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Irving Howe

World Politics

Terrorism in Palestine

(5 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 31, 5 August 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Palestine is in the news these days, for the bitter three-sided conflict between the Jews, Arabs and Britain has broken out into a boil of violence and terror. In past issues, Labor Action has printed articles about the general political situation in Palestine, and it will continue to do so; in this article I wish to discuss only one aspect of that situation: the use of terror by the extreme nationalist wing of the Jewish community.

It is necessary to approach this matter with a certain balance, and above all with a perspective which flows from a firm socialist opposition to all imperialism. At the present moment, the world is filled with cries of anguish, righteous indignation and holy wrath because of the terrorist attack which the extreme nationalist group, Irgun Zvei Leumi, launched against the British headquarters – an attack which resulted in the death of over 50 people and the wounding of some 70 more.

How the air is rent with righteous and moral indignation! Prime Minister Attlee is “appalled” at this “terrible” act; President Truman, also noted for his social sensitivity, adds his two Missouri pennies with a statement “viewing with alarm.” ...

Opposed though we are to the use of individual terrorism, we socialists nonetheless do not accept as genuine the moral indignation of the heads of imperialist states. For consider: these are the men who acquiesced to the killing of millions of individuals in the imperialist war; these are the men who daily acquiesce to the continuation of imperialist domination over the entire world. Only yesterday, Attlee’s government was shooting down in cold blood thousands of people in Indonesia whose sole crime was their desire for liberation from Dutch rule. Where was Attlee’s moral indignation?

And where was Truman’s?

Attlee is, furthermore, head of a government which has instituted a black reign of terror in Palestine, a government which has deprived that country of the right of habeas corpus. Truman is head of a nation in which recently a Negro in South Carolina had his eyes gouged out by some racially-blinded barbarian.

Double Standard Imperialist Morality

These imperialist governments have an utterly shameless degree of hypocrisy. When a few imperialist satraps are knocked off by desperate anti-imperialist terrorists, they shed crocodile tears in every capital on the globe; when victims of imperialism are killed every day, not a peep of protest is heard. For they are the ones who do it!

If, then, the sight of the imperialists weeping over the Palestine terror is sickening, what then of the young Jewish terrorists themselves?

Terror is a phenomenon as old as national and imperialist oppression. It flourishes in situations of desperation. When an oppressed people sees no way out, no road open to liberation, then it turns, in a last desperate frenzy, to individual terror as a means of opposition. Or, more accurately, tiny sections of that oppressed people turn to terror; for by its very nature terror cannot be utilized by masses or it would quickly develop into mass revolt. Terror is the work of tiny minorities, usually desperate youth or students or intellectuals who feel that the masses are in a state of torpor or that mass resistance is impossible.

Terror cannot be and never has been a substitute for mass struggle. At best it creates a momentary diversion, a momentary twinge of fear in the rulers; but the oppressors whom it strikes down are always replaced by others. If the terrorists kill one British police commissioner, there will be another to take his place.

Terror leads up a blind alley. Sooner or later the terrorists are destroyed, for they lack the protection which a mass movement might afford them. The masses, though perhaps temporarily stirred by the heroism of the terrorists, soon lapse into apathy; for they have not been involved, they have not been brought into action.

The Heroism of the Jewish Terrorists

No one can help feeling a certain sense of admiration for these Jewish terrorists in Palestine. They are men of great heroism and daring; they risk their necks without flinching. The behavior in court during the recent trial of some who were detected by the British police was a model of revolutionary defiance and intransigence. And yet their policy is wrong, their politics reactionary, their heroism futile.

These terrorists of Irgun Zvei Leumi – a group much smaller than and not to be confused with the main body of Jewish resistance, the Hagana – have succumbed to the fatal error of making their struggle into an exclusively nationalist one. They are admittedly anti-Arab, ignoring the fact that the Arab masses suffer as much under British imperialist rule as do the Jewish masses, and that unity between the two would be the one sure way to drive the British out of Palestine. The terrorists are, many of them, even against organizations of Jewish workers into trade unions, for they oppose prosecution of the class struggle if it means conflict between Jewish workers and Jewish capitalists.

The result of this policy is obvious: their fanatical nationalism drives the Arab masses directly into the hands of both the reactionary Arab League and the British rulers. The Jewish terrorists, by their extreme nationalism, their refusal to cooperate with the Arab masses and their rejection of trade union unity between Jewish and Arab workers, sharpen the fatal split between Arab and Jewish masses in Palestine. And so long as that split exists, British rule in Palestine is secure.

Think, however, what a powerful anti-imperialist blow could be struck by the heroism, daring and devotion of the Jewish and Arab masses in a joint anti-imperialist bloc to drive out the foreign oppressor and substitute a democratic independent Palestine in which the rights of both majority and minority were respected. In that case, British rule would not be secure; it would be trembling for its future.

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