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International Socialism, May 1974


Helena Cobban

The Palestine Problem


From International Socialism, No.69, May 1974, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Palestine Problem
by Pamela Ferguson
Martin Brian and O’Keeffe, £3.00.

Europe leaves the Middle East, 1936-1954
by Howard M. Sachar
Allen Lane, £8.00

THE DEFINITIVE BOOK on Palestine for Western socialists has yet to be written. Until it is we must rely on Maxime Rodinson’s Israel and the Arabs (Pelican) and Israel – a colonial settler state (Pathfinder), or for source material on collections of documents such as Walter Laqueur’s in Pelican or the Institute for Palestine Studies’ From Haven to Conquest.

So we should welcome the publication of Pamela Ferguson’s book The Palestine Problem, though she is by no means a socialist. Yet her account of the havoc wreaked on the Palestinian people by the Zionist settlement of their land provides a very readable introduction to the situation, with a very basic historical outline.

Miss Ferguson is an experienced journalist, and the short passages in her book which describe conditions in the refugee camps deserve to be widely read. But these sections are sketchy and do not adequately explain how communities living as refugees in fantastically primitive conditions since 1948, neglected by the Arab governments, turn to terrorism as the only immediately visible solution.

What we find in the book is a very ‘even-handed’ treatment of the violence of the situation. Rightly she catalogues and deplores the settlers’ violence in the years leading up to the creation of the Israeli state. But the moral tone is identical when she talks about the fedayeen. The basis of both these judgments is a political liberalism which pleads for the nationalism on both sides to be tempered down, for guns to be put away and views to be exchanged, differences reconciled.

The history of Zionism should show us that this is impossible.

For us it is a platitude that the ‘solution’ to any social problem is the building of a revolutionary party and the struggle for socialism. This certainly is the only way out of the impasse for the Palestinian resistance, and there have been times when the debate between the Marxists and the Narodniks in the resistance have been important. It still continues. Yet Miss Ferguson considers this debate so trivial that she merely mentions the existence of the Popular Democratic Front before breathlessly continuing her account of Life in the Resistance with all its outward international flamboyance. The book thus offers nothing to those involved in the problems of where next for the Palestinians

Howard Sacher’s Europe leaves the Middle East, 1936-54 is a completely different kind of book. It attempts to describe the various things which happened in that period, over the whole area. Of course it takes 600 pages to do so. Which makes its main function that of a reference book – just as well it has a good index.

It is a reference book of imperialist diplomacy – in the first instance as between Britain and France during their mandates over the area, then covering the culmination of Zionist diplomacy and the desperate attempts of Arab nationalists to get a look-in. The way imperialism by direct political control ended, and the reasons for this, are never however directly explained. What does come out of the book are some interesting sidelights on imperialist ideology – such as their deliberate and cynical sponsorship of the cause of ‘minorities’ only when calls for independence seem to threaten the imperialist’s power. Present day BBC coverage of the Kurdish movement springs to mind.

Mr Sachar’s political thought is itself extremely cynical. The Ha’avara agreement by which the Nazis allowed Zionist emigrants to withdraw their savings in the form of German goods, and the trade agreements between Germany and Zionist corporations, are mentioned without drawing any conclusions about the relationship between anti-Semitism and Zionism. It is blandly considered as yet another triumph for Zionist diplomacy, even though a mildly surprising one.

A reference book about imperialist diplomacy, written for budding imperialist diplomats. Which doesn’t mean that in some circumstances we should not use it too. Complete as a reference book, it is not. For the money it should be.

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