Benny Morris (born 1948) is an Israeli historian identified with the New Historians school, a group of historians who dispute the traditional Israeli view of the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Known for his work on the history of Palestinian refugees and his refusal to perform reserve duty in the West Bank, Morris was seen as an Israeli sympathizer of the Palestinian cause, and his work was cited and praised by pro-Arab writers. Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada Morris has increased his criticism of the Arab leadership, and has criticized "pro-Arab propagandists" for highlighting certain parts of his work while ignoring others. He has stated that the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the collapse of the 2000 Camp David peace talks were products of Palestinian-Arab decisions.
Benny Morris received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge. He worked for a number of years afterward as a foreign correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, where he covered the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Morris refused to do his mandatory military service in the Palestinian territories at that time. He ended up being jailed for his refusal in 1988. Morris is currently professor of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva. where he has worked since 1996. In 2005, he taught at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The book shows a map of 228 empty Palestinian villages, and attempts to explain why the villagers left. In 41 villages, he writes that the inhabitants were expelled by military forces; in another 90 villages, that the inhabitants panicked because of attacks on other villages, and fled. In six villages, he writes, the inhabitants left under instructions from local Palestinian authorities. He was unable to find out why another 46 villages were abandoned.
The book is a collection of essays dedicated to the Palestinian exodus of 1948 and subsequent events. It analyses Mapai and Mapam policy during the exodus, the IDF report of July 1948 on its causes, Yosef Weitz's involvement in the events, and some cases of expulsions that occurred in the fifties.
Efraim Karsh, professor of Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, has repeatedly stated that Morris uses his sources selectively and introduces ellipses that falsify the information. Other historians who read the same documents thus come to different conclusions.
Karsh's criticism of Morris and the New Historians is laid out in his Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians. Since the publication of the book, Karsh and Morris have engaged in heated dialogue sometimes characterized as a feud.
In an article entitled "Benny Morris and the Reign of Error," Karsh wrote that "Morris engages in five types of distortion: he misrepresents documents, resorts to partial quotes, withholds evidence, makes false assertions, and rewrites original documents.....Morris tells of statements never made, decisions never taken, events that never happened.....at times Morris does not even take the trouble to provide evidence..... He expects his readers to take on trust his assertions that fundamental contradictions exist between published accounts and the underlying documents.....he systematically falsifies evidence. Indeed, there is scarcely a document that he does not twist. This casts serious doubt on the validity of his entire work."
In a four-line answer to Karsh's criticisms, Morris wrote that "Efraim Karsh's article (...) is a mélange of distortions, half-truths, and plain lies that vividly demonstrates his profound ignorance of both the source material (his piece contains more than fifty footnotes but is based almost entirely on references to and quotations from secondary works, many of them of dubious value) and the history of the Zionist-Arab conflict. It does not deserve serious attention or reply.
Referring to Karsh's footnotes, Anita Shapira, Dean of Tel-Aviv University, argues that "thirty of his references actually refer to writings by Shlaim and Morris, and fifteen others cite primary sources, and the rest refer to studies by major historians..."
Later Morris gave more details, saying that Karsh "belabor[s] minor points while completely ignoring, and hiding from his readers, the main pieces of evidence" and argued that "In Fabricating, Karsh, while claiming to have 'demolished' the whole oeuvre, in fact deal[t] with only four pages of Birth. These pages tried to show that the Zionist leadership during 1937-38 supported a 'transfer solution' to the prospective Jewish state's 'Arab problem.'"
Shapira criticized Morris's answer to Karsh, writing that "[w]hoever dares to oppose or to criticize the pronouncements of these self-styled iconoclasts is savagely maligned."
Both Finkelstein and Masalha prefer the central conclusion that there was a transfer policy.
In a reply to Finkelstein and Masalha, Morris answers he "saw enough material, military and civilian, to obtain an accurate picture of what happened," that Finkelstein and Masalha draw their conclusions with a pro-Palestinian bias, and that with regard to the distinction between military assault and expulsion they should accept that he uses a "more narrow and severe" definition of expulsions. Morris holds to his central conclusion that there was no transfer policy.
Morris' regard for documentation is indeed commendable, were it not for his tendency to choose sources which support his views, while avoiding those document collections which contain information inconsistent with his principal arguments. His decision not to use the testimony of Israeli veterans is unfortunate, since some of them have spoken candidly about Israeli atrocities and expulsion of civilians at Deir Yassin, Lydda-Ramle and Jaffa.Morris' work relies exclusively on newly-released official Israeli documents; not all top-secret files were made available to him.
Morris changed his views in 2000 after the Palestinian rejection of President Clinton's peace accords and the beginning of the second intifada. Has called the intifada a "political-terroristic assault on Israel's existence (and also as an offshoot of fundamentalist Islam's ongoing assault on the West, in which Israel, unfortunately, figures as a front-line outpost)." Haaretz has stated that he intially went to research Ben-Gurion and the Zionist establishment critically but ended up identifing with them. Morris' disillusionment with the peace process has caused him to increasingly make statements commonly associated with the Israeli right-wing. He still self-describes himself as left-wing due to his support for the two state solution, but he has said that his generation will not be able to see peace in Israel. He has said, "I don't see the suicide bombings as isolated acts. They express the deep will of the Palestinian people. That is what the majority of the Palestinians want."
According to The Economist: "Mr Morris also said, in an interview that stunned his supporters, that Israel was justified in uprooting the Palestinian 'fifth column' once the Arabs had attacked the infant state, and that the number executed or massacred—some 800, on his reckoning—was 'peanuts' compared with, say, the massacres in Bosnia in the 1990s. On the subject of Israel's Arab citizens, Morris has argued:
The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt (after an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and biological missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen. If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified...
Morris calls the Israel-Palestinian conflict a facet of a global clash of civilizations between Islamic fundamentalism and the Western World, saying that "There is a deep problem in Islam. It's a world whose values are different. A world in which human life doesn't have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien. He also says "Revenge plays a central part in the Arab tribal culture. Therefore, the people we are fighting and the society that sends them have no moral inhibitions."
When a Haaretz interviewer called the 1948 Palestinian exodus "ethnic cleansing," Morris responded that "[t]here are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide—the annihilation of your people—I prefer ethnic cleansing." Morris has also wrote in the Irish Times in February 21, 2008, that "There was no Zionist 'plan' or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of 'ethnic cleansing'" and that "the demonisation of Israel is largely based on lies -- much as the demonisation of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies. And there is a connection between the two. Morris has criticized Ben-Gurion for not carrying out such a plan, saying "In the end, he faltered... If he had carried out a full expulsion - rather than a partial one - he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."
In an op-ed piece published in The New York Times on July 18, 2008, Morris wrote that "Iran’s leaders would do well to rethink their gamble and suspend their nuclear program. Bar this, the best they could hope for is that Israel’s conventional air assault will destroy their nuclear facilities. To be sure, this would mean thousands of Iranian casualties and international humiliation. But the alternative is an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland.