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Irving Howe

Gruner Execution Intensifies Palestine War

(23 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 17, 28 April, pp. 1 & 2
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

APRIL 23 – By the time these lines appear in print, unrestricted martial law may have been declared in Palestine. With the hanging of Dov Gruner and his three associates, all of them extreme Jewish nationalists charged with participating in terror activities, the smoldering and chronic warfare between Britain and the Jewish national resistance has broken out into a bitter struggle for mutual extermination.

The Irgun Zvai Leumi, extreme nationalist group, has announced that it will retaliate for the hanging of Gruner by constant attacks on the British; today an announcement from Palestine declares that a British troop train has been attacked and several British soldiers killed.

These are the bare facts. What do they mean?

The action of the British in hanging Gruner can only, be viewed with horror; it is, however, not unexpected. British imperialism has a long and bloody record of the most brutal suppression of colonial peoples: in India, Africa, the Far East, the West Indies. It has never hesitated to use force and brutality and its policy in Palestine has maintained that tradition. But not mere force and brutality. The British have been expert at the policy of divide and rule, of playing off one section of a colonial nation against another to the mutual disadvantage of both and always to Britain’s favor.

In the case of Palestine, the British have been helped immeasurably by the nationalist ideologies of the Arabs and Jews. So long as Arab could be played off against Jew, so long as their nationalist aspirations could be used to cancel each other out, the British were safe.

Gruner was unquestionably a man of great courage. He refused to testify in court on the grounds that he was a prisoner of war in the undeclared war between Britain and the Jewish nation. He refused to recognize the legality of the sentence or to appeal it. He bore himself with exemplary and proud heroism. No one can fail to admire him.

And yet, for all his heroism and for all the heroism of the others like him, we believe that his course can lead only to disaster and despair, that it cannot drive the British out of Palestine and that it cannot establish an independent Palestine.

Irgun's Policy

The policy of Irgun Zvai Leumi, to which Gruner adhered, is one of guerrilla warfare conducted by a small combat group. It is a terrorist organization in the sense that it organizes attacks on British groups and individuals. (We attach no invidious connotation to the word terrorist in this situation, for we are against the maintenance of British rule in Palestine.) The Irgun furthermore calls for a Jewish state in Palestine; it is bitterly anti-Arab and it is equally against Jewish labor groups which in any way cooperate with the Arab masses.

This policy cannot destroy imperialism because it makes impossible a joint Arab-Jewish struggle. So long as Irgun calls for Jewish domination in Palestine it drives the Arab masses into the hands of the British; and so long as the British have Arab support, they can maintain their foothold in Palestine.

The chauvinist policy of Irgun is thereby the symmetrical equivalent of the chauvinist policy of the Arab League. Bitter enemies though they may be, there is more than a trace of similarity in their nationalist ideologies. Both preclude a joint struggle of the two oppressed peoples in Palestine and make possible the endless maneuvering at which the British are so expert.

But the Irgun policy is fatal in still another respect. The use of individual terrorism, though one may sympathize with the motives which lead to it, cannot take the place of mass struggle. One can readily understand the scorn, with which the Irgun adherents view the conciliatory attitude of the official bourgeois Zionist leadership toward Britain. As a result the Irgun is trying to achieve the impossible: to substitute its fanatical will for the movement and struggle of the masses themselves.

The policy of individual terrorism is always a symptom of despair, and either the result or portent of defeat. In thote countries where it has flourished, especially Russia and Ireland, individual terrorism has usually come after a mass defeat. It is the work of heroic individuals attempting to bypass the difficult and patient task of building a mass movement. But generally speaking terrorism has not stirred the masses; it has more often emphasised the isolation of the terrorists from the masses.

Now these general historical characteristics of terrorism need not exist in exactly the same configuration in Palestine for our conclusion to apply to that country as well. Is it not clear that Irgun can only proceed from one adventure to another, isolating itself from,- even while it may simultaneously have the sympathy of, the broad masses of Palestinian Jews?

Road to Liberation

If, however, the masses of Jews in the resistance led by Haganah, the Jewish labor movement, were to cooperate with similarly constituted Arab masses – and were to do so not under the present Zionist leadership which is so bold in rhetoric and so cowardly in action, but under an aggressive revolutionary leadership – then the British could he swept into the sea.

It may be objected: the Arab masses are not organized; they are anti-Jewish. Of course. They have been fed full of prejudice for centuries by their Effendi. But the tragedy is that Irgun by its blatant chauvinism and by its anti-Arab policy drives the Arab masses away from the Jews, and the Haganah, by its failure to attempt large scale organization of Arab and Jew into one union, does nothing to bring them closer.

And so Gruner and his comrades, heroes though they are, do not point to the road to national liberation for Palestine. That road is along one simple political program: unity of the Arab and Jewish masses; for the constitution of an independent Palestine under a democratically-convened Constituent Assembly with rights of all national groups respected. That is the way to drive out the hated British imperial power.

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