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Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 by Benny Morris

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Resolution 181 (the creation of Israel) was, in some way, “Western civilization’s gesture of repentance for the Holocaust …, the repayment of a debt owed by those nations that realized that they might have done more to prevent or at least limit the scale of Jewish tragedy during World War II.


I am not going to recommend that anyone read this book unless keenly interested in all things Israel versus Arabs. Not that I didn’t enjoy the read and learned everything that had puzzled me for many years. But I specifically checked this book out from the local library to get a background in this part of middle-eastern history that left me confused as to current events in the region then upon.

For so long I’d hear of skirmishes in such places as “the Gaza strip”, the “West Bank”, and the “Sinai Peninsula,” and I’d wonder where these places were and why they were so important that people were dying over them. Israel is a country that is about the size of New Jersey. I can’t think of a single place in New Jersey that would have folks dying over its retention and control.

Benny Morris did an admirable job of documenting the history of Zionist-Arab conflict from the beginning of the twentieth century until its end. He also admirably restrained himself from author intrusion and editorializing.

It was also very important to me, as one who’s taken to the verbal defense of Israel, to get a more in-depth profile of how that country came to be, why, AND just what the Jews may have done that was so awful to have them hated by the Arabs around them.

I’m relieved that like America also hated by the Arabs for no apparent reason beyond jealousy, that there is nothing documented as having been perpetrated by the Jews that warrant the Arab total commitment to Israel’s annihilation.

Understand here that there was a partition of middle-eastern land that resulted in the creation of the nation of Israel, and there was also an Arab population currently residing on this land. This circumstance alone would understandably create a short-term resentment, and perhaps a scuffle or two. Still, it’s not as if there was a nation already in place with an indigenous population that had built cities and installed a decent government. The Arabs populating what would become the nation of Israel were mostly nomads with an allegiance more to its Islam religion than such as national boundaries. At the time they certainly didn’t think of themselves as “Palestinians” and, in fact, a country called Palestine never existed except perhaps during biblical times.

Israel was formed in 1948 by the United Nations. Note the quote from the book at the beginning of this article. The Holocaust had as much to do with the creation of an Israeli nation as anything; though before World War II the Jews had been steadily purchasing land in this region, with a dream of establishing a Jewish state in their “promised land.” Beyond the land purchases by the Jews, the land that would form Israel had been colonized and was under the control of the British government. Sure, some Arabs lived there but they never bothered to make it any sort of viable nation or anything.

And no one kicked the native peoples from their land. The Arabs were allowed to remain in Israel after it became a nation. Many of the native people DID leave their land, but mostly by their own choice. This was a nomadic population after all.

Since its creation Israel has had to constantly fight for its right to exist. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and even the friendly Jordan all were participants in some war or another in an attempt to oust the Jews. It was through these many wars that Israel actually conquered even more land beyond that originally mandated. In every single instance, all conflict was initiated by the Arabs. And folks, these are a people not, ahem, all that adept at warfare.

Not that the Israelis were perfect. Obviously they were wary of the Arabs in their midst, and there was probably an occasion or two when the natives were “encouraged” to move along. It’s more than speculation that Israel was behind the slaughter of many Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps.

Still and so, for all the Arab indignation over the alleged bad treatment of their Palestinian brethren, not one established Arab country offered to take them in beyond refugee camps, or to donate land that so they might have a country of their own. Frankly, and as the author documents, even the Arabs didn’t want the Palestinians, whom they considered nothing but trouble.

I’m reminded of a child who has a toy that he never plays with. Then a sibling takes a shine to that toy and decides to play with it. All of a sudden, boom, the first child considers that toy to be the nexus of his/her short life. The Arabs never cared all that much about the little strip of sand that is now the Israel state. The entire issue was an excuse; an excuse to misbehave and act like, well, children.

At least now I understand a Gaza Strip and a West Bank. Morris has written a definitive history of Israel, and for the curious and dedicated, read no other book of this middle-eastern history for a comprehensive and honest delineation of events.


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  • JR

    And no one kicked the native peoples from their land.

    Not that the Israelis were perfect. Obviously they were wary of the Arabs in their midst and there was probably an occasion or two when the natives were “encouraged” to move along. It’s more than speculation that Israel was behind the slaughter of many Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps.

    The Arabs never cared all that much about the little strip of sand now the Israel state. The entire issue was an excuse; an excuse to misbehave and act like, well, children.

    Congratulations on overcoming cognitive dissonance in your effort to reaffirm a previously held view.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com Pat Cummings

    But I specifically checked this book out from the local library to get a background in this part of middle eastern history that left me confused as to current events in the region then upon.

    The last two words of this sentence serve no purpose except to confuse – did you check out the book to clear up confusion about current events in the Middle East? Please edit this post to rify the sentence.

  • SFC SKI

    While I don’t agree with all of your analysis, the book does show thathere is much more to the conflict than is commonly known.

    If the Holocaust had not occurred, would Israel have become a recognized nation? Zioinist and Jews fleeing persecution had immigrated to that part of the world both illegally and legally long before WWII. Many of the displaced Jews who survived could not or would not go back to Europe, and most ations told them they could settle “anywhere but here”. I do wonder how things might have gone if they had settled in some other part of the world. NO easy answers here.

  • godoggo

    One thing that struck me about this book was that the word “murder” was only used in reference to killing of Jews by Arabs, and never the reverse. Thus one can see the seeds of the much more hawkish stance he’s taken since this was published. My other problem was that after the founding of the Israeli nation, the book becomes almost exclusively a history of conventional wars. Despite these caveats, I think this is essential reading for anyone with a moderate interest in the Israeli. Its certainly the most comprehensive, and even the most balanced of the half dozen books on the subject that I’ve read. You might also want to look at One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate by Tom Segev. A book I haven’t read which I understand is excellent is Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land by David K. Shipler

  • Doris Pounds

    The History of Zionism/Zionist Congress, reveals the INTENT of a people who DON’T have a right to that Land- if you believe enough to “DISTINGUISH”- the UNCONDITIONAL Covenant GOD made with ABRIM/ISHMAEL= 12 Princes; then when Abrim’s NAME was CHANGED- to ABRAHAM, another Covenant was made between GOD/Abtaham/Isaac/Jacob (name changed to Israel) = the 12 Tribes of ISRAEL; THIS COVENANT WAS TOTALLY CONDITIONAL. CONDITIONAL!!! The Israelites went Whoring after OTHER gods etc. and CHOSE to break their Covenant- with GOD. GOD- DIVORCED THEM, and later they REJECTED THE ONE (Jesus Christ) – WHO CAME TO RECONCILE THEM TO GOD- who IS SPIRIT. Zionism is DESTRUCTIVE, and the ZIONIST STATE of ISRAEL- is a COUNTERFEIT. …dpounds

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Doris, meet Patriot. Patriot, meet Doris. You guys should have a great time together fighting the ZOG.

    Dave

  • godoggo

    On second thought, I think I’ve gone a bit too far in trying to avoid the reflexively inlammatory language that unfortunately typifies blogs. “Hawkish” is really too mild for Morris’s recent opinios. Psychotic might be better.

  • godoggo

    Specifically: “A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on.”

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    A spam comment hustling some garbage brought my attention to this article by Patricia Fish.

    Benny Morris is an Israeli who, for a long time, sided with those fools who had decided that Zionism had outlived its prupose and that the country itself had no purpose.

    Then Morris changed his mind. Maybe it was all the funerals he was going to because Arabs were MURDERING Jews. maybe it was the guilt he felt in being part of the “post-Zionist” bunch who lulled Israelis into thinking tht the PLO did not desire their deaths. I’m not sure, though I do remember reading an article in the J-lem Post on the matter.

    The exact reason is not that important. What counts is that a fool saw the error of his ways and tried to correct them.

    If some have trouble with that, well, too bad. Perhaps they should walk a mile in our shoes here.