Source : Labour Monthly August 1937, No.8 (pp.465-472)
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.
The Royal Commission's Report on Palestine is a document of great importance, and deserves close attention, both from those who are concerned for the future happiness of the people of Palestine, and from those who have a scientific interest in the character and methods of imperialism.
One value of the Report is that it is, in some respects, surprisingly honest. It acknowledges facts which have hitherto been generally sup¬pressed or distorted. The following, for instance, is a quite objective account of the character of the 1936 disturbances:
It has been pointed out that the outbreak of 1933 was not only, or even mainly, an attack on the Jews, but an attack on the Palestine Govern¬ment. In 1936 this was still clearer. Jewish lives were taken and Jewish property destroyed; but the outbreak was chiefly and directly aimed at the Government. The word "disturbances" gives a mis¬leading impression of what happened. It was an open rebellion of the Palestinian Arabs, assisted by fellow-Arabs from other countries, against British Mandatory rule.
The analysis of the underlying causes of the revolt is fair, too, in its general conclusions. These causes, the Commission finds, were:
(i) The desire of the Arabs for national independence.
(ii) Their hatred and fear of the establishment of the Jewish National Home.
Arab hatred and fear, that is to say, not of the fact that Jews should find a home in. Palestine, but of the fact that an alien and unwanted Government should establish a specially privileged and protected community of Jews there, as an instrument of its policy, without consulting the wishes or interests of the existing inhabitants.
The conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine, the Report goes on to explain, is not:
in its essence an inter-racial conflict arising from any old instinctive antipathy of Arabs towards Jews. There was little or no friction .... between Arab and Jew in the rest of the Arab world until the strife in Palestine engendered it. And there has been precisely the same political trouble in Iraq, Syria and Egypt -- agitation, rebellion and bloodshed -- where there are no "National Homes." Quite obviously, then, the problem of Palestine is political. The last statement is important, though it sounds a platitude. It is, taken in its context, an admission that the Arab-Jewish conflict is only a by-product of the national struggle of the Palestine Arabs against imperialism. This struggle is, in its essential characteristics, the same as any other anti-imperialist struggle. It has taken on an anti-Jewish appearance only because the Zionists in Palestine have hitherto tried to build their national home behind the barbed wire of British imperialism.
Coming to the future, the Report admits that both Jews and Arabs are qualified for self-government, that neither community can be expected to acquiesce in the continuance of the present alien bureaucratic regime, and that, as far at any rate as the Arabs are concerned, this regime "can only be maintained in Palestine for any length of time by a rigorous system of repression."
But it will not be necessary, in the Commission's view, to resort to repression, if both Arabs and Jews have the good sense to recognise what is good for them and accept the liberal offer of partition. The Commission's viewpoint has been echoed by the British Press. The whole range of dailies, from the Manchester Guardian and Daily Herald to the Morning Post, supports the principle of partition. Only the Daily Express, from an isolationist, and the Daily Worker, from an anti-imperialist, point of view oppose the scheme.
It seems to be as easy for the Government to induce the public to accept a new policy as a new king. For the last twenty years British policy in Palestine has been based on the assumption that her obligations to Arabs and Jews were compatible. Each successive Colonial Secretary has frequently assured the House of Commons that the establishment of a Jewish National Home was compatible with the safeguarding of Arab rights (including the right to self-government). This dogma was asserted by Mr. Ormsby-Gore as recently as June 19, 1936, in the course of the House of Commons Palestine debate.
"The sole aim," he said, "of His Majesty's Government is to obtain an objective and non-partisan report, to enable them to do justice to all sections of the Palestine population. I am convinced that on the basis of the recommendations of such a Commission, a means can be found, within the framework of the Mandate, with its dual obligations to Jews and non-Jews, to secure that end."
Contrast that statement, one of dozens, with the following passage from the Report:
Nor do we suggest that the obligations Britain undertook towards the Arabs and the Jews some twenty years ago have lost in moral or legal weight through what has happened since. The trouble is that they have proved irreconcilable; and, as far ahead as we can see, they must continue to conflict. To put it in one sentence, we cannot, in Palestine as it now is, both concede the Arab claim to self-government and secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home.
Is this an example of the honesty of the British Government? Of its willingness to admit mistakes when they are pointed out to it? No¬thing of the sort. It is an example simply of the flexibility of British imperialism, of the ease with which it is prepared to shift its ground from one policy to another as expediency demands. Britain has never been so innocent as to suppose that the Zionist claim to a National Home and the Arab claim to self-government were reconcilable, or that a British Mandate could reconcile them. But so long as it suited Britain to control Palestine through the instrument of a Mandate the Dogma of Compatibility was kept up. And the Arabs, who denied the dogma, and revolted to enforce their, claim, were repressed in the name of the dogma. But the recent revolt and repression cost about 1,000 Arab lives; 90 Jewish lives; 21 British lives; and about £3½ million to the taxpayers of Palestine. These events showed plainly that the Mandate was now useless as the instrument of British imperialism. To continue to operate it would mean a continuation of serious bloodshed and financial loss, involving loss of British prestige and a weakening of her position in the Mediterranean. Consequently, it was necessary to evolve a new policy which should (a) give Britain as firm a foothold as the Mandate gave her; (b) relieve her of responsibility for public security; (c) satisfy sections of both communities. These conditions were fulfilled by partition. Rule through the Mandate has consequently been dropped, and rule through partition is to begin. It is now the Dogma of Incompatibility that is necessary for salvation.
The partition proposals, which the Commission has recommended and the Government has in principle accepted, can be briefly summarised as follows.
Two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish, are to be created by partition of the present territory of Palestine. The British Government will conclude treaties with each of these states on the lines of the treaties already concluded between Britain and Iraq and between France and Syria. Roughly speaking, the Jewish state is to consist of the Mari-time Plain, from a point about ten miles north of Majdal up to the Lebanon frontier, plus the Plain of Esdraelon and the whole of the hill country of Galilee. The Arab state is to consist of the hill country of Samaria and Judaea, the Jordan valley, the Beersheba desert, and the town of Jaffa, together with the whole of Trans-Jordan (at present under a separate Mandate). A third wedge-shaped area, running up from Jaffa to a point east of Jerusalem, and including Jerusalem and the Lydda air-base, is to be placed under a new permanent British Mandate, with the ostensible object of protecting the Holy Places as "a sacred trust of civilisation." The administration of Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee is also to fall within this Mandate, as is the port of Aqaba on an arm of the Red Sea.
The Arab state is to have free access for commercial purposes to Haifa port; similarly the Jewish state is to have free access to Aqaba and the Egyptian frontier.
According to the Royal Commission's estimate, the area allotted to the Jewish state supports a population of about 225,000 Arabs, while in the area allotted to the Arab state there are about 1,250 Jews. The Commission proposes a transference of these minority populations, and the resettlement of the Arab minority within the Arab state. The cost of settlement and of development of land for settlement should be borne partly by a subvention from the Jewish state, partly by a grant from the British Treasury.
In spite of the plausibility of the arguments which the Commission advances for partition and its apparent anxiety to do the best for all concerned, it is the duty of the British Labour Movement to recognise the really reactionary character of these proposals and to throw its energy into resisting them.
By partition the British Government continues to withhold from the Palestine Arabs their right to national independence, and from the Jews their right to participate with the Arabs in the life and government of a united independent Palestine on terms of equal citizenship.
Imperialism has frequently sought to check the national liberation movements of subject peoples by division along racial, religious, or cultural lines. The original establishment in the Arab territories of a Mandate system instead of the united independent state which the Arab peoples desired was one example of this policy. The French division of Syria into five separate administrative areas -- Syria, the Lebanon, the Jebel Druse, the Alaouites, and the Sanjak of Alexandretta, each to a greater or less extent under French control -- was another. Both these partitions have been a constant source of rebellion and unrest. Now, however, Syria has achieved a real measure of unification. But Palestine is to suffer a fresh dismemberment.
The Report tries to justify partition in the following way. The Arabs and Jews, it argues, have shown themselves incapable of living together as a single united people. Arab loyalty is towards the Arab political leaders and the Arab national idea; Jewish loyalty is to the Zionist political leaders and the Jewish National Home. Logically, therefore, fulfilment should be given to the national aspirations of both peoples through the creation of two separate national states.
No Socialist can expect this argument. The Palestine situation cannot be explained by speaking of it as though Arabs and Jews were two naughty children who had to be shut up in separate rooms by Britain in order to produce peace. Such a picture does not even square with the Report's own analysis. As was stated above, the Report makes it plain that Arab-Jewish antagonism has been the product of two factors -- the Man¬date and the Balfour Declaration. British imperialism has used these two instruments to maintain her position in Palestine. Zionism has used them to build a Jewish National Home. This interlocking of the policy of Zionism with the policy of British imperialism has meant that the Arabs, in their revolt against British rule, have necessarily been brought into conflict with the Jews.
Previous to the War, Jews and Arabs lived peacefully together in Palestine. They are living peacefully together to-day in Bagdad, Damas¬cus and Alexandria. Since the British conquest Jews and Arabs have not succeeded in living peacefully in Palestine simply because the con¬ditions for a peaceful common life -- self-determination and equal citizen-ship -- have never existed. Now the old instrument of British imperialism, the Mandate, is to be terminated. In a united Palestine, freed from the Mandate, there should be nothing to prevent Jews and Arabs from gradually adjusting their differences and arriving at a settlement in regard to the future government of their country. But for this it is essential that Palestine should remain united, and that the Jews should accept the principle of equal citizenship; a divided Palestine, with a segregated Jewish community and the intensification of the National Home within a limited area, will act as an irritant, not as a solvent to the present antagonism.
Partition is an arrangement which is likely to intensify the existing conflict between Arabs and Jews and to create fresh causes of friction.
The only real justification of partition would be that it was an arrange¬ment genuinely desired by the Arab and Jewish masses. If it is carried through it will be in the teeth of the bitter hostility of both peoples. The Arab Higher Committee and the Jewish Agency in Palestine have both protested against the scheme. In these circumstances both peoples are bound to exploit to the full the new opportunities for conflict which statehood will give them. There will be constant tension over such questions as frontiers, tariffs, and access to the sea.
Here is one example of the way in which the creation of these two race-states is likely to intensify existing antagonism. The Arabs have since the 1936 Revolt maintained a fairly effective boycott of Jewish goods. If partition were carried through, this would enable the Arab state to develop the boycott by means of prohibitive tariffs. Probably the solidarity of the Arab world would be sufficient to extend this boycott to other Arab countries, with the result that the Jewish state would be cut off from the markets of its neighbours, to the impoverishment of both Arabs and Jews.
If Jewish industry in Palestine is to develop it requires freer access to the markets of the neighbouring Arab-speaking states. Political unification is likely to help it to obtain this access; political division is likely to hinder it. The repercussion of this fact on the question of Jewish immigration is obvious.
The Communist Party of Great Britain has correctly described the proposed transference of 225,000 Arabs from the Jewish to the Arab state as "fantastic and mischievous." In regard to this proposal there are several points that must be borne in mind.
(a) A large number of the Arabs who are to be transferred are living in purely Arab areas in the hill, villages between Acre and Safad.
(b) Arabs living in mixed areas such as the Maritime Plain and the Plain of Esdraelon are in the last resort to be transferred under Compulsion.
(c) The "instructive precedent" which the Report cites, the exchange effected between the Greek and Turkish minorities after the Greco-Turkish War of 1922, is really no precedent since, as the Report admits, "the analogy breaks down at one essential point." In Greece there was surplus land available. In Palestine there is at present no surplus: land. The Report speaks hopefully of large-scale plans for irrigation and water-storage in Trans-Jordan, Beersheba and the Jordan valley, of surveys, and authoritative estimates. But all this talk cannot cover up the fact that it is proposed to evict over 200,000 Arabs without any definite plan for their settlement. Nor is there any suggestion that the partition scheme will be dropped or modified if it is found in the end that there is nowhere to settle them.
Advocates of partition argue that transference is only a detail, which can be adjusted in future negotiations if the principle of partition is accepted. In fact, however, it is the keynote of the whole scheme. Britain cynically proposes to buy itself out of any further obligations to the Jews by this offer of the forcible expropriation of 200,000 Arabs. The Mandate has failed and is to be liquidated. The homes and lands of these Arabs represent the final payment to be made to the Zionist shareholders.
It is not unlikely that these Arab transferees will in fact be treated in the way that landless Arabs have been treated in the past. There will be a flourish of trumpets over the large sums to be spent upon develop¬ment and settlement. There will be Development Commissions and Settlement Commissions. In the end it will be found that the majority of the landless Arabs have disappeared and that the claims of a large number of those who remain are bad. In other words, most of these expropriated Arabs are likely to form a new reservoir of cheap labour in the Jewish and Arab states, while a few thousands may, for appearance sake, be settled on land elsewhere.
The proposal to terminate the Mandate is, in itself a welcome step. But partition will allow British imperialism to maintain, either directly or indirectly, a large measure of its present control in Palestine.
By securing a permanent Mandate over the Jaffa-Jerusalem enclave and the Sea of Galilee, Britain will probably strengthen her strategic position. A permanent footing in a restricted area is likely to be of greater advantage to Britain than her present unstable position as Manda¬tory for the whole of Palestine.
The Aqaba enclave will give Britain access to the Red Sea and thus control of a route to the East alternative to the Suez Canal.
Haifa (important both, as a terminus of the oil pipe line from Kirkuk and as a cruiser base), Acre, Safad, and Tiberias are to be retained under temporary British Mandate for an indefinite period, on the ground of their mixed populations.
The collection of customs at the ports and the allocation of the appro¬priate sums to the Arab State, the Jewish State, and the Mandated Are are to be entrusted for a period to Great Britain. This arrangement is likely to give her a measure of control over the revenues of the two states.
It is likely that the proposed linking of the Arab State with Trans-Jordan, which appears on the surface to be a move in the direction of Arab unity, is in fact intended to prepare the way for the establishment of the Amir Abdullah, who as ruler of Trans-Jordan has usually shown himself a good servant of British imperialism, upon the throne of the new combined state. Thus the Palestine Arabs are to be deprived of the democratically elected government which they have always demanded even in the restricted area remaining to them, and are to be submitted to the rule of a rajah.
It is clear that though in theory partition is to depend upon the consent of both communities, preparations are in fact being made to push the arrangement through by force. The Commission has spoken too definitely against the continuance of the Mandate for that to be a possible alternative. The only real possibilities, then, are partition or self government for a united Palestine. Britain will use all her weight to compel acceptance of the former. What chance is there that the people of Palestine will compel Britain to accept the latter?
Palestine will not be able to avoid partition, or a long and bloody attempt to impose partition, unless Arabs and Jews can combine to resist it. The present situation presents an exceptionally good opportunity for the formation of a united anti-imperialist front of Arabs and Jews. Neither wish to see their country mutilated. Neither want Britain permanently established in Jerusalem. Both will lose economically by the complicated political arrangements that partition involves.
There are signs that a new alignment of forces is in fact already begin¬ning. Two articles on the subject of the Palestine Report were published in Time and Tide of July 17, one by Mr. H. St. John Philby, the other by Professor Norman Bentwich. Mr. Philby, the imperialist "friend of the Arabs," welcomes partition and argues that the Arabs have obtained 23/24ths of their demands. Professor Bentwich, the moderate Zionist, opposes partition on the ground that it conflicts with the ideals and interests of both Jews and Arabs.
May not the two peoples agree to keep the integral Palestine they love, and work together for the common well-being and joint national independence?
The Jewish Chronicle of July 16, in a leading article, approaches the situation from a similar point of view.
We are convinced that a way could and should be found for Jews and Arabs to build in amity a common homeland.
Hitherto, there has been a conflict within the ranks of British imperialism between the pro-Zionist and pro-Arab sections. The Commission's Report has resolved that conflict. Both the pro-Zionists and the pro-Arabs have come down heavily in favour of partition.
Now that the imperialist forces are closing their ranks the anti-imperial¬ist forces must do the same. Progressive Zionists must recognise that in the long run they have nothing to gain from co-operation with British imperialism; that if they wish to secure peace and happiness for the Jews of Palestine and keep the Arab world open to Jewish immigration they must reach a settlement with the Arabs. The passages quoted above indicate that Zionists themselves are increasingly coining to realise that this is so.
But talk of peace and amity between Jews and Arabs is not sufficient. It is essential that Zionists should recognise that the only possible basis of settlement is the termination of the Mandate, and the establishment of an independent democratic government, with full rights of citizenship for the Jews, in a united Palestine. The British Labour Movement, too, must demand that partition be rejected and that a joint Arab-Jewish conference be summoned to determine the future of Palestine on this basis.