Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1880-1999

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1880-1999

Article excerpt

Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1880-1999, by Benny Morris. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. xiv + 669 pages. Notes to p. 710. Sel. bibl. to p. 725. Index to p. 751. $40.

This is an encyclopedic account of Arab-Jewish relations from the early Islamic era to the election of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in May 1999, focusing on the past century in Palestine/Israel. The author, commonly regarded as one of Israel's "new historians" because of his work on Israel's role in the Arab refugee problem, has also written accounts of Israel's intelligence services and border wars with Arab neighbors.

An introductory chapter covers past Islamic relations with the Jews, Palestine's geography, the origins and early history of Zionism, Arab nationalism, and Ottoman administration. The subsequent dozen chapters are a detailed account of conflict between the two national movements, with special emphasis on the half-dozen ArabIsraeli wars and numerous other military and quasi-military confrontations, such as the intifada. A substantial portion of the book is devoted to a blow-by-blow record of these altercations, with detailed descriptions of battle plans and troop dispositions, as well as enumeration of tanks, planes, casualties, and other data that contribute to a useful military history of the conflict.

It is Morris's research on Zionist diplomacy that has made him the object of criticism among Israeli historians of the traditionally accepted versions. In this work, he provides extensive documentation from Zionist archives to charge that "Zionism was a colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement" (p.652)-an assertion he supports with quotes from reliable sources, such as David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir.

Like other scholars, notably Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, and Itamar Rabinovich, Morris reports about opportunities for peaceful resolution of the conflict that were either fudged or ignored. These included secret talks between Egypt and Israel at Lausanne in 1949, an offer by Syrian leader Husni Za'im, numerous secret meetings with Jordan's late King Husayn, and interest in negotiations early in their regimes by Egyptian Presidents Gamal `Abd al-Nasir and Anwar Sadat.

These possibilities, however tenuous, were stymied by Israeli leaders' apprehensions about the durability or sincerity of Arab regimes, adamant opposition to any territorial concessions or dilution of the country's Jewish character through return of substantial numbers of Arab refugees. Morris asserts that, by the 1940s, "All Arabs were seen by the Zionists as essentially untrustworthy, not to say treacherous. …

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