1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War Hardcover – Apr 21 2008
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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 warabout the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem over 1947-1949, for exampleor, 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 Israelas it sees itselfas an offshoot and outpost of the West inin their viewa 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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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
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.
"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.
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