Palestine

Writing in the February Atlantic, Professor W.T. Stace of Princeton raised the issue of whether in Palestine we are "pursuing the methods of justice or the methods of force." His article, "The Zionist Illusion," provoked instant response, and chief among the more thoughtful replies is this article by Eliahu Ben-Horin, who was born in Russia and immigrated in 1921 to Palestine. He lived there for two decades and became Editor of the Hebrew daily Doar Hayom and Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine News Service. Mr. Ben-Horin writes with an intimate knowledge of the Middle East and Palestine, which he last visited in 1946. He is the author of The Middle East: Crossroads of History and a contributor to leading American magazines. —The Editor
More
1

I have never tried to climb Olympus, and I do not know how it feels to be among the gods.  It must be an awesome feeling to sit there and lay down the law for all the fallible human beings walking the earth, stumbling over each other as they hurry on their way.

There is something Olympian about the boundless objectivity which Professor Stace, author of "The Zionist Illusion," in the February Atlantic, claims for himself. Being a philosopher, Mr. Stace is sincerely convinced of his own objectivity. He seems certain that in his analysis of the Palestine problem he has applied nothing but cold reason—which, according to his basic postulate, is the only foundation of justice in international relations.  I do not claim such objectivity for myself. I fear, moreover, that no such complete objectivity exists in international or human relations, and that even Mr. Stace possesses only the normal quota.

Take two Americans and send them to China, and you are likely to get two diametrically opposed appraisals of the rights and wrongs of the Chinese situation. The same result would be obtained in the case of Spain, Soviet Russia, Greece, Yugoslavia, or any other land. Recent history offers an obvious example: the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine. Late in 1946, six Americans and six Britishers were commissioned to study the Palestine problem and make recommendations as

to its solution. Sharp differences of opinion cut across the Committee, sparing neither the American half nor the British. This was only natural. Men and women with different political views, different social outlooks, backgrounds, educations, ways of reasoning, and emotional reactions cannot help being subjective on any given issue. Do we not loathe the totalitarian state precisely because its people have no right to differ? Only in a totalitarian world could men reach that "ideal" rigidity and objectivity which Mr. Stace advises us to employ in the settlement of international problems.

If for argument's sake one were to endorse every word of “The Zionist Illusion” and agree with the author in his basic assumption that the will of any given majority should be accepted unconditionally, and that Zionism is therefore an aggressive force, it does not yet follow that Zionism is as "illusion." What about the British Empire, the French, Belgian, and Dutch colonial possessions—are they all based on the will of the local majorities, or are they all illusions?

This brings us to another question, which is, is effect, a test of Mr. Stace's objectivity. He writes that he has selected Palestine as a good case for the examination of his theories with regard to justice in international relations. Why Palestine? Why not Ceylon, where he spent some time as a British civil servant? He surely knows all the intricacies of the Ceylon situation better than he knows Palestine. Or he could have chosen the Sudan—apple of discord in the recent British' Egyptian negotiations; or Indonesia—the scene of a recent small-scale war, in which Britain actively helped Holland to suppress the fight for independence of the native majority; or Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, Kenya, and many more lands, where small British minorities "own” the colonies and deny millions of natives not only "self-determination" but the most elementary civil and human rights. Was the choice of Palestine as a test case  altogether accidental, or does Mr. Stace, as a former British civil servant, feel disinclined to apply the yardstick of cold reason and international justice to Great Britain?

It seems, after all, that Mr. Stace is as human as the rest of us.

2

The very idea of the League of Nations in the past and of the United Nations in the present is the affirmation of mankind's right to settle and adjust matters on an international scale, beyond and above national boundaries or the will of local majorities. When the Potsdam Conference determined to approve the post-war transfer of three and a half million Germans from the Sudetenland, they did not ask the local majority whether they would like it or not. When the United Nations decided the fate of Trieste, they did not ask for the approval of the people of Trieste.

Any observer of European affairs would undoubtedly agree that Hitler represented the majority of the German people. Had a scrupulously democratic election taken place in Germany at any tune between the remilitarization of the Rhinelandland and the first setbacks suffered by the Wehrmacht on the Russian front, Hitler would have received a more overwhelming vote than Roosevelt ever obtained from his countrymen, and would then have proceeded to do exactly what he did without democratic elections. Would

any of us contend that the world should unquestioningly have accepted the will of the Reich's majority regardless of the atrocities which such a Nazi majority was undoubtedly likely to commit?

It is no accident that the League of Nations was brought into being by the same political philosophy which outlawed imperialism and aggression and proclaimed the right of self-determination for all nations, large and small. The Woodrow Wilson who was the author of the famous Fourteen Points was also the father of the League of Nations idea. Strangely enough, "The Zionist Illusion" never mentions the basic fact that the Zionist enterprise in Palestine and Jewish aspirations with regard to Palestine received the approval of the League of Nations; that the League of Nations not only endorsed the Balfour Declaration but took over Palestine primarily in order to bring about the materialization of that declaration; that Britain was entrusted with the administration of the Mandate on behalf of the League of Nations; that it was only after civilized mankind, through the League of Nations, had given the Jewish people the green light to go ahead that they poured into Palestine their sweat and blood, their youth and money, their skill and hopes. The League of Nations Mandate is still the only constitutional basis for the administration of Palestine and the only legal international covenant defining mankind's intentions as to the future of Palestine.

Nor can an unbiased mind entertain any doubts as to the real intents of the Balfour Declaration and of the Mandate. Although these documents employed the somewhat nebulous term of "national home," Lord Balfour himself, David Lloyd George, Britain's Prime Minister at the time of the Declaration, as well as Winston Churchill, President Wilson, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, and others who took an active part in the framing of the Declaration, went on record as asserting that what was promised to the Jewish people was the gradual establishment of a Jewish majority in Palestine, thus transforming Palestine into a predominantly Jewish state. Even the anti-Zionist Royal Commission, headed by Lord Peel in 1937, could not help confirming this fact.

Were the statesmen responsible for the Balfour Declaration and the representatives of fifty-two nations in the League of Nations so ignorant as not to know that there was an Arab majority in the Holy Land?

At a matter of fact, there were eight Arabs to each Jew in Palestine three decades ago, whereas today the proportion is only two to one. It was in full awareness of this fact that the highest body of organized humanity decided that it would be right and just to establish such an internationally guaranteed regime in Palestine as would facilitate Jewish immigration and colonization with a view to ultimately creating there a Jewish majority and transforming the Arabs into a minority.

This and nothing else is the basic element in the Palestine issue. All the other elements—the historic connection of Jews and Arabs with the Holy Land, the objections of the present-day Arab majority, the fact that Jewish colonization benefits the Arabs, the suffering of the Jewish displaced persons in Europe, and the disinclination of all the nations in the world to accept these refugees into their own countries—are subsidiary.

"A promise to steal ought not to be kept." This sounds like good, ethical reasoning. But can the embodiment of the collective conscience of the world—in this case, the League of Nations—be so lightheartedly accused of conniving in theft? Has any one of us the right to imply that mankind as a whole is wrong and he alone right?

Formally the Balfour Declaration was a purely British pledge, but all the Allied powers were responsible for it. The United States was actively involved, for President Wilson had cooperated in the negotiations which led to the issuance of the Declaration. Britain and her allies, as the victors in World War I, were in the position of being able to dispose of the spoils of war. However, they handed over the spoils to the League of Nations, and it was the League, now the trustee on behalf of humanity, which made the decisions regarding the various territories of the former Ottoman Empire.

Palestine had not been an Arab state either prior to the First World War or ever in history. It was a Jewish state in antiquity, a Crusaders' kingdom for a short period in the Middle Ages, but never an Arab state. The Arabs formed a majority of the population for a long time (not for two thousand years as Mr. Stace erroneously writes, but for about half that period), yet for the last five hundred years they were a subjugated people living in provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

The Arabs, like the Jews, received pledges during the First World War, and they received them—never questioning their validity on ethical or other grounds—from exactly the same party that issued the Balfour Declaration. It was the Allied victory that transformed the Arab subjects of Ottoman tyranny into rulers of several independent Arab states. At present, there are seven such states with kings or presidents, with membership in the United Nations and all the paraphernalia of statehood. The total area of the seven Arab states amounts to well over one million square miles, whereas the area of Western Palestine is only 10,000 square miles—in other words, less than one per cent of that part of the Ottoman Empire which was liberated by the Allies in World War I.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Are Americans So Bad at Saving Money?

The U.S. is particularly miserable at putting aside money for the future. Should we blame our paychecks or our psychology?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In