Benny Morris is perfectly aware what the word “Nakba” means. He does not, however, seem to have a problem with repeating it, seeing it as more appropriate for the 21st century and, in fact, a must. As can be concluded from his words, this might be “Nakba 2.0” – which will be a more intelligent and decisive version than the first one which occurred in Palestine during the War of 1948.
Morris, one of Israel’s most prominent historians, is famous for reviewing archive files on the forced displacement of Palestinians. However, he stopped short of using the term “ethnic cleansing” to refer to the Nakba, which turned most Palestinians into refugees. His work – along with that of other thinkers’ who became known as the “New Historians” – contributed to the divestment of Israeli propaganda, which had circulated claims about Palestinian refugees and the mass displacement of the Palestinian people.
However, Morris did not express principled positions. Rather, he rejected what happened only from a specific angle, which he decided to reveal later when he claimed that the ethnic cleansing was not finished. In this he differed from his other colleagues who showed a principled position and moral commitment, such as Ilan Pappé, author of Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).
Benny Morris makes a public appearance in the 21st century with blatant right-wing tendencies. Today, he speaks as if he was the ideological mentor of the far-right government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This political bias has massive significance. Morris is currently making use of his expertise and reputation as a prominent historian to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through underestimating the process or considering it as needed for the existence of the Israeli state. Morris believes that forced displacement or ethnic cleansing are not as bad as the whole world and the advocates of human rights, values, principles and charters believe it is. According to him, the only alternative to this choice is genocide.
Morris expresses growing existential concern about “the fate of Israel”. However, the concern here seems to be merely a clever excuse to justify the decisive behaviour that the ruling elites wish to adopt with regard to the Palestinian people, without taking morals into consideration. When it is about the question “to be, or not to be,” neglecting of values and the denial of obligations becomes a reasonable choice for such people.
Morris’ justification is the best interpretation for the expressions which terrify the Israelis and which were declared by the 70-year-old historian during an interview with Haaretz in January. In this interview – which was entitled “This place is fated to sink and the Jews will remain a persecuted minority and may flee to the U.S” – Morris was very pessimistic in his outlook. He said that “this place [Israel] will be a collapsing middle eastern country of an Arab majority and the Jews will remain as a small minority within a great Arab sea of Palestinians. A minority subject to oppression or slaughter”.
Morris chose to launch his warnings against this terrible fate on the occasion of his retirement from academic life. However, it is a familiar way to rekindle Israelis’ sense of existential danger, which is a typical introduction in Israeli mobilisation speeches that incites decisive and cruel actions against the source of the threat, represented by the Palestinian people subject to occupation and not “[former Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein’s chemicals” or “[former Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s holocaust,” or “the Iranian bomb,” for instance. This discourse therefore meets with rising fascist rhetoric in Israeli decision-making positions.
Morris’ conclusions seem ideal for Israel’s extremist ruling elite to adopt in order to trigger a final campaign against the Palestinian people – in addition to all that has been committed so far – under the pretext that “if we don’t kill them, they will kill us”.
In the interview, Benny Morris drew a monstrous picture of the Palestinians without daring to describe them as humans, just like every Israeli politician and military officer. This is perfectly appropriate to justify killing them and blaming them for their own fate. Morris is not only a historian; he is a brilliant advocate of forced displacement and ethnic cleansing. He clearly expressed this during an interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz in 2004, when he said: “The Jewish state would not have been able to rise until 700.000 Palestinians were uprooted. It was therefore necessary to uproot them.”
The impression that emerges from Morris’ successive positions over the years is that the failure to complete the task of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people was a serious flaw.
As a historian he is more likely to figure out that the survival of indigenous peoples in their country, without totally exterminating or displacing them, led to the end of all colonial occupations the world has previously experienced. This is because trying to establish absolute control over another people and subjecting them to the power of military occupation was not a rational choice in the past. How could it succeed now? Morris expresses this through clear demographic indicators, which depict the growing Palestinian population across Mandate Palestine (27,000 square kilometres, of which the West Bank constitutes only one fifth) at a pace larger than that of Jewish Israelis, despite all the generously-funded and tireless efforts to establish illegal settlements.
Morris’ demographic problem is not limited to the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip. Rather, he seems to be overtly distressed by the Palestinians who were forcibly given Israeli citizenship after the Nakba – the so-called “Arab-Israelis” or “Palestinian citizens of Israel” – and this feeling is shared by some ministers in Netanyahu’s government. Morris goes on using humiliating expressions that expose him as a racist. He treats most of the Palestinian people with a condescending attitude, that does not tolerate the logic of rights and justice.
Morris appears as an individual in the middle of an ideological trench, using his academic position and scientific expressions in favour of an unusual occupation project in this world. He acknowledged his right-wing political inclinations and even seemed enthusiastic about Netanyahu, just two months before the general election on 9 April.
What Morris deliberately does not mention is that Netanyahu’s government – which includes settlers and figures known for their fascism – has already put the forcible displacement of Palestinians from certain towns on its own program. This concerns at least Area C of the strategically important West Bank, with Khan Al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village located east of Jerusalem which has repeatedly been slated for demolition, serving as but one example. Israeli politicians, including the resigned Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been bidding to incite the forced displacement of the Bedouin people. In November, Netanyahu announced: “Khan Al-Ahmar will be evacuated very soon. I will not tell you when, but get ready for it,” but the problem is that the implementation of forced displacement in this strategic area will not be a picnic.
The Palestinians in Khan Al-Ahmar remain steadfast, despite the harsh living conditions imposed upon them. They have launched a civil struggle that reached the world, which in turn has supported them. They continue to cling to the place that the occupation authorities want to desert for settlement expansion and to strengthen control of the land, that should remain free of Palestinians. The Israeli authorities act similarly with some 45 Palestinian villages that are not recognised in the Negev desert region as well. They destroy some of them frequently to attempt to displace their inhabitants, as in Al-Araqeeb and Umm Al-Hiran. Meanwhile the northern city of Umm Al-Fahm, occupied in 1948 along with its Palestinian population, has been subjected to decades of successive threats of mass deportation.
More generally, the Israeli government continues to pursue its policy of slow and quiet forced displacement, which is based on settlement expansion, restrictions on Palestinians’ livelihood, confiscation of land, control of their water and economic resources and intensification of restrictions on residential construction and urbanisation. Israel also causes trouble for them with daily arrest campaigns and the huge number of checkpoints separating towns and villages from one other, in addition to the “Separation Wall” built across the occupied West Bank, which the occupying authorities have continued to build despite the world’s objections to its construction, including the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Israeli political leaders are monitoring the influence of these conditions on Palestinians in the West Bank, such as Knesset Member (MK) Bezalel Smotrich, who is following with great interest how the reality of the occupation forces nearly 20,000 Palestinians in the West Bank to leave annually. However, he is also betting on trends to resolve the demographic situation, speaking of 30 per cent of the West Bank population who wish to emigrate, that is, they are more likely to be displaced with more push factors.
These politicians who have a convulsive stance are not satisfied with watching the consequences of the occupation’s policies. They are rather pressing for a decisive final reality without the Palestinian people on this land. Smotrich and his colleagues in the Jewish Home party adopted, in September 2017, a “Decisive Plan” that, according to them, would be “less expensive” than Israel’s wars every few years. The plan called for driving large numbers of Palestinians out of their country and intensifying settlement in the West Bank, with the aim of “determining a firm and eternal fate” in a state that should be only Jewish, as well as a decisive deal on the part of the Israeli authorities and the army with all those who reject the occupation.
This fascist plan received ideological support from “academic” sites as well, as suggested by the statements of Benny Morris, who gives enough views to cause alarm bells around the world. For example, he underestimates hundreds of massacres committed by Zionist forces during the Nakba – such as the Deir Yassin massacre near Jerusalem – which is particularly symbolic in the collective memory of the Palestinian people. He also thinks that forced displacement is a lighter option than extermination.
Morris’ inappropriate statements do not come in isolation from important developments. In fact, Morris speaks under the rule of a US president “chosen by God for this position,” as White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CBN in January. This is description that is consistent with the view of US and Israeli circles, which see President Donald Trump as “an envoy from heaven for Israel”. Unlike his predecessors, Trump declared Jerusalem the Israeli capital and transferred the US embassy there. His associates are taking part in public settlement activities and his administration is trying to starve and impoverish the Palestinian refugees and push them to emigrate by restricting UNRWA’s resources. Also, under his rule, the Israeli Knesset passed the Nation-State Law, which expresses the racist tendencies in Israeli decision-making positions.
Benny Morris agrees with these trends with his prejudiced tone even to the Palestinians, who make up nearly a quarter of the population of his country and whose nationality has been forcibly imposed on them, and who have no place in the identity or culture of this state according to racist law itself. The historian does his ideological job in a country that refuses to set its borders. Some of its decision-makers are eager to embark on decisive ethnic cleansing campaigns, and who knows, someone in Washington commenting on “Nakba 2.0” may say “God wanted that!”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.