A historical Survey of Proposals to

НазваниеA historical Survey of Proposals to
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David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the State of Israel was born in Plonsk in 1886 and at the age of twenty emigrated to Palestine. His numerous Zionist activities included directing the New York branch of the Hehalutz organisation in 1915 where he trained young Jews to settle in Palestine. Four years later he called upon Jewish workers in Palestine and the Diaspora to unite in forming a political force that would direct the Zionist movement towards the establishment of a new Jewish socialist society in Palestine. Amongst the various offices which he held, before the establishment of the Jewish State, were Secretary General of the Histadrut and Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive.

Ben-Gurion's Transfer Proposals

On 9 July 1936, Ben-Gurion and Shertok met with the High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Arthur Wauchope at Government House, Jerusalem. Shertok recorded a note of the conversation. At this meeting they discussed the embargo on immigration, Cantonisation and Transjordan, and the reopening of the Port of Jaffa. While discussing the subject of Transjordan, "Mr. Ben-Gurion asked whether the Government would make it possible for Arab cultivators displaced through Jewish land purchase in western Palestine to be settled in Transjordan", adding that if Transjordan was closed to Jewish settlement, it surely could not be closed to Arabs. (3) The High Commissioner thought that this was "a good idea", but his advisers contended that since Transjordan was such a poor country, it was impossible to increase its population without at the same time increasing its capital resources. The High Commissioner asked "whether the Jews would be prepared to spend money on the settlement of such Palestinian Arabs in Transjordan." Ben-Gurion replied that this could be considered.

Shertok "remarked that the Jewish colonising agencies were in any case spending money in providing for the tenants or cultivators who had to be shifted as a result of Jewish land purchase either by the payment of compensation or through the provision of alternative land. They would gladly spend that money on the settlement of these people in Transjordan." (4) From Shertok's words "had to be shifted," itwould appear that such transfers could be compulsory, and his assertion that the Jews would "gladly spend... money to settle the displaced Arabs in Transjordan" suggests preference for resettling the Arabs in this region,

1 / Herzl Jewish State, p.30; The Writings of Herzl, (Jerusalem, 1961), vol.7, p.74; Herzl Diaries, vol.4, p.1603.

2 / Notebook of David Wolffsohn, undated entry (between 5 October 1907 and 10 November 1907), "Wolffsohn's Charter" pp.18-21 (French text), pp.22-26 (German text), (CZA W10) ; Paul Alsberg, The Policy of the Zionist Executive in the Period between the Death of Herzl and the Outbreak of World War I, Doctoral Thesis, (Hebrew

University, Jerusalem, [n.d.] (1958)), p.24 (summary of Charter in Hebrew) ;Ben Halpern, The Idea of the Jewish State, (Cambridge Mass, 1969), pp.263-64, (brief summary of Charter in English).

3 / Note on Conversation between Ben-Gurion, Shertok and High Commissioner, 9 July 1936, p.5, (CZA S25/19). 4 / Ibid.

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rather than in another part of Palestine.

In a report on the meeting made to the Jewish Agency Executive on the following day by Ben-Gurion himself, he said that he had told the High Commissioner that "if at present Jews are not permitted to settle in Transjordan; at least give us permission to purchase land in Transjordan and settle there Arabs from Palestine from whom we are buying land." (1)

Ben-Gurion also wrote of this proposal in a letter to Zalman Rubashov (later Shazar) on 17 July. There Ben-Gurion added that the High Commissioner had previously been strongly opposed to Jews purchasing land in Transjordan for the resettlement of Arabs from Palestine, but that he no longer opposed it. (2) This indicated that it was not Ben-Gurion's first attempt at enlisting the High Commissioner's support for the transferof Arabs from Palestine to Transjordan.

We do know that such an attempt was made in July 1933 and that the High Commissioner had opposed it. The village of Rumman in Transjordan was up for sale or long-term lease, and Moshe Shertok "suggested that the [Palestine] Government may like to purchase the property for settlement thereon of 'landless Arabs'".3) ( In answer, the High Commissioner wrote that "The Palestine Government has no intention of entertaining the suggestion that these lands might be purchased for the purpose of resettling Arabs who have been rendered landless in Palestine as a result of the change from Arab to Jewish landlords ... Any attempt on the part of the Palestine Government to transfer Palestinian Arabs to new holdings in Trans-Jordan would be looked upon as tantamount to expulsion of the existing inhabitants of this country." (4) However, as we shall see later, after the start of the Arab rebellion in Palestine in 1936, the very same High Commissioner himself ordered the "repatriation" of Arabs whose "presence in Palestine" was "considered undesirable"!

On 10 November 1936, at a meeting of the Zionist General Council, held in preparation for the arrival of the Peel Commission, Ben-Gurion made a long statement which included his same transfer proposal. (5)

Nearly seven months later, in May 1937, Ben-Gurion had a meeting with some colleagues amongst whom was included Pinhas Rutenberg. Rutenberg was a Russo-Jewish electrical engineer and founder and director of the Palestine Electric Company, who had set up a hydro-electric power station in Transjordan to harness the waters of the upper Jordan and the Yarmuk rivers. On the political level, he had co-operated in the 1930s with a number of other Jewish personalities, including Magnes and Smilensky (two strong opponents of Arab transfer), in search of a programme for Arab-Jewish understanding.

At this meeting on 5 May, it was concluded that "We see need... to pressure the British Government" on the possibility of Jewish settlement in Transjordan, "or at least the possibility of purchasing land for the purpose of settling Arabs from Western Palestine who will agree to transfer to Transjordan." (6) This was the first time that Ben-Gurion, in putting forward this transfer proposal, had included the element of agreement by the Arabs.However, this is not necessarily Ben-Gurion's own personal opinion but a jointstatement as evidenced by the opening "We see" (our emphasis).

At another meeting held a month later, between Ben-Gurion and Rutenberg a joint letter was prepared which mentioned this transfer proposal and included the element of Arab consent. (7) However, in the interval between these two meetings, Ben-Gurion again mentioned this proposal, not this time in Rutenberg's presence and without this time including the need for Arab consent! (8)

1 / Minutes of Meeting Jewish Agency Executive, Jerusalem, (henceforth Minutes J.A. Exec.), vol.25/3, no.65a, 10 July 1936, p.3, (CZA).

2 / Ben-Gurion to Zalman Rubashov (Shazar), 17 July 1936, (BGA) ; David Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, (henceforth Ben-Gurion Memoirs), vol.3, (Tel-Aviv, 1973), p.343.

3 / Andrews to Chief Secretary, 10 July 1933, (PRO CO 733/231/17249). 4 / Wauchope to Cunliffe-Lister, 22 July 1933, (PRO CO 733/231/17249).

5 / Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, op. cit., p.491. 6 / Ibid., vol.4, (Tel-Aviv, 1974), p.175. 7 / Ibid., p.207.

8 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 15 May 1937, (BGA) ; Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., p.177.

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Ben-Gurion's transfer proposals were not limited totransferring Arabs to Transjordan. In December 1937, he entered in his diary a proposal to transfer Arabs - this time from Palestine to Syria. On 9 December, Ben-Gurion had a meeting with Yehoshua Henkin, a major purchaser of land in Palestine for the Jewish National Fund, and questioned him regading the purchase of land in Upper Galilee and in the North of Palestine. (1)

Four days later, Joseph Nachmani, another land purchaser, handed Ben-Gurion a detailed list of lands which could be purchased in Upper Galilee, together with survey of the number of tenant farmers and Bedouin currently working on these lands. (2) Whereupon Ben-Gurion commented in his diary, "At present there are difficulties regarding the purchase of land; there is the question of the Arab tenant farmers and the Bedouin; there are political difficulties." In Northern Syria, in particular the el-Jezireh area, there were wide open spaces settled by Kurds and non-Arab tribes. Ben-Gurion's proposal was that, "By agreement with the Syrian government it would be possible to transfer large numbers of tenant farmers and Bedouin to Northern Syria. The land there is cheap and plentiful." If the Arab tenant-farmers were to be transferred from the Galilean Hills, the Jewish farmers would be able to establish orchards and grow tobacco there. (3)

In this proposal, Ben-Gurion does not specify whether the Arab tenant-farmers and Bedouin would have to give their consent to their proposed transfer to Northern Syria where the land was "cheap and plentiful."

As we can see, the above-mentioned proposals suggested by Ben-Gurion were for transfer of Arabs just from Palestine west of the Jordan river. However, two years earlier, in the summer of 1934, Ben-Gurion put forward a proposal which would have involved transferring Arabs from Transjordan as well as from Palestine west of the Jordan.

This proposal was made in a meeting with the Arab leader Shekib Arslan, who at the time was living in Geneva. At this meeting, Ben-Gurion suggested that "if the Arabs would leave Palestine and Transjordan to the Jews, they could count on Jewish help, not only in resettling the displaced Palestinians, but for Arab causes in other countries." Ben-Gurion's proposal received a "summary rejection" by Arslan! (4)

Enthusiastic Reaction to Transfer Proposal

On 3 July 1937, Ben-Gurion, who was at the time in London, received a summary of the Peel Report from Moshe Shertok, in Cairo. The same day, Ben-Gurion wrote a letter back to Shertok commenting on the Report's recommendations. He told Shertok thatone paragraph remained unclear - the transfer of the Arab population. "Is the proposal a voluntary one or a compulsory one? It is difficult for me to believe in a compulsory transfer, and it is difficult for me to believe in a transfer by agreement." (5) Towards the evening of 6 July, Ben-Gurion received a full copy of the Report and by the afternoon of 10 July he had completed his first reading. On 11 July, he noted in his diary that the proposal to transfer the Arabs out of the proposed Jewish State would give a bargaining counter. "If the Arabs agree to give us the Dead Sea and the Negev - it may be worth our while to forgo their compulsory transfer from the plains, as proposed by the Commission."

Ben-Gurion considered that the implementation of this transfer proposal presented "great difficulties and it is doubtful whether the British will implement it, even assuming that Abdullah, (the ruler of Transjordan) agrees to it." Ben-Gurion considered that Abdullah would undoubtedly be interested in such a transfer of Arabs both for financial and other reasons. (6)

Abdullah, one of the sons of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, had, in 1921, moved into

1 / Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., p.465.

2 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 13 December 1937, (BGA) ; Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., pp.471-72.

3 / Ibid. ; Ibid., p.472.

4 / Sir Geoffrey Furlonge, Palestine is My Country, (New York, 1969), p.105. 5 / Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., p.278.

6 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 11 July 1937, (BGA) ; Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., pp.296-97.

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Transjordan with a band of guerilla Arabs, declaring his intention to recover Syria, from which his brother Feisal had been driven out by the French. Winston Churchill, then British Colonial Secretary, went to the Middle East to meet with Abdullah and promised him recognition as Emir of Transjordan, provided that he did not violate the frontier with Syria. At his meeting with Churchill, Abdullah had asked whether the British Government's policy was to "establish a Jewish Kingdom west of the Jordan and to turn out the non-Jewish population?" Abdullah said, "The Allies appeared to think that men could be cut down and transplanted in the same way as trees." The High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, who had accompanied Churchill replied that "there was no intention either to cut down or to transplant but only to plant new ones." Churchill said that there was a "great deal of groundless apprehension among the Arabs in Palestine" and that their rights would be strictly preserved." (1)

In July 1937, Ben-Gurion, writing in his diary on the Peel transfer proposal, continued, "We should not assume that it is definitely impossible. If it were put into effect, it would be of tremendous advantage to us." Transfer would enable vast numbers of Jews to settle on land previously occupied by Arabs. "For every transferred Arab, one could settle four Jews on the land," and even more Jews in non-agrarian occupations. In fact, Ben-Gurion considered it very doubtful whether within the entire Negev, one could settle even half the number of Jews that could be contained within the lesser area proposed by the Peel Commission for the Jewish State, were the Arabs to be transferred from this area.

Ben-Gurion concluded that the choice between the addition of the Negev to the proposed Jewish State or the compulsory transfer of the Arabs from the Plains was not easy. "But if the Government rejects the Commission's proposal for compulsory transfer - whichis almost certain - then we will have an additional and weighty argument in favour of our claim on the Negev." (2)

At that time, there were already a number of Jewish settlements on the eastern side of the River Jordan. These were situated between the Sea of Galilee and the junction between the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers. Geographically, these settlements were in Transjordan, but in fact this small area of land was outside the boundaries of Transjordan as they had been fixed in 1922. According to the Peel Commission's recommendations the area of these settlements was to become part of the Arab State and its Jewish inhabitants transferred to the Jewish State. The Zionists made an immediate appeal for this small area to be incorporated within the boundaries of the Jewish State. (3) However, as Ben-Gurion noted in his diary, "In the event of the compulsory transfer being rejected by the Government, we will remain in Transjordan -even if the border suggested by the Commission, north of the Yarmuk-Jordan junction is not rectified." (4)

By 12 July, Ben-Gurion had already come out strongly in favour of immediate implementation of the compulsory transfer of Arabs from the Jewish State. "In my notes on the Report immediately after my first reading (of 10.7.37), I ignored a central point whose importance is far greater than all the other advantages and outweighs all the deficiencies and drawbacks in the Report and, if it does not remain a dead letter, is likely to give us something which we have never had, ... namely the compulsory transfer of Arabs from the Plains."

According to Ben-Gurion, he initially ignored this transfer proposal because of a "preconceived notion" that compulsory transfer could never take place. However, on further study of the Peel's Commission's conclusions, the crucial importanceof the transfer proposal became clear to Ben-Gurion. He concluded that the primary obstacle to the realisation of this proposal was a lack of appreciation among the Jewish community, of the importance of a compulsory transfer.

"With the removal of the Arabs from the Plains, we are getting for the first time in our

1 / Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol.iv, 1917-1922, (London, 1975), p.561.

2 / Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 11 July 1937, op. cit.; Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., p.297. 3 / en-Gurion Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., pp.283, 295.

4 / Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 11 July 1937, op. cit.; Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., p.297.

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history a truly Jewish State," continued Ben-Gurion. He explained the advantages which would accrue from such a transfer. There could be large scale Jewish settlement entirely within the autonomous Jewish State. Hitherto insoluble difficulties would disappear revealing hitherto unimagined possibilities.

Ben-Gurion insisted that the transfer proposal could not succeed without a firm recognition that transfer was both possible and desirable. He envisaged great difficulties in the forceful removal of something in the region of one hundred thousand Arabs from the villages in which they had been living for hundreds of years and he queried whether the English would have the courage to carry it through. "Of course they will not do it," wrote Ben-Gurion, "if we do not will it and if we do not urge them with all our might and main." He feared that even if the pressure were maintained, the English might falter but "any wavering on our part as to the necessity of this transfer, any doubt on our part as to the possibility of its achievement, any hesitation on our part as to the justice of it, are likely to lose us a historic opportunity which will not reoccur."

Ben-Gurion continued, "We must insist on the implementation of this proposal with all our strength, heart and soul, since of all the proposals of the Commission, this is the (only) one which can compensate us for the amputation of the remaining parts of Palestine."

Ben-Gurion considered that this transfer proposal would also benefit the Arab cause, since Transjordan was in need of increased population, development and money.

On the previous day, Ben-Gurion had been considering forgoing the transfer proposal in exchange for the inclusion of the Negev within the borders of the proposed Jewish State. After further consideration, he came to exactly the opposite conclusion. "The transfer paragraph is in my eyes more important than all our demands for additional land."

Ben-Gurion concluded his diary entry on this subject with a reiteration of the need for an immediate implementation of the transfer proposal. "If we are not able to remove the Arabs from our midst now and transfer them to the Arab area as the British Royal commission has suggested to England, then we will not be able to do it easily (if at all) after the establishment of the State." He explained that the Arabs, if left in the future Jewish State, would acquire rights as a minority group and gain the sympathy extended to minorities by a world hostile to the Jews. Therefore "we must do this (transfer) now - and the first and perhaps decisive step is preparing ourselves to implement it." (1)

In his diary entry for 17 July, Ben-Gurion listed the advantages and disadvantages of the Peel Commission's partition proposals. Amongst theadvantages, he included, "All the Plains in the Jewish State will be cleared of their Arab residents." (2)

The Report of the Peel Commission recommended that whereas the transfer of Arabs from the Plains was in the last resort to be compulsory, the transfer of Arabs from the Galilee should be on a voluntary basis. Ben-Gurion listed this last restriction as one of the disadvantages of the Peel Report, "The Arabs in the Galilean-hills who wish to remain in the Jewish state cannot be removed by force." (3) We can thus see that Ben-Gurion would have liked the right to remove these Galilean Arabs compulsorily in the same way as the Arabs of the Plains. He also considered that one of the disadvantages of the Report was "The compulsory transfer of all Jews from the 'Arab State'." 4)(

At the end of 1937, the British Government retracted from its support of the Peel Commission's recommendation on compulsory transfer. In his writingsand speeches during 1938, Ben-Gurion showed his disappointment over this retraction.

In September 1938, he wrote in his diary, "One should remember that the cancelling of the compulsory transfer (proposal) decreased our possibilities and serves as a great legacy for the Arabs." (5)

A few weeks later, in a letter written to his children from London, Ben-Gurion observed

1 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 12 July 1937, (BGA) ; Ibid., pp.297-99.

2 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 17 July 1937, (CZA S25/179/10) ; Ibid., p.306. 3 / Ibid. ; Ibid., p.305.

4 / Ibid. ; Ibid.

5 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 19 September 1938, (BGA) ; Ibid., vol.5, (Tel-Aviv, 1987), p.256.

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that within a few weeks, the Woodhead Commission would publish its report. Whilst describing the possible recommendations that the Commission might make, Ben-Gurion observed, "In my opinion, the suggestion of the Peel Commission was on the whole good, provided that they were also to implement the transfer (of Arabs) from all the Plains as the 'Royal Commission' suggested." 1)(
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