PALESTINE, JEWS, ARABS - AND BRITISH
After Hitler’s attempt to achieve the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem” through extermination , European Jews were convinced that their only hope for a secure future would lie within the borders of their own, independent state. In 1945, therefore, the return from ‘Diaspora’ - the dispersal of the Jews by the Romans 1800 years before - began with renewed desperation.
The British, however, aware of the effect of large-scale immigration would have on local Arab feeling, refused to admit more than a trickle of immigrants and set the Navy to blockade the shores of Palestine. To Zionists, this was both inhuman and a betrayal of the terms of the British mandate. They determined to secure their ends illegally. With American support, European Jews acquired ships, crammed them with would-be immigrants and challenged the blockade.
Superficially, the campaign was a failure - only five out of 63 vessels got through - but in terms of publicity for the Zionist cause it was a huge success. One case, that of the Exodus, whose immigrant cargo was sent back to Germany after the vessel was intercepted, acquired a special fame. The story, exploited to the full, was retold in book form and then as a film. It became a symbol of the Jews’s struggle to build their new nation.
King David Hotel, Jerusalem 1946
Although Palestine Jews fought for Britain in the Second World War, they knew that to make “the Promised Land” theirs, they must fight with equal zeal against British immigration restrictions.
Two terrorist groups, the Irgun and the Stern Gang, took it upon themselves to attack and murder British officials. At first, Haganah, the defence force created in the 1920’s to stave off Arab attacks, believed that terrorism could only harm the Zionist cause, and helped the British try to crush the extremists. But when at war’s end, Britain still made no move to fulfil Zionist dreams, Haganah too, defied her with violence.
One incident in particular raised terrorism to a new level. O July 22, 1946, Irgun - with Haganah complicity - blew up the British military H.Q., a wing of the King David Hotel. Ninety-one Jews, Arabs and Britons were killed. Irgun later suggested that the disaster was largely the fault of the British: warnings were given to the authorities, Irgun claimed, but were not taken seriously.
Fury rose in Palestine in the post-war years, with the Jews mistrusting the Arabs, the Arabs detesting the Jews, and the British plagued by both. Baffled as to how to maintain peace in a land bursting with passion, Britain turned to the United Nations. A special commission recommended partition into separate Arab and Jewish states. They would be, commented a middle-east expert pessimistically “entwined in an inimical embrace like two fighting serpents.”
The U.N. approved partition I November 1947. Fighting between Jews and Arabs broke out at once, and the following May Britain surrendered the Mandate. The very same day, Israel declared herself an independent state. Her first act was to swing open the gates to refugees who languished I British internment camps and to hundreds of thousands more from Europe and the Arab countries. Jews who had lost all hope flooded at last into their homeland.
Terror and Counter-Terror
In 1942 the High Commission had to face a new problem: the Biltmore Programme. This originated in a Jewish Conference held in the Biltmore Hotel, New York, in May 1942, and demanded that the Jewish Agency should be the judge of immigration quotas and that “Palestine establish a Jewish Commonwealth.” This programme meant the rise of Ben Gurion, the dynamic leader of the Mapai Party, best described as the Labour and Trades Union party of the National Home. As the agitator for a Jewish State to be formed as soon as possible he had, during the previous three years, gained an increasing following among Zionists in Palestine, and he was rapidly becoming a recognised leader among the Jews of the world. The Biltmore Resolution also meant the gradual disappearance of Chaim Weizmann as a Zionist leader. Weizmann was the originator of the Biltmore Programme, but he had put it forward - in an article published by the New York monthly Foreign Affairs - as an ideal gradually to be attained. Ben Gurion backed it at the Biltmore Hotel meeting as an aspiration immediately to be achieved. The two men came into bitter party conflict. As antagonists they were unequally matched . Weizman was prematurely aged by grief at the death in action of his son Michael, whereas Ben Gurion had a lasting youthful vigour. Weizmann did not return to Palestine until November , 1944, Ben Gurion returned in 1942.
Coincidentally and in no way Ben Gurion’s fault, there was a growth of Jewish terrorism in 1943. It was the natural consequence of the “final solution” which had, almost literally driven some Jews to the point of madness. Of this the unconsciously self-revealing memoirs of Menachem Begin give evidence. The reader cannot but be appalled by the hatreds, the delusions, the incapacity for anything but the narrowest of views, which Begin expresses.
On November 6, 1944, terrorists of the Stern Gang murdered the British Minister of State in Cairo, Lord Moyne, who was in no sense an enemy of Zion. This meaningless crime followed shortly after the retirement of Sir Harold McMichael and his succession by Field-Marshal Lord Gort, a former British Commander-in-Chief . The murder of Lord Moyne put an end to promising negotiations between Weizmann, still the official Zionist leader, and Churchill, but was also followed by a revulsion of the Jewish Agency against terrorism which in turn resulted in an improvement in their relations with the High Commission and Lord Gort.
And Begin at Camp David
The next month, December 1944, the Labour Party in Britain made a memorable political blunder. Foreseeing a general election in the near future, Mr. Atlee committed his party to a programme of total pro-Zionism including unlimited Jewish immigration and the transfer of the bulk of the Arab population to the neighbouring countries. Remembering Lord Samuel’s unanswerable arguments in 1937, the Zionist leadership expressed pleasure but were careful not to commit themselves.
The year 1945 saw the end of the war, Labour in power, and the Jews of Europe demanding the right to go to Palestine. The High Commission had new and daunting problems to face. First Attlee’s rash commitment. Second a revival of Arab nationalism in Palestine, following on the formation of The Arab League in 1945. He league members included all of Palestine’s neighbours and Iraq, and were united on very little except anti-Zionism. Third and most decisively a renewed American interest in the east since the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia. United States politicians
Like his predecessor, President Truman was genuinely grieved at the suffering of European Jewry, and simultaneously he had to contend with an oil lobby grown more important after the Marshall Plan. The Plan’s success depended on the availability of oil in great quantity. Like the British in 1939, the U.S.A. Could not afford to quarrel with the Arab world.
In 1945, Truman sent a personal emissary to Europe, Earl G. Harrison, to ascertain the situation of the Jews. The Jewish agency had made earlier enquiries. Both reached the same conclusion: 100,000 Jews stood in immediate need of emigration from Nazi-desecrated Europe. Following a Zionist conference in London in August , Ben Gurion led a delegation to the colonial office and demanded sanction for a Jewish immigration of 100,000 and the recognition of Palestine as a Jewish state. In the same month Truman sent Attlee Harrison’s report urging him to act on its recommendations. Both representations met emphatic refusal from the British side.
Palestine was moving to a state of civil war with three combatants: Jews, Arabs and British. The terrorists had formed an alliance with the Jewish defence force “Haganah”; sabotage and atrocities increased. In June the High Commissioner in desperation arrested the Zionist leaders. In July, 1946, Irgun blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem that housed the British Military headquarters killing 91 including British, Arabs and Jews. Inevitably this major provocation, accompanied by many minor ones, bred ant-Semitism among British troop. Anti-Semitism found expression, not only in some sporadic outbreaks but in trends in military policy. The army took to inflicting corporal punishment on arrested terrorists until counter atrocities of the same kind by terrorists brought this particular folly to an end. But the trend in policy did not cease.
The Arab League began to band together for an invasion of Palestine. Then in late July, 1946, there was a serious Anglo-American attempt to obtain peace.
In Bevin’s absence through illness, Herbert Morrison acted for the Foreign Office. The American negotiator was Ambassador Henry Grady. They worked out a scheme of Arab and Jewish cantons for Palestine, but the most important provision was British agreement to the immediate immigration of 100,000 Jews, and American agreement to help in their transport. The plan came too late. The Zionists had by now recognised that in asking for 100,000 they had blundered. If their request had been granted they would have been seriously handicapped. A Jewish state was their aim and for that they needed at least three times more than 100,000. This time the emphatic rejection of the plan came from the Zionists, both in Britain and America.
The last 18 months of the British Mandate is a story of confusion , inconsistency, loss of nerve, loss of direction, and complication. Irresolution was infectious and everyone who attempted a solution lost his way before long. Nor is this surprising because the problem always had been insoluble except by war.
In February 1947, Bevin declared that Great Britain would hand back the trusteeship to the United Nations, the natural successor to the League of Nations. He was not believed then or later, and little wonder.The High Commission acting on governmental orders, did everything possible to frustrate the U.N. As its successor. But the government did mean to leave Palestine none the less. British political behaviour at this moment was hardly sane and was probably attributable to post-war demoralization.
The U.N. Made a bold but unavailing attempt to solve by partition through the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine (U.N.S.C.O.P.), in 1947. While U.N.S.C.O.P.was in Palestine, there occurred the affair of the refugee boat Exodus. The facts may be briefly recalled. Zionist sympathisers in America had bought this boat and renamed it Exodus 1947.
The boat arrived in Haifa in June 1947, carrying some 4500 Jews from Germany. The coincidence of the boat’s arrival and U.N.S.C.O.P.’S investigations in Palestine may have been fortuitous , but, if so, as may be doubted, it was most fortunate for the Zionist cause. The traumatic memories of the Patria and the Struma had made the Jews of Palestine sensitive to what may be called “boat propaganda” and the refusal of the British authorities to allow the passengers to land led to wild scenes of protest in Haifa and Jerusalem. If Bevin had been clever, he would have allowed the passengers in as a special concession while U.N.S.C.O.P. Were the government’s guests.
The ship, with a British military escort on board, was sent back to its port of embarkation near Marseilles. When the French authorities were assured by the official Zionist spokesman that none except a few extreme invalids wished to land,the French refused to interfere. In the meantime further Irgun and other terrorist atrocities, notably the hanging of two British sergeants with explosive booby-traps concealed on one of the bodies, had inflamed British opinion, and there followed some anti-Semitic disorders in several British cities where there were large Jewish populations. The government feared that these disorders might increase if the 4,500 were landed in Britain. Therefore the Jews in Exodus were sent back to Hamburg for asylum in the British zone of occupied Germany.
King Abdullah(centre) with Sir John Glubb
Jews danced in the streets the day the United Nations voted to partition Palestine. But their celebration was short-lived. Arabs attacked at once in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Lydda and Jerusalem, determined to alter the U.N. Settlement by force. Over the next few months assaults along the roads and on isolated settlements intensified. The Jews struck back with equal venom. Both sides had been amassing illegal weapons under the noses of the British, and both were geared for war. A few hours after the proclamation of Israel's independence in May 1948, Arab troops - many of them, ironically, British trained, struck from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Palestine’s last High Commissioner had predicted that Britain’s departure would be followed by “misery, distress and chaos.” The war which raged for seven months was far more terrible than he had envisaged. Jews and Arabs strove alike in bitter combat, each to hold what the United Nations had accorded, each to grab from the other what it had been denied. Arabs fled their homes to seek refuge in the cover of orange groves. Jews in remote and lonely kibbutsim were held under siege.
At last hostilities ended with a grudging series of armistice agreements between Israel and the Arab nations . Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, and Jordan annexed Judea, Samaria and the Old City of Jerusalem. But it was a peace in name only. Sporadic outbursts continued and broke into open warfare again in 1956 when Israeli units routed Egyptian forces east of the Suez Canal. In 1967, ion the “Six Day War,” Israel extended her territory to include all of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip the West Bank of the Jordan River and Syria’s Golan Heights. Enmity between Arab and Jew remains unabated.
The Exodus affair gave the propagandists their cue. Jews had been sent back to Germany! Here was proof indeed, so the propagandists claimed, of Nazi-minded British cruelty! Articles, books, films gave the affair of the Exodus a Zionist slanted world-wide fame. In its blaze, the memory of the many innocent victims of the King David Hotel assassination, and much else of horror, was dimmed, almost extinguished. But the fierce scenes of struggle when the ship reached Hamburg and the passengers were forced to disembark does seem to prove that the successful propaganda effort was based on a considerable and, for the British, inconvenient measure of truth.
Propaganda was a large cause of the outbreak of the Arab-Jewish War of 1948. The Arab League members had intoxicated themselves with anti-Zionism so fervently that they could not retreat now. After 1945 Egypt had reluctantly agreed to join the League’s aggressive policies, following King Farouk’s absurd ambitions to make of himself not only the head of the Arab League, but de facto Caliph, the leader not only of of the Arab-speaking but the whole Muslim world, a role for which he was grossly unfitted. The Zionists having convinced themselves with their own propaganda, had put themselves in a position where compromise became very difficult, though the leadership did try compromise in accepting the U.N.S.C.O.P. Partition plan. The leaders of neither side wanted war, but the dragons teeth had already been sown. If the British wanted to maintain peace, they went the worst way about it. The Mandatory had a sound case when they allowed the well-disciplined British officered Arab Legion into the Arab area allotted by the U.N.S.C.O.P. Partition, but they showed only irresponsibility when they allowed irregular troops from Syria and Lebanon to march into Palestine during the first weeks of 1948.The war in effect started while the Mandatory was still in nominal control and British military opinion anticipated a swift Arab victory.
The fallacy of this opinion was soon obvious. At the end of March the Zionist forces received secretly a massive supply of arms from Czechoslovakia. For that same reason Czechoslovakia has sometimes been saluted as the saviour of Zion, but the Czech interest seems to have been only mercenary. The Czechoslovakian government sold equal quantities of arms to Arabs. However, Zionist agents organised a theft of the last-mentioned arms and redirected them to Jewish fighters.
Though the Jewish army was compelled a little later than this to surrender almost the whole Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, a most bitter sacrifice, they were able at the beginning of April to fight a long battle with decisive success west of Jerusalem.
This victory enabled them to keep the road to the coast open and, with great difficulty, to retain the new part of Jerusalem, west of the historic city. Before this battle was concluded on April 9, the Zionist terrorists were guilty of the most ghastly of all atrocities perpetrated in modern Palestine. On April 8, at the village of Dir Yassin they slaughtered 254 men women and children, nearly the whole village population. Three days later Arab guerrillas replied with a counter-atrocity by massacring Jewish doctors and nurses caught in am ambush. There was a further Jewish reprisal in a suburb of Jerusalem.
Since January 1948, there had been in increasing flight of Arab peasants from the country, and as panic grew, the fleeing thousands turned to tens and then hundreds of thousands. The British had lost the will and now the capacity to impose order. As helpless spectators they watched a policy undertaken with rash idealism go down amid and bloodshed. A day earlier than announced, on May 14, 148, the last High Commissioner left Palesltine.On the same day Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel. By a secret agrement with Dr. Weizmann, President Truman immediately signified the recognition of the new State by the U.S.A. For different reasons Stalin signified U.S.S.R. Recognition. Before such a combination, Great Britain had no choice and finally recognised the new State in January 1949.
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