Monday, November 03, 2008

Proof that early Zionists didn't want to displace Arabs

The Keren HaYesod is a part of the worldwide fundraising apparatus for the World Zionist Organization. Founded in 1920, its purpose at that time was to raise money for Jews to move to Palestine.

A book that was effectively the blueprint for the Keren HaYesod was published upon its founding. It reflects with complete accuracy the feelings of the mainstream worldwide Zionist movement as of 1920, in the wake of the Balfour declaration and before there was any Palestinian Arab nationalism to speak of.

Here is a portion of the group's manifesto from that book, which describes the urgency of the project to save countless lives as well as, peripherally, the desire not to displace the Arab population in Palestine. (It is easy to forget how bad things were for Jews in Eastern Europe before the rise of the Nazis, but this manifesto describes it in stark terms that seem prophetic in retrospect.)
The Keren ha-Yesod begins its work at a great and tragic hour. The historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine has been recognised by the Powers. The Mandate has been accepted by Great Britain. The Government of Palestine has been entrusted to a statesman whose presence at the head of the Administration is a sure pledge of British goodwill. Far different is the situation in Eastern Europe. Almost a third of the Jewish race is at this moment living under conditions of unendurable anguish. Harried, pillaged, uprooted from their homes, butchered without mercy, exposed to such an outburst of unrestrained savagery as Europe has not witnessed for four hundred years, entire communities are being relentlessly exterminated.

On the eve of its renaissance, in the presence of the lofty tasks that are summoning it to action, Jewry stands wounded and mutilated. It has butone hand free for constructive labour, with the other it is desperately struggling to ward off the implacable onslaught that threatens it with annihilation. A supreme effort is called for. To the message of confidence and goodwill from San Remo, to the storm of hatred unchained in Eastern Europe, let Jews of all countries and of all classes unite to give the same reply : build the Jewish Commonwealth.

The purpose of the Keren ha-Yesod is to bring about the settlement of Palestine by Jews on a well-ordered plan and in steadily increasing numbers, to enable immigration to begin without delay, and to provide for the economic development of the country to the advantage of its Jewish and its non-Jewish inhabitants alike.

That purpose is attainable. Room can be found in Palestine for a vastly increased population. Thousands are already waiting on the threshold. Let but productive employment be provided for them, and they can enter.

There is land to be bought and prepared, there are roads and railways, harbours and bridges to be built, there are hills to be afforested, there are marshes to be drained, there is fertile soil to be irrigated, there is latent waterpower to be turned to account, there are towns to be laid out, there are crafts and industries to be developed. Side by side with these undertakings, adequate provision is needed for the social welfare of the population, for public health, and above all, for education.
While the Manifesto implies that the Arabs would not be displaced, later in this book it is said explicitly:
In considering the future of agricultural colonisation, we shall begin with the question of the acquisition of the land.

When we speak of acquiring land in Palestine we must first consider whether there is land which can be acquired without turning out the original native population, the Arab Fellaheen. This question must be carefully considered, for it must be a fixed principle that we are to make a place for ourselves in Palestine, not by expelling others from their place, but by creating new opportunities. But is there really any possibility of finding room for ourselves without expelling others? A few figures will most effectually serve to dispel this doubt.
A lengthy calculation of the available land in Palestine follows, along with strategies of legally acquiring land. Not only is the forcible taking of land from (or expelling) Arabs never even considered, but it is explicitly denounced.

The Zionist movement always looked upon the settlement of the Land as a win-win for both Jews and Arabs. Perhaps it was a little over-optimistic, but the idea's shortcomings had at least as much to do with the hate fomented by the so-called Arab leadership that came after this plan was created as from simple naivete.

This Keren Ha-Yesod book is also striking in how well the Palestinian Jews followed this blueprint on building a nation where none existed, covering industries, energy, housing, city planning, hospitals, schools and universities. There might not have been a vacuum in Palestine before these initiatives, but there was close to a vacuum in building a national infrastructure that the Jews filled nearly independently.