As many of Elder’s readers will be aware, London lawyer Herbert Bentwich (1856-1932), the son of a jeweller and rabbi from Eastern Europe, was an early and lifelong Zionist, active in, among other organisations, Chovevei Zion and – until he flounced out owing to a perceived snub – the English Zionist Federation. The uncle, incidentally, of Sir John Monash’s Australian mistress Lizzie Bentwitch [sic], he was involved in the talks at Whitehall that culminated in the Balfour Declaration.
His son, Norman de Mattos Bentwich (1883-1971), also a lawyer, authored a memoir of Herbert and an autobiography, as well as other works relevant to Zionism. From 1918-22 Norman was Legal Secretary to the British Military Administration in Palestine, and from 1922-29 Attorney-General in Mandate Palestine. Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1932-51, Norman also served as Director of the League of Nations High Commission for Refugees from Germany (1933-35).
In my previous column on this site, I quoted from his article in the Jewish Chronicle of 31 December 1948, pertaining to Israel’s safekeeping of discarded Arab books. Below, as foreshadowed, I quote the remainder of the article, entitled “Arabs in Israel,” which is not as well-known as it might be.
In printing it, the Jewish Chronicle observed that the non-partisan "strictly factual account" was "a much needed corrective to the tendentious reports which the traducers of Jewry have so widely circulated".
Here’s what Norman Bentwich had to say, with no further comment from me, except in square brackets:
‘The attention of the world has been drawn to the plight of the half-million Arab refugees from Israeli territory and from Jerusalem. But little attention has been paid to the treatment of the 70,000 (or, according to later reports, 100,000) Arabs who have remained in Israel or who have returned to their homes. Yet the story is worth telling. For the young Israeli Government is setting an example of care for its minorities. As soon as it was constituted, it set up a special Ministry of Minorities with the function of securing equal rights for all citizens and freedom of religion, language, education, and culture. The Minister is a native-born Jew from Tiberias, from an Oriental family; he was for many years an officer in the Palestine Administration, first in the Police, and then a magistrate. Mr Shitreet* is at the moment also the Minister for Police, but he gives his heart and mind to his other portfolio.
[*Bechor (or Bekhor) Shitreet – sometimes transliterated Shitrit – was born in Tiberias in 1897 to a long-settled Sephardi family of Moroccan background. A rabbi by training, he taught in the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Tiberias, joined the police in 1919, and became head of the Tel Aviv police force in 1927. A future Mapai Party member, he was a signatory to Israel's Proclamation of Independence, and from 1948 until 1966, the year before his death, he sat in successive Israeli Cabinets.]
Of the Arabs who are in Israeli territory, the majority are in the northern area. They live partly in towns: Haifa, 6,000; Acre, 4,000; Nazareth, 5,000; etc, and partly in the villages of the occupied territory of Western Galilee. In the south, three to four thousand are in Jaffa, a smaller number in Ramleh, and Lydda, which was captured in July, some thousands of Beduin [sic] in the Negev, who have given their promise of loyalty, and a few hundreds [sic] in the Jewish-controlled part of Jerusalem.
In the towns of mixed population and in places near the front line, the Arabs are restricted for security reasons to one area, and can only move outside it with a permit. In fact, they are still narrowly confined. In the villages they are much less restricted. The stress of war has led to the occupation of many Arab homes, which were quite deserted, and of whole quarters of outer Jerusalem. Those homes and quarters have been largely occupied by the new immigrants, who are entering the country with amazing rapidity. One of the tasks of the Conciliation Commission of the United Nations will be to aid in bringing about some settlement of the displaced persons of both nations.
The Ministry of Minorities is concerned with the well-being of the Arabs who did not flee, or who returned from flight, and with the assurance of their political, economic, and cultural rights. The Arabs who registered in the census will be entitled to vote in elections for the Constituent Assembly, and may, if they wish, have their own candidates and their own electoral list. So far, only the combined two Communist parties have put forward Arabs as well as Jews. In one municipality, Haifa, the Arabs still remain members of the Municipal Commission with the Jews, and in Nazareth an Arab magistrate has been appointed. Arabs who are willing to work on the roads or in other public enterprises are employed by the State, and receive the same wage as a Jew doing that kind of labour. The simple labourer gets a wage of nearly thirty shillings a day, which is far higher than anything he had in the days of the British Administration, even allowing for the great rise of prices. A few Arabs who are regarded as trustworthy are in the Israeli Army. The Ministry has been concerned in the last months to bring Arab port workers from Acre to Jaffa, where they are needed; and also to organise the Arab cultivators (fellahin) for the gathering of the orange crop. It has, too, encouraged other fellahin to cultivate vegetables, of which there has been a great scarcity in the country.
The Health Ministry, working with the Minority Ministry, has established a clinic for Arabs in the southern and northern areas, and has carried out recently a vaccination of all the Arab population in order to check an epidemic of smallpox which threatened. A few Arab doctors who remained in the country are employed; and there is a demand that more shall be given the opportunity.
Perhaps the most striking work in the Ministry is its effort to develop cultural life, in the midst of the uneasy truce, for the Arab population. It has already established some fifty primary schools in the towns and villages, with free education. A former Jewish Inspector of the Mandatory Education Department is in charge of the schools; another, an Oriental Jew, with a thorough knowledge of Arabic, assists him. The Ministry has also established one or two Arab clubs for reading and recreation, and has promoted a daily Arabic newspaper, El Yom (The Day). This is the first Arabic daily to appear in Israel. Several of the staff are Arabs, who have full freedom of expression; and some educated Arabs write to the Palestine Post, the English daily, voicing grievances about rent and employment, and the like…
It is notable that the proportion of Arabs to the total population of Israel (one-tenth) is about the same as the proportion of the Jews to the total population of Palestine in 1920, when the British Mandate was given. It is to be hoped that the protection and well-being of the minorities, which is inevitably conditioned by the circumstances of the war, will become more and more a constructive activity of the Government of Israel, and so prepare the way for happier relations. What is being done today is in striking contrast to the treatment of the Jewish minorities in Arab states.'