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
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What have the Arabs done with the enormous territories handed over to the for possession and rule? And what have the Jews achieved in the small area which was promised them but never actually placed at their disposal?

These questions may be secondary elements in the Palestine and Middle East picture, but factual examination of them will prove most illuminating. In the years since the end of World War I, the high rate of illiteracy has remained almost stationary in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Trans-Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and even in Egypt, affecting from 80 to 95 per cent and more of the population. Abject poverty, unsanitary conditions of life, diseases of all descriptions without medical help, a high rate of mortality especially among children, a subhuman level of existence—these are the hopeless lot of over 90 per cent of the masses in the Arab lands. Wealth, absolute power, harems, and luxury are the exclusive possession of about 2 per cent of the population. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the Arab lands in royalties for oil concessions. All this wealth has gone into the pockets of the kings, sheiks, and effendis—none of it for the betterment of the working masses. Western civilization is barred from the independent Arab states as tightly as it was in the days of the Turkish sultans.

Is this the kind of "self-determination" that spells fulfillment of the noble dream Woodrow Wilson had thirty years ago, or that holds out promise for the better world which the Atlantic Charter and the United Nations proclaimed is our days? "Independence," "self-determination," "self-government," and "majority rule" are no fetishes and should not be treated as such. It is the essence of the thing that counts, not the pretty slogans. In essence, one cannot even say that "the Arabs made a mess of it." They—namely, the Arab ruling cliques—never wanted self-determination for their peoples. They wanted "self-determination" only for themselves. They wanted absolute freedom for the shameless exploitation of the Arab masses, for the preservation of a feudalistic society, reactionary and antisocial, in the twentieth century. And they got all they wanted.

What the Jews made of Palestine is supposed is be common knowledge. But it is not. People take it for granted that the Jews have done wonders in Palestine, and immediately shrug this off as something self-understood. Few realize the extent of Jewish achievement in Palestine, that the Jews actually performed the greatest colonization

achievement of the twentieth century. This the Jewish people did without having any powers of statehood or compulsion, and despite the active opposition of the Mandatory power, which (contrary to the prescriptions of the Mandate) Prevented Jewish immigration instead of facilitating it, hindered Jewish settlement on the land instead of helping it. The Jewish enterprise in Palestine may also claim the rare distinction of being about the only colonization process in history which not only did not displace or exterminate the native population, but greatly benefited it economically, socially, and culturally, and bolstered its rate of natural increase.

These benefits conferred by Zionism on the Palestinian Arabs do not in themselves justify Zionism, but they undoubtedly throw a very favorable light on the ethics of Zionist aims and methods. The Jewish people have done their full share towards the realization of Wilson's idea of self-determination for small peoples. Thus far they have proved to be the only people in the Middle East which neither made a mess of, nor misused for reactionary and antisocial purposes, the opportunity offered by the League of Nations.

In the deep social cleavage between Jewish Palestine and the Arab potentates, one may find the main explanation for the opposition of the ruling cliques in Arabia to Zionism. It is, moreover, in relation to this aspect of the Middle East problem—the social aspect—that Great Britain and, to some extent, America are committing their greatest mistake in foreign policy.

I was sitting in the Foreign Office in London, talking to one of Mr. Bevin's top assistants. It was late in July of last year, and I was then on my way from the United States to Palestine. We were discussing British-Soviet relations in and over the Middle East and the broader lines of Britain’s Palestine policy.

On this occasion I formulated Britain's situation in the Middle East in the following terms: "These are your alternatives. You can adopt a pro-Arab orientation in the Middle East, which means, of course, backing the reactionaries who rule the Arab states and the Arab League. Or you can back the march of civilization into the Middle East with Jewish Palestine as its advance guard. You can ride one of these two horses but not both of them at the same time. You must take your choice."

Despite its Labor Government, Britain seems to have made its choice in favor of the Ibn Sauds and the Amin el Husseinis. Why the feudal barons of Arabia fight Zionism is obvious. Zionism is a serious threat to their absolutist power over the Arab masses; it is a living indictment of their way of life: it is an ever present call for progress in the Middle East. But why is Labor Britain so determined to block Zionism, contrary to the obligations of Great Britain and to the solemn pledges of the Labor Party during the last thirty years? Is it fear of Russia? Fear of Arab threats of a pro-Soviet orientation? Is it because of the oil interests? Or is it a continuation of traditional British muddling?

Nobody knows bettor than the British that the Arab states in the Middle East, with the Arab League at the top, represent no tangible force in economics, industry, culture, politics, or war potential. The British know also that the Arab states lack the fundamentals of nationhood and statehood, let alone the necessary prerequisites for Pan-Arabic expansion. Most of their kings, sheiks, and politicians are directly or indirectly on the payroll of the British Exchequer. They are puppets of Britain, and they know it.

The British are neither pro-Arab nor anti-Jewish. They are pro-British. They use the Arab argument in the Palestine controversy for their own ends, caring little about the interests of the Arabs. They cannot possibly be afraid of the Arab threats, for they know that there is no substance in them, but they are not above using these threats to impress others, especially America.

Bartley C. Crum, one of the American members of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, said in an address last year that John D. Rockefeller, Jr., would sooner turn to Stalin to ask for his intervention in reducing his income tax in America, than Ibn Sand and other Arab kings would call for Soviet intervention in the Middle East. There is nothing I could add to that. When the kings of Arabia are ready to commit suicide, they will turn to the Kremlin. For the time being, King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan goes to Ankara and concludes a pact with Turkey, openly directed against Soviet Russia. For the time being, the Arab League appeals to Arab lands to settle in their territory 100,000 ex-Soviet Caucasian Moslems who joined the Wehrmacht during the Garman invasion of Russia and are now in Allied prison camps. Don't these and similar facts speak louder than words as to the probability that the Arab rulers will jump into the open arms of Russia?

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The problem of oil in the Middle East is equally misinterpreted. I wish I had enough space in this article to "explode" the "oil argument," based as it is on misinformation and misdirection of public opinion. I can only touch on it here.

For England, which has no petroleum resources at home, Middle Eastern oil is the main source of supply and therefore extremely important. But even for England, oil is only one ingredient in the general strategic importance of the Middle East. In time of war, it is not formal ownership of oil concessions that counts, but their accessibility. In other words, it is only when Britain controls the seas and can bring oil from the Persian Gulf to any place of battle that Middle East oil can be decisive in the fortunes of war.

This is oven truer of America. This country has enough domestic oil for many generations to come, as far as peacetime needs are concerned. Should it have to oil a new world war, the American-owned concessions in Saudi Arabia or in Bahrein, 10,000 miles away from our shores, would be of little avail unless America should establish strategic bases in the Middle East and naval stations all along the route, strong enough to secure the accessibility of these oil resources.

These are the realities reflecting the maneuvering of the great powers for strategic and oil positions in the Middle East, with Britain and the United States aligned de facto, if not officially, against Soviet Russia. All this has little to do with justice in international relations or with Jewish and Arab rights in Palestine. Jews and Arabs, kings and politicians, historic pledges and contemporary conferences, are no more than pawns in a much bigger game of power politics. It is here, rather than in the Jewish-Arab controversy over Palestine, that one should look for the very real danger of a new world-wide conflagration. In this crucial fight between the major powers, the desires and preferences of the Arab potentates are of no consequence. They have no choice in the matter. They cannot turn to the Kremlin, because they would then lose all their power, wealth, and influence. They need the oil royalties which form the major item in their incomes, and they are entirely dependent on the Western powers politically, economically, and militarily.

Wise statesmanship on the part of Great Britain and America could have used these stern realities in order to entrench Western democratic influence in the Middle East, There is obviously only one way to do it: namely, to make Middle Eastern oil a means of progress in the Middle East. The capital, skill, and political and economic power which Britain and the United States are pouring into the Arab lands could have been used in the interests of the masses of the population in those countries. Seventy-five cents, if not ninety-five cents, of each dollar paid in oil royalties, subventions, grants, and interest-free loans should have created schools, hospitals, maternity clinics, sanitary dwellings, roads, irrigation, and general improvement of conditions. Five per cent should have sufficed for the upkeep of the harems of Ibn Saud and the sheiks of Bahrein and Kuwait.

However, both Britain and the United States can hardly be said to be acting with wise statesmanship in the Middle East. All they want is oil, and beyond that they do not care. They come to the Middle East to take, not to give. They have no long-range policy. From a short-range viewpoint they consider it good business to make deals with the feudal barons of Arabia and thus help them to perpetuate their regime of tyranny and exploitation of the Arab masses. British and American policy-makers are too shortsighted to see that it is they who leave no choice for the underdog in the Middle East but to turn, sooner or later, to Russia. Britain and America, fearful of Soviet expansion, actually pave the way for that expansion.

Badly exploited, chronically undernourished, poverty and sickness ridden human masses must become more and more susceptible to Soviet propaganda. The day may come when the present reactionary orientation of British or American policies in the Middle East will backfire with such strength as to upset the British-American cart entirely.

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The fiasco of the recent London Conference on Palestine led to the official announcement that Britain will hand over the Palestine problem to the United Nations without any recommendations. One is driven to the unhappy conclusion that this is an act of desperation rather than of constructive planning on Britain's part. Breaking the Palestine Mandate and blocking Zionist progress in Palestine have proved too costly in terms of military manpower and unfavorable public opinion: the nearly 100,000 soldiers kept in Palestine could be used to good advantage in British factories and mines.

Thus, after twenty-five years, the Palestine Mandate may return to the jurisdiction of organized mankind. Whether the question comes before the Security Council, the General Assembly, or the Trusteeship Council, it will have to be analyzed and decided on its intrinsic merits, and not on the exigencies of politics. Since, ultimately, it is the great powers that will determine the fat of Palestine in the UN, the Western democracies will have an opportunity to revise their entire approach to Middle Eastern problems.

If the Middle Eastern situation, the forces at play there, the claims and counterclaims and the crisscross interests of the great powers are seen in the right perspective, Palestine emerges as one of the focal points in the entire picture. A Jewish Palestine would offer the natural base of operations for the march of civilization in the Middle East. No other country in that part of the world can provide such a base. A Jewish Palestine would be the fulfillment of mankind's pledges to the Jewish people, would provide the solution for one of the most tragic problems of our times, and would remove a bad irritant in international relations. No other country could or would offer such a lasting and stable solution.

The Zionist idea and the problem of the Jewish displaced persons in Europe are not identical. Zionism, as the supreme expression of Jewish national renaissance, political, cultural, and spiritual, existed long before Hitler arose to fame and power in Germany. The Zionist prognosis of the Jewish position in Europe and in the world amounts to this: as long as the Jews are a minority everywhere and a majority nowhere, Jewish defenselessness and the Jewish tragedy will not end. The Zionist remedy therefore was and still is to regain nationhood and statehood for the Jewish people. It was this Zionist aspiration that was endorsed by the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations.

The cruel extermination of 40 per cent of the Jewish people by the Nazis only served to confirm the prophetic prognosis of Zionism as to the insecurity of the Jewish position in the world. The pitiful situation of the remnants of European Jewry, who cannot stay in Europe and who are unwanted by the world at large, lends additional urgency to the Zionist demands to open the gates of Palestine. However, the demands themselves are not based on the existence of Jewish displaced persons in Europe, but on the legitimate rights of the Jewish people under the Mandate.

Zionism offers the only realistic solution of the Jewish problem. One looks in vain in "The Zionist Illusion" for a practical solution of the Jewish problem, "greathearted" or otherwise. One finds there a frontal attack on Zionism and a negation of the justice of the Zionist solution of the Jewish question, but not an alternative solution. On the contrary, starting with the desirability of "all the underpopulated countries in the world" amending their immigration policies, so as to absorb the homeless Jews of Europe, Mr. Stace soon arrives at the conclusion that "we have to face the plain truth, however unpleasant it may be,—however shameful if you like,—that none of the great nations want these refugees." There he lets the matter rest, and returns to his concluding jibes at Zionism. Where is the alternative?

It does not exist. Neither Mr. Stace nor anyone else can suggest a solution of the Jewish problem outside of Palestine. By that I mean, of course, a tangible, workable solution, not mere lip service and emotional orations on Jewish suffering.

Madagascar, Uganda, Southern Rhodesia, British Guiana, and the many other territories mentioned from time to time as possible alternatives to Palestine fade out of the picture as soon as you analyze them in practical terms. What is more, all these territories have native and European populations utterly unwilling to give up their present positions or even to make room for the Jews. Nor can the Jewish people claim any rights with regard to all these territories, as it can in the case of Palestine.

We have Professor Stace's testimony to the effect that none of the great nations wants to absorb any sizable number of Jews. Nor is there any small land available for Jewish colonization. At this late hour in their tragic history, the Jews would be pursuing a dangerous illusion if they pinned their hopes to a new dispersion among peoples who frankly do not welcome them.

Palestine is no illusion. If there is anything tangible in Jewish life and in individual and national Jewish hopes it is Palestine. Despite the insecurity of daily life and the political uncertainty as to the ultimate status of the country, Palestine is the one land on God's earth where a Jew feels completely at home. Even Jews coming from Western democratic lands react thus in Palestine. Palestine is the only land capable of bringing out the best in the Jew: his idealism, his devotion to the earth, constructive search for social justice, and great colonizing ability. Jews tried to colonize in Argentina late in the last century, and failed. Jewish colonization in Soviet Biro-Bidjan and in the Dominican Republic cannot boast of great achievement. Only Palestine provides the ground for truly magnificent Jewish colonization.

It is true that against the background of Arab backwardness and neglect, present-day Jewish Palestine may seem like a mirage in the desert. This is about the only illusory feature one can detect in Jewish Palestine and in Zionism. Otherwise, Zionism is the one stark reality to which the Jewish people can cling in their despair and helplessness. It is also the only forceful and dynamic reality capable of bringing the Middle East back to civilization.

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