This article originally appeared in the December 26, 1936, issue.
Jerusalem, November 11
To the economic difficulties of settling millions of Jews in Palestine must be added conflicting political ambitions and racial and religious differences. The most striking political factor is the rise of Arab nationalism in Palestine. From a mass, of half-civilized, restless tribes with no common aim or interest, a self-conscious national entity has developed. The World War, contact with Western imperialism, and most of all the presence of the Jews have brought about this change. In the cities and towns, among the Arab intelligentsia and particularly among the youth, a deep-rooted hatred of all imperialisms now exists. The recent events in Palestine, repeated in essence in Egypt and in Syria, must be viewed as part of a movement sweeping across the Arab world. No foreign power financed the six-month Syrian strike; religion played an insignificant part, and Christians fought side by side with Moslems. The sufferings caused by the strike were borne almost cheerfully. In the strike at Jerusalem, Arab merchants scribbled on their bolted doors: “To Let. Apply at the High Commissioner’s.” The villagers expressed their defiance in numerous folk songs.
Palestine is still. seething, and another strike may break out at any moment. The Arabs are beginning to direct the nationalist flood into constructive channels. They are organizing small industries to shake off their economic bondage ta Europe; they are carrying on a fierce boycott campaign’ against the Jews. The manager of the largest clothing store in Jerusalem told me a few days ago that he had lost more than half of his business. Other Jewish shopkeepers say the same thing. Even more important is the almost complete cessation of the sale of land. No Arab feudal lord dares now to sell a single dunam of land; the peasants never have sold. “The land to those who work it,” is the slogan in the, villages. “Only thus can selling of land to Jews be prevented.”
But the Zionists have not merely to confront the opposition among the Arabs of Palestine, The movement for a united Arabia is gaining momentum. Though conquered and ruled, often tyrannically, by the Turks, Arabia has always been potentially united. The fact that the Turkish Sultan was also, as Caliph, the religious head of Islam took off the edge of the subservience. The Turks tried to give their conquest a facade of pan-Islamism, which often had a semblance of reality. During the World War the Arabs were won over to revolt against Turkey and to give military aid to the Allies by a promise of a pan-Arab kingdom; British airplanes dropped proclamations full of handsome promises. But the Versailles conference set them all at naught. Instead of helping in the unification of a free Arabia, France and England marked out zones of influence, mandates were set up, and Arab states without, any real independence were created. To make unity still more difficult, encouragement was given to feudal vested interests and to racial and religious minorities.
Though starving and exhausted from the war, the Arabs resisted imperialist spoliation. The history of A r a b h n has become a succession of appeals to the League, of riots, strikes, 2nd wars. The impediments to unity laid down by the imperialist powers have been swept away one by one. The minorities of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt are more and more identifying themselves with the Arab majority, and the power of feudal lords and princelings created by the war has rapidly declined. Without the support of British guns, the Emir of Trans-Jordan, whose function is to prevent the union of his country with Iraq, would not last a day.
Arabia is a unity however it is regarded. The same language is spoken, the same newspapers circulate, the same books are read. Modern transportation has helped to unify the far-flung lands. “Before the war,” the Egyptian consul in Jerusalem once told me, “we Egyptians had the vaguest notion about Damascus. Today our airplanes go there, we read their papers. That has made a great difference.” Economically also the lands belong together, and the rising bourgeois class knows it.
During the recent disturbances in Palestine tens of thousands of dollars poured in from all over Arabia in aid of the Palestine Arabs. Money was collected in Hedjaz and Afghanistan. Demonstrations were staged in Syria and Lebanon. In Iraq the windows of the British residency were broken. Protest meetings were organized in Damascus by the nationalist youth, and the Trans-Jordan youth became so outspoken in their protests that the Emir had to close their clubs and prohibit their uniforms. In spite of the misery which cessation of trade with Palestine brought about, the youth, in support of their striking brothers, destroyed and burned hundreds of trucks laden with vegetables. Young men from all over Arabia joined the rebels in the mountains. The two insurgent military leaders were Syrians.
The deepening of the Arab anti-imperialist struggle and the awakening of the masses constitute the greatest danger to Zionism. Ironically enough, although claiming to be a “movement of liberation” for the native Arab population, Zionism is increasingly forced to play a reactionary role. The Hebrew press tells the imperialist powers to “rule with blood and iron.” Weizmann, leader of the Zionist ,movement, has openly said that the Zionists are “opposed to anything which might lower the prestige of Western powers in the Arab world.” The Arabs strongly suspected that Weizmann’s interviews with the head of the French government were designed to influence him against granting independence to Syria.
Even the Socialist Zionists do not welcome the increasing power of Arab labor. The strike wave now engulfing Syria is treated with contempt by Davar, organ of the Jewish Federation of Labor. The Histadruth has not been noticeably active in behalf of the Arab workers in Palestine. For many years it has tolerated black Arab labor in the quarries of the Nesher cement works, though not a single Arab is to be found in the factory. These workers, who receive miserable pittances, have struck repeatedly, but the Histadruth has never come to their aid. Every time the Histadruth helped to organize Arab workers it was to “conquer” a place for Jewish workers. At a Histadruth conference Yari openly said: “Organizing Arab workers together with Jewish does not come in place of Zionism, but to strengthen Zionism, immigration, and settlement.” For the same reason Zionism has fought and defeated almost every law designed to protect the poor Arab peasant. Realizing that a contented farming population would never sell land, the Zionists have opposed government loans to the fellaheen and have united with the feudal lords in opposition to any law which might decrease the lord’s rights over his tenants.
Instead of trying to conciliate the Arabs, the Zionists have, relied on England. The Jewish Agency has never desired an agreement with the Arabs. Men who have advocated- such an agreement have been called “traitors,” and one, De Haan, was murdered in the streets of Jerusalem. The most important, Hebrew newspaper, Haaretz, said editorially a few weeks ago: “It is a fact which the British government knows perfectly well that the Jews have had more than one opportunity to come to terms with the Arabs, had they been willing to accept the conditions of cooperating with the Arabs of Palestine and those outside against Britain. This condition the Jews rejected. They never made a treaty behind the back of England.” Some of the most eminent Jews in Palestine have assured me that an’ understanding with the Arabs is not impossible. But these men have no influence with the Jewish Agency.
Not only have the majority of Zionists not wanted to come to terms with the Arabs, but they have not even tried to find ,out what goes on in the Arab camp. As I write these lines I have before me literally pounds. of Zionist propaganda, and in all the dozens of pamphlets and books I have failed to find one paragraph on the Arabs. Jabotinsky, the leader of the extreme right-wing Zionists, recently wrote: “My attitude toward the Arabs is similar to my attitude toward any other nation: polite indifference [his italics].”
Zionists in general have adopted an attitude of polite indifference toward the Arabs because they realize the strategic importance of Palestine and Britain’s need of a loyal group there. Britain has had to get out of Iraq; British power in Egypt is waning; France is being ousted from Syria. The Hebrew press constantly points out that the same thing would happen in an Arab Palestine. Only a Jewish Palestine can defend the route to India. Dauar published a translation of an article in the English weekly Palestine which said: “We are advocating here complete realization of the promise of a national home, not only in justice to the Jews but in the interest of the ideas which Britain represents…. Without Jews Palestine is only a part of Syria…. Had there been no Zionism in the world, British politics would have had to invent it for military needs alone.” Similar articles and editorials have appeared a number of times in Davar and in Doar Hayom, another Hebrew paper in Jerusalem, and in Haboker, a Hebrew daily in Tel Aviv. Haboker said: “Now as ever the Zionist movement and the Jewish community in Palestine remain loyal to Great Britain. If many English statesmen do not appreciate the common interests between the empire and us, we do.”
But England understands–only too well. And realizing the importance of Palestine, Britain is determined to assure its own future here. For that purpose neither a Jewish Palestine nor an Arab Palestine would be as useful as a divided country, where Britain could keep a permanent balance of power.
Britain’s policy during the last eighteen years has not been such as to encourage Zionist hopes. State land which could have been made available for Jewish settlement has been apportioned to rich feudal families. The Jews have been burdened with taxation for the benefit of the Arabs. The government has done practically nothing to encourage and protect infant industries. A jingle very popular with the army here ‘expresses perfectly the government’s policy:
Arab ! Don’t shoot me Shoot the man behind the tree. He is a treacherous Jew I am Englishman true. Arab ! Don’t shoot me, Shoot the man behind the tree.
What, then, is the solution? Certainly there will be no peace in Palestine as tong as the Zionists cling to their dream of establishing here a Jewish state. The Arabs will never consent willingly to becoming a minority in such a state. Even were the Jews to achieve a majority in Palestine, the economic and political factors would prevent peace. At best, the Arabs will remain a large minority in a Palestine surrounded by a huge Arab area.
It is, said that eight million Jews will eventually be forced to leave Europe. But Palestine offers no haven for all these millions. Even if all political barriers were removed, the country could not possibly sustain such a large population. In my first article I indicated how costly it has been to settle in Palestine the 200,000 Jews who have come since the war. Palestine has been a luxury. It is a beautiful country and the Jews have done wonders here. Not only have they breathed the spirit of life into the desert, but they have reconstructed the ancient Hebrew culture in modern terms. A Hebrew literature has been created and fine poems are being written. The youth, too, is something to be proud of. But fine as these things are, they do not solve the urgent problems of millions suffering in a dozen countries. These people need bread and peace. Perhaps Biro-Bidjan, or Kenya, or some unoccupied parts of South America can constitute a refuge for the millions who the Zionists claim must quit Europe. But let the Jews not fool themselves into believing Palestine to be that refuge.
Palestine is the Holy Land, in which the whole world has a stake. It is a land dear to tens of millions of Christians, Jews, and Moslems. To the Moslem Palestine is second in holiness only to Mecca. And the endless stream of Christian tourists from all parts of the world is evidence of the lively Christian interest in this land. But Jewish devotion to Palestine has been greater than either of these. Zionism is the eloquent expression of this devotion, and neither persecution nor martyrdom could keep the Jews away. Never during the 1,SGG years which have elapsed since the destruction of the Jewish state has Palestine been without a Jewish community. Though they were few in number, these Jews considered them- selves trustees for their whole race and were: called “remainder of’ the community.” There is something tragic in the longing of the Jews for the Holy Land. The Jewish exiles to Babylon sang’ as they sat under a fig tree, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may I forget my right arm, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” and this terrible oath has been repeated by Jews every day ever since. The Talmud is full of Jewish love for ‘ this land: “He who has not tasted the bread of Palestine does not know how bread tastes”; “The air of Eretz Israel maketh wise.”
Any just and workable solution of the problem of Palestine must recognize the peculiar character of this small land. But the Zionists are no more disposed to consider the nature of Palestine than are the Arabs. Although they continually stress the “historical connection between the people of Israel and the land of Israel,” they do not admit that, by the same token, not only Jews but Christians and Moslems have ancient and inalienable rights. The Zionists want a Jewish state in which the Arabs, the indigenous population, will live as a minority. But if a national state is to be founded here, I believe the Arabs have the,most right to it. They have been living here for the last 1,200 years.
However, I am strongly of the opinion that Palestine is not the place, for a national state, whether Jew or Arab. Not only the inhabitants but the world outside have interests here. The European Christian community, though more or less passive in the present Jew-Arab struggle, would strenuously oppose either a Jewish or an Arab government. If the Zionists could realize that Palestine is no place for nationalism, the most objectionable feature of the movement would disappear. Boycott of Arab labor is necessary if the Jews are to become the majority, but it loses its raison d’être with a change in the political goal. Instead of trying to crush the Arab peasantry, a Zionism without national aspirations would help them. There is no inherent antagonism between the two peoples. The conflict today is not racial or religious but political and economic. I have no doubt that the two peoples could learn to get on perfectly with each other. But because of the political antagonism today only 25 Arab children attend Jewish schools, and only 741 Jewish children attend the government schools, where the language of instruction is Arabic. Without the political antagonism the two peoples could learn both languages, and the way for understanding would be opened.
Suggestions calculated to straighten out the present tangle have been made by Dr. Judah L. Magnes, chancellor of the Hebrew University, by the Orientalist, Nevel Barbour, and by other eminent men. First, since Palestine is no place for the usual kind of national state, some form of international control should be instituted. Possibly government by a commission directly responsible to the League of Nations would be best, or administration might be intrusted to a single nation, preferably one without1 direct political interests in the Near East. The inhabitants could express their wishes through a democratically elected advisory council, with advisory power only. Administration of village and municipal affairs should be left to the inhabitants. The inhabitants might object to the denial of responsible government, but admitting the principle on which these suggestions are based-namely, that not one race or nation but the whole world is concerned with Palestine–this should not be an insurmountable barrier.
Second, the Holy Land should be strictly neutralized. No nation should use it as a military or naval base, Last autumn, when war threatened between England and Italy, Dr. Magnes wrote in the Manchester Guardian: “Palestine would be better engaged in thinking over proposals like that of Mr. Lansbury, that Jerusalem try to become the voice and conscience of the world’s religion, than be engaged upon warlike operations, however necessary they may seem to some of the great powers…. Palestine should therefore be neutralized by the League of Nations, together with the non-League powers. It would be an indication of unselfishness and of real devotion to the cause of peace if Great Britain, the, mandatory power, were to make such a proposal.” Both Zionists and British imperialists scornfully attacked this suggestion.
Third, the principle that no group or community should dominate the others should be recognized legally. Not the laws of the land nor the culture nor the social institutions should depend on the numerical strength of any one group. Immigration should be regulated not by political considerations, as it is today, but by the capacity of the country to absorb it. Experts believe that if immigration were permitted to flow naturally, the result would be a permanent population of about three millions, of whom from 45 to 50 per cent would be Jews.
The Zionists would no doubt consider these suggestions foreign to the spirit of the Balfour Declaration and the mandate. The Arabs might also reject them. But many persons believe that only such a system can bring peace to this disturbed country. If the chauvinist ambitions of Jews and Arabs are not checked, more blood will flow, and Palestine will be in the future what it has been in the past, the battleground of nations.