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

By Eliahu Ben-Horin
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.

3

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?

4

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.

5

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1947/04/palestine/306753/