The work of Jewish consolidation in Palestine depends on three factors: the attitude of the Mandatory, the strong world-wide financial support of Jewry, and the economic success of the new Jewish colonization. It was some three years ago that Jewry first became uneasy about Zionist control. There were criticisms of extravagance and inefficiency; it was said that solid ordered development was being subordinated to the prospects of shadowy political advantages; there must be a severe stocktaking before further funds both to continue development and to extricate the movement from its present dilemmas would be forthcoming. It was a move toward the reorganization of Zionism as a practical and more economically sound proposition.
The control of the movement was at the outset in purely Zionist hands, though it drew its support largely from non-Zionist Jewry, especially in America. The pioneers of the movement, quickly and correctly reading the signs of the times, invited non-Zionist Jewry to take a share of active control. Non-Zionist Jewry responded — but on terms; and the Jewish agency was reformed on the basis of equality of representation of Zionist and non-Zionist interests alike. It was a wise and statesmanlike move; its results were encouraging; and subscriptions to the Zionist funds were well on the road to recovery, when the events of last year took place which, in their sequel, have prejudiced the whole future of Zionism as it was conceived after the Balfour Declaration.
The grievances of the Arabs are concerned directly and indirectly with the overdevelopment of the Zionist immigration and colonization policy. From the standpoint of population, the absorption capacity of Palestine is low; a saturation point is quickly reached; and persistence in the influx of immigration and in the necessary land purchases for immigrant settlement will squeeze out the Arabs, thousands of whom are already landless and destitute as a result either of their own foolish sales to the Zionists or of callous eviction by money lenders. For a long time the Arabs had drifted helplessly in the face of Zionist penetration, reacting spasmodically, now by exaggerated protests, now by violent physical reprisals. But eventually such negative tactics made way for wiser councils and a constructive policy; and out of this evolution there emerged a phenomenon hitherto undreamed of in Arab Palestine — a vaguely united body of Arab opinion concentrating on a common object, the assertion of their majority rights as against the claims of the Zionist minority. Their newspapers developed, and are now almost as light-heartedly venomous as are those of the Zionists, and a propaganda organization abroad was tardily organized; but the most remarkable success of these counter-activities was in the sphere of commerce.
The Jewish traders, great and small, were not by any means uniformly successful; but, backed by Zionist finance, they had, one way or another, concentrated in their hands the bulk of the wholesale and retail trade of the country. After the tragic events of the summer of 1929, the Arabs suddenly realized the extent of this Jewish strangle hold on their national and even domestic life. They organized a boycott of Jewish shops, and proceeded themselves to establish an Arab commercial organization in the country which would supply their normal needs with- out the assistance of the Jews. They worked thoroughly and systematically and to good purpose; Arabs suddenly began to buy only from Arabs; and the Jewish trading community was reduced to rely only on the custom of coreligionists. Jewish commercial interests have been hard hit. The episode was the first indication which the Arabs in Palestine had given of an ability for purposeful and constructive organization.
In any attempt to describe the local state of Palestine to-day, it would be most ungenerous to fail to emphasize that Jewish penetration, while it has far from realized the earliest Zionist hopes, has in many senses benefited the Arab inhabitants of the country. Pre-war Arab standards of life in Palestine were extremely low, even for the East. Arab ideas of agriculture were primeval; education was practically non-existent; the sciences were neglected, and trade was conducted on parochial and primitive lines. Zion- ism has undoubtedly changed the exterior of Arab life. It gave the Arabs new and more hygienic conceptions of well-being and comfort in their daily existence; it introduced competition which induced a more modem outlook both in agriculture and in politics; and it moved them to bestir themselves educationally and commercially.
The agricultural colonist, whatever his outlook or his mode of living in Palestine, was only a minor provocative factor in Arab circles. He lived his exclusive village life within a limited rural spheres. It has been first and foremost the Arab reaction toward the social standards set up by the suburban and urban Jewish colonists which has provoked the psychological tension of the present time. The new Jewish townsman — naturally, perhaps — advertised Zionism in every possible way. His lingua franca was the revived but foreign Hebrew language, which was exclusively and copiously used for all Jewish advertisements, shop signs, and notices. Incidentally, though this has nothing to do with Zionism, it was adopted with Arabic and English as a language of state, and appeared not only on the official papers but on the stamps and coinage.
Again, there was an exotic super-modernity in all new Zionist enterprise which, though in many ways commendable, could not appeal to the Arab. The rules of life in the new settlements were highly advanced and conspicuously foreign to Palestinian tradition. New styles of dress were introduced, particularly among the women, who, to demonstrate their equality with men, often wore trousers. The architecture of the new Zionist buildings and colonies did not tone in with the Palestine landscape; and the arts were highly and at times aggressively cultivated on Eastern European lines. This modernity of outlook found its supreme expression in the creation of Tel-Aviv, the suburb of Jaffa and the great Zionist centre of the country, which settled down to a life of its own according to social standards the like of which had never been seen before in Palestine. In exterior, the town is vulgarly Levantine after the commonplace fashion of Beirut and Alexandria; in comportment, the place might be a seaside resort on the Black Sea.
In an attempt to illustrate its incongruity from a Palestinian standpoint, I may be permitted to quote from my diary of last winter. I had assisted at a performance by a Tel-Aviv working-men's theatrical troupe of a Biblical play called Jacob.
The actors were all grotesque, — symbolic, maybe, but grotesque and looking more like idols than men, — their skin painted brilliant terra cotta, their faces raddled with black, their dress scanty, garish, and farouche. Instead of wigs they wore papier-mdch6 shapes looking like architects' models of cubist buildings, and their individual movements were stiff, angular, and exaggerated, working like machinery toward some dramatic grouping to emphasize some dramatic context of the book. It was a spoken ballet, — the long springs of the hunter, the overemphasized processional stride, the plastic portrayal of emotion by conventional gesture, — and all to the accompaniment of oddly pitched melodramatic declamation. The lighting was now fierce, now dim.
It was a mediaeval mystery play produced by a Reinhardt. Of course it was in Hebrew. But the plot I knew, and anyhow the actors told it superbly—so superbly, indeed, that I was frightened. Frightened of what? That I was in Palestine and that this was in Palestine. The story was common to Jew and Arab alike; but the production was primitive Slavonic, and in Palestine so exotic as to be terrifying — something ominous, something defiant, a challenge. I was afraid as one is when one sees a black thundercloud rushing across a summer sky. And the audience! Not only as unoriental, but as unwestern as you could imagine. Two thousand Slavs reveling almost hysterically in this demonstration of independence of thought.
I had written my diary when my impressions were still vivid and, perhaps, highly colored. But they were genuine, and in retrospection appear to be in fair perspective. What I had seen in that theatre was only unnatural in Palestine; otherwise it was natural as the urgent self-expression of the real feelings of these new Zionist immigrants. There is tragedy in the bare statement of these facts. Zionist immigration is out to establish itself in Palestine on lines of its own choosing. On the other hand, those lines are foreign, unintelligible, and antipathetic to the mentalities of the Arab communities that represent the large majority in the country. If no bridge is built, how can these two existing, and mutually repellent, social states grow side by side without endless friction?
And between Jew and Arab stands the Mandatory Power, heavily committed to both parties and hitherto unable to liquidate its liabilities — the future prejudiced by those variously interpreted British statements of policy, the present tensely embarrassed by racial, if not religious, animosities. The word "Palestine” is hardly ever heard in Jewish and Arab circles. To the Arab, Palestine is, for purposes of propaganda, ‘Suria el Genubia’ (Southern Syria); to the Jew, also for purposes of propaganda, it is ‘Eretz Israel’ (the Land of Israel). For each the word 'Palestine' has an unwelcome circumscribing sense, damping the ambitions. The Arab promotes Southern Syria as one of the Federated States of Arabdom, and the Jew casts his eye across the Jordan toward the Land of Gilead. Nevertheless, the Mandatory, as trustee of Palestine, can only regard its inhabitants, whether they be Arabs or Jews, as Palestinians; and equally the British High Commissioner must, as the Mandatory executor, think and act to the best of his ability ‘Palestinianly' (if the coining of such a word is permitted). His task is no enviable one. Not only is he called upon to implement as a policy a legacy of apparently irreconcilable promises, capable of an indefinite variety of ex parte interpretations; but the last thing that both Arab and Jew wish the British High Commissioner to do is to think 'Palestinianly.’ He must be either pro-Arab or pro-Jew. The result is that whatever he does is certain to call down upon his head a load of invective from either Arab or Jew as being anti- one or the other.
The tragic events of 1929, and the report which has just been issued by the Commission of Inquiry which sat in Jerusalem last fall, have undoubtedly moved British public opinion and the British Government deeply. And in one direction particularly. Palestine has drifted into such a state of nervous tension that, in all but name, it is under martial law. Until that tension relaxes, the British troops must remain. These are unpleasant but true reflections, and as unpalatable to the British taste as to those Jews whose traditional idealism is above politics, and whose conception of ‘the Return’ can hardly be in agreement with a ‘Return' sheltered and maintained by sole virtue of British military power.
The British Government has already initiated a course of action designed to ease matters. A commission has been formed to inquire into the respective rights of Jew and Arab alike at the Wailing Wall, and to draw up regulations which will establish for all time what can and what cannot be done on this site, the counter-claims to which lit the conflagration of August 1929. Again they have just dispatched to Palestine a further commission to explore the whole question of Zionist immigration and colonization, and to suggest a form of official control which will reassure Arab opinion. These decisions are, however, doubtless only preliminaries to some more general declaration on the part of the British Government as to the Mandatory policy for Palestine. A highly representative Arab delegation is at present in London and discussing the Arab case with the competent British authorities. These authorities are also in touch with Zionist leading opinion throughout the world. What the result of their deliberations will be is still unknown. But it is an open secret that all parties are investigating the possibilities of ‘the development of self-governing institutions’ in Palestine, which, according to the terms of the Mandate, the British Government is bound to foster. All would welcome an agreement which would put an end to the storm and stress which has persisted over the last twelve years; but understanding will be difficult to achieve* For both Arabs and Jews in their present frame of mind are definitely intransigent and reluctant to commit themselves to any form of collaboration which may substitute a coldly Palestinian for an Arab or Jewish outlook.
If an agreement is to be reached, it is devoutly to be hoped that the new policy will be framed in unequivocal terms which are not unduly susceptible to rival interpretations. It is high time that the much-harried administration of Palestine should be given a policy which it can understand and implement quickly, without being forever subjected to charges of bias one way or another. When I was in Beirut, I met a Frenchman who had just completed a tour of Palestine. "It is possible,' he said, 'that one day I might, who knows, become a French official in Syria; but God forbid that I should ever be a British official in Palestine under the current Mandate."
He knew many but by no means all the difficulties of officialdom in Palestine. My host on my last evening in the country was a leading Zionist who told me proudly, and not at all confidentially, of the thoroughness of the Zionist organization, which, he boasted, extended even within the government. 'You mean,’ I asked, 'that Zionist officials in the public services are your agents of information?’ 'Of course,' he said. 'They have equal duties toward the movement. When the inquiry was opened into the Haifa riots of last September, Zionist telephone operators in the Post Office reported to us conversations between Arabs and government officials which gave us valuable evidence for use before the Commission of Inquiry.’
Comment is superfluous. Zionism has lost the idealism which attended the birth of the movement.