The “New York Times” Finds New Ways to Distort the History of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

February 28, 2024 | Benny Morris
About the author: Benny Morris is a visiting professor in Israel studies at Georgetown University and the author of, among other books, 1948: A History of the First Arab–Israeli War (Yale, 2008).

Earlier this month, the New York Times Magazine published a long article, titled “The Road to 1948,” drawn from a conversation among six professors, three Arab and three Jewish. But even the composition of the panel fits what Benny Morris terms the article’s “misleading attempt to project even-handedness,” as two of the Jewish participants betray a sharply critical attitude toward Zionism, while the three Arab scholars “almost uniformly toe the PLO (or Hamas) line, which is indistinguishable from propaganda.” Morris also notes:

Five of the six people involved can hardly be deemed experts on either the Arab-Israeli conflict or the 1948 war. Only one—Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington—has published works of some relevance.

Morris dissects the article’s numerous errors, half-truths, and omissions. For instance:

Emily Bazelon, [the piece’s moderator and editor], informs readers that the first bout of violence took place when the 1920 Muslim Nebi Musa festivities in Jerusalem “turned into a deadly riot,” in which “five Jews and four Arabs [were] killed.” Neither she nor any of the panelists mention that an Arab mob attacked, murdered, and wounded Jews or that the crowd of perpetrators chanted “nashrab dam al-yahud” (“we will drink the blood of the Jews”). Nor does she tell us that the crowd shouted, “Mohammad’s religion was born with the sword,” according to the eyewitness Khalil al-Sakakini, a Christian Arab educator.

The other errors are more severe still, but I found this point about the Bir Zeit University sociologist Salim Tamari especially noteworthy:

Tamari blithely dismisses the [1948] war by saying that the Palestinians and the Arab states were weak and that “the Arab defeat was almost a foregone conclusion.” But this only seems true in retrospect. In May 1948, the American and British intelligence services predicted an Arab victory.

Tamari and the others thus seem to go beyond the standard academic argument that Israel independence was built on the terrible and inhuman mass-dispossession of Palestinians. They also want to defend the collective honor of the four Arab armies that lost to a group of Jews they outnumbered and outgunned.

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