Storm Rising in Palestine

I

I HOPE that I am mistaken. I hope that I have misinterpreted what I have seen and heard. But I have lived for twenty-five years in the Near East, and have made quite a few visits to Palestine and at all times kept in touch with men and women who are intimately acquainted with that country. On the eve of my return to the United States, I received a circumstantial account of conditions which obtain in the Holy Land. It filled me with grave concern. I have, however, been flabbergasted to note that it is totally at variance with what seems to be the unanimous opinion of my Jewish friends here at home. They appear to be entirely unconscious of the martyrdom that is awaiting their brethren in Palestine.

A news item in yesterday’s paper accentuates this blissful ignorance. It makes it clear to me that American Jews are living in a fools’ paradise. Not only are they misinformed, but speakers whose good faith I do not question seem to be bent upon making it doubly difficult for them to grasp the truth in its bold, unpalatable hideousness. They know that they are in the right. They thus are more than ready to listen to what they are told by these witnesses from abroad, who are not dishonest, but whose sense of perspective, I am afraid, is all out of focus.

The address which prompted me to write this article is typical of scores of others which are heard in this country from time to time. It was delivered by a Christian, an international newspaper correspondent of note. He had recently returned from Palestine. He described the Holy Land as ‘a modern miracle where the Jews have pushed back the desert and made a land of gardens where there was formerly an arid wilderness.’

This is the truth; I do not gainsay it. And I do not challenge the accuracy of his statements that ‘Arab laborers receive five times the wages they receive in any neighboring country’ and that their general health is better than that of near-by peoples. What I question is the deduction which he draws from these premises. He is such an honest optimist that he is convinced that the benefits resulting from the Jewish influx will eventually counteract the influence of what he calls the ‘Arab landlord class.’ He speaks of ‘false issues’ and of ‘occasional outbursts by the controlled Arab masses.’ He then adds: —

‘The feudalist landlords, who are only a handful, but who own three fifths of all the land in Palestine and who exploit the masses of Arab peasants, will rouse these masses against the Jews, because the Jews raise the standard of living of the masses and in this way weaken the hold of the landlord classes.’

The impression left by this speaker upon his audience is that the ‘spiritual strength’ of the Jews and the obvious advantages flowing from their economic and industrial achievements will in the near future put an end to these occasional outbursts. ‘I believe that the day is coming fast,’ are his exact words. And he continues, ‘The law of God will not perhaps take the form of liturgy and ritual, but the form of a new commonwealth based on justice as an inspiration and a model to all mankind.’

It is my fervent prayer that this prophecy will come true. I am afraid, however, that it oversimplifies the matter. It attaches undue importance to the golden key. It places proper stress upon the ‘spiritual strength’ of the Jews, but it unfortunately overlooks the ‘spiritual strength’ of the Arabs. It attributes too great an influence to ‘feudalist landlords.’ It loses sight of the Arab soul. It forgets that the Arabs, as well as the Jews, are able to invoke international covenants. It fails to recognize the religious aspirations of the Arabs, their racial claims, their historical background, and their preparedness to die to defend their rights. In brief, it brushes aside factors that are bigger than any issues which ‘feudalist landlords’ could call into being and keep alive.

II

I was in an admirable strategic position to follow what I may call the genesis of the international covenants which the Arabs invoke in behalf of their contention that Palestine was promised to them by Europe before it was deeded over to the Jews. Shortly after the outbreak of the Great War, I took up my abode at the Continental Hotel in Cairo, Egypt, and saw there a great deal of Lawrence and Storrs and Jacobs and the other English ‘green tab’ men who spoke Arabic and who knew the Arab mind. They made that hotel their headquarters. It was obvious to everybody that they were very busy men.

I made no attempt to find out specifically what they were doing. America was neutral in those days, and it would have been as impolitic as it would have been suicidal for me to seek to do so. But, when Turkey cast in her lot with Germany and Austria, the Allies had no further interest in concealing why Lawrence and Storrs and Jacobs were so active in those parts.

England boldly proclaimed that she was proud to lend her aid to the Arabs to enable them to throw off the Turkish yoke. She announced to the world that no peace would be signed until the independence of the Arabs had been achieved. She permitted the heavily censored Arabic press of Egypt to print editorials stressing the fact that from the embers of the condemned Turkish power a great Arabic Empire would spring into being.

I have just referred to what took place during the autumn of 1914, the winter of 1914-1915, and the spring and summer of 1915. In the fall of the latter year, when it became obvious that the war was destined to last another winter, the Arabs demanded that England incorporate her assurances in an international pact. An agreement was, accordingly, entered into between Great Britain and the Sherif of Mecca. It was dated October 24, 1915. It stated specifically that England bound herself to ‘recognize and support the independence of the Arabs’ within certain well-defined territories, provided the Arabs would help the Allies to defeat the Turks.

I do not set forth here the territorial limits thus nominated in the bond for the simple reason that the words ‘Palestine’ and ‘Holy Land’ do not appear there. The Arabs contend that the geographical expressions used, the district of Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus, embrace Palestine. The Jews deny this. I prefer to allow this issue to remain unsolved. All that I am now endeavoring to do is to set forth the Arab point of view. It is this point of view which will direct the knives that are now being sharpened to cut Jewish throats.

Frankly, I can see no reason for brushing aside the Arab contention that the treaty of October 24, 1915 covers Palestine. I say this without basing my contention upon the territorial areas just referred to, but because in October 1915 practically nobody outside of the Zionists gave the slightest thought to the national aspirations of the Jews. The Arabs then held the whip hand. They could have made peace with the Turks had their demands not been met. If I refer to the matter it is not because I am giving my support to the Arab argument but because I deem it essential that the good faith of the Arabs be understood.

Men who have lived honorable lives are not prepared to shoot down their neighbors unless they believe that a great wrong menaces them. It is because I feel it is my duty to emphasize the peril that awaits the Jews of Palestine that I place such stress upon the moral force of the Arab contention growing out of the solemn agreement of October 24, 1915.

Twenty-four months were destined to elapse before the Jews were accorded what I may call an international status. It was the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 that gave it to them. Let me quote its terms: ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by the Jews in any other country.’

As far as I know, the Arabs did not object to this Balfour Declaration. They had lived in harmony with the Jews since A.D. 640, when the Muslims became the dominant factors in the Near East. I have chosen this date because it was then that Omar conquered Jerusalem. At that time Jerusalem was under Christian control, and the Jews were not its masters. But this detail is immaterial. The point is that when the Muslims took over the Holy Land in the seventh century they made tolerance their watchword and they did not persecute the Jews.

I can well understand why the Arabs, as a whole, viewed the Balfour Declaration with such complacency. It emanated from England. It bore the date of November 2, 1917, and they had an antecedent categorical promise from the same Power which guaranteed their independence. To have interpreted the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 as an impairment, an amendment, a revocation of the Covenant of October 24, 1915, would have been to doubt the sincerity of England. Such a conception never crossed the Arab mind.

It did, however, cross the Turkish mind. Ottoman spies told the Arabs that the English had betrayed them and had made over Palestine to the Jews. The Arabs forgot about England. They thought only of Lawrence. He personified Britain to them. He was their friend. They believed in him. He told them that there was no justification for this libel, that they had his word and Britain’s plighted troth. They held fast to their bargain and after November 2, 1917 fought as bravely for the Allies as they had done before that date.

The autumn of 1918 witnessed the impending collapse of the forces of the Central Powers. At the moment when victory was in sight, France associated herself with England in rewriting, as it were, the international agreement of October 24, 1915 between Great Britain and the Sherif of Mecca. I refer to the Franco-British Military Proclamation of November 7, 1918, which reads in part as follows: ‘The aim which France and Great Britain have in view in prosecuting in the East the war let loose by German ambition is the complete and final liberation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks and the establishment of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native population.’

With this proclamation of November 7, 1918 in one hand, and the English guarantee of October 24, 1915 in the other, the Arabs say to the Jews: ‘If you hold that your Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 supersedes our rights growing out of the October 24, 1915 promise, by the same token this Franco-British proclamation of November 7, 1918 wipes out your Balfour Declaration.’

I do not pass upon the legal aspects of this argument, but I do say that it is convincing to the Arab mind and that Arabs who have no criminal antecedents are determined to kill Jews to sustain it.

I vividly recall what took place in the Near East during the winter of 19171918 and the spring of 1918. President Wilson was then making the welkin ring with his plea for ‘self-determination.’ Every time he thundered, the highly censored Arabic press of Cairo reproduced his words with embellishments, emphasis, and full orchestration. ‘Selfdetermination’ was the recurring note of British propaganda because England was out to defeat the Turks and she required Arab support to facilitate the accomplishment of this task.

I emphasize this battle cry of ‘selfdetermination,’ stressed until November 11, 1918 and anathema after that date, because it was music to the ears of the Arabs. When this Franco-British proclamation of November 7, 1918 was issued, there were in Palestine, I am reliably informed, eight Arabs to one Jew. It thus follows that when this ukase spoke of ‘the establishment of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native population,’ it used terms which the Arabs interpret as making them the masters of the Holy Land.

This deduction may be erroneous. I do not say that it is sound. I am convinced, however, that law-abiding Arabs are determined to snipe every Jew that they can in order to make good their construction of it, and they do not require any advice from ‘feudalist landlords’ to get them to do so. This is the condition and not the theory that I fear my Jewish friends in this country fail to understand.

When the Great War ended, the Treaty of Versailles did not pass upon the fate of Palestine, in the sense of attributing it either to Jews or to Arabs. The Treaty was signed on June 28, 1919. The Arabs assumed this meant that the principle of self-determination would be applied, and that, while they outnumbered the Jews in the proportion of eight to one, a referendum of some sort would have to be held to put them in the saddle, subject to the supervisory control of the Power to whom the mandate over Palestine would be given.

It was not until July 24, 1922, or until the Arabs had cherished this hope for three years, that England was given her mandate over Palestine. Article II of this document reads: ‘The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political administration as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, as laid down in the Preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race.’ Article III ordains that ‘the Mandatory shall, as far as circumstances permit, encourage local autonomy.’

I am perfectly willing to admit that as a question of law this mandate given England by the Conference of Ambassadors primes all the promises made by England to the Arabs in 1915 and by England and France in 1919. But the Arabs are deaf to all arguments of a juridical nature. They are determined to kill every Jew who crosses their path in order to protect what they consider not only their birthright but an independence won by them on the field of battle. And the circumstance that for three long years they cherished the illusion that the Treaty of Versailles had answered their prayer made them so wild with anger when the terms of Britain’s Mandate became known that ever since July 24, 1922 they have been itching to shoot down every Jew.

III

I repeat that the addresses now being made to American audiences by honest advocates of the Jewish cause overlook the religious aspirations of the Arabs. It is irrelevant to describe the Holy Land as ‘a modern miracle where the Jews have pushed back the desert and made a land of gardens where there was formerly an arid wilderness.’ It serves no useful purpose to emphasize the fact that ‘Arab laborers in Palestine receive five times the wages they receive in any neighboring country.’ It is meaningless to talk about ‘feudalist landlords’ who rouse the masses against the Jews.

Semitic Jews did not abandon their careers in Europe and America because they were lured to the Holy Land by the prospect of converting an arid wilderness into a garden of oranges. They were not tempted by the possibility of getting five times more for their capital in Tel Aviv than they could get in Warsaw. And Semitic Arabs love Palestine for the same reasons that the Jews love it. I refer to the Muslim Arab as well as the Christian Arab. In this fight against the Jew, the latter is sharpening his knife and oiling his trigger with the same singleness of purpose as his Muhammadan neighbor.

Carlyle once said that no religious zealot takes his religion as seriously as does the Muslim. With this point in mind, let me state: —

1. That Islam looks upon Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and all the great prophets of the Old Testament with the same respect and love as do the Jews.

2. That Jerusalem is one of the Holy Cities of Islam, yielding the palm only to the twin cities of Mecca and Medina.

3. That the Muslims believe that Muhammad in making his exploratory ascent to Heaven took off from what the Jews call the Temple Area.

4. That this site of the Temple Area, sacred to the Jews because it contains the Wailing Wall, is just as sacred to the Muslims for two reasons: (a) On this Temple Area stands the Mosque, enclosing the rock which shows the imprint of the hoof of Muhammad’s horse when the Prophet pushed off in making his plunge heavenwards; (b) the Wailing Wall itself is the Holy Burak of the Muhammadans, made most holy to them because it was touched by Muhammad himself.

All of which should be clear indication that the Arabs are just as ready to die to keep the Holy Land as the Jews are to sustain their claim to it.

I am tempted, however, to say another word about the Wailing Wall. If I am not greatly mistaken, it is the magnet that draws many Jewish visitors to Palestine. I wonder how many of my American Jewish friends know that this Wailing Wall has been considered Muhammadan property since A.D. 691. From the Muslim point of view it forms an integral part of that area which the Quran in Sura XVII, I, calls blessed or Haram. As far back as A.D. 1321 the Wakf of Abu Median AI Goth Shuaib was created to endow it and maintain it and the approaches leading to it. In other words, if we make up our minds to save the Jews who pray before the Holy Wall from having their throats cut, we should begin by recalling that the Wailing Wall is also the Holy Burak and that the Quran itself made it into one of the sacred shrines of Islam.

IV

I have many friends among the Jewish leaders of the Near East. I have always played the game fairly and squarely with them. They trust me. I frequented their homes; they honored me by accepting my hospitality. Their friendships I cherish. But I should like to refer to a conversation which I had with a Muslim friend just as I was leaving Cairo. I shall not mention his name, but I vouch for his outstanding position in the world of Islam, for the bigness of his heart and the sobriety of his judgment. He moves in the best Jewish circle in Cairo. I have met him at the dinner table of Joseph Aslan Cattaui Pasha, the hereditary head of the Jewish Community in Cairo. Everybody loves him.

I said to him, when I was taking leave of him: ‘ Pasha, we are old friends. You have just returned from Palestine. You know everybody over there. Tell me what is what.’ We spoke in French. His first words were: ‘Monsieur le Président, la situation m’effraie.‘ (Mr. President, the situation frightens me.) And he went on to tell me how fond he was of Cattaui Pasha and others of our friends, and of how his heart bled for the Jews. But he added: —

‘Palestine is our heritage. It is our country as much as it is that of the Jews. We are seven Arabs to one Jew. Even with this majority, which is our trump card, we are not allowed to rule. Hitler is driving Jews out of Germany and they are being brought into Palestine surreptitiously. The English are closing their eyes to this contraband importation of Jews. Our landlords have been tempted and have sold many estates to Jews. An Arab cannot find work if there is a Jew unemployed anywhere in his neighborhood. Arabs have to live. They are therefore emigrating. We thus have a Jewish immigration, both legal and contraband, and an Arab emigration. This means that the Arab majority, which was once ten to one, then nine to one, and eight to one, and which is now seven to one, will soon dwindle to nothing. We must preserve Palestine for our race. This means that we must kill the Jews and keep on killing them until England finds that it will be cheaper to stop driving Arabs to desperation and inciting Muslims to revolt.’

I am convinced that there are fundamental errors in this statement. It has not been established to my satisfaction that Jews are discriminating against Arab labor, although I heard this charge on other occasions. I have no proof of the allegation that England is conniving at the immigration of Jews in excess of the legal quota. I have had no evidence submitted to me that Jews are being bootlegged into Palestine, with or without the knowledge of the authorities. But, what difference does it make whether these bills of indictment are well founded or not if the Arabs are prepared to kill Jews because of their profound conviction that every one of these accusations is well founded?

I say that it behooves all friends of the Jews to realize the seriousness of the situation and to attempt to find a constructive solution for it.

History teaches that Islam does not persecute Jews. Muhammadans have not maltreated the Jews who were governed by them. There have been no Rumanian or Russian pogroms imputable to Muslim overlords. Arabs and Jews lived side by side in Palestine in peace and amity during the years preceding that unfortunate decision of July 24, 1922 which destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the Arabs and turned them into men whose religious and racial instincts inspire them to kill Jews.

During my visits to Palestine, I asked every non-Jewish foreigner with whom I could speak frankly to tell me what should be the starting point in any serious attempt to solve the problem which confronted the Holy Land. They all said: ‘Repeal Article II of the Mandate for Palestine. It is this section that makes the Balfour Declaration the law of the land. If that is done, the leaders of the Arabs and Jews can get together and work out a modus vivendi. They are not so very far apart if this difficulty can be removed.’

The only other solution is the maintenance in Palestine of an armed British force of such size and equipment that it will overawe the Arabs. In this connection, may I submit certain pertinent questions?

1. How long will the British taxpayer stand this heavy burden?

2. How long will the millions of British Muslim subjects elsewhere submit to a policy that is anathema to Islam?

3. How long will Mussolini refrain from posing as the champion of Muhammadan aspirations, and from stirring up the Arabs of Palestine?

4. How long will England consider that the safety of the Suez Canal is assured if on its eastern shore there is a hostile Arab population?