A historical Survey of Proposals to

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Ben-Gurion's Path to Pragmatism

1 / Ben-Gurion, Memorandum "Outlines of Zionist Policy", 15 October 1941, pp.15-17, (CZA Z4/14.632).

2 / Departmental Comments of British Foreign Office on Ben-Gurion's memorandum "Outlines of Zionist Policy", December 1941, (PRO FO 371/127129 E8556).

3 / Minutes J.A. Exec., 20 June 1944, p.35, (CZA).

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

Ben-Gurion's transfer proposals during the 1930s and 1940s, especially in hisletters to his son and in his diary entries, indicate a complete reversal of the opinions he expressed on this question during the First World War, when he was in the United States.

In March 1915, Ben-Gurion and Yitzchak Ben-Zvi (later to be second President of the State of Israel) were deported by the Turks from Palestine. They went to the United States, where they remained for the next three years. The early part of this period was spent touring thirty-five cities recruiting for the Hehalutz organisation.

In a communication postmarked Omaha, Nebraska, 14 February 1916, Ben-Gurion sent Ben-Zvi, then in New York, some brief notes on Jewish settlement in Palestine. He included a number of observations on the Arabs of Palestine. They "object to Jewish settlement... But this cannot stop us," he wrote. We did not come to expel the Arabs, but to build up the land for ourselves." Ben-Gurion considered that the Arabs were incapable of building up the country and "they do not have the power to expel us - this the Arabs must understand. Then we will be able to work together." (1)

Two years later, early in 1918, a few months after the publication of the Balfour Declaration, Ben-Gurion published an article entitled "The Rights of Jews and Others in Palestine", in which he wrote that the historic area of Palestine was not unpopulated. On the two sides of the Jordan there were just over a million people, three quarters of whom lived on the west side. "Under no condition may we harm the rights of these inhabitants. Only 'Dreamers of the Ghetto' likeZangwill can imagine that Palestine will be given to the Jews with the additional right to remove the non-Jews from the country." Here, Ben-Gurion's predictions were wrong. Only two decades later, this was precisely what the six respected Englishman comprising the Peel Commission were to recommend unanimously (with respect to a part of Palestine)!

Ben-Gurion not only did not believe that any country would agree to such a transfer, but felt that even if the power to achieve such a transfer were to be given to the Jewish establishment, "the Jews have neither the right nor ability to utilise it. It is not proper nor possible to deport the country's present inhabitants." Ben-Gurion felt that any attempt to implement such a transfer would be "damaging and reactionary." (2)

In his political biography on Ben-Gurion, Michael Bar-Zohar commentsonBen-Gurion's change of attitude on transfer. Bar-Zohar writes, "And therefore in place of Ben-Gurion's humanist thesis ten years earlier which absolutely disqualified the expulsion (of Arabs), there now appears a more harsh theory; the expulsion is permissible on condition that the evacuated Arabs are settled in new places and receive the means of rehabilitation." In such an event, Ben-Gurion was prepared to abandon principles which he himself had sanctified and adopt a more realistic but less idealistic approach. (3)

So long as the British ruled Palestine, Ben-Gurion could only talk about this subject - he could not act. In May 1948, the British left the country and Ben-Gurion was made Prime Minister.

During the battle for the capture of the cities Lod and Ramleh, Ben-Gurion met with his army chiefs. The Commander of the Palmach, Yigal Allon asked him, "What shall we do with the Arabs?" Ben-Gurion answered (or according to another version, gestured with his hands), "expel them". This was immediately communicated to the Army Headquarters and the expulsion implemented. (4)

In the case of Nazareth, however, Ben-Gurion only arrived after its capture. On seeing so many Arabs, he asked, "Why are there so many Arabs? Why didn't you expel them?" ( 5)

Attempts were also made to persuade Arabs to remain in Palestine, and this was not to Ben-Gurion's liking! On 1 May, twoweeks before the establishment of the State of Israel,

1 / Notes sent by Ben-Gurion to Ben-Zvi, from Omaha Nebraska, 14 February 1916, (CZA A 116/40/1). 2 / David Ben-Gurion, Anakhnu veshekhnenu, (Tel-Aviv, 1931), pp.31-32.

3 / Michael Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion - A political Biography, (Tel-Aviv, 1975), vol.1, p.410.

4 / Benny Morris, "Operation Dani and the Palestinian Exodus from Lydda and Ramle in 1948", The Middle East Journal, (Washington D.C.), vol.40, no.1, Winter 1986, p.91 ; Bar-Zohar, op. cit., vol.2, p.775.

5 / Bar-Zohar, op. cit., p.776.

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

Ben-Gurion paid a visit to Haifa, which was then in its final stage of capture by the Jews. He asked for a meeting with Abba Hushi who was the central figure of Mapai in Haifa. On being told that Hushi was busy trying to persuade Arabs in the city to remain, Ben-Gurion asked, "Doesn't he have anything more important to do?" ( 1)


Chaim Weizmann, first President of the State of Israel, was born in Motol near Pinsk in 1874. He was a delegate from the second Zionist Congress onwards and was opposed to the Uganda plan. During the First World War, Weizmann worked hard to achieve support for Zionist aims and his efforts culminated in the Balfour Declaration. From 1920 until 1946 (with a break of four years), he was President of the World Zionist Organisation, but there was much opposition from within to his approach.

In the period immediately following the Balfour Declaration, Weizmann spoke out publicly against transferring the Arabs from Palestine. In an address given to the Zionist Conference in London in September 1919, Weizmann stated, "We cannot go into the country like Junkers, we cannot afford to drive out other people. We who have been driven out ourselves cannot drive out others. We shall be the last people to drive off the Fellah from his land; we shall establish normal relations between us and them. The Arabs will live among us; they won't suffer; they will live among us asJews do here in England. This is our attitude towards the Arabs. Any other attitude is criminal, childish, impolitic, stupid." (2)

However, a decade or so later, Weizmann's attitude on this subject changed and during the 30s and 40s, he often put forward in private his own plans, or gave support to plans involving the transfer of Arabs from Palestine.

Weizmann's First Transfer Proposal

Following the massacres by the Arabs of 133 Jews in Palestine in the summer of 1929, the British Government set up a Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Shaw to investigate the situation in Palestine. Whilst this Commission was preparing its report, Weizmann had a meeting in the House of Commons on 4 March 1930, with Dr. Drummond Shiels, the British Assistant Colonial Secretary.

According to Weizmann, at this meeting Shiels said that "some radical solution must be found, and he didn't seewhy one should not really make Palestine a National Home for the Jews and tell it frankly to the Arabs, pointing out to them that in Transjordan and Mesopotamia [Iraq] they had vast territories where they could develop their life and civilisation without let or hinderance, but that the Jews were entitled to work in Palestine unmolested, and that in the end it would be good for all parties concerned."

Weizmann was in agreement with Shiel's transfer proposal, since he answered that "a solution like that was a courageous and statesmanlike attempt to grapple with a problem which had been tackled hitherto halfheartedly.... Some [Arabs from Palestine] might flow off into the neighbouring countries, and this quasi exchange of population could be encouraged and fostered... It only required careful preparation and goodwill." (3)

Two days later, Weizmann met with the Colonial Secretary, Lord Passfield. The latter said that he had not yet seen the Shaw Report, but he had heard that "the only grave question it had revealed was the problem of tenants on the land which had been acquired by Zionists". This could in time "produce a landless proleteriat" which in turn could be "a cause of unrest in the country". Passfield hinted that a solution of this problem was the transfer of

1 / "Hamahapach", Al Hamishmar, (Tel-Aviv), 5 April 1985, Pesach supplement, p.29 ; Yoram Nimrod, Patterns of Israeli-Arab Relations: The Formative Years, 1947 - 1950, Doctoral Thesis, (Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1985), p.268. 2 / Chaim Weizmann, Zionist Policy - an address, London, 21 September 1919, p.15.

3 / Interview between Dr. Weizmann and Dr. D. Shiels, 4 March1930, p.3, (WA).

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

Arabs to Transjordan by saying that one "had to stabilise conditions in the country.... Transjordan might be a way out."

Weizmann pointed out that the root of the trouble was that "in the dead of night Transjordan had been separated from Palestine" and that Jews were now prevented from settling there. He continued, "Now that one found oneself in difficulties in Palestine, surely if we could not cross the Jordan the Arabs.could. And this was applicable to Iraq." Passfield answered "that he was convinced he would have to consider a solution in that direction." (1)

It would seem that Weizmann did not confine these ideas just to conversations, but acted in secret to implement them. This we can conclude from a telegram marked "Confidential" sent by him to a certain Felix Green in June 1930. In it he asks to be sent "all available information about Vadizorka and Hauran in Transjordan. Quality and available land. Density nature population." (2)

It was at this period, that in a letter to Felix Warburg, Weizmann wrote that one of the Arab leaders had sent him a message that in his [the Arab leader’s] opinion, "Transjordan can be built up, and with opportunities created there this country could be placed at the disposal of Arabs who may choose to leave Palestine." In order to perform such a development [and hence a transfer of Arabs!], the government of Transjordan would require "a loan of one million pounds, to be guaranteed in a proper business way." (3) In a further letter written by Weizmann to Warburg a few weeks later, he wrote that he had "meanwhile been discussing" such a loan, with, amongst others, Baron Edmond de-Rothschild, "and they are all greatly in favour of the idea and would be prepared to work out the details of such a scheme when it becomes really alive. In my opinion, the whole solution of our difficulties lies in such a scheme." (4)

We might mention here that at that period, Weizmann was not the only Zionist leader proposing transfer of Arabs to Transjordan. In his diary Ben-Gurion wrote, "there is Transjordan, in it is available space. It is possible to transfer there the Arabs from Palestine." (5)

The Shaw Report was published at the end of March 1930, and a further report by Sir John Hope Simpson dealing with "Immigration, Land Settlement and Development" in October of that same year. The findings and recommendations of these two reports were embodied in the British Government's Statement of Policy popularlyknown as the "Passfield White Paper" and was issued simultaneously with the Hope Simpson Report. This White Paper would effectively have put an end to the rebuilding of the Jewish National Home in Palestine.

A few weeks later, Weizmann had an article published in the "Week End Review". In this article, he challanged the White Paper by pointing out that whereas under the terms of the Mandate, Jews had first claim to "State lands for the purpose of close settlement", the British Government now wanted to do the opposite and give landless Arabs first priority.

As a solution to this, Weizmann put forward the idea of transferring Arabs from Palestine to Transjordan. He first pointed out that Transjordan is legally part of Palestine, has a cultivatable area equal in size and that its people were of the same race, language and culture and were thus indistinguishable from the Arabs of Western Palestine. He then continued, "It is separated from Western Palestine only by a narrow stream [Jordan River] ... it would be just as easy for landless Arabs or cultivators from congested areas to migrate to Transjordan as to migrate from one part of Western Palestine to another." (6)

At that period, pressure was being put on the British Government by both Jews and non-Jews to modify its policy, and as a result of this pressure the Government issued a new document (the MacDonald letter), to serve as an authoritative interpretation of the Passfield

1 / The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Series B - Papers, (Jerusalem, 1983), (henceforth Weizmann Papers), vol.1, paper 116, pp.591-92.

2 /Telegram, Weizmann to Green, 23 June 1930, (WA). 3 /Weizmann to Felix Warburg, 15 May 1930, pp.5-6, (WA).

4 / Weizmann to Felix Warburg, 17 June 1930, p.2, (WA).

5 / David Ben-Gurion, Handwritten Diary entry, 24 June 1930, p.11, (BGA).

6 /Chaim Weizmann, "The Palestine White Paper", Typewritten copy of article appearing in "Week-End Review" dated 1 November 1930, (WA) ; Weizmann Papers, vol.1, paper 120, pp.605-06.

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

White Paper. A committee composed of members of the Government and of the Jewish Agency had several joint meetings in order to reach agreement on the contents of this letter.

Towards the end of one of these meetings, held at the Foreign Office in London on 5 December 1930, Weizmann again put forward his proposal on the transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Transjordan. He asked the meeting that "consideration be given to the development of the Negeb as well as the country east of the Jordan". He pointed out that Transjordan was "practically an empty country" which was slightly larger in cultivatable area than western Palestine. Weizmann considered that "Transjordania afforded a vast reserve for colonization, and for the trans- migration of Arabs from the congested area cis-Jordan (western Palestine) to vacant lands in Trans-Jordania", adding that no real effort in this direction had yet been made. It should be.noted that although Weizmann referred to the development of both the Negev and Transjordan the "trans-migration of Arabs" from Palestine was to be to Transjordan only.

The Foreign Secretary, Arthur Henderson, stated that "some actual agreement with the Arabs on this question was essential." Weizmann pointed out that it was in the interests of the projected pipe line and railway from Iraq to Haifa to develop and to settle a stable population in Transjordan, and added that the Arab Prime Minister of Transjordan had recently agreed with him that this was a practicable proposition, provided that some sort of assistance was offered by Britain. Henderson then admitted that "this proposal was worthy of consideration", adding that it was a "big question" which involved "big difficulties." (1)

About that period, a similar proposal was put forward by the Executive of the Zionist Organisation working together with a special Political Committee which had been set up to deal with the Passfield White Paper. This we know from a memorandum written by Felix Rosenbleuth (later Pinhas Rosen, the first Minister of Justice of the State of Israel) for the Executive of the Jewish Agency. In this memorandum, Rosenbleuth "summarizes the conclusions arrived at by the Zionist Executive and the Political Committee." On the question of Transjordan the memorandum states: "Half of this area [Transjordan] should be allotted for the settlement of Arabs from those districts of Western Palestine which are regarded as conjested, while the other half is to be reserved for the colonisation of landless Jews." (2) Another Zionist organisation to come out in favour of Arab transfer to Transjordan was the Directorate of the Jewish National Fund. (3)

We have already shown that the idea of transferring Arabs from Western Palestine to Transjordan, was not limited to Zionist leaders. Further confirmation of this fact comes from Chaim Arlosoroff, who in a lecture to the Mapai Council in May 1930, reported on talks he had had in London. He said that the British government "considers Transjordan as if it was a reserve land for the transfer of Arabs whose land [in Western Palestine] had been purchased from them [by the Jews]." He also got the impression that "they think that also the Jews will participate financially in the resettlement of Arabs in Transjordan."

Arlosoroff told the Mapai Council that he thought that this approach would substantiate the main conclusion of the Shaw report, that in Western Palestine there was no available land. This would be political suicide for the Zionists. "Also our friends will thus begin to think that the Jews will not be able to manage in Palestine without export of Arabs." (4)

Arlosoroff was however not against the principle of transfer of Arabs from place to place. This we can see in a letter which he wrote to Weizmann in December 1932, in which he put forward a proposal for transfer of Arabs. He was dealing with the proposed purchase of lands in the Huleh area, and he pointed out that they were at the time owned by Effendis, most of whom were living in Syria and Lebanon. Arlosoroff wrote, "There are about twenty-

1 / Minutes of Meeting between Members of Cabinet and Representatives of Jewish Organisations, Foreign Office London, 5 December 1930, C.P.I. (30) 3rd Conference, p.13, (CZA L9/376).

2 / Memorandum by Felix Rosenblueth "To the Executive of the Jewish Agency", 26/27 November 1930, p.1, Addendum entitled Transjordan, (CZA A185/130).

3 / Minutes of Directorate of Jewish National Fund (JNF), 29 April 1931, p.12, (CZA). 4 / Lecture by Arlosoroff on the Situation in Zionism, (May 1930), pp.3-4, (Mapai, file 22/1).

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

seven villages on these lands with a population of about 1200 families. If these lands pass into our hands it would be possible to transfer part of the [Arab] people to other lands." (1)

Weizmann's transfer plans were however, (in private at least!), much bolderthan those of Arlosoroff's. When in March 1931 Weizmann visited Palestine, hehad a meeting with the then High Commissioner, Sir John Chancellor, who was an anti-Zionist. At this meeting Weizmann again put forward his suggestion for transferring Arabs from Palestine to Transjordan.

The question of developing land for settlement had come up when Weizmann "referred to the question of the development of Trans-Jordan. He believed that there was much to be done in that country and that the Amir Abdullah could be persuaded to agree to the Development Commission expending some of its funds on developing land in Trans-Jordan for the settlement of the Palestinian Arabs."

Chancellor, however, did not agree with the feasibility of such a plan and told Weizmann "that was quite out of the question at the present time." He explained that "the Trans-Jordanians were very narrow and provincial in their outlook. They regarded Palestinian Arabs as foreigners; and the feeling among them was at present so strong on the subject that any suggestion for the development of Trans-Jordan for the benefit of the Palestinian settlers would be most inopportune." (2)

Although willing in private meetings to advocate Arab transfer, Weizmann's public utterances on transfer during this period were quite different. In a published interview between Weizmann and representatives of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, given at the beginning of July 1931, Weizmann said, "I have no sympathy or understanding for the demand for a Jewish majority (in Palestine)... The world will construe this demand only in one sense that we want to acquire a majority in order to drive out the Arabs." (3)
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