Efraim Karsh is professor of Mediterranean studies at King's College, University of London, and editor of Israel Affairs.
As a general rule, every war is fought twice: first on the battlefield, then in the historiographical arena. The Arabs failed to destroy the State of Israel in 1948; in the next fifty years, they and their Western partisans waged a sustained propaganda battle to cast the birth of Israel as the source of all evil. In the late 1980s this effort received a major boost with the advent of a group of Israeli academics calling themselves the New Historians who claim to have discovered archival evidence substantiating the anti-Israeli case.
These politicized historians have turned the saga of Israel's birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims and the reverse. The Jewish acceptance of the United Nations Resolution of November 29, 1947, partitioning Mandatory Palestine into two new states—Jewish and Arab—is completely ignored or dismissed as a disingenuous ploy; similarly, the violent Palestinian and Arab attempt to abort this resolution is overlooked. The concerted Arab attack on the newly-established State of Israel in mid-May 1948 is whitewashed as a haphazard move by ill-equipped and poorly trained armies confronted with a formidable Jewish force. It has even been suggested that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, were the target of this concerted Arab attack.1
So successful has this effort been that what began as propaganda has become received dogma. It is striking to see how popularity has widely come to be equated with veracity, as if the most commonly held position must by definition be the correct one. I personally learned this when some critics rejected my exposure of the New Historians methods2 not on scholarly grounds but because my work ran counter to the popular view. Thus Joel Beinin of Stanford University questioned my conclusions on the grounds that "many of the arguments of the `new historians' are widely accepted today in liberal Israeli intellectual circles."3 Of course, fashion and popularity cannot authenticate incorrect historical facts and argument. For this reason, it is important to return to the heart of the matter and reexamine the factual basis underlying the anti-Israel indictment.
Toward this end, I shall focus on a key charge: the claim by Benny Morris of
Ben-Gurion University, a leading New Historian, that the Zionist and Israeli establishments have systematically falsified archival source material to conceal the Jewish state's less-than-immaculate conception.4 Through a detailed reexamination of the same documentation used by Morris, I shall seek to establish just how reliable his work is and whether it forms a legitimate basis for the revisionist theories he espouses.
First, a note of caution: A rigorous scrutinizing of primary source-material, especially in translation, does not make for the easiest of reading; comparing texts requires more than the usual concentration. I hope the reader will bear with me, though, for this is the only way to get at the bottom of some vexing and critical disputes.
Morris engages in five types of distortion: he misrepresents documents, resorts to partial quotes, withholds evidence, makes false assertions, and rewrites original documents.
The first problem concerns a faulty account of the contents of documents. Morris tells of statements never made, decisions never taken, events that never happened. Consider, for example, the Israeli cabinet meeting of June 16, 1948, about which Morris
commits a double misrepresentation: he misattributes a decision to bar the return of the Palestinian refugees to this meeting; then he charges the Israeli establishment with concealing this nonexistent decision!
On the first matter, Morris writes that
The cabinet meeting of 16 June 1948 was one of the war's most important. It was at that session that, without a formal vote, agreement was reached among the thirteen ministers of Israel's "Provisional Government" to bar a refugee return. The decision in effect sealed the fate of the 700,000 or so Palestinians who had become, or were to become, dispossessed exiles.5
Did it seal their fate? This cabinet meeting took place one month after the war began, at the time of the conflict's first armistice, with fighting to be resumed within three weeks. Its protocol tells nothing of a decision "to bar a refugee return." In fact, it indicates there was no discussion of this issue, much less a decision. Only three participants (Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and Agriculture Minister Aharon Tzisling) referred to refugees at all, and they did so only in the context of a general survey of the situation. All three cabinet members feared that so long as the war was not over, the return of refugees would tilt the scales in the Arabs' favor. However, while two cabinet members (Sharett and Ben-Gurion) believed that the refugees should not return after the war, a third (Tzisling) emphatically argued they should. Where is the consensus of the cabinet Morris alleges?
On the second matter, Morris charges that later published accounts of this cabinet meeting hide what happened at it. But a look at the works in question, notably two of David Ben-Gurion's books,6 shows not a shred of evidence to support this contention. Ben-Gurion's account of the meeting (as quoted by Morris) is a near-verbatim reiteration of the original minutes, espousing Ben-Gurion's view that the refugees should not be allowed back.
The following discussion demonstrates the intricate dynamics of distortion, whereby one misrepresentation inevitably leads to another. Having falsely claimed the existence of an Israeli cabinet decision to bar a refugee return, Morris has no choice but to distort not only the documents related to this meeting but also those of a subsequent Israeli consultation, about the possibility of refugee return, so as to avoid exposure of his original claim.
This high-level consultation was held on August 18, 1948. Morris writes that the meeting, which included Ben-Gurion, his Arab affairs advisers, and his key ministers, was called "to discuss the problem of the Arab refugees and ways to prevent their return."7 In fact, as the meeting's agenda8 and Ben-Gurion's diary9 make clear, it attempted to determine the issue of "whether or not to return Arabs." The preliminary remarks of another participant, Director of the Jewish National Fund's (JNF) Land Development Division Yosef Weitz confirms this point: "We should not discuss the [abandoned] property here: there is a custodian attached to the treasury. Discussion of this matter will divert us from the main issue: to return [the refugees] or not to return?"10 In the event, no collective recommendations were made on this issue, which was left for a government decision.11 Morris withholds these facts from his readers.12
Rather than give the full title of the meeting's original minutes, as recorded by Yaacov Shimoni of the foreign office ("A Précis of a Meeting at the Prime Minister's Office on the Problems of the Arab Refugees and their Return"), Morris truncates it to merely "A Précis,"13 thereby omitting any mention of a possible Palestinian return.
Morris also hides from his readers the widespread consensus among participants at this August 1948 meeting to allow Arabs who had fled to other parts of Israel from their places of residence to return to their original dwellings. In the words of Minister of Police and Minorities Bechor Shalom Shitrit: "The Arabs of Israel who had left their places but remained inside—those should be returned."14 Under a section of the discussion titled "The return of Arabs who had fled their places but remained inside Israel?" Sharett put the idea in far more elaborate form:
These should be returned to their places, with full ownership of their lands etc., and with full [citizenship] rights. We should not, as a matter of principle, discriminate against an Arab who had stayed inside [Israel] and thereby accepted its rule. He should enjoy full rights, including his property [rights]—unless there are decisive emergency considerations, security-wise. This should be the instruction to governors, commanders, etc.15
To return to the cabinet meeting of June 16, 1948, the original, untruncated text of Foreign Minister Sharett's words as recorded by Ben-Gurion reads:
Apart from the boundaries question, namely the external perimeter of the state's territory, there is the question of the future of the Arab community which had existed in Israel's territory prior to the outbreak of the present war: Do we imagine to ourselves [ha'im anahnu metaarim le'atsmenu] a return to the status quo ante, or do we accept the [present] situation as a fait accompli and fight over it?16
Morris presents it this way:
"Can we imagine to ourselves a return to the status quo ante?" the foreign minister asked rhetorically. "They are not returning [or "they will not return"— "hem einam hozrim"], and that is our policy: they are not returning."17
Morris omits both the beginning of Sharett's presentation, which places his words in context, and the second half of his question (about accepting the situation or fighting it). These changes permit him to turn a weighty issue for decision into a rhetorical question. He further exacerbates the distortion by mistranslating Sharett's genuine question, "Do we imagine to ourselves," as the rhetorical assertion "Can we imagine to ourselves." Moreover, by linking Sharett's conclusion to his truncated question, he jumps over the lengthy consideration of the pros and cons of each option.18 Revealingly, in a Hebrew version of this same article, Morris did not misrepresent Sharett's words,19 perhaps because Hebrew readers can check for themselves the veracity of his citation.
II. PARTIAL QUOTES
Through the omission of key passages, Morris repeatedly distorts many quotations. He makes a specialty of partial quotes from Ben-Gurion's books, in the process turning their original intention upside down. Morris claims that Ben-Gurion sought to hide his own views,20 but this is also wrong.
Departed Palestinians. Consider, for example, the following partial quote, about the same meeting and from a book by Ben-Gurion, in which he discusses the departed Palestinians. The original text reads as follows:
And we must prevent at all costs their return meanwhile [i.e., until the end of the war]. We, as well as world public opinion cannot ignore the horrible fact that 700,000 [Jewish] people are confronted here with 27 million [Arabs], one against forty. Humanity's conscience was not shocked when 27 million attacked 700,000—after six million Jews had been slaughtered in Europe. It will not be just if they demand of us to allow back to Abu Kabir and Jaffa those who tried to destroy us.21
Morris provides only this truncated text:
And we must prevent at all costs their return meanwhile ... . It will not be just if they demand of us to allow back to Abu Kabir and Jaffa those who tried to destroy us.22
The innocent looking ellipses hide an insightful glimpse into Ben-Gurion's mindset, namely, his perception of the 1948 War as a concerted attempt by the Arab world to destroy the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine) shortly after the Holocaust. This was a central component in the prime minister's thinking, one that Morris must deny in his attempt to misrepresent the 1948 War as a confrontation between a Jewish Goliath and an Arab David. And again, by omitting a key passage, Morris misleads his readers into thinking that this paragraph in Ben-Gurion's book differs from the original meeting protocol; in fact, it is a near-verbatim rendition of it, and not the "falsification" that Morris claims to find.
Jaffa. Here is the complete text of a paragraph from a book Ben-Gurion published in 1951:
Jaffa will become a Jewish city. War is war; it is not us who wanted war. Tel-Aviv did not wage war on Jaffa, Jaffa waged war on Tel-Aviv. And this should not happen again. We will not be "foolish hasidim." Bringing back the Arabs to Jaffa is not just but rather is foolish. Those who had gone to war against us—let them carry the responsibility after having lost.23
As quoted by Morris, this paragraph reads:
Jaffa will become a Jewish city ... . Bringing back the Arabs to Jaffa is not just but rather is foolish. Those who had gone to war against us—let them carry the responsibility after having lost.24
By dropping the middle part of this passage, Morris withholds from his readers Ben-Gurion's elaborate reasoning for barring an Arab return to Jaffa. He also hides the striking similarity between this later rendition and the original protocol—which would refute his charge that Israelis falsify the historical record.
In another passage, Morris writes:
Interestingly, in Medinat Yisrael Ben-Gurion did not republish his statement that "Jaffa will become a Jewish city." Perhaps he felt in 1969 that Israel—or the world—had become somewhat more sensitive than it had been in 1952 to anything smacking of racism.25
Leaving aside the curious expectation that two books on different subjects should precisely replicate each other, a glance at Ben-Gurion's account of the cabinet meeting reveals that "Jaffa will become a Jewish city" meant that through the vicissitudes of the war, Jaffa would become part of the Jewish state rather than of an Arab state, as envisaged by the U.N. partition resolution. Morris omits Sharett's words at the same meeting that explain this:
As regards Jaffa, a very serious question arises yet again: can we agree, after the experience we had just gone through, to the restoration of the status quo ante: that Jaffa will return to be an Arab city, at a time when the risk is so great? Even then, when we agreed to the exclusion of Jaffa from the territory of the [Israeli] state, many [people] questioned [our decision]; but there was the assumption that just as they held [Jewish] Jerusalem [hostage], we held Jaffa. But now we realize what a fifth column it was! And having removed this troublesome spot, returning Jaffa to foreign sovereignty, which is likely to be [our] enemy for many years to come—is a very grave question.26
Arab rights. Ben-Gurion had the following to say about Arab rights, according to the original protocol of a meeting:
We must start working in Jaffa. Jaffa must employ Arab workers. And there is a question of their wages. I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has also the right to be elected president of the state, should he be elected by all. If in America a Jew or a black cannot become president of the state—I do not believe in the quality of its civil rights. Indeed, despite the democracy there, I know that there are plots that are not sold to Jews, and the law tolerates this; and a person can sell his plot to a dealer on condition that it not be bought by a Jew ... Should we have such a regime—then we would have missed the purpose of the Jewish State. And I would add that we would have denied the most precious thing in Jewish tradition. But war is war. We did not start the war. They made the war. Jaffa waged war on us, Haifa waged war on us, Bet She'an waged war on us. And I do not want them again to make war. That would be not just but foolish. This would be a "foolish hasid." Do we have to bring back the enemy, so that he again fights us in Bet She'an? No! You made war [and] you lost.27
His later account of his words read:
Jaffa must employ Arab workers. And there is a question of their wages. I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has also the right to be elected president of the state, should he be elected. If in America a Jew or a black cannot become president of the state—I do not believe in the quality of its civil rights. But war is war.28
But then here is Morris reporting on Ben-Gurion's views:
He favored giving work to the Arabs who had remained in Jaffa (about 3,000 of the original 70,000): "I believe that they should receive the same wage as a Jewish worker. An Arab has the right also to be elected president of the state ... . But war is war."29
Why Morris omitted key passages from his article is easy to guess, for it was precisely Ben-Gurion's relentless commitment to democracy and his perception of Israel's Arabs as full and equal members of the Jewish state (i.e., Israel as a genuine "state of all its citizens")30 that Morris has so vehemently denied. Moreover, the original protocol offers a more elaborate exposition of Ben-Gurion's democratic values than the shorter account he chose to bring in his book. Where, then, is Ben-Gurion's attempt at a cover-up?
III. WITHHOLDING VITAL EVIDENCE
Morris repeatedly omits key words or even sentences from his quotations, thus distorting their meaning; or he places the quotes out of context; or he portrays them in false light. At times he even omits entire passages, then has the nerve to castigate the speaker or writer for the absence of these very passages!
Take Ben-Gurion's discussions with his advisers on January 1-2, 1948, to determine the strategy of the Yishuv against Palestinian attempts to subvert the U.N. Partition Resolution of November 1947 through violence. Morris compares the thirteen-page description of these deliberations in Ben-Gurion's diary with the eighty-one page stenographic typescript of the proceedings and found a "few but telling" differences.31 Leaving aside the fact that it is technically impossible for a thirteen-page diary entry to replicate a eighty-one page stenographic typescript fully, Morris neglects to inform his readers of much key information.
The first of these differences concerns a statement by Gad Machnes, one of Ben-Gurion's advisers on Arab affairs. Morris writes that:
Machnes kicked off the discussion by stating: " ... The Arabs were not ready when they began the disturbances. Moreover, most of the Arab public did not want them." Ben-Gurion, in his diary, rendered this passage thus: "The Arabs were not ready"—completely omitting Machnes's opinion that "most" of the Arabs did not want the disturbances.32
Morris does not mention that Ben-Gurion's diary entry is replete with references to the Arab masses' lack of interest in war.33
Indeed, Ben-Gurion repeatedly tells of his conviction that the Palestinian masses did not want war but had this imposed on them by an intransigent leadership. He reiterated this theme both in his meetings with Sir Alan Cunningham, the British high commissioner in Palestine,34 and expressed it publicly. On November 25, 1947, for example, he stated that "it should be borne in mind that the masses of the Arab people—forcibly silenced and deprived of political expression—are not keen to rush to battle."35
Second, Morris writes that "Machnes went on to enjoin the Haganah to retaliate against Arab provocations ‘with strength and brutality,' even hitting women and children."36 Morris withholds from his readers, however, that "strength and brutality" refers here not to indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian society as a whole, but as a means of last resort and to pinpoint retaliation against specific and well-identified perpetrators of armed attacks on Jews. Here is the full citation of Machnes's words from the meeting's original protocol:
I think that today there is no question whether or not to respond. But for the response to be effective, it must come in the right time and the right place and take the form of a strong punishment. Blowing up a house is not enough. Blowing up a house of innocent people is certainly not enough! The response must be strong and harsh because it must create the [right] impression, must punish [the perpetrators of violence] and must serve as a warning. If our responses are not impressive—they will create the opposite impression. These matters necessitate the utmost precision—in terms of time, place, and whom and what to hit ... If we operate against, say, a specific family in a known place, a known village [i.e., identified perpetrators of violence], then there should be no mercy! But only a direct blow and no touching of innocent people! We have already reached a position that necessitates a strong response. Today one should not even avoid hitting women and children. For otherwise, the response cannot be effective.37
Whereas Machnes recommended a highly discriminate response, Morris misquotes him as suggesting precisely the opposite.
Third, Morris misrepresents Yigal Allon, commander of the Palmach, as advocating political assassinations: " ... Eliminating a few personalities at the right time—is very important."38 The actual text reads as follows:
In conclusion, I would like to say that we cannot shift to a pattern of personal terrorism. But the elimination of a few individuals at the right time is a very important thing.39
By removing Allon's first sentence Morris turned his position upside down. Allon rejected political assassination as a modus operandi, as opposed to the targeting of specific individuals who had a direct bearing on the prosecution of the war.
Apart from this meeting, Morris distorts the views of Yosef Weitz (a secondary Zionist figure who Morris inflates into a straw-man of gigantic proportions) and thereby withholds revealing information on the Palestinian side. Weitz' diary as found in the archive tells about an incident on May 4, 1948, as follows:
A delegation from the Jezreel Valley and Bet She'an informs that the Arab Legion entered the [Arab] town of Bet She'an; ordered the women and children to leave the town and barricaded itself inside it. The question arose: should we attack the town or lay siege to it? This issue was discussed yesterday at the regional headquarters. An attack necessitates far larger forces than those available at the area, while the siege might take a long time and might trigger an invasion of foreign forces from Transjordan and an increase of the [Arab] Legion's forces [in the area]. No decision was reached. The local committee [of Jewish settlements] supports an attack, and came to ask me to influence the commanders here. I complained that this valley was still seething with enemies. And I am afraid that we are on the verge of defeat, because the British army, which had suddenly returned to the country, intends forcefully to impose "peace" on both parties and will prevent us from undertaking vigorous actions at a time when we have the upper hand. "The Bet She'an Valley is the gate to our state in the Galilee, and nobody should stand on its threshold to disturb us,"—I said—"the evacuation of the valley [pinuyo shel ha-`emek] is the order of the day."40
Morris reports this episode as follows, writing about Weitz:
On 4 May, he complained to the local Jewish leaders that "the valley was still seething with enemies ... I said—the eviction [of the Arabs] from the valley is the order of the day." The passage was deleted from the published diary.41
Note that Morris mistranslates "evacuation" of the valley as "eviction [of the Arabs]," though Weitz clearly refers to the valley, not the Arabs. Even if Weitz implies their eviction, Morris undoubtedly has taken liberties with the translation. Also, by quoting a tiny fraction of this lengthy paragraph out of its real context, Morris withholds from his readers Weitz's thinking about the strategic importance of the Bet She'an Valley for Israel's security and his recurrent fears of Jewish defeat (a far cry from the militant mood misattributed to him by Morris).42
No less importantly, Morris hides revealing information about the departure of Palestinians as the result of Arab pressure. For example, on March 28, 1948, Weitz recorded in his published diary:
Haifa—R. Baum told me that the inhabitants of Qumia, about three hundred people, left the village yesterday having asked the [British] authorities to vacate them. They were in a difficult economic position and the [Arab] gangs had struck fear into them. The people cried on Baum's shoulders about the difficulty of leaving their place.43
Morris ignores this entry altogether.
IV. MAKING FALSE ASSERTIONS
Unconcerned with the necessities of scholarly rigor, at times Morris does not even take the trouble to provide evidence for his charge of Zionist wrongdoing. He expects his readers to take on trust his assertions that fundamental contradictions exist between published accounts and the underlying documents. In fact, these contradictions do not exist.
For example, Morris charges Ben-Gurion of omitting passages from the protocol of the (above-noted) consultation on August 18, 1948:
Both Shitrit and Weitz spoke of the need to buy land. As Shitrit put it: "There are many Arabs who wish to leave—they must be found and bought out."
Morris then recounts what other participants said and then returns to these two:
Ben-Gurion's three-and-a-half page diary description of that meeting completely omits mention of Weitz's proposals to destroy the villages and prevent Arab harvesting. It also fails to mention Weitz's and Shitrit's proposal to encourage Arab emigration through offers to purchase land.44
But did Ben-Gurion's diary actually not mention these proposals? Here is the original text:
Shitrit: Many Arabs do not want to return to the country and we must immediately buy their land.
Weitz: As for the cultivation of the land: if we do not wish the Arabs to return, and we require only food—then we should cultivate only the land necessary for growing food—100,000 dunams of the best land, and from the rest—lease and buy as much as possible ... one has to prepare plans for settling the Arabs in the neighboring states.45
In fact, Ben-Gurion scrupulously recorded the meeting in his diary.
Similarly, Morris charges Yosef Weitz of another distortion:
On 12 January 1948, six weeks into the war, Weitz traveled to Yoqne'am, an agricultural settlement southeast of Haifa, where he discussed with Yehuda Burstein, the local Haganah intelligence officer, "the question of the eviction of [Arab] tenant-farmers from Yoqne'am and [neighboring] Daliyat [al-Ruha] with the methods now acceptable. The matter has been left in the hands of the defense people [the Haganah] and during the afternoon I spoke with the [Haganah] deputy district commander." This whole passage was omitted from the published diary.46
Was it? Let us look at the published diary:
Haifa, 11.1: I discussed with the Haifa people [i.e., officials] the question of the [Arab] tenant-farmers in Yoqne'am and Daliya. Is it not the time now to get rid of them? Why should we continue to keep these thorns among us, at a time when they pose a threat to us? Our people weigh and reflect [on the matter].47
Equally false is Morris's claim that Weitz omitted from the published diary his advocacy that Bedouin farmer tenants from the Ghawarna clan be vacated from Jewish land in the Haifa bay. As Morris puts it:
A member of Kfar Masaryk came to see Weitz in Tel Aviv and complained, "astonished," that these bedouin had not yet been evicted. Weitz promptly wrote a letter "to the [Haganah] commander there and to [Mordechai] Shachevitz [Weitz's land-purchasing agent in the area] to move quickly in this matter." A week later, Shachevitz informed Weitz that "most of the beduins in the [Haifa] bay [area] had gone, [but] some fifteen-twenty men had stayed behind to guard [the clans' property]. I demanded that they also be evicted and that the fields be plowed over so that no trace of them remains." Again, no trace of any of this is to be found in Weitz's published diary entries.48
Really? A look at Weitz's published account reveals the following:
Haifa, 27.3—Today we discussed the Ghawarna Bedouins in our bay, who must be sent away from there so as to prevent them from joining our enemies...
Haifa, 26.4— ... In the bay [area] I saw the lands cleared of the Ghawarna, most of whom had left. In the northern part [of the bay] the shacks had been destroyed and the land was being plowed over. In the southern part, the operation had yet to be completed. In war—as in war.49
It gets worse. Morris misrepresents the latter entry from Weitz's diary. He holds that Weitz "recorded that the northern part of the Zevulun Valley was completely clear of bedouin."50 Not so: as we have just seen, Weitz's published account specifically refers to the departure of the Ghawarna Bedouins, rather than of Bedouins as a whole, and from the Haifa Bay, rather than the Zevulun Valley—precisely as it appears in the original diary.51 Had Morris quoted the diary correctly, he would have negated his false claim that no trace of this episode is to be found in the published diary entries, since he had himself acknowledged that "Weitz included this passage in his published entry for 26 April."52
Morris then accuses Weitz of wholesale falsification of the personal diaries of Yosef Nahmani, longtime director of the JNF Office in the eastern Galilee, which Weitz edited after Nahmani's death. Morris writes:
On 30 December 1947, a squad of IZL terrorists threw a bomb at a bus stop outside the oil refinery complex just north of Haifa, killing about half a dozen Arabs, some of them workers at the plant, and wounding others. Within hours, in a spontaneous act of vengeance, Arab workers at the plant turned on their Jewish colleagues with knives and sticks, slaughtering thirty-nine of them. Nahmani jotted down in his diary (on 30 December):
... [I] was told about the bomb that Jews threw into a crowd of Arab workers from the refinery and there are dead. The Arabs [then] attacked the Jewish clerks ... and killed some of them ... . This incident depressed me greatly. After all, the Arabs [in Haifa] had declared a truce and why cause the death of innocent people and again ignite the
Morris quotes more of Nahmani, musing on the significance of this event, then adds his own comment:
Weitz, in Nahmani, completely omitted this passage (though he did include a brief excerpt from Nahmani's entry for 30 December—dealing with other matters altogether). However, he published part of Nahmani's entry for 31 December, reading: "The disaster that struck the workers at the Haifa oil refinery depressed me greatly." For Israeli readers in 1969, this passage, in the way it appears, could only be taken to refer to the massacre of the Jewish refinery workers and not to the killing of the Arab workers at the bus stop that preceded it.53
But did Weitz really seek to shield his fellow Israelis from the less savory aspects of their past by expunging all traces of Jewish-initiated violence? Hardly. The page in Nahmani's published diary that Morris quotes contains no less than two other entries specifically dedicated to this issue:
Tiberias, 19.12—this morning we learnt from the Galileans who came to Tiberias about the bombing of houses in Kasas [in retaliation for a mob attack on a Jewish guard] and there are fatalities: ten dead Arabs, including five children. This is appalling. Indiscriminate acts of retaliation hitting innocent people will mobilize all of the Arabs against us and help the extremists who will immerse the country in a whirlpool of bloodletting. The Kasas incident greatly depressed me.
Tiberias, 21.12—I participated in a meeting of representatives of those Galilee settlements which maintain contacts with Arabs and propagate the preservation of relations with them [i.e., the Arabs]. I raised the Kasas incident and said that this act indicated that the generation at the helm had no moral inhibitions against bloodshed.54
Further showing the complete inaccuracy of Morris's claim that Weitz hid the less savory episodes, Weitz's own published diary offered a candid description of the refinery episode four years before Nahmani's was published:
What happened this week at the Haifa refinery shocked all of us, on both accounts: the bomb throwing into a crowd of Arab workers was a crime on the part of our "secessionists" [i.e., the IZL]. For while we favor "a retaliatory action," we are totally opposed to a provocative attack. I do not find any supportive circumstances, not even one in a thousand, to justify this act by the secessionists, which caused to a certain extent the Arab riots in the refinery and the massacre of forty Jews. I said to a certain extent, because it is argued that incitement for an attack of the Jewish workers has been sensed for quite some time and that the attack would probably have occurred in any event. However, it is clear today that this provocative act caused the spilling of our precious blood.55
Thus did Weitz make not the slightest attempt to cover up IZL's responsibility for what he called a "crime" in the refinery. His omission of the above entry in Nahmani's diary obviously had nothing to do with the "political and propagandistic intent" Morris attributes to him.56 To the contrary, as activists in the Labor movement, Weitz and Nahmani had no compunction about publicly disowning the activities of the smaller underground groups, the IZL and Lohamei Herut Israel (LEHI, Fighters for Israel's Freedom), which they deemed as morally reprehensible and politically detrimental. Hence the striking similarity in Weitz's and Nahmani's responses to the IZL attack at the refinery; hence the negative references to IZL terrorist acts recurring in their published diaries. Where is the cover up?
V. REWRITING ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS
Falsification means the reader is presented with allegedly direct quotations from original documents that are in fact rewritten texts containing at best altered words or sentences, and at worst sentences invented by Morris and then misrepresented by him as authentic.
Take Morris's citation of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's words at the Israeli cabinet meeting of June 16, 1948:
But war is war. We did not start the war. They made the war, Jaffa went to war against us. So did Haifa. And I do not want those who fled to return. I do not want them again to make war.57
The key sentence here ("I do not want those who fled to return") is simply not found in the text of the meeting protocol. It reads as follows:
But war is war. We did not start the war. They made the war. Jaffa waged war on us, Haifa waged war on us, Bet She'an waged war on us. And I do not want them again to make war. That would be not just but foolish. This would be a "foolish hasid." Do we have to bring back the enemy, so that he again fights us in Bet She'an? No! You made war [and] you lost.58
It bears noting that in the Hebrew version of his article, Morris did not put words into Ben-Gurion's mouth,59 presumably because Hebrew readers can check for themselves the veracity of his citation.
Morris has Ben-Gurion telling a Jewish Agency Executive meeting (on June 7, 1938) that
"The starting point for a solution of the Arab problem in the Jewish state" was the conclusion of an agreement with the Arab states that would pave the way for a transfer of the Arabs out of the Jewish State to the Arab countries.60
The original protocol has nothing about transferring "Arabs out of the Jewish State to the Arab countries," a phrase entirely of Morris' own making. The actual text reads:
The starting point for a solution of the question of the Arabs in the Jewish State is, in his [i.e., Ben-Gurion's] view, the need to prepare the ground for an Arab-Jewish agreement.61
On another occasion, Morris rewrites words or sentences in primary documents to misrepresent their meaning. He quotes the January 12, 1948, entry in Yosef Weitz's diary and has Weitz discussing the eviction of Arab tenant-farmers from "Daliyat,"62 which he identifies as "Daliyat al-Ruha," an Arab locality. Weitz's diary in fact refers to Dalia, a Hebrew kibbutz, a neighboring and wholly different place from "Daliyat." By Arabizing the name of a Hebrew settlement Morris creates the absolutely false impression that the tenant farmers were to be evicted from Arab, rather than from Jewish land.
On other occasions, Morris rewrites entries in the Weitz and Ben-Gurion diaries to implicate the prime minister in Weitz's (alleged) activities. Writes Morris:
According to the original Weitz diary entry for 5 June, Weitz had informed Ben-Gurion that the committee had already begun "here and there destroying villages." In the published diary, Weitz had amended this to "here and there ‘improving' villages" (the single quotes presumably designed to signal his more perceptive readers what was actually meant). In both versions, Weitz wrote that Ben-Gurion "gave his approval" to this work.63
Morris goes on to characterize these as "the Transfer Committee's proposals" and to indicate that Ben-Gurion approved of them.64 But did Weitz really tell Ben-Gurion that the "committee had already begun" destroying villages? Did Ben-Gurion authorize "the Transfer Committee's proposals"? Not at all, as Weitz himself explains:
I said that I [and not the "Transfer Committee" as misquoted by Morris] had already given instructions to start here and there "improving" villages—and he approved it. I contented myself with this.65
Weitz's resort to the first person is important: as director of the Jewish National Fund's Land Development Division he was directly involved in the question of abandoned Palestinian villages. Moreover, the "Transfer Committee" Morris writes of never came into being. During this same meeting, Ben-Gurion specifically told Weitz that he rejected outright the very existence of such a committee. As Weitz put it: "He would like to convene a narrow meeting and to appoint a committee to handle the issue. He does not agree to the [existence] of our temporary committee."66
Having withheld these critical facts, Morris then has the nerve to charge Ben-Gurion with taking great care "to avoid leaving footprints of his own involvement"67 in the activities of the Transfer Committee. To substantiate this false claim, Morris rewrites the entry in Ben-Gurion's diary pertaining to the meeting. The actual text reads as follows:
He [i.e., Weitz] proposes to discuss with the Arab Governments help in settling these Arabs in the Arab states. This is [far too] premature and untimely.68
Morris turns this into:
But how did Ben-Gurion record the self-same meeting? "It is too early and untimely ... to discuss with the Arab Governments help in resettling these Arabs in the Arab states ... ."69
Morris restructures Ben-Gurion's diary entry to remove the fact that Weitz proposed resettling refugees in the Arab states and Ben-Gurion rejected the idea. This permits Morris to conceal Ben-Gurion's rejection of a pivotal component of Weitz's thinking and to paint a false picture of a complete meeting of minds, if not a straightforward collusion. As Morris puts it:
Indeed, according to Weitz, Ben-Gurion had not only approved the "whole policy," but had thought that the proposed actions in Israel (destruction of villages, prevention of harvesting, settlement of Jews in abandoned sites) should take precedence over efforts to resettle refugees elsewhere (meaning negotiating with Arab countries about resettlement, assessing compensation and so forth).70
The reality was quite different. Ben-Gurion did not accept Weitz's suggestions about settling the Arabs abroad. Rather, Ben-Gurion deemed the latter issue irrelevant and unwarranted because the war was far from over and he had not yet made up his mind about the solution to the refugee problem.
A deep-rooted and pervasive distortion lies at the heart of the revisionists' rewriting of Israel's early history. A close inspection shows Morris's claim that the Zionist movement and the State of Israel are "among the more accomplished practitioners of this strange craft"71 of record falsification to be totally false. If anything, it shows that Morris himself is a master at that very same "strange craft." Morris not only fails to show rewriting by the authorities but he himself is the one who 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. For, if the veracity of one's quotes and factual assertions cannot be taken for granted, then the entire raison d'être of the historical discourse will have been lost. It also fits the psychological pattern of projection: a falsifier tends to see in others a mirror image of himself. In the colloquial, it takes one to know one.
Regrettably, Morris's distortions in the article under consideration are neither a fluke nor an exception. As I have sought to demonstrate elsewhere, they typify the New Historians' whole approach.72 Lacking evidence, they invent an Israeli history in the image of their own choosing.
1 Yezid Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement 1949-1993 (Oxford and Washington DC: Clarendon Press and the Institute for Palestine Studies, 1998), p. 3.
2 Efraim Karsh, "Rewriting Israel's History," Middle East Quarterly, June 1996, pp. 19-29; idem., Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians" (London: Frank Cass, 1997).
3 Joel Beinin, review of Fabricating Israeli History in the Middle East Journal, Summer 1998, p. 449.
4 Benny Morris, "Falsifying the Record: A Fresh Look at Zionist Documentation of 1948," Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 1995, pp. 44-62.
5 Ibid., p. 56. For clarity's sake, we are placing all quotations from Morris in bold and all additions by this author in brackets .
6 Be-hilahem Israel (Tel-Aviv: Hotsaat Mifleget Poalei Eretz Israel, 1951), pp. 130-131 and Medinat Israel Ha-mehudeshet (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, 1969), pp. 163-168.
7 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 49.
8 Yaacov Shimoni, "Beayot Gush Bet: Hahzarat Plitim O Ii Hahzaratam." Recorded in "Tamtsit Dvarim Be-yeshiva Be-misrad Rosh Ha-memshala al Beayot Ha-plitim Ha-arvim Ve-shuvam," Aug. 18, 1948, ISA, FM 2444/19, p. 2. The other item on the agenda was the question of abandoned Arab property.
9 Diary of David Ben-Gurion, Aug. 18, 1948, Ben-Gurion Archive, Sde Boker (hereafter BGA); David Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama (Tel-Aviv: Misrad Ha-bitahon, Ha-hotsa'a La'or, 1983), vol. II, p. 652 (emphasis added).
10 Shimoni, "Tamtsit," p. 1.
11 Ibid., p. 4; BGA; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. II, p. 654.
12 Morris, "Falsifying", p. 49.
13 Ibid., p. 61, fn. 21.
14 Shimoni, "Tamtsit," p. 2 (emphasis in the original).
15 Ibid., p. 3 (emphasis in the original).
16 Ben-Gurion, Medinat Israel, p. 164.
17 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.
18 Ben-Gurion, Medinat Israel, pp. 164-165; "Partikol—Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, Israel State Archives, pp. 19-20.
19 Benny Morris, "‘U-sfarim U-gvilim Be-zikna Regilim': Mabat Hadash al Mismachim Zioni'im Merkazi'im," Alpayim, 12 (1996): 98.
20 Morris, "Falsifying", pp. 50-51.
21 Ben-Gurion, Be-hilahem Israel, p. 131. See also "Partikol—Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, p. 36.
22 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.
23 Ben-Gurion, Be-hilahem Israel, pp. 130-131.
24 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.
26 "Partikol—Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, pp. 15-16.
27 Ibid., pp. 34-35.
28 Ben-Gurion, Medinat Israel, p. 167.
29 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 57.
30 David Ben-Gurion, Ba-ma'araha, vol. IV, part 2 (Tel-Aviv: Hotsaat Mifleget Polaei Eretz Israel, 1959), p. 260.
31 Morris, "Falsifying", p. 51.
33 Ben-Gurion quoted Eliyahu Sasson, director of the Arab section of the Jewish Agency's Political Department: "It is true that the wider Arab public was not swayed by the disturbances; the villager, the merchant, the worker, and the citrus-grower did not want [war] and do not want [it] now. But the Mufti wanted—and succeeded in implicating the country." Ben-Gurion recorded another Arab specialist, Ezra Danin: "He [Danin] disputes Sasson's opinion that the Mufti achieved more than he had hoped. To the contrary, he expected the Arabs to follow him more than it actually happened." And yet another comment in the same vein, this time by Joshua Palmon: "Are there or are there not disturbances? In the vicinity of Beit-Govrin, in the south up to Yazur there are no disturbances. Most of the Arabs want peace." BGA; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. I, pp. 99-102.
34 Thus, for example, in his meeting with Cunningham on October 2, 1947, Ben-Gurion argued that "he himself felt that the mass of the people in Palestine wished peace." Eleven days later he told Cunningham that "there were a large section of Arabs who were against the Mufti and wished to cooperate." On January 6, 1948, four days after the meeting cited by Morris, Ben-Gurion claimed that "the felaheen did not want trouble and the Jews were not going to provoke them." Cunningham Papers, St. Antony's College, Oxford, V/1.
35 Ben-Gurion, Ba-ma'araha, p. 254.
36 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 51.
37 "Partikol Meha-yeshiva Be-inyanei Shem," Jan. 1-2, 1948, Ha-kibbutz Ha-meuhad Archive, Ramat-Efal, Israel, Galili Section, Box 45, File 1-4, pp. 3-4.
38 Morris, "Falsifying," pp. 51-52.
39 "Partikol Meha-yeshiva Be-inyanei Shem," p. 46.
40 Yosef Weitz diary, May 4, 1948, Central Zionist Archives, A246/13, pp. 2373-74.
41 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47.
43 Yosef Weitz, Yomani Ve-igrotai La-banim (Tel-Aviv: Masada, 1965), vol. III, p. 257.
44 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 49.
45 BGA; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. II, pp. 653-54.
46 Morris, "Falsifying," pp. 46-47.
47 Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, p. 223. Though dated January 11, 1948, rather than January 12 as in the original diary, there is no doubt that this is the meeting referred to by Morris, not least since Weitz held his meetings in Haifa (and not in Yoqne‘am as Morris states). See, Yosef Weitz diary, Jan. 12, 1948, A246/12, p. 2290.
48 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47. Kfar Masaryk is a kibbutz.
49 Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, pp. 257, 273.
50 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47.
51 Yosef Weitz diary, Apr. 26, 1948, A246/13, p. 2367.
52 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 47.
53 Ibid., pp. 53-54. IZL stands for Irgun Zvai Leumi, or National Military Organization.
54 Yosef Nahmani, Ish Ha-Galil (Ramat-Gan: Masada, 1969), p. 246.
55 Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, p. 218 (entry for Jan. 3, 1948).
56 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 53.
57 Ibid., p. 58.
58 "Partikol—Yeshivat Ha-memshala Ha-zmanit," June 16, 1948, pp. 35-36.
59 Morris, "‘U-sfarim U-gvilim Be-zikna Regilim'," p. 99.
60 Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 24.
61 "Partikol Yeshivat Hanhalat Ha-sokhnut Ha-yehudit Le-Eretz Israel, Shenitqaima Be-Yerushalaim Be-yom," June 7, 1938, Central Zionist Archives, p. 11.
62 Morris, "Falsifying," pp. 46-47.
63 Ibid., p. 48.
65 Weitz, Yomani, vol. III, p. 298 (diary entry for June 5, 1948). See also Yosef Weitz diary, June 5, 1948, A246/13, p. 2411.
67 Morris, "Falsifying," p. 49.
68 BGA, entry for June 5, 1948; Ben-Gurion, Yoman Ha-milhama, vol. II, p. 487.
69 Morris, "Falsifying", p. 49.
70 Ibid., p. 48.
71 Ibid., p. 44.
72 See, for example, Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History, passim, and "‘Falsifying the Record': Benny Morris, David Ben-Gurion, and the ‘Transfer' Idea," Israel Affairs, Winter 1997, pp. 47-71.
Related Topics: Academia, Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, History, Middle East studies | Efraim Karsh | March 1999 MEQ
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.