Palestinians are in Israel today because they managed to survive the depopulation of 1948, the year the Jewish state was founded (Arabs constitute about 20% of Israel’s population). Ironically, while Benny Morris’ scholarship suggests that the mere existence of these Palestinians in Israel — and millions more in the occupied territories — irks him, Israel’s substantial Arab population also blows a hole in his argument about the need to deal with the supposed Iranian nuclear threat.
Morris is part of an increasingly vociferous chorus warning of an impending apocalypse for Israel at the hands of a nuclear Iran eager to rid the Middle East of its Jews. Yet Iran’s religious leaders have repeatedly stated that such weapons are “un-Islamic” or “forbidden under Islam.”
Morris’ role in our understanding of the region’s history is confounding. Arguably, no one played a more central role in exposing Israel’s role in the depopulation of Palestinians from their homeland than Morris. In his seminal work, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Morris, using declassified military documents, exposes the calculated effort by early Israeli leaders to impose a Jewish majority through ethnic cleansing.
Long considered a champion of modern Israeli historians who sought to shed light on the ugly side of Israel’s birth, Morris shocked many Israelis and Palestinians alike when he later changed course. To Morris, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians was no longer the problem at the heart of the conflict; in fact, he suggested that the problem was that Israel didn’t finish the job in 1948.
Morris said in a 2004 interview: “Under some circumstances expulsion is not a war crime. I don’t think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands.”
Morris added later in the interview that if Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, “was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. . . . If he had carried out a full expulsion — rather than a partial one — he would have stabilized the state of Israel for generations.”
Yet the pesky Palestinian minority Morris wishes had been expelled decades ago serves as a deterrent from a nuclear-armed Iran, should the Islamic Republic ever build nuclear weapons and consider using them on Israel. The fact that Arab Israelis were among the casualties of the 2006 war with Hezbollah speaks to the reality that no nuclear attack on Israel could happen without the deaths of countless Palestinians and Israelis, not to mention the likely destruction of Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam.
The reality of Palestinian casualties, the destruction of Jerusalem, the onset of regional war, and the immediate destruction of Iran’s regime as a result of a multilateral conventional or even nuclear counterattack all serve as a credible deterrent to a nuclear Iran. The Iranian leadership has shown a demonstrable interest in self-preservation.
The alarmism espoused by Morris and company isn’t grounded in reality. Rather — just as with Iraq, Syria, and now Iran — Israel constantly needs an enemy that it says threatens its existence. Otherwise the Jewish state would have a harder time maintaining its overwhelming military supremacy in the region and continuously changing the subject from resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to practically anything else.
The ideology at the foundation of the state of Israel and the very justification for its existence requires the existence of apocalyptic anti-Semitic forces with the intent and capability to annihilate. Without these bogeymen, whether it is Saddam Hussein, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Arabs who “want to push Israel into the sea,” the state of Israel ceases to have any justification for the maintenance of a Jewish majority by force or for its ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands.
The fact that Benjamin Netanyahu, the pro-colonization Israeli prime minister, has made every effort to connect the idea of a nuclear Iran to the Holocaust is evidence of this scare-mongering. Iran, like Iraq in 2003, is an inflated but necessary fear for Israel. No credible analysis of the situation envisions a scenario in which Iran would use nuclear weapons against the Jewish state. But proponents of Israel’s colonial enterprise, who support maintaining a Jewish majority by the force of walls and soldiers in occupied territory, want everyone to believe that the focus should be on Iran, not on the occupation, and that Israel’s security policies are justifiable against “existential threats.”
The need for these inflated threats has increased in the years since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Despite these agreements, Israel still maintains and furthers its occupation of Palestinian lands through blockade and settlement expansion.
The emperor may be naked in Tel Aviv, but he can continue avoiding attention and shame if he persuades the world to look in Tehran’s direction instead.
Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This article is Palestine Center Brief No. 197 (21 April 2010).