Zionism in Palestine
"'I am neither pro-Arab nor pro-Jew,' he said sadly; 'I worship here. This is my shrine in this tormented land of three faiths.'"
PALESTINE has a special pigeonhole in the memories of the great majority of us; all of us know something—some more, some less — of one or other phase of its history. The Canaanites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, the Perizzites, the Philistines, the Children of Israel, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Turks, the French, and lastly the Allies in the Great War— all have passed their Palestinian way, a kaleidoscope of actions and reactions, which were not merely local, through over three thousand years of well-edited history.
It is a country which repays study and which reveals itself according to the effort made to appreciate it and its problems; and at no time was effort more necessary than to-day. Events have succeeded events with such rapidity, in an atmosphere so fogged with clouds of ex parte propaganda, that it needs far more than a superficial inquiry to reduce the present situation to a proper perspective.
Historically, the study of Palestine to-day is not unduly difficult. The war gave to both Arab and Jew fresh titles and fresh claims. In 1915, the Arabs obtained Allied recognition of the independence of all Arab Provinces within the then Ottoman Empire. Again, after the final overthrow of the Turks in 1918, the Allied victory was proclaimed not as a conquest, but as the liberation of peoples which would be free to choose for themselves the form of government which they desired. Jewish titles and claims are based on the Balfour Declaration and its confirmation in the terms of the Mandate: ‘The Allies viewed with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.' The tragedy of Palestine is that up to the present all attempts to blend these various promises into a Palestinian policy, acceptable to Arab and Jew alike, have failed. It would have been marvelous had they succeeded. For the war, in fact, made Palestine bi-national, in the sense that two National Homes were set up in one house. Both tenants had what they considered and claimed to be impeccable title to possession; and for the past twelve years they have lived together in a house of discord, each going his own way regardless of the feelings of the other. Incompatibility of temper has been proved, but the situation cannot be eased by divorce.
Last New Year's Eve, I met a very old French priest in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. ‘I am neither pro-Arab nor pro-Jew,' he said sadly; 'I worship here. This is my shrine in this tormented land of three faiths. But this much I know. No house that is divided against itself will ever be a home for anyone.'
Historical events created the present impasse; but the clashing psychology of the two parties has been the fuel for the political fire. The Arab and Jew are both Semites, but Christianity and Islam were born in the days of Jewish decadence and dispersal; and to the pre-war Arabs, whether Christian or Moslem, the Jew was an inferior person belonging to a servile and non-cohesive race, who was only tolerated in their midst either because he was studiously inoffensive or because he was useful as an agent of commerce among the lower strata of society. Up to 1917, the idea would never have entered the head of any Arab that he had anything to fear from the Jew. After the war, however, Palestine was suddenly swamped by a new type of Jew who proceeded to establish himself, not on sufferance, but by right. He was backed by enormous funds; he was a political rather than a religious Jew; he was openly disdainful of the Orientalism of his new Arab neighbors; and he observed standards of living so un-familiar to the East that they appeared almost immoral. The Balfour Declaration had stirred the Arab to faint apprehension which had quickened into fear when it was confirmed in the Mandate; but when he saw Zionist penetration biting ever deeper into the country, a deep and at times a violent hostility against this newcomer who was forever talking in Hebrew of a Jewish State in Palestine, and whose so-called civilization — whatever its merits might be in Eastern Europe — was utterly antipathetic in Palestine.
The pre-war Jew in Palestine was a deeply religious man, living with, but not among, his Arab neighbors, and making both ends meet through the practice of petty trade and through the generosity of charity. He eschewed politics; he never dreamed of days when ‘not only for his own benefit, but for that of civilization and the world at large, his people would one day reoccupy Palestine as their State’ (the Jewish World, March 6, 1930); and despite his social and civic subordination, he was happy in the knowledge that he was living in the land of his forefathers and that he could worship at the cradle of Judaism. He still lives in Palestine and may even have become a Zionist after the model of the old Psalmist: 'If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.’ But he is quite as much out of his element as is the Arab with the Jewish immigrants who have arrived since the war. They differ from him as sharply as do the villa owners of the Champs Elysees from the inhabitants of an Eastern Ghetto.
These newcomers, on their arrival, — namely from Russia, Poland, and Galicia — reacted immediately to an unwonted atmosphere of freedom. They had the exuberance of pioneers of a successful political movement; and not only had they all the thrust of pioneers, but they were mainly educated far beyond Oriental standards. Life in their Eastern European homes may have been precarious and squalid, but it was modern as compared with their new Palestinian surroundings, which struck them as being either barbaric or disgusting. There could be no halfway house between their ideal of a Jewish Palestine and the Arab standards which they found. So they proceeded to establish themselves according to their Eastern European lights and made no secret of their superiority complex vis-a-vis the ignorance and the primitiveness of local Arab life.
Palestine to-day may be more civilized and efficient, but it is far from happy in its changed appearance. According to the terms of the Mandate, which were announced in 1920 and promulgated in 1922, a Jewish agency was to be formed to 'take steps in consultation with his Britannic Majesty’s Government to advise and cooperate with the administration of Palestine in such economic, social, and other matters as might affect the establishment of the Jewish National Home and the interests of the Jewish population in Palestine, and, subject always to the control of the administration, to take part in the development of the country.’ The Mandate further recognized the Zionist organization as being a body appropriate to fulfill the functions of this Jewish agency. These two clauses are the Mandate for the Zionist leaders for the cultural, agricultural, commercial, and educational penetration of Palestine, and they have prosecuted their plans with extraordinary if at times incautious energy.
The Balfour Declaration was a first-class asset for worldwide propaganda in Jewry. It was the 'bond'; and all Jewry was told that if this 'bond' was to produce its fullest results, Zionism, to which had been entrusted the regeneration of Jewry in Palestine, must be supported to the last shekel. But the same incaution which inspired the Zionists' programme of development marked their programme of propaganda. There are admittedly anomalies in the mandatory policy for Palestine, but its terms nowhere convey the promise of a Jewish state. Nevertheless, throughout the propaganda which the Zionists have organized during the last twelve years for the collection of funds in Jewry, not only has there always been an undercurrent hinting that Zionism would, if supported, ultimately achieve the creation of a Jewish State, but the more enthusiastic of the Zionist publicists have consistently and openly complained that the conduct of the Mandatory was illegally thwarting the rights of the Jews in Palestine to establish themselves as an independent Jewish State.
The earliest response of Jewry to Zionist appeals for financial support was nobly enthusiastic. Millions flowed into the Zionist coffers, and a programme "to take part in the development of the country' was drawn up on the most ambitious lines. Immigration, controlled not by the Mandatory but by the Zionist Executive itself, started on a huge scale, and the Zionists negotiated the purchase of vast tracts of land in the country. They bought partly from Arabs, in whom it is a national failing never to be able to resist the sight of money (and the Zionists offered extremely generous prices), partly from Christian Syrians, who in the past had been exile landlords much after the analogy of the British aristocracy in Ireland, and partly from local money lenders, who were easily induced by Jewish money to foreclose on mortgages from Arabs who were always in a chronic state of indebtedness. On these newly purchased tracts were settled groups of immigrants with the full support of Zionist finance behind them. In many cases the land on which they were settled was unhealthy and unfriendly; few of the settlers had agricultural instincts, and manual labor was to most of them foreign. But they were — and all honor to them — persevering and courageous, and since the Armistice over a hundred colonies have been created.
These colonies were of two types — Kevuzah and Moshav settlements. The former are group systems on communal principles of common service for a common good and an impartial distribution of the hardships of pioneer life among all without discrimination. These principles involved the breaking down of the ordinarily accepted standards of family life. A Kevuzah colony may contain twenty to twenty-five families to whom belong, in a general ownership, the whole assets of the settlement. Any member of the community may be detailed to any work regardless of personal inclination or capacity or private considerations. Married couples have their own quarters, and the unmarried sleep in dormitories by sexes. Children do not live with their parents, but are looked after on communal lines in separate nurseries and educated on the mass-production system schools of various grades. The newly born child remains only six weeks with its mother, who then returns to her communal duties, and although the parents have daily access to their children, the problem of the nursing and the upbringing of youth is a communal and not a family charge. The theory of this system is that by eliminating the strain of family responsibility the parents develop as better servants of the community, while the education of the children from infancy along organized standards is claimed to foster a higher state of general efficiency. But a still more unnatural feature of many of these Kevuzah colonies is the fact that, though they are nationally Jewish, they are, from the religious standpoint, free-thinking in practice. They present the anomaly in Judaism of Jewish agnosticism financed by Zionist funds.
The other type of colony, the Moshav, preserves the family unit and is, to all intents and purposes, a small-holder community. Each family has its own stake and its own prospect of gain, but all are bound together by a system of cooperation which embraces the sharing of agricultural machinery and collaboration in the marketing of produce. The Moshav colonies stand for a social state which is normal and attractive, and, into the bargain, the preservation of the family unit has preserved a religious atmosphere which is Jewish.
The role of the Zionist Executive toward all these post-war colonies is that of a fairy godmother, the Headquarters in Jerusalem supervising education, engineering, agriculture, sanitation, and public health, and providing finance to sustain development and to maintain public services. As was inevitable, the zealous but at the same time amateur efforts of these new colonists lacked economic efficiency; furthermore, many colonies were established in places so unsuitable as to invite economic disaster. The colonists themselves were responsible neither for their amateurishness nor for the selection of unsuitable sites for colonizing experiments, and had perfect justification to claim that their economic failure was their misfortune and somebody else's fault. Few of the new settlements even now pay their way; none will ever repay the capital spent on their establishment; and the majority are still drawing from the much tried Zionist treasury.
These rural and purely agricultural colonies absorbed only a small minority of the immigrants. The majority drifted into the larger towns and suburban settlements, which was, after all, natural, as 90 per cent of the newcomers had been bred and trained to town life. To cope with this urban influx, the Zionist Executive, which had organized immigration on this scale, made great efforts on the one hand to absorb the newcomers into the normal trades, — building, motor engineering, haberdashery, butchery, and the like, — and n the other to create new industries where they could find a living — paper, cement, and match factories; musical instrument, false teeth, button, and artificial silk factories.
But there was an artificiality in the movement which had its inevitable consequences. The purchasing capacity of Palestine, even in the normal trades, is limited; and although the general raising of standards of living in Palestine since the war has influenced the Arab population toward a scale of purchasing undreamed of in pre-war days, the supply, especially in the more eccentric luxury trades, greatly exceeded the demand. In a year or two an ever-increasing proportion of the new tradesmen were making urgent calls on further Zionist support. Stagnation lapsed into inanition and then bankruptcy; rents of shops built by the Zionists themselves fell into arrears; and there arose a state of penury, unemployment, and discontent among the failures, who comprised not only those who had been entirely financed by Zionist charity, but also many who had brought and lost their life's savings in Palestine under Zionist aegis. I have a poignant memory of a scene I witnessed near Jaffa at the time of the height of this crisis. Girl typists, milliners, and dressmakers from Cracow and Lemberg were breaking stones, in cotton dresses, by the roadside.
The Zionist leaders who had inspired this overdevelopment of immigration, and its inevitable consequences among both the rural and the suburban and urban Jewish communities, have been deeply concerned to extricate themselves from a double dilemma. They had to face criticism and reproach, not only from the immigrants them- selves, but from Jewry at large, whose charity had been largely influenced by the extravagance of the earliest Zionist propaganda. It was not long before news of the unsatisfactory results of the Zionist programme ‘to take part in the development of the country’ became public property throughout the world, and subscriptions to Zionist funds began to show signs of dwindling. The Zionist organization in Palestine had constituted itself to all intents and purposes as a state organization; but with one notable difference: it derived its income, not from normal taxation, but from charity. Charity-fed organizations have — justly and unjustly — a general imitation for amateur extravagance; and Jews throughout the world, both Zionists and non-Zionists, —and it must not be forgotten that Zionism embraces only a small minority among the Jews of the world, — began to question both the efficiency and the policy of the movement which they were so lavishly financing.
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.