Israeli history's 'definitive' rewrite

Morris, Benny; 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. Yale University Press, 2008. RRP $32.50. ISBN 9780300126969

1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, by Benny Morris, cover imageBenny Morris is Israel's best-known revisionist historian. His history of the Palestinian refugee problem, first published in the late 1980s, became widely accepted as the definitive account of the Palestinian refugee tragedy.

He demolished both the traditional Israeli and Palestinian versions of the exodus; the former suggesting that the Palestinians left voluntarily at the behest of their leaders, and the latter that the Palestinians were forcibly driven from their homes by organised and premeditated Israeli violence.

Instead, Morris substituted a middle-ground explanation which defined the Palestinian refugee exodus as a by-product of war, rather than of 'design, Jewish or Arab'.

His findings significantly influenced both Israeli historiography and education, and public attitudes to Palestinian national claims. As a result, more and more Israelis and Diaspora Jews began to accept the legitimacy of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, more recently, Morris has changed his spots. The failure of the Camp David negotiations in July 2000, Palestinian demands for a right of return to Green Line Israel, and the violence of the second Palestinian intifada have convinced him that the Palestinians have returned to what he considers the impractical extremism and rejectionism of the 1947/48 period.

Morris now believes it is unlikely that the Palestinians will ever accept a two-state compromise with Israel.

Morris's new book returns us to the foundational war of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He divides his narrative into five discrete chronological periods: the historical background from the 1880s to the 1940s, the United Nations debate and vote for partition in 1947, the civil war between the Jews and Arabs inside Palestine from November 1947 to May 1948, the conventional war between the Jews and the invading Arab states from May 1948 to January 1949, and the armistice agreements negotiated from January to July 1949.

Morris argues from the beginning that the 1948 war was the inevitable outcome of the long-term Jewish-Arab conflict. He discusses the early Zionist settlers of the 1880s and their belief in the legitimacy and morality of a Jewish return to the ancient land. He cites their negative attitudes to the native Arabs, and their determination to take control of the country.

In response, he notes the quick emergence of Arab hostility including recurring outbreaks of violence which would eventually culminate in the full-scale uprising of 1936. He argues that much of this violence was driven by religious symbols and rhetoric as well as by modern nationalist agendas, and that this jihad or holy war component contributed then and now to the intractability of the conflict.

Morris covers the detail of the key historical events: the unsuccessful 1937 Peel partition plan, the 1939 British White Paper which severely restricted Jewish immigration on the eve of the Holocaust, the emerging pro-Zionist attitudes within the wartime US Government, the post-war Zionist revolt against British rule including the various acts of terrorism by the Irgun and the Stern Gang, and the famous Exodus Affair.

He discusses in great detail the UN deliberations including the pressure and outright bribery applied to some member countries. But he argues that the key deciding factor was the strength of the humanitarian argument advanced by the Zionists in favour of a Jewish state as a fair response to centuries of Jewish suffering culminating in the Holocaust.

The Zionists also displayed flexibility in accepting the compromise partition proposal. In contrast, the Arab delegates adopted an extremist approach. They refused to consider any solutions which recognised Jewish national rights in Palestine, and regularly threatened war as a response to partition. There were associated anti-Jewish riots throughout the Arab world.

The civil war began on 30 November 1947, and consisted of two stages. The first stage which lasted till the end of March 1948 involved mostly local small-scale battles during which the Palestinians largely held the initiative, and the Jews were struggling to hold onto the territory allocated to their state.

In the second stage from early April, the Jews went onto the military offensive, and crushed the Palestinians. This offensive was based on the famous Plan Dalet which emphasised securing the borders of the Jewish state, and protecting them against a potential external invasion.

By mid-May 1948, the Palestinians had largely been marginalised not only as a military, but also as a political factor. Many had fled or been driven out of the country.

According to Morris, the Palestinians enjoyed some numerical and geographical advantage, but the eventual Jewish victory was not surprising given their better preparation for war, more advanced training, more organised central command and control, and higher proportion of army-age males. Most of the young Palestinian men living outside the immediate war zone simply failed to participate in the war.

Five Arab states invaded Israel in May 1948. But this was an invasion driven mainly by the pressure of public opinion, and lacking in serious preparation, strategic coordination or a unified command structure.

To be sure, the Arabs enjoyed significant initial advantages in manpower and weaponry. But the Jews had superior training and command structures, and enormous motivation to protect their homes and lives. Moreover they were able during the course of the war to significantly increase both their manpower. They also increased their weaponry via exports from Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia.

Morris devotes discrete space to each invading army: firstly the British-trained Jordanian Arab Legion who posed the most serious military threat, then the Egyptians, the Iraqis, the Syrians, and the Lebanese. He also discusses the specific air and naval wars.

He argues that by the time of the first truce, which was to last from 11 June until 8 July, it was evident that the Israelis had won, given that the invaders had failed to conquer any significant territory.

Later the Israelis went on the offensive, and managed to seize control of the Galilee and the Negev. The eventual armistice talks would conclude with recognition of Israel's control of significant territory beyond the borders of the original UN partition plan. But the Arabs refused to negotiate peace treaties.

Morris reiterates his earlier explanation of the Palestinian refugee tragedy as multi-layered, complex and closely linked to the particular stages of the war.

During the first stage of the civil war, about 100,000 Palestinians fled or were displaced. Many were wealthy and middle-class families from mixed cities who left to avoid conflict and violence. Others were women and children who were evacuated at the suggestion of local and regional leaders.

There were virtually no direct Jewish expulsions at this time. In contrast, the implementation of Plan Dalet in April 1948 saw the expulsion of Palestinians from hostile villages that came under Israeli control. However, Morris rejects charges by some pro-Palestinian historians that Plan Dalet was a blueprint for the expulsion of the Arab population.

During the conventional war, the Israelis systematically expelled Arabs from conquered territories. Others simply fled as the invading Arab armies retreated. Most probably hoped to return within a short time either via military or political intervention.

The Israelis later made a firm political decision to prevent the refugees returning on the grounds that they would potentially constitute a fifth column, and would also be a demographic and political threat to the stability of the new state.

The Arab states refused to absorb or permanently resettle the refugees partly for propaganda purposes, but also because the refugees themselves argued that they had a right to return to their former homes.

Morris argues somewhat contentiously that the expulsion of the Palestinians was justified because the Arabs may have planned to do far worse to the Jews if they had won the war. He cites numerous statements by Palestinian and Arab leaders calling for the expulsion of most of the Jewish population prior to the war, and also refers to the complete expulsion of Jews from the small number of settlements or neighborhoods conquered during the war.

But this conclusion seems in the absence of any firm evidence on Arab plans to erroneously equate political rhetoric with firm military intentions.

Morris is on firmer ground in noting that the war also indirectly created a second major refugee problem with over 500,000 to 600,000 Arab Jews fleeing or being expelled from their homes. Most migrated to Israel, but others resettled in western countries. Many later experienced discrimination from the largely European-dominated Israeli leadership, but ironically became fervent right-wing voters and opponents of compromise with the Palestinians due to their experiences of persecution in the Arab world.

The key message from Morris's book is the continuing and passionate divide between the conflicting Israeli and Palestinian narratives over responsibility for the 1948 war.

For the Israelis, the key contemporary factor was the still-recent Holocaust and the realistic fear that the Palestinians and/or the Arab States could perpetrate a similar massacre in the Middle East. Although they were successful in the war, they suffered 5700 dead (constituting one per cent of the Jewish population) and over 12,000 seriously wounded.

The Israeli consensus was that the Palestinians became refugees only because of the war they and their Arab allies had initiated, and therefore the blame lay with those who had caused the conflict.

For the Palestinians, the principal and understandable concern was that the creation of a Jewish State would lead to their dispossession and exile. They saw the war as an act of self-defence to protect their national inheritance. But the war resulted in the destruction of their society and the exile of much of their population. They continue to see the events of 1948 as an injustice that requires some form of reparation.

Overall, this is a beautifully written and comprehensively researched book. There are a few minor omissions in the bibliography. For example, Morris does not directly respond to the contentious 'ethnic cleansing' thesis advanced by the anti-Zionist Israeli author Ilan Pappe in his two recent books. Nor does he cite the key works by Israeli historians Moshe Gat and Maurice Roumani on the respective Jewish exoduses from Iraq and Libya.

And surprisingly he makes no reference to local author Chanan Reich's book Australia and Israel in discussing the Australian approach to the 1947 UN vote.

But these caveats aside, this dispassionate and nuanced history is likely to be widely accepted as the definitive account of the 1948 war.

Benny Morris is speaking to a public forum at Monash University in Melbourne this Sunday night, 14 September. Details

Official site (Yale University Press)

Philip MendesDr Philip Mendes is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Monash University, and the author or co-author of six books including Jews and Australian Politics.

Topic tags: Philip Mendes, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, Benny Morris, ISBN 9780300126969



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Existing comments

With all due respect to revisionist historians and conflicting narratives, I would like to suggest, both respectively and assertively, that concerning the endlessly ongoing tragedy of Israel/Palestine, only two words, here and now, in this year need be examined.

These two words are: OCCUPATION and DECADES.

And really, only one question needs helpfully to be asked, here and now.


david hicks | 12 September 2008  

I’ve been thinking about the rights and wrongs of the situation in Israel for some time. My understanding is that a Zionist state was carved out of the land of Palestine after WW2, which was subsequently ‘legalised’ by a vote in the UN General Assembly. Guilt for what Europeans had allowed to be done to their Jewish fellow European citizens, plus the highhandedness implicit in over two centuries of colonialism allowed for the property rights of a non-European indigeneous population to be disregarded.
The subsequent history may be summarised in the words of Donald Rumsfeld: “stuff happens".

Zionism derives from the same 19th century racialism as did the White Australia policy, South African apartheid, and various other early 20th century nationalistic extremes. It has no place in the ideal world toward which humanity should strive to move.

However impractical it may seem, the only just solution to the Israel/Palestine problem is a one-state solution.

Would a National Sorry Day be a good start?

David Arthur | 12 September 2008  

I became aware of the Israeli "new historians" only after reading The Israel Lobby by Mearshimer & Walt, a dispassionate analysis of the disproportionate power of the pro Israel lobby in the USA. It was surprising for me to learn that some of the most strident criticism of the Zionist program comes from Israel itself.

Western countries esp the USA have little stomach for conducting a public debate regarding the contribution of the reflexive Western support for Israeli govt actions to the overall gloomy state of middle east affairs. There is essentially no moral critique of the unrelenting expansion of colonies into palestinian territories. Often such questioning is denounced as being anti-Semitic, which belies the moral weakness of the case for Israeli expansionism such is the reliance on ad hominem attacks

Elias Nasser | 13 September 2008  

The reason that the Israelis don't want the one state solution of Palisra and that the Palestinians might want it, is down to fecundity. If Arabs and Jews were to agree to live together in one state sharing equal rights, Arabs would quickly outnumber Jews and Palisra would become a modern secularist state.

Claude Rigney | 13 September 2008  

The reason that the Israelis don't want the one state solution of Palisra and that the Palestinians might want it, is down to fecundity.If Arabs and Jews were to agree to live together in one state sharing equal rights, Arabs would quickly outnumber Jews and Palisra would become a modern secularist state.

Claude Rigney | 14 September 2008  

My published review was about the history of the 1948 War, but since most correspondents seem to wish to talk about contemporary events, I will attempt to respond accordingly.

Any serious path to conflict resolution has to be based on finding some mid-point between the two competing national narratives. This means no to proposals for the violent elimination of the existing State of Israel as implied by both Arthur and Rigney, and equally no to a Greater Israel that excludes Palestinian national rights as suggested by some supporters of Israel.

It also means dealing with the Middle East as it really is. This means acknowledging (contrary to Rigney’s illusions) that Israel is the only existing secular liberal democratic state in the Middle East, and that much of the political culture of the rest of the region is based on exclusivist notions of Islam and Arab ethnicity. Hence the virtual total cleansing of Jews from most of the Arab world.

These facts are confirmed by Nasser’s point about much criticism of Zionism coming from the robust democratic debate within Israel itself. I am, however, surprised that he only became aware of the works of Benny Morris and other revisionists so recently. Morris’s first book, the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, was published to universal publicity in 1988, and had a significant influence on myself and other Jewish peace activists in Australia and elsewhere.

But this takes us back to the original point. We need an Arab Benny Morris who will provide a dispassionate and evidence-based account of the 1948 War based on currently inaccessible Arab and Palestinian archives. This will allow us to further understand not only the causes of the Palestinian refugee tragedy, but the reasons why the Palestinians were wrongly manipulated (or tricked) by the Arab states into believing they would be able to return even though the war had been lost.

Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes | 14 September 2008  

I want to thank Dr Mendes for his response.

I am only an amateur historian and have only kept up sporadically with the historical literature, hence my ignorance of these Israeli historians. I am therefore appreciative that his review of Benny Morris has appeared in Eureka Street.

I think Israel's democratic credentials are really battered and bruised by their violent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (democratic countries don't do this sort of thing) and their well documented 2nd class status of Arab Israelis.

Elias Nasser | 15 September 2008  

Mr Mendes has provided some valuable response to us submitting commentators. However, I fear that he has misunderstood my personal view when he writes "... violent elimination of the existing State of Israel as implied by both Arthur and ...".
Violent elimination is abhorrent to me, as it no more than a continuation of this tragedy.
The one-State solution that I see as the only way out of Herzl's nightmare is an act of peace and acceptance by Palestinian and Israeli. It is in the recognition of common humanity that hope lies, nowhere else.

David Arthur | 15 September 2008  

Dear Dr. Philip Mendes, Re: your response of 14 September.

I read the submitted comments of Messrs Arthur & Rigney repeatedly, but could not find, by any stretch of my imagination, implied "proposals for the violent (sic) elimination ( sic) of the existing state of Israel" as you have stated.

How can this be I wonder?

I emailed your article to a friend & asked her for feedback on it & on my own submitted comments. Her reply was:

"We can all run around in (academic) circles spouting facts and non-facts til we are red in the face ... or dead on the Occupied ground, as it were, all in the defence of our own beliefs/needs. What you have done in your simple but not simplistic comment is direct the reader back to the 'here and now' ... the problem is now, and here. I interpret your comment as a redirection from who is to blame ... to today ... well done.

I am curious to hear if you have a reflection to profer on the words: OCCUPATION & DECADES, &, maybe even on the question: "What stops the zionist state returning the occupied territory?"

david hicks | 16 September 2008  

I would refer both Mr Arthur and Mr Hicks to my earlier piece, Israel/Palestine: A One-State Solution Means No Solution in New Matilda, 4 March 2008 which clarifies that one-state means in fact a Greater Palestine which suppresses Israeli national rights.

And see particularly the following paras: "The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews will never willingly agree to give up the power of state sovereignty, and return to being a powerless minority. This consensus operates for two reasons. Firstly, there is the historical oppression of Jews in both the West culminating in the Holocaust, and in the East culminating in the systematic expulsion of Jews from Arab countries in the 1950s. Jews regard statehood as essential for defending their right to live free from actual or potential scape-goating as a minority group irrespective of the current decline of anti-Semitism in most of the global community.

Secondly, there has been 60 years of the Israeli-Arab conflict including ongoing Palestinian and Arab political and military attacks against the State of Israel and its civilian population. Whatever may be said about the complex causes of this conflict and the division of responsibility, most Jews believe that the Palestinians would attempt to slaughter the Jewish civilian population if they ever had the opportunity and means to do so. This fear may or may not be reasonable, but there is no way that the Israeli Jews will expose themselves to the possibility of that threat being fulfilled.

Philip Mendes | 16 September 2008  

I would add specifically to David Hicks, who may or may not be the famous survivor of US custody:

1) Be careful with your terminology. If you wish to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then refer to Israel not the "Zionist state" which is traditional Arab propagandist language.

2) There is currently a "shelf" peace agreement being negotiated between the Israeli Government lead by Tzipporah Livni who is likely to be the next PM, and the Palestinian Authority. Media reports suggest that Israel has agreed to withdraw from approx 95 per cent of the West Bank including an evacuation of all settlements East of the settlement wall. This agreement to end the occupation may or may not be signed, but any balanced analyst would acknowledge the potential barriers are on both sides. There are the Israeli settlers and their political and military supporters. And there is Hamas which refuses to recognize or negotiate with Israel, or accept any co-existence with a non-Islamic state.

Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes | 16 September 2008  

Dear Dr Mendes

You know very well the basic cause for the ongoing nature of this conflict lies in the denial of the legitimate aspiration of the Palestinians to live a life free from the constraints applied to them by daily by the state of Israel.

Terrorism is the fruit of the current failed policy to engage moderate Palestinians. The state of Israel ultimately must compromise if it really wants the peace that it claims to desire.

To suggest that the Palestinian people at large, if granted the freedom that most Israelis enjoy will proceed to a wholesale slaughter of Israelis is ludricrous if not slanderous. Your language "may or may not be reasonable" to try to have a bob each way does not absolve you from this baseless assertion.

What is becoming clearer each day is that Israel is now the new South Africa of the apartheid era.:

Elias Nasser | 16 September 2008  

Dear Doctor Mendes,

Let us all, correspondents and human beings together, be both honest & courageous with each other here and now in this ongoing discussion around the ongoing tragedy of Israel/Palestine.

Off the subject, you refer (16 Sept.) to "the famous survivor of US custody." My Chambers Dictionary defines CUSTODY as: "The protective care or guardianship of someone or something." Visit Guantanamo Bay one day, & ...honestly Sir, what dictionary are you using?

Returning to the subject, I respectfully & assertively, here & now, challenge you for a third time to reflect on THE question: "What STOPS the zionist state returning the occupied territory?"

You will know, as a widely & well read person, that, as the vast majority of historians consistently write, "NOT EVEN the USA endorses the Occupation of Palestine by the Israeli Defence Forces."

Not one other country on our Planet Earth does either. Not one!

As a demonstratively intelligent, privileged & potentially a
courageous person, you may - or you may not - answer my question!

I have not passed year 12. Yet. You are a Doctor of Philosophy. What stops you, so far, from answering my simple question?

My question is, again, after decade, after decade, after decade, after decade- & that's ONLY since 1967: "What stops the zionist entity returning the occupied territory."

David Hicks

david hicks | 17 September 2008  

Both Elias Nasser and David Hicks wish to simplistically demonise the Israeli state and people, and ignore any violence or extremism from the Palestinians or Arab states that contributes to the ongoing conflict. These one-sided views will not bring peace to the Middle East, or provoke any serious or constructive dialogue within Australia.

Yesterday I attended Benny Morris' workshop at Monash University. He provided a brilliant exploration of the complex history of the conflict, noting difficulties involved in challenging some of the founding myths of his own state. Equally, he discussed examples of Palestinian extremism from Haj Amin Al Husseini in the 1930s to contemporary Hamas. Those who really wish to understand the conflict should go and attend his two upcoming talks in Sydney.

Philip Mendes | 17 September 2008  

Dr Mendes seems to base his arguement, and his historical focus, on these two assumptions...that:

"Jews will never willingly agree to give up the power of state sovereignty, and return to being a powerless minority."

He bases this on 3 things - 1) historical oppression; 2)state sovereignty being essential for their right to live freely (How is the current Israeli state sovereignty/freedom defined differently than the Palestinian?);
3) and that somehow, Israel will return to being a “powerless minority” - (I don’t think ‘return’ needs to be used here? - powerlessness is acted out in many ways)

"...Whatever may be said about the complex causes of this conflict and the division of responsibility...the Palestinians would attempt to slaughter the Jewish civilian population if they ever had the opportunity and means to do so. This fear may or may not be reasonable, but there is no way that the Israeli Jews will expose themselves to the possibility of that threat being fulfilled....."

"...Whatever may be said about the complex causes of this conflict and the division of responsibility...".

Regardless of the academic apologetics of historical responsibilities behind the current situation, or how much he recommends Benny Morris books or workshops; it comes down to and is reiterated by Mendes himself, that the current uncompromising attitude of Israel is an "us vs them" stance. It is based on understandably, human fears and feelings, and is very similar psychologically, to, as Nassar has already pointed out, the whites of South Africa pre breakdown of official apartheid...who had their own reasonable or not, concerns, and revisionists hard at work to justify their position...

J. Chapman | 17 September 2008  

Dear Philip, I do not seek to demonise Israel and its people nor do I wish to canonise Palestinians or Arabs in general. I am an Australian descended from Lebanese Christians and feel an affinity and sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people.

No one would deny the nightmare of the Holocaust and most thinking people understand the desire for and now the reality of the state of Israel. That does not, a priori, give Israel any moral superiority. Israel needs to be judged on its action: the prophets of Israel called for justice and this is what the Palestinians are denied by Israel. To state this truth does not mean the Israeli people are demons. Their government does not serve them well.

Ultimately Israel will not change its policy of intimidation and refusal to negotiate with Palestinians until it is forced to the table by pressure from its hitherto steadfast ally the USA.

As Mearshimer and Walt state until the US realises that its unquestioning (and staggering economic/military/political) support of Israel does harm to its own (US's) interests, then the situation in the middle east is unlikely to change.

Elias Nasser | 18 September 2008  

Dear Doctor Mendes,

A counselling pschotherapist, or similar, in early conversation with a dependent, say a drug addicted person, most helpfully asks the "what stops you" question: What stops the patient CHANGING their behaviour.

No one could say that the BEHAVIOUR of Israel down the many decades has brought much joy to Planet Earth: not even to the very citizens of that sadly conflicted entity itself. Certainly no joy to the millions our fellow human beings whose lives have been lost, destroyed and cruelly diminished as a consequence of that behaviour.

My "Israel Question", asked respectfully of you three times now has been, "What STOPS the Zionist State from returning the Occupied Territories." The question 'cuts to the chase'; it gets to the core dilemma; it is figural in the field; IT PERMITS OF SOME SOLUTION. I venture to suggest that it is surely 'askable' between honest, courageous peaceful people of good will.

Qwynne "Climate Wars" Dyer writes (2004): For more than 30 years, Israel's basic dilemma has been to decide whether it needs to make painful concessions to the Arabs and abandon cherished ambitions in order to get a durable peace settlement and start integrating itself into the region; or whether it can forever get away with depending on its own military strength and its powerful U.S. ally and just ignore the wishes of the Arabs."

Indeed. It is not easy to return stolen territories. It is a most painful concession. Giving, letting go is hugely difficult. To change our behaviour is extraordinarily challenging. To forego ambition is discomforting in the extreme.

I have a new "Israel Question": Do you believe that Israel can continue its historic behaviours forever: for all future time?

david hicks | 18 September 2008  

The last three comments suggest that my previous caution about the uselessness of demonising one side has been ignored. J. Chapman throws in the red herring of the Israel/South Africa analogy which was first pushed by Soviet propagandists in the 1960s. This attempt to equate racism with a national conflict completely ignores the specific political culture of the Middle East.

Nasser says he sympathises with Israelis, but condemns their government for refusing to negotiate with the Palestinians. Has he not read about Camp David in July 2000, and Taba in January 2001? Is he not aware that Tzipporah Livni and Mahmoud Abbas have been negotiating for the past 12 months. Most Israeli leaders of the past 15 years since the signing of the Oslo Accord have been trying to negotiate a two-state solution. But both sides have to compromise for conflict resolution to occur.

David Hicks continues to stereotype and essentialise Israelis. Anyone who visits Israel will discover a robust democracy including a vast diversity of views from left to right on every issue.

Philip Mendes | 18 September 2008  

I have an answer to Mr Hicks’ question. What stops the 'Zionist entity' returning the land is because Jews believe the land is rightfully theirs.


Because the disputed territory was under Jewish sovereignty for some 1500 years before suffering occupiers and colonisers for a further 2000 years when the Jews/Israelis returned.

Given this, I have a question for you, Mr Hicks. You consider that Palestinians being occupied for decades justifies their cause. Yet Jews endured occupation and almost total dispossession for millennia. So why do you believe that one group of occupied people is more deserving than another?

geoffrey zygier | 18 September 2008  

I agree with David about the occupation and its duration as the key issues. But there's a lot of context he leaves out. How to persuade Israelis and Palestinians that a unitary state is the only way to go? My own view: a unitary state is indeed desirable, but only achievable through two states for the two peoples. Not a comfortable thought for the more impatient among us!

Separate but related: How does Mr Hicks think Israelis feel about Hamas directly quoting from the "Protocols of Zion" in its Covenant? Is this helpful in the quest for justice?

Steve Brook | 18 September 2008  

One of the finest musicians & most loved humanitarians of last century was the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who, in an ABC Radio interview reflected on the state of Israel thus:

"The tragedy of the middle east is that Palestine, the most highly educated and culturally developed country in the area became a nation of refugees and was so severely disadvantaged as a consequence of the formation of Israel."

I have a copy of a book by his father, Moshe Menuhin. (Beirut 1969.) Moshe Menuhin was Director of the Jewish Board of Education in San Francisco & Bay Area. In his preface he writes:

'I have entitled this book The Decadence of Judaism in our time, but I almost prefer an earlier title, "Jewish" Nationalism: A monstrous historical crime and curse. Please take your choice. Both titles mean the same thing to me.'

His very final words, on page 579, after a '1969 Postscript' titled 'Quo Vadis Zionist Israel', are, 'My best wishes and hopes go to the new Anti-Zionist Organisation in spite of its unfortunate name.'

It was and is still possible, in both Australia and USA to be an anti- Zionist Jew.

Continuing this noble musical tradition, the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, a Jew and once husband of the 'cellist Jacqueline Dupres, features in a documentary (details below).

Peace and coexistence IS possible in Occupied Palestine. The medium of music demonstrates a way, Palestinians deserve a viable state. The stolen territories must be returned. Knowledge is the Beginning.

The Australian National Academy of Music presents another popular Fridays@3 installment with a feature documentary screening of Knowledge is the Beginning. This 2-hour feature is a focus on the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an orchestra designed to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and pave the way for a peaceful and fair solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Friday 19 September 3pm at the Academy, free entry.

david hicks | 19 September 2008  

David: I once read a book by a far Right former Irgun member Samuel Katz called Battleground. It expressed diametrically opposed views to Menuhin. Neither book sheds any light on the Middle East conflict. We all need to read serious historians like Benny Morris, not propaganda from either extreme.

Philip Mendes | 19 September 2008  

David: yes there are a few anti-Zionist Jews just as there are some Palestinians who collaborate with the settler movement, some Aborigines who oppose land rights for indigenous Australians, and historically some American Blacks who colluded with the slave movement and/or the segregation movement. There are also some human beings who bite dogs. Most of these groups are a small minority, and in no way representative of their larger community or ethnic/national group.

Philip Mendes | 19 September 2008  

Dear Dr. Mendes: You write, " I once read a book by a far Right former Irgun member Samuel Katz called Battleground. It expressed diametrically opposed views to Menuhin."

I would dearly hope that Moshe Menuhin's views are diametrically opposed to a "far Right former Irgun member." In fact I would make the untested assumption that they are.

"Neither book sheds any light on the Middle East conflict," you continue.
I venture to disagree: All books (on the subject) shed some light on the Middle East conflict. Many books not even on that subject shed light on the Middle East conflict. ('Conflict resolution' books come to mind).

My hunch is that the two mentioned, Samuel Katz & Moshe Menuhin, shed powerful beams of light even today on the subject. They may even provide a solution to the way out of this sad and sorry situation for all the peoples there.

The solution has, obviously, to me, got to start with "RETURNING THE STOLEN LANDS." Do you not agree? How can a resolution start with anything less? How?

"We all need to read serious historians like Benny Morris," you assert. Indeed. In Gwynne Dyer (above), the last words under "Israel's Dilemma," we may read Morris quoted from The Guardian, October 3, 2002 thus:

"One wonders what Ben-Gurion - who probably could have engineered a comprehensive rather than a partial transfer in 1948 ... would have made of all this."

'This' as used here being Israel-Palestine today.

His quote is continued: "... had he gone the WHOLE HOG (my caps.), today's Middle East would be a healthier less violent place" Indeed again, almost certainly.

Is this what our human hearts would wish for: 'comprehensive transfer'?

At a 'book launch of My Guantanamo Diaries I asked the author a 'magic button' question, about the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. A long thoughtful pause ensued. Here's a 'magic button' question for all of us: Imagine there's a magic button on the wall; press it and ANY wish we make WILL COME TRUE. (Remember it is magic!) What wish does our 'head' make; what wish does our 'heart' make?

My heart wishes for justice and peace and happiness for all the Occupied; peace and happiness for all the Occupiers.

david hicks | 19 September 2008  

In previous correspondence, I have endeavoured to state that, in my view, the most just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli situation would be a unitary state, in which the right to life and personal liberty would be guaranteed for all citizens. Such a state would, by definition, be a secular state; the extent to which religiosity has compounded/conflated/compromised/confused tribal identity fixations demonstrates the extent to which it is no longer a desirable attribute in this world.
Dr Mendes refers to a previous essay in which he clarifies “that one-state means in fact a Greater Palestine which suppresses Israeli national rights”, to which I reply that, because the peasantry of 1st century Palestine were left in place after the crushing of the Revolt, “Israeli national rights” are very much the rights of a (belatedly) returned urban elite to the land of their forebears, and that they would lord it over their country cousins once more. As a resident of regional Australia, I am acutely aware of the tendency of capital city types to put on their airs and graces whenever we yokels besmirch their sidewalks with our presence.
Dr Mendes goes on to point out the poltical impossibility of the one-State solution that I see as the only just solution. It may well be impossible, but that doesn’t stop it being the only just solution.

David Arthur | 20 September 2008  

David Arthur writes about the impossibility of achieving a just solution in the Middle East outside a unitary state. Agreed, but there's no way of achieving justice all in one hit. That's why I advocated two states as a stepping stone to one state, an approach that at least takes into account the present mutually-resentful mindset of both Jews and Palestinians. Nevertheless, if I were young enough to have personal heroes, Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said would head the list.

Steve Brook | 20 September 2008  

As David argues, many Palestinians believe that justice can only be achieved by the elimination of the existing State of Israel, and its replacement by an Arab State of Greater Palestine. However, this would mean an absolute injustice for the Israelis who would almost certainly experience political and national oppression from the Arab majority, and possibly genocide. Similarly, the West Bank settlers believe that justice for them requires a Greater Israel, but Palestinians reject this solution as unjust for them. Any just solution means finding a mid-way point between the demands of the two peoples. That means two states, rather than an exclusively Arab or Jewish state dominating the other nation.

Philip Mendes | 21 September 2008  

I forgot to add that David's advocacy of a secular Greater Palestine is a contradiction in terms. The entire Arab world conflates nationality and religious beliefs. As we have seen in Gaza, any Palestinian state is likely to be at the very least Islamic by nature. Even Fatah are very heavily influenced by religious symbolism.

Philip Mendes | 21 September 2008  

Dr Mendes, reasonably and accurately asserts, in his reply (Sunday 21 SEP-2008): 'any just solution means finding a mid-way point between the demands of the two peoples.'

I, for one,couldn't agree more. Let us focus though on what might be a midpoint between two groupings of REASONABLE peoples. The VAST majority of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations are, though BOTH trapped in their respective nightmares, reasonable peoples. HOW can it help to focus on extremist positions on EITHER 'side' of the conflict. Surely there is little hope of major compromises between extremist positions.

Between reasonable people of courage & honesty & good will, willing to engage in a dialogue, in time, ANYTHING is possible. Witness South Africa, Northern Ireland and similar recently. Would we not all agree ?

What could be a more reasonable beginning than to focus on the potential to return the stolen lands? Is any one game to respond to:
"WHAT stops the zionist-State, returning the Occupied Territories?"
Can humanity, here, reasonably aspire to anything LESS than giving up and giving back that which was won in war, was and is stolen, and is now occupied?
And let us again acknowledge, that NOT EVEN the USA endorses or approves of this multi-decade long brutal occupation of Palestinian lands.

Dr. Mendes, a 'magic button' question: "How much of the (1967) Occupied Territories would you wish to be returned? All or some?" Remember this is magic and your wish will come true!

david hicks | 22 September 2008  

Good on you Steve Brook: you not only mention but also "agree about the occupation and its duration as the key issues". I personally feel disgusted that anyone would quote from the "Protocols of the elders of Zion." How do we KNOW that 'Hamas does so in its Covenant?' Please enlighten me.

Geoffrey Zygier, you ask, "why do you believe that one group of occupied people is more deserving than another?" We can do nothing to alter who did what to whom 3500 or 2000 of 60 or 41 years ago. We are all of us now in 2008. That is what we can work with: the here and the now. We can't alter significantly the here and now horror show in Gaza, the world's biggest ever outdoor prison. We may send a few hundreds of dollars off occasionally to The Free Gaza boats taking hundreds of hearing aids in for Gazan children deafened by nightly sonic booms. I can read widely, educate myself and protest in writing about these many decades long injustices and encourage others to do likewise. We can only do what we can do. We may visit any prison in Australia Geoffrey Zygier, but you and I are not allowed to visit Gaza. Try!

Dr.Mendes refers again to demonising "the Israeli state and people." In all the comments after his book review, I read no demonising words. References abound to the BEHAVIOURS of the Zionist state, but no details are given: we may read about these in our press daily.

No one has yet mentioned apartheid states, separation walls, ethnic cleansing, illegal settlements, creeping annexation, house demolitions,bulldozers, collective punishments, Geneva conventions, asymetrical warfare, kill ratios,malnutrition, rubber bullets, cluster bombs, extra judicial assassinations, disproportionate response, check points, racism, humiliation, grief and loss, Sabra and Shatilla, Sharon. Now they are mentioned!

And for balance let us also mention Katusha rockets currently, suicide bombing recently, violent resistance to occupation endlessly, and stone throwing at tanks: decade after decade after decade after decade...

David Hicks | 22 September 2008  

David:once again you use the demonising language of the Arab states way back in the 1970s - Zionist state or Zionist entity - which was intended to ignore the reality of Israel, and delegitimize its existence. Similarly, some hardline Israelis describe all Palestinians without exception as barbaric terrorists.

We need to use language that humanizes the other side, and seeks if possible to find common ground. The Israelis want peace and security, and the Palestinians want the territory of the West Bank to form an independent state. That is hopefully where some two-state compromise between the competing nationalist narratives can be found. My views on the details of a solution are stated in my earlier article in Eureka Street on the West Bank settlements which is available directly below.


Philip Mendes | 23 September 2008  

Legal advisers acting for David Matthew Hicks (of Guantanamo Bay notoriety) have advised that the David Hicks appearing in the comments section of Eureka Street is not the David Matthew Hicks for whom they act.

The Editors | 23 September 2008  

The review suggests the key question for Morris is: Who is to blame for the 1948 war? The reviewer goes on to say that the key Israeli factor was the still recent Holocaust. Out of fear that the Palestinians would persecute them, it was in their best interests to strike first.

Really, who can blame them? I mean, after the Holocaust, who would have thought that the persecuted would turn persecutors?

We cannot constantly be reminded of the Holocaust and deny the Nakba. Or is the Nakba part of the traditional Arab propagandist language?

"Giving 95% of the Occupied West Bank back including settlements east of the settlement wall?" Looking at the floor plan for a prison, you will notice they also have 95% of the facility. Is this freedom?

Damien | 24 September 2008  

In reply to "David Hicks": the Hamas Covenant is easily accessible. Just do a Google search.

Steve Brook | 24 September 2008  

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