Opinions of Peter Belmont
Speaking Truth to Power

When did “Jewish Homeland” become “Jewish State”

by Peter A. Belmont / 2010-10-17
© 2010 Peter Belmont


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In 1914 or 1918 or thereabouts, a sudden fast influx of Jews into Palestine (allowed in not by Palestinians but by Great Britain) scared the Palestinian Arabs because many of these immigrants were talking about creating a Jewish State in (or of) Palestine. A few Palestinians were kicked off their lands as new owners took over, but all Palestinians could imagine being kicked out of their homeland in favor of Jewish immigrants. (In fact, this is what happened in 1948.)

Trouble ensued. Some Americans think it was unmotivated violence on the part of the Palestinian Arabs.

But we give ourselves permission to cause similar trouble. There was trouble in the USA in 1942 when Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes (for internment within the USA) without a hint of disloyalty ever having been shown, and there was trouble in the USA after 9/11 when Muslim and South Asian men were arrested in large numbers, in each case because Americans were scared.

The Palestinians had a right to be scared as Jews talked about a Jewish State on Palestinian land and the Palestinians, having no control over the government (GB governed them) resorted to violence.

Who are we to call them wrong?

I sometimes wonder when the Zionist idea of the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine (so much in the news in 2010) first erupted as a threat (“existential threat”?) into the minds of the Palestinian Arab people, motivating the antipathy and violence toward the new European Jewish immigrants which has continued from as early as 1920 until today.

By much evidence, the softening phrase “Jewish Homeland” which was used in the Balfour Declaration of 11/1917 was intended to blunt the more direct phrase “Jewish State” which was already by 1917 the goal of many Jewish immigrants to Palestine and a goal known to the Palestinian Arab community.

Did Arabs attack Jews without provocation (as some genteel Zionists seem to believe) or was Zionist talk of a Jewish State in part of (or in all of) Palestine “in the air” and as frightening to Palestinian Arabs as, for example, talk of “terrorists” is in the USA today and was after 9/11, resulting in the round-ups of large numbers of Muslims and South Asians, and as the presence of Japanese-Americans was in the USA of 1942, resulting in the infamous internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII?

Americans have seen fear (whether or not justified) turned into mass action, even government action, against feared minorities. Are we surprised that Palestinian Arabs—learning that an in-flooding of Jewish immigrants intended to create a Jewish State in Palestine, displacing themselves—became fearful and, lacking any power over the government, which was British and which was itself responsible for the influx of Jews, resorted to violence?

And are we morally superior to them, we who drop bombs world-wide because we fear some usually-undefined interference with our corporate trade? After all, Jews were immigrating into Palestine in waves and talking about forming a Jewish State. This was not an abstract threat. When we, Americans, are willing to arrest thousands of Muslims just because a few of them might prove to be terrorists, can we blame the Palestinians for fearing and fighting the European Jewish immigrants when many of these very immigrants were spewing frightening proposals for taking from them their homeland?

Palestinians appear to have become fearful of Jewish colonialist designs in 12/1918 if not before. Some talk of a Jewish State had occurred, of course, in 1896, when Theodore Herzl published his book “Der Judenstaat” (“The State of the Jews”) proposing a Jewish State, but the location of this state in Palestine was not firmly stated in that book. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was working for a Jewish state already in 1914, even before the Balfour declaration (11/1917) had been made, before it had introduced the temporizing language of “Jewish Homeland” in place of the more inflamatory language, “Jewish State”, for which many Zionists were doubtless agitating.

In 10/1915 Britain had promised that Palestine would be “Arab and independent in the future” (that is Arab, not Jewish or even mixed). By 12/1918 there had already been substantial Jewish immigration, talk of a Jewish State (heard by Arabs), and Arab violence against the Jewish immigration. Didn’t take long.

At 1920 Palestine riots we read:

On 5 December 1918, The Eastern Committee of the British Cabinet met to discuss the future of Palestine. Lord Curzon chaired the meeting. General Smuts, Lord Balfour, Lord Robert Cecil, General Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, T. E. Lawrence, and representatives of the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Treasury were present. Lord Curzon stated:

’The Palestine position is this. If we deal with our commitments, there is first the general pledge to Hussein in October 1915, under which Palestine was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future . . . Great Britain and France - Italy subsequently agreeing - committed themselves to an international administration of Palestine in consultation with Russia, who was an ally at that time . . . A new feature was brought into the case in November 1917, when Mr Balfour, with the authority of the War Cabinet, issued his famous declaration to the Zionists that Palestine ‘should be the national home of the Jewish people, but that nothing should be done - and this, of course, was a most important proviso - to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Those, as far as I know, are the only actual engagements into which we entered with regard to Palestine.

Now, as regards the facts, they are these. First, Palestine has been conquered by the British, with only very insignificant aid from small French and Italian contingents, and it is now being administered by the British. The Zionist declaration of our Government has been followed by a very considerable immigration of Jews. One of the difficulties of the situation arises from the fact that the Zionists have taken full advantage - and are disposed to take even fuller advantage - of the opportunity which was then offered to them. You have only to read, as probably most of us do, their periodical ‘Palestine’, and, indeed, their pronouncements in the papers, to see that their programme is expanding from day to day. They now talk about a Jewish State.

So, if there are still people out there who think that talk of a Jewish State was a defensive move motivated by (always considered to be unjustified) Arab opposition and violence and signs that Arabs would never voluntarily live with Jews in Palestine, think again.

The Jewish desire for a Jewish State may not have been a majority position among the new immigrants (I don’t know), but it was an early position of some, and was advertised, and scared the Palestinian Arabs (much as Menachem Begin’s massacre at Deir Yassin later and more seriously scared them).

And, being scared, and being opposed to the unlimited Jewish immigration which was being called for by the Jews, there was violence:
Both occupying powers experienced difficulties with local peasant armed bands ( ‘isabat), after Britain had withdrawn its troops from both the Bekaa valley and the Galilee in autumn 1919. By February 1920, these groups, which often operated in liaison with political organisations, began attacking Jewish settlements in the Galilee, such as Metula, Tel Hai and Kfar Giladi.

The Palestinian Arabs were not alone in arming and fighting. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, an early proponent of a Jewish State began arming in 1920:
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, together with Pinhas Rutenberg, led an effort to openly train Jewish volunteers in self-defense, an effort which the Zionist Commission kept the British informed of. Many of them members of the Maccabi sports club and some of them veterans of the Jewish Legion, their month of training largely consisted of callisthenics and hand to hand combat with sticks. By the end of March, about 600 were said to be performing military drill daily in Jerusalem. Jabotinsky and Rutenberg also began organising the collection of arms.

Already by 1920, Great Britain took note of the Arab fears of dispossession at the hands of the (stronger) Jewish immigrants:
Richard Meinertzhagen, “at once a great antisemite and a great Zionist”, chief political officer of the British forces, in an analysis of the atmosphere written at the end of March, identified Palestinian awareness that they would now be dispossessed of their lands by an intellectually and financially superior people, together with Faisal’s recent proclamations as king of both Syria and Palestine, as the causes for their constant agitation.

When did talk of a Jewish State start? Early. And if the talk started, the Arabs knew and feared. Ze’ev Jabotinsky had much to say about this:
With the outbreak of the World War I in 1914, Jabotinsky found himself in disagreement over strategy with prevailing opinion within the Zionist camp. Unconvinced that the Turks or the Arabs would accommodate the aims of Zionism, he advocated bolder tactics. As he was convinced of an ultimate Allied victory, Jabotinsky, together with Joseph Trumpeldor, called for the establishment of a Jewish fighting force to join the Allies in liberating Palestine from Ottoman rule. Thus they could earn a place at the peace table, with the right to demand establishment of an independent Jewish state in Palestine.

Jabotinsky’s talk and agitation for Jewish Statehood must have been pretty continuous thereafter, and it was only in 1935 that the mainstream Zionist party edged away from—elected to obscure its position regarding—a stated goal of Jewish Statehood:
In 1935, the Revisionists withdrew from the Zionist Organization in protest over the organization’s refusal to state clearly and unequivocally its final goal of statehood.

Writing in 1932 or earlier, Fuad Shatara in “Arab-Jewish Unity in Palestine”[1] tells us that
By “Political Zionism” the Arab understands an attempt to set up in Palestine a Jewish state which shall be, to use Weizmann’s words, “as Jewish as England is English or America is American.” In this imperium in imperio, the Arabs will be forced either to “trek along” (Zangwill) or to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” In this Judenstat, a Jewish majority is a sine qua non.

This is not the spiritual and cultural Zionism of Ahad Haam or Judah Magnes, with which the Palestine Arab has no quarrel. Between these two brands of Zionism—the right wing and the left wing—the Zionist Organization has taken a so-called central position: hence the Center Party in Zionist ranks, which I can best describe by quoting Herbert Solow’s article in the November-December 1930 issue of the Menorah Journal (a Jewish magazine):
Even most extreme Ahad Haamists seem to have reconciled themselves to the situation, and the Zionist movement merged the concepts of a “cultural center” and the Jewish State in the vague, elastic phrase “Jewish National Home” which each might interpret as he pleased and all might support. This compromise, an unstable mixture, was described by chemist Weizmann as “synthetic Zionism” and by him dignified as a new Ideology.
(footnotes and emphasis removed)

It is easy to understand why the Palestine Arab has mistrusted and dreaded this Center Party even more than the extreme right-wingers. To him it appeared that that party hobbled between the two extremes of Zionism, adopted a chameleon-like policy and changed its color to meet the environment and the occasion, and was everything to everybody. He read contradictory statements of policy, made by the same leaders on different occasions, and became convinced that the chauvinistic utterances more accurately represented the real intentions of Zionist leaders, while the mild and soothing statements were but anodynes intended to pour oil on troubled waters and to eliminate as much resistance as possible until the Zionists obtained a majority in the land and a constitutional sanction for their chauvinistic designs, which they lacked as a minority.

Arab opposition to political Zionism is therefore easy to understand—essentially it is an expression of the instinct of self-preservation and an assertion of an inalienable majority right which has been recognized from time immemorial. It is not religious, neither is it prompted by a “few mischievous effendies or agitators.”

It is readily apparent that a well-formed Jewish view of a future Jewish State had long been well articulated, and not in secret, so that Arabs knew of it and had a reason to fear it.

If we are in any doubt as to what Jewish attitudes were toward Arabs in 1930, perhaps we may fairly assume that the dismissive views of Arabs assumed by so many Israelis today (and of the Israeli government and military in particular, but the army being a particularly important training ground for the attitudes of young Israelis, who revere the army) may give us a useful idea. Palestinian Arabs could see what was coming not only from what they read but also from the attitudes they found in the new, the imperialist-colonial-triumphalist immigrants.

What would the Tea-Partiers think (and what would any American think) of a rapidly increasing set of foreign immigrants who spoke of creating their own state within the USA and spoke of Americans disdainfully as “natives” (as, for instance, many Americans have spoken of Native Americans and of Americans of Black-African ancestry, but I digress)? Just consider American attitudes toward immigrants from Mexico, who are not even talking about making a State-within-a-State. Would we resort to violence against them? You betcha. Were Palestinian Arabs justified to fear and to fight unlimited Jewish immigration into their country? I’ll leave that to you to think about.


[1] Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol 164, Nov. 1932, p.178-179


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