THE JEWS IN PALESTINE
Israel Mattuck, 21 April 1938
Twenty-one years ago the Balfour Declaration was promulgated, promising the Jews a national home in Palestine. The promise was made to the Zionists – that is to the Jews who wanted a national home in Palestine. At the same time it was guaranteed the undiminished civil and religious rights of the inhabitants of the land. Three years later, the promise was embodied and implemented in the mandate for Palestine entrusted to Great Britain by the League of Nations. Since then, there have been two outstanding lines of development. Firstly, the country has been extensively developed economically by Jewish immigrants and by capital supplied by Jews either as charity or for investment. It is generally agreed that the Arabs have shared in the economic advantages. The other development has been in a growing animosity among Arabs against the Jews, expressing itself in opposition to the immigration of Jews and to the purchase of land by Jews, the two chief economic factors in the upbuilding of the national home, and in outbursts of violence against the Jews. The first came as early as 1922, and there have been [more] since then, 1929 [riots], and the longest sustained attack which began in 1936 and still continues. In the nature of things an attack on the Jews is an attack on the Mandatory and its Government in Palestine.
The problem in the relations between Arabs and Jews in Palestine has so grown in intensity that the Commission sent out in 1936 to investigate the conditions decided that it could only be solved by dividing the country into a Jewish, Arab and British part. The British Government was the only party in the conflict that was prepared to accept that solution. The Arabs opposed it vehemently, the Zionists were divided in their attitude, many opposed it as vehemently as the Arabs, and others expressed a willingness to suspend judgment until the details were decided. The British Government appointed still another commission to settle the details. In the meantime, the opposition of the Arabs increased in violence until it has grown into a full-sized rebellion.
The avowed aim of the Arabs is the abolition of the mandate, with the cancellation of the Balfour Declaration. They want to prevent the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Hence they demand the cessation of immigration, the prohibition of the further purchase of land by Jews, and the establishment of a legislative body to rule the country on the basis of its present population. That would give them political rule over the country. They supplement their demands with the promise of a guarantee for the political, religious and cultural rights of the Jews now in the country.
The Zionists, on the other hand, ask for a full execution of the mandate in the letter and spirit, which to them means immigration restricted only by the economic position and possibilities of the country, and no restrictions on their ,activities such as land purchase for purely political reasons. Those conditions are indispensable to the upbuilding of the national home which they were promised.
The issue is clear. So, too, is the cogency of the arguments on both sides. The Arabs maintain that Palestine belongs to them; they have possessed it for fifteen centuries. It is unjust to dispossess them. The upbuilding of the Jewish national home, they say, would dispossess them. The Zionists maintain that the historical association of the Jews with Palestine, and the right of the Jews to a national home there, has been internationally recognised and that they have been promised the opportunity to establish a national home there.
Wherever our natural sympathies lie, we have to admit that each side has some measure of right. The problem would be simpler if the right was all on one side. But out of the two rights issue aims that are quite irreconcilable. When the appeal is made, as it has been made by some Zionists as well as others, that Jews and Arabs should meet together around a table to discuss and solve the problem of their mutual relations, it implies that there is something to be said in justification of both sets of claims. There was perhaps a time when a way out of the difficulty might have been found by this method. But the relations have now been so gravely embittered that the success of such a conference has been made remote. There is no use discussing now who is to blame for Palestine's unhappy state. Perhaps none of the three parties involved in the conflict is wholly guiltless. Perhaps, too, some of the fault lies outside all of them. The poison of self-centred nationalism may have vitiated the life of Palestine as it has vitiated the life of Europe.
The problem is further complicated by the persecution of the Jews in Europe. There are over a million Jews in Central Europe whose life has been so broken that they have an urgent, a tragic, need for new homes. It is easy to argue, as the Times said some weeks ago, that their problem should be kept separate from the problem in Palestine. But that is impossible. It is the only country of the world where Jews have been given a recognised right. But it is not, in the last analysis, a matter of right; it is a matter of humanity.
For those Jews who are not interested in Jewish Nationalism, the needs of the persecuted Jews is the beginning of the approach to the problem. That means to the majority of Jews, for they are interested in Palestine as a place of refuge, not as a national homeland. At first, it was as a place of refuge for the Jews in Eastern Europe, whose economic plight has grown more and more deplorable. And now the oppression of the Jews in Germany and Italy has added to the number who need a place of refuge. The nonZionist asks for a solution that shall be controlled by that fact.
Palestine cannot supply a refuge for all who need it. The number is too great, and Palestine is too small. In the eighteen years since the mandate, the Jewish population of Palestine has grown by about 300,000. In the five years of the persecution of the Jews in Germany, some 40,000 German Jews have settled in Palestine. It may be argued that the economic development in Palestine makes possible a growing rate of immigration, but there are also factors working in the opposite direction. No one can say in advance when the saturation point will be reached. It is most unlikely that the millions of which the Zionists speak are anywhere near realms of possibility. But, on the other hand, it is reasonably evident that Palestine has room for more people - without doing any hurt to the economic position of its present population. Is it not fair in all humanity to ask that its doors be not unnecessarily slammed, in the face of those Jews who would seek there a place of refuge from intolerable oppression? In this all Jews and all humanitarians would agree.
But now I have to say something which will in some Jews evoke vehement disagreement and even, I am afraid, resentment; but I feel it must be said. It is this. If the price of immigration into Palestine is the sacrifice of nationalist aims, the price ought to be paid. Lord Samuel suggested a plan that has the possible elements of a solution. Dr. Weizmann was angry about it, because it stipulated that for a period of years the number of Jews in Palestine be limited to 40 percent of the total population, so as to remove the Arabs’ fears of domination. The Zionists resent the suggestion. But if it promises peace, and continued immigration though limited, it is better than larger demands that mean continued conflict.
What it comes to is this. For the sake of peace, Palestine in order that the largest possible number of Jews might find refuge there, political Jewish nationalism must be prepared to make a sacrifice - it may be a very large sacrifice. A non-Zionist Jew may be suspected of counselling the sacrifice of what he always disliked. But that suspicion cannot attach to Lord Samuel nor, I assume, to a writer who some weeks ago outlined a similar plan in the Jewish Chronicle.
The problem is, however, about the security of the Jews in Palestine. There seems to be the belief among some that the only way to guarantee that security is by the fulfilment of their nationalist aims. From the present position it is obvious that there would be insecurity. A guarantee from Great Britain and France would be worth more. Whatever doubts there may be about the value of such a guarantee, it would yet supply a more certain basis of security than the strength of a political Jewish entity surrounded by a hostile Arab world.
The needs of the Jews who need a new home must be uppermost. Those needs should be kept separate from political ends. The question, from the Jewish point of view, is what in the present position in Palestine, is the best way of utilising that country as a place of refuge for suffering Jews? Philanthropic considerations must predominate, and philanthropic considerations offer a better hope of agreement.