Monday, October 25, 2010
Benny Morris: A Course on the Origins of the Refugee Problem
To accompany my reading of Efraim Karsh's Palestine Betrayed, I've been watching a five-part lecture on the origins of the refugee problem given by Benny Morris in 2008. I think it's worth watching (it's not that long). He lays out, it seems to me, the middle ground of assertions between the Zionist and Arab positions. The Zionist side's contention -- with some revision along the way -- was/is that they fled or were forced to leave by the Arabs, and the Arab side's counterclaim was -- and will forever be, as no revisionism is acceptable on that side -- that they were thrown out through a policy of expulsion.
Morris asserts: there never was a policy of expulsion. He clearly demarcates when certain types of movement occurred, from the first 75,000 who flew the coop -- the leaders, the wealthy and the professionals, then the next 300,000 regular folks who fled because of actual fighting or fear of fighting, then the 50,000 to 100,000 that were expelled in some form primarily from Lydda and Ramle and surrounding areas during very fierce fighting and finally, about 200,000 who fled from the south into Gaza. To a great extent so many fled because of the disintegration of leadership and direction given to the masses partly because so many of the leadership class fled early on.
He doesn't flinch when stating that important among the reasons Palestinians fled was fear of massacres by Jewish soldiers. Naturally, the Arabs inflated the numbers and severity of the atrocities in their 'media' campaign which helped to spread the panic. Morris wisely places the approximately 800 Palestinian civilians who were massacred during the one-year period of war alongside massacres that took place in other civil wars. Think 8,000 civilians massacred in one month in Sebernica. Think Damour, Lebanon, where close to 600 Christians were massacred by the PLO in one day. At any rate, Jewish civilians massacred by Arabs numbered about 250, but that was only because the Arabs weren't able to conquer more than a few villages in comparison to the many more that the Zionists held. It was a question of opportunity. Furthermore, Morris reminds us that it all took place just three years after the Holocaust when fear of annihilation would have been very strong. And as far as the Jews were concerned, this was another war of extermination.
As to the persistence of the refugee problem, well, it is because of Israel's refusal to allow the return of all who left -- and now certainly not the extra millions of their descendants -- coupled with the Arab's refusal to permanently settle those refugees... ... ...
Surprisingly, I don't think that Karsh would have many problems with Morris's history despite their long-standing antipathy for each other.
Anyway, you think you know the story, but you really should watch this because Morris is very clear, very direct and may fill in some of the gaps in your knowledge.
Posted by Bella Center at 8:28 PM