Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1998, pages 123-124
The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict
Jews for Justice in the Middle East, Berkeley, CA, 1998, 32 pp. AET $2.50
Reviewed by Richard H. Curtiss
“We shall try to spirit the penniless [Arab] population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country...Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
—Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism.
By now Theodor Herzl’s written pledge to early fellow Zionists to “spirit” the indigenous Palestinian Arab population “across the border” “while denying it any employment in our own country” is fairly well known to those interested in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The reason it is not known at all to the general American public, however, is that it is a documented admission that Palestine was not “a land without people for a people without land,” as depicted in an early Zionist recruiting slogan, and also that the earliest Zionist challenge was not to “make the desert bloom” but in fact to dispossess the Palestinian population of one of the most fertile areas of the Middle East in order to replace it with Jewish inhabitants.
It also explains why the Jewish National Fund, which has been in existence longer than the Israeli government, attaches to all land that passes through its hands restrictive covenants forbidding any non-Jew to live, work, or even spend the night on that land. This covenanted restriction now applies to some 90 percent of Israel inside its pre-1967 border, the so-called “Green Line.”
The quotation cited above, and dozens of others leading to the same conclusions, are contained in a 32-page booklet issued by Jews for Justice in the Middle East, P.O. Box 14561, Berkeley, CA 94712. It is a comprehensive overview of the history of the dispossession of the Palestinians, but it is short enough to be read easily at one sitting.
The organization explains on the front cover that “the Palestinians have a real grievance: their homeland for over a thousand years was taken, without their consent and mostly by force, during the creation of the state of Israel. And all subsequent crimes—on both sides—inevitably follow from this original injustice.”
Such conclusions are confirmed in this quotation by pioneer Zionist writer Ahad Ha’am from the booklet’s section entitled “Early History of the Region”:
“Serfs they [the Jews] were in the lands of the Diaspora, and suddenly they find themselves in freedom [in Palestine]; and this change has awakened in them an inclination to despotism. They treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds; and nobody among us opposes this despicable and dangerous inclination.”
This description, which could be applied to the present-day inhabitants of the West Bank Jewish “settlements” just as readily as Ahad Ha’am applied it to the Jewish settlers in Palestine early in the 20th century, is the kind of quote I, as a long-time student of the Palestinian dispossession, discover, copy, and misplace regularly. Now it will be a little easier to find in a small booklet comprised largely of such quotations, many familiar but others from very recent sources including Israel’s new crop of revisionist historians who are quietly rewriting and replacing the accepted (and untruthful) version of Israel’s history taught in Israeli schools and also in Jewish day schools in the U.S., and reflected in the American mainstream media and in the remarkably sketchy (and generally inaccurate) references to Israeli history in U.S. social studies textbooks.
Consider, and treasure, some of the following gems from among the dozens of quotations gathered and carefully presented in chronologically prepared sections. In its section on “The British Mandate Period, 1920-1948” the booklet cites the author of the infamous Balfour Declaration of November 1917, which called for establishment of a Jewish homeland in the British Mandate of Palestine, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” This World War I British government statement, which was inconsistent with solemn pledges made to the Arabs during the same period, was almost certainly related to the services of European or American Zionists in facilitating the entry the previous April of the United States into World War I on Britain’s side. Subsequently, Lord Arthur Balfour wrote in 1919:
“The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant (the Anglo-French Declaration of 1918 promising the Arabs of former Ottoman colonies that as a reward for supporting the Allies they could have their independence) is even more flagrant in the case of the independent nation of Palestine than in that of the independent nation of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”
In the same section of the booklet is this quotation from Ohio State University Prof. John Quigley’s book, Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice: “Britain’s high commissioner for Palestine, John Chancellor, recommended total suspension of Jewish immigration and land purchase to protect Arab agriculture. He said, ”˜all cultivable land was occupied; that no cultivable land now in possession of the indigenous population could be sold to Jews without creating a class of landless Arab cultivators’... The Colonial Office rejected the recommendation.”
And consider three more key quotations from the same section of the booklet: “Even if nobody lost their land, the [Zionist] program was unjust in principle because it denied majority political rights...Zionism, in principle, could not allow the natives to exercise their political rights because it would mean the end of the Zionist enterprise.”
—Israeli historian Benjamin Beit-Hallami, Original Sins.
“Politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves...The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside.”
—David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel.
“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French...What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct...As it is, they [the Jews] are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them...According to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”—Mahatma Gandhi.
In the next section of the booklet, entitled “The U.N. Partition of Palestine,” the following is quoted from MIT Prof. Noam Chomsky’s classic book, The Fateful Triangle: “In internal discussion in 1938 [David Ben-Gurion] stated that ”˜after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine...The state will only be a stage to the realization of Zionism and its task is to prepare the ground for our expansion into the whole of Palestine’...In 1948, Menachem Begin declared that...”˜The signature of institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever.’”
The same section of the booklet also contains this quotation from Prof. Norman Finkelstein’s Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict: “By 1948 the Jew was able not only to ”˜defend’ himself but to commit massive atrocities as well. Indeed, according to the former director of the Israeli army archives, ”˜in almost every Arab village occupied by us during the War of Independence, acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murders, massacres, and rapes’...Uri Milstein, the authoritative Israeli military historian of the 1948 war, goes one step further, maintaining that ”˜every skirmish ended in a massacre of Arabs.’”
Similarly, the section entitled “Statehood and Expulsion—1948” demolishes the myth that the Israeli government would have allowed the Arab population of present-day Israel to stay if only the Arabs had not left their homes voluntarily in response to alleged broadcasts by Arab leaders who wanted them out of the way while Arab armies swept the Jews into the sea. Here are the relevant quotes from the booklet:
“It must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country...The Zionist enterprise so far...has been fine and good in its own time, and could do with ”˜land buying’—but this will not bring about the State of Israel; that must come all at once, in the manner of a Salvation; and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, to transfer them all; except maybe for Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem, we must not leave a single village not a single tribe.”—Director Joseph Weitz of the Jewish National Land Fund, Dec. 19, 1940.
“That Ben-Gurion’s ultimate aim was to evacuate as much of the Arab population as possible from the Jewish state can hardly be doubted, if only from the variety of means he employed to achieve this purpose...most decisively, the destruction of whole villages and the eviction of their inhabitants...even [if] they had not participated in the war and had stayed in Israel hoping to live in peace and equality, as promised in the Declaration of Independence”—Israeli author Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel.
“The Arab League hastily called for its member countries to send regular army troops into Palestine. They were ordered to secure only the sections of Palestine given to the Arabs under the partition plan... [Jordan’s King Abdullah] promised [the Israelis and the British] that his troops, the Arab Legion...would avoid fighting with Jewish settlements. Yet Western historians record this as the moment when the young state of Israel fought off ”˜the overwhelming hordes’ of five Arab countries. In reality, the Israeli offensive against the Palestinians intensified.”—From Our Roots Are Still Alive by the People’s Press Palestine Book Project.
“The BBC monitored all Middle Eastern broadcasts throughout 1948. The records, and companion ones by a United States monitoring unit, can be seen at the British Museum...There was not a single order or appeal, or suggestion about evacuation from Palestine, from any Arab radio station, inside or outside Palestine, in 1948. There is a repeated monitored record of Arab appeals, even flat orders, to the civilians of Palestine to stay put.”—British researcher and former U.N. official Erskine Childers.
An authoritative quotation from the booklet’s section on “The 1967 War and Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza” demolishes the original Israeli claim, still repeated by American friends of Israel even though it no longer is advanced seriously by most Israelis, that Israel’s 1967 attack on Egypt and Syria was a “pre-emptive war.”
This revealing statement was made by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in justifying his own attack on Lebanon in 1982: “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
Obviously there is not space in a book review to include all of the revealing quotations in this booklet, but two others from the section entitled “General Conclusions,” bear repeating. Writes Jewish writer and thinker Prof. Erich Fromm: “In general international law, the principle holds true that no citizen loses his property or his rights of citizenship; and the citizenship right is de facto a right to which the Arabs in Israel have much more legitimacy than the Jews. Just because the Arabs fled? Since when is that punishable by confiscation of property, and by being barred from returning to the land on which a people’s forefathers have lived for generations? Thus the claim of the Jews to the land of Israel cannot be a realistic claim. If all nations would suddenly claim territory in which their forefathers had lived two thousand years ago, this world would be a madhouse.”
And the same section of the booklet presents Jewish humanist Martin Buber’s summary of Israel’s continuing plight as follows: “Only an internal revolution can have the power to heal our people of their murderous sickness of causeless hatred...It is bound to bring complete ruin upon us. Only then will the old and young in our land realize how great was our responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled Jews who were brought from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we now sow and harvest; the fruits of whose gardens and vineyards we gather, and in whose cities that we robbed we put up houses of education, charity, and prayer, while we babble and rave about being the ”˜People of the Book’ and the ”˜light of the nations.’”
The booklet obviously was prepared for Jewish supporters of Israel, who are addressed directly at the back of the booklet in “CONCLUSION I—For Jewish Readers” which tells them: “We know it is hard to accept emotionally, but in this case the Jewish people are in the wrong. We took most of Palestine by force from the Arabs and blamed the victims for resisting their dispossession. If you run into someone’s car, for whatever reason, simple justice demands that you repair it. Our moral obligation to the Palestinian people is no less clear.”
On the booklet’s back cover “CONCLUSION II,” addressed to the rest of the uninformed or misinformed public, reads: “We hope that this look at the historical record concerning the root cause of the Middle East conflict will give second thoughts to all who have previously supported Israel’s actions...
“Given the damage that has been done to the Palestinian people, Israel’s moral obligation is to make whatever amends possible. Among these would be assisting the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel should not object to this state and, in addition, should help with its foundation via generous reparations. Besides being the right thing to do, this would stop the sporadic actions of violence against Israel as the Palestinians’ legitimate desire for their own state would be realized. Moreover, all laws that discriminate against non-Jews living in Israel should be repealed. All citizens should enjoy full and equal rights, as should any Palestinians who wish to return to their ancestral homeland. These refugees should, as a matter of principle, be compensated for their lost homes and land.”
And in its concluding paragraph, the booklet addresses these words to all Americans: “In the long run, only by admitting their culpability and making amends can Israelis live with their neighbors in peace. Only then can the centuries-old Jewish tradition of being a people of high moral character be restored. And only in this way can real security, peace and justice come to this ancient land.”
The booklet is not in commercial distribution, but copies have been donated by the publisher to the publishers of this magazine, the American Educational Trust, P.O. Box 53062, Washington, DC 20009. The cost of $2.50 for the first copy and $2 each for subsequent copies covers postage and handling. Cost for Canada and Mexico is $3 each and $4 for orders from all other countries.
Richard Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, on Middle East Affairs.