Labour Monthly

War Effects in Palestine and the Near East

I Rennap

Source : Labour Monthly January 1940, No. 1. pp.48-55
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.

To spend the day outside the public buildings of Jerusalem is to see all sorts of deputations .... deputations of unemployed from the citrus and building industries who have become unemployed through the war .... deputations of newly-arrived immigrants unable to find work .... deputations of merchants who are sorely pressed through loss of export markets .... deputations of industrialists on whom credit restrictions are having a catastrophic effect …. many other deputations of a similar character come and go practically every day.

These lines, written by the Jerusalem correspondent of the London Jewish Times (November 23, 1939), summarise in a nutshell the catastrophic effects of the war on the peoples of Palestine.

The citrus industry, the backbone of Palestine's economy, is in a parlous state. More than half the crop cannot be marketed abroad. The banks are sharply restricting credits; while Arab and Jewish citrus growers are faced with ruin. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (November 28, 1939), reports that "There is hardly a citrus grower in the country who is solvent."

The Jewish and Arab workers, however, are the worst sufferers. Tens of thousands of these workers and their families are dependent for their livelihood on the citrus industry. Unemployment has shot up tremendously; whilst strikes and all kinds of labour disputes are becoming more frequent.

The shattering effect of the war on Palestine and on the Arab lands in the Near East is bound to have far reaching effects on both the Jews and the Arabs under British and French imperialist rule. It must accelerate in the Near East a process already sharply developing in all the colonial countries in this second Imperialist war, namely, the movement of the colonial peoples who will seize the first opportunity to strike a blow for their national independence.

British and French Imperialism are well aware of this danger in the Near East, which, for them, is a vitally strategic spot on their Imperial lines of communication. To safeguard their strategic aims in this area they are attempting to make use of the method which, for them, proved so successful in the last war. This method is to make once again the Arabs and Jews their pawns in the Near East, in order to further their Imperialist war aims. In this task they are being assisted by the reactionŽary Arab and Jewish leaders. Four factors point in this direction: (a) the support given to the war by the Egyptian and Iraqi GovernŽments; (b) the new pro-British orientation of the dominant Arab Palestine leadership; (c) the recently concluded Anglo-Turkish pact; and (d) the Zionist pledge to support British war aims.


Soon after the outbreak of war the Egyptian and Iraqi Governments declared their intention of fulfilling their Treaty obligations to Britain and came in on the side of the Allies. By so doing these pro-British puppet governments did not reflect the feeling of their working peoples on whose shoulders will be thrust the burden of the war. The Arabs in the Near East, who know only too well what Imperialism means after 20 years of British and French rule, are not anxious to sacrifice themselves to defend a system which has brought them bombardment from the air, the blowing up of whole working-class districts, and the orphaning of thousands of children. The anti-imperialist feeling among these peoples reflected itself in the wave of sympathy and support for the revolt of the Palestine Arabs and their bitter hatred of the repressive measures taken against the Palestine Arabs by the British military. Yet the Egyptian and Iraqi Governments are helping to tie the Arab world -- where there is such strong anti-imperialist feeling -- to the war machine of the Allies. Particularly have they made every effort to help the British Government drag in the dominant Palestine Arab leadership behind British Imperialist war aims.

Among the Palestine Arab leaders Britain has long had her trusted agents and supporters. The "moderate" Arabs, the pro-British Nashashibis, pledged their support to Britain within a week of war being declared. But the Arab Higher Committee, which is still recognised as the dominant leadership of the Palestine Arabs, had to be strongly prevailed upon to abandon their anti-British stand. Falastin and Ad Difa, the organs of the Arab Higher Committee, may have published long leading articles calling upon the Arabs to support Britain. But Whitehall, even now, is still suspicious of the wily and scheming Mufti who has been exiled from Palestine. The Egyptian and Iraqi Governments, however, have come to the help of Britain. Every pressure has been brought to bear on the Mufti and his followers on the Arab Higher Committee to come to terms with Britain. And the result of the backdoor negotiations between these Palestine Arab leaders and the Egyptian and Iraqi Ministers, representing Whitehall, appears to be that the Mufti is making a bid "for reconciliation with the British Government and a return to Palestine." He is reported to have even accepted, in principle, the proposals in the White Paper (in which certain limited concessions and promises of reforms are made to the Palestine Arabs which definitely check Zionist development in Palestine, and which the Arab Higher Committee categorically rejected when it was first issued). That the Mufti may now be coming to terms with Britain is quite understandable. No doubt he had expected the war to extend immediately to the Mediterranean through Italy coming in on the side of Germany. This might have created possibilities for an Arab revolt against Britain and France with Axis support. This possibility has faded with Italy, meantime, remaining neutral. MoreŽover, it has been known for some time that a secret agreement existed between the Mufti and the Nazi Government whereby the former would be made, with Nazi support, head of a united Palestine-Syrian state, linked up with the Third Reich. Now it appears that Von Papen, the German Ambassador to Turkey, "offered" Palestine, Syria, the Mosul oil-fields and even Iran to Turkey in return for Turkish support of Nazi Imperialist aims. The Mufti, therefore, may have come to the conclusion that to-day, in the present war situation, he can expect precious little from his Nazi Allies; and that on balance, the interests of that section of the Arab landlord and capitalist classes which are represented by the Arab Higher Committee, can best be served by reaching a compromise with British Imperialism. Thus the Mufti and his clique have become, in common with the pro-British Arab monarchs and their governments, the recruiting sergeants of Britain. They are definitely the enemies of the Arab people and of Arab national liberaŽtion. They have become agents of Imperialism, assisting Britain to draw in the Palestine Arabs in particular and the Arab peoples as a whole with their aspirations for national freedom from all Imperialism, into an Imperialist war to defend and perpetuate that Imperialist system which will always enslave them.

But these British Arab reactionaries are not the only allies of Britain and their aims in the Eastern Mediterranean. The recently concluded Anglo-Turkish treaty has for its immediate aim to bring Turkey, which has always opposed Arab Nationalist aims because she has considered them a challenge to her hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean, into the orbit of the Allies against Nazi Imperialism. The ground for this recent alliance had already been prepared last summer by France ceding to Turkey the Sanjak of Alexandretta in the teeth of hostile opposition by the Syrian nationalists. Now Turkey has been swung in completely on the side of the Allies with fat financial subsidies from Britain. One of the results of this pact is that Turkey is now Britain's gendarme in the Near East and will be used as such against any Arab attempt for National Freedom.

In spite of all these intrigues and Imperialist double-dealing at the expense of the Arab peoples, the seeds of a new wave of revolts are already inherent in the Near East. Syria, since last spring, when the constitution was suspended and when this was followed later by the ceding of the Sanjak, has been a seething cauldron of revolt. The suppression of the French Communists in the name of "fighting for democracy" has had no small effect on the Syrian working people. For the French Communist Party was the only party in the Chamber to demand strongly the ratification of the Franco-Syrian Treaty; while the Syrian Communist Party has a fairly wide influence among the Syrian workers. In Palestine, the revolt of 1936, the most wideŽspread and deep-rooted of all the Arab revolts in Palestine since 1920, has, in the main, been crushed. But the first few months of the war have already inflicted terrible hardships on an already suffering Arab population -- as well as on the Jews. A continuation and intensification of these hardships will force them, in common with the other colonial peoples, to seize their opportunity and strike once again for their independence. Already voices are being heard among the younger and more progressive; leaders in Palestine that the Iraqi and Egyptian Governments, as well as the Nashashibis and other Palestine Arab leaders, are not voicing the sentiments of the Arab peoples. This they disclosed in a letter sent to the Colonial Secretary, declaring that if this war is for the victory of freedom and democracy, Britain (as well as France) desiring Arab support for such a war must give the Arabs their National rights. The continuation and the possible extension of the war to the Near East, which may result in the Arab people receiving some of the hardest knocks in this war, will undoubtedly push forward these more progressive elements at the expense of the present Arab "leaders" who have now become the flunkeys of Whitehall. And, above all, the declaration of the Indian people within a month of war being declared that they will not fight for Imperialism is bound to have far reaching effects on the Arab masses in the Near East.

It is within this broad setting of the second Imperialist war, and the perspectives which this opens up for impending Colonial National revolutions in general, and the Arabian movement for independence in particular, that the future and security of the Jews in Palestine must be viewed by every progressive, Zionist or non-Zionist. For it must be remembered that in Palestine there are to-day half a million Jews whose right to be in Palestine and live their own national life, side by side with their Arab neighbours, unmolested and free from persecution cannot be denied. But at the same time it must also be noted that the Yishuv (Palestine Jewry) is situated not only within a key point of what may become an important theatre of war, but what may also become a key point in the impending struggles of the colonial peoples, in the Near and Middle East. Therefore, it becomes imperative to consider what great dangers for the Yishuv and its future progress lie in the promise given by the Zionist leaders pledging the support of the Yishuv and the Zionist movement to the Imperialist war aims of the Allies.


The outbreak of war found the Yishuv and the Zionist movement undergoing a crisis unequalled in the whole of their history. Last May, when the White Paper was issued, saw the cynical tearing up of the Balfour Declaration when it could no longer further British Imperialist aims in Palestine. For twenty years the Zionist leaders had believed and had called upon the world to believe that Britain would keep the promise made to the Zionist leaders by Balfour in 1917 on behalf of the British Government. Britain, they asserted, would give every support to the establishment of a Jewish National Home and, subŽsequently, a Jewish State in Palestine. In doing this the Zionist leaders became a party to British aims in dominating Palestine. This alliance of the Zionist leaders with British Imperialism in the last war, which was consecrated in the Balfour Declaration, meant, in effect, that the innocent Jewish settler who came to start life anew in Palestine, as well as the Yishuv as a whole, became an instrument used by Britain against Arab Nationalist aims. Behind the humbug of restoring a people to its old homeland, the honest and sincere national aspirations of a section of Jewry were unscrupulously played of by Britain against the striving for National Independence of the Palestine Arabs as a means with which to rule over Palestine. This Imperialist policy, to which the present Zionist leaders were a party, brought bloody conflicts and antagonisms between the two peoples where none had hitherto existed. But, with the Fascist drive into the Arab world in recent years, it became necessary for Whitehall to dish out some kind of "appeasement" to the Arabs. This "appeasement" was the White Paper, which repudiated the Balfour Declaration when Zionism could no longer serve as an instruŽment of rule over Palestine, and "rewarded" the Zionist leaders for their twenty years of faithful service to Britain -- with minority rights for the Yishuv. The White Paper struck the Jewish world like a thunderŽbolt. Never before had there been expressed such bitter anti-ChamberŽlain feeling within the Yishuv and the whole of Jewry. Britain had broken her pledge to the Zionists; and a realisation of how much faith could be put into any Imperialist promise was steadily seeping in among the Jews in Palestine and the rank and file of the Zionist movement. Even those faithful servants of Whitehall, Dr. Chaim Weizman and Ben Gurion, the Zionist leaders, were compelled to say that Britain had acted treacherously. The bitterest attacks were made on the White Paper and its authors at the 21st Zionist Congress held last August. But at this same congress, which took place just prior to the outbreak of the war, these same Zionist leaders pledged the support of the Yishuv and their movement to British war aims. Once again, as in 1914, behind high sounding phrases that this war is one for the defence of small and weak nations, these same leaders are dragging the sincere aspirations and hopes of a section of Jewry into the vortex of Imperialist power politics with the foolish hope that this time they may get a just reward, perhaps some "new" Balfour Declaration which will not suffer the same fate as the one of 1917. Like the Bourbons these Zionist leaders have forgotten nothing and learned nothing from the preceding twenty years of British rule in Palestine. Weizman, speaking recently in London, proudly compared this period with the one of 1914, when the Zionist Movement also threw in its weight with the Allies. And the conclusion he drew from this comparison was that support of the Allies meant "supporting the Yishuv in advancing to its goal!"

Thus, the Zionist leaders are feverishly throwing themselves into the work of helping to organise the Jews of Palestine on a war basis. A hundred and thirty thousand Jews have been organised for the defence of Palestine. The Jewish Agency has already offered the War Office Jewish units for military service in Palestine; while the Zionist Review of November 3, 1939, complains about the Palestine administration "hesitating so long and so obviously to accept the recruitment of Jewish units." Davar, the reactionary organ of the Histadrut (Palestine Federation of Labour), has carried a controversy whether the Palestine Jews should serve in the armed forces in Palestine or on the Western Front. The Arabs, meanwhile, are being strongly criticised for lack of enthusiasm for the cause of the Allies.

All this is being watched apprehensively by the Arabs in Palestine. In this voluntary Jewish force for "National Defence" they see an instrument which may be used against them to keep "law and order" in Palestine should the occasion arise.

Weizman is attempting to make the Yishuv into a tool which may be used to prevent the Arab people from striking once again for their National freedom. And in doing this Weizman is placing the Yishuv on the mouth of a volcano. This second Imperialist war has placed the renewed and intensified struggles of the colonial peoples for National Independence on the order of the day; and when the objective situaŽtion is ripe for this, they will sweep from their path every stumbling-block which will be placed there by their Imperialist rulers. In PalesŽtine Weizman policy is one which will make the Yishuv the gendarme of British reaction against any revival of Arab activity for National liberation. Such a policy must be opposed by every progressive, for it spells disaster for the Yishuv. No right thinking person, Zionist or Non-Zionist, can allow a section of an oppressed people to become a tool to help in stifling the struggle for freedom of another oppressed people.

In past issues of this journal we have shown the bankruptcy and and danger of Weizman's pro-Imperialist policy. To-day, in the present war situation, his policy is even more dangerous for the Yishuv. In the past we have pointed to a more progressive leadership in the Zionist ranks around which the progressive element in the Yishuv must be mobilised, as an alternative leadership to that of Weizman. To-day, it is even more necessary for us to do so, in view of the danger in which Weizman's policy is placing the Yishuv, and also to bring, into the open that which the Zionists seek to hide, namely, that in Palestine there are elements among the Zionist leaders who oppose Weizman's policy because they realise, as we do, what it will lead to. These progressive Zionist leaders have a policy which can become the basis of bringing together both peoples in Palestine.


In the Jewish Times (November 28, 1939) there is a report of an interŽview with Khalvariski, a veteran Zionist leader, who for years has stood at the head of the Arab department of the Zionist Organisation and has genuinely and sincerely worked for an honourable understanding with the Arabs. He declared that even to-day it is not too late to reach such an understanding. He complained that "the Zionist leaders who not long ago admitted their past mistakes in regard to their attitude to the Arabs have not yet to this day changed their past attitude." He said further that mere loyalty to Britain and dependence on her "gratiŽtude" in return for services rendered is no solution of the Arab Jewish problem. It can only bring "the same results as those which followed the last war." One path only remains -- the one of genuinely seeking an understanding with the Arabs.

How can this be done? From among many constructive proposals which can help tremendously to bring together Arabs and Jews he proposes the joint organisation of the Arab and Jewish peasantry in mixed co-operative and peasant organisations with the Arab peasant benefiting from the superior agricultural methods of the Jewish farmer. These organisations would defend the interests of the peasantry as a whole. He proposes also the establishment by the Jewish Agency of credit institutions to give assistance to the needy Arab peasants. Particularly does he stress the necessity of organising the Arab and Jewish workers in joint Trade Union associations. It becomes clear from this interview that his proposals are definitely aimed at organisationally bringing together the labouring and progressive sections of both peoples into joint economic and political activity for the benefit of Jews and Arabs alike. And he remarks significantly that the cost to the Jews of putting these proposals into operation would have been a fraction of the cost of the damage sustained by the Yishuv through three years of unrest and conflict in Palestine.

Such proposals might have come from Koel Haam ("Voice of the People"), the organ of the illegal C.P. of Palestine, which has conŽtinually worked for an Arab Jewish understanding along similar lines as a basis for joint Arab Jewish struggle against Imperialism for a free liberated Palestine. Yet Khalvariski is no Communist. Neither is he an anti-imperialist. He is an honest, well respected and far-seeing Zionist leader who for a long period has held the highest positions in the Zionist organisation. For years he has realised the reactionary character of Weizman's pro-Imperialist policy and has not been afraid to criticise it sharply and warn the Yishuv of its dangerous consequences. Khalvariski is one of the leading figures of a group calling itself Al Paroshus Darchainu ("at the parting of our ways"), in which are represented other Zionist leaders like Kaplanski, Dr Magnes and left-wing elements of the Histadrut (Palestine Federation of Labour), who hold similar views to Khalvariski and who are working for an Arab Jewish understanding on the lines mentioned above.

It must be made clear that Khalvariski's proposals do not go as far as the liberation of Palestine and the Near East from Imperialism. But the unity and fraternisation of the Jewish and Arab toiling peoples in joint peasant and workers' organisations to defend their common economic and political interests can form the basis on which both peoples can be drawn together in common struggle against the common enemy. For Imperialist reaction and its agents among the Arabs and Jews will do everything to prevent this fraternisation. But they will fail if this joint organisation of both peoples is carried out effectively and with goodwill on both sides. And in the coming struggle which will follow, as the blows of the war fall more heavily on the peoples of the Near East, the Yishuv, and particularly its toiling elements, will begin to learn more and more from close co-operation with the Arabs that its destiny is linked up with the cause of Arab liberation and its inevitable victory in a free and liberated Near East, which will then be able to absorb many thousand of suffering persecuted Jews who seek to start life anew in that part of the world. On the other hand, the Arabs will also learn from co-operation with the Jews the great role the Yishuv can play as the leaven in a nationally awakening Near East to the economic and cultural advantage of the Arab world.

The historic task of organising the Jewish and Arab working masses against Imperialism and its war aims with its Arab and Jewish recruiting sergeants falls upon the organised Jewish workers in the Histadrut. In the present sharpening situation, when the present Arab leadership is rotten to the core, and when the more progressive Arab leadership is still weak and without mass influence, the Jewish working-class movement of Palestine, numbering 108,000, must throw off its reactionary anti-Arab and pro-Imperialist leaders like Ben Gurion and become the force in Palestine which can unite the Jewish and Arab working people. This would draw round itself all progressive elements from both sides. In this way can the Histadrut build up what could become in Palestine the spearhead of the drive against Imperialism and the war, and play a decisive role in the great liberation movements which will shake the Near East. Only along these lines lie freedom and self-determination for the Yishuv and the Arab peoples in a free, liberated Palestine and Near East.