"At the price it used to be worth in the Mandate? Before it was improved by the Jews?"
"Something like that. No, even cheaper. Just now two boys from this village were caught on the Lebanese frontier; the Lebanese police sent them back. The Israelis are holding them for interrogation. How could such boys be spies?"
"I don't know. But you do remember that the Arab countries are at war with Israel? I should think it might be hard for the Jews to know what Arabs they could trust."
"They are right not to trust 50 per cent of the Arabs in this country."
"How can they know which 50 per cent?"
"Oh, they know everything. They have a C.I.D. agent in every Arab village. He is a Jew, and everyone knows him."
"What's the use of having a secret policeman if everyone knows he's a secret policeman?"
"There are plenty of informers. I don't know what it is that has taught all Arabs to be spies." He said this with real despair.
"There is compulsory education in this country up to the age of fourteen. That is a very good thing. We did not have such a thing before. But the Muslims do not send their girls to school half the time and do not send the boys if they can earn. Then what? The fine for the father is only five pounds. What is five pounds to the father?"
"Do you really mean that you want the Jews to supply the schools and the law which makes education compulsory, and also to force the Arabs and Druses to send their children to school and take advantage of this education? Wouldn't that make the Jews even more unpopular?"
He admitted, with a smile, that this might be the case and went on: "Nasser buys arms from Russia because he could not get them from the West. Egypt has twenty-two million people, so it needs many more arms than the Israelis, who are only two million. But Nasser is not crazy; he will not make war. He spends as much on social reform as on arms. All children now go to school in the Arab countries."
"Have you ever visited the Arab countries? Have you been to Egypt?"
We drank more coffee; we lit more cigarettes. I braced myself for further enlightenment.
"The Arab Kings were not the true representatives of the Arab peoples when they made war against Israel. Now all the refugees should come back and we should have Partition."
At this point, I decided to make one long, determined stand to see whether there was any meeting ground of minds on a basis of mutually accepted facts and reasoning.
"Please bear with me and help me," said I. "I am a simple American, and I am trying to understand how the Arab mind works, and I am finding it very difficult. I want to put some things in order; if I have everything wrong, you will correct me. In 1947, the United Nations recommended the Partition of Palestine. I have seen the Partition map and studied it. I cannot tell, but it does not look to me as if the Arabs were being cheated of their share of good land. The idea was that this division would work, if both Jews and Arabs accepted it and lived under an Economic Union. And, of course, the Arab countries around the borders would have to be peaceful and cooperative or else nothing would work at all. The Jews accepted this Partition plan; I suppose because they felt they had to. They were outnumbered about two to one inside the country, and there were the neighboring Arab states with five regular armies and forty million or more citizens, not feeling friendly. Are we agreed so far?"
"It is right."
"The Arab governments and the Palestinian Arabs rejected Partition absolutely. You wanted the whole country. There is no secret about this. The statements of the Arab representatives, in the UN are on record. The Arab governments never hid the fact that they started the war against Israel. But you, the Palestinian Arabs, agreed to this, you wanted it. And you thought, it seems to me very reasonably, that you would win and win quickly. It hardly seemed a gamble; it seemed a sure bet. You took the gamble and you lost. I can understand why you have all been searching for explanations of that defeat ever since, because it does seem incredible. I don't happen to accept your explanations, but that is beside the point. The point is that you lost."
"Yes." It was too astonishing; at long last, East and West were in accord on the meaning of words.
"Now you say that you want to return to the past; you want Partition. So, in fact you say, let us forget that war we started, and the defeat, and, after all, we think Partition is a good, sensible idea. Please answer me this, which is what I must, know. If the position were reversed, if the Jews had started the war and lost it, if you had won the war, would you now accept Partition? Would you give up part of the country and allow the 650,000 Jewish residents of Palestine -who had fled from the war--to come back?"
"Certainly not," he said, without an instant's hesitation. "But there would have been no Jewish refugees. They had no place to go. They would all be dead or in the sea."
He had given me the missing clue. The fancy word we use nowadays is "empathy"--entering into the emotions of others. I had appreciated and admired individual refugees but realized I had felt no blanket empathy for the Palestinian refugees, and finally I knew why--owing to this nice, gray-haired schoolteacher. It is hard to sorrow for those who only sorrow over themselves. It is difficult to pity the pitiless. To wring the heart past all doubt, those who cry aloud for justice must be innocent. They cannot have wished for a victorious rewarding war, blame everyone else for their defeat, and remain guiltless. Some of them may be unfortunate human beings, and civilization would collapse (as it notoriously did in Nazi Germany) if most people did not naturally move to help their hurt fellow men. But a profound difference exists between victims of misfortune (there, but for the grace of God, go I) and victims of injustice. My empathy knew where it stood, thanks to the schoolteacher.
"Do you follow the Eichmann trial?" I asked. An Arabic daily paper, weeklies, and radio station thrive in Israel.
"Yes. Every day." He wrinkled his nose with disgust.
"Do you not imagine that all the Jews in Israel believe this massacre of their people could have been prevented if the Jews had had a homeland to escape to? Don't you think that they knew,, also, what you just said: there would have been no Jewish refugees from here--they would be dead or in the sea? Doesn't that perhaps explain them to you a little?"
He shrugged, he smiled; with these gestures h tacitly admitted the point, but it was of minor importance. "In 1948, the Arabs were not united; that is why we lost. In 1956 the Jews beat Nasser. He will never make war. But when there are five million Jews here in Israel, the Jews will make war, because they will need more land."
"Israel is about the size of New Jersey, a state in America. Some six million people live quite comfortably in New Jersey. Israel could become an industrial state, a very useful one."
"No, it cannot. The Arab nations will not allow it. They will not trade with Israel. They will not let Israeli ships go through the Canal. They do not wish Israel to do these things. They will not accept Israel."
"It is hopeless," I said. "In my lifetime, those who threatened war sooner or later produced it. If Arab-Israel politics keep up like this, my friend, perhaps all of us, everywhere -you and your wife and Mary, and my child and my husband and I--will have the privilege of dying in the same stupid final war."
He thought I was making a rich foreign joke. He has never seen even a corner of a real big war; he cannot imagine it. He thinks war is something that lasts a few weeks, during which you shoot off bad bullets at a remote enemy, no one is killed, you run away for a bit and then come home to your undamaged houses and lead a good life, indeed a better material life than before. None of these Arabs has suffered anything comparable to what survivors of modern war know; none can imagine such catastrophe.
THE Christian schoolteacher sent me on to a friend of his, a Muslim schoolteacher, in a village called Masra on the plain near Acre. The Muslim schoolteacher was a young black-eyed beauty, who received me in a bleak cement-walled room, scantily furnished with an ugly desk, wardrobe, straight chairs, and day bed. He wore striped pajamas, traces of shaving cream, and a' princely ease of manner. We got right down to business.
Before 1948, the population of Masra was 350; now it is 200. They owned little land, they had worked on neighboring kibbutzim and in Acre factories. They always had good relations with the Jews. "No one here shot at Jews; and no Jews shot at us." (Note the order of the sentence.) But now Masra had grown and swollen; 900 refugees lived here.
"Yes, people from those villages."
He gestured out the door, across the fields.
"What? From villages nearby?"
"Yes, yes. Those villages. They are maybe seven kilometers away."
"And you consider them refugees?"
"Of course. There was no fighting near here, but the people are frightened, so they fled to the Druse villages, where they know they will be safe, because the Druses were always friendly with the Jews, and after, they came here. The Israeli government will not let them go back to their villages. The government offered them other land, but they will not take it. Before the war, only my father sent his sons to school from this village. Now we have a school and 240 children in it, 100 girls and 140 boys. We have a water tap at every house and electric light; never such things before. No one owned a radio; now there are 100 radios and frigidaires too. The people earn good wages."
"Then everyone must be happy."
"No. The people are not glad. They want to go back to their old houses, even if there is no light or water or money."
They knew the refugees were "living under good conditions"; he had brothers in Lebanon and Syria who were doing well. How did he know? They wrote messages to the Israel radio, which broadcast them, and the Lebanon radio sent messages back; that way they heard news of their families.
But all the refugees should return and Israel should be partitioned. I put the same proposition to him as to his Christian colleague; if the Arabs had won the war, would they accept Partition?
"No, never, of course not. We would let some few Jews live here as immigrants but not be masters, not in any part of Palestine."
"Why do you think the refugees left in the first place?"
Well, there was much fear. Then, they all knew about Dir Yassin and expected the same to happen to them. Inside Israel, the Arabs do not need or use the refugees' stories of massacres; they do not have to account for flight, since they are still at home. They know what happened around them, and their neighbors know, and such stories would be pointless. But they do speak of Dir Yassin, which was a genuine massacre and took place in the village of that name, near Jerusalem, on April 9, 1948.
Before the official Arab-Israel war started (on May 15, 1948) there had been months and months of "incidents." ("From the first week of December 1947, disorder in Palestine had begun to mount. The Arabs repeatedly asserted that they would resist partition by force. They seemed to be determined to drive that point home by assaults upon the Jewish community in Palestine."--Trygve Lie, In the Cause of Peace, Macmillan, 1954.) By February, 1948, aside from scattered Arab attacks on scattered Jews, and reprisals for same, the "Arab Liberation Army" had moved into Palestine from the north, and Jerusalem was bombarded, besieged, and cut off. The Jews were trying to run food to the beleaguered Jewish population of Jerusalem. A lot of Jews were getting killed in that effort, in Jerusalem and elsewhere, and in the eyes of some Jews not enough was being done to prevent or avenge this. The state of Israel did not exist; no functioning Jewish government could control this anarchic, deadly phase of undeclared war.
Two famous illegal groups of militant Jews, the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvai Leumi, had their own ideas on how to fight fire with fire. The British regarded them both as terrorists. The Jewish Agency and their underground army, the Haganah, which were the official Jewish authorities in Palestine, also rejected the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvai Leumi, because of their ruthlessness. Under the circumstances that created them, these two outlawed bands do not seem very different from Resistance groups, Partisans, or Commandos, all of whom were admired as patriots, and none of whom obeyed the Queensberry rules.
The Irgun Zvai Leumi, in any case, behaved like desperate men at war, not like the millennial inheritors of a high moral code. The village of Dir Yassin lay close to besieged Jerusalem and its life-line road. According to the Irgun, Dir Yassin was a nest of snipers and armed Arabs; an effective enemy concentration. On their own, the Irgun decided to attack Dir Yassin. Their leader was killed by Arab fire from the village; the Irgun fighters then went brutally mad and shot everyone in sight. Two hundred and fifty Arabs were killed.
To this day, Israelis cannot get over their shame for Dir Yassin while failing to remind themselves, the Arabs, and the world that murder, horribly, begets murder; and they could present a longer casualty list of Jews killed by Arabs, before and after Dir Yassin, during the twilight period of terror that preceded open war.
The news of Dir Yassin spread like the tolling of a funeral bell throughout Arab Palestine. According to their own ethical code and practice of war, Dir Yassin must have seemed a natural portent of the future to the Arabs. They intended to massacre the Jews; if the Jews were victorious, obviously they would massacre the Arabs. As the beautiful schoolteacher pointed out, Dir Yassin threw the fear of death into vast numbers of the Arab population. In panic, they fled from Palestine.
Since we were talking about war, we came easily to the subject of Nasser.
"Here they love Nasser. All love him. He is Arab person. They do not believe what he says on the radio--kill the Jews, kick them into the sea. So long he says it, and nothing happens. It will not be war. Something else will arrange, but not soon."
The Christian Arab schoolteacher had told me of a priest in Acre whom I should see, but I could not find him. Instead, I directed myself toward the nearest church steeple, rang a doorbell beneath, and was admitted by an enormous, rotund priest in a brown cassock. He looked like an Arab but was an Italian. He had lived in this country for nearly thirty years and had learned how to survive: by laughter. He laughed at everything, and it was an awesome sight, as if a hippopotamus broke into silent mirth.
We settled on his stiff upholstered visitors' chairs, and he ruminated on the problem of the refugees. If there was the choice between a big financial compensation or return, only 50 per cent of the refugees would wish to return, and most of those who came back would not stay. "They could not endure how this country is run. The discipline. The work." The refugees are kept thinking of Palestine by the Arab leaders, by propaganda. Why not build factories and arrange land resettlement in the Arab countries? (The Arab governments do not wish this, Father.) Give the money to the Arab governments and tell them to get on with the job and control it. (How?) By force. (But what force, Father?)
He often told Arab priests about the thirteen million refugees who came from East Germany to West Germany; they were all absorbed into West Germany and enriched the country. Why would 'not 800,000 Arab refugees enrich the Arab countries, which were big and underpopulated? But it is no use; Arabs have never heard of any other refugees or any other problem than their own, and they cannot think about that, in a practical way.
The whole problem is between the East and the West; the Arabs are very happy in the middle, using blackmail. This would stop if the East and the West came to terms, or if the West was united and strong and could impose its will. (But how, Father?)
Ah well, the Jews might as well let the refugees come back; the Arabs here are loyal to the state. ("The ones I've seen detest the Jews and the state, Father, and you know it." I expected his laughter to make a sound, it was so violent.) Yes, yes, that is true, but they do nothing. There is no resistance, no underground. Think what they could do if they really wanted to, with the Arab. countries all around as a base. (Some Arabs did for a long time, Father--until 1956, in fact; look at the countless incidents with the UN police force called out to investigate murders, thefts, sabotage.) Oh, that was nothing, nothing to what they could do if they really wanted to.
With another mute roar, he told me that the Arabs said, First we will finish with the Shabbaths, and then with the Sundays. They never changed their ideas. They went around looking at the women and the houses they would take when they managed to get rid of the Jews and the Christians. He laughed himself into a good shake over this one.
I asked about the Eichmann trial and the reaction of his Roman Catholic parishioners. Well, his Christian Arabs thought Eichmann was right, because the Jews were the enemy of the German state. They were always the enemy of the state; the Pharaohs had to drive them out of Egypt, the Persian King tried to clear them out, Ferdinand and Isabella kicked them out of Spain. No one could live on good terms with them, so Eichmann was right. (Horrified, really horrified, I said, "Surely. that is not a Christian attitude to the most appalling murders we know about?" He found it terribly funny that I should expect a Christian attitude from Arabs.)
"I do not like either Arabs or Jews," the priest announced with great good humor, "but I serve them with my whole heart, as I must."
He asked me at the door whether there are any Christian Arabs in refugee camps. Yes, I had seen a camp of Christians in Lebanon.
"I am surprised. There must be very few. I would have expected them to manage better. They do not dream all the time. They have more contact with reality than the Muslims."
By now I could foretell one local Arab account of reality. First they explain that they did not lose the war against the Jews; various others are responsible for the defeat. Then they boast cheerfully of their present material well-being, as if they had invented prosperity. At this stage, the Israeli Jews might be wisps of smoke; they had nothing to do with building the country. However, Arabs are miserable; although they never had it so good, it is not good enough, owing, of course, to the Jews. Usually these Arabs say how much they love Nasser and in their devotion are curiously -remindful of Nazi Austrians, twenty-five years ago, when they praised the handsome distant leader, Adolf, from whose hand all blessings would flow. What they believe they now want is to bring the refugees home and partition the' state. They have not considered this as a practical matter, nor imagined its effects on their new-found prosperity.
I VISITED a school in a village where prosperity had broken out like a rash--new houses, shops, hospital, high school, bigger elementary schools and the teachers harangued me as foreseen. After telling me how well off everyone was, and bragging of their growth, they told me they were all unhappy and poor because they had owned 40,000 dunams of land (10,000 acres) and now only owned 10,000 dunams. But another Arab, who had not overheard this conversation and was employed as an agricultural inspector, explained that the 10,000 dunams were irrigated, which was new, and also they were scientifically farmed, and therefore produced far more than the 40,000 dunams had. To listen to these conversations is work for a psychiatrist, not a journalist.
I yearned for my silent hotel room in Jerusalem, but Nissim had two heart's-desires, and Nissim was such a nice man that I could not refuse him. There was a "great lady" he wanted me to meet, a Muslim. "She began a Muslim women's club all alone, she," Nissim said. "Such a thing has never been. What a brave woman. The Muslims go to a place and learn together, and hear lectures, the women. Is it not wonderful?" I could see that Nissim was by nature a suffragette. He also wanted me to visit a new village of government-built houses, which the Arab citizens buy on the installment plan by paying a low rent. Not everyone has a chance to own such fine, inexpensive houses, and Nissim--like all Jewish Israelis--is ardently proud of every improvement in his country.
First we called on the lady, who lived in a modern villa, luxurious by middle-class standards anywhere and palatial by Middle Eastern standards, very shiny and tasteless. Nissim thought it wonderful; so did she, with well-bred restraint. She was young, charming, just returned from her schoolteacher's job, bathed and dressed for the afternoon in a sleeveless red dress. She spoke of her Muslim women's club, whose members ranged in age from fifteen to sixty, and learned sewing, cooking, child care, listened to lectures, and were enthusiastic over their new venture. I am a suffragette like Nissim and was delighted. Then the predictable complaints began. The peasants, she said, have work and money and don't care about anything else. But the educated people suffer; they have all this education, and after they finish their studies, what can they do? Only the professions, and business, and a few are elected to Parliament; but they cannot get positions in the army. Her husband, a pharmacist, has to take four buses to reach his place of work, but here is this village of eight thousand people without a pharmacy; why don't the Jews open a pharmacy?
"If there is such a crying need for a pharmacy here, why doesn't your husband start one himself? This is not a Communist state; there are no laws against private enterprise. You are well-known people, full and free citizens. You could certainly raise a loan, if you need it."
You are not supposed to argue about complaints; it is abominable manners. Her face closed like a lovely olive-colored trap.
"The Israelis say that they do not conscript Arabs--except the Druses, who insisted on it themselves--because the only people the Israeli Army would ever have to fight are Arabs. It seems decent to me, and it seems like reasonable military security. How would your men feel if called upon to fight fellow Arabs, who might be their blood relatives and intended to be their liberators? Do you think it is a good job for a man to join an army he cannot serve with his heart, and would sell out if the time came? That may be excellent work for spies, but not for soldiers."
She opened her closed face to say, "Yes, I see. But it is our country."
It was too hot, and too futile. Besides, I was tired of the convention which apparently requires non-Arabs to treat Arabs as if they were neurotic children, subject either to tantrums or to internal bleeding from spiritual wounds. This girl did not strike me as a pathetic weakling.
"Only by right of conquest," I said. "In the seventh century. The Jews got here first, about two thousand years ahead of you. You haven't lived as masters in your own house for a long time. Aside from the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks bossed you for a steady four hundred years, before the British took over. Now the Jews have won back their land by right of conquest. Turn and turn about," I said, feeling as beastly minded as an Arab myself. "Fair's fair."
"How was it?" asked Nissim, who had been waiting in the car. "She is fine, isn't she? Think that she starts to teach the Muslim women. No other one did."
Israelis are the first to explain (and who can know better?) that it is painful to be a minority: the Arabs in Palestine became a minority suddenly. It is grievous (as who knows better than Israelis?) to be separated from the numerous, needed members of your family. Israelis will also explain that the Arabs in Israel are torn in two: their racial loyalty belongs to the enemies of Israel, and they are afraid; if the Arab nations make war against Israel, as is regularly promised on the radio from Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, what will be their fate? Would the outside Arabs regard them, the Arabs inside Israel, as collaborators, traitors?
The emotional position of the Israeli Arabs is tormenting (and is held in that torment by the Arab radio stations), though they are materially secure, protected by equal justice under law, and by an almost exaggerated respect for their feelings. If the Arab nations made peace with Israel, it is possible that all Israeli Arabs would relax, be happy, and wholehearted supporters of Israel. If not, not. No one, after listening to Israeli Arabs, could believe that Palestinian refugees would be either contented or loyal citizens of Israel.
The new village, that so pleased Nissim, was rows of small plastered houses painted in pastel shades, or white with pastel-colored woodwork. They have a porch-veranda, two fairly large rooms, a kitchen, a shower-washroom, and small gardens. No working-class Arabs I saw anywhere in the Middle East possess houses like these, but the owners were not satisfied, as I knew they would not be. One boy of about fourteen could speak English; boys of this age are valuable informants--they parrot their elders without reflection.
"We are very poor," he said.
"How can you be very poor and live in these houses? You have to pay for them."
"We must to work very hard. More harder than before. Terrible work. We have no land."
"Wasn't farming hard work?"
"No. That was easy. Not like now."
"How does your family manage?"
"My brother works. In Tel Aviv. In a gasoline station. That is terrible hard work."
When we left, the pretty, healthy children ran beside the car, shouting. I waved. Nissim looked queer, something was wrong; that chronic optimist seemed sad.
"What's the matter, Nissim?"
"Nothing. What the children say."
"You mean just now, shouting?"
"Yes. They say: 'Where you going, bastard? I spit on you.'"
What for, I thought, what for, and will it never stop?
"Do you hate the Arabs, Nissim?"
"No. Of course no."
"What is the good of hate?"
What indeed? Arabs gorge on hate, they roll in it, they breathe it. Jews top the hate list, but any foreigners are hateful enough. Arabs also hate each other, separately and, en masse. Their politicians change the direction of their hate as they would change their shirts. Their press is vulgarly base with hate-filled cartoons; their reporting describes whatever hate is now uppermost and convenient. Their radio is a long scream of hate, a call to hate. They teach their children hate in school. They must love the taste of hate; it is their daily bread. And what good has it done them?
THERE is no future in spending UN money to breed hate. There is no future in nagging or bullying Israel to commit suicide by the admission of a fatal locust swarm of enemies. There is no future in Nasser's solution, the Holy War against Israel; and we had better make this very clear, very quickly. Long bleak memories will recall the Sudetendeutsch and Czechoslovakia. In a new setting, Palestinian refugees assume the role of the Sudetendeutsch. Israel becomes Czechoslovakia. Propaganda prepares the war for liberation of "our brothers." Victory over- a minor near enemy is planned as the essential first step on a long triumphant road of conquest. A thousand-year Muslim Reich, the African continent ruled by Egypt, may be a mad dream, but we have experience of mad dreams and mad dreamers. We cannot be too careful. The echo of Hitler's voice is heard again in the land, now speaking Arabic.
Unfortunately for us all, including the Arabs, the Middle Eastern Arab nations have been hit by independence and the twentieth century at the same time. It is a lot to handle, and they are not handling it safely or sanely. The Cold War does not help them; it encourages folly. East and West both treat the Arabs with nervous anxiety; placatory and bribing, East and West keep their eyes fixed on the geographical location of the Arab states and the immense amount of oil under their deserts. No one does or can talk practical facts about Israel to the Arabs; it would be useless. Even the soundest Arab leaders have tied their own hands tight in an official hate policy. At present, any Arab government which urged a quick, peaceful, advantageous settlement of the Palestine Refugee Problem would be mobbed. The mobs have been indoctrinated for thirteen years, as have the Arab refugees.
The Palestinian refugees could have been absorbed into the economic life of the Arab countries long ago, despite the remark of UNRWA's Director--in his 1960 report--that jobs do not exist for the refugees in the Arab countries. Of course they do not exist; if they did, the Arab standard of life would be a finer and a better thing than it is now. The jobs must be made; but the Arab countries need to have the jobs done as much as the refugees need to do them. The Director of UNRWA states, in the same report, that the majority of Palestinian refugees are unskilled peasants and there are enough or too many of those in the Arab countries already. No doubt. But unskilled peasants, all over the world, have learned to become skilled factory workers or scientific farmers, at very short notice; that ability to learn is what makes our modern industrial civilization tick. The Yemenite Jews who moved in a week from the Middle Ages to Israel, the unskilled Polish peasants operating the Nova Huta steel mills are obvious examples of this transformation. Neighboring Arabs regard the Palestinian Arabs as outstandingly intelligent. I would think this reputation deserved. There is no reason to believe that they cannot learn as others have.
Where there's a will--and as much unused land and wasted water, mineral and oil resources, underpopulation and undeveloped industries as in the vast Arab territories--there's a way. "Western Imperialists" would have to contribute most of the cash for the way, and it would be cheap at the price. It is more expensive to maintain paupers forever than to establish free, self-supporting citizens. One outlay of capital is futile and never ends; the other is a capital investment, humane and profitable, and pays for itself. It pays in buying peace, and we don't have to argue which is the better bargain, peace or war. "Western Imperialists" should provide the way; the Arab governments would have to provide the will.
Economics are not all, and the tragedy of most refugees is not that they starve in their countries of adoption, but that their hearts and minds and souls starve. They are lonely strangers who do not speak the language of the new land, or know its customs; they are aliens. But the Palestinian refugees look, think, feel, and organize themselves socially as the Arabs of the "host countries" do. They speak the same language, they practice the same religion. The Christian minority would find fellow minority Christians in every Arab country except Lebanon, where they are on top. The Palestinian Arabs are not foreigners in the Arab world; they are members of their own family.
According to Arab politicians and apologists, the Palestinian refugees refuse to become integrated in the Arab world; it is Palestine or nothing for them. Everyone shouts for the Palestinian refugees, and at them, and about them, but no one has ever asked the refugees what they themselves want: where do you want to live; what do you want to do? My tiny personal Gallup poll unearthed plenty of refugees who were happy where they were and had no desire to return to Palestine, no matter what; and plenty of refugees who longed to emigrate to the richer Arab countries, where the future looks brighter, or out into the great non-Arab world. Except for one Christian Arab from Jaffa, who thinks Jews more honest than Arab Muslims and better people to do business with, none of them wanted to return to Israel, as Israeli citizens, and dwell in peace with their Jewish neighbors. We need a secret poll of both sexes, from the age of twelve onward, to discover the refugees' own wishes for their own lives. The poll would have to be secret because it is impossible, even perilous, for an Arab refugee openly to disclaim interest in Palestine. Such a freethinker would be marked as a traitor to the Arab cause. Man is a political animal, but he also wants to live. Politics have offered a very dry crust to these refugees for a very long time.
Yet the Arab governments insist that the Palestinian refugees are a political problem. Once a year, formally, they brandish these waiting lives at the UN Assembly. The rest of the year, with different degrees of intensity, depending on their domestic politics, they wield these waiting lives to stir up Arab hate at home. The Arab governments say they will not accept the existence of the state of Israel, now or ever. The logical conclusion is that, when ready, they intend to burst from their cold belligerent status into hot armed conflict and terminate Israel's existence. We cannot force the Arab nations to make peace with Israel, but we have to prevent them from making actual war for the sake of all human life, their own included. A vital preventive act would be to remove the Palestinian refugees as a justification of war.
Is it fruitless to offer terms to the Arab governments? We cannot hurry them, or threaten them. Their pride has been scarred; they are uncertain noisy adolescents in a tricky clever adult world; their nationalism is new, and they suspect insults or attacks on it, from every side; they do not live easily with themselves or with each other; and they have not yet understood that a nation is only as strong as its people--arms laid on top of disease, illiteracy, and poverty are a useless burden. But if we know our own minds, are patient, firm, and generous, in time the Arab governments might allow us to enrich their countries.
Our Western offer should be clear: UNRWA is to continue as a bridge to the future; we will pay for the bridge and the future--Palestinian refugees are gradually to become Arab citizens, earning their own livelihood on land, in industries, which our money and technical help will make available. All of this, but not another penny for a political problem. The Palestinian refugees must be taken out of politics forever and given the same chance that millions of refugees have had before them: a chance for work, private peace, and private life.
Would the Arab governments reject such an offer flatly, in pique, and turn UNRWA over to the Russians? The Arab leaders do not care for Communism at home. Russia, as parent and teacher of hundreds of thousands of young Arab refugees, would not charm them. In the ugly East-West rivalry for Arab affection (and oil and geography), we might for once risk taking a reasonable, compassionate line. We are not likely to be outbid in this field. The Arab governments do not love us, but they fear the proselytizing Communists more.
UNRWA has been a splendid mother-and-father and can serve the refugees as a guide to the future. UNRWA's greatest gift to the refugees, to the Arab world, and, indirectly, to us all is the education and health of its charges. UNRWA should receive more money and be considered primarily an educational institution. In my opinion, UNRWA will be with us for some time, an admirable training school for young Palestinians and a kindly old folks' home for aged Palestinians. But UNRWA too must be taken out of politics. Its work should not be subject to Arab political supervision; none of its activities should be used for Arab propaganda purposes; and its Western personnel must keep themselves rigorously detached from the Arab-Israel controversy.
THE Palestinian refugees are a chain reaction. Arab politicians and apologists would have us believe that the explosion began with the Balfour Declaration to "view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a home for the Jewish people." More likely, the explosion started in the depths of time when the Romans drove the Jews from their one and only homeland, the soil that grew their history, the Bible. Nearly two thousand years later, Hitler and his followers committed such barbarous crimes against the Jews as all Christendom and all Islam, barbarous too, had never inflicted in the centuries of the Jewish dispersion. The Nazis and the gas chambers made the state of Israel inevitable: the Palestinian Arabs and the five invading Arab armies determined the boundaries of Israel.
The Palestinian refugees are unfortunate victims of a brief moment in history. It is forgotten that Jews are also victims in the same manner, of the same moment. The Arab-Israel war and its continuous aftermath produced a two-way flight of peoples. Nearly half a million Jews, leaving behind everything they owned, escaped from the Arab countries where they lived to start life again as refugees in Israel. Within one generation, if civilization lasts, Palestinian refugees will merge into the Arab nations, because the young will insist on real lives instead of endless waiting. If we can keep the peace, however troubled, the children of Palestinian refugees will make themselves at home among their own kind, in their ancestral lands. For the Jews there is no other ancestral land than Israel.