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1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War [Hardcover]

Benny Morris
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Book Description

April 21 2008

This history of the foundational war in the Arab-Israeli conflict is groundbreaking, objective, and deeply revisionist. A riveting account of the military engagements, it also focuses on the war's political dimensions. Benny Morris probes the motives and aims of the protagonists on the basis of newly opened Israeli and Western documentation. The Arab side—where the archives are still closed—is illuminated with the help of intelligence and diplomatic materials.

 

Morris stresses the jihadi character of the two-stage Arab assault on the Jewish community in Palestine. Throughout, he examines the dialectic between the war's military and political developments and highlights the military impetus in the creation of the refugee problem, which was a by-product of the disintegration of Palestinian Arab society. The book thoroughly investigates the role of the Great Powers—Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union—in shaping the conflict and its tentative termination in 1949. Morris looks both at high politics and general staff decision-making processes and at the nitty-gritty of combat in the successive battles that resulted in the emergence of the State of Israel and the humiliation of the Arab world, a humiliation that underlies the continued Arab antagonism toward Israel.

 


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Review

“This is the best book by far on the war of 1948.”—Benjamin Kedar, Professor of History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
(Benjamin Kedar)

"This is a wonderful contribution to the historiography of the Israel/Palestine War of 1948. Morris has written a fresh account, substantiated by a lot of new documentation."—Ronald W. Zweig, Professor of Israel Studies, New York University

(Ronald W. Zweig)

"A commanding, superbly documented, and fair-minded study of the events that, in the wake of the Holocaust, gave a sovereign home to one people and dispossessed another. . . . What is so striking about Morris's work as a historian is that it does not flatter anyone's prejudices, least of all his own."—David Remnick, New Yorker
(David Remnick New Yorker 2008-05-05)

"Morris relates the story of his new book soberly and somberly, evenhandedly and exhaustively. . . . An authoritative and fair-minded account of an epochal and volatile event. He has reconstructed that event with scrupulous exactitude."—David Margolick, New York Times Book Review
(David Margolick New York Times Book Review 2008-05-04)

"Readers  can do no better that to go to a new authoritative source about the beginnings of the Israeli state, Benny Morris' 1948."—Jonathan S. Tobin, The Jewish Exponent
(Jonathan S. Tobin The Jewish Exponent 2008-05-08)

"As [Israel] celebrates six decades of reborn existence on May 14 and books about it cascade into stores, the most important among them [is] Benny Morris's 1948."—Carlin Romano, The Chronicle Review
(Carlin Romano The Chronicle Review 2008-05-16)

"An ambitious, detailed and engaging portrait of the war itself—from its origins to its unresolved aftermath—that further shatters myths on both sides of the Israeli-Arab divide."—Glenn Frankel, Washington Post Book World 
(Glenn Frankel Washington Post Book World 2008-06-01)

"Morris, born in 1948, is among a group of Israeli 'new historians,' whose work has challenged the traditional, accepted line of the birth of Israel. In this well-researched book, he strives for balance."—Billy Heller, New York Post (Required Reading)
(Billy Heller New York Post 2008-05-01)

"A compelling 'aha' book, 1948 brings order to complex, little-understood subjects . . . with [Morris'] vivid narrative prose and masterly analysis."—David Holahan, The Hartford Courant
(David Holohan Hartford Courant)

"Morris relates the story of his new book soberly and somberly, evenhandedly and exhaustively. . . . An authoritative and fair-minded account of an epochal and volatile event."—David Margolick, New York Times Book Review
(David Margolick New York Times Book Review 2008-05-04)

"Morris's account seems admirable, because he is unafraid of upsetting both camps. . . . His commitment to the pursuit of historical truth deserves as much admiration as his dismay at Arab intransigence commands sympathy."—Max Hastings, Sunday Times (London)
(Max Hastings Sunday Times 2008-05-18)

"A considerable achievement, meticulously detailing and analyzing both Israel's war of Independence, on the one hand, and its mirror Palestinian face: the Catastrophe (al nakba), on the other."—Michael Bell, Toronto Globe and Mail
(Michael Bell Toronto Globe and Mail 2008-05-10)

"1948 is a superb attempt to provide a reasoned assessment of a very contentious period. It is well worth study by anyone seeking to understand the Middle East that this war helped create."—Col. Jonathan M. House, Military Review
(Col. Jonathan M. House Military Review 2008-11-01)

"Readers interested in military strategy and tactics will appreciate the book's comprehensiveness on this score, while others will be drawn in by the sheer drama of the war, with its interweaving of military and political action, told clearly and swiftly."—Joel Streicker, Shofar
(Joel Streicker Shofar 2009-01-01)

"Morris has reviewed all the revisionist literature, re-worked the shelves of the archives to make sure that nothing has been overlooked, and given us a meticulously researched day-by-day narrative of the first Arab-Israeli war."—Paul C. Merkley, Books & Culture
(Paul C. Merkley Books & Culture 2009-03-01)

"Highly recommended."—Choice
(Choice 2009-03-01)

"A commanding, superbly documented, and fair-minded study of the events that . . . gave a sovereign home to one people and dispossessed another. . . . What is so striking about Morris's work . . . is that it does not flatter anyone's prejudices . . ."—David Remnick, New Yorker
(David Remnick New Yorker)

"Morris tenders a well-documented work with more than one hundred pages of endnotes that support every major point. That fair-minded, impartial balancing of Arab and Jewish standpoints is what distinguishes Morris’ work."—John W. Sutherlin, MESA
(John W. Sutherlin MESA)

From the Author

A conversation with Benny Morris

 

Q: How does 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War relate to your previous work?

A: In the past, I have written about one particular aspect of the war—about the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem over 1947-1949, for example—or, more generally, about the course of the Zionist-Arab conflict from 1881 to 2000. In this book I address the whole of the 1948 War in its political and military aspects, taking in as well the international context and interventions, the Arab world, and the internal Israeli scene. I try to present a good overall picture of what happened and why, from the UN handling of the Palestine issue to the Israeli-Arab armistice agreements that ended the war.

 

Q: What do you think at bottom is the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

 A: I would say that there is a territorial dispute between two peoples who claim the same patch of land. It is a very small, patch of land, and so the idea of dividing it between the two is extremely problematic a the technical sense. But it is also a cultural-religious conflict between the Islamic East and the West. The Islamic Arab world sees Israel—as it sees itself—as an offshoot and outpost of the West in—in their view—a Muslim area and as an infidel, invasive presence. Israel and Zionism are seen by the Islamic Arab world, and the wider Islamic world, as illegitimate. This, at root, is the cause of the ongoing conflict. Were they to accord it legitimacy, the problem in Palestine/Israel would be soluble. At present, given this mindset, it isn't.   

 

Q: Are there any lessons to be learned from the study of the 1948 War?

A: To be sure, many Israelis will learn that they must remain strong and technologically advanced; otherwise they will be overwhelmed by Arab numbers and fervor. The Arabs might learn that they must improve themselves, at least on a technological-scientific level, and better their societies and armies, if they hope to overcome Israel, though it is possible that if they do, they may lose the desire to destroy Israel. Outsiders may simply learn about the conflict and the nature of the two contending societies, at least as they were in 1948, and perhaps with certain implications for the present and future.


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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, easy to follow synopsis of the war May 8 2010
Format:Hardcover
Having read 1967 by Tom Segev (another good book), I wanted to get a better overall feel for the initial years of Israel statehood. I found the book well-written, a good quantum but not boring details, and over-all enjoyable reading. Would have like to see a few more pictures of some of the key people and maybe a few more well placed maps in order to follow some of the action (there are some maps in the book but being unfamiliar with the towns and villages, a picture is worth a thousand words...). Definitely would recommend the book and found it provided the background history I was looking for.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important book on 1948 April 29 2008
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In tackling the controversial and important, but gigantic, subject of the 1948 war, the Nakba, the Israeli was of independence, Mr. Morris has come full circle from his original study The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge Middle East Library). This journey was a process that has already involved one revision of that celebrated thesis on the Palestinian refugees. Undoubtedly it was inevitable that this book had to be written in order not only to show the context and the military side of 1948 but also to show the Jewish side, the fate of Jewish areas conquered by Arabs, the fate of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, and the agency, the decisions, made by Arab leaders and local Arabs that led to the war.

There have been other stand alone studies of the war by Gelber, Palestine 1948: War, Escape And The Emergence Of The Palestinian Refugee Problem and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and War in Palestine, 1948: Strategy and Diplomacy (Israeli History, Politics, and Society). But each has had its own weaknesses, either because it concentrates on the military aspects or because it is terribly biased.

Here, at last, is a full account that is not biased and is not overly focused on the military side and does not take for granted the conclusion that the Zionists would prevail and therefore all their actions should be judged as if they knew the results beforehand. Morris also sheds light on the fate of Christian Arab villages in the war and the many nuances of the war, including the very controversial issues of massacres and 'ethnic-cleansing'.

This book is a tour de force, a masterpiece of writing that should be read by anyone interested in the conflict, the Middle East, Israel, the Palestinians or the Holy Land. It strips away the clichés of 'conceived in sin' and the old narratives of right and wrong and heroism and suffering and presents a balanced historical view based on archival sources.

The organization of the book is first class. It is chronological and divides the war by phases, especially the civil war between November 29th, 1947 and May 15th, 1948. It gives the reader a complete understanding of the military situation and how the Jewish forces, which were composed originally of an underground militia and several smaller units, was able to gain mastery over not only Arab militias but also Arab armies that were supplied with modern European weaponry. How they overcame both the air forces, artillery and armour that was thrown at them and how they succeeded, using interior lines, to actually bring the war into the Sinai and Lebanon.

Seth J. Frantzman
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vital Work on the 1948 Israeli-Arab War May 5 2008
By Eric Maroney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1948 Benny Morris shows himself to be a first-rate historian with an accurate and detailed command of the events leading up to the first Arab Israeli War and the war itself. The book is primarily the military history of the conflict, and Morris is a well informed chronicler of military engagements. Morris, also considered one of the grandfathers of the "revisionist" school of Israeli historiography, here shows that he is not afraid to document both Jewish/Israel and Palestinian/Arab excesses and missteps in the war, opportunities missed or failed to be exploited. By and large Morris is very sympathetic to the Zionist enterprise in the Holy Land in this book. He views war in 1948 as inevitable given the demographic/strategic situation in Palestine since the arrival of the first Zionist settlers in the 1880s. This is in keeping with some of his more recent utterances about the Israeli Arab/Palestinian conflict. Given the pressure the Yishuv and early state of Israel were under, he states, conflict was unavoidable. In 1948 Morris seeks to show that calls for jihad against the Jews in Palestine was no mere bluster; that it was just as powerful (if not more so) source of Arab ire against Israel as the rising sense of Arab nationalism following WWII. It is here, I suppose, where Morris makes his most original contribution to the study of the 1948 war.
53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beginning of the Cycle April 27 2008
By Keith A. Comess - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Benny Morris, considered by many to be the"Dean" of Israeli Middle Eastern historians, is noted for "revisionist" works on the genesis of the Palestinian Arab refugee issue and rewriting of Israeli historical hagiography. This book, a comprehensive history of the dual-phase 1947-1948 war (civil war between Jews and Arabs antedating Partition, followed by invasion by a constellation of Arab professional militaries and various ad hoc militias) reviews the entire enterprise from both a military and political perspective.

The book can be divided into three segments: 1). an introductory section, which places in context the, 2). major middle-section, which exhaustively deals with military affairs and, 3). a summary/conclusion section, which presents the author's perspectives based on presently available evidence. As Arab archives have not been opened to researchers as of the 2008 publication date, this work cannot be considered "definitive", but certainly holds this status as of now.

There is one major shortcoming of this book: the lack of maps. The barrage of detail on virtually every military and paramilitary engagement becomes confusing and frustrating, as the reader cannot readily follow the strategy and tactics elaborated in the text. Further, many of the maps have inadequate legends, rendering the majority of them difficult to understand.

Morris attributes the Israeli military victories to a combination of better planning, better logistics, better preparation, better motivation, better training, fighting along "interior lines", internal cohesion in the form of communality of purpose and international sympathy. Surprisingly (at least for many readers) much of the initial political and military support came from the Soviet Union, later an ardent partisan of the Arab cause and foe of Israel. Czechoslovakian arms, supplementing those bought from international weapons dealers, helped turn the tide, in addition to the above factors. Conversely, lack of purpose, infighting, jockeying for advantage vis-a-vis rival regimes and cynical manipulation of Arab public opinion by Arab political elites did little to fashion a force capable of opposing the Jews. Heated rhetoric, in other words, did not serve as an adequate substitute for assiduous planning and training. Worse, innumerable inflammatory and "eliminationist" statements regarding the Jews tended to provoke, amplify and reinforce pre-existing reciprocal thoughts and statements in their enemies, hardening positions to the point of ossification; thus, the genesis of the current mess. The complexity of the situation is further enhanced by complicity of various Arabs in the acquisition of lands by the Jews. The branding of numerous Arabs as "traitors" by the mercurial Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini, heightened internecine disputes, often with lethal consequences, not only for the "perpetrators", but also for the cause; this behavior continues to the present day.

As for presenting a "balanced" perspective on the "Middle East Problem", the author makes every effort to be scrupulously objective. Israeli military and paramilitary actions that resulted in war crimes against civilians were frankly acknowledged, as was the policy that underlay them, to wit, generally ad hoc, rather than the result of the product of Macheavellian scheming and malevolence. Whle Morris states that the Israelis committed more atrocities than did the Arabs, he notes that this was an accident of opportunity, rather than evidence of moral superiority of the Arabs and their fighters. His synopsis of the motivations of Zionist, British, Arab and Ottoman participants in the genesis of the modern Middle East is fair and bluntly accurate.

Certainly, one could conclude that the Zionist enterprise was not any more or less "fair" than the "Manifest Destiny" of the white invaders of the Americas (murdering, cheating, displacing and finally segregating the indigenous inhabitants into "reservations", where many continue to reside under rank and disgraceful conditions) or of the British in Australia, to cite but two examples. Similarly, the displacement of Arabs from their land is not much different from the massive population transfers that occurred after WW-II in, for example, the case of the German (civilian) expulsions from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Perhaps a better example would be the displacement/population exchange of millions of Hindus and Muslims during the Partition of India and Pakistan, which occurred around the same time (circa 1947). That division, accompanied by generally involuntary "repatriation" based on ethnic and religious affiliation, was accompanied by considerable violence, property damage/confiscation and left a residue of bitter inter-communal hatred, with intermittent terrorist attacks and threatened international war. These examples are not cited by Morris and are not offered by me as justifications; they merely illustrate a fundemental aspect of human nature.

In summary, this is an excellent history which would benefit from inclusion of more detailed maps to accompany the more important military engagements. It is objectively written, comprehensively referenced and the conclusions drawn by the author are buttressed by data and temperately drawn.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Accessible History of a War That Changed History May 9 2008
By Stuart M. Wilder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I approached this book with caution. I had not read any of Morris' prior books, fearful of his reputation (earned or not) for bashing the Israeli side without providing context for their actions. Though when I read history I already know how the story ends, I want something fresh, with context, and an attempt to give the losing side a chance to explain what it was thinking. To my delight, and to the benefit of those who like me devour serious histories written for scholars and non-scholars, Morris accomplishes this.

"1948" skillfully weaves together the political and military history of Israel's war of independence. The atrocities of war being what they are, he places those committed by Israelis, whose command was not always unified, against the Arabs' threats to destroy them Those threats remained largely (though far from completely) unfulfilled due to incompetence, and not a lack of desire. The Arab countries surrounding Israel had no interest in allowing the Arabs who lived in Mandate Palestine to form their own country, and the the Arabs who lived within the Mandate territory (whom we now call Palestinians) lacked the will to better their situation militarily, economically, educationally and politically. If they had succeeded in driving out the Jews, they would not have been Palestinians, but Egyptians, Syrians, and Jordanians. Their land would probably still be impoverished, disease ridden, and lacking any serious institutions of higher learning. They did not want a nation-- they just wanted the Jews to leave.

The men and women who formed modern Israel determined that they would be victims no more. Few gentiles complained when, wherever they lived, Jews' land, chattel and lives were stolen or destroyed. The Israelis' story, as told by Morris, is not always a comfortable one for Western sensibilities, but it holds up well compared to the birth of most other nations in the last one hundred years. That Morris could write a book that seems to contradict many of the theories he has put forward in the past is a credit to his intellectual honesty. That he can relate the tale in such an accessible package is to the history book reading public's benefit.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bad format errors in digitizing 1948 for Kindle Jan. 9 2012
By GregoryRose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The appalling formatting by Amazon of 1948 as a Kindle ebook is disgraceful in its omissions and sloppy in its errors.
Hyperlinks are mostly missing: there are none for the table of maps; there are none for the endnotes; and some hyperlinks even in the table of contents are erroneous. Every two paragraphs there are broken words, text mistakenly in superscript, misplaced mid-word hyphens, and suchlike.
Given that there is little price difference from the hard copy, the ebook should have its advantage in convenience for the reader. Yet when formatted so sloppily or with disdainful omissions, the reader is inconvenienced and cheated. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War
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