February 1957

on the World today

ANYONE who was in Israel during the weeks preceding the brief but dramatic campaign across tiic Sinai Peninsula had little doubt about one thing: it was the people, not the leaders, who demanded that something be done. One could hardly fail to sense the electricity in the air, the tension in living rooms and factories, on the street and in offices. If anything, the government held back and delayed action. But eventually the Ben-Gurion cabinet would have faced serious difficulties at home if it had not decided to strike at the Egyptian military bases in the Sinai desert.

A glance at the map shows that Israel looks like a stubby carrot with a thin green top sticking out of the ground. The root part of the carrot is solidly wedged in between Egypt and Jordan, and it is all desert — the Negev. The leafy top part corresponds to the fertile land in Israel’s north; it comprises less than half of the 7800 square miles on which this nation must find a living.

As you approach the coastline by plane, you can see across the entire width of the country into neighboring Jordan. There is not a single point in all of Israel where the nearest border is farther away than 25 miles — considerably less than, for example, the length of New York City. It is almost impossible to realize what it means to live in a country where the border is so close.

The feeling of being fenced in is painfully intensified by the fact that every one of the neighbors is hostile. Egypt and Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, were Israel’s enemies in the war of 1948 which followed the creation of the country. None of these neighbors has yet concluded a peace treaty with Israel, nor does any one of them intend to make peace. It is their repeatedly and publicly avowed determination to eliminate the unwelcome neighbor.

This dangerous situation is made worse by the fact that other enemies in the 1948 war, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, have not even signed an armistice; as far as they are concerned, hostilities are still on. This is why an Iraqi-Israeli war was feared last October when the Iraqi government, supported by Britain, proposed to send troops to Jordan. Israeli leaders felt it was intolerable to have Iraqi soldiers on Israel’s border so long as Israel was still technically in a state of war with Iraq.

Frontier violations

In the five months preceding the Sinai campaign, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian armed forces invaded and devastated Israeli border towns three to four times a week. Small-scale war had become a normal state of affairs. All villages and towns set up in recent years had to be built like fortifications in depth with the individual houses and farms laid out in such a way that they would double as st rong points in case of an enemy invasion.

Day by day the harassed nation was forcefully reminded by its neighbors that this small-scale war was merely the beginning. Syria’s President Shukri el-Kuwaitli said: “The present situation demands the mobilization of all Arab strength to liquidate the state which has arisen in our neighborhood. Israel is like a cancer.”

Jordan’s King Hussein last summer wired President Nasser: “We look forward to the future when the flag of the Arabs will wave over our stolen country.” Throughout the month of October, which finally brought the explosion, similar statements came from the government leaders of Israel’s, neighbors and were sounded daily by the Arab press and radio.

In a dramatic session of Parliament , Prime Minister Ben-Gurion raised the question which men and women had been asking in the streets, their homes, and public places: Why does the United Nations not intervene? “How is it possible,” Ben-Gurion said, “to reconcile the boycott and blockade of Israel, publicly organized and implemented by the Arab States, with the UN Charter?”

The economic boycott

Israel has never had the use of the Suez Canal. Egypt has barred Israeli ships from passing through ever since 1948. More than this, Egypt has blacklisted vessels of other nations for carrying goods 1o Israel. The list of goods confiscated on their way to or from Israel includes frozen meat, chemicals, cement, medical supplies, gasoline, money, motorcycles, and even automobiles assembled in Israel and destined for Kenya.

Confronted with an Israeli protest against this ban on use of the Suez Canal, the United Nations requested Egypt on September 1, 1951, “to terminate the restriction on passage of international commercial shipping and goods through the Suez Canal wherever bound, and to cease all interference with such shipping beyond that essential to the safety of shipping in the Canal itself and to the observance of the International Conventions in force.”

The resolution has been ignored and conditions have remained unchanged. In the five years which have gone by since, neither the UN nor any of the Great Powers have made an attempt to bring about Egyptian compliance with the UN order. A renewed Israeli protest in 1954 produced a more strongly worded New Zealand resolution, which fell by the wayside because of a Soviet veto.

So Israel has been compelled to take the financially ruinous long route around Africa. The port of Elat, at the southernmost tip of Israel is practically sealed off by two fortified Egyptian islands which control all traffic going in and out. [Moreover, not only Egypt but also other Arab countries have black-listed ships of foreign registry which call on Israeli ports in the Mediterranean where they cannot be stopped by force. About a hundred British, Scandinavian, U.S., and Dutch vessels have thus lost the privilege of such services as bunkering, taking on water, making repairs, loading, and unloading in ports of the Arab countries which recognize the black list.


As in several other Middle Eastern countries, water supply in Israel determines life or death not only for the individual but for the nation. The annual amount of precipitation is about one eighth of New York State’s or New England’s. Of this precipitation 96 per cent disappears somewhere in the ground or evaporates. The entire south, which contains more than half the area of the country, has hardly any water at all.

Deep wells merely tap the subterranean accumulations of past ages and lower the water level. It would take centuries to let the water level rise again by the same slow natural process as in the past. The real solution is to pipe water down from the north, where it is available. In 1955 a pipeline was opened from the Yarkon River to the Negev. The project of saving the storm waters of the big Hulah swamps for all-year agricultural production is more than 50 per cent completed. A Ten-Year Plan which envisages an annual water supply of about 54 billion cubic feet of water has been drawn up. [More than 80 per cent of this will go to agriculture, increasing the cultivated area sufficiently to feed the nation.

But if the ample water supplies of the north are to reach the south, they must flow uphill over the mountains in central Israel. This means pumping the water over long distances. Thus more than one third of the power in the country is needed for the pumping of water. To make this more difficult there is no coal, hardly any firewood, and for all practical purposes no oil in the country. Of course next door there is the world’s big oil pool in the Arab countries. But they won’t sell to Israel. Israel must import oil at considerable transport expense — a severe drain on the dollar reserves of a country which still runs a tremendous trade deficit because it imports four times as much as it exports.

Electric power

Hydroelectric power could greatly relieve this situation. An ambitious plan exists, drawn up by Eric Johnston. Unfortunately its execution, so vital to both agriculture and industry, awaits the time when the walls of hatred on Israel’s borders come tumbling down. How this hostility of the neighbors penetrates into the nation’s domestic affairs is evident from the so-called Jordan Canal Project, a part of the Johnston blueprints which Israel tried to make a reality. This project involves cutting a canal from the Jordan River at the B’not Yaakov Bridge to Lake Kinneret. It would carry the water over a 700-foot drop to a power station, then into the lake. Some 3 billion cubic feet of water would be added to the upper Jordan, and the river would continue to flow in its old bed with hardly a diminution in volume. The canal would be about 11 miles long; about 1.5 miles of it — though still inside Israel’s border — would be in the demilitarized zone near the Syrian border.

Syria protested against the construction, and the dispute has been before the United Nations since September, 1953. But completion of the last 1.5 miles has to be postponed [lending settlement with Syria or a UN decision against Syria. In the meantime Israel cannot produce electric power in this new plant even though it is on her own territory.

The impact of such harassment anti hostility on every border day in, day out, is felt in dozens of ways. Tourist business, a potential source of badly needed foreign exchange, has suffered seriously because of the continuous attacks of marauders on towns, villages, and highways. The defense budget drains the treasury of funds which would be urgently needed for productive projects. The population must divide their time between plow or machine and sentry duty. Even young girls come under the compulsory military service law. The economic loss caused by these political conditions is tremendous.

Miihllo East |owi9rr k«kg

What is behind the unrelenting bitterness between Israel and her neighbors? One look at the Middle East will show that Israel is the only democracy in the area, while the rest of the countries are either absolute monarchies or military dictatorships. This political setup is not a coincidence. It is part of the whole development which makes the Middle East the powder keg that it is today. Israel’s neighbors are only slowly, emerging from the feudal era.

Feudalism is not just a political affair. The roots of the real antagonism between Israel and her neighbors lie in the difference between feudalism and modern democracy: the difference between landless peasants who use the tools and techniques of the Middle Ages or ancient times and farmers who employ tractors, combines, artificial fertilizer, and modern scientific advice; the difference between a oneman artisan shop and assembly-line production; the difference between njan or animal power and machine power. These and other differences have split the Middle East into two worlds, which can neither understand each other nor live peacefully side by side.

There is no patent formula that would bring peace to the area overnight, but there are many ways which would lead toward that goal. A fleeting glance at the crazy-quilt shape of Israel’s border makes it clear that incidents are inevitable even with good intentions on both sides of the frontier. Revision of those borders to reduce the number of friction points, or a swap of minorities (as in the case of Greece and Turkey) and fair compensation for those resettled people as well as for the refugees of the 1948 war, would lessen tension.

Swift UN punishment of the disturber of peace, be it in border raids or large-scale invasions, might prevent future explosions while the Arabs and Israelis learn to live and work peacefully together. Such cultural and economic cooperation would be beneficial for both sides.

It is imperative, prior to any settlement, that Israel gain the conviction of not being isolated, deserted, surrounded by walls of hatred; while the Arabs must win assurance that Israel — relieved of her fear — will not try to extend her borders at the expense of her neighbors.

If the Middle Eastern nations, aided by the United Nations and the West, were to complete their painful evolution from feudalism to a modern society, their internal conditions would become more stable and their relations with Israel as well as with the West would become more friendly. It will depend on the wisdom of the West whether the peoples of t hat area find their way toward a modern democrat ic society or lose t heir way in that chaos which can benefit only Soviet Russia.