The ji­had that was ’48

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -


By Benny Mor­ris Yale Univer­sity Press, £25 RE­VIEWED BY AHRON BREG­MAN

WRIT­ERS AND SCHOL­ARS (my­self in­cluded) have tended to ig­nore, or dis­miss, the ji­hadi char­ac­ter of the 1948 Arab-Is­raeli war and to re­gard the Arab rhetoric that ac­com­pa­nied their as­sault on the Jewish com­mu­nity and state as empty words.

In­stead, the em­pha­sis has been on the ter­ri­to­rial di­men­sion of the con­flict. But not by Benny Mor­ris, who tells us that, from the Arabs’ per­spec­tive, the 1948 war was about re­li­gion, a holy war, at least as much as it was a na­tion­al­ist strug­gle over ter­ri­tory — an in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tion which he sup­ports with an abun­dance of ma­te­rial.

Mor­ris re­gards the 1948 war (and it seems that his­tory may be prov­ing him right) as part of a more gen­eral, global strug­gle be­tween the West and the Is­lamic East, in which the Land of Is­rael/Pales­tine fig­ured, and con­tin­ues to fig­ure, as a ma­jor bat­tle­ground. Ac­cord­ingly, for Mor­ris, the Arab as­sault of 1947-1948 was an ex­pres­sion of the Is­lamic Arabs’ re­jec­tion of West­ern val­ues.

An­other of Mor­ris’s per­sua­sive views, again well-il­lus­trated in the book, sees the war as an in­evitable event, the re­sult of de­vel­op­ments that had be­gun in the 1880s with the ar­rival of Zion­ist set­tlers whose pres­ence led to grow­ing ten­sions with lo­cal Arabs.

Mor­ris pulls no punches and does not shy away from tack­ling sen­si­tive is­sues such as that of rape com­mit­ted by Jewish fight­ers in con­quered towns and vil­lages.

He men­tions about a dozen such cases — in Jaffa, Acre, and else­where —– re­ported in the avail­able doc­u­men­ta­tion. Arabs, we are told, ap­pear to have com­mit­ted few acts of rape.

Over­all, this is a first-class study, look­ing at both high pol­i­tics and the nitty-gritty of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, prob­ing the mo­tives and aims of the pro­tag­o­nists and analysing the role played by the Great Pow­ers in shap­ing the con­flict.

Praise is also due to the pro­duc­tion team for this book as the maps, for in­stance, are not only ac­cu­rate but also beau­ti­fully made, and the pic­ture sec­tion con­tains pho­to­graphs that I, for one, have never seen be­fore.

Benny Mor­ris digs deep into the archives and he comes up with an im­pres­sive, rich, re­veal­ing and highly read­able book. Ahron Breg­man is the au­thor of Is­rael’s Wars: A His­tory since 1948

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