I’m in the throes of a house move, always a delightful experience when surrounded by walls and walls of identikit brown boxes of books that have not been opened for decades and simply must be culled when I get to the new place. So I hope Elder’s readers will bear with me if this week I précis an article which I posted to my blog not very long after I first ventured into cyberspace. I think that many will find the article an intriguing one. Authored by a distinguished Israeli scholar, political scientist Professor Joseph Nedava, it was first published in Amnon Hadary’s journal Forum on the Jewish People, Zionism and Israel, No. 42/43, Winter 1981, pp. 101-7.
At the outset, Professor Nedava’s fascinating article points out that when Theodor Herzl visited Eretz Israel in 1898 he found an “almost empty country” with perhaps 250,000 Arab inhabitants, who, far from being a hostile minority in a sovereign Jewish state, would, he assumed, be successfully integrated into a prosperous society, as seen in his utopian novel Altneuland. This optimism on Herzl’s part was, the article continues, unmatched by only one early Zionist, Israel Zangwill, who, anticipating resistance on the Arabs’ part, wrote in his The Voice of Jerusalem (London, 1920, p. 93): ‘[W]e must gently persuade them to “trek”. After all, they have all Arabia with its millions of square miles ... and Israel has not a square inch.’ [Emphasis added.]
Max Nordau reflected the consensus in official Zionist circles when he berated Zangwill in a letter dated 15 January 1919: ‘...The stand you have taken in the Arab question seems to me regrettable. It’s no use qualifying your scheme as your own individual idea – we have not to count on the good faith of our eternal enemies, and henceforward they will quote you as their authority for the accusation that, not you Israel Zangwill, but “the” Jews, all the Jews, are an intolerant lot dreaming only violence and high-handed dealings and expulsion of non-Jews and longing for the continuation of Joshua’s methods after an enforced interruption of 3400 years or so.’ [Emphasis added.]
Nevertheless, Zangwill’s views proved influential with a number of British statesman, since, Nedava tells us, early drafts of the Balfour Declaration considered a possible transfer of the Arab population to neighbouring states. Indeed, lifelong Zionist Robert Boothby, a long-serving, very colourful non-Jewish Conservative MP who was given a life peerage as Baron Boothby in 1958, and was known during the 1930s for his robust anti-Appeasement stance, entertained the idea at least into the 1960s. On 3 January 1963 in his contribution to a tribute to Chaim Weizmann broadcast by the Third Programme (the highbrow station on BBC radio), Boothby stated that “the original Balfour Declaration made provision for the Arabs to be moved elsewhere, more or less”. Subsequently, having cited in his own support writings by the stalwartly Zionist non-Jewish Labour MP Richard Crossman and the diplomat Sir Alec Kirkbride, he reluctantly accepted the Jewish Chronicle’s correctness in asserting that no extant written draft of the Balfour Declaration included such a provision (“the displacement of the Arabs was never considered or thought of, either on the British or the Zionist side”), but was buoyed by a letter to the London-based Jewish Observer and Middle East Review (28 February 1964) by Boris Guriel, senior staff officer of the Weizmann Archives: ”Serious substantiation can be found for Lord Boothby’s contention as to the original meaning of the Balfour Declaration prior to the final version... The Arabs were never mentioned in the original draft, and, by way of omission, the possibility of a transfer became plausible... “ [Emphasis added.]
Despite the Arab riots of 1929, which cast considerable doubt on the feasibility of Jewish-Arab co-existence, Zionist leaders said nothing about a possible Arab population transfer. However, in 1937 the British Royal Commission set up to investigate the 1936 riots proposed partitioning Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State, suggesting the transfer of about 225,000 Arabs from the former to the latter, and citing as a precedent the swapping of about 1,300,000 Greeks and 400,000 Turks after the Greco-Turkish War of 1922. Nedava believes that this provision in the Royal Commission report was instrumental in ensuring support for partition among Zionists. He explains that in its determination to implement Partition the British Government accepted the proposal to transfer Arabs, but on a voluntary rather than compulsory basis, and quotes the then British Colonial Secretary, former Conservative MP William Ormsby-Gore (later Lord Harlech) addressing the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations: ‘These people had not hitherto regarded themselves as “Palestinian” but as part of Syria as a whole, as part of the Arab world. They would be going only a comparatively few miles away to a people with the same language, the same civilization, the same religion; and therefore the problem of transfer geographically and practically was easier even than the interchanges of Greeks and Turks between Asia Minor and the Balkans ... if homesteads were provided and land was prepared for their reception not too far from their existing homes, he was confident that many would make use of that opportunity.’ [Emphasis added.]
In a letter of 17 January 1930 to a son of the great American lawyer and Jewish communal leader Louis Marshall, Chaim Weizmann had written: "There can be no doubt that the picture in the minds of those who drafted the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate was that of a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine. Palestine was to be a Jewish State in which the Arabs would enjoy the fullest civil and cultural rights; but for the expression of their own national individuality in terms of statehood they were to turn to the surrounding Arab countries – Syria, Iraq, Hedjaz, etc.” [Emphasis added.] And now Ormsby-Gore assured Weizmann that the British Government intended to set up a Committee that would find land (in Transjordan, and perhaps in the Negev too) for the transferred Arabs, and would decide the precise terms of the transfer. At a meeting held in London on 9 September 1941, Weizmann told Anglo-Jewish leaders – interrelated patrician members of what the late Chaim Bermant dubbed “The Cousinhood” – that "If … they could transfer those Arab tenants who owned no land of their own (he believed there would be about 120,000 of them) they would be able to settle in their stead about half a million Jews.”
Just prior to the Biltmore Conference, Weizmann wrote (Foreign Affairs, January 1942, pp. 337-8) that in the future Jewish State “there will be complete civil and political equality of rights for all citizens, without distinction of race or religion, and, in addition, the Arabs will enjoy full autonomy in their own internal affairs. But if any Arabs do not wish to remain in a Jewish State, every facility will be given to them to transfer to one of the many and vast Arab countries”. [Emphasis added.]
In his book The War and the Jew (New York, 1942, pp. 218-9) Revisionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote along the same lines. To quote Nedava: ‘He and his party have quite often been wrongly and maliciously attacked for their ostensible intention to drive the Arabs out of Palestine. Nowhere and at no time did Jabotinsky propagate the evacuation of the Arabs from Palestine. On the contrary, he expressed himself many times in favour of granting the Arabs in a Jewish State full equality, but, as he was not sure that all this would be sufficient inducement for the Arabs to remain in a Jewish country, he “would refuse to see a tragedy in their willingness to emigrate. The Palestine Royal Commission did not shrink from the suggestion. Courage is infectious. Since we have this great moral authority for calmly envisaging the exodus of 350,000 Arabs from one corner of Palestine, we need not regard the possible departure of 900,000 with dismay.”’
Among the many British Zionists who reacted enthusiastically to the Royal Commission’s idea of an Arab population transfer was Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, an army officer who served under General Allenby, attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and was involved in the creation of the Mandate; he came of a non-Jewish merchant banking family and was, incidentally, the nephew of the famous Fabian Socialist Beatrice Webb. A staunch advocate of Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, he argued that “if any Arabs have doubts about it, let them go to the large Arab territories bordering Palestine after full compensation”. £2,000,000 to £3,000,000 would suffice to “buy the lot out”, he thought, and he believed that thousands of Englishmen would follow his example in donating to this total.
During 1938-39, notes Nedava, a British Arabist explorer and intelligence officer, Harry St John Philby, father of notorious Cold War pro-Soviet spy Kim Philby, advanced a plan in which King Ibn Saud was a conniver and perhaps even the initiator. AS St John Philby summarised it, “The whole of Palestine should be left to the Jews. All Arabs displaced therefrom should be resettled elsewhere at the expense of the Jews, who would place a sum of £20 million at the disposal of King Ibn Saud for this purpose.” He alleged that the plan foundered because Weizmann was unable “to interest his powerful friends [Churchill and Roosevelt].”
Although, owing mainly to Arab opposition, the British Government dropped the Partition with transfer proposal, the notion of transfer persisted, being adopted by the British Labour Party late in 1944, only months before it took office under prime minister Clement Attlee, in its Declaration on “The Post-War International Settlement” with respect to Palestine: 'There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home” unless we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the war. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German plot to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine, surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement for transfers of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land, and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organized and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own... Indeed, we should re-examine also the possibility of extending the present Palestinian borders, by agreement with Egypt, Syria, or Transjordan.’ Nedava relates that Weizmann neither expected this nor appreciated it, telling Hugh Dalton, who was to become Attlee’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, that Zionists “never contemplated the removal of the Arabs, and the British Labourites, in their pro-Zionist enthusiasm, went far beyond our intentions.”
Yet the prominent left-wing publisher, Victor Gollancz could observe, in his book Nowhere to Lay Their Heads, London, 1945, pp. 28-29: ‘Suppose that a few hundred thousand of the million Arabs at present in Palestine would consider life in a Jewish Commonwealth impossible ... is there no way out? Surely there is, and a very simple one. The world has recently been discussing the project of moving great hordes of men and women – not a few hundred thousand, but ten to twelve million – from their old homes to a new environment... Suppose the United Nations said to the Arab statesmen “We desire to establish, by the necessary stages, a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine, for we believe a settlement of the Jewish question on lines such as these to be an indispensable part of the world settlement. We give our guarantee that every Arab in Palestine shall have complete civic equality and religious freedom. But if, in spite of this guarantee, any Arab should wish to leave Palestine and settle elsewhere we would make it easy for him to do so; we will see to it that the change takes place in the best conditions, and we will provide ample funds, in each case, for the secure establishment of a new home.” Gollancz, continues Nedava, was mindful that a shortage of people impeded the Arab world’s agricultural and industrial development. During the Second World War and its immediate aftermath there were attempts to transfer Arabs from Palestine to Iraq, which was crying out for Arabs to settle on its land. Nedava quotes a correspondent of the London Times, H. T. Montague Bell, who in an article published in that newspaper on 27 October 1937 wrote: “Iraq’s paramount requirement is an increase of population. With from 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 inhabitants, she cannot do justice to the potentialities of the land – the lack of labour is a constant problem – and she is at a disadvantage against Turkey and Iran with their far larger populations ... any substantial increase of population in the near future must come from outside.” Bell became involved in advocating the transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Iraq, but, concludes Nedava, such proposals proved abortive “either because of lack of goodwill or sustained drive”.