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New International, March 1947


William Gorman

Four Recent Books on Palestine

An Omnibus Review


From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 3, March 1947, pp. 89–93.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The quartet of books [1] under review are among the latest of a stream of writing which has poured out from the pens of tourists, reporters, officials and commissions concerning that small country which is exploding with great violence and threats of civil and racial war. The books selected cover every conflicting side of the Palestine question. The Arab Island is an authentic voice of British imperialism and, to a lesser degree, of the Arab ruling class; To Whom Palestine? reflects present-day liberal-Zionist opinions; The Case for a Bi-National Palestine is the program of the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” workers’ party, Hashomer Hatzair; Palestine: Problem and Promise is a lengthy, factual, mainly economic study.

Despite the varying viewpoints, these books have certain common characteristics. Firstly, the Palestine problem is finally viewed within the context of political and economic relationships in the entire Middle East. This is no small departure. For years, one of the chauvinistic trademarks of Zionism was its view that Palestine was a matter of an exclusive Jewish state. Secondly, all the books have to some degree already been outdated by the rapid developments in the Middle East. Thirdly, none of these books displays a real conception of the gathering of forces for the coming struggles or a real solution to the Palestine question. This will be proved in some detail.

Palestine: Problem and Promise is divided into two parts, the first dealing with a thorough analysis of Palestinian economy and its problems, while the second puts forward a highly detailed plan for the post-war expansion of the economy. This plan has no relevancy whatsoever to the situation in Palestine since it is completely detached from the colonial and class relationships in Palestine which have brought the people of that country to their present violent impasse. However, the first half of the book is a veritable treasure of facts necessary for an understanding of the Palestine problem.

The Rule of British Imperialism

The book provides example after example of the effects of imperialist rule upon Palestinian economy. While Britain’s imperialist interest in Palestine is mainly strategic – as a bastion of the Eastern Mediterranean – the highly experienced colonial rulers have succeeded here as elsewhere in throttling any growth of the economy while extracting its material and financial resources. Palestine has lent England $440,000,000 or $250 for every man, woman and child in the country.” Though Palestine has been a country of capital scarcity and high interest rates, the Palestine Currency Board has been an institution for capital exports. The pounds sterling turned over to the Board in exchange for Palestinian currency have been invested almost entirely in British and Empire securities. Palestine has therefore supplied other British countries with capital.

“This 88,000,000 pounds (increase in currency) is not an exhaustive total of the resources made available by Palestine during the war to Great Britain ... Even this 88,000,000 pounds, however, is already an impressive total – being on the same order of magnitude as Palestine’s total national income in 1943.” (!)

Palestine is the location of one of the world’s most important oil pipelines, as well as refineries. Yet oil prices there are 40 per cent higher than in the United States, thanks to the British oil monopolies. The British-controlled Palestine Electric Corporation maintains exorbitant rates for use of electric power, resulting in steadily advancing profits for the corporation. The electric and oil companies, in co-operation with the government, have prevented any irrigation and electrification through development of natural resources of power like water. The resultant effects upon the nascent and puny Palestinian industry are easily imaginable.

To those apologists for imperialism who portray the colonial system as a heavy economic burden upon the imperialist rulers, the book provides the following information:

“Apart from its guarantee of the 1927 loan and the 1942 refunding which have cost the British Treasury nothing, Britain’s financial assistance to Palestinian development has been negligible.”

“The extent of government initiative in land development and agricultural improvements has also been very small.”

“Government sponsored agricultural credit has been conspicuous by its absence.”

Messrs. Nathan, Gass and Creamer, treading so cautiously lest they step on the toes of the imperialist parasites, sum up:

“It cannot, in all candor, be said that the government of Palestine has been imbued with more than the faintest conception of the large and bold innovations in domestic and international economic policy that will be required if rapid economic growth is to be assured.”

Industry and Manufacture

One of the important aspects of Zionist propaganda has been to present the Jewish economy in Palestine as prosperous, thriving and expanding, with the hopes of attracting private capital to make possible the rapid industrial development required by large-scale immigration into Palestine. Actually, as the book shows, the economy is wracked by crises and contradictions. Foremost among these has been the shortage of capital.

“New enterprises in Palestine have required higher investment per unit of product than similar enterprises in older industrialized countries.”

Interest rates on loans were 8 per cent and higher. Palestinian trade was highly unbalanced before the war. The infant industries, unprotected by any tariff walls, were the victims of unrestricted dumping of cheaper goods upon the Palestinian market produced in industrially advanced countries.

The Jewish bourgeoisie reacted to its difficulties in the same manner as does the ruling class of other countries in similar circumstances.

“Palestinian manufacturers were also anxious to control the play of market forces in other ways. In fact, they were seriously infected with the restrictionist philosophy of trade associations and cartels.

“Immigration brought with it an ‘excess competition’ in the form of machinery and other capital equipment. Local production soon increased beyond the needs of the local market. Thus a variety of projects for regulating output and new investment were enunciated by manufacturers, all designed to ensure the profits of the firms already in existence.”

One of the greatest criminal follies of political Zionism is its constant attempts to blur and obscure the differences between the Palestinian Jewish worker or Jewish displaced person in Europe with the cartel-minded Jewish bourgeoisie.

The gearing of Palestinian industry to needs of a six-year war has undoubtedly led to an unforeseen and unprecedented expansion of manufacture. Politically speaking, the most important aspect of this development is the increased concentration of industry.

“In 1937 only sixteen Jewish owned firms employed more than a hundred persons and these firms accounted for about 16 per cent of the total employment. In 1942 there were fifty such enterprises, accounting for 30 per cent of total employment.”

The reverse side of the concentration of industry is the concentration of the workers as a class and their intensified struggles as a class. This becomes apparent, in part, when we examine the strike statistics later on.

What are the prospects for post-war Palestinian industry? The book notes that “this expansion of output (of manufactures) was not accompanied by an extraordinary volume of investment in new plant and equipment.” The chapter on manufactures concludes with “Palestine’s very marked industrial expansion has yet to meet the test of Western competition.” The difficulties in capital accumulation, the low level of technology and productivity will leave the Jewish capitalist defenseless in any competition with the capitalists of the industrially advanced countries of the world.

Agriculture – Jewish and Arab

The largest pre-war commercial agricultural crop, under Jewish control, was citrus. It represented 74 per cent of Palestine’s total exports. However, since Britain maintains the most stringent controls over market relations in the Empire, Palestine could not make any import-export arrangements beneficial

to itself. As a result, its citrus products were pushed off the market or suffered a general price decline. The Arab grove-owners, due to their lower costs of cultivation, were better able to withstand the declining prices. The tightened shipping situation brought on by the war had a devastating effect on citriculture. Over fifty thousand dunams of orange groves were given up and most are still in disuse. Here also, the Arab groves are in a relatively better situation.

The price of land in Palestine is today thirty times higher than it was a quarter of a century ago. A comparable acre of land in Iowa costs $100; in Palestine the price is $1,000. The inflated prices paid by the Jews only helps enrich the absentee feudal landlords, who comprise less than four-tenths of one per cent of the Arab agricultural population but own between twenty and twenty-five per cent of the land. The average fellaheen earned thirty-five pounds in a peacetime year, from which fifteen pounds is deducted for rent and five to ten pounds for indebtedness, leaving the peasant family with an income of sixty dollars a year for its existence!

Between 1939 and 1943, farm prices rose five and one-half times. Actual output increased by only fifteen per cent. However, the temporary profitability of commercial agriculture did not lead to any appreciable increase in the use of agricultural machinery which is the only possible method of intensified productivity. The book comments:

“Only a revolution in the Arab economy, a major increase in irrigation, much more farm capital, more intensified farming methods ... can guarantee a major sustained rise in the standard of living of the Arab farmer.”

Such a “revolution” will not be forthcoming from the advanced British imperialism or from the backward feudal lords.

The “Labor Economy”

One of the widely spread myths of those Zionists who profess to be socialists is that Palestine is little less than the socialist commonwealth. What Stalin could not possibly achieve over one-sixth of the globe, the Zionists claim to have succeeded in doing in a country smaller than the state of New Jersey. This myth has no basis in fact. After more than a quarter of a century of the building of a “national homeland,” the Histadruth (trade union) enterprises account for only six to seven per cent of total manufactured products. We also learn the following:

“Contrary to expectations, consumer co-operatives have played a very minor role in retail trade ... In the areas where they had to compete with private retailers, they scarcely made an impression.”

How fares this “socialist” economy?

“The real income of the Palestinian community is enhanced by the willingness of these enterprises to accept a slow return for their entrepreneurship.”

Which means simply that these enterprises suffer the same, if not worse, contradictions and limitations as does private Jewish capital in Palestine.

Trade Unions and Strikes

The Histadruth, the Jewish Federation of Labor in Palestine, is, in proportion to the population, one of the largest trade union organizations in the world. This is to a large degree due to the fact that at least half of its members are not wage workers at all, being members of co-operative settlements or of the wage workers’ families. Unfortunately, the Histadruth has been one more arm of Zionist policy and its numerical strength cannot obscure its weaknesses as a working class organization. Thus “in spite of the universality of trade union organization in Jewish industry ... 1935 to 1939 witnessed a general decline in wage rates.” If wage rates were declining before the war, they trailed far behind the skyrocketing prices during the war. The cost-of-living index shows a rise of 247 points. In the same period wage raises averaged 78 per cent. Another glaring weakness of the Histadruth was revealed by a survey in 1943, that showed 29 per cent of all Jewish workers were not covered by any agreement with the employer, while 24 per cent had only an oral agreement.

By far the greatest blot on the leadership of the Histadruth is the policy of the employment and organization of Jewish labor exclusively and a total exclusion of Arab workers from Jewish industry and from organization into the Histadruth. The self-proclaimed “socialists” are only aping the most reactionary sections of the American Federation of Labor which do not organize the Negro workers or which shunt them off into auxiliaries. This policy

“... has no doubt increased the absorption of Jews in Palestine in the short run, but it has also been a very important factor in maintaining the barrier between the Jewish and Arab peoples. Jewish labor proposes to continue to maintain this barrier until the Arab sectors of the economy have developed to the point where Arabs work for approximately the same wage as Jews.”

What has been the result of this devious logic? In 1939 there were approximately 5,000 Arab workers organized, 2,000 of whom were members of the Histadruth auxiliary. Today there are 16,500 Arab workers organized, but little more than 2,000 belong to the Histadruth auxiliary. Thousands of Arab workers are being left to the political agents of the Arab effendis, who are conciliatory in trade union matters, but fanatically chauvinistic in the racial war against the Jews. The importance of the class relations between the Jewish and Arab workers is apparent to the British colonial office. They have continuously obstructed, impeded and interfered with the Histadruth auxiliary, finally confiscating its offices at the beginning of the war. Despite the labor chauvinists among the Jews and Arabs and the bitter opposition of the colonial rulers, the sharp ening class struggles have involved ever greater numbers of workers among both peoples. In the years 1940–41, 5,639 Jews and 385 Arabs were involved in strikes. But in 1943–44, 21,362 Jewish and 5,024 Arab workers went out on strike. The recent strike involving over 50,000 Jewish and Arab workers occurred after the publication of the book under review.

From the small amount of factual material presented here it is clearly visible that even from the purely economic viewpoint, the “Jewish homeland” is in a state of continuous crisis. The elaborate economic blueprint of Nathan, Creamer and Gass proposes to overcome the crisis merely by substituting the wish for the reality. Under the impact of such “scientific economic analysis,” Britain’s simultaneous strangulation and exploitation of the Palestinian economy turns into far-sighted philanthropy and generosity; the acute shortage of capital is transformed into a plethora of capital by virtue of international loans, German reparations and the return of sterling balances to Palestinian Jewry; a contracting world market becomes an expanding world market; imperialist rivalries dissolve into a world community of nations and so on along this line. It is particularly ironical to read that

“among the great powers there appears to be an inclination to accept a solution nearer to that demanded by Zionism than by Arab nationalism ... For these reasons we have felt that it is most valuable to base our analysis on the potentialities of economic development in the next decade on the assumption that there will be no political limits on Jewish immigration or land purchase.”

Not long after these words were written, leaders of the Jewish Agency were arrested, whole villages were devastated, and tear gas, water hoses and rifle butts were used to drive Jewish immigrants onto ships which would bring them to detention camps on Cyprus. These events are adequate comment on the political assumptions upon which rests the lengthy economic blueprint. Such blueprints remain deeply buried in file-boxes.

Program of Hashomer Hatzair

Since the official social-democratic party, Mapai, suffers from internal dissension and desertion, the left-ward movement of the Jewish working class has temporarily polarized itself about the Hashomer Hatzair. The latter was at one time unofficially affiliated to the London bureau of the centrist working class parties. Since that time it has veered steadily toward Stalinism, maintaining itself at the same time within the framework of world Zionism. Among all the Zionist parties, Hashomer Hatzair has been most insistent for a conciliatory attitude toward the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. But the most cursory reading of the Hashomer Hatzair program will expose its thorough fallaciousness, its “socialist” pretensions combined with practical support to Zionist chauvinism and alien imperialist rule.

We are informed at the outset that the program’s authors do not intend to engage in debating at length and in great detail Jewish rights to Palestine on legal grounds. “In our opinion, the provisions of the Mandate are clear ...” British armed seizure of Palestine during the first World War becomes the “legal grounds” for a Jewish state. Although the bourgeois Zionist leadership has often resented Hashomer Halzair’s weakening of the solid front of Zionist chauvinism, Hashomer Hatzair apologizes at great length for the program of an exclusively Jewish state. “It is a democratic Palestinian Commonwealth, with a Jewish majority that they have in mind.” How this commonwealth could be democratic if it is based in advance upon the realization of a Jewish majority is entirely beyond comprehension.

This explaining away of Zionist chauvinism dominates Hashomer Hatzair’s interpretation of the division and antagonism between the Jewish and Arab communities in Palesetine.

“The Arabs were not interested in co-operation. They were bent on wrecking co-operation ... in contrast with the Jews and their policies.”

While the role of Great Britain in fomenting provocations between the Jewish and Arab masses is so well known, the program states:

“We do not insist that the greatest part of the responsibility of this failure (of Jewish-Arab co-operation) should fall on the Palestine Administration ...”

Finally, Zionist chauvinism is emphatically restated:

“We hold it to lie very much in the interests of Zionism to win Arab consent to our plans and aspirations. This should not, however, imply that we are prepared to make ... the realization of Zionism generally subject to or contingent upon the consent of the Arabs.”

What then is the realization of Zionism subject to or contingent upon?

“In 1923, negotiations on Arab-Jewish agreement were begun between Emir Abdullah and Dr. Weitzman. One of Dr. Weitzman’s conditions to the adoption of a settlement was Great Britain’s approval. But once more the government vetoed further negotiations.” (My emphasis – W.G.)

The primary qualification for Zionist leadership seems to be a complete slavishness to imperialist rule!

What is the specific perspective and program of Hashomer Hatzair? Political parity between Jews and Arabs, the principle of non-domination of one people over the other, and the establishment of constitutional guarantees to that effect. Before we examine this any further, we note the same contradiction as previously.

“The non-domination principle would lose its meaning if the position of each community were made to depend on its number.”

Why, then, the insistence on a Jewish majority? Further, Hashomer Hatzair’s plan does not envision the independence of Palestine but only its further subjugation to imperialism:

“We propose that for the next twenty or twenty five years Palestine should be placed under the administration of a Special Development Authority,

“... a permanent supervisory commission of the three Great Powers ...

“The gradual development of the legislative and constitutional machinery should proceed in five stages.”

No less! The only, and very doubtful, virtue of this program is that it anticipated Molotov’s proposal for a Palestine trusteeship by six months. The net effect of such a proposal would be to give Russian imperialism a foothold in Palestine or at least an opportunity to embarrass its imperialist rivals in that trouble spot.

Finally, let us examine the bi-national Constitution with its guarantees of non-domination. Among the Jews and Arabs, the proponents of domination of one people by another are essentially the Jewish bourgeoisie and the Arab feudal lords. The Jewish bourgeoisie insists upon unhampered Jewish immigration to achieve a Jewish majority while the Arab ruling class resists such immigration in order to maintain the present Arab majority. Non-domination of one people by another in Palestine cannot be guaranteed by constitution. The solidarity of the Jewish and Arab masses on the basis of day-to-day struggles against the British imperialists and their Jewish and Arab agents will wipe away all antagonisms and threats of national domination. Hashomer Hatzair dabbles with schematic constitutional guarantees precisely because it does not and cannot provide a program of struggle around which could be rallied the broad Jewish and Arab masses. For while the Hashomer Hatzair has a vague, condescending attitude of conciliation toward the Arabs, its practical conciliatory efforts are directed toward the Jewish bourgeoisie and their imperialist masters.

Thus we stumble upon the following:

“... we believe that co-operation between Jewish and Arab labor constitutes the cornerstone of the whole future of both races in Palestine.” (their italics [2])

No sooner is this bold generality thrown to the wind then we are confronted by the following:

“In the field of private enterprise ... every effort would be made to promote joint companies and corporations.”

If the British government discards the present Arab leadership, it will

“... from the purely British point of view secure an even better market for its goods and services.”

The expansion of capitalist production and the imperialist market, is the acme of this “socialist” program. Led by parties which profess socialism all the better to betray, violate and emasculate it, the Jewish workers can only succumb to the terror which a desperate, sinking imperialist power has inflicted upon Palestine.

A Reporter’s View

The political opinions found in Frank Gervasi’s To Whom Palestine? are almost interchangeable with those of Hashomer Hatzair. The Arabs are objects of oppression, but as a people inferior to the Jews and must, therefore, wait upon Jewish benevolence. Threats of Arab violence are nonsense but threats of Jewish violence must be taken seriously, i.e., the granting of Zionist demands.

Gervasi makes a great deal out of Palestine Jewry’s voluntary blood-letting for the Second World War. The Jewish Transportation Corps in North Africa was told by Churchill “You are unloading history.” But Britain’s most talented demagogue identifies history with the maintenance of the Empire. Therefore, Jews died in European concentration camps or drowned in the Mediterranean. No immigration visas to Palestine were to be had. The uselessness of Jewish support to the recent imperialist conflict is undoubtedly apparent to a great many people and will become even more so with the progression of events in Palestine.

The book does provide us with some interesting information about the terrorist groups in Palestine. Stern was a former admirer of Mussolini. The Irgun supported Britain during the war and had a working arrangement with the right-wing anti-Moscow Polish army which was stationed in Palestine. The political supporters of these terrorist groups are the quasi-Fascist, Zionist-Revisionists whose program, until very recently, consisted of strike-breaking and a proposal for the deportation of the Arabs from Palestine. The reactionary political background of these terrorist groups should not be a great surprise. Since, the Jewish labor movement is limited by the Zionist leadership to non-violent protestations against Britain, and since artifically imposed divisions separate the Jewish and Arab workers, effective mass action against imperialist rule is frustrated. Individual acts of terror by students or returned soldiers becomes the only possible substitute for the absence of revolutionary activity by the masses. Acutely aware of the role played by Weitzman and his ilk, the British Colonial Office attempts to use the official underground movement Haganah as a weapon against the extremist groups with the promise of some vague concessions to Zionism if the extremist groups are destroyed. The ensuing weakness and confusion of the Jews as they carry on a military struggle among themselves would enable British imperialism to maintain itself in Palestine. While the Zionist leaders may be willing to assume the task of exterminating the terrorists, the Jewish masses would be unwilling. That is the impasse in which the Palestinian Jews find themselves today. Neither individual terror against British police and army nor the continued loyalty to British rule offers any way out.

However, the continuation of Jewish terrorism is important as an indication of the revolutionary crisis and of the temper of the Jewish masses.

“Everyone of the Jews who fought in North Africa, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe is now a potential revolutionary ...

“... as with the increasing adamancy of the British leaseholders, it became clear that evolutionary strategy and tactics were futile, the revolutionary movement has grown.”

These are perhaps the most valuable sentences in an otherwise quite valueless book.

From the Horse’s Mouth

Freya Stark’s The Arab Island is not so much a contribution to the understanding of the Middle East as it is a contribution to our understanding of British Colonial officials. During the war the author’s task was to propagandize for Britain among the indifferent and hostile masses and more particularly to woo the Arab ruling class to support Britain at a time when the Empire was rocking in the face of Nazi-Italian military power. She organized the “Brotherhood of Freedom” as a means of saving Egypt’s intelligentsia from the telling effects of the enemy’s propaganda. Her exaggerations of Arab loyalty to Great Britain, at the time, prove that even the most universally known facts about the Middle East are incapable of penetrating the mind of the colonial official.

Whatever changes, the British Colonial service remains the same. The first chapter begins with a poem by Kipling. The book is chatty and gossipy throughout. The Arab feudal lords enchant her. “Sheikh Mahmid is delightful.” Lunch with Emir Abdullah is “one of the pleasantest luncheon parties I can remember.” She remembers to add that these feudal lords are innately democratic, but confesses at one point, “I myself am happiest when dealing with the medieval side of things.” Lest this be considered an aberration peculiar to her alone, she adds, “What the outraged and reforming reporter so often forgets is the fact that the colonial official is fond of his people as they are.” That is, hungry, poverty-stricken, ignorant and exploited.

The central and revealing idea of the book is that “... the most important factor in the modern Arab world is the ascension of the middle class.” Britain’s imperial rule can no longer be maintained by simply purchasing, for political use, some desert chieftain or local effendi. The economic development in the Middle East has given birth to a new native ruling class based on commerce and manufacture. This class will demand and in some cases receive all the formal appearances of self-government and control of civil service. But economic and – in emergencies – military control will remain in Britain’s hands. Freya Stark rises to the defense of the wealthy, parasitic Pashas of Egypt.

“The people in Egypt who belong to the old ruling class and are willing to step from that superannuated enclosure and take a hand in the new business of the country are doing a useful service.”

We are very grateful, indeed. There is only one reference to the working class in the entire book, but it is quite sufficient to reveal the perception of the colonial official to the extraordinary dangers facing the status quo.

“The workers as they grow in importance, will gather themselves together in Egypt as in other lands and much depends on who leads them by the hand before they come to their strength. The Pasha will do well to think of it while he still has the power to give.”

The colonial official suggests that the Pasha should lead the workers by the hand. Hashomer Hatzair with somewhat larger social vision suggests that the United Nations should do the same for the Palestinian masses. The professorial study by Creamer, Nathan and Gass finds the Arabs so poor and ignorant that their political action can only be “superficial and impulsive.” Their liberation rests with neither the poor nor ignorant masses. Byrnes, Bevin and Molotov. Against the 200,000 troops, the battleships and airplanes that Britain has concentrated in Palestine, the Zionists are heavily armed – with economic and constitutional blueprints.

The solution lies in completely the opposite direction. The extreme poles which separate the Arab exploited from his exploiter, the accumulated rage and bitterness of Palestinian Jewry, the system of usury which grinds the Arab fellaheen into the dust, the total absence of democracy in most of the Middle Eastern countries – all this makes the situation inherently revolutionary. The repeated general strikes by Egyptian workers and students followed by the arrests of tens of thousands of the participants; the spontaneous action of tens of thousands of Jewish and Arab workers who went out together in the largest strike in Palestine’s history are but small indications of the revolutionary potential of the masses. Imperialism is gripped by a similar crisis everywhere. It becomes obvious that one mass action of Arab and Jewish workers deals a more devastating blow against imperialism than does all the pleading and whining by Dr. Weitzman – or all the long-windedness which fills the chambers of the UN on this subject. The movement toward social revolution by the apparently ignorant and uncultured, but profoundly restless masses of the Middle East will teach a great deal of politics, economics and history to the professional politicians, economists and historians.



1. Palestine: Problem and Promise, an economic study by Robert R. Nathan, Oscar Gass and Daniel Creamer, Public Affairs Press, 1946.
The Arab Island, by Freya Stark, Knopf, 1945.
To Whom Palestine? by Frank Gervasi, D. Appleton-Century, 1948.
The Case for a Bi-National Palestine. Published by the Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party of Palestine.

2. There are no italics in this quote in the printed version of the article. – ETOL

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