A historical Survey of Proposals to

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Ben-Gurion's Letters to his Son Amos

In a long letter sent from Paris in 27 July 1937 to his sixteen year old son Amos, David Ben-Gurion wrote that the partition plan of the Peel Commission differed from the plan which he had suggested to the Mapai Central Committee, both for the better and for the worse. He then listed these differences.

Ben-Gurion approved of the Peel Commission's recommendation that all the Arabs living on the Coastal Plain, the Jezreel Valley and the Jordan Valley be removed and transferred to Transjordan or some other place within the proposed Arab State. "By this means the Jews will receive these valleys completely free of Arabs and hence the possibility of Jewish settlement will grow considerably. This proposal has an enormous advantage and is equivalent in my opinion to the Negev (if it is put into practice)."

Ben-Gurion wrote that when he weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of the Peel Report as against his own plan, he found in general that the former was better. He considered that in two important things "whose value cannot be estimated" the proposals of the Peel Commission excelled. The first was the inclusion of the Galilee in the Jewish State and the second was the proposal to transfer the Arabs from the valleys. "We were not able nor permitted to express such an idea, since we never wanted to drive out the Arabs. But since the British are diverting part of Palestine which had been promised to us, to the Arab State, it is only fair that the Arabs in our State be transferred to the Arab area." (2)

A few months later, in a further letter which he wrote to his son from London, Ben-Gurion displayed more extreme views. Writing about the Negev, Ben-Gurion suggested that the Arabs might say that "it is better that the Negev should remain desolate than that the Jews should live in it." Ben-Gurion felt that a situation where large tracts of land capable of absorbing large numbers of Jews were remaining empty, while Jews were being barred from returning to their land under the Arab pretext of insufficient room for both peoples, was unacceptable. Ben-Gurion's answer wassimple, "We must expel Arabs and take their place." He explained that the Jews' aspirations were founded on the assumptionthat there was sufficient room in Palestine for both Jews and Arabs but "if we have to use force - not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our right to settle in those places - then we will have force at our disposal." (3)

The above paragraph is quoted (in English translation) exactly as it appears in Ben-Gurion's handwritten letter, and also in the typewritten copy, both of which are to befound in Ben--Gurion's Archives in Sede Boker. It isfrom this text that Shabtai Teveth has quoted in the English version of his book "Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs." (4) In the Hebrew version of his book, however, four Hebrew words have been added making it read, "We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their place." (5); these same additional four words (together with the previous two and a half lines) are in fact crossed out in Ben-Gurion’s handwritten letter! In the published edition of this letter,(6) the Editor (and, according to Shabtai Teveth, with the consent of Ben-Gurion(7)) completely omitted this sentence!

From the mid-1990s, a number of historians began to study in depth the "crossings out" in this letter of Ben-Gurion’s. In his book "Fabricating Israeli History", Efraim Karsh, Professor

1 / Ben-Gurion to his Children, 7 October 1938, (BGA) ; Ben-Gurion, Letters to Paula, (Tel-Aviv, 1968), p.247. 2 / Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.4, op. cit., pp.330-31.

3 / David Ben-Gurion to Amos Ben-Gurion, 5 October 1937, handwritten letter, (BGA) ; typewritten copy of same letter, p.3, (BGA).

4 / Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, English ed., (New York, 1985), p.189. 5 / Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, Hebrew ed., (Jerusalem, 1985), p.314. 6 / Ben-Gurion, Letters to Paula, op. cit., p.213.

7 / Shabtai Teveth, "Nikayon Kapayim v’Shichtuv Mismachim", Alpayim, (Tel-Aviv), vol.14 (1997), p.178.

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Chaim SIMONS : Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine —————————————————————————————————————

of Mediterranean Studies at the University of London, argued that Ben-Gurion only intended to cross out the previous sentence but "in so doing, most probably due to an abrupt brush of the pen, he erased the critical [four Hebrew] words." (1)

In an article in the journal "Alpayim", Benny Morris wrote that "between 1937 and the 1970s, someone - presumably not Ben-Gurion himself - ‘vandalised’ the original letter" by crossing out several lines of it. He added that the Archives of the Israel Defence Forces had, with the aid of modern technology, managed to decipher these crossed out words. (2) In a later article, Morris slightly modified this statement and wrote that these three lines had been crossed out "by Ben-Gurion or someone else, subsequently." (3)

These views of Morris’s were ridiculed by Shabtai Teveth. Teveth indicated that one did not require the Archives of the Israel Defence Forces to decipher what was written under the crossing out - it could be read, albeit with a little difficulty, by just looking at the letter. In addition, a letter which he had received from these Archives stated that they had not even attempted to use modern technology to decipher it, since it was unnecessary in this case!. Teveth also regarded as absurd the idea that someone other than Ben-Gurion had done this crossing out. Also, the appropriate page of Ben-Gurion’s letter had been sent to the Criminal Investigation Department of the Israel Police in order to determine at what date these lines had been crossed out, but they were unable to do so. (4)

In conclusion, one must therefore say that this particular quote on transfer by Ben-Gurion is problematic!

In his book, Karsh also wrote that Ben-Gurion had constantly and completely opposed the transfer of Arabs. (5) In answer, Morris gives a number of examples of how Ben-Gurion supported the transfer of Arabs from Palestine, and he wrote: "But at no point during the 1930s and 1940s did Ben-Gurion ever go on record against the idea or policy of transfer. On the contrary, Ben-Gurion left a paper trail a mile long as to his actual thinking, and no amount of ignoring, twisting and turning, manipulation, contortion, and distortion can blow it away." (6)

Furthermore Karsh claimed that the Zionist leaders also opposed transfer(7) and on this Morris answered: "Karsh can shout until he is blue in the face that the Zionist leaders in the 1930s and 1940s rejected all thought of transfer: Mountains of evidence speak to the contrary." (8)

Ben-Gurion's Plan to Transfer Arabs to Iraq

Towards the end of 1938, Ben-Gurion began to work out details of a plan to transfer Arabs from Palestine to Iraq.

In a diary entry dated 10 December 1938 - during the period when preparations were in hand for the St. James's Palace [London] Conference - Ben-Gurion wrote that the Jewswould come to this conference with maximalistic claims. They would suggest that the Feisal-Weizmann agreement of 1919 should serve as a basis for negotiation and would stand by their demand that at least all of Western Palestine be handed over to the Jews.

Ben-Gurion then continued, "We will offer to Iraq ten million pounds to transfer one hundred thousand Arab families from Palestine to Iraq. Were it not for Ibn-Saud and Egypt, there would perhaps be a chance for this proposal. However, whether or not there is a chance, we should approach them with this extensive plan." (9)

On the following day, Ben-Gurion put forward this plan at a meeting of the Jewish

1 / Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History, The ‘New Historians’ , (London, 1997), p.50.

2 / Benny Morris, "Mabat Chadash al Mismachim Tzioniim Mercaziim", Alpayim, (Tel-Aviv), vol.12 (1996), pp.76-77, fn.4.

3 / Benny Morris, "Refabricating 1948", Journal of Palestine Studies, (Berkeley), vol.XXVII no.2 (Winter 1998), p.84. 4 / Teveth, Alpayim, op.cit., pp.179-81.

5 / Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History, op.cit., pp.43 et seq. 6 / Morris, Journal of Palestine Studies, op.cit., pp.85-86.

7 /Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History, op.cit., pp. 37 et seq. 8 / Morris, Journal of Palestine Studies, op.cit., p.87.

9 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 10 December 1938, (BGA) ; David Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, vol.5, op. cit., p.404.

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Chaim SIMONS : Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine —————————————————————————————————————

Agency Executive. He said that he did not know whether Iraq would be prepared to accept it "but if it were just Iraq, perhaps they would listen to us. Iraq needs a much larger Arab colonisation and obviously they would not loathe the millions [of pounds]." The problem, as Ben-Gurion saw it, was the presence of Ibn-Saud and Egypt at the forthcoming London Conference. A miracle would be required to come to an agreement with the Arabs. (1)

Nearly two weeks later, in a letter to Eliezer Kaplan, Ben-Gurion wrote that on the previous day, a meeting of the Advisory Council of the Jewish Agency had taken place and before his (Ben-Gurion's) arrival, the non-Zionists had agreed that the Jews demand Palestine for themselves and also "they agreed to the proposal that Iraq be given ten million (pounds sterling) on condition they they receive one hundred thousand Arab families from Palestine." (2)

At the beginning of 1939, Ben-Gurion had a meeting with Maurice Hexter, a non-Zionist memeber of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, and he wrote a report of this meeting in his diary. He told Hexter that at that time they had only general ideas and the non-Zionists had agreed to them. These included the demand for Western Palestine and "the suggestion to grant large financial support to Iraq for the purpose of transferring Arabs from Palestine." In reply, Hexter had stated that he did not believe in the possibility of transfer. Ben-Gurion answered that neither did he see at that time this suggestion as the most practical, not because it was not possible but because the political situation and the conditions for negotiation were not suitable. He considered that King Ibn-Saud of Saudi Arabia would be strongly opposed to such a proposal, even if Iraq would be inclined to agree, since Ibn-Saud would not be interested in the strengthening of Iraq militarily. He did not even suppose that Iraq under the prevailing conditions, would agree to such a suggestion. However, Ben-Gurion concluded, "But there is a moral and strategic value to this suggestion." (3)

On 11 January 1939, Ben-Gurion who was at the time in New York, had a meeting with the Hadassah executive. In his diary he wrote that "they accepted with great satisfaction my comments on our 'programme': Western Palestine;the proposal of transfer to Iraq; no yielding on the question of Aliyah." (4)

In an undated (early 1939) document headed "Future Policy", Ben-Gurion again put forward a plan for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. "A proposal should be made to Iraq and to Saudi Arabia for ten million pounds to transfer 100,000 Arab families from Palestine." (5) The document continues with the reaction of Dr. Selig Brodetsky, Head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency in London, who agreed that the Jews "should, as suggested by Mr. Ben-Gurion approach the Arab States, with the proposal of taking Arabs out of Palestine, but the scheme should perhaps not be linked to the conception of compulsory transfer." (6) It would seem from this answer of Brodetsky, that Ben-Gurion had intended his transfer of Arabs to be of a compulsory nature.

At that period, there were a number of people were putting forward proposals for the transfer of Arabs to Iraq. At a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in London, chaired by Ben-Gurion, arrangements for the St. James's Palace Conference were being discussed. Whilst discussing the contents of the opening statement to be presented by the Zionists, Dr. Nahum Goldmann referred to such a possible transfer. "If there were to be a transfer of Arabs to Irak, then they might help to float a loan to Irak. But he did not know if the Arabs needed their help so much." (7)

The Early 1940s

1 / Minutes J.A. Exec., 11 December 1938, p.6, (CZA).

2 / Ben-Gurion to Kaplan, 21 December 1938, (BGA) ; Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.5, op. cit., p.422.

3 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 2 January 1939, (BGA) ; David Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, vol.6, (Tel-Aviv, 1987), p.65.

4 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry 11 January 1939,(BGA) ; Ben-Gurion Memoirs, vol.6, op. cit., p.88.

5 / Document headed Future Policy, [n.d.] (early 1939), p.1, (CZA S25/7643). ( 6 / Ibid., p.2.

7 / (Draft) Minutes of the Fourteenth Meeting of the (Jewish Agency) Executive (London), 1 February 1939, page h, (CZA S25/7643).

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Chaim SIMONS : Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine —————————————————————————————————————

As we shall see elsewhere in this work, when during the 1940s, Ben-Gurion would propose transfer of Arabs, his words would be tailored to the receiving audience! Another example of this occurred in 1941, when he put forward in a memorandum his "Outlines of Zionist Policy". It should be noted that this document was in the English language and thus intended for the Diaspora.

He included in the memorandum a discussion on the possible transfer of Arabs. Ben-Gurion began by pointing out that although some people in England and America "advocate the transfer of the Palestinian Arabs to Iraq and Syria as the best solution of the so-called 'Arab Question', we must consider first whether such a transfer ispracticable, and secondly whether it is indispensable". He felt that "complete transfer without compulsion - and ruthless compulsion at that - is hardly imaginable." Although there were "sections of the non-Jewish population of Palestine which would not mind being transferred, under favourable conditions", the majority would not do so voluntarily.

Ben-Gurion commented that although at that period "the idea of transfer of population is steadily gaining in popularity ... it would, however, be unsafe and unwise on our part to advocate, or even expect, a compulsory transfer of Arabs from Palestine." Since the Arabs (who were "more inclined to the Nazis" than to the Allies) were "formally ... 'friends' of the allies, especially of Great Britain ... it can, therefore, hardly be expected that a victorious England will undertake the compulsory transfer of Arabs from Palestine merely for the benefit of the Jewish people. It would thus be a mistake, politically and even morally, for us to advocate a compulsory transfer of the Arabs."

He then went on to discuss a voluntary transfer and felt that "it would be rash to assert that in no circumstances and under no conditions can such a transfer take place". Ben-Gurion put forward various ideas how, and to what extent, such a voluntary transfer could take place, and that the Zionists should "work out plans" accordingly. (1)

It would seem from this document, that Ben-Gurion would have loved to have proposed a compulsory transfer. However it would have been politically imprudent and also bad for public-relations to propose compulsory transfer at a time when one is not in a position to implement it.

A copy of this "Private and Confidential" memorandum was "extracted" from Ben-Gurion's "luggage when he left England for America" by, presumably,agents of the British Foreign Office! This memorandum was read by civil servants of the Foreign Office and four of them appended their comments. (2) However, none of them made any mention of his remarks on Arab transfer.

About three years later, at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion specifically did not reject transfer of Arabs on ethical or political, grounds but only on tactical grounds. In his speech to this forum he said: "I am against that any suggestion of transfer should come from our side. I do not reject transfer on ethical grounds and I do not reject it on political grounds; if there was a chance for its realisation. With regards to the Druze it is possible. With their consent, it is possible to transfer all the Druze to the Jebel Druze. The others - I don’t know. But it must not be a Jewish proposal. If such a suggestion would come from Iraq and Syria, we could join in. If such a suggestion would come from the British, we would say to them: go (yourselves) to the Arabs; don’t send us. If we were to suggest it, the Arabs would reject it and the non-Jews will say that there is no room for the Jews in Palestine." (3). As we shall see later in this work, during the 1940s, when the Jews were fighting to get immigration quotas to Palestine lifted, they were very concerned that any proposal for Arab transfer from Palestine, could be interpreted that there was a lack of room in Palestine, and thus give an excuse for continuing to limit Jewish immigration into Palestine.
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