- Series: Cambridge Middle East Studies (Book 18)
- Paperback: 666 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (January 5, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521009677
- ISBN-13: 978-0521009676
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge Middle East Studies) 2nd Edition
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"The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, a book of extraordinary power and integrity written by a young Israeli scholar and journalist, Benny Morris, takes that great tale of flight and conquest and tells it as it has never been told before: with precision and moral economy, with awesome detail and honesty." The Washington Post Book World
"The book remains a seminal work on the evacuation of Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. this extremely readable book narrates a powerful story of the uprooting of a people, even if the very voice of the uprooted is absent from it." Political Science Quarterly
This is a revised edition of Morris' earlier work which exposed the realities of how 700,000 Palestinians became refugees during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The focus remains the war and exodus, but fresh archival material considers what happened in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa, and how events there led to the collapse of urban Palestine. It also sheds light on battles and atrocities that contributed to the disintegration of rural communities. The story is harrowing. The refugees now number four million and their cause remains a major obstacle to peace.
Top customer reviews
Whether you agree with Mr. Morris or not, his book is a must read for any serious student of Israel, the conflict or the Middle East in general. I also feel that it is a testament to the evenhandedness of the author that the work has been derided by both camps. Only an honest attempt at analysis could make both sides so unhappy.
The book starts out with a brief history of the region before partition, and then moves along chronologically from the early ideas of population transfer through the war and ends with the last cease fire and the following negotiations. The main chapters are based chronologically, but within the chapters they are broken up geographically. This allows the author to focus in on each location the experienced a demographic change. With great detail the author explains each transfer, and gives the reader a detailed analysis of why these people left. This is one of the big problems in trying to understand the birth of the refugee problem. There was a great variety of reasons why these people left their villages and cities. Some were told to leave by the authorities, some were explicitly forced out by the IDF, others left out of fear, and others left due to stories of atrocities and rumors of atrocities. This is the crux of the problem that was tackled by the author in this work, why each group of refugees left. The author structured his book perfectly to give readers the most detailed analysis of why each group left each specific area. He gives the Israeli response to each exodus, and gives an account of Israeli actions that may have precipitated that flight out of design and sometimes as an unintended consequence.
Whether pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian or just someone trying to make sense out of this complicated area, Mr Morris' work is essential reading. It is a definitive work on the refugee problem. If you are interested in this topic you can't skip on this work.
With that said I did have some major problems with the book. The way it was structured had some major benefits, but also some major drawbacks as well. The problem with structuring the work around each geographic location rather than using chronology is that it creates only isolated pictures of each location. Instead of understanding each exodus on the macro level the reader sees only the micro. This allows the author to go into great detail, but it also minimizes what was happening all over the country, and how those happenings affected the other areas. The author had to make a decision of how to structure this book, and he was going to encounter problems however he went about it so I don't take off for that, but I feel it incumbent to air my problems.
Next I have never in my life encountered a work with so many brackets. They were everywhere. It seemed that almost every quote of any appreciable length would invariably contain at least one change made by the author. I can certainly see how Mr. Morris has opened himself up to charges of misquoting and taking things out of context. On page 558 Morris quotes Ethridge's view that Israel was "unwilling to negotiate", but Mr. Morris inserts that they were "unwilling to [meaningfully] negotiate". This simple addition by Morris changes the context of the quote quite a bit. I feel that the author used his discretion in good faith, and I don't feel that he knowingly attempted to mislead anywhere in his book, but the practice lends itself to criticism. The book would have been much better if this practice had not been so pervasive.
Lastly the author's strength lies in his ability to research, but not so much in his writing style. The book is very dry which makes the length demonstrably harder to cope with. With that said, the book is a labor of love. If you are a history person then you have coped with dry reads before. If you are generally interested in the area then you have come across plenty of agenda driven works so that this one will be a breath of fresh air. While this book may be criticized by the extreme pro-Israel crowd that refuse to accept responsibility for even one refugee, and it may be criticized by the extreme pro-Palestinian crowd who want to see the Israelis as merciless, monsters killing all they could lay their hands, if you are a neutral observer just trying to understand this topic then this is the book for you. It isn't an easy read, but it is well worth the effort. I highly recommend this book.
That said, the importance of this book simply cannot be overstated. It documents, with crystal-clear and unassailable clarity, what caused 700,000 Palestinians to be displaced in 1947-48. And no honest observer, after reading this volume, could deny the bone-fide case Palestinians have against Israel - even though, as the book also constantly points out, the fledgling Jewish state was emotionally and materially unable to carry out a more just policy.
This has much bearing on the political situation today. For one, it means it is totally unrealistic to look for a peace solution where Palestine formally recognizes Israel - a different model (perhaps along the lines of the Bermigo Plan) will need to be found. And second, the historical record, which this book so ably sets out, shames the kneejerk, self-righteous rightwing and center-right Jewish organizations who present the conflict as a tug of war between the eminently reasonable (the Israelis) and totally unreasonable (the Palestinians). The truth is far, far more complex.
Finally, let readers differentiate between this completely apolitical and superbly researched historical volume, and Professor Benny Morris's personal political views - some of which are quite whacky. He is certainly not the first professor or top-rank researcher to present his findings - and then advise on a policy that his own findings scoff at.
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Israeli historian Benny Morris largely succeeds in his intention to present a "complex...Read more