The paper of record broke a record on Friday, when it invited Benny Morris to write an advanced epitaph for Israel’s ailing PM Sharon for its op-ed page.
Morris’s byline describes him as a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel and the author of "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited,"
Here’s an alternative byline: Benny Morris is the Israeli historian who told Haaretz that the extermination of Native Americans by European settlers was a good thing, a step in human progress, and so was the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. (see Haaretz, January 8, 2004)
Imagine had someone claimed that the holocaust was a good thing, because, for example, it contributed to the “progress” of Europe towards peace, the creation of the European Union, etc. Would that person be welcome on the op-ed pages of The New York Times?
There are things that one can get away with saying today in the U.S. about Native Americans, or Arabs that would be scandalous (and rightly so) if one said them about Jews. There is only one good name for it—racism. It isn’t the uncouth, bare knuckled racism of a KKK cross burning. It is an urbane, genteel, footnoted and fact-checked racism, one that goes well with a clean white shirt and a cup of Starbucks Venti Latte in the morning. But it is the same stuff, and not just theoretically. The media dispenses this subtle racism from op-ed and editorial pages as necessary grease to the cogs of the killing machines whose actions are often mentioned in the news section. It reassures the readers that nothing is wrong with the news, like a disclaimer—no human beings were harmed during the production of the following news item.
Morris doesn’t disappoint. His ode to Sharon is chockablock with the nasty, the misleading and, as expected, the racist.
Care to join a trip to the heart of darkness?
(Text in italics is Morris in The Times, January 6, 2006 )
It is too early to assess Ariel Sharon's legacy.
Writers often begin writing with a nervous tick such as this; it is a way to jumpstart the hand. The victims, the dead, the maimed, the grieving families may beg to differ. They may want a judgment, an assessment, sooner rather than later. But we wouldn’t want their heated opinions, their “hysteria”, to cloud the historian’s detached objectivity (particularly when the historian is neither detached nor objective.) Not to worry, Morris won’t withhold his judgment:
To be sure, he will be remembered…
Note the passive tense, effacer of responsibility. By whom will Sharon be thus remembered? By the anonymous subject of universal memory -- a mask, to be sure, comfortably hiding the face of U.S./Israel official discourse.
as one of Israel's great field commanders, the wily, bulldozing general who cracked the Egyptian bastion at Um Katef-Abu Awgeila in 1967 and led the crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973, turning the tables in the Yom Kippur War.
The tactical battle maneuvers would be uppermost in that anonymous universal memory that The Times peddles. Why?
Why not, for example, Qibya? That is where Sharon first proved he was Nobel Peace Prize material. According to Morris’s own research, the young Sharon led his soldiers to attack the sleeping Palestinian village with orders to cause “maximum loss of life and property;” they did. Why not Sabra and Shatila? Morris doesn’t say a word about that massacre, probably the most notorious fruit of Sharon’s leadership.
Perhaps Morris should put a sign on the door of his office: Please don’t disturb, memory laundering in process.
With greater ambiguity, he will go down as the defense minister who orchestrated the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that, paradoxically, set Yasir Arafat on the road to Oslo and (however insincerely) peace with Israel.
Memory laundering is nothing if not labor intensive. Look at the invasion of Lebanon. Morris calls it “ambiguous.” What’s ambiguous? Sharon masterminded the unprovoked invasion of Labanon together with his Chief of Staff, Eitan, by unambiguously lying to the Israeli cabinet, to the Israeli public and to the world. The attack was not motivated by hostilities on the border, but by a grand plan to create a “new order in Lebanon” (if this sounds familiar, it is not by coincidence. The Israeli right is an inspiration to the Washington neo-cons.) Close to 20,000 people died, hundreds of thousands fled their homes. The senseless pummeling of Beirut was so outrageous that even Ronald Reagan protested.
But Morris leaves out all these “ambiguities,” opting for the positive spin: “paradoxically, [the invasion] set Yasir Arafat on the road to Oslo and (however insincerely) peace with Israel.” This ‘irony of history,’ pulled like a rabbit out of Morris’s hat incredibly credits Sharon with the roundabout fathering of the Oslo “peace process” (which Sharon opposed so much that he took a lead role in creating the public atmosphere that preceded Rabin’s assassination.) Pay attention to how Morris re-constructs Sharon as “a man of peace” from his most bellicose actions. Magnificent! Did someone mention a Nobel Peace Prize already?
Reality is a bitch. According to Israel’s former chief of military intelligence, Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel invaded Lebanon out of fear of “the momentum of the peace process,” the result of the successful negotiation of a cease fire between Israel and the PLO, brokered by the U.S. diplomat Habib. PM Menachem Begin and Sharon’s major concern was to remove the threat that the PLO might accept resolution 242 and be recognized by the U.S. The prospect of future peace negotiations had to be destroyed in order “to safeguard the occupation of the West Bank.” Morris knows all this. That much can be ascertained from his own account of the invasion, published in his book “Righteous Victims.” But it isn’t difficult to understand why he’d rather not call attention to Sharon’s real attitude toward peace in 1983. There are good reasons to believe that the recent disengagement from Gaza stem for the same concern Sharon had in 1983, how to entrench Israel’s occupation in the West Bank.
But let’s take a closer look at Morris’s historical chains; was Sharon’s 1982 invasion the cause of Oslo?
Possibly, but somewhere in the chain of causes and effects, in between the invasion of Lebanon and Oslo, lies the First Intifada. The defeat of the PLO in Lebanon created the conditions for the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories to take the lead in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. The PLO leadership went to Oslo chiefly because they were upstaged by the resistance of the younger generation in Palestine. But you wouldn’t want to say that in The Times, would you? People might get all sorts of wrong ideas. For example, it might occur to them that Oslo was less than a peace and more of a corrupt deal to put the lid on Palestinian independence. It might even cross their minds that popular resistance to occupation could be a positive force. Perish the thought!
Furthermore, if one looks for irony, consider this one. The invasion of Lebanon brought about the rise of Hizbullah, the only organization so far with the strategic brilliance that proved more than a match to the Israeli military. Hizbullah popularized the suicide bomb and established a model of militarized Islamic resistance that would continue to haunt the Middle East, and not just Israel, for a long time to come. Rather than the father of Oslo, Sharon has a better claim to be the father of the suicide bombers.
Let’s continue watching as Morris does his laundering:
Mr. Sharon will also be known as the chief architect of the Likud Party's settlement drive in the occupied territories. His defeat, as prime minister, of the second Palestinian intifada will doubtless be carefully studied, once the hysteria and hype die down, as a model of a relatively clean, successful counterinsurgency.
Indeed, the settlements will be remembered for a long time. As for the defeat of the Intifada, we must first wait, Morris cautions, for the hysteria to die down. One day, when all the wailing mothers will no longer cry “hysterically,” over dead bodies, over houses turned to rubble and uprooted trees, we could finally achieve enough composure to appreciate the true brilliance of Sharon, the man who wrote the book on oppression, who succeeded in that ungrateful colonial enterprise in which the Best and Brightest of the West have stumbled. I must say I agree with Morris here completely. Israel is and will increasingly be a model and a teacher in the art of colonial oppression. Sharon’s textbook has been implemented in Iraq for a while. The police officers who shot a Brazilian guilty of being dark-skinned in the London Tube were implementing procedures their commanders learned on a training trip to Israel. The French government has now asked the Israeli police to advise France on how to deal with alienated young Arabs. I have to agree that this rejuvenation of effective racial policing is indeed Sharon’s gift to the West. Whether adopting Sharon’s innovative stratagems will succeed in containing the million insurgencies that will keep blooming wherever people live in subjugation, including in Palestine, I wouldn’t be too sanguine.
Another certainty was that his next term in office would be shadowed by the corruption investigation and charges that have already forced the resignation of his son, Omri Sharon, from the Knesset. But again, this scandal was not expected to be a coalition- or career-breaker: Israeli society has become too jaded, or simply faces too many existential problems, to give much weight to personal miscreancy.
Morris suggest the dubious rational choice theory that Israelis must weigh the benefits of fighting corruption against doing more important, “existential,” things, such as fighting Palestinians. But the two are intertwined. In the last decade, Israel broke new ground in corruption, with Sharon playing a major figure, both perpetrator and enabler. The World Bank ranked Israel second most corrupt among developed economies. Corruption in Israel is intimately linked to its “existential” problems. For example, the military is a major hub of corruption, facilitated by the opacity and secrecy of the security budget. A second source of corruption is the settlement drive, Sharon’s tar baby. Both funding and land acquisition often take place through illegal and backdoor channels. Sharon was a master of that game since his days as agriculture minister, when he turned the agriculture ministry into a settlement support engine. Corruption is the necessary lubricant of a public sphere divided against itself, with a legal system that speaks a universal, rule-of-law language, and a political and bureaucratic system committed to advancing Jewish nationalism at the expense of minorities. Finally, under the neo-liberal reforms of the nineties, the influence of global capital brought yet another source of corruption, one that has overwhelmed the Israeli party system, especially the Sharon-led Likud. In its 2002 scandalous primaries, Likud candidates were found to have sold themselves to sundry economic (and criminal) interests.
Are Israelis jaded, or have they been sidelined by the neo-liberal forces similar to the ones that destroyed Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, and other countries during the last decade? Is Sharon merely tainted by corruption, or is the military struggle against Palestinians, the struggle Sharon led and nourished, at the heart of Israel’s collapsing public sphere? Is Israel leading the developed world in economic inequalities because Sharon was too busy defeating the Intifada, or is fighting the Intifada Israel’s economic and military elites’ perfect cover for popping Champagne while the majority of Israelis sink deeper into poverty? That’s a question about Sharon’s legacy that nationalist historians like Morris and neo-liberal businesses like The Times would rather not touch. Better not “to give much weight” to a few bucks passed around in brown envelopes, lest the whole facade comes crumbling down.
Most important, there was a vague certainty that there would be further steps toward a pacification of Israel-Palestine and a separation of its two warring tribes into two relatively homogeneous states. Mr. Sharon had shown the way, courageously, remorselessly, six months ago with the uprooting of the Jewish settlements and the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip. And he had shown the way, in defiance of often absurd and mendacious criticism by the Palestinians and their supporters, by pushing forward with the construction of the barrier - overwhelmingly a fence, not a wall - between the Arab West Bank and (Jewish) Israel more or less along the 1967 Green Line.
I hope Morris is well compensated for this paragraph from Israel’s “Hasbara” budget. As propaganda goes, it’s a gem, mixing a number of well rehearsed deceptions together with a number of ugly truths carefully hidden in plain sight:
First the truths:
As Morris correctly says, the goal of the Israeli government under Sharon is not peace, but pacification. Pacification is a military term. It means defeating the popular opposition to Israeli control. The terms are actually opposites. Peace is the absence of violence. Pacification is the successful application of violence. That is a distinction worth remembering when one sees Sharon being promoted to a “man of peace.” Peace is not in the cards. It is not in the plans of the current Israeli government, with or without Sharon. Peace is not even a gleam in a yet unborn Israeli PM’s eye. Pacification is all there is on offer.
The favorite method of pacification according to Morris (and Sharon) is a regime of Apartheid (“separation of its two warring tribes into two relatively homogeneous states.”) Morris hides the fact that in no plan being discussed are the two states to have equal status. Rather, the one state, Israel, will exert military and economic control over the other “state.” But note, en passant, the phony equalizer: “two warring tribes,” i.e. one of the most advanced armies in the world against a ragtag gang of impoverished youngsters with stones and home made explosives.
Now to the deceptions:
The barrier is sometimes a wall and sometimes not. But it is never a fence in any common usage of the word. A fence doesn’t have a minimum width of sixty feet. Where the barrier is not a 25 feet high concrete wall (twice as high than the Berlin wall,) it is a wide system of multiple fences, trenches, groomed and paved patrol roads, and coils of razor wire. You can call this monstrous edifice a fence. You can also call a cannon a tube, a bomb a flare, indiscriminate killing collateral damage. Let’s be practical. You can publish as many deceptive, sanitized, misleading descriptions in The Times as the editor lets you get away with (apparently quite a lot if your article defends Israel’s policies.)
The barrier doesn’t separate the Arab West Bank from Jewish Israel. First, 20% of the people in Israel aren’t Jewish yet they have no effective say in Israeli politics and no place in Morris’s Jewish-only utopia. (With a 20% Arab minority, Israel is for Morris a “relatively homogeneous” Jewish state. In comparison, African-Americans make less than 14% of U.S. population.) Second, only 80-90% of the “Arab” West Bank is demarcated by the barrier. 92 communities with half a million Palestinians are either left on the Israeli side, or are surrounded, choked, or cut in the middle. Included within the 9.5% of the land that is stolen outright are the best farmlands, a significant portion of the West Bank’s water wells, and East Jerusalem; the cutting off of East Jerusalem by the wall threatens the viability of the core urban Palestinian economy on the Ramallah-Jerusalem-Betlehem agglomeration. Third, a full 46% of the land in the West Bank is now under the control of Jewish individuals and institutions (this state of affairs, to be clear, is the result of Israeli force and fraud). Construction on this land continues independently from the construction of the barrier, suggesting that the recycled promises to return land are less than credible.
Given both the geographic and economic impact of the wall, describing the path of the wall as more or less along the 1967 Green Line is a like saying 50% is more or less like 100%. Try that with your salary. But there is nothing more-or-less-ish about the barrier. Its deviations from the 1967 border are not random, but carefully planned to maximize the Israeli land and water grab. All the deviations are all of the ‘more’ kind, none of the ‘less’ kind. The International Court of Justice nearly unanimously declared the current path of the wall illegal. But I guess mentioning that is just “absurd and mendacious criticism.” My only surprise is that Morris didn’t accuse the critics of anti-Semitism.
Now, hopes for further daring steps like a unilateral pullout from parts of the West Bank have been dashed. What successor, however peace-minded, will have the political will or ability to do something so bold and politically problematic?
It is The Times policy to believe Sharon’s good intentions. That is part of a larger policy of imputing good faith to the foreign policy of the U.S. and its allies at all times. Morris plays along nicely. Unfortunately, assuming good faith when the evidence point the other way is neither journalism nor history writing, it is propaganda and apologetics. But the truth is again hidden in plain view: “… a unilateral pullout from parts of the West Bank,” i.e. moving some soldiers and some settlers from here to there to maximize control and minimize costs, but without any recognition of present rights and past wrongs, is now marketed as bold “peace mindedness.”
Palestinian national movement, he believed, still, in the deepest,
immutable recesses of its heart, aspires to
All Morris needs to do to discover that he is peddling lies is read his own book, Righteous Victims. (Others could use much better accounts, such as those by Clinton’s aid Robert Malley together with Hussein Agha and Barak’s aid Gilad Sher. Or the Summary by Tanya Reinhart in Israel/Palestine)
Please fasten your seat belts and hold a paper bag ready in front of you. It is time for some innocent racist fun.
One certainty remains. Israel, and especially and paradoxically, its large moderate left and center, is in the grip of a great sadness.
Definitions: “moderate left” in Israel means: 1. support for an exclusionary, ethnic-religious definition of the state and its political institution; 2. support for neo-liberal economic policies.
Those opposed to peace, in the slums of Rafah and the Jewish settlement compound of downtown Hebron, can be expected to rejoice…
Those opposed to peace in the slums of Rafah! Who are these people, whose emotional life and violent mind are like an open book to Morris?
If one were to map the Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinians onto Dante’s Inferno, the first circle, the least painful, would certainly be Haifa. Haifa’s Palestinians are far from having equal rights, and do suffer inequities, but, relatively speaking, they are the luckiest of the lot. If one follows the same metaphor for the rest of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule, Rafah would qualify as the ninth circle of hell. This is where the violence of the regime manifests itself in its ugliest perfection.
Rafah has a population of about 170,000. Before 2000, Rafah was an important agricultural center in the Gaza strip. Since then, the Israeli army seized and leveled 1,840 acres of Rafah’s farmland, and banned fishing from the Rafah coast. In 2004, unemployment reached 85%. 75% of the population lives on less than $2.10 a day. The U.N. deems 66% of the population as “food insecure.”
According to Human Right Watch, Israel demolished about 1,600 homes in Rafah between 2000 and 2004, leaving 10% of the Rafah camp—16,000 people—homeless. Most of these people are refugees, whose homes had already been demolished or confiscated by Israel in 1948. HRW continues: “During regular nighttime raids and with little or no warning, Israeli forces used armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers to raze blocks of homes at the edge of the camp, incrementally expanding a “buffer zone” that is currently up to three hundred meters wide. The pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat, in violation of international law. In most of the cases Human Rights Watch found the destruction was carried out in the absence of military necessity.”
“IDF positions fire with large caliber machine guns and tanks at civilian areas. Based on multiple visits to the area by Human Rights Watch since 2001 and interviews with local residents and foreign diplomats, aid workers, and journalists, this shooting appears to be largely indiscriminate and in some cases unprovoked. In July 2004, nearly every house on Rafah’s southern edge was pockmarked by heavy machine gun, tank, and rocket fire on the side facing the border. Bullet holes were not only clustered around windows or other possible sniper positions, but sprayed over entire sides of buildings.”
Israel’s horror show in Rafah prompted Israel’s Justice Minister Yossef Lapid, a celebrity loudmouth who relishes expressing odious views about almost everyone, to say: "On TV I saw an old woman rummaging through the ruins of her house looking for her medication, and it reminded me of my grandmother who was thrown out of her house during the Shoah (holocaust).”
From all Palestine, Morris chooses the residents of this ninth circle of hell for particular scorn. Morris then lumps together the people of Rafah with the settlers, the poorest and most abused Palestinian refugees with the most pampered, spoiled, and lavishly subsidized Israelis. What unites the robbers and their victims? They all “oppose peace.”
Go figure! What peace did the people of Rafah oppose? Did they forbid the Israeli soldiers to go home? Did they force the Israeli army to patrol Rafah for the last 36 years? Did they coerce Israel to build settlements on their fields? Or do they oppose peace by simply living there, on land Israel coveted?
Now let’s talk about the candy.
Every year, Jews celebrate Purim, a day of merriment and drinking in memory of the death of “evil Hamman” the ancient Persian minister who oppressed the Jews some 2,300 years ago.
Celebrating the death of Hamman is kosher. Harmless fun.
But if some Palestinians dare to express a measure of relief upon hearing of the end of a sworn enemy, a man who dedicated his life to dispossessing and murdering them, that’s apparently solid proof that Palestinians lack some basic human quality. See! They can’t contain their joy! They have no respect for human life!
Please, Prof. Morris, give us all a break! Let the kids have candy. You took their land. You took their fields. You took their homes. You shot their fathers and jailed their brothers. You market their traditional dishes worldwide as yours. You even write their history. Can’t they at least have the candy?
There will also be little sadness at Mr. Sharon's passing among those Israelis and their Diaspora supporters who have long demonized Mr. Sharon and Israel and who long ago gave up any hope or desire for a lasting Jewish state, and believe, or pretend to believe, that Jews and Arabs can live together like a bunch of mindless lambs in equality and under one political roof.
Obviously, living together in peace is for mindless lambs. Real men tear each other apart.
So much contempt for peace (for what is peace except living together in equality) from someone who accuses those who don’t share his political views of “opposing peace”! Are there some unresolved childhood issues here? Some trauma involving lambs? Some nationalized castration anxiety?
All over the world, Jews and Arabs can live side by side. They do so in London, in Brooklyn, in so many other places, like so many other ethnicities, but apparently they could never do it in Palestine.
Here’s a thought, if Morris cannot imagine living like the “mindless lambs” (i.e. in peace and equality) alongside Arabs, can’t he just move to someplace else? No he can’t. Everywhere he would be going, he would be asked to live in peace and equality; “like mindless lambs,” according to his warped vision. Only in Israel he can still be a member of the jackbooted, ruling ethnocracy.
Pity a poor predator!
So, are you sad of happy because of Sharon’s collapse?
Morris’s devotes a third of his op-ed to classifying the different groups according to their emotional reaction to Sharon’s expected death. Why so much effort spent on gauging who is happy and who is sad? What’s all this pedantic book-keeping and Stalinist attitude tests? It’s the old playbook: if you can’t answer criticism, discredit it. That has always been the modus operandi of Israel’s willing apologists. Morris’s contribution? To turn Sharon’s illness into a new litmus test for acceptability.
Let’s call off the sentiment police. There is no wrong way to feel about Sharon’s end. If Sharon’s condition saddens you, good for you; you’re a saint; your halo is in the mail. If it makes you want to party, go party. Drink yourself senseless. Call it an early Purim if you are so inclined.
As for me, days like these remind me that it isn’t always easy to be an atheist. It sure would have been comforting to believe that hell existed (other than the one we make for each other here on earth).
is an activist and writer who writes because the pen is sometimes stronger
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Other Articles by Gabriel
Other Articles by Gabriel Ash