Continuing the series from Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians. . . .
The reason for this series is to make readily accessible the evidence that helps us understand the current situation in Palestine. This evidence informs us of the intentions and goals that the Zionist leadership had for the way their Jewish state would look and operate into the future. (Once complete I will compile the posts into a single block.) Some readers have asked me to focus on the events of the 1948 war between Israel and the Arab states because that is where the real roots of the current problems are found and I do hope to write about the 1948 war and detail the origins of the refugee. One of the several Jewish historians of this period that I will refer to will be Benny Morris who fully justifies the events that led to the dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs. It should go without saying that nothing in these posts can validly be construed as anti-semitism or justification for the murderous crimes of any form of terrorism.
Deep breath. Here we go again.
The Population Transfer Committee
The previous post, The Necessity for Mass Arab Transfer, outlined the responses of the various Jewish factions towards the British government’s Royal Peel Commission Report in 1937. This post covers the Jewish Agency’s response to the question of Arab transfer after their rejection of the Peel Commission’s plan for partition of Palestine.
The Twentieth Zionist Congress empowered the Jewish Agency to negotiate on the precise terms of the future Jewish state. To prepare for this the Agency established several advisory bodies including one (November 1937) named the Population Transfer Committee. Some of the members are listed below. Notice how many of the names became prominent leaders of the new state of Israel once it was established.
- Moshe Shertok appointed the Committee.
- Ya’acov Thon was the chairman (managing director of Palestine Land Development Company and instrumental in purchase of Jezreel Valley)
- Eliahu Epstein (Elat) was secretary.
- Bernard Joseph (Dov Yosef), later an Israeli cabinet minister
- Alfred Bonné
- Yosef Weitz
The Weitz plan
At the 21st November 1938 meeting Weitz introduced his plan for Arab transfer explaining it was based on two main assumptions:
the transfer of Arab population from the area of the Jewish state does not serve only one aim — to diminish the Arab population. It also serves a second, no less important, aim which is to evacuate land presently held and cultivated by the Arabs and thus to release it for the Jewish inhabitants.
For the above reasons most agreed that any evacuation had to start with the most difficult challenge: the transfer of the peasants and rural population. Only then would the new government turn its efforts to removing the townspeople.
The second assumption arose out of Britain’s backing away from any idea of compulsory transfer in its submissions to the League of Nations. This left the Jewish committees without any visible force necessary to carry out Arab transfers.
Weitz calculated that this first transfer phase would remove 87,300 Arabs and the purchase of 1,150,000 dunums mostly in Transjordan for their resettlement. A further 10 to 15 thousand Bedouins living on livestock could also be removed in this phase.
That would give to the Jews an extra 680,000 dunums that included 180,000 dunums of irrigated land.
Such a plan would see the Arab population reduced by one third within two to three years.
The chairman of the committee, Thon, agreed with Weitz that the plan was practical as a first step.
Bonné opposed plan. He wanted to see a plan for the removal of all the Arabs within ten years. He also recommended that the committee not give up so easily on the idea of compulsion. Compulsion had been first suggested by the English, he said, and besides, they were not talking about “full” compulsion since they wanted as much cooperation as possible helped along by the application of some pressure.
The solution, Bonné suggested, was to link Arab transfer to new agrarian legislation when the Jewish state was established. They would need to decide on a target date for removal of the Arabs so they would know how quickly to move against them.
Bernard Joseph agreed that partial transfer was not the answer.
According to Weitz’s account of the meeting both Bonné and Joseph wanted to use force to remove the entire Arab population.
Eshbal argued that it would be necessary to first move not only the cultivators of the land but along with them all those directly or indirectly dependent upon them.
After the above discussion the plan was forwarded to Shertok.
Shertok identified two flaws in the plan in his letter of 31 December 1937 to Bernard Joseph:
- Removing those working on the land first would only create a vacuum; poor neighbouring Arabs would move in to reoccupy those lands thus creating an endless cycle.
- The land holdings identified for first transfer were scattered and disconnected and would be difficult to consolidate into larger blocks.
Unstated but implied with this criticism was the need to transfer the Arabs en masse, both whole villages and peasants together. This implication was explicitly spelled out in later meetings of the committee as well as in the June 1938 meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive.
Ben Gurion and Weizmann were kept informed of the Committee’s work and Weitz recorded in his diary that he had been informed Weizmann attached great importance to the need for an Arab transfer plan.
Early 1938 the Population Transfer Committee requested the Mandatory authorities for access to all the records in their land registrations and tax offices that related to Arab agriculture and land ownership in Palestine. These were acquired and the Committee copied records relating to 400,000 land units in 400 villages for the planning of the new state’s agricultural policies.
The Woodward Commission arrives
April 1938 the British Woodward Commission arrived in Palestine to examine the practical aspects of implementing the terms of the Peel Commission but without the use of compulsion. In response the Transfer Committee submitted to the Woodward Commission proposals for transfer of the Arabs to Transjordan, Syria and Iraq.
Given the removal of compulsory transfer from the options the focus shifted to the use of development of administrative and legislative measures to effect a de facto Arab transfer.
The Bonné plan
Bonné (who had opposed Weitz’s plan as too gradualist and piecemeal) prepared his own alternative scheme for transfer in July 1938. Bonné belonged to the Jewish Agency’s Institute for Economic Research and was an expert on the procedural and financial aspects of Arab transfer. His plan (“Transfer of the Arab Population”) was sent in a confidential memorandum to Ben Gurion 27 July 1938.
Bonnés plan made use of the figures copied from the Mandatory authorities to detail the scope of Arab transfer. The numbers of Arabs were broken down by towns and rural areas; by owners and peasants, agricultural laborers and others. Costs of compensation and acquisition of new lands were set out in detail. The recent experience of the transfer of the population in Greece where land was compensated at one-tenth the market price was noted. Bonné stressed that the transfers had to be carried out in organized groupings so that Arabs in a particular area left simultaneously to allow for organized Jewish occupation.
Jewish Agency Executive’s Transfer Discussions (June 1938)
David Werner Senator wanted to discuss the future status of the potentially substantial numbers of the Arab minority who would remain in the Jewish state despite efforts to encourage them to leave.
Ben Gurion had no time any acceptance of substantial Arab minorities and responded:
We cannot discuss the status of a minority without knowing the political and territorial framework of the state. [Besides] in the Jewish state the Arab minority will go and diminish.
Ben Gurion then submitted a “line of actions” titled “The Zionist Mission of the Jewish State”, in which he spoke of
state engagement in transferring the Arabs to neighbouring Arab states voluntarily. . . .
The term “voluntary”, however, applied to agreements between the new Jewish state and neighbouring Arab countries where the Palestinians were to be settled. It did not apply to the individual transferees themselves.
Ben Gurion further expressed his intention to accept a partitioned Palestine with the Jews occupying only a part of the land only on an interim basis. He was not
satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state — we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.
In response to the question of using force Ben Gurion replied that the Arabs would only accept the Jewish state when faced with the “facts on the ground”:
This is only a state in the realization of Zionism and it should prepare the ground for our expansion throughout the whole country through Jewish-Arab agreement . . . the state, however, must enforce order and security and it will do this not by moralizing and preaching “sermons on the mount” but by machine guns, which we will need.
The Woodward commissioners expressed their view that it was unfair for the Jewish state to take over the Arab orange groves and irrigated lands and even send them to places where one had to walk 30 kilometers to reach the nearest water without realistic compensation. Shertok replied that the Jewish state would be prepared to pay something in addition to the land price if the Arab states contributed significantly to the cost of transfer. well
Shmuel Zuchovitzky (Zakif) made his views clear:
I think that whenever you discuss it or submit a memo on the question of transfer, you must make it absolutely clear that this transfer is one of the conditions on which we are establishing our state and that the Mandatory government should carry this out. . . .
I am convinced that it would be impossible to carry out transfer without compulsion. I do not see in this any immoral measure. . . And also land expropriation must be carried out. . . . But it must be implemented as speedily as possible.
Yehoshua’ Suparsky, leader of the General Zionists in Palestine and member of the Zionist Actions Committee, argued for the use of agrarian legislation to confiscate large Arab estates and to prevent Arabs from buying land. By this means
a large part of the Arabs will leave the land of Israel. . . .
It is difficult to say now in our memo to the [Woodward Commission] that we vehemently insist on compulsory transfer. . . We must, however, insist in principle on compulsory transfer without insisting now on the speedy implementation of the principle. . . .
Ussishkin flatly opposed partition:
[W]e would not accept a reduced Land of Israel without you [British] giving us the land, on the one hand, and removing the largest number of Arabs — particularly the peasants — on the other before we come forward to take the reins of government in our lands even provisionally.
But if you ask me whether it is moral to remove 60,000 families from their places of residence and transfer them to another place [i.e. Transjordan] . . . I will say to you that it is moral. . .
Only the British government could carry out the forcible removal and for this two things are required: a strong hand by England and Jewish money.
There were other more moderate voices. One of these, Arthur Ruppin, proposed to transfer 100,000 Arabs more gently:
I do not believe in the transfer of the individual. I believe in the transfer of entire villages. And I think that the Development Company should first build there [in Transjordan] several model settlements so that the Arabs can see what they can get there. . . . I believe that we would possibly be able . . . to transfer in these 10-15 years 100,000 Arabs or 25,000 peasant families.
Mapai leader Berl Katznelson:
What is compulsory transfer?
Compulsory transfer does not mean individual transfer. It means that once we resolved to transfer there should be a political body able to force this or that Arab who would not want to move out. But if you have to decide on transfer in each case with every Arab village and every Arab individual you will never finish with this matter. . . . The question will be the transfer of much greater quantity of Arabs through an agreement with the Arab state: this is called compulsory transfer. . . . We have here a war about principles, and in the same way that we must wage a war for maximum territory, there must also be here a war [for the transfer “principle”.]
It must be abundantly clear that there will be two chief objectives during the time of creating a Hebrew state: 1) promoting Jewish immigration and settlement; and 2) promoting Arab transfer and resettlement. . . .
Ben-Zvi recommended in addition to confiscatory agrarian legislation the imposition of taxes to put extra pressure on Arab farmers to leave.
He further concluded that many Arabs could be removed within two to three years by means of controlling and supervising citizenship acquisition. It would be easy to remove Arabs without property, he said. Those were not the problem. Rather,
We must set up a committee that will study legislation regarding citizenship and prepare material to back up these things.
Eliahu Berligne agreed that taxes should be increased on the Arabs to force them to leave.
With compulsory transfer we [would] have vast areas. . . . I support compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral about it. But compulsory transfer could only be carried out by England. . . . There are two issues here: 1) sovereignty and 2) the removal of a certain number of Arabs, and we must insist on both of them.
Ben Gurion added that though the principle of forced removal remained it would be more tactful for public discourse to use other terms such as “citizenship [control] and a state agricultural development policy” [i.e. land confiscation].
These June discussions showed growing support for justification of transfer of the Arabs but they were confined to the Zionist internal discussions. British policy was against the idea.
Woodward Commission’s report in August 1938
The Woodward Commission returned to the UK with the following conclusion: the Peel Commission plan was unworkable; it was clearly impossible to assign significant areas to the Jewish population that would not also contain large Arab populations, and there was no prospect of a voluntary transfer of the Arabs.
We then come to the War years. . . .