Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bend It Like Benny

I referred in my last post to a letter by Israeli revisionist historian Benny Morris, originally written to The Irish Times. An edited version had been used by The Australian in an effort to counter the views, published in the Sydney Morning Herald (29/4/08), of Australian academic and author Peter Manning on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist forces in 1948

What follows is a dissection and discussion of the content of Morris' letter in its original, unedited Irish Times version. Given that 2008 is the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), as the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine is called in Arabic, and that Morris' views will no doubt be advanced by propagandists of Zion as the last word on the subject, it is appropriate that his summation in The Irish Times be carefully analyzed. Morris' paragraphs, in italics, are followed by my analyses of same:

"Israel-haters are fond of citing - and more often, mis-citing - my work in support of their arguments. Let me offer some corrections. [The responsibility of] the Palestinian Arabs... for what befell them in 1948... was very direct and simple. In defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29, 1947 (No 181), they launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community. But they lost; and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes."

I dealt in my last post with the flagrant injustice and illegality of UNGA Resolution 181, which recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, and examined, in my post of 14/3/08 (The Israeli Occupation of Federal Parliament 3), the Machiavellian process that led to its passing. I will not go over that here. Suffice it to say that, in light of the above and Israel's track record of contempt for the will of the international community, Morris' phrase, "in defiance of the will of the international community," couldn't possibly ring more hollow. Was Israel's takeover of west Jerusalem (alloted neither to the Jewish or the Arab state) not "defiance of the international community"? And what of its grab for territory beyond the area alloted to the Jews and its expulsion en masse of the Palestinians? And as for the Palestinians' "defiance," wasn't that to be expected? Were the Palestinians supposed to take the partition of their ancestral homeland by the white mob in the UN, lying down? Or on the chin perhaps? The logic of Morris' schoolmasterly tone is outrageous: the Palestinians should have just copped it sweet! Maybe he's spent a little too long in the dark bowels of the Zionist archives. The architect of Palestine's ethnic cleansing, David Ben-Gurion, would have found Morris' views laughable: "Were I an Arab," Ben-Gurion said, "I would rebel even more vigorously, bitterly, and desperately against the immigration that will one day turn Palestine and all its Arab residents over to Jewish rule."

Schoolmasters of course are hardly ever concerned with the context of a playground spat. They just want to know who hit who first: "[The Palestinians] launched hostilities..." He says the same in his 2004 magnum opus on the subject, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (hereafter Birth Revisited): "The UNGA resolution... triggered haphazard Arab attacks against Jewish traffic. The first roadside ambushes occurred... the following day, when 2 buses were attacked and 7 Jewish passengers shot dead. The same day, snipers in Jaffa began firing at passers-by in Tel Aviv. The Arab Higher Committee, which flatly rejected the resolution and any thought of partition, declared a 3-day general strike, beginning on 1 December, thus releasing the urban masses for action." (p 65) Yep, the Palestinians swung first. Or did they? In his footnote, Benny is not so sure: "Traditionally, Zionist historiography [!] has cited these attacks as the first acts of Palestinian violence against the partition resolution. But it is probable that the attacks were not directly linked to the resolution - and were a product... of a retaliatory cycle..." (p 139) Then there's the jolly Bring it On! lads of the Irgun and the Stern Gang. When exactly did they start swinging?" Morris writes vaguely, "[T]he IZL and LHI... beginning already in early December [?] 1947, reverted to their 1937-1939 strategy of placing bombs in crowded markets and bus stops. The Arabs retaliated... " (p 66) [Speaking of that lot, Michael Palumbo notes in his 1987 book, The Palestinian Catastrophe, "The Irgun leader Menachem Begin later explained his attitude during this period: 'My greatest worry in those months was that the Arabs might accept the UN plan. Then we would have had the ultimate tragedy, a Jewish state so small that it could not absorb all the Jews of the world'. Irgun terrorism however would make sure that no agreement would be possible." (pp 34-35)] The British High Commissioner in Palestine, Sir Alan Cunningham, certainly didn't toe the Morris line: "The initial Arab outbreaks were spontaneous and unorganized and were more demonstrations of displeasure at the UN decision than determined attacks on Jews. The weapons initially employed were sticks and stones and had it not been for Jewish recourse to firearms, it is not impossible that the excitement would have subsided and little loss of life be caused." (Quoted in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Ilan Pappe, 2004, p 268)

And what are we to make of the words, "in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community?" This is how Morris spins Cunninham's "spontaneous and unorganized Arab outbreaks." And that glib sentence with its euphemistic ending, "But they lost; and one of the results [of their losing] was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes," glossing over entirely the question of what it was that caused their "displacement," is a sure sign that Morris has moved from history to propaganda.

"It is true, as Erskine Childers pointed out long ago, that there were no Arab radio broadcasts urging the Arabs to flee en masse; indeed, there were broadcasts by several Arab radio stations urging them to stay put. But, on the local level, in dozens of localities around Palestine, Arab leaders advised or ordered the evacuation of women and children or whole communities, as occurred in Haifa in late April, 1948. And Haifa's Jewish mayor, Shabtai Levy, did, on April 22, plead with them to stay, to no avail."

Ergo, the Palestinians were responsible for their own dispossession! But let us look in detail at the situation in Haifa, Palestine's only major port, which had been alloted by the UN to the Jews.

Here is a summary of Pappe's account of Haifa's cleansing (pp 93-96): Its Palestinian inhabitants had been subjected to a "Jewish campaign of terrorization" since December 1947, including "heavy shelling, sniper fire, rivers of ignited oil and fuel sent down the mountain-side, and detonated barrels of explosives, [which] went on for the first months of 1948," before intensifying in April. The British then informed the Zionists that their troops were pulling back to the port area in preparation for their final withdrawal from Palestine in May, leaving the Palestinians who hadn't already fled to face the coming Zionist onslaught (known as Operation Cleansing the Leaven after the Jewish practice of removing all traces of bread and flour from homes on the eve of the Passover) unprotected. The Palestinians, according to Pappe, were the bread and the flour to be cleansed, and the operation was launched on Passover's eve, 21 April. The British advised the Palestinian community's remaining leaders [described by Pappe as "a group of 4 exhausted men, who became the Arab community's leaders for the hour"] to persuade their people to leave the city. Given that the British were not prepared to protect Haifa's Palestinians from expulsion, their leaders told the British that "they wanted to leave in an organised manner. The [Haganah's] Carmeli Brigade [however] made sure they would leave in the midst of carnage and havoc. On their way to meet the British commander, [the Palestinian leaders] could already hear the Jewish loudspeakers urging the Palestinian women and children to leave before it was too late. In other parts of the town, loudspeakers delivered a diametrically opposing message from the town's Jewish mayor... who beseeched the people to stay... But it was Mordechai Maklef, the operation officer of the Carmeli Brigade, not [Mayor] Levi, who called the shots. Maklef orchestrated the cleansing campaign [with the orders:] 'Kill any Arab you encounter; torch all inflammable objects and force doors open with explosives'." Thousands of Palestinians fled to the market area adjacent to the port, from which they hoped to flee by boat. Terrorised by Zionist mortar barrages falling around them, they broke through into the port itself and were literally driven into the sea.

Now compare Pappe with Morris. Despite the latter's fog of detail, prevarification and excuses, it is impossible to conclude from his account of the same events that the Zionist forces were engaged in anything other than good old-fashioned ethnic cleansing in Haifa, Mayor Levy notwithstanding: "By 21 April, when the Haganah launched its onslaught, the remaining population was in great measure primed for evacuation." (p 187) "Operation Passover Cleansing aimed at 'breaking the enemy'... not... the conquest of most of Arab Haifa." (p 189) "Haganah Radio announced that 'the day of judgment had arrived' [and] called on the populace to 'evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately..." (p 191) "The orders of Carmeli's 22nd Battalion were 'to kill every [adult male] Arab encountered' and to set alight with firebombs 'all objectives that can be set alight'..." (pp 191-192) "The [Arab] notables' announcement of evacuation on the evening of 22/4 was not a bolt from the blue. Tens of thousands... had departed during December 47-early April 48. On 21-22 April, the [4 Palestinian] notables had the fresh example of Arab Tiberius before their eyes [In Tiberius the British army encouraged and protected a Palestinian evacuation]. And by the evening of 22/4, thousands had already voted with their feet, first by fleeing... to the harbour and the boats to Acre... The Hagganah mortar attacks... were primarily designed to break Arab morale in order to bring about a swift collapse of resistance and speedy surrender. There is no evidence that the commanders involved hoped or expected that it would lead to mass evacuation... But clearly the offensive, and especially the mortaring, precipitated the exodus." (pp 199-200) "The local Jewish civilian leadership initially sincerely wanted [the remaining] Arabs to stay... But the offensive of 21-22/4 had delivered the Arab neighborhoods into Haganah hands, relegating the civil leaders to the sidelines... At the same time, the attitude of some of these local leaders radically changed as they took stock of the historic opportunity offered by the exodus to turn Haifa into a Jewish city." (p 201-202) "After 4-5 days of Haganah rule [over the occupied Palestinian neighborhoods, involving curfews, searches, interrogations, arrests, beatings and looting], 'the Arabs were not interested in staying', an American diplomat reportedly told the Haganah." (p 204) "But were the Haganah actions [23/4-early May] motivated by a calculated aim to egg on the evacuation? At the level of Carmeli headquarters, no orders, as far as we know, were ever issued to the troops to act in a manner that would precipitate flight... But if this was official policy, there was certainly an undercurrent of expulsive thinking akin to the IZL approach." (p 207) "The Hagana attacked [the nearby town of] Balad ash Sheikh on 24/4... Whether the Haganah intended to trigger the evacuation of Balad ash Sheikh is unclear, but the method of attack... seems to have been designed to achieve it." (p 207)

By mid May the systematic destruction of Palestinian houses had begun. By mid July the remaining 4,000 Palestinians of Haifa had been coralled into a single area. Demolitions were completed in October. And Mayor Levy? Once he'd been reassured that the destruction was purely for military reasons and that his municipality would therefore not be liable, he was happy. In context, Haifa's Jewish mayor offers Morris cold comfort. By citing the words of the mayor, without mentioning the actions of the Haganah, Morris, the historian, becomes Morris, the propagandist.

"Most of Palestine's 700,000 'refugees' fled their homes because of the flail of war (and in the expectation that they would shortly return to their homes on the backs of victorious Arab invaders). But it is also true that there were several dozen sites, including Lydda and Ramle, from which Arab communities were expelled by Jewish troops."

Notice the euphemism "flail of war." Morris' bracketed words above are pure conjecture. In discussing the ethnic cleansing of Haifa, he writes in Birth Revisited, "Most of the remaining Arab leaders also encouraged the remaining townspeople to leave (perhaps assuring them that they would soon be returning in the wake of victorious Arab armies, but I have found no evidence of this)." (p 198)

"The displacement of the 700,000 Arabs who became 'refugees' - and I put the term in inverted commas, as two-thirds of them were displaced from one part of Palestine to another and not from their country (which is the usual definition of a refugee) - was not a 'racist crime'... but the result of a national conflict and a war, with religious overtones, from the Muslim perspective, launched by the Arabs themselves."

How strange! There are certainly no inverted commas around the word refugees in Birth Revisited. Why now the recourse to petty semantics? Simple - when you're writing propaganda, you'll reach for anything at hand.

I'll deal with the rest of Morris' letter in my next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BennY Morris a left wing Israeli that Arabs and their supporters love to quote when Israel bashing has finally woken up it's taken him long enough in his most recent summary in Newsweek his last Para sums it up ....

''there can be no real security for
the Jewish state, surrounded by a surging sea of Muslims''

Unfortunately hatred ,violence and destruction even self destruction by Palestinians is like a drug addict or some any other type of addict they are unable to get over it, similarly to what is going on now in Iraq, Lebanon afganastan nobody can live in peace with these people not even them selves. its taken Morris a bit longer than most to finally reach the obvious conclusion

From Dove to Hawk
A prominent Israeli historian explains why,
after decades of research about the Jewish
state, he now holds out little hope for
reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians.
By Benny Morris
May 8, 2008