AND NOW FOR SOME FACTS

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(Benny Morris, a professor Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University. The full text of this article can be read on TNR ’s website.)

John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” is a nasty piece of work. [W]hat these distinguished professors have produced is otherwise depressing to anyone who values intellectual integrity. [They] build their case mainly by means of omission: they tell certain facts while omitting others, sometimes more apt and crucial. And occasionally they distort facts and figures… Their work is riddled with shoddiness and defiled by mendacity. Were “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body…

Mearsheimer and Walt write that “Israel is often portrayed as weak and besieged, a Jewish David surrounded by a hostile Arab Goliath…but the opposite image is closer to the truth.” For some reason, weakness is commonly seen as entailing moral superiority, an illogical proposition.

I would recommend that they take a look at any atlas and yearbook for the key years of the conflict-1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. Even a child would notice that the Arab world, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, does actually “surround” Israel and is infinitely larger than the eight-thousand-square-mile Jewish state (which is the size of New Hampshire). He would notice also that the population of the confrontation states-Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, who were often joined in their wars with Israel by expeditionary forces from Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Yemen-has always been at least twenty times greater than Israel’s; and in 1948 it was about fifty times greater. The material resources of the Arab world similarly have been (as they still are) infinitely larger than Israel’s.

It is true that Israel’s “organizational ability” has enabled it to concentrate and focus its resources where they count in wartime, on the successive battlefields, with far greater efficiency than the Arabs… But this is still a far cry from implying, as Mearsheimer and Walt do, regarding the war in 1947-1949, that Israel won its wars because “the Zionists had larger, better-equipped” forces than the Arabs.

During the October (or Yom Kippur) War in 1973, the Egyptians mustered about one million men under arms, and their Syrian allies some 400,000, when they launched their surprise attacks across the Suez Canal and on the Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fielded 350,000 to 400,000 troops at most. The Israelis won that war because of superior “grit” and better quality of troops and organization…

As regards the war of 1948, the picture is more complex… It is true that in the first part of the war, the “civil war” between the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine (from late November 1947 until May 14, 1948, when the state of Israel came into being), the Jews enjoyed a gradually mobilized military superiority, owed primarily to better organization and only marginally to an advantage in some types of weaponry… During the second and conventional phase of the [1948] war (mid-May 1948 to January 1949), which was fought between the invading armies of the Arab states-Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan (supplemented by Sudanese, Saudi, Yemeni, and Moroccan contingents)-and the newborn state of Israel, the Arab side began with an overwhelming…advantage in equipment and firepower… Until the end of June, certainly, the Arab invaders…deployed about two hundred standard armored fighting vehicles…dozens of tanks…and dozens of artillery pieces. The Israelis had two tanks, one of them without a gun; and one, then two, batteries of light pre-World War I-vintage 65mm Mountain artillery; and makeshift armored cars…

As for manpower, the picture of relative force remains somewhat murky… In mid-October [1948], the balance stood at 79,000-95,000 to 47,000-53,000 in favor of the Israelis… [But] the figure for the Arabs represents the numbers engaged in Palestine, not the full roll call of the relevant Arab armies, with their rear echelons… It is perhaps worth adding that in 1948 Israel suffered just over 6,000 dead, one-third of them civilians, out of a total population of 650,000 to 700,000…in the course of a year-long war…(Had America suffered a similar proportion of casualties in the Vietnam War, there would have been more than two million dead and four million wounded.) Arab losses in 1948 are uncertain. It is usually estimated that about 8,000 Palestinians died, and that the Arab armies’ fatalities were about half that number. So yes, Israel won each of its wars against the Arab states. But no, this was not because it had greater manpower or more equipment; it usually had less of each…

This brings us to Israel’s recent conflict with the Palestinians… [The second] intifada [from 2000 to 2005] was launched by the Palestinians, who enjoyed the propaganda benefit of underdog status. The photograph of the disheveled stone-throwing…fighter facing down the Merkava…battle tank became a representative image of this conflict. But it was a misleading representation. For the fearsome Merkava tanks almost never used their firepower against the Palestinians… The Hamas and Fatah fighters operated from behind a shield of Palestinian civilians and from crowded urban refugee camps and neighborhoods, and so Israel fought with both hands tied behind its back. Its actual firepower-its tanks, aircraft, and cannon-was never unleashed. This accounts for the relatively low number of Arab deaths… Most of the Arabs killed in the intifada…were armed fighters, not civilians…

Throughout the second intifada, Israeli policy was to avoid…harm to non-combatants, and the IDF generally took great operational care to avoid civilian casualties… [G]enerally the targeted killing of terrorists-who see themselves, quite correctly, as soldiers in a war, and hence are legitimate targets for attack-resulted in few civilian casualties… On the other hand, during the second intifada Arab attacks on Israelis claimed twice as many civilians’ lives as soldiers’ lives. (Mearsheimer and Walt bury this fact in a footnote, without explanation.) This was a result of deliberation and intention, not accident. Throughout the intifada, Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad primarily targeted “soft” civilian targets (buses, restaurants, shopping malls, and last week a Tel Aviv falafel kiosk), preferring them to “hard” military targets, which were more difficult and more dangerous… The Palestinian aim was to kill as many civilians as possible; and the Palestinian masses rejoiced…every time a suicide bomber successfully blew up a bus or a shopping mall or a café in Israel…

In their survey of the conflict’s history…Mearsheimer and Walt imply that down to (and maybe even beyond) 1948, the Zionist leadership rejected the partition of Palestine. This is simply false, no matter what misleading quotations they cull from eminent Israeli historians. Until 1936-1937, certainly, the Zionist mainstream sought to establish a Jewish state over all of Palestine… In July 1937, the British royal commission…recommended the partition of Palestine, with the Jews to establish their own state on some 20 percent of the land and the bulk of the remainder to fall under Arab sovereignty… The Zionist right, the Revisionist movement, rejected the proposals. But mainstream Zionism, representing 80 to 90 percent of the movement, was thrown into ferocious debate [and] ended up formally accepting the principle of partition… The movement’s formal acceptance of the principle of partition was gradually digested and incorporated into the mentality of the Zionist mainstream, which understood that the Jewish people needed an immediate safe haven from European savagery, and that the movement would have to take what history was offering and could gain no more…

As is well known, the Israeli victory and conquests of 1967 re-awakened the controversy about partition and for a time empowered the “Greater Israel” anti-partitionists, until their decline and fall, which began with Yitzhak Rabin’s election to the premiership in 1992. Partition–or a two-state solution–remained the goal of all Rabin’s successors: Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, and most notably Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert (though not Benjamin Netanyahu), and also of the bulk of the Israeli public. But Mearsheimer and Walt do not venture into this significant field.

The Palestinian story was different. The Palestinian national movement, from its inception up to 2000…rejected a two-state solution… The Palestinian leadership rejected the 1937 and 1947 partition plans…and insisted that the Jews had no right to even an inch of Palestine. And the Palestinian government of today, led by the popularly elected Hamas, continues to espouse this uncompromising, anti-partitionist one-state position. All of this is completely ignored in Mearsheimer and Walt’s “history.”

And now to the issue of transfer and expulsion… [T]he awful idea of transfer was…pressed by Zionist leaders…in response to Arab waves of violence that seemed to vitiate the possibility of Arab-Jewish co-existence in a single state… [D]uring the 1930s and 1940s, the…policy of the leader of the Palestinian Arab national movement, the Muslim cleric Haj Amin al Husseini…repeatedly stated that he was willing, in his future Palestinian state, to accommodate as citizens only those Jews who had been residents or citizens of Palestine up to 1917… When asked…by the Peel Commission what he intended to do with the 80 percent of the Jews who had been born in or come to Palestine after that date, he responded that time will tell. The commissioners understood him to mean that they were destined for expulsion or worse…

Mearsheimer and Walt recycle the canard that Israel and the United States offered the Palestinians nothing of worth…in the [Camp David] negotiations in 2000. They write that Barak’s peace proposals at Camp David offered the Palestinians “a disarmed and dismembered set of ‘Bantustans’ under de facto Israeli control.” But…President Clinton-with Barak’s approval-[offered] the Palestinians 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank…100 percent of the Gaza Strip, sovereignty over East Jerusalem including at least half of the Old City, sovereignty over the surface of the disputed Temple Mount, and massive help to rehabilitate the refugees. [T]he Palestinians said no… The Americans and the Israelis…most certainly offered the Palestinians “a viable state…” It was…such a state that the Palestinians, in their stupidity, turned down…

[T]he “facts” presented by Mearsheimer and Walt suggest a fundamental ignorance of the history with which they deal, and…the “evidence” they deploy is so tendentious as to be evidence only of an acute bias…

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