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Benny Morris' Dystopian Predictions About Israel's Future Miss the Point

I find myself grateful to Benny Morris. In his blindness and his pessimism, he has once again reminded me of the hope that exists

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A protester draped in the Palestinian flag along the Gaza border, January 18, 2019.
A protester draped in the Palestinian flag along the Gaza border, January 18, 2019.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

I’ll always be grateful to Benny Morris; he opened my eyes. His book “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949” shook up people who were raised on the Zionist narrative. Suddenly there was a Nakba; suddenly there was a national disaster, a mass expulsion, ethnic cleansing. And we hadn’t been told anything about it.

Thirty years later, Morris is prophesying the end. “This place will decline like a Middle Eastern state with an Arab majority,” he said in an interview with Ofer Aderet. “The Jews will remain as a small minority within a great Arab sea of Palestinians — a persecuted or slaughtered minority.”

But the person who described the beginning so well is giving a deliberately erroneous description of the end. Morris hasn’t mustered the courage to discuss the direct connection between the beginning and the end, between what the Jews did — since the dawn of Zionism, without letup — and what he foresees as the end of their state.

>> 'Israel will decline, and Jews will be a persecuted minority. Those who can will flee to America' <<

Horrifying predictions of the end of the state have been with it from the beginning. The Arabs will multiply, expel us and slaughter us. This was very effective as Zionist propaganda: the few against the many, David versus Goliath, they’re coming to destroy us.

But in reality, the opposite occurred. The Jews multiplied, dispossessed, expelled, killed and sometimes slaughtered.

Morris makes light of this. “A degree of oppression, which here and there included minor crimes,” is how he described decades of military dictatorship, one of the cruelest in the world today, a huge and ongoing war crime.

The historian who regretted that Israel didn’t expel all the Arabs to the other side of the Jordan River in 1948; the researcher who presented two choices, ethnic cleansing or genocide; the person who proposed imprisoning the Palestinians in a cage, because “there are wild animals there,” now can’t figure out “how we extricate ourselves from this.”

To his credit, he does understand that the two-state solution is no longer an option. To his discredit, he blames this entirely on the Palestinians. The man who accuses the Arabs of a dearth of self-criticism has been revealed as a characteristic Zionist, one who always blames the Arabs for everything.

Here’s his solution: “Play the diplomatic game to retain the West’s sympathy.” If that’s the only thing left for Zionism to do, the Zionist project is indeed finished.

But that isn’t the only option; Morris’ dystopian predictions are simply blind to the others. Anyone who papers over the connection between Zionism’s abuse of the Palestinians and their hatred of Israel is incapable of imagining that altering one half of this equation might alter the other.

According to Morris and his ilk, the Arabs are born to kill. Every Palestinian gets up in the morning and asks himself, “Which Jew shall I slaughter today, and which shall I drive into the sea?” It’s a kind of hobby. And if so, there’s nothing to talk about and no one to talk to.

This lying school of thought frees Zionism of all guilt and Israel of all responsibility. In any case, anything Israel does will be met with slaughter; it’s only a question of time.

Yet the historian who described how it all began, who understood that the beginning entailed a terrible original sin — dispossessing and expelling hundreds of thousands of people, then forcibly preventing their return, as he detailed in his next book — isn’t willing to connect the cause with the effect.

But perhaps, Benny Morris, there are other possibilities. First, what has lasted for 70 years, including 50 years of occupation, might be able to survive for another 100 years, or perhaps even 200. The Palestinians are weaker than ever, Israel is stronger than ever, the world is losing interest. The criminal status quo will emerge victorious and be perpetuated. That’s one possibility.

Yet there’s another, more encouraging possibility —– that when the Palestinians belatedly gain equality and justice, they will no longer be the same Palestinians. That under conditions of freedom and dignity, which they have never had, it will become possible to establish a different reality and a different relationship in a single democratic state.

Morris has never thought about that, and neither has Zionism. Because if the Zionists thought about it, they might have an obligation to make it happen.

So once again, I find myself grateful to Morris. In his blindness and his pessimism, he has once again reminded me of the hope that exists, even if it’s still far from being realized.

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