Opinion |

Benny Morris, You're Wrong: Jews and Arabs Can Live Together. They Already Do

Benny Morris is convinced that what prevailed in the past will also exist in the future. As a historian, he should know this isn’t the case, not forever

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A flag combining elements of the Palestinian and Israeli flags on display at a rally in Tel Aviv, August 2018.
A flag combining elements of the Palestinian and Israeli flags on display at a rally in Tel Aviv, August 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

“Gideon Levy is mistaken regarding the past, the present and, it seems to me, also the future,” historian Benny Morris wrote in Haaretz. The past is Morris’ field of expertise, so I will only mention in response to his argument that from the very beginning the Palestinians opposed Zionism, seeing it as a colonialist power that invaded their country and dispossessed and occupied them. That really is the truth from their perspective, which is hard to refute. Neither biblical title to the land nor a divine promise nor the Holocaust needs to interest them.

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Even in regard to the present, I will only comment on the ease with which Morris dismisses the cruelty of the military dictatorship in the territories, which is indeed among the worst in the world. Where else are there, for over 50 years, nightly raids on homes in which citizens, including children, are snatched from their beds? In what other democratic country are there millions of people without citizenship?

But the main problem with Morris’ position is his prediction for the future, spelled out in an interview with Haaretz: “This place will decline like a Middle Eastern state with an Arab majority,” he said. The Jews will remain a “persecuted or slaughtered minority. That’s a description of a situation that leaves no option besides utter destruction, without addressing the causes of the situation.

>> 'Israel will decline, and Jews will be a persecuted minority. Those who can will flee to America': An interview with Benny Morris

Morris is convinced that what prevailed in the past will also exist in the future. As a historian, he should know this isn’t the case, not forever. He describes the future as the twin of the present. Even worse, he views it through the glasses of race and arrogance. If it’s the Arabs that Morris is describing, and they remain like that forever, he’s right. It’s the end of the world, but there is another possibility.

Morris views the present, in which a nation is fighting for its freedom, including with violence, like every nation in history, and concludes that this is how they will always be. He sees a nation that has never been treated fairly and concludes that that’s how it will remain forever. They will always kill. Whether under occupation and while suffering injustice or whether they are accorded justice and equality, they will always steal cars, always murder their women, always act savagely.

After all, the Arabs are natural-born killers, so there is no possibility here of a country with equal rights, where they live with the enlightened, advanced Jews. Only someone sitting at a Paris café can believe in the fantasy of a one-state solution, Morris writes. But a single state has existed for the past 52 years, it’s just that the situation has not been democratic. From my home in Ramat Aviv, the former Arab village of Sheikh Muwannis, I would like to propose another possibility.

You don’t need to be an optimist in order to believe in it. Morris is convinced that the Arabs will never forgive Israel for what it did to them. The Jews quickly forgave the Germans for much more horrible crimes. The blacks in the United States and in South Africa forgave the whites. France and Germany became allies right after World War II.

It’s only the Palestinians who won’t forgive. A historian should know that things can be different, that if Israel would take moral responsibility for its actions and atone and make amends and pay compensation and conduct itself respectfully, they would forgive it.

It’s true that democracy in the Arab world does not inspire hope, but the Palestinians have proven that they can act differently, in elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in the territories and to the Knesset within Israel. They have never had a full opportunity to demonstrate this because have never been spared Israel’s occupation.

With all of their problems, the mixed Arab-Jewish cities Haifa and Jaffa are living proof of the possibility of a different kind of life. Israel’s hospitals, universities and soccer leagues could also be a sign of the future. But when you are an ultranationalist racist, certain that you are facing inferior savages, there is nothing to talk about or with whom — and the conclusion is that the apocalypse awaits. How convenient: There’s no hope, so there’s no need to fight for anything. We can continue to abuse and to wait for the bitter, unavoidable end.

True, they’re not Norwegians. And we, Benny Morris? Are we Norwegians? Is our corruption Norwegian? The religious rule? The ignorance? The roads? The occupation? The day we become Norwegians, when we treat the Palestinians equally and justly, you might be surprised. They too may become Norwegians, if that’s what you wish for.

And then maybe you too will agree to live with them. I would prefer to give them a chance instead of continuing to oppress them and to engage in deception with talk of a two-state solution, and then either sink into decline or flee to the United States.

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