Return to the fold

Posted: 11/3/2009 1:48:00 PM
Author: Avi Becker

Return to the fold
by Avi Becker
Published in: Haaretz October 26, 2009

In a defeated tone and in sharp contrast to the fanfare that heralded its beginnings, the era of the new historians, or what is known as the post-Zionist era, has come to an end.

The historical debate between Zionists and anti-Zionists hasn't changed, but it is no longer possible to hide behind claims of a Zionist conspiracy to expel Israel's Arabs and ethnic cleansing of the area west of the Jordan River.

It seems that a group of historians, who actually did not offer any new insights into Zionist historiography, hid behind a fictitious structure of post-modernist realizations that became a system for distorting proofs and rewriting facts.

The person who laid the foundation for historical post-Zionism, Benny Morris, is also the one who undermined it and brought about its demise with his own hands. Morris founded the New Historians' school and created the infrastructure for post-Zionist ideology that took over a substantial part of academic writing on the Israeli-Arab conflict. But he gradually refuted the essence of his arguments and in effect closed the book on the entire revisionist writing that tried to present a "different" Zionist history.

His two most recent books, "1948" which will soon be published in Hebrew and was released last year in English, and "One State, Two States," which was released this year, completely contradict his arguments and the factual basis for his revolutionary historical approach.

More than anyone else, Morris provided the historical sources for the argument that the State of Israel was born as a result of a conspiracy to carry out the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

His books and articles provided the basis for an indictment of the State of Israel, something that helped the Palestinian and Arab leadership reject all peace efforts right after the Oslo Accords, at Camp David in 2000 and in discussions of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's peace proposal in 2008.

The narrative built by the New Historians changed the parameters of political negotiations: A peace agreement is not meant to correct the 1967 "occupation" and create a framework for territories in exchange for peace, but to atone for the atrocities of the nakba. It became apparent to all that the main obstacle is the problem of the right of return to all parts of the State of Israel.

Morris did not make any shocking revelation when he argued that during the War of Independence there were also incidents of killing and expulsion of the civilian population. His wrongs as a historian focused on overlooking the uncompromising Arab hatred and the dynamic of war that persisted for 18 months in civilian areas, the siege of Jewish cities and communities and the constantly reiterated threats of annihilation.

Then suddenly, 20 years later, Morris discovered that the Arabs had declared a jihad against Zionism already back in 1948. He explains his new approach as stemming from the opening of archives, including the Israel Defense Forces' archive, which were closed to researchers until now. He also adds that "in the current book, I placed the refugee problem within the overall context of the War of Independence," and with the help of recent studies, "I tried to present a new and comprehensive description of the war, and primarily of the connections between the military processes and the diplomatic processes."

"A new description"? The exact opposite, in fact. Morris returns to what was so detested by the New Historians, or as they put it: to the canonical version of the official Zionist narrative.

He feels no need to apologize for presenting a sharp indictment of all of post-Zionism, claiming that "historians tended to belittle the importance of the religious rhetoric during the war," and the central role of "religious motivation."

The dismissal of the threats of jihad was intentional and critical for the rewriting in order to turn the nakba into a "holocaust", but the jihad was apparent to all: threats of annihilation were heard from all sides and even from the dais of the UN in 1947 and 1948.

The mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al-Husseini repeated it over and over again; and religious scholars in Cairo issued an official manifesto calling for jihad two days after the resolution on the partition plan was passed on November 1947.

The translation of the religious order into military action was the invasion of the Arab armies, which were called the Arab Liberation Army and the Jihad al-Mukades (Holy War) Army.

The new writings also question attempts to debunk "the few against the many myth" that present the IDF in 1948 as the most organized and strongest army in the Middle East, while overlooking the assessments of everyone: the majority in the interim Jewish government prior to the establishment of the state, the Arabs, the British and the Americans, who all thought the Arabs would defeat the Jewish army in Palestine.

Finally, Morris returns to one of the most important arguments in the historical context and clarifies that the 1948 war created two refugee problems: Jews and Arabs.

The Jewish refugees, originally from Arab countries, explains Morris, are a clear product of the war, after pogroms and persecutions (including threats of destruction) on the part of the Arab regimes.

As for the responsibility of the Jewish side, Morris makes a correction: Many of the Arab refugees left of their own accord and the others were not expelled but "moved to flee" amidst the chaos of the war and the threats of jihad, and in effect he defends the right of David Ben-Gurion to expel even more given the threats of jihad.

The new Morris is even less apologetic than the Zionist historians and stresses the difference is, of course, that Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees and the problem disappeared, whereas the Arab countries did not absorb the Palestinian refugees and the problem has not been resolved to this day.

The writer spent two years as a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University, where he taught about the Israeli-Arab conflict. He now teaches diplomacy at Tel Aviv University and international law at Ono Academic College.