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The State Of Scholarship At Columbia – And Of Book Reviewing At The New York Times


Third, anyone with access to Google can tell that there is a particularly important recent source – and one that Khalidi is undoubtedly aware of – curiously omitted from the footnote. In 2004, Benny Morris published The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, based on new documents released since his initial book 17 years before.

Khalidi cites Morris’s 1987 book in his footnote – and labels it the “standard work on this topic” – but fails to reference (much less analyze) Morris’s 2004 Revisited book. In fact, Khalidi does not reference Morris’s 2004 book anywhere in any footnote in his entire book – an omission even more curious given the fact that Morris wrote a prominent article about his revised findings in 2004.

When Revisited was published, Morris wrote an article about its findings, entitled ” For the Record,” in the January 14, 2004 issue of The Guardian. Here is a key excerpt from the article:

Birth Revisited describes many more atrocities and expulsions than were recorded in the original version of the book. But, at the same time, a far greater proportion of the 700,000 Arab refugees were ordered or advised by their fellow Arabs to abandon their homes than I had previously registered. It is clear from the new documentation that the Palestinian leadership in principle opposed the Arab flight from December 1947 to April 1948, while at the same time encouraging or ordering a great many villages to send away their women, children and old folk, to be out of harm’s way. Whole villages, especially in the Jewish-dominated coastal plain, were also ordered to evacuate. There is no doubt that, throughout, the departure of dependents lowered the morale of the remaining males and paved the way for their eventual departure as well….

* * *

[T]he problem wasn’t created by the Zionists but by the Arabs themselves, and stemmed directly from their violent assault on Israel. Had the Palestinians and the Arab states refrained from launching a war to destroy the emergent Jewish state, there would have been no refugees and none would exist today. [Emphasis added.]

So the well-worth-reading footnote cites a refugee number that is misleading, since it does not

estimate how many fled on their own, or were encouraged or ordered to flee by their leadership. Even Khalidi’s 750,000 overall figure is overstated, given Morris’s 2004 figure of 700,000. In Revisited, Morris concluded that, of the 700,000, the number of Arabs who fled not under Jewish orders or direct coercion were in the “hundreds of thousands.”

But when you look at the text in Khalidi’s book surrounding the footnoted portion that Erlanger touted, you find this bald assertion, made once again without reference to or discussion of either Morris’s 2004 book or his 2004 article:

Israel’s new historians, using Israeli, British, United Nations, and other archives opened since the early 1980s, have shown these claims [that “Arab leaders told the Palestinians to flee”] to be groundless. (Page 3.)

Khalidi allows only that in “a few areas” noncombatants were urged to flee, and that “some” fled before the fighting reached them. Even a book that is “more of an analysis than an exercise in original research” should cite the original research (particularly by the leading scholar, published two years ago) that contradicts the “analysis.”

From Benny Morris’s 2004 article it is evident how “more than half” of the Palestinian population could possibly have left during the 1948 war: when the Arabs “ordered or advised” women, children and old people (more than half the population) to leave from a “great many villages,” and moreover ordered “whole villages, especially in the Jewish-dominated coastal plain” to evacuate, and when many of the demoralized males eventually followed their family and left as well, the numbers can add up.

In Revisited, Morris also concluded that the majority of Arabs nevertheless remained in Palestine; so even Khalidi’s “more than half” statement is wrong.

In the end, the significant part of Erlanger’s sentence is not the reference to the faux-scholarly footnote (which turns out to be well worth reading, but not for the reasons Erlanger thinks), but rather the grudging admission at the beginning of Erlanger’s sentence: “The Jews did not begin the fighting, but . . .”

About the Author: Rick Richman, whose work has appeared in The New York Sun, The Tower Magazine, and The Jewish Press, among other publications, is a prolific writer who appears regularly in Commentary magazine and its group Contentions blog, where this originally appeared. He also maintains the Jewish Current Issues blog (www.jpundit.typepad.com/jci/).


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