Friday, February 4, 2011

Benny Morris does History

Benny Morris has read Kai Bird's Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978. The Economist reviewed the book a while back, at which point I understood I wouldn't be putting it on my reading list. Morris' review, on the other hand, is simply history as done by a professional, so it's worth your time:
From this point on, to the best of my knowledge, practically nothing that Bird tells his readers about the Arab-Zionist conflict conforms with the facts of history. And I am not talking about matters of interpretation. Take the Palestinian revolt of 1936-1939 against British rule (and the Zionist enterprise). “Initially,” says Bird, “their protests were entirely nonviolent. They demanded free elections, based on majority rule … As the months rolled by, strikes and peaceful demonstrations gave way to escalating violence.” This is nonsense. From the first, from the gang-style execution of two harmless Jewish drivers on the Anabta-Tulkarm road on April 15, 1936, which marked the start of the revolt, and the subsequent chain of deadly attacks in Jaffa, there were daily shootings and minings directed against the Jewish settlers and the British rulers of the land. Had Bird simply looked at the almost daily dispatches from Palestine in the London Times from the spring of 1936, he would have discovered this. And this has nothing to do, again, with interpretation or opinion—whether the revolt was justified or wise, whether the Palestine Arab cause was legitimate or not. These are questions of fact, of historical accuracy.

Morris himself has of course written many books on Israel's wars, all of which are worth reading. If you'd like to choose one, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001offers a fine overview of the first 120 years of the conflict.


Silke said...

Kai Bird's book made the rounds quite some time ago and way back then I podcatched him in an extended interview and concluded his was just propaganda in the vein of all those gracious misunderstood and lots of other mis... Arabs.

Question for Yaacov:

Did Muslims at any time up to WW1 decide that now it would be smart to stop expanding? Done anything remotely resembling what the Roman empire did while still going strong i.e. like Hadrian's Wall or the Limes or that decision I dimly remember about leaving the Parthians alone?

Bryan said...

I read Kai Bird's book. The man grew up among and identified with Arabs. He claims that reading Cecil Roth's "History of the Jews" made him understand why Israelis seemed to him to be so--angry, desperate? I can't remember how exactly he described the Israelis, but it was not only unflattering but definitely negative.

Anyway, his understanding of the conflict is basically "Jews want a state because they're oppressed," and thus anything that looks like Jews oppressing other people disturbs him, because he simply doesn't understand why Israel exists.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather read Efraim Karsh. He sticks to the facts

Anonymous said...

I would pick Morris over Karsh anytime, even though i am a fan of Karsh. Morris is simply more thorough.


Silke said...

Leslie Gelb on Egypt

First, most of the American talkocracy is now so utterly intoxicated withprotestocracy, which they call democracy, that they outright neglect the enormous trials of getting from the streets to a real democracy. It's hard as hell, and the process lends itself to hijacking by extremists.
The history of venomous domestic and foreign-policy pronouncements by the MB should keep us all awake at night. And never forget that the murderers of the great President Anwar Sadat were Muslim Brothers embedded in the army. All who ignore this history are naïve, best suited to cable-TV commentary, not policymaking.
I'd like to believe that, if I were an Egyptian, I would be in the streets with the protesters. I'd be mad as hell with Mubarak and would want to get rid of him as quickly as possible. But that wouldn't make me or my fellow mobsters democrats. Generally, one cannot count on mobs, no matter how nice or liberal or unfilled with hatred, to produce democracies.
To my friends in the talkocracy, I have to say that trying this approach is far better than pretending that the protestocracy can somehow magically transform itself into a democratic government. They have no organized political parties and, alas, no experience with governing.

Anonymous said...

Yaacov -

Thanks again for this link. It was good reading for shabbat. It so disturbs the well-intentioned, clueless, earnestness of people like Bird.

Silke -

The Gelb piece is really worthwhile.


Mo said...

I would read BOTH Karsh and Morris. Both are interesting writers, and both have viewpoints worth reading. Morris has come such a long way from his revisionist (idiot) roots, and made, IMHO, some real t'shuvah for some of the terrible harm he caused with his early works. But something changed him during the intafada, and he's...seen some of the "light". Karsh's book "Palestine Betrayed" is superbly documented and almost...almost made me feel sad for how utterly manipulated the average Palestinian was, by the Palestinian leadership, by other Arabs and Muslims...and they really did lose out. Having said that, oh well, too bad. Karsh doesn't promote the Palestinian cause, either, just tells the fact.

I wasn't going to read Morris, based on his reputation, but as I said, he changed. Read Karsh too.