Zionist leaders were always alert for opportunities to work with Arab countries that neighboured Palestine in hopes they could assist with plans to transfer the Arab population out of Palestine. Earlier we saw one such attempt to negotiate a plan with Jordanian leaders (1937), and in 1939 another hopeful meeting to work with the Saudi Arabian king was organized.
The plan was to promise King Ibn Saud a major role in a future Arab federation and more immediately to provide him with substantial financial aid to resolve economic hardship his kingdom was at that time enduring.
To approach the Saudi king the Zionist leaders happily found willing support from Harry St John Philby, British orientalist and advisor to the king [see the Wikipedia linked article for his “colourful” career and that of his son]. Philby’s contact in London was the famous British historian Lewis Namier who was closely associated with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and was the political advisor to the Zionist Jewish Agency led by Moshe Shertok.
This series of posts has put a spotlight on the historical evidence that despite certain public comments to the contrary the pre-1948 Zionist movement was dominated by the intention to cleanse Palestine of its Arab population to make way for the settlement of Jews from Europe and elsewhere. Much of the evidence surveyed has come from archival sources such as the Israel State Archives and the Central Zioist Archives (CZA), as well as from personal diaries of key Zionist leaders and minutes of Zionist meetings. This is the eleventh post of what are my notes from Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948 by Nur Masalha.
This post begins with a look at one more transfer plan that interested many Zionists even though it failed in the end to be implemented:
Edward Norman’s Plan of Transfer to Iraq, 1934-48
Edward Norman (1900-1955) was an American Jewish millionaire deeply involved in fund-raising for the Jewish settlement in pre-1948 Palestine, the Yishuv. With the collaboration of Yishuv and other major Zionist leaders he spent much time and energy working on a transfer plan throughout the years 1934 to 1948.
Norman’s first plan, 1934, was titled An Approach to the Arab Question in Palestine. The premise of this 19 page memorandum:
immigration and possession of the land by definition are the basis of the reconstruction of the Jewish homeland.
Norman understood that Jewish colonization was “a general cause of concern” for the Palestinian Arabs because it entailed
taking over Palestine without the consent of the indigenous population.
The crux of the problem for the Yishuv, therefore, in Norman’s view, was that Jews were to gradually take over Palestine while simultaneously finding a new place for the Arab population to live.
The solution, he suggested, was “the kingdom of Iraq”. What he wanted was for the Iraqi government to agree to donate agricultural land for the Palestinian Arabs and to facilitate their free transfer, along with all their cattle and other property. The Arab press would have to support the plan, too.
What is interesting here is Norman’s assumptions about the character of Arabs: no matter how long they had been settled agriculturalists they were still nomads at heart —
It must be remembered that a transportation such as suggested by Arabs from Palestine to Iraq would not be a removal to a foreign country. To the usual Arab there is no difference between Palestine, Iraq, or any other part of the Arab world. The boundaries that have been instituted since the War are scarcely known to many of the Arabs. The language, customs, and religion are the same. It is true that a moving of any kind involves leaving familiar scenes, but it is not a tradition of the Arabs to be strongly attached to a locality. Their nomadic habits still have that much influence, even among the settled elements. (Masalha, p. 143)
Norman feared that anything other than economic inducements for the Palestinian Arabs to evacuate their homes would backfire in the long run. He wanted to avoid a situation where the Jewish settlers looked as though they were pressuring the Arabs to leave:
If the Jews ever succeed in acquiring a major part of Palestine a large number of Arabs perforce will have to leave the country and find homes elsewhere, if they are forced out inexorably as the result of Jewish pressure they will go with ill-will and probably will cherish an enmity towards the Jews that might persist for generations and that would render the position of the Jewish homeland precarious. The rest of the world, too, easily might come to sympathize with the Arabs. (p. 143)
How to initiate the plan
The first step was to involve influential and sympathetic Jewish persons and to make very discreet investigations into Iraq’s willingness to assist. The costs of moving Arabs village by village to Iraq would have to be ascertained without raising any public alarms. The necessary meetings with the British Colonial Office were also mapped out. The first Arabs to be moved would be the ones along the Palestinian coast since their agricultural ways were the more easily transferable to Iraq in the initial stages.
This post is for anyone who loathes racism, both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab, and who feels they have not heard details of the Palestinian side of the history of the establishment of Israel in 1948. It continues a series of posts I have been doing on a book by Palestinian historian Nur Masalha titled Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948. As the title indicates, the research Masalha addresses is the extent to which the Jewish Zionist movement was seriously preparing to transfer the Arabs out of Palestine prior to 1948. The significance of the research is that it indicates that the popular notion that the Palestinians virtually voluntarily left Palestine at the establishment of the state of Israel and the first war with the neighbouring Arab states is a myth.
So if you are someone who cannot tolerate any suggestion that there could possibly be two sides to the situation besetting Palestine today then don’t read any further. If you are obsessed with a one-sided narrative that Israelis are saintly innocent victims and Palestinian Arabs are devilish bloodthirsty monsters, go away.
Below are extracts from a diary of Yosef Weitz, director of department responsible for land acquisition and distribution in Palestine in the years leading up to 1948. Weitz was typical of many of his fellow-leaders of the Jewish settlements in Palestine, believing strongly in the necessity of Arab transfer from Palestine to make room for Jewish settlers. Nur Masalha describes his unedited diaries, now in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, as
One of the best sources of insight into the Yishuv leadership’s transfer ideas during World War II. (1992, p. 131)
All bolding of text is my own.
20 December, 1940:
Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. No “development” will bring us closer to our aim to be an independent people in this small country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted. When the war is over, and the English have emerged victorious and when the judging nations sit on the throne of law, our people should bring their petitions and claims before them; and the only solution is that the Land of Israel, or at least the Western Land of Israel [i.e., Palestine], without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point. The Zionist work so far, in terms of preparation and paving the way for the creation of the Hebrew state in the Land of Israel, has been good and was able to satisfy itself with land purchasing but this will not bring about the state; that must come about simultaneously in the manner of redemption (here is the meaning of the Messianic idea). The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found — even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews and a solution will be found to the Jewish question. There is no other solution.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the previous post we saw the initial reaction of the Zionist movement’s leadership to the Peel Commission’s 1937 recommendation that:
Palestine be partitioned into two states, and
that there be a transfer of 225,000 Arabs and 1250 Jews.
So far we have been looking at the words of Zionist leaders that were for most part hidden from the public arena. With the Peel Commission recommendations the question had to become public. Conventions had to be held. The rank and file needed to be consulted and won over. Fellow Jews who had more respect for the rights of the Palestinian Arabs also needed to be persuaded and won over.
The Peel report was debated by two of the highest organizations of Zionism. The final outcome was an emerging consensus that the two state proposal be rejected (the whole of Palestine should be given to the Jews) while the proposal for mass transfer of the Arab population was agreed upon by large majorities.
Wherever possible I have linked names to their Wikipedia pages so readers can assess the level of influence and standing each person had within the wider community at the time. It is important to know who many of these voices are but to provide details in the post itself would have risked losing the theme in a mass of web-page words.
The World Convention of Ihud of Po’alei Tzion
29 July – 3 August, 1937
Better known as Poalei Zion, this was the highest forum for the dominant Zionist world labor movement. It was closely linked with the Mapai political party that dominated Israeli politics until 1968. David Ben-Gurion was a prominent leader in both organizations.
The proceedings of this convention were edited and subsequently published by Ben-Gurion in 1938. All quotations are from these proceedings.
Ben-Gurion and others in their respective presentations to the convention went to lengths to distinguish between the concepts of “transfer”, “dispossession” and “expulsion” and to stress the morality of such a transfer. “Transfer” was not the same as expulsion. The Commission’s report, Ben-Gurion made clear, did not speak of “dispossession” of the Arabs but only of “transfer”.
On 29th July he further pointed out that the Jews in Palestine had already been peacefully transferring Arabs through agreements with the tenant farmers and
only in a few places was there a need for forced transfer. . . . The basic difference with the Commission proposal is that the transfer will be on a much larger scale, from the Jewish to the Arab territory. . . . It is difficult to find any political or moral argument against the transfer of these Arabs from the proposed Jewish-ruled area. . . . And is there any need to explain the value in a continuous Jewish Yishuv in the coastal valleys, the Yizrael [Esdraelon Valley], the Jordan [Valley] and the Hula? (From the full report of the Convention, 1938, as are all quotations)
Eliezer Kaplan portrayed the transfer of Arabs as a something of a humanitarian act to make them at home among their own people:
It is not fair to compare this proposal to the expulsion of Jews from Germany or any other country. The question is not one of expulsion, but of organized transfer of a number of Arabs from a territory which will be in the Hebrew state, to another place in the Arab state, that is, to the environment of their own people.
Other speakers doubted the feasibility of transfer. Yosef Bankover, a founder of the Kibbutz Hameuhad movement and member of the Haganah regional command said:
As for the compulsory transfer . . . I would be very pleased if it would be possible to be rid of the pleasant neighbourliness of the people of Miski, Tirah and Qaiqilyah.
Bankover stressed to delegates that the Commission’s report implied that any transfer was to be undertaken voluntarily. Compulsion was against the intent of the report. Given that Bankover did not believe the British would risk further riots and bloodshed by enforcing Arab transfers. He rejected the report’s appeal to the Turkish-Greek transfers as a relevant case-study: these transfers were in effect by force and certainly under threat of being killed if they did not move, he said.
So the issues being debated and discussed were:
the moral justification of transfer — (this was generally accepted)
would forced transfers be practical?
would forced mass Arab transfers be adequate compensation for the Jews giving up their aspirations to have the one and only state over all of Palestine?
did the Peel Commission recommend transfer far enough afield? If the Arabs were only moved next door into Transjordan then the expansionist hopes of the Jewish state would be limited. Should not the Arabs be transferred to Syria and Iraq instead?
The Peel Commission released its report in July 1937 with British Government support. The Peel recommendations were to be the blueprint for future British policy in Palestine and opened the road towards a State (not just land) for the Jews. The commission declared that
the national aspirations of the Arabs and Jews were irreconcilable
An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.
Palestine should be partitioned so that an Arab state was made up of Transjordan and the Arab part of Palestine and the rest a Jewish state
If Partition is to be effective in promoting a final settlement it must mean more than drawing a frontier and establishing two States. Sooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population.
the Jewish state would consist of one third of the including the most fertile regions, including the plain of Esdraelon, most of the coastal plain and the wholly Arab owned Galilee (Jewish population was 5.6% of the total at the time);
the British would retain a corridor from Jerusalem to the coast;
the Arab state would make up the rest, including the Negev desert;
there would be an “exchange” of populations: 225,000 Arabs in the Jewish areas would “exchange” places with 1250 Jews — as a last resort this would be a “compulsory” move; this did not include the Arabs in Galilee — it was imagined that the Galilean Arabs would be encouraged to move voluntarily.
The full text of the report can be read online. (It’s an interesting read. It affirms the main themes this series of posts has been highlighting, especially the substantial and long-term Arab attachment to the land and their political aspirations in the wake of World War I.) I quote here its reference to the status of the Galilee because I find it especially interesting in what it tells us about long-term Jew-Arab relations prior to the dramatic changes from the 1920s onwards and the way the language of the report avoids the obvious implications for the future of an inevitable change of ownership and demographic shift (my bolding):
The proposed frontier necessitates the inclusion in the Jewish Area of the Galilee highlands between Safad and the Plain of Acre. This is the part of Palestine in which the Jews have retained a foothold almost if not entirely without a break from the beginning of the Diaspora to the present day, and the sentiment of all Jewry is deeply attached to the “holy cities” of Safad and Tiberias. Until quite recently, moreover the Jews in Galilee have lived on friendly terms with their Arab neighbours; and throughout the series of disturbances the fellaheen of Galilee have shown themselves less amenable to political incitement than those of Samaria and Judaea where the centres of Arab nationalism are located. At the “mixed” towns of Tiberias, Safad, Haifa, and Acre there have been varying degrees of friction since the “disturbances” of last year. It would greatly promote the successful operation of Partition in its early stages, and in particular help to ensure the execution of the Treaty guarantees for the protection of minorities, if those four towns were kept for a period under Mandatory administration.
Arab response to the report
Outrage. Violence, especially among the peasantry.
Zionist response to the report
The report gave the Zionists two key goals they had long been seeking:
Assurance that a Jewish Homeland (as offered by the Balfour Declaration) would translate into a Jewish State;
Approval for the transfer of the Arab population from that state.
As we saw in previous posts these are the two goals Zionist leaders (Weizmann, Shertok, Ben-Gurion) had been lobbying and working towards so hard for so long. But prudence remained important. It would not look good to be seen to be rejoicing too enthusiastically over the promise to transfer the Arab population from their areas.
Thus the Jewish Agency, of which Ben-Gurion was chairman, simultaneously attacked the partition plan in public as a breach of the Balfour Declaration promises (on the grounds that the Balfour Declaration had promised a Jewish home in all of Palestine), while privately seeking to negotiate with the British government for a Jewish state based on more advantageous positions. (p. 62)
In 1918 Ben-Gurion had called for a Jewish state that extended from the Litani River in the north to the Wadi Arish in the south and the Syrian desert as far as the farthest border of Transjordan in the east.
Weizmann made it clear to the British High Commissioner that the Jewish State borders being proposed by the Peel Commission were only temporary:
We shall expand in the whole country in the course of time. . . this is only an arrangement for the next 25 to 30 years. (Weizmann in a private conversation with the High Commissioner, A. Wauchope, 14 March 1937. Cited in Moshe Sharett, Yoman Medini, Vol. 2, p. 67)
This post shows that the bloodshed that was to stain Palestine for decades to come and through to today was warned about in 1937. It is commonly said that the Palestinians by and large voluntarily left their lands, especially in 1948. This series will produce the evidence to demonstrate that that claim is a terrible myth.Several other myths are also being addressed in this series:
that Palestinian Arabs never had any really legitimate ties to the Palestine,
the myth of the “empty land”,
the myth of Arab plans from the beginning to drive Jews into the sea (the reality was the Zionists planned from the start to drive the Arabs into the desert),
the myth that the Zionists sought peaceful coexistence with the Arabs from the outset.
One reader expressed concern that
these posts are presenting only one side of the story
and that I am not being duly sceptical about my source material.
I invite others
to provide another side to the contents of this post,
and/or to demonstrate fault with the sources.
I set only one condition: that any such comment does indeed address another side to the contents of this post, or to the sources and their content, and not shift goal-posts by addressing other issues that deflect attention from the points made here.
The Royal Commission Meets the Zionist Leaders
The Peel Royal Commission arrived in Palestine in November 1936 to gather information about the tense and often violent Arab-Jewish relations in order to make recommendations for British government policy on Palestine. Nur Masalha writes that “several members of [the Commission] expressed open sympathy for Zionism.” (Expulsion, p. 54)
The Commission met with both Arab representatives and with “virtually every Zionist leader in Palestine of any importance”. Most of the Zionist lobbying, however, took place in London after the Commission returned in January 1937. Zionist leaders — Shertok, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion, David Hacohen, Dov Hos — went to London where they forged close relations with the decision makers: the leaders of the British Labor Party and Commission members. The Zionist delegates strongly promoted both partition of Palestine and population transfers.
Actually the idea of partitioning Palestine was initiated earlier in Palestine by a British Commissioner, Professor Reginald Coupland, in a private meeting with Weizmann. This was a major breakthrough for the Zionist movement.
Given the diverse patterns of settlement in Palestine at the time, any type of partition was going to inevitably mean population transfers of some kind.
The population transfer recommendations that the Peel Commission eventually agreed on were the same as those originally proposed by the Jewish Agency leaders of Palestine. (Recall from last post that Ben-Gurion had stated his intention to raise the issue with the Commissioners.)
In March 1937 the Jewish Agency conveyed a confidential plan for transfer to the Royal Commission. Recall in the previous post the passing mention of a non-Zionist member of the Jewish Agency who protested against the transfer idea — Maurice Hexter. Now Hexter was the one who conveyed the transfer plan to the Royal Commission.
Hexter explained that aim of the plan was to solve the problem of land and Zionist colonization in various districts such as the Hula and Beisan valleys. Under the plan, the British government was to consider proposals submitted by the Yishuv settlement companies, such as the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA), and the Palestine Land Development Company (Hevrat Hachsharat Hayishuv), all of which were engaged in the purchase of land in Palestine for the collective control of the Jewish National Fund or Zionist private investors. (pp. 55-56)
Hexter explained that the goal of these proposals was
the herding together of the existing Arab villages and their concentration in order to evacuate their territories for Jewish colonization.
Hexter went on to explain that if the Arabs refused to accept their transfer from their lands and put up any sort of resistance to selling and evacuating their lands, then the government was to intervene and
force the people to exchange land and move them from one place to another.
A Royal Commissioner then asked Hexter if the land to be evacuated by the Arabs was to given entirely to the Jewish settlements, Hexter answered:
Our intention is [that they will be] only for Jews.
(Moshe Sharett, Yoman Medini, Vol. 2, a statement at a meeting of the Zionist Actions Committee, II February 1937, Jerusalem, pp. 16-17.)
My intention is to make a little more widely known a scholarly Palestinian perspective of the history of Israel’s efforts to transfer Palestinians from their lands. A good many myths have long circulated in Western countries about the Palestinian situation, such as the supposed “emptiness” of the land at the time the first Jewish immigrants began to arrive, and about the supposed lack of cultural, religious or ethnic ties Palestinian Arabs had for Palestine, or even the assumption that the Palestinians had no distinctive sophisticated cultural, intellectual and settled urban identities at all. Palestinian historian Nur Masalha has researched the personal, diaries, the letters, the meeting minutes, government archives, of the Jewish leaders and organizations responsible for bringing about the Jewish state of Israel and published one facet of his findings in Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, published in 1992 by the Institute for Palestinian Studies.
I am well aware that some regular readers deplore posts like this thinking they are antisemitic propaganda and some may even loathe this blog and stop reading. Yet this is a far more important question than biblical studies. I can only ask that we pause and check whether we might possibly have not yet truly heard the real story but have relied predominantly upon emotive declamations as filtered through one side of the conflict. If these posts go beyond what the primary evidence of the documented record allows then they can rightly be dismissed. I hope to present the documented evidence for the real plans and hopes of prominent figures that resulted in the Palestine we see today. I see no point in having a blog that only repeats what many others are saying far better than I can. The posts I compose are for most part, I hope, invitations to re-evaluate (on the basis of authoritative sources, clear evidence and valid argument) what many of us (myself included) have long taken for granted.
Rather than add many explanatory footnotes I link directly to (mostly) Wikipedia articles that explain certain names and terms that I bring in to the discussion. I spell names the way they are printed in Masalha’s book.
The Royal (Peel) Commission
The Peel Commission was set up in May 1936 to investigate the causes of the often violent conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine throughout the six month period of a strike by Arabs that year. The following year the Commission published the report that initiated efforts to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab entities. It also recommended the eventual “transfers” of 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews. This post makes clear the thinking of Jewish leaders in the lead up to this Commission’s enquiry and recommendation for population transfers.
This is the history and experience of Palestinians from a Palestinian view. This is, for many Westerners, the side of the story they have never heard. It is heartening to read the latest poll figures showing that most Americans do not agree that Israel should be building settlements in the West Bank and that the American government is out of step with its own people every time it reaffirms a “special relationship” with Israel. See John Mearsheimer’s article, American Public Opinion and the Special Relationship with Israel.
Chaim Weizemann, who was to become the first president of the state of Israel, but at this time was president of both the Zionist Organization and the newly established Jewish Agency Executive, actively began promoting the idea of ethnic cleansing (or more politically correctly, ‘Arab transfer’) in private meetings with British government officials and ministers against the background of the violence of the August 1929 violence between Jews and Arabs.
The Arab-Jewish clashes of August 1929
The British Government commissioned a report into the causes of the uprising and its findings are significant for what they indicate about the struggle between Zionist Jews and Palestinian Arabs ever since.
The uprising followed a political demonstration by militant Revisionist Jews at the Wailing Wall next to the Haram al-Shaif, Islam’s third holiest site.
Yishuv refers to the Jewish community in Palestine. The British Mandate period was from 1922 to 1948.
This post continues from the same reference (Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians) as in my previous post, and looks at a Palestinian historian’s discussion of the fate of the Palestinian people as planned by the Zionist movement from “the beginning”. Some readers may accuse me of stirring up hatred against the Jews by posting this sort of research. I deny any such charge. The ill-feeling and tensions that have resulted from the events and attitudes described in this and in the previous post don’t have to be “stirred up”. But many people in the West certainly do need to be “waked up” to the other side of the story. Obscenely, one is often accused of “antisemitism” for even daring to raise the Palestinian voice, or even any voice mildly critical of Zionist or Israeli state policies.
The world, and Palestinians and Israelis in particular, are living today with the legacy of the past. Justice, the precondition for peace, can only emerge after all the facts — from both parties — are laid out for all to see. Hiding one side’s story under the rocks of the desert will never extinguish injustice and hatred. We have lauded Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and National Apologies in cases of other ethnic horror stories. They could never have happened unless both sides — especially that of the defeated — were fully aired.
The General Approach toward the Palestinians in the Mandatory Period
I had not realized until I read this section of Masalha’s account that the current practice of the Israeli government relying on third parties such as the US today (formerly Britain), and other Arab leaders, to facilitate discussions with (or without) Palestinian Arabs, originated in this period. Masalha’s explanation for this is:
At the root of this notion — that Palestinians did not have to be dealt with directly — was the denial of a distinct Palestinian identity or any semblance of Palestinian nationalism. This was unquestionably grounded in the dismissive attitude that had always attended anything relating to Palestinians or Palestinian culture. (p.17)
Population shifts and Arab protests
Jewish population in Palestine, 1917-1940:
1917 = 10% of population; own 2% of the land.
1931 = 17% of population
1940 = 33% of population
(1948 Jews owned only 6% of the land — via purchase)
Growing Arab awareness of Zionist aims in Palestine, reinforced by Zionist calls for unrestricted Jewish immigration and unhindered transfer of Arab lands to exclusive Jewish control, triggered escalating protests and resistance that were eventually to culminate in the peasant-based great Arab Rebellion of 1936-39.
So two forces were beginning to collide:
On the one hand it was increasingly clear that a Jewish state was an eventual likelihood (Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate offered real hope for this);
but on the other hand it was becoming increasingly clear that the Palestinian Arab population were intent on keeping their land.
Predictable result: early 1920s saw the first indigenous demonstrations against Jewish immigration.
When in the late nineteenth century Zionism arose as a political force calling for the colonization of Palestine and the “gathering of all Jews,” little attention was paid to the fact that Palestine was already populated. Indeed, the Basle Program adopted at the First Zionist Congress, which launched political Zionism in 1897, made no mention of a Palestinian population when it spelled out the movement’s objective: “the establishment of a publicly and legally secured home in Palestine for the Jewish people.” (p.5)
It was in order to secure support for their enterprise that “the Zionists propagated in the West the idea of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land,’ a slogan coined by Israel Zangwill” (who is quoted a number of times in this post).
Even as late as 1914 Chaim Weizmann (one of the founding fathers of political Zionism) stated:
In its initial stage, Zionism was conceived by its pioneers as a movement wholly depending on mechanical factors: there is a country which happens to be called Palestine, a country without a people, and, on the other hand, there exists the Jewish people, and it has no country. What else is necessary, then, than to fit the gem into the ring to unite this people with this country?
But “neither Zangwell nor Weizmann intended these demographic assessments in a literal fashion. They did not mean that there were no people in Palestine, but that there were no people worth considering within the framework of the notions of European supremacy that then held sway.” (p.6)
20 May 1936, according to Arthur Ruppin, head of the colonizing department of the Jewish Agency, Chaim Weizman (to become the first president of Israel) replied, when asked about the Palestinian Arabs
“The British told us that there are there some hundred thousands negroes [Kushim] and for those there is no value.”
Zangwell made the meaning of his slogan clear in 1920:
If Lord Shaftesbury was literally inexact in describing Palestine as a country without a people, he was essentially correct , for there is no Arab people living in intimate fusion with the country, utilising its resources and stamping it with a characteristic impress: there is at best an Arab encampment.
But Zangwell and other Zionists also were very well aware that far from being an empty land, the Palestinians were there in very large numbers. Zangwell had visited Palestine in 1897 and in a speech in 1905 said:
Palestine proper has already its inhabitants. The pashalik of Jerusalem is already twice as thickly populated as the United States, having fifty-two souls to the square mile, and not 25 per cent of them Jews.
Early Zionist texts do indeed show that its leaders were concerned about what to do with the “Arab problem” or “Arab question.”
As an example of the attitudes of Zionist groups and settlers concerning the indigenous Palestinian population, Zionist author and Labor leader who immigrated to Palestine in 1890, Moshe Smilansky, wrote:
“Let us not be too familiar with the Arab fellahin lest our children adopt their ways and learn from their ugly deeds. Let all those who are loyal to the Torah avoid ugliness and that which resembles it and keep their distance from the fellahin and their base attributes.”
Minority Jewish voices against racist attitudes
Some Jews spoke out against these attitudes. One was Ahad Ha’Am (Asher Zvi Ginzberg), a liberal Russian thinker who visited Palestine in 1891. He published a series of articles criticizing the “ethnocentricity of political Zionism as well as the exploitation of Palestinian peasantry by Zionist colonists.” He wrote that Zionist “pioneers” believed that
“the only language that the Arabs understand is that of force…. [They] behave towards the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it, and nobody stands to check this contemptible and dangerous tendency.”
He suggested that this aggressive attitude of the colonists stemmed from their anger
“towards those who reminded them that there is still another people in the land of Israel that have been living there and does not intend to leave.”
Another early settler (he arrived from Russia in 1886) who spoke out against such attitudes, Yitzhaq Epstein, warned that the methods of Zionist land purchases and dispossession of Arabs in the Galilee were stirring up resentment such that a future political confrontation was inevitable.