Letters

Israeli whitewash or Arab propaganda? Readers weigh in on Christopher Farah's interview with Israeli historian Benny Morris and the wounds of 1948.


Salon Staff
January 30, 2004 2:00AM (UTC)

[Read "'The Arabs Are After Our Blood'" by Christopher Farah.]

Benny Morris says that the Palestinians "believe that the Jews are a robber state and have taken their land, with the support of America and Western Europe."

If the shoe fits, wear it.

-- James J. Matthews

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Christopher Farah's story on Benny Morris is sickening, and a shame on Salon. And the fact that nobody there can see that it is so revolting is why we're in trouble. Yes, people do need to be made aware of the toll that recent years have taken on Israeli public mood (although, if you're going to accept prolonged hardship as somehow an excuse for such moral degradation, I'm waiting for an equally revolting story in apologetic tones for suicide bombers).

But ask yourselves: Would Salon ever publish an equivalent story about an otherwise apparently sane and intelligent Palestinian intellectual stating that all Jews are after Arab blood and therefore have to be cleansed out of Palestine -- especially a story written with such a mild, even benign, tone regarding the interviewee? You'd be in a fit screaming "anti-Semitism," genocide, Holocaust and so on (or, if not, you'd be panicking in fear of the barrage of anti-Semitism charges about to fall upon you). That the public discourse in the U.S., the would-be peace broker, is polluted to the core by such deep structural bias and dearth of empathy for the common people on one of the sides is, in my opinion, the biggest obstacle to any kind of progress in the Middle East at this point.

-- Miguel Lobo

It never ends, does it? Salon is one of the egregiously biased communications vehicles on the planet when it comes to Israel. Benny Morris is an ethnic-cleansing piece of shit. Presenting his views is a kind of reverse Julius Streicher -- you have turned Salon into a pro-Jewish Voelkischer Beobachter. You won't print anything remotely contrary to your support for Israeli war crimes, not even moderates like Hanan Ashrawi. Not even letters -- everything is pro-Israeli filth and no other views are permitted.

-- Darrell Zink

Most supporters of Israel fail to acknowledge that the land making up what is now Israel was stolen from the Palestinians (via the British). Morris' crime of admitting this atrocity but arguing for its morality is much worse -- akin to arguing that the Nazis should have "finished the job" in exterminating the Jews.

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Of course Arabs hate the state of Israel! Did Native Americans welcome the U.S. government with open arms in the 19th century when it stole their land? The difference is that while it is now impossible to remedy that crime because of the intervening generations, it is absolutely feasible to give the Palestinians their land back. Not only are many of the very people expelled from their homes still alive, many of them still have the keys to their houses.

There are obviously many arguments about what the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem should be, but any reasonable one must start with the admission that the Palestinians were robbed, that this was wrong and that they have a right to be angry.

-- John R. Bell

The interview with Benny Morris left me shaken but not surprised. What stands out is the disregard for the Palestinians as human beings that is at the root of this conflict.

The most important question/comment, and the one that Mr. Morris clearly did not answer, concerns his belief that the Palestinians should just have moved to Jordan: "That would have required an enormous number of people to give up their rights to the land where they had been living for generations, to people who were coming in as outsiders."

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This is a psychological issue. Few people living as peasants in an agricultural society would willingly and without rancor give up their land, their possessions, their relationships with others in their village, in short, their life, to enter into the unknown, simply because other people had a project in mind that didn't include them. In evaluating the situation and understanding the power and determination of these outsiders, this peasant may realize that the situation is hopeless, that s/he is powerless, that it may in the long run be advantageous to "move over" and "make way," but the vast majority of human beings would experience this being pressured to leave, this use of force and power, as unjust, and so feel anger and resentment.

There was no way for the Zionists to execute their project of creating a mainly Jewish state without violating the rights of the original population. Morris argues in favor of violating these rights. The implications of this are clear and the message has been understood by the Palestinians: "We are more important than you. You should just make way for us. We know that we are hurting you and making you suffer, but it's good for us and we have the right. Besides, you people are primitive losers and what are you going to do about it anyway?"

My father's family was among those who fled their land in '48 in response to the violence. Like many Palestinians, he was and is Christian (Eastern Orthodox). And yet his feelings about his dispossession and impoverishment are the same as those of Muslims who suffered this fate. Although the Islamic religion is clearly and in my view unfortunately gaining in importance as a factor in this conflict, it is not significant to the original source of the conflict.

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Basically the Palestinians have been sacrificed, on the understanding (in the West) that something had to be done because of the Holocaust. I am knowledgeable about the Holocaust and understand the desire for a separate country. And yet I cannot accept being sacrificed. I can live as if I do, but in my heart there is both anger and despair at the thought that I am a less important person. I think I will never accept the sense of my unimportance, can never cede that my family and my father do not matter as much as Jewish people do, and that he was sacrificed for a good cause. Perhaps if someone were to apologize and make amends I could forgive what was done, but never excuse it as something for the greater good. To do so would be a form of suicide.

However, we continue to encounter the opposite attitude. Indeed, living in North America, whenever we have tried to tell our story and express our feelings, we have been called both terrorists and liars. We have been counseled to keep silent, to swallow our subordination and to feel ashamed of our feelings as violations against a suffering people. (Morris' book has been somewhat helpful to us in that people now acknowledge that my father was not lying in his account of what happened at the time.)

The points I am making are obvious, and that they still need to be made reveals the extent to which this debate has been distorted. These are questions of the human heart and of human interaction and are easily understandable by all. Morris invokes abstractions in this interview, as if they are rational and reasonable. They mainly reveal his arrogance.

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-- Darya Farha

I think it's depressing that a historian should be unable to look at events from "the other side."

Isn't it clear that claiming that Arab violence is due to inherent hatred of Israel, and owes nothing to Israeli killings of Arabs, is much the same as claiming that Israeli violence is due to racism, and has nothing to do with Arab violence against Israel?

Both claims are equally specious.

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-- Mujtaba Ghouse

I was impressed with Farah's disciplined interview of Morris. I read the original Haaretz interview last week and was really disturbed by it. But this week Morris writes his own piece, titled "I Do Not Support Expulsion." I find some of what Morris says about the legitimacy of past ethnic transfer horrifying, but one point he makes, which is very fair, is that it wasn't a one-way process. As he points out, anywhere Arab armies found Jews, they were treated similarly. To expect the Jews to act above that, well, it's clearly not realistic.

At times I wonder whether Israel will continue to exist, and I even question not so much its legitimacy but whether it might be better off someday as a bi-national state. "Better" in the sense that two very rich cultures (Jews and Palestinians) might actually create something good. But that's a utopian vision. It's not going to happen next year or probably in my lifetime.

As someone critical of Israel but supportive of its existence, I fear critics who because of terrible things Israel may do or have done totally demonize it. It's almost as if Golda Meir's myopic vision of the Palestinians has been adopted by the left, at times. Israel has no right to exist, for them. In their eyes it's just a bunch of displaced Europeans. Part of the reason that has happened is much of the Jewish left is European who hermetically (and selfishly) accept that reasoning. But the truth is the real culture of Israel is Sephardim, rooted in the Middle East and North Africa. The food, the music, the smells ... and the people. Benny Morris speaks from a position of a man who knows there's no Europe to return to, which may be why there's a desperation or courage in his outlook, depending where you stand. Personally, I think Israel's worthwhile survival will take a very different courage, the type reflected by those behind the Geneva Accords. But then I live in New York and am neither Israeli or Palestinian, just someone who wonders if these two peoples aren't the tragic psychic actors of all of the rest of the world's missed dreams and ambitious but understandable longing for space to "be."

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-- Jonathan Field

Christopher Farah's interview with Benny Morris is so full of misconceptions masquerading as accepted fact that it is hard to know where to start, so I will mention only the most obvious falsehoods.

Deir Yassin was not a massacre. It was a pitched battle. Deir Yassin was filled with Arab fighters and was an important base of Arab military operations. Fighting was fierce and the Jewish forces took heavy casualties. It was not a slaughter of defenseless Arab civilians by the bloodthirsty Jews as "conventional wisdom" has it. Besides, why are only Israeli "massacres" discussed? Does Farah not remember the murder of almost the entire Jewish population of Hebron by Arab pogromists in 1929 (almost 20 years prior to Deir Yassin)? The "massacre" sword cuts both ways.

Farah's parroting of Arab propaganda about Jewish "outsiders" stealing the land from the Arab natives shows how ignorant he is of basic facts. There was extremely heavy Arab immigration into Eretz Israel from surrounding countries during the Mandate period, actively aided and abetted by the British, who at the same time did everything they could to prevent Jewish immigration. Between 1922 and 1947, the Arab populations of Haifa, Jerusalem and Jaffa increased by 290 percent, 131 percent and 158 percent, respectively, primarily due to immigration. Yes, the Zionist oppression of the "indigenous" Arabs must have been horrible for them to have rushed all the way from Iraq and Libya to Eretz Israel, there to be magically transformed into native "Palestinians" who had been living there "since time immemorial." Rubbish.

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Farah should face facts: The Arabs were not displaced by the creation of Israel, they were displaced as a result of their failed war of extermination against the Jews. They tried to throw the Jews into the sea; instead the Jews threw them into the desert. This war was entirely of their own choosing, and everything Arafat does shows that they still have not given up. Morris is right. Israel owes the Arabs absolutely nothing.

-- Earl Hartman

Now, I wasn't there so correct me if I am wrong, but didn't the 1948 war start when the Arab states and forces invaded the proto-Israel? Didn't the Arab side open fire first and thereby initiate armed hostilities? Wasn't the Arab goal to capture and exterminate the entire Jewish population? With mere total expulsion of the Jews a distasteful second choice?

If you lose a war that you choose to start, don't you expect to pay for it? The Germans started World War II, they lost it, and 15 million German civilians were expelled from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Prussia, etc. Do they have a right of return? It seems to me that the Sudeten Arabs have the same right of return to Israel as the Sudeten Germans have to return to Czechoslovakia. Which is exactly no right of return whatsoever. Or am I wrong? -- as Bill O'Reilly likes to say.

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-- Joshua Banner

The article is interesting, although not as riveting as the Haaretz piece it arose from.

Farah has an unwritten, but perfectly clear subtext, as do all articles that Salon publishes on the Palestinian-Israeli "dispute." Farah's seems to be, although he never explicitly asks Morris about it, that Israel is illegitimate and has no right to exist. Is that actually Mr. Farah's position?

If so, and if he is American, how does he accept the legitimacy of the United States? How many "Native Americans" were "cleansed" or "transferred" and what does he think we should do about it?

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-- Steven Bobker

I read the interview with Israeli historian Benny Morris with great interest. The contradiction in Morris' thinking seems to be that, on the one hand, he recognizes that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 required terrible atrocities and war crimes, and that the decades-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel is also morally wrong, and yet he is "shocked, shocked, I tell you" to learn that some Palestinians (whom he insists in your interview on calling Arabs, ignoring the fact that they are specifically Palestinian) actually have the temerity to hate the Israelis who have tormented them for decades! The idea of it! After Israel conducted what Morris says was a campaign of ethnic cleansing against "the Arabs," some of them actually have the temerity to hate Israelis? After all Israel has done for them, how can they possibly hate Israel? They must, Morris concludes, be barbarians and savages, who should be locked up in cages! What other explanation is there?

The problem is, Morris' research shows that Israel has committed terrible crimes against the Palestinians. I don't believe there will ever be peace in the Middle East until Israel officially recognizes that these crimes which Morris has documented were committed, and makes at least some effort, however small and inadequate, to provide the victims with some recompense. Given that every Israeli government since the signing of the Oslo Agreement has continued to take Palestinian lands, how can Morris really be surprised that the Oslo Agreement failed to secure a lasting peace? Perhaps Morris is afraid that the Palestinians will someday be in a position to do to the Israelis exactly what the Israelis have done to the Palestinians, but given Israel's vast military power, that fear does not justify Morris' desire that Israelis should repeat the crimes that his own research shows past generations of Israelis committed against the Palestinians.

-- Glenn Brown

As Benny Morris must know, the Palestinian right of return cannot be waived by the Palestinian leadership or by other Arab states because by international law that right belongs to each refugee individually, and cannot be signed away by others.

Allowing the refugees to return to their homes would require an adjustment by Israel, but it is what making amends for 1948 requires. Various organizations and individuals, such as Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, and the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, have shown how return could be achieved peacefully. But, of course, Morris does not have to deal with any of that when, thanks to a climate of Arab-phobia, he can get away with a lazy portrayal of the refugees as motivated by bloodthirstiness and religious fanaticism rather than a basic human desire to return to their homes.

Those who would deny the Palestinian right of return should take up residency in the refugee camps themselves. Then their demand that the disenfranchised should continue to make all the sacrifices for the benefit of the privileged might sound a little less self-serving.

-- Richard Bartholomew


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