Benny Morris’s Untenable Denial of the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

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The Israeli historian Benny Morris has been very vocal of late in denying that Palestine was ethnically cleansed of Arabs in order for the “Jewish state” of Israel to be established. In a series of articles in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Morris has debated the question with several of his critics who contend that ethnic cleansing is precisely what occurred. Not so, argues Morris. So who’s right?

It’s worth noting at the outset that, while such a debate exists in the Israeli media, the US media remains, as ever, absolutely silent on the matter. Americans who get their information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only from the nightly news or papers like the New York Times and Washington Post would never even know that there is a discussion about it. Not only that, but they would have absolutely no familiarity at all with the idea that Palestine was ethnically cleansed of most of its Arab inhabitants in 1948. That this occurred (or even that this might have occurred) is entirely absent from the discussion; it is simply wiped from history altogether, in the narrative of the conflict propagated by the US media.

Even in those rare instances when the mainstream media outlets do refer to the expulsion and flight of Arabs from their villages, it is characterized as only as an unfortunate but unintended consequence of a war started by the neighboring Arab states to wipe the new state of Israel off the map—a narrative that is not merely over-simplified, but false.[1]

So was Palestine ethnically cleansed in 1948? The debate between Benny Morris and his interlocutors provides a unique occasion to clear up several myths and misconceptions about what actually happened during the 1948 war. An examination of the arguments Morris presents to deny its occurrence is highly instructive, and offers an opportunity to settle the matter once and for all—and, in doing so, to finally move the discussion about how to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians forward.


[1] Jeremy R. Hammond, Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Cross Village: Worldview Publications, 2016), 310–312, 316–319.

[2] Daniel Blatman, “Netanyahu, This Is What Ethnic Cleansing Really Looks Like,” Haaretz, October 3, 2016,

[3] Benny Morris, “Israel Conducted No Ethnic Cleansing in 1948,” Haaretz, October 10, 2016,

[4] Daniel Blatman, “Yes, Benny Morris, Israel Did Perpetrate Ethnic Cleansing in 1948,” Haaretz, October 14, 2016,

[5] Steven Klein, “Does the ‘Father’ of the 1948 Ethnic Cleansing Narrative Really Want to Recant His Words?” Haaretz, October 19, 2016,

[6] Ehud Ein-Gil, “Israel Did Do Ethnic Cleansing in 1948. My Father’s Words Prove It,” Haaretz, October 20, 2016,

[7] Benny Morris, “‘Ethnic Cleansing’ and pro-Arab Propaganda,” Haaretz, October 23, 2016,

[8] Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, 5 (see fn 26).

[9] Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), Kindle Edition, Locations 5726–5728.

[10] Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, 5.

[11] Ibid., 317.

[12] United Kingdom, Palestine Royal Commission Report (Peel Commission), July 1937, 389–391.

[13] Ibid., 248.

[14] Morris, 1948, 5717–5718.

[15] Ibid., 299–300.

[16] Ibid., 302–303.

[17] Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, 317.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Morris, 1948, 781–788.

[20] Ibid., 1127–1136.

[21] Ibid., 1547–1552.

[22] Ibid., 1556–1559.

[23] Ibid., 1559–1565.

[24] Ibid., 5591.

[25] Ibid., 313–315.

[26] United Kingdom, Disturbances in May, 1921 (Haycraft Commission), October, 1921, 54.

[27] Ibid., 57.

[28] Ibid., 150.

[29] Morris, 1948, 223–225, 251–253.

[30] Ibid., 256–257.

[31] Ibid., 5496–5499. The bracketed insertions are Morris’s.

[32] Ibid., 5500–5503.

[33] Jeremy R. Hammond, The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Raleigh: Lulu Press, 2009), 8.

[34] Peel Commission, 23.

[35] Peel Commission, 24.

[36] Peel Commission, 24.

[37] Peel Commission, 51.

[38] Peel Commission, 42.

[39] Peel Commission, 25.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Hammond, The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination, 14.

[42] Peel Commission, 29.

[43] Ibid., 28.


[45] United Kingdom, Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development (Hope Simpson Report), October 1930,

[46] Ibid., 55.

[47] Haycraft Commission, 55.

[48] Hope Simpson Report.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Hammond, The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination, 6–7.

[51] United Kingdom, Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August, 1929 (Shaw Commission), 119–120.

[52] United Kingdom and United States, Report of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry regarding the problems of European Jewry and Palestine (Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry), April 20, 1946, 30.

[53] Shaw Commission, 114.

[54] Ibid., 117–118.

[55] Ibid., 118–119.

[56] Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, 3–4. Morris notes that “the Jews had been given the best agricultural lands (the Coastal Plain and Jezreel and Jordan Valleys)” under UNSCOP’s plan. See Morris, 1948, 959–960.

[57] Hammond, Obstacle to Peace, 5.

[58] Morris, 1948, 1152–1153.

[59] Ibid., 1476–1477, 1508–1509, 1512–1513.

[60] Ibid., 1472–1473.

[61] Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006), Kindle Edition, Locations 1382–1387.

[62] Ibid., 1413–1418.

[63] Morris, 1948, 1515–1517.

[64] Pappé, 1429–1440.

[65] Morris, 1948, 1763.

[66] Walid Khalidi, “Plan Dalet: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, Special Issue: Palestine 1948, (Autumn, 1988); Appendix B, “Text of Plan Dalet (Plan D), 10 March 1948: General Section,” 29.

[67] Morris, 1948, 1783–1785, 1793–1794.

[68] Pappé, 1913–1916.

[69] Ibid., 220–221.

[70] Ibid., 1964–1970.

[71] Morris, 1948, 1408–1410, 1418–1423.

[72] Ibid., 1504–1508, 1533–1536

[73] Pappé, 1449–1450.

[74] Ibid., 1607–1609.

[75] Morris, 1948, 1534–1536.

[76] Ibid., 1539–1545.

[77] Ibid., 1797–1798.

[78] Ibid., 2055.

[79] Ibid., 2059–2064.

[80] Ibid., 2089–2092, 2096–2100.

[81] Ibid., 2100–2103.

[82] Ibid., 2111–2120.

[83] Ibid., 2126–2141, 2147–2151.

[84] Ibid., 1437–1438.

[85] Pappé, 1606–1623.

[86] Ibid., 1624–1639.

[87] Morris, 1948, 1852–1853.

[88] Ibid., 1960–1961.

[89] Ibid., 1964–1965.

[90] Ibid., 1962–1963.

[91] Ibid., 2265–2269.

[92] Ibid., 2291–2294.

[93] Ibid., 2297–2312.

[94] Ibid., 2314–2322.

[95] Ibid., 2322–2323.

[96] Ari Shavit, “Survival of the Fittest,” Interview with Benny Morris, Haaretz, January 8, 2004, (part 1), (part 2).

[97] Morris, 1948, 1496–1497.

[98] Ibid., 1497–1500.

[99] Andrew Bell-Fialkoff, “A Brief History of Ethnic Cleansing,” Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993,

[100] US Department of State, Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo: An Accounting, December 1999,

[101] International Court of Justice, “Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro)”, Judgment of 26 February 2007, 83,

[102] Pappé, 405–406.

Originally published on 2017-11-14
About the author: Jeremy R. Hammond is an award-winning independent political analyst and editor and publisher of Foreign Policy Journal. Described by Barron’s as “a writer of rare skill”, he is the author of Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2016), Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian Economics in the Financial Crisis (2012), and The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict (2009). Find him on the web at

Source: Foreign Policy Journal

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