would quickly become an Arab-majority state, given relative Arab and Jewish birthrates. Palestinian Arab families have an average of four or five children (and this includes Israeli Arab households), while Israeli Jewish families tend to have two or three children. Within a decade or so of its creation, the bi-national state would have an Arab majority. I find it difficult to imagine what sort of life Pappe really believes that he and his children and grandchildren can expect as members of a Jewish minority in an Arab state. After all, the Jewish minorities in the Islamic Arab world have fared poorly over the centuries, always subject to second-class citizenship and often to brutal oppression and massacre; as late as the 1940s they suffered from discriminatory laws and pogroms (in Baghdad, Tripoli, Aden); and by the 1960s they had all fled, or been expelled from, their native lands. Iraq, with one hundred thirty-five thousand Jews in 1948, has today about fifty Jews; Egypt, once with seventy-five thousand, has about one hundred; Morocco, with two hundred sixty-five thousand in 1948, has about six thousand. For all practical purposes, these countries have been ethnically cleansed of their Jews. Almost no Jews at all are left in Yemen or Algeria, and none, as far as I know, live in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Oman, Kuwait, or the United Arab Emirates. 

A Muslim-dominated Palestine would be even less benign or hospitable toward its Jewish minority. After all, the Palestinians are not a particularly forgiving people (the cry for revenge seems to be on the lips of every suicide bomber), and what they have suffered at Jewish hands since 1947 will not easily be erased from their collective and individual memories. Moreover, the Islamic Arab world, including Arafat's Palestinian Authority, has shown little penchant for democracy. More generally, tolerance of the "other" is not a deeply ingrained tradition in the Muslim Arab world, as the fate of the Arab world's Christian communities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will attest. (Look at Sudan.) Nor would the social and economic gap between the Jews and the Arabs of Pappe's bi-national state make for peaceful co-existence.  

So I doubt that Ido and Yonatan will enjoy life in their new Muslim Arab-dominated environment. My prediction is that, whatever their politics, they will quickly repair to Europe or America. And if, contrary to logic, they stick it out, they will enjoy an existence infinitely less free, creative, and pleasant than that currently enjoyed by Israel's Arab minority citizens. This truly is an appalling book. Anyone interested in the real history of Palestine/Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would do well to run vigorously in the opposite direction.

Benny Morris is professor of Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University and the author, most recently, of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge University Press).



Letters to the Media
Response to Benny Morris' "Politics by other means" in the New Republic
Ilan Pappe, The Electronic Intifada, 30 March 2004

In a 17 March 2004 article, "Politics by Other Means", Benny Morris offered a "review" of Ilan Pappe's new book, "A History of Modern Palestine; one land, two peoples" (Cambridge University Press, 2003), which tells the history of Palestine from the point of view of its workers, peasants, children, women and all the subaltern groups that make the society and not its political elite. Morris' "review" consisted of a series of ad hominem attacks and outright factual distortions. Ilan Pappe sent the following reply to the New Republic, who refused to publish it.

Benny Morris tells his readers in the New Republic that he and I walked a stretch of road together as 'revisionist historians'. This is how an article begins with a factual mistake; an article which is meant to show that my works are a fabrication. This is a falsification of history as I could not be a partner to a person who had already in 1988 held views I found morally unacceptable. I was privy to the views he only aired later on, already in our first meeting back in the late 1980s. I was fully aware — as he seemed to trust me — of his abominable racist views about the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. Unlike others, I did not feel that his good qualities as a chronologist which came out in his most famous book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge 1987) — he was never a proper historian — and especially his invaluable contribution in aggregating data for us on the 1948 ethnic cleansing — made up for his bigotry and narrow—mindedness.

In fact, there was, and still is a direct line between the kind of chronology he provided in the 1980s — which had very little analysis and therefore hid well his justification for ethnic cleansing — and his recent overconfidence that he can provide such analyses in his latest works instead of his conventional collection of facts. Such an attempt was made in his Righteous Victims which came out in 1999: a book in which analysis was replaced by his right wing ideologies. It was much easier to accept him as a data collector — without much ideology — than his new presumptuous posture of a historian who shares with us his views. Now that we know all we want to know about his views, and much more I suspect, we can only long for the old Morris.

The debate between us is on one level between historians who believe they are purely objective reconstructers of the past, like Morris, and those who claim that they are subjective human beings striving to tell their own version of the past, like myself. When we write histories, we built arches over a long period of time and we construct out of the material in front of us a narrative. We believe and hope that this narrative is a loyal reconstruction of what happened — although as was discovered by historiographers Morris had never bothered to read — we can not ride a train back in time to check it.

Narratives of this kind, when written by historians involved deeply in the subject matter they write about, such as in the case of Israeli historians who write about the Palestine conflict, is motivated also — and this is not a fault but a blessing — by a deep involvement and a wish to make a point. This point is called ideology or politics. Zionist historians wanted to prove that Zionism was valid, moral and right and Palestinian historians wished to show that they were victimized and wronged. Morris wanted also to make a point recently — that ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Jews was justified in the past and would be acceptable in the future. Lately he shared with us some other views that explain his listing of what he calls the 'factual' mistakes in my book — that of viewing all the Arabs and all the Muslims as barbarians and primitive people. This also applies to their documents, sources and histories. Anyone who argues with him about these ideas is 'factually' wrong.

I had a different point to make: I condemned the uprooting of the Palestinians and the violence inflicted on them, as well as the de—Arabization of Jews who came from Arab countries to Israel, the imposition of military rule on Palestinians in Israel before 1967 and the de—facto Apartheid policies put in place after 1967. I also cry out against the callous Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I do it not only as human being, but also as Jew, who feels appalled that such crimes can be committed by Jews after the holocaust. I studied history to find out why it happened and gave answers through analyzing Zionist ideology, the historical colonialist context in which Zionism emerged and so on.

When something is burning in your bones you might mistake names and dates as did Morris in his review in the New Republic when he smeared my friend Avi Shlaim who fell from grace in Morris' eyes because of his Zionism. Morris accuses Shlaim for identifying with a British diplomat of the 1940s whom he calls James Troutbeck and whom he sees as an anti—Semite. There was never such a person. Morris probably means John Troutbeck who was not an anti—Semite as Morris writes, quite the contrary.

Does this misspelling of the name, or that of almost all the Arab and Palestinian names he mentions in his first book disable us from understanding the points he makes or miss the zeal with which he drives them home? Or does his manipulation of the Ben-Gurion diary's text, as has been exposed unfortunately by a rival of both of us, Ephraim Karsh (who rejects the 'new history' but none the less exposed a serious gap between Morris' text and the original diary of Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel) of all people, undermine our respect for his work? Not in my books at least. I am worried about moral issues not the natural human follies of professional historians.

But Morris wants to persuade us that this is not the nature of the historiographical debate. His view as stated in the New Republic article is: 'that while historians, as citizens, had political views and aims, their scholarly task was to arrive at the truth about the historical event or process, to illuminate the past as objectively and accurately'. The 'noble dream', an American historian called it in the beginning of the last century. But this in Morris' case is not a noble dream — as he is not a dreamer like myself — this is pure cynicism. An Israeli historian who justifies ethnic cleansing, writes about it in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (and even recently republished an updated version of this book) can not claim to be a 'neutral' historian.

Why did he twice write the book on that episode in history? Just by sheer accident? Morris tells us in the preface to the updated book on the 1948 war that new material prompted him to revise the book. But in fact this is not what distinguishes his two books. The first was written at a time when it was bon ton to be a 'peacenik' and his version of history was that the ethnic cleansing in Palestine (the massive expulsion of about 750,000 Palestinians in 1948) was not the result of a master plan. It happened through a war and therefore there was no Israeli accountability or direct responsibility — a narrative that fitted the peace camp at the time. But with such views after Netanyahu's victory in the 1996 elections it was difficult to get professorship in an Israeli university. This is when the shift began.

And it was even easier to get tenure and professorship he gladly found out if he would air the set of views, he believed in any way. So when the second Intifada broke out, our charlatan finds out that the bon ton in Israel has shifted to the right. In his new book the ethnic cleansing becomes a master plan that is criticized by Morris for not being efficient enough as too many Palestinians were left in their houses (almost 10 percent of those living within the Jewish State). Nonetheless, the ethnic cleansing is now represented as a wise foresight of the Israeli leadership at time that should be repeated once more. This is not based on new evidence, but on an ideological twist.

Thus the strong conviction Morris expresses in the following way that 'my own view is that the historian must base his work on the primary sources, that is, on contemporaneous documents' is not the basis for his historical conviction. His primary sources come almost exclusively from the IDF archives. With the help of these documents he reconstructs 1948 (he used some English sources in a lame and insignificant biography he wrote on Glubb, I believe, but this is an exception not the rule).

Israeli officers lied in the past and lie in the present — but they are the basis for the true history for Morris. In fact, when his ideology changed he guessed they told only part of the truth about the ethnic cleansing and therefore he was willing to be a post-modernist and read into, and outside, the texts. But his picture of the 1948 war will never be complete. There are plenty of Arab and Palestinian documents, but Morris who cannot read Arabic, will not be able to use them.

Morris feels that his strongest card against me is my 'sloppiness' which is structural and therefore he lists an endless number of mistakes. He finds them all in my recent book, A History of Modern Palestine; one land, two peoples (Cambridge University Press, 2003). This book tells the history of Palestine from the point of view of its workers, peasants, children, women and all the subaltern groups that make the society and not its political elite. It is also a book that wishes to see Jews and Palestinians living one day in one state.

There are, according to Morris, to begin with: the grand mistakes. Here they are. The first, that the Palestinians were the main victims of the conflict (in the last two hundred years). I think even the majority of the readers of The New Republic are familiar with that fact. But for someone who regards the Arabs as barbarians and almost semi-human it is clear that their suffering is not equal to that of the civilized Zionists.

Secondly, there was no Palestinian feminism or women's participation in the national struggle; nor were they organized. Morris does not only lack Arabic, he does not as a rule read or quote any work of Palestinian women — or for that matter other women's work or Palestinian male historians. 'There are no good Palestinian historians' he told a crowded hall sitting next to me and Edward Said in 1998. My knowledge and reading, and indeed working with feminist historians, is a 'factual' mistake. Take the question of women casualties — he uses only Israeli sources to show that he is right and I am wrong.

Yes, I use Palestinian sources for the Intifada: they seem to me to be more reliable, I admit. In his ignorance, and as he has not been in the occupied territories for years, which I visit regularly, he claims that, ever since 1988, that Islamic fundamentalism restricted women's participation in the confrontation with the occupying forces. Ten minutes from where he lives he could had witnessed the first demonstration of the present Intifada. Only women — many of them veiled — participated in it (in the unfulfilled hope that the Israeli army would not shoot them). But even East Jerusalem, its history and, yes, even its documents are not 'legitimate' bricks in the house of history he builds.

Thirdly, he claims I invent a history of children; presumably they are not a subject matter in his reading as they do not appear in the political archives. Do the readers of the New Republic really need reminding of the great works done on children's history here, in Europe and the Middle East? But, Morris never read one work on Ottoman history therefore he claims no one can write the history of children in Palestine. The IDF archives, his shrine of truth, has not written about them, unless they were victims of massacres.

His fourth point is that I have not mentioned Bar—Kochva — a Jewish hero who fought against the Romans, or the bible. This allegation comes from someone who says in the beginning of this article that he is on the left. Yes we know that in the name of Bar-Kochva and other Jews who had roamed Palestine two thousands years ago, Palestinians were expelled from their homes. But I thought, as Morris says in the beginning of the article, he came to deconstruct Zionist historiography not to propagate it.

Then there are the smaller mistakes. In some cases he just openly lies. For instance I write in the book in page 108: 'The Palmach, the Stern Group and Menachem Begin's Irgun would emerge at the end of the mandate'. Morris writes in order to inflate the list of 'fabrications': 'according to Pappe, the Stern Gang and the Palmach existed before the Revolt' (without giving a page number of course).

Why does he lie openly? I hope this is out of commitment to his new cause and not malice. On page 293 I write that Ben Gurion became the chairman of the Jewish Agency in 1935. Morris writes: according to Pappe, Ben-Gurion in 1929 was the chairmen of the Jewish Agency'. And so on and so forth, every fact, apart from two or three, is being brought before the readers as a sheer lie. But of course he needs this list so as to show that in what counts — minute details — there is no end to my mistakes. Well, it seems to recap on E. H. Carr's dictum that to praise the historian for his facts is like praising the architect for the timber of the wood. Morris' timber is not of best quality, and his architecture is monstrous.

Morris attributes my mistakes for being almost a Palestinian. The moment you are a Palestinian you can only be a bad historian. He detests, as he admits, my siding with the Palestinian narrative of disputed events, such as the debate over the question of who provoked the 1920 and the 1929 riots. Morris relies on the British reports when they endorsed the Zionist claims and disregards the British reports when they endorse the Palestinian claims. I probably do the opposite in many cases, I admit it; he does not. He is an 'objective' historian.

Similarly amazing is the way Morris treats things he does not know. Take for example the following sentence: 'Brazen inaccuracy similarly marks Pappe's treatment of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. Pappe writes that the Arab Higher Committee had tried to 'negotiate a principled settlement with the Jewish Agency (it did not)'. Why did it not — Morris says so. Well the historian Yizhar Herzog mined the beloved archives of Morris — the Zionist Archives — and has given us a detailed picture of these negotiations.[1] In his haste Morris even contradicts himself when he disagrees with the figure I gave for the number of refugees living outside Palestine in the end of the 1948 war, which is based, among other things on his own work. In other cases, he echoes Israeli propaganda when he claims no damage was inflicted on Lebanon in the 1982 war.

My books has in it mistakes of the dates, names and numbers as does his books. We should all try and minimize them to note, I agree. Very few of us succeed and one can only hope to become perfect in the next work — which has not as yet been written (the Well Kept Secret among historians who served as readers for other historians). They should not however be pointed out as part of an ideology or a basis for ad hominem attack. Worse, a reviewer is not allowed to lie openly about them as Morris does.

Finally, Morris decided to involve my two boys, whom he knows well, in his narrative. They, he explains to the readers, would be the first ones to leave Palestine or to be killed there, if my political vision would become a reality. My boys know Morris: they have met him. They also have met all my Palestinian friends. I leave to the readers to decide with whom among my visitors and friends they would wish to share the land of Palestine. They have several advantages: they are learning Arabic, they do not distinguish between my friends according to nationality or religion and I hope they will never grow to be mature supporters of massacres, ethnic cleansing and bloodshed.

Unlike Morris, they do not tell my Palestinian students that if there were to be too many of them — as a result of the right of return or birth — it is the end of civilization (as the Nazis had told the Jews). They are lucky to be growing up in an atmosphere where maybe they got Adolf Hitler's birthdate wrong by a year, but they will do all they can to prevent the Nazi venom from slipping through the veins of its own and ultimate victims who came and colonized Palestine, uprooted its population and occupied and brutalized many of them. Morris will probably feel unwelcome in such as society of equality between people and races and yet would write its history and claim to be 'objective' about it all.

See his article 'Negotiations between the Jewish Agency and the Palestinians' in Ilan Pappe (ed.), Jewish-Arab Relationship in Mandatory Palestine; A New Approach to the Historical Research, Givat Haviva 1992, pp. 11-42.

Dr. Ilan Pappe is a senior lecturer of Political Science at Haifa University and the Academic Director of the Research Institute for Peace at Givat Haviva. His books include The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-1951 (New York, 1992) and The Israel/Palestine Question (London, 1999).

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