Continuing the series from Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians. . . .
One bible myth stands out today as bearing a major responsibility for modern wars, ethnic cleansing, and ongoing bloodshed. That myth is that a modern race has a right to the land of Palestine by virtue of a history found in the Bible.
This series of posts has not examined that biblical myth itself (nor wider public receptions and political influence of the myth) but it has been exposing another myth that has ridden on the back of the first, the myth that the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is ultimately the result of Palestinians failing to respect the right and necessity of the Jewish people to settle in peace alongside them. This secondary myth is actually a recasting of the biblical myth of the hostile Canaanites proving to be the ungodly thorn in the side of the people to whom God had given the land. The new settlers, the myth relates, are for most part innocently seeking only a safe refuge in their historic homeland but have been met with unjustified hostility by the existing inhabitants. The impetus for the new settlement came with the revelation that an attempt had been made to wipe out the entire Jewish people in Europe and the survivors and their descendants only wanted a small piece of historical real-estate alongside a hospitable fellow-semitic race.
To support this additional myth another must be sustained: that one race is responding in bad or immature character (as we would expect of biblical Canaanites) while the other is fundamentally decent and caring (as we would expect….). And many of our news sources filter the story through these mythical constructs.
That is all part of the secondary myth.
The reality, as these posts have been demonstrating on the basis of Israeli records, is otherwise.
The modern state of Israel was founded upon an ideology, a belief, an expectation among its key leadership that the Palestinian Arab population would have to be expelled from their long-held homes and lands. This belief among Zionism’s founding fathers that the state of Israel would require the removal of the bulk of Arabs from Palestine preceded World War 2, preceded the Holocaust, and made possible the forcible expulsion of thousands of Palestinians at Israel’s founding in 1948. The difference that the Holocaust made to the argument for Israel’s founding was that it facilitated international support for the new Jewish state. Popular sympathy for the horrors suffered by the Jews in Europe blinded many to the injustices being foisted upon the traditional inhabitants of Palestine.
There are many other secondary myths that serve to support the above myths. Among these are myths about the events that precipitated the flight of many Palestinians in 1948 and the respective views and actions of the governments involved in that war and subsequent wars. I will address these, too, and again on the basis of Israel’s archives, and in particular through the works of Jewish historians sympathetic to Israel.
In May this year Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely addressed foreign ministry staff in Jerusalem and 106 Israeli missions overseas by video link, and declared:
This entire land is ours. All of it, from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River, and we are not here to apologise for this. . . .
She afterwards added:
We expect as a matter of principle the international community to recognise Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland everywhere.
The Telegraph‘s correspondent Brian Tait noted that her speech was
laced . . . with biblical commentaries in which God promised the land of Israel to the Jews.
Hotovely, as we have seen, merely expressed what has been the conventional thinking and beliefs of most of Israel’s founding fathers from the very beginnings of the nation. As we have also seen, the same figures have found it more politic at times to not be so open with Western media about such sentiments.
The situation so far
The previous post brought us up to August 1938 with the British government finally deciding not to support immediate hopes of Zionists for a Jewish state in a partitioned Palestine.
- It was clear to the British government from the Arab reaction that the recommended population transfers for even a two-state solution could not be carried out without violence and injustice to the livelihoods and deeply rooted feelings of the local population;
- Without a state of any kind the Zionists understood that there was no way to effect a transfer of Palestinians at all.
The British therefore:
- Decided it was time to slow the pace of their support for a Jewish state until they took time to consider seriously the Arab grievances;
- Called for a general conference on Palestine to consist of Arab, Palestinian and Zionist representatives — due to be held in London in February-March 1939.
The Zionist leaders therefore:
- Continued to press the British government for more liberal Jewish immigration into Palestine;
- Continued to lobby for more freedom to to purchase land from Arab landowners;
- Judged it prudent to avoid embarrassing the British government with further public calls for the transfer of the indigenous Arab population.
It was clear that the British were not going to risk antagonizing the Arabs at a time when the clouds of war were rising.
The Jewish Agency therefore turned its attention towards that other promising power and potential supporter, the United States.
Ben Gurion’s memorandum
If public calls for the British to support Arab transfer were put on the back-burner, more discreet pressure certainly continued apace as we see from a memorandum by Ben Gurion to the Zionist Actions Committee, dated 17th December 1938. Ben Gurion wrote the memorandum because he himself was unable to attend the meeting.
One signal pointing to a new direction was his proposal that the Zionist leadership in the United States be included in future meetings.
The main message, however, was transfer. Ben Gurion made it clear that it was his view that since the Arabs had been given Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — which was “more than enough”, he wrote — the Committee would demand all of Palestine. What of the fate of the Palestinians? Ben Gurion was clear:
We will propose to Iraq P£10 million in return for the resettlement of 100 thousand Arab families from Palestine in Iraq. I do not know whether Iraq will accept this proposal. If this business was only with Iraq — she might listen to us. Iraq needs a larger Arab settlement and of course it would not be adverse to receiving millions [of pounds]. But Ibn Saud and Egypt will also be in London.
The money was expected to come from supporters like the Rothschilds and loans from Banks with British and American government guarantees.
Weizmann’s war-time meetings with British and American leaders
Another major Zionist leader, Chaim Weizmann, met with the British Labor Party leader, Clement Attlee, a month after the outbreak of war with Germany and declared that when the war was over national boundaries would be redrawn and millions of people would uprooted and forced to move to new locations. The Palestinians, he said, must not be overlooked in this general process of uprooting and relocation.
Weizmann further informed Attlee that he planned to visit the United States and seek President Roosevelt’s support for a Jewish state in Palestine that would be larger than anything the British had hitherto rejected. The Palestinians, he explained, would be removed to make room for 3 to 4 million Jewish immigrants. For the Palestinians to have any chance of being moved they would need to be pressured the the UK and the USA governments, he insisted.
Weizmann made it clear to American Jewish delegates that (at a conference in May 1941) that the goal was to resettle Palestinians in Iraq and Transjordan by means of financial inducements.
The letters and papers of Chaim Weizmann reveal more. Weizmann recorded that he had been asked in private by the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Moyne, in 1941, whether he really believed a transfer could be accomplished without force and bloodshed.
It could be done if Britain and America talked frankly to the Arabs.
Weizmann again attempted to put the pressure on the British to carry out the population transfer a few months later (9th September 1941):
If, for instance, they [the British] would be able to transfer the Arab tenant farmers. . . . it would be possible to settle in their place half a million Jews.
Ben Gurion’s caution and discretion
. . . the Land of Israel is only a small part of the territories inhabited by Arabs and the Arabs of the Land of Israel are only a negligible group among the Arabic-speaking peoples.
Ben Gurion went on to argue that it was reasonable then to ask the Palestinians to cede a “small part” — noting that both Syria and Iraq were “sparsely populated” … and “if only they were prepared to absorb the Arab population of the Land of Israel, in part or wholly, this would be an assistance to them rather than an obstacle.“
But how to implement this “small part” goal?
We have to examine, first, if this transfer is practical, and secondly, if it is necessary. It is impossible to imagine general evacuation without compulsion, and brutal compulsion. There are of course sections of the non-Jewish population of the Land of Israel which will not resist transfer under adequate conditions to certain neighbouring countries, such as the Druzes, a number of Bedouin tribes in the Jordan Valley and the south, the Circassians and perhaps even the Metwalis [the Shi’ite of the Galilee]. But it would be very difficult to bring about the resettlement of other sections of the Arab populations such as the fellahin and also urban populations in neighbouring Arab countries by transferring them voluntarily, whatever economic inducements are offered to them.
Ben-Gurion (like Weizmann) believed the war in Europe would facilitate a mass population transfer:
The possibility of a large-scale transfer of a population by force was demonstrated, when the Greeks and the Turks were transferred [after World War I]. In the present war the idea of transferring a population is gaining more sympathy as a practical and the most secure means of solving the dangerous and painful problem of national minorities. The war has already brought the resettlement of many people in eastern and southern Europe, and in the plans for postwar settlements the idea of a large-scale population transfer in central, eastern, and southern Europe increasingly occupies a respectable place.
But the analogy with Greece and Turkey was recognized as inexact. That transfer took place after Turkey’s crushing military victory over Greece. The Arabs were friends of Great Britain — allies — so no-one could seriously expect Britain to take responsibility for forcibly transferring them.
Accordingly Ben-Gurion advised caution in making public pronouncements about the transfer issue. It would be unwise to advocate forcible removal publicly. A more strategic option would be for Zionists to campaign to have England and America aim at “influencing” countries like Iraq and Syria “to collaborate” with the Yishuv in carrying out “voluntary” transfer schemes in return for financial inducements.
Discretion was essential. Writing for Jewish Frontier in June 1942 he diplomatically suggested that Syria and Iraq
may also have an interest, economically as well as politically, in strengthening their position vis-a-vis their Turkish and Persian neighbours by transferring new Arab settlers to the country, and the only source of such settlers is Palestine.
Weizmann’s lapse of discretion
But less discreet in America in January 1942 was Weizmann when he published in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal a call for the Western powers to support the creation of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. The Arab had “to be clearly told” that the land would belong to the Jews, the Jews would control immigration and population ratios and if Arabs did not like it they were to go elsewhere.
[Following is my own reflection and not taken from Masalha’s book. I have read the article and find some fascinating remnants of values that have subsided among many peoples since the Second World War. One senses in Weizmann’s words a touch of the racial superiority, of some sort of spiritual essence in races that binds them to their land, common among the Western imperial powers of the twentieth century: e.g.
when the Jew is reunited with the soil of Palestine energies are released in him which have been stored up and suppressed for thousands of years — energies which, given an outlet, can create values which may be of service even to richer and more fortunate countries.
Such a passage, a clear relic of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries era of racialist-nationalist ideologies, can potentially generate a vast range of observations and reflections today.]
Message from Roosevelt’s personal envoy
General Patrick Hurley visited Palestine in 1943 and reported to Roosevelt on his return that Yishuv leadership was determined to establish a Jewish state over whole of Palestine and intent on forcing the “eventual transfer of the Arab population to Iraq.”
In such ways the Zionist leadership kept low profile on topic of transfer during the War years.
The above post is adapted from pages 135 to 130 of Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians.