Palestine: An Impasse?

"The two enemies of peace in the Holy Land are fanaticism and fear."

From Jerusalem to Bethlehem is a pleasant five-mile walk. If one starts an hour before sunrise he can reach the old monastery at the top of the hill looking down on both cities in time to see day break over the mountains of Moab and the Dead Sea. At this hour the contours of the tumbled wilderness which wastes away from the stubble of the near-by fields to the denuded rocks of the lower valley are sharply visible in the contrast of light and shadow. Motor traffic has not yet begun on the highroad. Only the rural Arabs are abroad, bringing their market truck to town on donkeys or camels. Here at the Crusader's rampart, or farther on at the tomb of Rachel, one can still summon the illusion of antiquity, and find the landscape a fit setting for those occasional authentic spots whereon the historical sense dwells with that peculiar satisfaction which for many millions of souls, Jewish, Christian, and Moslem, constitutes the primary meaning of Palestine.

But even now there are disturbing notes. A cluster of red-tiled roofs belonging to a group of bungalows whose wide windows reply sharply to the first glance of the sun betoken a new settlement, European in architecture and surroundings. The Arab villages, poor as they are, belong to the hillsides out of which they grow. These new colonies, clean and well-appointed, strike one as exotic; involuntarily one asks, 'Why are they here?' There is a pride about them, a challenge, a stir, as if some gong of modernity were sounding from them; and the spirit of Palestine, stirring also, but trying to listen to other sounds, seems to respond reluctantly, 'Must I, too, go this way, and become altogether one with these?'

Here speaks the temperamental antithesis between the new Zionist and the Arab; and in such undefined contrasts lie the germs of political conflict.

Nowhere else in the world is an overt political clash so clearly the surface play of forces before which politics is helpless. Diplomacy would like to wash its hands of the matter. We see Great Britain, the mandatory, passing a critical decision to the League, and the League hesitating to accept responsibility!

There are no precedents in the case; and therein lies its persistent hold on our interest. Some long-drawn struggles make us weary—the endless cross-pulling of patent self-interests. Some enlist our chivalry, as cases of right against might. Some command a deeper concern—the conflict of two rights, two equally justifiable ideals, which the facts somehow have made incompatible; these contain the essence of tragedy, for without sacrifice on one side, or on both, there is no solution. This is the case in Palestine, for here are two corporate streams of hope which we rudely describe as 'national,' each with a valid claim on our sympathy, while both cannot be realized. And no political power dares deny either the right to life.

It is futile to try the case on the basis of the promises and declarations of Great Britain. Her fumbling efforts to give shape and limit to the conflicting hopes are pertinent, but secondary. The aspirations of Jew and Arab have not been created by any Balfour Declaration or by any Hussein-MacMahon correspondence. They spring out of the new life running in two great peoples, encouraged by all that has been said and thought since war time about the rights of national movements. It is not Great Britain alone, it is the entire Western half of the world which is involved in the dilemma. Britain, to be sure, is in the further plight of having committed herself to both sides—first of all to the Arab—and of having received from both sides a substantial quid pro quo. But this unhappy position becomes a crucial one only because the pressure of demand comes from populations who know little and care less about the letter of written agreements.

Britain has to deal not with what she has promised, but with what masses of Jews and Arabs think she ought to have promised. The Arab populations in Palestine and behind Palestine are thinking in terms of their desired kingdom with its western verge on the Mediterranean Sea. The Zion-minded Jews the world over, knowing Palestine only through the mirage of tradition, dream, and hortatory eloquence, think of their rights in that land in terms of their ideal Jewish community, united and free. These masses are the drive and heft of two immense animated wedges whose sharp ends cross and contend in Jerusalem. Let us then disregard for the moment the political entanglement and go at once to the centre of the matter, the logic of the opposing ideals.

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