Once the great chronicler of Israel's war crimes, he now laments Ben-Gurion's failure to clear all Arab inhabitants from Palestine in 1948. What has become of Morris and the Israeli left?by David B Green / August 22, 2004 / Leave a comment
The Israeli historian Benny Morris achieved a modicum of fame in 1988 with his first book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. It was one of the first works to look objectively at the factors that led 700,000 Palestinians to leave their homes during the 1947-49 war that followed the partition of mandatory Palestine by the UN. It is seen as a landmark because, by citing places and dates, it provided evidence that members of Israel’s army had carried out war crimes and that the actions of Israeli forces had intentionally contributed to the flight of the Palestinians. It also blamed the Arab states for having rejected the UN plan that called for the creation of both a Jewish state and an Arab one, but the major significance of the book for Israelis was that it challenged the official Zionist story that the Jews had done all they could to keep the Palestinians from leaving. Morris became a self-loathing troublemaker in the view of some jingoistic Israelis, and a hero both for Israelis on the left and for supporters of the Palestinians. But in February 2002, nearly 18 months into the al-Aqsa intifada, the Guardian published a long piece by Morris in which he effectively told British readers that he was sending back his membership card of the Israel left. He had, he wrote, become convinced that Yasser Arafat, symbol of “his people’s miseries and collective aspirations,” had no intention of reaching a compromise with Israel. He had reached this conclusion, he said, not only because of Palestinian behaviour since the failed Camp David summit in July 2000, when Arafat had turned down a “generous offer” from Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, but also after having spent most of the 1990s researching Righteous Victims, a book on the century-long history of the conflict. “By the time I had completed the book,” Morris wrote, “my restrained optimism had given way to grave doubts,” as he began to understand that a common thread of rejection of the Jewish national movement ran through the entire history of Palestinian nationalism.
Morris described himself as disillusioned, but not as someone who had changed his basic sense of what peace might entail. His belief that the two-state solution was the only practical and morally correct possibility, and that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank…