What really happened in the 1947/48 “Nakba”? – Two Israeli historians have very different interpretations

Dr. Benny Morris (l.) and Dr. Ilan Pappé (r) are well-known Jewish Israeli historians who have dug carefully into Israel’s past. Morris is a proud Zionist. Pappé is opposed to Zionism.  Their research has led them to draw very different conclusions about the events surrounding the creation of the State of Israel in 1947/48.  An excellent series of probing interviews with each one has been prepared by Dr. Jordan Levine of Toronto. Take advantage of our COVID inspired confinement to watch, listen and learn.

May 15th is the “Nakba Day” when Palestinians commemorate the expulsion of over 700,000 non Jewish Palestinians in order to make way for new European Jews flooding into Mandate Palestine. But it did not all happen on May 15th. Military operations by Zionist militias began in late November 1947 and continued until 1949.

With access to declassified archival documents beginning in the 1980s, a new generation of Israeli historians began to challenge the official Israeli narrative regarding the events of 1947-1949.  The records did not reveal any Arab radio broadcasts urging Palestinians to leave, but did record that there were forced expulsions, and that some Jewish militia units did commit rape and murder.  Israeli historians Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé mostly agree on these facts, but disagree sharply on the intentionality and the morality of Israel’s actions.

 What really happened? – Two views

zion interviews

Dr. Jordan Levine of Toronto has carried out two excellent interviews with two Israeli historians who have opposite views. His questions are thoughtful and deft. The answers might surprise you.

morris 1948

Dr. Benny Morris’ book “1948” re-examined official Israeli documents and exposed some awkward truths about Israel’s history.

A Zionist view – Benny Morris

Dr. Morris a professor of history in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Beersheba, Israel.

Morris describes himself as a Zionist who wanted to know the truth. “I embarked upon the research not out of ideological commitment or political interest. I simply wanted to know what happened.”

Morris’s work on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has won praise from some and criticism others.  

Watch the 2 part Benny Morris interview here:

pappe ethnic clean

In addition to written Israeli documents, Pappé used oral histories from Palestinians. “Rapists rarely write down what they did”, he wryly tells the interviewer.

A non-Zionist view – Dr. Ilan Pappé

Dr. Pappé is an Israeli historian and social activist. He was born in Haifa. He is a currently professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, director of the university’s European Centre for Palestine Studies, and co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies. 

His excellent and pathbreaking books include “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, and “The Forgotten Palestinians”.  His most recent book is called “Ten Myths about Israel“. He is widely admired (even loved by Palestinians) and almost equally reviled by those who support Israel.

Watch the 2 part Ilan Pappé interview here:


Every year, Palestinians around the world commemorate Nakba day. In Ottawa a small group has created a Nakba Commemoration Initiative which includes short video clips from a number of Palestinians in Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank, inside Israel and in refugee camps about their current situation.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue.

Want to learn more about what we do? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.

Contact us at: ofip.chair@gmail.com.


  1. Here is Morris speaking about Pappe as a historian: “At best, Ilan Pappe must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two.” (The New Republic, March 2011)

    Yes, Pappe is beloved by Palestinian Arabs. it is not surprising.

    While the British do not have any recordings of radio broadcasts after May 15, 1948 urging Arabs to flee so that the Arab armies would have clear passage, there are several noted Arabs who claim that such advice was given. It is true that some Israeli leaders urged mixed-city Arabs to stay but they voluntarily left once Israeli troops were in control.

    Pappe is well known, but outside of anti-Zionist and antisemitic circles, he is not respected.

    1. Hey Mr. Sigman, thanks for another comment. You seem to have made this an almost fulltime job.

      Well, it wouldn’t be surprising that Mr. Morris doesn’t like Pappe, does it? Really? History is made up of a selection of facts. You, like Mr. Morris, have selected yours.
      For a long time Canadians conveniently selected some important facts about Canadian history and ignored others, particularly with regard to our indigenous people. That is slowly being righted. I hope the same thing happens some day in Israel.

      1. Mr. Larson,

        I am completing my doctorate, which is my full time job. However, I do tend to post on anti-Zionist sites which often stray into antisemitism. Not so much the initial post but the comments.

        regardless, it appears that Dr. Morris has provided enough proof to show that Pappe is quite liberal in changing definitions in order to suit his political agenda, including inventing facts, much as David Irving was wont to do. Pappe even admits that he slants his writing to fulfill his agenda.

        As there are no longer any indigenous people living in the entirety of the Palestinian region, which is an important fact, it does not appear that anything you think should be “righted” will be righted.

        The conflict over rights to the land ended with the beginning of the Palestinian Civil War and that end was punctuated by the first Arab-Israeli War. Consider Texas; It is a majority minority state. Only 41% are non-Hispanic white. In 20 years, it is likely that Hispanics will be in the majority and most political offices will be held by Hispanics. This was the thought of Jews who peacefully immigrated to the Palestinian territory, that they would eventually be the majority. While the non-Hispanic whites in Texas are not happy with the eventual loss of political clout, they are not rioting and they are not starting a civil war.

        Unfortunately for the Arabs of the Palestinian region, they went in a different direction, much like neo-Nazi White supremacists, and decided to nip the eventual peaceful loss of domination in the bud with an attempt at genocide. Luckily, they proved incompetent. But intentions do matter.

Comments are closed.