April 13, 2024

In Substack

Historian Benny Morris supports Prime Minister Netanyahu’s resolve to attack Rafah (“Israel’s Security Depends on Rafah,” NY Times, 11 April 2024). Normally home to 280,000 Gazans, Rafah now also contains 1.2 million internal refugees swept into the city during Israel’s massive ethnic cleansing the past six months. It’s probably the most densely populated spot on God’s earth. In a disingenuous wordplay, Morris designates these 1.5 million Gazans a “human shield.” This locution denotes the involuntary conscription by an armed force of civilians to protect itself. But Hamas didn’t conscript these forsaken souls as shields; it was Israel that drove them there while now purporting that it must kill them to get at Hamas. Morris’s article is couched in this propagandistic idiom. He still refers to the casualty figures as based on the “Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry” even as independent professional studies have confirmed these figures, and they are almost certainly an underestimate. He states that the current 33,000 figure “includes the more than 12,000 Hamas fighters the Israeli military claims to have killed these past six months.” In fact, the casualty figures Israel alleged in its previous “operations”—dutifully repeated by Morris in his books—wildly differed from the findings of human rights groups, while Israel has bandied about a mass of wildly discrepant figures of militants killed during the past six months. The IDF hasn’t even a clue how many Hamas combatants have been killed: it’s almost certain that most militants have fallen victim anonymously alongside civilians in the course of Israel’s deliberately indiscriminate terror assault on Gazan society; there have only been a handful of “battles” where Hamas corpses can ultimately be counted while, judging by previous Israeli operations—in which its “crazy” and “insane” firepower overwhelmed Hamas fighters and thus they rarely made it to actual combat—there cannot have been many Hamas battlefield corpses in the latest round to add up; the IDF doesn’t usually enter the Hamas tunnels it discovers but just explodes the shafts; Israel routinely classifies any dead adult male it stumbles upon during its “operations” as a Hamas “terrorist.” Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister recently avowed that the IDF has killed only one civilian for every Hamas militant it killed. Does Morris believe this?


Morris justified an Israeli assault on the grounds that Rafah is the last stronghold of Hamas in Gaza; that an “expansive Hamas tunnel system” lies beneath Rafah; and that the “Hamas battalions” numbering “thousands of its fighters” ensconced in these tunnels must be “obliterated.” How does he know all this? Yes, Israel alleges that Hamas has built 450 miles of tunnels beneath Gaza. But that figure exceeds in length the famed sprawling, ramified New York City subway system (430 miles of tunnels), and, if true, every 1,200 hundred feet along minuscule Gaza’s 5-mile-long width, there is yet another 25-mile-long tunnel stretching its full length. Is that credible? It’s also anyone’s guess whether “Hamas battalions” are hiding in Rafah. Just a few months ago Israel alleged that Hamas’s command-and-control center lurked beneath al-Shifa hospital. Then it alleged that Hamas’s leaders had fled to Khan Younis. And on and on. Even as each claim proved to be false, they did nonetheless serve as a useful pretext to pulverize the infrastructure of another parcel of land as Israel proceeded to make Gaza uninhabitable. It seems that—with an assist from Morris—that fate now awaits Rafah.


Morris’s admonition that Hamas must suffer total defeat places him squarely within the consensus of Israeli politics. But the Israeli political spectrum is off the spectrum. There’s no center let alone left in Israeli politics: there’s only a right, a far right, and an ultra right. On the US political spectrum Morris’s opinion is echoed in a new publication by the neocon Jewish Institute for National Security of America: Hamas must be “effectively destroyed”; Israel must inflict a “visible and overwhelming defeat of Hamas.” (JINSA, “The Day After: A Plan for Gaza,” March 2024) The lead authors of this report are John Hannah, Elliott Abrams, and Lewis Libby. This trio was last heard from when they played crucial roles in the George W. Bush administration’s decision to unseat Saddam. So if you’re curious where Morris is coming from, think of the—crazed—mindset that brought us Iraq.


Morris anticipates that if the attack on Rafah goes ahead, “the additional civilian casualties and the attendant further disruption of humanitarian aid … will ratchet up condemnation of Israel’s conduct by its Western allies, led by the United States.” Notice his one and only concern is that the assault won’t go over well in the West. A just-released report by the respected International Crisis Group observes that Israel’s “stated goals of destroying Hamas and toppling the government” cannot be reconciled with “saving what remains of Gaza and preventing mass death from starvation and disease.” It’s one or the other. The report concludes that “The goal of toppling Hamas cannot justify abetting a famine that could claim tens of thousands of lives.” (“Stopping Famine in Gaza,” April 2024) But the moral dilemma of pursuing an assault that could result in a hecatomb doesn’t even register for Morris. His moral calculus only reckons the diplomatic fallout. Here again, he is an Everyman Israeli.


Professor Morris was once a serious historian. Like everyone else, he had his biases, but his books were replete with rich archival findings. But, per the generality of Israelis, he has in recent decades become so consumed by hatred and contempt of Palestinians, so given to bile-filled rants, that not a word he says can any longer be trusted. (I publicly challenged Morris during a debate to answer my stringent parsing of his recent scholarly output. Morris agreed—but then abruptly, albeit predictably, backed out after reading my analysis.) He has exploited his deserved past reputation to disseminate Israeli state propaganda. Like the JINSA neocons, he has been repeatedly exhorting the US to join Israel in an attack on Iran. What’s more, he has even rattled the threat that, if Israel has to go it alone, it will have no recourse except to nuke Iran:


“Realistic leaders in Washington and Jerusalem cannot allow Teheran to have the Bomb. And, in the coming months or year, must do what is necessary to halt and destroy the Iranian nuclear project. And if this involves a protracted, conventional air assault on the Iranian nuclear facilities—then so be it. The Iranians will have brought that assault on their own heads. And, if conventional weapons cannot do the job—and if Israel is forced to go the course alone, it is doubtful that its conventional capabilities will be sufficient to destroy the Iranian nuclear project. Then non-conventional weaponry will have to be used to stymie the project. And many innocent Iranians will die. But the Iranians will have brought this upon themselves by bringing to power and leaving in power a leadership that will have forced Israelis to do what was necessary in order to survive.” (“A Second Holocaust?: The threat to Israel” (2 May 2008;


It’s a most intriguing proposition. If the Iranian people elected their current government, then, if they are wiped out in a nuclear attack, “they will have brought this upon themselves.” Doesn’t it then follow that, if the Israeli people elected their current genocidal government—indeed, according to polls, overwhelmingly support the genocide—then “they will have brought this upon themselves” if …?