1948 A History of the First Arab Israeli Conflict by Benny Morris


reviewed by Marc Schulman

1948 by Benny Morris

Benny Morris has set out to write a comprehensive history of the 1948 War between the Arabs in Jews- otherwise known as Israel War of Independence-  Morris has combined a military and political history of the war and has earlier extensive research on the origins of the Palestinian Refugee problem.    

Morris begins the book with the origins of the conflict goes through the political fight for partition.  He then moves to the first two stages of the war- the civil war. In the first stage the Yishuv, the Jewish community is on the defensive, but manages to hold its own, in the second stage the Yishuv takes the offensive and effectively destroys the military capacity of the Palestinians.  The Yishuv despite being outnumbered has the advantages of better organization, better leadership and a greater sense of purpose.  Key to Yishuv's victory in the second part of the civil war was the timely arrival of the first substantial shipment of small arms.

The second part of the war was the convential war when the surrounding Arab states invaded Israel after the end of the mandate.  The military leadership of the Israel gave it only a 50/50 chance of surviving the original Arab attack.  The Arabs originally benefited from an overwhelming advantage in numbers and weapons.  However once Israel was able to blunt the initial attack, the advantage quickly moved to Israel, which was rapidly gaining weapons and more recruits and the survivors of the holocaust poured in and Israel’s arms purchases arrived.   By the time the first ceasefire ended the survival of Israel was not at risk; rather the only question was what would be the borders of the state of Israel. 

Morris does not spare Israel from a description of the some of the atrocities carried out by its troops especially during the civil war stage of the war.  Morrison puts it into prospective both in terms of that was the norm of both sides during this period and more importantly in light of the fact that non of it would have happened if the Arabs had accepted the partition plan.  Morris reviews the origins of the refugee problem, and while it’s clear that Israel clearly encouraged the Palestinians to move in many cases it was not the policy throughout.  More importantly Morris makes it clear that the movement of the refugees was the direct result of their attacks on the nascent state and unwillingness to come to any accommodation.    He also highlights the unwillingness of the Arab states to resettle any of the refugees. 

In many ways Morris book is a very pessimistic book.  He quotes the Muslim brotherhood in 1948 wrote- Jews are the historic enemies of Muslims and carry the greatest hatred for the Nation of Mohammad.  He quotes a letter written by Saudi King Ibn Saud to Franklin Roosevelt in which he said “Palestinian has been an Arab country since the dawn of history and was never inhabited by the Jews for more than a period of time, during which their history in the land was full of murder and cruelty.  There is religious hostility between Moslems and the Jews from the beginning of Islam, which arouse from the treacherous conduct of the Jews towards Islam and the Moslems and their prophet. “

Morris writes that historians have tended to ignore of dismiss, as so much hot air, the jihad rhetoric, and flourishes that accompanied the two- stage assault on the Yishuv and the constant references prevailing Arab discourse to that earlier bout of Islamic battle for the Holy Land, against the Crusader’s.  This is a mistake.  The 1948 war from the Arab perspective was a war of religion as much as, if not more than, a nationalist war over territory.  Put another way, the territory was sacred and its violation by infidels was a sufficient grounds for launching a holy war and its conquest a divinely ordained necessity.  Unfortunately in the intervening 60 years little has changed for many Palestinians.

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