London, (Pal Telegraph) - On Tuesday evening, June 14th, Palestinian rights campaigners in London produced a determined and visible show of opposition when Israeli historian Benny Morris came to the London School of Economics to expound his repugnant views of Arabs and his whitewashing of the Nakba.
An Opportunity Presents Itself
Earlier that evening, Palestinian rights campaigners sitting in a coffee shop near the LSE, spotted Benny Morris walking down Kingsway, a busy street near Holborn Tube Station. This was too good an opportunity to miss; in a flash, campaigners gathered around him and took turns to put questions directly to Morris about his writings and statements on the necessity of ethnic cleansing, his call for the caging of Palestinians, and the racist overtones of his descriptions of Arabs.
Morris ignored the questions and instead marched on. If he was hoping to get away with that, he was mistaken. Campaigners simply followed him and continued to put questions to him loudly and asked for him to reply. This carried on for about 200 yards and created a spectacle for the public. Morris then bolted into the LSE building along with his rather confused and bewildered minders. Morris had muttered ‘right’ a couple of times and that was the sum total of his engagement; his demeanour throughout had been more like a criminal trying to hide from the spotlight rather than an academic confident of his ground and willing to take up the invite of open debate.
Outside The LSE
The venue for Morris’s lecture had been kept secret until 24 hours beforehand. It was an all-ticket affair which required pre-booking and disclosure of the name and address of those applying for tickets. Security was heavy; photo-ID required, no bags allowed and coats searched. Why was all this was necessary for a public lecture by a historian to promote his book? My guess is that the measures were designed to make it difficult for protest or opposition to be organised. If so, the measures were a miserable failure. Palestinian rights campaigners – and there were many of them – were highly visible outside the LSE; and handed flyers to people going into the lecture. The flyer – specially produced by London BDS – was headed with a simple question, Is Benny Morris a Serious Historian or Plain Old Racist? The body of the flyer contained quotes from Benny Morris; the reader was left to form his/her own conclusion. In the lecture hall itself, many people were seen reading the flyer as the audience waited for Morris’s talk.
In The Lecture Theatre
Morris was introduced by the Chair of the meeting as “an authority” on the events of 1948. It was not a particularly warm or personal introduction; and the Chair explained he was undertaking the role of Chair because he was part of the management body of the LSE’s Middle East Centre.
Morris made brief reference to some events before 1948 which in his view were significant for understanding what came later. For Morris it is the Arab rejection of the 1937 Peel Commission and the 1947 Partition Plan which is the root of all future problems. At no point though did Morris deal with the fairness or the legality of the requirement on the indigenous population to hand over vast tracts of their land to foreign settlers and colonisers. For Morris it’s all the fault of the ‘Arabs’. This was his constant theme throughout the evening.
Morris accepts that fighting broke out well before 1948 – in fact in 1947. Morris said this was sparked by ‘the Arabs’ who attacked a bus carrying Jewish passengers. For Morris, it’s always the fault of ‘the Arabs’.
Morris claims that the war of 1948 was not only about land and national rights, but ‘the Arab’ side was also driven by an Islamic Jihad. He cited a few sources for this conclusion – it was not clear how authoritative or genuine the sources are, but that does not matter to Morris. He alone has found evidence of an Islamic Jihad and thinks that this is credible.
Morris claims there was no official policy to force out Arabs in 1948. He thinks the hundreds of thousands of Arabs refugees just happened – through fear. He does not mention or discuss at any time evidence from other historians that the forced expulsion of Palestinians in 1947 and 1948 was part of a calculated plan. Morris then went on to speculate that in 1948 Arabs had genocidal intentions towards the Jews. No evidence was provided by Morris to support his speculation.
It seems for Morris any significant evil intention on the part of Zionists is to be dismissed unless there is clear evidence in the official Israeli Archives that it existed; in other words that the criminal has written a signed detailed confession; but Arab evil intention is real merely if Benny Morris thinks it is so.
A number of the audience were unable to stomach listening to Morris for long and they walked out – some with stickers across their mouths saying ‘Morris Is Racist’ and ‘Apartheid’. They left quietly, but certainly got their message across.
Rather than torture readers with more of Morris’ double-standards, I will move on to a report of the Q&As.
Morris took questions in blocks of three for about an hour. This enabled him to evade many questions altogether, or give only part replies. Nonetheless, I would estimate that two out every three questions from the public were direct challenges to his facts and or conclusions. These questions covered the illegitimate nature of the UN Partition Plan, the mass murders of Palestinians, the bogus nature of the claims of Zionists to the land of Israel, the issue of Palestinian refugees, the prospects for peace, illegal Settlements, Jerusalem and Morris’s own moral framework. Supporters of Palestinian rights continually challenged Morris in the session with well constructed and reasoned questions and there seemed to be a determination that Morris was not going to be allowed to come to London and simply schmooze his way through the issue of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
As time went on Morris seemed to become more flippant with his responses – wrongly playing to what he thought the audience wanted. This clearly angered many in the audience; and shouts of ‘Answer the Question’ became frequent and loud. At one point Morris referred to the Palestine Papers and dismissed these as US diplomatic cables; he repeated again they were US diplomatic cables which caused huge laughter and anger in equal proportions from the audience. Audience members pointed out loudly that the Palestine Papers were internal documents of the Palestinian Authority and nothing to do with US diplomatic cables. Not for the first time during the evening Morris’s factual foundations were found to be rotten.
The Chairperson closed the meeting at the allotted time. About a third of the audience did not applaud Benny Morris at the end. I rushed to the doors for fresh air and most of all – sanity.
But I had to wait, as the audience was not allowed to leave until Morris had been escorted from the building.
Photographs courtesy of www.inminds.com