Can Israel Help the Arabs?

A Mississippian who graduated from Yale, DAVID L. COHN is a free lance who writes with authority on subjects close to his heart. In God Shakes Creation, he wrote of the relations between Negro and white, with a skill which drew the high praise of Sinclair Lewis. He has written about the tariff, about love in America, about Anglo-American relations, and feelingly about anti-Semitism. In 1944-1945, at the behest of General Somervell, Mr. Cohn made an extended trip through the Far and Middle East and saw at first hand the amity between Jew and Arab which despite the recent ruction will, he believes, be a binding force in the Palestine of the future.


AFTER thirty years of struggle the new State of Israel has come into being. I am not here concerned with the folly or the wisdom of establishing this tiny state, nor with the jockeyings of the great powers with respect to the Arab-Jewish conflict. I am concerned with only one question. Assuming that Israel will become viable, how can its people help the Arabs?

This is a matter of great interest to the Arab world. It is perhaps of not less interest to the United States. The wider the boundaries of world prosperity, by so much is our economic security buttressed. The more prosperous others are, by so much does our democratic system find allies.

A thousand years ago Arabs were pre-eminent in astronomy, mathematics, medicine. Today they are largely poverty-stricken, illiterate, diseased, and so backward, by Western standards, that they seemed almost subhuman to thousands of American soldiers who saw them during the war. Multitudes of Arabs spend most of their waking hours in search of food. Their lives are short, their miseries long. Arab agriculture is much what it was in the time of Abraham. Arab industry, where it exists at all, is mostly in the handicraft stage. Arab education is principally concerned with teaching students to memorize the Koran. Arab medicine is largely exorcism of the evil eye. Statistics, Arab and Western, bear out these assertions.

There is nothing “racial” in all this. A once great people, and still capable of greatness, Arabs are not less natively intelligent than other peoples. Those who emigrate, for example, soon prove themselves; one has only to take account of the economic status of Arabian Americans. The dreadful state into which the Arabs have fallen arises from long warfare among themselves and with others; from the Turkish domination of many centuries; the brutality and backwardness of modern overlords of their own race; and that progressive disintegration which occurs when poverty, unchecked, breeds more poverty, disease more disease, illiteracy more illiteracy, apathy greater apathy. Yet it is reasonable to suppose that Western technology and a square deal at home could go far toward rescuing them from medievalism; it could feed, clothe, and shelter them; heal their sore-infested bodies; open the eyelids of their trachoma-infected children; whisk them from the twelfth century to the twentieth.

Here it is that Jewish Palestine might, if it is permitted, help its Arab neighbors. Self-interest, if nothing else, dictates that it should do so. A tiny island in an Arab ocean, Palestine Jewry needs the warm friendship of Arabs. It must look to markets in the Arab world for industrial and agricultural products, and as a source of raw materials. Arab prosperity would mean Jewish prosperity.

It is not that Palestinian Jews are “superior” to Arabs. On the contrary, many Oriental Jews are identical with their neighbors in personal filthiness, poverty, ignorance, and a predilection for the evil eye. It is simply that Jewish Palestine is a fragment of the West set down in the East; that by virtue of forced and voluntary emigration from the West it contains an extraordinarily high percentage of scientists and technicians; that, in order to wrest a living from the soil of Palestine, its Jews not only had to toil with a frenzy approaching desperation, but also had to apply the most advanced methods in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, medicine, sanitation, engineering.

Prior to 1918, health conditions in Palestine were similar to those of other Arab countries. Malaria was widespread. Smallpox was common. There were constant epidemics of typhus and relapsing fever. Since the coming of large-scale Jewish immigration, malaria has been almost eradicated and the incidence of other diseases has been so reduced that Palestine’s Arabs are healthier than those of any other Middle East country.

The best single measure of health conditions is the number of years a person may expect to live. For Palestine’s Jews it is 63.5 years — almost the world’s highest life expectancy. Here Palestinian Arabs have enormously benefited. During the past two decades their life expectancy has risen from 37 to nearly 50 years. By contrast, the average in Egypt is 34 years; in Iraq only 27 years.

Twenty years ago, 49 out of every 100 Moslem children died in infancy. As a result of economic progress and improved hygiene in Palestine, this figure has dropped to 13-18 in districts directly affected by Jewish development, and to 21-27 in other districts. But no comparable improvement has occurred in neighboring Moslem lands.

The Middle East must remain in misery unless it improves the interrelated factors of health and agriculture. There is a huge milk deficiency in the Middle East. Jewish settlers in Palestine developed their own milch cows by crossing Dutch Holsteins and English Jerseys with Syrian and Lebanese breeds, which are far superior to native Palestinian stock. These cows average 3500 quarts of milk annually as against 800 quarts given by Arab cows. Similarly, the native Arab hen lays an average of 70 small eggs a year. Jewish farmers, by introducing the Leghorn and crossing it with native breeds, have produced a hen that lays an average of 150 large eggs a year, and it is now found all over the country. Since these cows and hens were bred to flourish under Palestinian conditions of soil and climate, and since these conditions are similar to those prevailing in wide areas of the Middle East, it follows that their adoption elsewhere would enormously improve Moslem food production.

Jewish settlers have introduced the culture of sugar beets and sugar cane on a commercial scale. Through the use of scientific methods, they have hugely increased honey production. Vegetables, once rare in Palestine, may now be had all the time. Jews grow apples, pears, and other fruits; they produce cereals, beef, poultry, and dairy products. They have added to Palestine’s food resources by growing tank-cultivated fish — an occupation at which they are so skillful that the South African government has recently asked for the loan of experts in this field.

But the outstanding achievement of Jewish agriculture is the scientific growing, grading, packing, and marketing of citrus fruits. Early Jewish settlers found a high-quality orange, the Shamuti, which they cultivated and improved. They introduced Washington navel and Valencia oranges, and grapefruit. Jewish methods were adopted by the Arabs, with the result that Palestine is now the second largest citrus exporting country in the world.

The depressed standards of life prevailing among the agrarian peoples of the Middle East are primarily the result of the low level of real income and of consumption due to the low productivity of their agriculture. The methods through which a transformation can be achieved are indicated by the experience of Jewish agriculturists in Palestine, which serves as a unique experimental laboratory for new crops and techniques, reclamation practices, and soil improvement systems. Many of its lessons are valid for other parts of the Middle East and deserve close study as an example of scientific approach to problems of agricultural development. The results achieved by Jewish pioneers in Palestine may be gauged from estimates of agricultural productivity. These show a figure of 603 International Units (one unit is roughly one dollar) per male worker in Jewish settlements, compared with 186 in Arab farming in Palestine, 90 in Egypt, 97 in Syria, and 64 in Southeast Asia.

Palestine Jewry has also created a modern industrial structure. Prior to the Second World War not much more than the beginnings of a manufacturing industry had been established. But by 1943 Palestine industry — principally Jewish — was accepting military orders to the value of nearly 50 million dollars. As evidence of its versatility it turned out mine layers for the British Navy, shrapnel, steel castings, electric cable, hydrofluoric acid, plastics, beer, citrus juices, scientific instruments, industrial diamonds, clothing, pharmaceuticals, and jams. Now Jewish Palestine is building a sizable chemical industry based upon the enormous chemical resources of the Dead Sea. It has the only plate-glass factory in the Middle East, and the largest foundry in the region, equipped to manufacture bathtubs and fittings.

Multitudes of Middle East Arabs have flocked into Palestine, where they find an escape from the brutality of their feudal overlords, better wages and working conditions, and better public services than elsewhere. Palestine’s non-Jewish population grew from 516,000 in 1919 to 1,064,000 in 1944.

The theory of the Marshall Plan is that a prospering world is essential to American economic and political security; that if there were no Russiandirected expansion of communism, we should still need a prospering world; but since this expansion directly threatens us, we need it all the more. A Jewish Palestine offers to the Eastern world an advanced model of scientific agriculture, land reclamation, afforestation, health services, social welfare, educational and cultural activities. The new state, serving as an experimental laboratory for the Middle East, might, without cost to the United States Treasury, do much to raise the standard of living of the depressed millions of that area.