[Marxism] 'Diagnosing Benny Morris": a profound view of the settler-colonial mind
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Feb 5 13:38:42 MST 2004
'The following article is very worthwhile. I know I have included
more than the list managers would prefer, but I think it is very
valuable. Frankly I hope noone who is interested misses reading the
whole article because the extra step required by the URL. I have
tested the URL myself and it works.
In my first two years of college at the University of Pennsylvania, I
was pretty much forced to take French, where I deepened the continuity
of my failure to learn Spanish in high school.
In the second year, we read Camus' L'etranger (The Stranger for US).
To make up for my resistance to really learning worthwhile foreign
languages, I took refuge in sneering at the sometimes obvious
existential apparatus, but the novel, even in a language I couldn't
fully grasp, has really stayed with me because of its deep grasp of
the Frenchman in Algeria, who resemble some of the white folks
Faulkner describes in his best novel, Light in August.
The impact of L'etranger was tremendously deepened for me by the truly
great movie (artistically and politically, a very rare combination)
Battle of Algiers.
I am convinced that Camus, whose novel The Fall I also read in
English, was basically an honest although not a great writer. But he
had a kind of unique subject matter, and he will always be important
because of that. (He reminds me of James Jones, the author of From
Here to Eternity (which might have been a great novel like Treasure
Island if he hadn't felt obliged to include women, who were utterly
beyond him), who had insights about the volunteer army that I keep in
mind today when many claim that such an army is invulnerable to the
Vietnam syndrome. (NOT!)
anyway, read this article by Morris which is objective about his
contributions to the real history of Palestine, which are major.
'Diagnosing Benny Morris: the mind of a European settler'' (excerpt)
Printed on Saturday, January 24, 2004 @ 00:01:05 CST ( )
By Gabriel Ash
YellowTimes.org Columnist (United States)
(YellowTimes.org) Israeli historian Benny Morris crossed a new line
of shame when he put his academic credentials and respectability in
the service of outlining the "moral" justification for a future
genocide against Palestinians.
Benny Morris is the Israeli historian most responsible for the
vindication of the Palestinian narrative of 1948. The lives of about
700,000 people were shattered as they were driven from their homes by
the Jewish militia (and, later, the Israeli army) between December
1947 and early 1950. Morris went through Israeli archives and wrote
the day by day account of this expulsion, documenting every
"ethnically cleansed" village and every recorded act of violence, and
placing each in the context of the military goals and perceptions of
Israel's apologists tried in vain to attack Morris' professional
credibility. From the opposite direction, since he maintained that the
expulsion was not "by design," he was also accused of drawing
excessively narrow conclusions from the documents and of being too
naive a reader of dissimulating statements. Despite these limitations,
Morris' "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugees Problem, 1947-1949" is
an authoritative record of the expulsion.
In anticipation of the publication of the revised edition, Morris was
interviewed in Haaretz
(http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/380986.html, Hebrew original at
o=380119). The major new findings in the revised book, based on fresh
documents, further darken the picture.
The new archival material, Morris reveals, records routine execution
of civilians, twenty-four massacres, including one in Jaffa, and at
least twelve cases of rape by military units, which Morris
acknowledges are probably "the tip of the iceberg." Morris also says
he found documents confirming the broader conclusions favored by his
critics: the expulsion was pre-meditated; concrete expulsion orders
were given in writing, some traceable directly to Ben Gurion.
Morris also found documentations for Arab High Command calls for
evacuating women and children from certain villages, evidence he oddly
claims strengthen the Zionist propaganda claim that Palestinians left
because they were told to leave by the invading Arab states. Morris
had already documented two dozen such cases in the first edition. It
is hard to see how attempts by Arab commanders to protect civilians
from anticipated rape and murder strengthen the Zionist fairy tale.
But that failed attempt at evenhandedness is the least of Morris'
problems. As the interview progresses, it emerges with growing clarity
that, while Morris the historian is a professional and cautious
presenter of facts, Morris the intellectual is a very sick person.
His sickness is of the mental-political kind. He lives in a world
populated not by fellow human beings, but by racist abstractions and
stereotypes. There is an over-abundance of quasi-poetic images in the
interview, as if the mind is haunted by the task of grasping what ails
it: "The Palestinian citizens of Israel are a time bomb," not fellow
citizens. Islam is "a world in which human lives don't have the same
value as in the West." Arabs are "barbarians" at the gate of the Roman
Empire. Palestinian society is "a serial killer" that ought to be
executed, and "a wild animal" that must be caged.
Morris' disease was diagnosed over forty years ago, by Frantz Fanon.
Based on his experience in subjugated Africa, Fanon observed that "the
colonial world is a Manichean world. It is not enough for the settler
to delimit physically, that is to say, with the help of the army and
the police, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian
character of colonial exploitation, the settler paints the native as a
sort of quintessence of evil
The native is declared insensitive to
the enemy of values.
He is a corrosive element, destroying
all that comes near it
the unconscious and irretrievable instrument
of blind forces" (from "The Wretched of the Earth"). And further down,
"the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological
terms" (let's not forget to place Morris' metaphors in the context of
so many other Israeli appellations for Palestinians: Begin's
"two-legged beasts", Eitan's "drugged cockroaches" and Barak's
ultra-delicate "salmon"). Morris is a case history in the
psychopathology of colonialism.
Bad Genocide, Good Genocide
When the settler encounters natives who refuse to cast down their
eyes, his disease advances to the next stage -- murderous sociopathy.
Morris, who knows the exact scale of the terror unleashed against
Palestinians in 1948, considers it justified. First he suggests that
the terror was justified because the alternative would have been a
genocide of Jews by Palestinians. Raising the idea of genocide in this
context is pure, and cheap, hysteria. Indeed, Morris moves immediately
to a more plausible explanation: the expulsion was a precondition for
creating a Jewish state, i.e. the establishment of a specific
political preference, not self-defense.
This political explanation, namely that the expulsion was necessary to
create the demographic conditions, a large Jewish majority, favored by
the Zionist leadership, is the consensus of historians. But as
affirmative defense, it is unsatisfactory. So the idea that Jews were
in danger of genocide is repeated later, in a more honest way, as
merely another racist, baseless generalization: "if it can, [Islamic
society] will commit genocide."
But Morris sees no evil. Accusing Ben Gurion of failing to achieve an
"Arabenrein Palestine," he recommends further ethnic cleansing of
Palestinians, including those who are Israeli citizens. Not now, but
soon, "within five or ten years," under "apocalyptic conditions" such
as a regional war with unconventional weapons, a potentially nuclear
war, which "is likely to happen within twenty years." For Morris, and
it is difficult to overstate his madness at this point, the likelihood
of a nuclear war within the foreseeable future is not the sorry end of
a road better not taken, but merely a milestone, whose aftermath is
still imaginable, and imaginable within the banal continuity of
Zionist centennial policies: he foresees the exchange of
unconventional missiles between Israel and unidentified regional
states as a legitimate excuse for "finishing the job" of 1948.
Morris speaks explicitly of another expulsion, but, in groping for a
moral apology for the past and the future expulsion of Palestinians,
he presents a more general argument, one that justifies not only
expulsion but also genocide. That statement ought to be repeated, for
here is a crossing of a terrible and shameful line.
Morris, a respectable, Jewish, Israeli academic, is out in print in
the respectable daily, Haaretz, justifying genocide as a legitimate
tool of statecraft. It should be shocking. Yet anybody who interacts
with American and Israeli Zionists knows that Morris is merely saying
for the record what many think and even say unofficially. Morris, like
most of Israel, lives in a temporality apart, an intellectual
Galapagos Islands, a political Jurassic Park, where bizarre cousins of
ideas elsewhere shamed into extinction still roam the mindscape
Nor should one think the slippage between expulsion, "transfer," and
genocide without practical consequences. It is not difficult to
imagine a planned expulsion turn into genocide under the stress of
circumstances: The genocides of both European Jews and Armenians began
as an expulsion. The expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 was the product
of decades of thinking and imagining "transfer." We ought to pay
attention: with Morris's statement, Zionist thinking crossed another
threshold; what is now discussed has the potential to be actualized,
if "apocalyptic conditions" materialize.
The march of civilization and the corpses of the uncivilized
It is instructive to look closer at the manner in which Morris uses
racist thinking to justify genocide. Morris' interview, precisely
because of its shamelessness, is a particularly good introductory text
to Zionist thought.
Morris' racism isn't limited to Arabs. Genocide, according to Morris,
is justified as long as it is done for "the final good." But what kind
of good is worth the "forced extinction" of a whole people? Certainly,
not the good of the latter. (Morris uses the word "Haqkhada," a Hebrew
word usually associated with the extinction of animal species. Someone
ought to inform Morris about the fact that Native Americans aren't
According to Morris, the establishment of a more advanced society
justifies genocide: "Yes, even the great American democracy couldn't
come to be without the forced extinction of Native Americans. There
are times the overall, final good justifies terrible, cruel deeds."
Such hopeful comparisons between the future awaiting Palestinians and
the fate of Native Americans are common to Israeli apologists. One
delegation of American students was shocked and disgusted when it
heard this analogy made by a spokesperson at the Israeli embassy in
Morris's supremacist view of "Western Civilization," that civilization
values human life more than Islam, has its basis in the moral
acceptance of genocide for the sake of "progress." Morris establishes
the superiority of the West on both the universal respect for human
life and the readiness to exterminate inferior races. The
illogicalness of the cohabitation of a right to commit genocide
together with a higher level of respect for human lives escapes him,
and baffles us, at least until we grasp that the full weight of the
concept of "human" is restricted, in the classic manner of Eurocentric
racism, to dwellers of civilized (i.e. Western) nations.
This is the same logic that allowed early Zionists to describe
Palestine as an empty land, despite the presence of a million
inhabitants. In the end, it comes down to this: killing Arabs -- one
dozen Arabs or one million Arabs, the difference is merely
technical -- is acceptable if it is necessary in order to defend the
political preferences of Jews because Jews belong to the superior West
and Arabs are inferior. We must be thankful to Professor Morris for
clarifying the core logic of Zionism so well.
The color of Jews
Morris assures us that his values are those of the civilized West, the
values of universal morality, progress, etc. But then he also claims
to hold the primacy of particular loyalties, a position for which he
draws on Albert Camus. But to reconcile Morris' double loyalty to both
Western universalism and to Jewish particularism, one must forget that
these two identities were not always on the best of terms.
How can one explain Morris' knowledge that the ethnic Darwinism that
was used to justify the murder of millions of non-whites, including
Black African slaves, Native Americans, Arabs, and others, was also
used to justify the attempt to exterminate Jews? How can Morris
endorse the "civilizational" justification of genocide, which includes
the genocide of Jews, even as he claims the holocaust as another
justification for Zionism? Perhaps Morris' disjointed mind doesn't see
the connection. Perhaps he thinks that there are "right" assertions of
racist supremacy and "wrong" assertions of racist supremacy. Or
perhaps Morris displays another facet of the psychopathologies of
oppression, the victim's identification with the oppressor.
Perhaps in Morris' mind, one half tribalist and one half universalist,
the Jews were murdered to make way for a superior, more purely Aryan,
European civilization, and the Jews who are today serving in the
Israeli army, both belong and do not belong to the same group. They
belong when Morris invokes the totems of the tribe to justify loyalty.
But when his attention turns to the universal principle of "superior
civilization," these Jews are effaced, like poor relations one is
ashamed to be associated with, sent back to the limbo they share with
the great non-white mass of the dehumanized. In contrast, the Jews of
Israel, self-identified as European, have turned white, dry-cleaned
and bleached by Zionism, and with their whiteness they claim the
privilege that Whites always had, the privilege to massacre members of
"less advanced" races.
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