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From dove to hawk

I remember the moment when the Palestinian diaspora began to interest me, professionally. It was in Rashidiye Camp, outside Tyre, in June 1982, just after the Is­rael Defense Forces had scythed through on their way north to oust the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Lebanon. A journalist at the time, I picked my way through the devastated buildings. Most of the men had fled or been detained or killed by the Israelis, but I was struck by a group of old women hunched over a tabun, an outdoor oven, making pita bread far from their homeland. A few weeks later a stash of documents produced in 1948 by the Palmah—the strike force of the Haganah, the main Zionist underground in Palestine—was opened for me, revealing why and how many of these people had been displaced as Israel was born.

My historical account of that event, published a few years later, was greeted with some acclaim by Palestinians and their sympathizers—and much shock by Is­raelis, who had been brought up to believe, or to pretend to believe, that the Palestini­ans had fled their homes four decades earli­er because of orders or advice from their leaders. In certain places, at certain times, there had been such advice and orders, of course. But there had also been Israeli ex­pulsions, as well as the chaos of British withdrawal and economic hardship and anxiety about an uncharted future under Jewish rule. In most places it was the flail and fear of onrushing hostilities that had set some 700,000 Arabs on the roads.

Myself and several other young Israeli historians were dubbed revisionists and commonly assumed to be doves. But what brought me to my conclusions about 1948 were the facts, not my political views. Con­trary to current historiographic discourse I believe there is such a thing as the Truth—what, why and how things happened—and I've always sought it in my research. If I've since come to a much bleaker opinion about the possibility of reconciliation be­tween Jews and Palestinians—many would now call me a hawk—it is also because of that research.

During the 1990s, as the Oslo peace process gained momentum, I was cautious­ly optimistic about the prospects for peace. But at the same time I was scouring the just opened archives of the Haganah and the IDF. Studying the roots of the Arab-Is­raeli conflict—in particular the pronounce­ments and positions of the Palestinian leadership from the 1920s on—left me chilled. Their rejection of any compromise, whether a partition of Palestine between its Jewish and Arab inhabitants or the cre­ation of a binational state with political parity between the two communities, was deep-seated, consensual and consistent.

Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Palestinian na­tional movement during the 1930s and 1940s, insisted throughout on a single Muslim Arab state in all of Palestine. The Palestinian Arab "street" chanted "Idbah al-Yahud" (slaughter the Jews) both during the 1936-1939 revolt against the British and in 1947, when Arab militias launched a campaign to destroy the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine. Husseini led both campaigns.

So when Yasir Arafat rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's two-state proposals at Camp David in July 2000, and then President Clinton's sweetened offer the follow­ing December, my surprise was not exces­sive. Nor was I astounded by the spectacle of masses of suicide bombers launched, with Arafat's blessing, against Israel's shop­ping malls, buses and restaurants in the second intifada, which erupted in Septem­ber 2000. Each suicide bomber seemed to be a microcosm of what Palestine's Arabs had in mind for Israel as a whole. Arafat's rejectionism and, after his death, the election of Hamas to dominance in the Pales­tinian national movement, persuaded me that no two-state solution was in the offing and that the Palestinians, as a people, were bent, as they had been throughout their history, on "recovering" all of Palestine.

I found that current events had echoes in the historical record, and vice versa. The founding charter of Hamas repeatedly refers to the victory of Saladin over the me­dieval crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, and compares the crusaders to the Zionists. In researching my new history of the 1948 war, I was struck by the fact that this analo­gy, usually overlooked or ignored by previ­ous historians, suffused the statements and thinking of Palestinian leaders and the leaders of the surrounding Arab states dur­ing the countdown to, and the course of, the war. A few days before Arab armies struck at Jewish forces in Palestine, Abd al-Rahman Azzam, secretary general of the Arab League, told the British minister in Transjordan their aim was to "sweep the Jews into the sea."

If the documents I studied 20 years ago painted Palestinians tragically, as the underdog, this record did the opposite. It has become clear to me that from its start the struggle against the Zionist enterprise wasn't merely a national conflict between two peoples over a piece of territory but also a religious crusade against an infidel usurper. As early as Dec. 2, 1947, four days after the passage of the partition resolution, the scholars of Al Azhar University proclaimed a "worldwide jihad in defense of Arab Palestine" and de­clared that it was the duty of every Muslim to take part.

This history has deepened and reinforced my pessimism, itself bred by the fail­ure of Oslo. Those currently riding high in the region—figures like Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal, Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—are true believers who are convinced it is Allah's command and every Muslim's duty to extirpate the "Zionist entity" from the sacred soil of the Middle East. For all its economic, political, scientific and cultural achievements and military prowess, Israel, at 60, remains profoundly insecure—for there can be no real security for the Jewish state, surrounded by a surg­ing sea of Muslims, in the absence of peace.

Morris's most recent book on Israeli history is the recently pub­lished "1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War."

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Daniel McGowan probably poses as a concerned and enlightened person, oh-so caring for the downtrodden and oppressed of this world. However his references to "the 1948 Naqba", the fact that "Zionism ...has failed" and of course "Deir Yassin Remembered" places him firmly in a partisan position that seeks only to fuel the conflict until his chosen cause "wins". If he were really concerned, and cared for the suffering Arabs of Palestine, then he'd be helping them get organised and get leadership that will inprove their lot; and he'd leave Jews alone...

Posted by sandgroper on 2008-05-14 07:02:33 GMT

Daniel McGowan clearly doesn't comprehend the difference between "Israel" and "controlled by Israel". Israel is clearly defined at this point, though those boundaries will undoubtedly eventually change through negotiation. Everbody within those boundaries that define Israel is an Israeli citizen and has equal rights under the law. It was the absence of rights for a specific race that defined apartheid, and if Arabs in Israel had no vote there could be justification for the parallel. To date, West Bankers have been Jordanian citizens. If Daniel McGowan has decided that henceforth the West Bank and Gaza will be considered Israel because they are "within borders controlled by Israel" then he probably stands alone in this, with most of the world considering these "occupied territories", some "disputed territory" but nobody considers them "Israel".

Posted by Morry on 2008-05-14 02:25:10 GMT

Daniel McGowan - half the population...according to who's statistics?!

Posted on 2008-05-13 23:01:49 GMT

Apartheid South Africa could not make itself more White by confining Blacks in Bantustans and Israel cannot make itself more Jewish by forcing Palestinians to live behind Ghetto walls or "gifting" them to Jordan. It is not a myth, but a fact that over half the population within the borders controlled by Israel is not Jewish, so the dream of creating a Jewish state has failed. Daniel McGowan, Deir Yassin Remembered

Posted on 2008-05-13 10:30:45 GMT

I'm not sure why Daniel McGowan attempts to perpetrate such an obvious myth ... Israel does exist as a Jewish state and has since 1948. Its borders were clearly defined by the League of Nations in 1922. Subsequent wars to anihilate the Jewish entity, particularly 1948, have resulted in a lot of Jewish land being captured by Arab forces and some Arab land captured by Israel, making borders somewhat fuzzy, until agreements can be reached as they were with Jordan and Egypt. I have long agreed with Benny Morris' view that an accomodation with the Palestinians is not feasible. That the Palestinians are victims of their own leadership who are so wholly engrossed in destroying Israel that the fate of their people is irrelevant. Palestinians are an artificial construct for the sole purpose of destroying Israel. There is no national vision, ad every charter, whether Hamas, Fatah, or the PNC (Palestine National Council) is wholly focussed on Israel's destruction. But peace is possible by restoring the underpopulated and Jewish parts of the West Bank to Israel, as envisaged by the League of Nations, and adding the highly populated areas to the existing 80% of Palestine, and gifting it to Jordan.

Posted by Morry on 2008-05-13 02:11:24 GMT

Benny Morris seems to be suffering conclusions drawn on one source of historical and the acquisition of data from another source. The article still sympathesizes with Palestinians is an oppressed people (my opinion the oppression is from their fellow Arabs) and the designs of Mohammedans from the beginning of a growing Jewish entity in the Land labeled Palestine prior to 1948 and Israel after 1948. That design was to slaughter Jews in the name of Allah. Arabs that call themselves Palestinians are only oppressed because the Arab League and the 1948 Arab invaders refused to assimilate their brothers into Arab losers surrounding Israel.

Posted by on 2008-05-12 18:02:20 GMT

Benny Morris was never a dove, although he was mis-labelled as such for partially telling the truth about the 1948 Naqba. He has always supported a Jewish state in an undefined part (or all) of historical Palestine. What disturbs him most is the truth that after over 100 years, Zionism as a quest to build a Jewish state has failed; over half the population within the borders controlled by Israel is not Jewish. Daniel McGowan Deir Yassin Remembered

Posted on 2008-05-12 10:03:07 GMT

Charles Oren Givatayim Congratulations to Benny Morris for having the courage to revise his earlier opinions. Benny Morris should now catalogue Arab atrocities from the ‘20’s (and even earlier) until today just as he listed those perpetuated by Jews, many of which are exaggerated, distorted, or simply myths. For example, Deir Yassin should be presented for what it was.........the last roadblock on the Jerusalem highway that prevented humanitarian aid from reaching the starving Jews of Jerusalem ! It was a part of the battle against the siege of Jerusalem, just as the struggle for control of Sha'ar Hagai and the Burma Road. Unfortunately, he is not yet weaned from appeasement. Seeing the other man’s point of view is noble and normal in the West…… but not here! You can explain yourself to a Chinaman by quoting Confucius but not by quoting Shakespeare! We have to insist on our rights just as Arabs do. They have not budged by an iota from their extreme position ! Benny Morris writes about Arabs “recovering their rights to all of Palestine”. What rights ? Benny Morris can undo the harm he has done by exposing these Arab myths. There were 600,000 Arabs here in 1922 at the time of the first official census. The best estimates are that there were about a third of that number here a century earlier during the Ottoman rule. Modern history of Palestine starts in 1832 when Mohamed Ali permitted infidels to buy land and to build in Palestine. This led to prosperity due to construction of churches, monasteries, hospitals etc. Arabs migrated to Palestine attracted by jobs and security offered by the Consuls. This prosperity increased when the Jews drained the swamps and made the desert bloom. The British encouraged Arab migration to Palestine to ensure an Arab majority and so “prove” that this could not become a Jewish State. Majority of today’s Palestinians are the descendants of these newcomers. It is only in the last few years that they have claimed to be Palestinians. Before that, they denied that there were such a people. They claimed that they were a part of the Arab nation and that Palestine was Southern Syria. The Koran states that Allah decreed that Palestine belongs to the Jews. This explains why Arabs created Muslim states in every country they occupied, but never in Palestine ! No mere mortal goes against the Will of Allah!

Posted by Charles Oren on 2008-05-12 07:01:37 GMT

The article is excellent. For some reason clicking the original article took me to Newsweek where I was confronted by an abusive comment asking what the Jews had to celebrate. I'm posting my response here: Comment: Cadercader asks what Jews have to celebrate. The first thing is the return home. The Jewish nation was born and developed for thousands of years in the area the Romans chose to call Palestine. That makes Jews indigenous to the area, in fact, the last surviving indigenous people in the world. All the Arabs, including Palestinians are indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula. It was this return home of indigenous Jews that was envisaged by the League of Nations when they carved a Jewish homeland alongside an Ancient Phonecian/ Christian one and many Moslem ones, out of the defunct Ottoman lands. Not Palestinian land, as people defined as Palestinians didn't exist until the late 1960s, but Ottoman land. Then there is the celebration of a vibrant democracy in which people of vastly different races and cultures work side by side to enrich everybody's lives. Arab (Palestinian) judges and Members of Parliament work alongside their Jewish counterparts, watch Arabic TV, worship freely in mosques, and send their children to Arabic schools, if they wish. That is an achievement to be proud of and to celebrate, especially as Israel is surrounded by nations who have ethnically cleansed themselves of Jews, including the Palestinian society. Palestine was fairly partitioned in 1922 with 80% going to Arabs, and only Arab refusal to accept any Jewish entity has seen massacres of Jews, wars and still the implaccable cry from Abass at Annapolis ... "I will never recognise any Jewish state!" Israel needs only look to its neighbour Lebanon to really celebrate. The Christians in this state welcomed Moslem settlement, welcomed the PLO, and welcomed Iran's creation of Hizbollah ... today the descendants of the ancient Phonecians have fled, the remnant irrelevant in this now-Moslem state. Israel can applaud successive governemnts who have defied the idiotic pressure of rhetoric like Cadercader's, have retained the vision of the basic Jewish right of self-determination in 15% of Palestine, which now supports a rich culture. Mostly, Jews can celebrate the amazing contributions to the world's health, welfare and technology that eminates from that tiny state. From the cellphone, though Intel chips that run our computers, through 15 Nobel prizes, through pills with cameras, to this year's regene rativebeating heart tissue that will save umpteen lives Israel and Jews have much to celebrate. The Paletinians? Well they have adapted Israel's cellphone to trigger bombs, and have brought suicide bombing to a new art form. Thanks all to hell Palestinians!

Posted by Morry on 2008-05-12 07:01:32 GMT

"From dove to hawk" is not a good title. It should be "From deluded to realistic"... (Baruch Hashem, some people are waking up to the facts)

Posted by Steve Lieblich on 2008-05-12 04:23:46 GMT