Benny Morris: Why Israel Feels Threatened

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Benny Morris, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion University, is the author, most recently, of “1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War.”]

MANY Israelis feel that the walls — and history — are closing in on their 60-year-old state, much as they felt in early June 1967, just before Israel launched the Six-Day War and destroyed the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies in Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

More than 40 years ago, the Egyptians had driven a United Nations peacekeeping force from the Sinai-Israel border, had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and air traffic and had deployed the equivalent of seven armored and infantry divisions on Israel’s doorstep. Egypt had signed a series of military pacts with Syria and Jordan and placed troops in the West Bank. Arab radio stations blared messages about the coming destruction of Israel.

Israelis, or rather, Israeli Jews, are beginning to feel much the way their parents did in those apocalyptic days. Israel is a much more powerful and prosperous state today. In 1967 there were only some 2 million Jews in the country — today there are about 5.5 million — and the military did not have nuclear weapons. But the bulk of the population looks to the future with deep foreboding.

The foreboding has two general sources and four specific causes. The general problems are simple. First, the Arab and wider Islamic worlds, despite Israeli hopes since 1948 and notwithstanding the peace treaties signed by Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1994, have never truly accepted the legitimacy of Israel’s creation and continue to oppose its existence.

Second, public opinion in the West (and in democracies, governments can’t be far behind) is gradually reducing its support for Israel as the West looks askance at the Jewish state’s treatment of its Palestinian neighbors and wards. The Holocaust is increasingly becoming a faint and ineffectual memory and the Arab states are increasingly powerful and assertive....

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art eckstein - 1/7/2009

The UN vociferously denied over a long period of time that the HEADMASTER of one its schools, Awad al-Qiq, was actually a major Islamic Jihad operative. Then, after he was killed in an airstrike in May 2008 it was revealed that he was...um...a major Islamic Jihad operative. In fact, he was a major rocket-maker. The UN was...embarrased.

Awad al-Qiq was buried in an islamic Jihad flag, and a placard was put up at the entrance of the school praising his bomb-making accomplishments and welcoming him into Paradise.The placard remained there until it was seen and commented upon by a Reuters reporter. The Un was...embarrased. The placard was taken down.

From Reuters, May 5.

Telephoners from within Gaza told Associated Press that they saw Hamas miitants operating weapons right in the streets around the school. Well, maybe they were Israeli agents, eh?

The Israelis named the mid-level Hamas commanders who were killed in the bombardment. Well, maybe they made up the names, eh?

On Britain's Channel 4, the UN representative was asked whether the UN controlled these schools or whether Hamas did. The UN representative was honest enough to be evasive.

No, AS, the UN is not a trustworthy source for me, and I've just given you a specific factual example of why.

I'm ready to be convinced otherwise, but until there's better evidence than assurances from an institution whose assurances have been, uh, mistaken in the past, I'm leaning towards the Israelis. But, as I said, I'm ready to be convinced otherwise--by information from *trustworthy* sources.

Arnold Shcherban - 1/7/2009

<In reacting to the deaths at the school, the Israeli military accused Hamas of making “cynical use” of civilians by firing from schools. The UN Relief and Works Agency said it was “99.9” percent certain there were no militants in the school.>
< Israel’s attack on Gaza is “genocide,” Abbas told the UN Security Council late yesterday.>
Comments are redundant.

art eckstein - 1/6/2009

Well, I asked AS to clarify what he considered evidence, and I cited a whole series of difficult and complex cases, and he backed away, rather than try to answer them. I guess they were too difficult and complex for him.

Okay, so be it.

And with the nutty AS rant above: case closed

Arnold Shcherban - 1/5/2009

I'm done with you, since it is absolutely clear now to anyone who followed my offer with more than transparent, straight, and unambigious conditions and your consequent replies and questioning without visible end that you are coward and have just one source of reliable info in mind - Israel and its close allies, i.e. US and UK.
Your final an explicitly false pretense of not knowing what's considered to be, by definition, independent human rights organization such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch) is truly disgusting to any decent folk.
My congratulations to you, professor: you've worked hard to deserve the Title of Zionist Coward and intellectual Scoundrel.
Feeling embarassed to remain in a company of such a great achiever, I quit to have any debate with you in any foreseeable future.

art eckstein - 1/5/2009

From the Associated Press today:

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters in New York on Monday that U.N. officials believe at least 500 people have been killed in the fighting and that as many as 25 percent are civilians.

"As many as..." That means AT LEAST 75% of those killed, according to the UN, are Hamas soldiers.

This, after 7 days of air-bombardment and 3 days of ground fighting.

Do you acknowledge these figures as correct, AS?

Yes or no.

art eckstein - 1/5/2009

Also, what is your position on the Rayan case.

A senior Hamas military operative, who had masterminded several suicide-bombing missions aimed at Israeli civilians, he was warned by telephone by the Israelis to leave his apt, but he chose to be a martyr. But he also kept his four wives and 12 children with him. The israelis then hit the building, and everyone but one child was killed.

To whom are you going to ascribe blame, AS.
Rayan or the Israelis, and explain. Be explicit, clear and simple, not slick or evasive.

A. M. Eckstein - 1/5/2009

Also, I would like an explicit confirmation from you that you accept that as of this weekend, according to the UNRWA, the number of civilians killed was only 1/4 of the total killed; that is, 3/4 were Hamas soldiers.

Yes or no? Do you accept that UNRWA estimate?

A. M. Eckstein - 1/5/2009

1. Which groups do you consider "independent human rights organizations"

2. The Israelis just announced that they've killed about 100 armed Palestinians in ground fighting. That brings the unfortunate toll to 650 Palestinian dead, of whom about 100 are said by the UNRWA to be civilians.

3. If the Hamas choose to fight using civilian human shields, however, from within civilian populations,--which is their wont--then logically the responsibility for civilian deaths falls on them, not the Israelis.

Do you accept that as part of the proposition, AS?

4. And to whose side of the ledger are you adding the patients in the hospital who were killed by Hamas on grounds that they were collaborators?

Several papers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have reported that among the “civilian dead” in Gaza in recent days are Fatah supporters executed by Hamas in hospitals, schools and other locations.

This New York Times report, for instance, mentions Hamas killed six people in one Gaza hospital alone in a 24-hour period:

“Armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes roamed the halls. Asked their function, they said it was to provide security. But there was internal bloodletting under way. In the fourth-floor orthopaedic section, a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head. Mr. Hajoj, like five others killed at the hospital this way in 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel.”
(This is the excuse Hamas uses to justify the murder of all those who dare voice public criticism of it.)

Khaled Abu Toameh, chief Palestinian correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, who is himself a Palestinian and who has excellent sources in Gaza, reports that on Saturday and Sunday alone, Hamas executed 35 Fatah activists and shot around another 75 in the legs. Others had their hands broken or were placed under house arrest.

Are you going to ascribe these civilian deaths to Israel, AS? Or would you consider these not civilian deaths? Are your "human rights groups" going to do that?

Arnold Shcherban - 1/5/2009

<When current IDF assualt ends and the offical death toll announced (by both sides) and confirmed by UN observers and independent Human rights orgs, I publicly offer Professor a following bet: if the majority of the victims on Palestinian side are Hamas fighters v. non-fighters, then I publicly, i.e. on HNN pages declare myself a lying ideologue and anti-Semite and will never debate on any issue concerning Israeli-Arab conflict anymore; otherwise, professor Ekstein should do the same.
The conditions of the bet I offered several days ago cannot be made clearer and more unambigious for all world to see:
the final (post-cease-fire) figures provided by the UN observers and independent Human Rights organizations (not by Israel or Hamas or other countries) have to be received by the both parties as non-debatable and decisive. Only those and such final figures are to
determine a winner and a looser.

art eckstein - 1/5/2009

No, the issue is I need to know what your standards of evidence ARE. It sounds like you don't accept the UNRWA figures. Is that the case?

Arnold Shcherban - 1/5/2009

If you believe in those figures, why
don't you take on my challenge?
You can't loose, can you?
Come on, I dare you to take on my challenge, lying coward!

art eckstein - 1/5/2009

Accept what the UNRWA figures are. Do you believe them? Yes or no?

Arnold Shcherban - 1/4/2009

Come on, I dare you to take on my challenge!

art eckstein - 1/3/2009

From the Guardian (left wing British newspaper) on Friday:

Midweek, Karen AbuZayd, the UNRWA commissioner general, said a quarter of the dead were civilian.

I'd say the UNRWA is a good source. And it means 3/4 were not civilians, AS.

Perhaps things changed from Wednesday to Friday but I'd like to see the proof. I've given you MY proof--the UNRWA estimate from the Commissioner General. What is YOUR proof, please?

Arnold Shcherban - 1/3/2009

As soon as any criticism of Israeli Zionists is raised, our Professor turns into a desperate lier.
He references UN observers which allegedly stated that only 1/4 of the victims of ongoing IDF assualt on Gaza are non-Hamas people.
This is an outrageous lie, as it was a lie during the last agression against Lebanon and Hezbollah.
UN observers and all major independent Human rights organizations
stated on numerous occasions that the majority of the victims in the both IDF "operations" were and are non-fighters (not mentioning already the victims of the Israeli virtually total blockade of medical and other vital supplies and any escape from the war zone).
When current IDF assualt ends and the offical death toll announced (by both sides) and confirmed by UN observers and independent Human rights orgs, I publicly offer Professor a following bet: if the majority of the victims on Palestinian side are Hamas fighters v. non-fighters, then I publicly, i.e. on HNN pages declare myself a lying ideologue and anti-Semite and will never debate on any issue concerning Israeli-Arab conflict anymore; otherwise, professor Ekstein should do the same.
Alas, I strongly doubt that Professor will take on my challenge, since he has already cowardly backed down once on my other similar challenge.
A man that are completely confident in his point of view on the issue critical to him (as one in question clearly is and was to Mr. Ekstein), would not try to dodge such a challenge.
That Professor does, shows just one thing: he knows he's wrong and is going to loose.
Come on, Zionist demagouge and lier, I dare you to take on my challenge!

art eckstein - 1/1/2009


Every news organization puts the civilian toll at about 1/4 of all deaths; 3/4 are Hamas fighters.

The UN observers on Monday put the civilian death-toll at 62 out of 360.

For the overall situation, here is what the eminent political philosopher Michael Walzer wrote about what we are witnessing:

When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks intentionally from within civilian Palestinian areas against Israeli civilians, they are themselves responsible-and no one else is--for the civilian deaths caused by the inevitable Israeli counterfire.


And both the PA and Egypt have blamed Hamas' shooting thousands of rockets into Israel as the cause of this crisis.

You can see the Egyptian foreign minister's statement on youtube:


Arnold Shcherban - 1/1/2009

Professor writes this every day while
the count of victims on the Palestinian is in hundreds (and mostly not Hamas fighters), and on Israeli side - not more than the number of fingers on his one hand.
Surely it is not Goliaf v. David!
Undoubtedly every human life is precious, but being a historian one has to keep things in perspective...
Not mentioning already that the majority of the world condemns Israeli current offensive as totally disproportionate use of force.
But, of course, they are all anti-Semits in Professor's Zionist interpretation, and therefore can (actually must) be ignored as a nuisance.

art eckstein - 1/1/2009

S writes this on the day that rockets from Gaza hit Beersheba for the first time.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/31/2008

On one hand Israel currently possesses great superiority in all modern warfare and vibrant high-tech economy, not already
mentioning the worst nightmare for its Arabic neighbors - huge arsenal
of nuclear weapons. The fields of economy related to high-tech weaponry - the backbone of modern warfare - in the adversary Arab states are virtually non-existant.
If one throws in practically unconditional political and military support to Israel provided by the US/UK coalition, it leaves space for just one reasonable conclusion: there is no way no how Israel's existence as a sovereign state and nation may be threatened in any forseeable future.