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Benny Morris
בני מוריס
Benny Morris wearing light blue open-necked shirt, looking left of camera and appearing to speak
Morris in 2007
Born (1948-12-08) 8 December 1948 (age 75)
Ein HaHoresh, Israel
Scientific career
Institutions Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Thesis The British Weekly Press and Nazi Germany During the 1930's (1977)

Benny Morris (Hebrew: בני מוריס; born 8 December 1948) is an Israeli historian. He was a professor of history in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Beersheba, Israel. He is a member of the group of Israeli historians known as the "New Historians", a term Morris coined to describe himself and historians Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappé and Simha Flapan.

Morris's 20th century work on the Arab–Israeli conflict and especially the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has won praise and criticism from both sides of the political divide. Regarding himself as a Zionist, he writes, "I embarked upon the research not out of ideological commitment or political interest. I simply wanted to know what happened."


Morris was born on 8 December 1948 in kibbutz Ein HaHoresh, the son of Jewish immigrants from the United Kingdom.

His father, Ya'akov Morris, was an Israeli diplomat, historian, and poet, while his mother, Sadie Morris, was a journalist. According to The New Yorker, Benny Morris "grew up in the heart of a left-wing pioneering atmosphere." His parents moved to Jerusalem when Morris was a one-year-old. He later accompanied his parents to New York, where his father was an envoy in Israel's foreign service.

Morris served in the Israel Defense Forces as an infantryman, including in the Paratroopers Brigade, from 1967 to 1969. He saw action on the Golan Heights front during the Six-Day War and served on the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition. He was wounded in 1969 by an Egyptian shell in the Suez Canal area and was discharged from active service four months later, but continued to serve in the military reserve until 1990. He completed his undergraduate studies in history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received a doctorate in modern European history from the University of Cambridge.

Morris served in the 1982 Lebanon War as an army reservist, taking part in the Siege of Beirut in a mortar unit. In 1986, he did reserve duty in the West Bank. In 1988, when he was called up for reserve duty in Nablus, he refused to serve on ideological grounds, as he viewed Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories as a necessity and did not want to take part in suppressing the First Intifada. He was sentenced to three weeks in military prison and was imprisoned for 19 days, with the remaining two deducted for good behavior. He was subsequently discharged from reserve service.

From 2015–18, Morris served as the Goldman Visiting Israeli Professor in Georgetown University's Department of Government.

He lives in Srigim (Li On) and is married with three children.

Journalism career

After graduation from the University of Cambridge he returned to Jerusalem and worked as a correspondent for The Jerusalem Post for 12 years. He covered the 1982 Lebanon War for The Jerusalem Post, a war he also fought in as a reservist.

While working at The Jerusalem Post in the 1980s, Morris began reading through Israeli government archives, at first looking at the history of the Palmach, then turning his attention to the origins of the 1948 Palestinian expulsion and flight. Mainstream Israeli historiography at the time explained the 1948 Palestinian exodus from their towns and villages as having been driven by fear, or by instructions from Arab leaders. Morris found evidence that there had been expulsions in some cases. Another event that Morris revealed for the first time based on his archive study was the contacts between the Israeli officials and the Lebanese Kataeb Party figures, including Elias Rababi, in the period 1948–1951. The related news reports were also published in The Jerusalem Post in 1983.

Political views

Critics allege that Morris's first book,The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949, is biased. Morris believes they failed to read his book with moral detachment, assuming that when he described Israeli actions as cruel or as atrocities, he was condemning them. In fact, he supports Israeli actions during 1948 such as the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinian Arabs, claiming that the only alternative to expelling them was the genocide of the Jewish population in Israel. In a 2004 interview with Haaretz conducted by Ari Shavit, Morris said that Israel was justified in uprooting the Palestinian 'fifth column' after the Arabs attacked the infant state, and that proportion should be employed when considering the "small war crimes" committed by Israel.

When Shavit called the 1948 Palestinian exodus "ethnic cleansing", Morris responded, "[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 criticised David 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." He expressed sympathy for the refugees but argued that after the Palestinians and Arab states had attacked, there was no choice but to expel them: "I feel sympathy for the Palestinian people, which truly underwent a hard tragedy. I feel sympathy for the refugees themselves. But if the desire to establish a Jewish state here is legitimate, there was no other choice. It was impossible to leave a large fifth column in the country. From the moment the Yishuv was attacked by the Palestinians and afterward by the Arab states, there was no choice but to expel the Palestinian population."

Morris told Shavit that his views changed in 2000 after the Palestinian rejection of President Clinton's peace accords and the beginning of the Second Intifada. He had originally viewed the First Intifada as a legitimate uprising against foreign occupation, and was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the occupied territories as a reservist. In contrast, he has characterized the Second Intifada as a war waged by the Palestinians against Israel with the intention of bringing Israeli society to a state of collapse. According to Morris, "The bombing of the buses and restaurants really shook me. They made me understand the depth of the hatred for us."

Morris told Shavit that he still describes himself as being left-wing because of his support for the two-state solution, but he believes his generation will not see peace in Israel.

On the subject of the potential expulsion of Israeli-Arabs, he stated that "in the present circumstances it is neither moral nor realistic. The world would not allow it, the Arab world would not allow it, it would destroy the Jewish society from within. But I am ready to tell you that in other circumstances, apocalyptic ones, which are liable to be realized in five or ten years, I can see expulsions."

Morris called the Israel–Palestinian conflict a facet of a global clash of civilisations between Islam and the Western World in the Haaretz interview.

He sees the Jews as the greater victims.

His work has been criticised by Arab writers for failing to act on the evidence he found of forced evictions.

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times in July 2008, Morris wrote: "Iran's leaders would do well to rethink their gamble and suspend their nuclear program.

In July 2019, Morris has sharply criticized the restrictions under the Netanyahu government of access to historical documents related to the 1948 Palestinian Arab exodus, referring to them as "totalitarian."

In a 2019 interview with Haaretz, Morris took a pessimistic view of Israel's future, arguing that the Palestinians would not compromise and that ultimately "a situation in which we rule an occupied people that has no rights cannot persist in the 21st century, in the modern world". He claimed that as soon as the Palestinians did have rights, Israel would no longer be a Jewish state, and that it would descend into intercommunal violence with Jews ultimately becoming a persecuted minority. According to Morris, "the Palestinians look at everything from a broad, long-term perspective. They see that at the moment, there are five-six-seven million Jews here, surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs. They have no reason to give in, because the Jewish state can't last. They are bound to win. In another 30 to 50 years they will overcome us, come what may."

Criticisms of Morris' post-2000 views

Commenting on the post-2000 reversal of position by Morris, Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote that Morris' more recent "thesis about the birth of the Palestine refugee problem being not by design but by the natural logic and evolution of war is not always sustained by the very evidence he himself provides: 'cultured officers ... had turned into base murderers and this not in the heat of battle ... but out of a system of expulsion and destruction; the less Arabs remained, the better; this principle is the political motor for the expulsions and atrocities' [quoting from Morris' major 2004 work: 'The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited']".

Ari Shavit, senior correspondent at Haaretz, commented on Morris' justification for the expulsion of the Arabs in 1948 by contrasting (the more recent) "citizen" Morris with (the earlier) "historian" Morris, and noting that, at times "citizen Morris and historian Morris worked as though there is no connection between them, as though one was trying to save what the other insists on eradicating."

Published works

1948 and After

1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians 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. Although Morris dismisses the claim that the Palestinians were systematically expelled due to orders from Israeli officials, he nevertheless cites an IDF Intelligence Report that concludes that 70% of the exodus was caused by Israeli forces and 'Jewish dissidents.

The IDF report lists: 'the factors that precipitated the exodus in order of importance—

  1. direct, hostile Jewish [Haganah/IDF] operations against Arab settlements.
  2. the effect of our [Haganah/IDF] hostile operations on nearby Arab settlements
  3. Operations of the Jewish dissidents [the Irgun Z'va'i Leumi and Lohamei Herut Yisrael]'

Collectively these 3 factors were considered to be responsible for causing 70% of the exodus, according to the IDF report. Furthermore, Morris states 'the report makes no mention of any blanket order issued over Arab radio stations or through other means, to the Palestinians to evacuate their homes and villages' despite as Morris states the IDF 'monitoring Arab radio transmissions'.

1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War

In 1948, Morris gives a detailed account of the war between various factions that year that caused the creation of the modern state of Israel. Yoav Gelber writes, "1948 is a praiseworthy achievement of research and analysis, the work of a historian unwilling to rest on his already considerable laurels." Gelber disagrees with some of Morris's analysis, in particular with the idea that the 1948 war was more a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam than a nationalist struggle. He also argues that Morris overestimates Israel's military strength, and disagrees with Morris about the aims of King Abdullah of Jordan.

One State, Two States

In One State, Two States, Morris contends that there is no two-state solution to the Middle East crisis, and that the one-state solution is not viable because of Arab unwillingness to accept a Jewish national presence in the Middle East and cultural differences including less Arab respect for human life and rule of law. He suggests the possibility of something like a three-state solution in the form of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan.

The Thirty-Year Genocide, Turkey's Destruction of its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924

The book describes the Ottoman\Turkish destruction of the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian communities by the successive Ottoman, Young Turks' and Atatürk regimes, in which some two million Christians were murdered by their Muslim neighbors.

List of publications

  • The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949, Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN: 978-0-521-33028-2
  • Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services, with Ian Black, New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1991. ISBN: 978-0-8021-1159-3
  • Israel's Border Wars 1949–1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993. ISBN: 978-0-19-829262-3
  • 1948 and after; Israel and the Palestinians, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994. ISBN: 0-19-827929-9
  • Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist–Arab Conflict, 1881–1999. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2001 [Original in 1999] ISBN: 978-0-679-74475-7
  • Correcting a Mistake: Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel, 1936-1956, Am Oved Publishers, 2000.
  • The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003. ISBN: 978-1-86064-812-0
  • The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN: 978-0-521-00967-6
  • Making Israel (ed), University of Michigan Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-472-11541-9
  • 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War, Yale University Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-300-12696-9
  • One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, Yale University Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-300-12281-7
  • The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey's Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924 (co-authored with Dror Ze'evi), Harvard University Press, 2019. ISBN: 978-0674916456
  • Sidney Reilly: Master Spy, Yale University Press, 2022. ISBN: 978-0-300-24826-5

Awards and recognition

  • 2008: National Jewish Book Award in the History category for 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Benny Morris para niños

  • Exodus of Palestinians in 1948
    • 1948 Palestinian exodus from Lydda and Ramle
    • Causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus
  • History of Israel
  • Palestinian refugee
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