The Iron Wall
(We and the Arabs)
by Vladimir Jabotinsky (1923)
Contrary to the excellent rule of getting
to the point immediately, I must begin this article with a personal
introduction. The author of these lines is considered to be an
enemy of the Arabs, a proponent of their expulsion, etc. This
is not true. My emotional relationship to the Arabs is the same
as it is to all other peoples - polite indifference. My political
relationship is characterized by two principles. First: the expulsion
of the Arabs from Palestine is absolutely impossible in any form.
There will always be two nations in Palestine - which is good
enough for me, provided the Jews become the majority. Second:
I am proud to have been a member of that group which formulated
the Helsingfors Program. We formulated it, not only for Jews,
but for all peoples, and its basis is the equality of all nations.
I am prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will
never destroy this equality and we will never attempt to expel
or oppress the Arabs. Our credo, as the reader can see, is completely
peaceful. But it is absolutely another matter if it will be possible
to achieve our peaceful aims through peaceful means. This depends,
not on our relationship with the Arabs, but exclusively on the
Arabs' relationship to Zionism.
After this introduction I can now get
to the point. That the Arabs of the Land of Israel should willingly
come to an agreement with us is beyond all hopes and dreams at
present, and in the foreseeable future. This inner conviction
of mine I express so categorically not because of any wish to
dismay the moderate faction in the Zionist camp but, on the contrary,
because I wish to save them from such dismay. Apart from those
who have been virtually "blind" since childhood, all
the other moderate Zionists have long since understood that there
is not even the slightest hope of ever obtaining the agreement
of the Arabs of the Land of Israel to "Palestine" becoming
a country with a Jewish majority.
Every reader has some idea of the early
history of other countries which have been settled. I suggest
that he recall all known instances. If he should attempt to seek
but one instance of a country settled with the consent of those
born there he will not succeed. The inhabitants (no matter whether
they are civilized or savages) have always put up a stubborn fight.
Furthermore, how the settler acted had no effect whatsoever. The
Spaniards who conquered Mexico and Peru, or our own ancestors
in the days of Joshua ben Nun behaved, one might say, like plunderers.
But those "great explorers," the English, Scots and
Dutch who were the first real pioneers of North America were people
possessed of a very high ethical standard; people who not only
wished to leave the redskins at peace but could also pity a fly;
people who in all sincerity and innocence believed that in those
virgin forests and vast plains ample space was available for both
the white and red man. But the native resisted both barbarian
and civilized settler with the same degree of cruelty.
Another point which had no effect at all
was whether or not there existed a suspicion that the settler
wished to remove the inhabitant from his land. The vast areas
of the U.S. never contained more than one or two million Indians.
The inhabitants fought the white settlers not out of fear that
they might be expropriated, but simply because there has never
been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has
ever accepted the settlement of others in his country. Any native
people - its all the same whether they are civilized or savage
- views their country as their national home, of which they will
always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow,
not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for
the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that
the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened
formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will
abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic
gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs.
Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not
have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts
all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want
about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what
is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive
love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or
any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will
voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for
the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile.
This childish fantasy of our "Arabo-philes" comes from
some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded
view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell
out their homeland for a railroad network.
This view is absolutely groundless. Individual
Arabs may perhaps be bought off but this hardly means that all
the Arabs in Eretz Israel are willing to sell a patriotism that
not even Papuans will trade. Every indigenous people will resist
alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves
of the danger of foreign settlement.
That is what the Arabs in Palestine are
doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains
a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the
transformation of "Palestine" into the "Land of
Some of us imagined that a misunderstanding
had occurred, that because the Arabs did not understand our intentions,
they opposed us, but, if we were to make clear to them how modest
and limited our aspirations are, they would then stretch out their
arms in peace. This too is a fallacy that has been proved so time
and again. I need recall only one incident. Three years ago, during
a visit here, Sokolow delivered a great speech about this very
"misunderstanding," employing trenchant language to
prove how grossly mistaken the Arabs were in supposing that we
intended to take away their property or expel them from the country,
or to suppress them. This was definitely not so. Nor did we even
want a Jewish state. All we wanted was a regime representative
of the League of Nations. A reply to this speech was published
in the Arab paper Al Carmel in an article whose content I give
here from memory, but I am sure it is a faithful account.
Our Zionist grandees are unnecessarily
perturbed, its author wrote. There is no misunderstanding. What
Sokolow claims on behalf of Zionism is true. But the Arabs already
know this. Obviously, Zionists today cannot dream of expelling
or suppressing the Arabs, or even of setting up a Jewish state.
Clearly, in this period they are interested in only one thing
- that the Arabs not interfere with Jewish immigration. Further,
the Zionists have pledged to control immigration in accordance
with the country's absorptive economic capacity. But the Arabs
have no illusions, since no other conditions permit the possibility
The editor of the paper is even willing
to believe that the absorptive capacity of Eretz Israel is very
great, and that it is possible to settle many Jews without affecting
one Arab. "Just that is what the Zionists want, and what
the Arabs do not want. In this way the Jews will, little by little,
become a majority and, ipso facto, a Jewish state will be formed
and the fate of the Arab minority will depend on the goodwill
of the Jews. But was it not the Jews themselves who told us how
' pleasant' being a minority was? No misunderstanding exists.
Zionists desire one thing - freedom of immigration - and it is
Jewish immigration that we do not want."
The logic employed by this editor is so
simple and clear that it should be learned by heart and be an
essential part of our notion of the Arab question. It is of no
importance whether we quote Herzl or Herbert Samuel to justify
our activities. Colonization itself has its own explanation, integral
and inescapable, and understood by every Arab and every Jew with
his wits about him. Colonization can have only one goal. For the
Palestinian Arabs this goal is inadmissible. This is in the nature
of things. To change that nature is impossible.
A plan that seems to attract many Zionists
goes like this: If it is impossible to get an endorsement of Zionism
by Palestine's Arabs, then it must be obtained from the Arabs
of Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and perhaps of Egypt. Even if this
were possible, it would not change the basic situation. It would
not change the attitude of the Arabs in the Land of Israel towards
us. Seventy years ago, the unification of Italy was achieved,
with the retention by Austria of Trent and Trieste. However, the
inhabitants of those towns not only refused to accept the situation,
but they struggled against Austria with redoubled vigor. If it
were possible (and I doubt this) to discuss Palestine with the
Arabs of Baghdad and Mecca as if it were some kind of small, immaterial
borderland, then Palestine would still remain for the Palestinians
not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of
their own national existence. Therefore it would be necessary
to carry on colonization against the will of the Palestinian Arabs,
which is the same condition that exists now.
But an agreement with Arabs outside the
Land of Israel is also a delusion. For nationalists in Baghdad,
Mecca and Damascus to agree to such an expensive contribution
(agreeing to forego preservation of the Arab character of a country
located in the center of their future "federation")
we would have to offer them something just as valuable. We can
offer only two things: either money or political assistance or
both. But we can offer neither. Concerning money, it is ludicrous
to think we could finance the development of Iraq or Saudi Arabia,
when we do not have enough for the Land of Israel. Ten times more
illusionary is political assistance for Arab political aspirations.
Arab nationalism sets itself the same aims as those set by Italian
nationalism before 1870 and Polish nationalism before 1918: unity
and independence. These aspirations mean the eradication of every
trace of British influence in Egypt and Iraq, the expulsion of
the Italians from Libya, the removal of French domination from
Syria, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco. For us to support such a movement
would be suicide and treachery. If we disregard the fact that
the Balfour Declaration was signed by Britain, we cannot forget
that France and Italy also signed it. We cannot intrigue about
removing Britain from the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf and
the elimination of French and Italian colonial rule over Arab
territory. Such a double game cannot be considered on any account.
Thus we conclude that we cannot promise
anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries.
Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those
who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition
for Zionism can now say "no" and depart from Zionism.
Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be
terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native
population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop
only under the protection of a force independent of the local
population - an iron wall which the native population cannot break
through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate
it any other way would only be hypocrisy.
Not only must this be so, it is so whether
we admit it or not. What does the Balfour Declaration and the
Mandate mean for us? It is the fact that a disinterested power
committed itself to create such security conditions that the local
population would be deterred from interfering with our efforts.
All of us, without exception, are constantly
demanding that this power strictly fulfill its obligations. In
this sense, there are no meaningful differences between our "militarists"
and our "vegetarians." One prefers an iron wall of Jewish
bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets,
the third proposes an agreement with Baghdad, and appears to be
satisfied with Baghdad's bayonets - a strange and somewhat risky
taste' but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall. We would
destroy our cause if we proclaimed the necessity of an agreement,
and fill the minds of the Mandatory with the belief that we do
not need an iron wall, but rather endless talks. Such a proclamation
can only harm us. Therefore it is our sacred duty to expose such
talk and prove that it is a snare and a delusion.
Two brief remarks: In the first place,
if anyone objects that this point of view is immoral, I answer:
It is not true; either Zionism is moral and just or it is immoral
and unjust. But that is a question that we should have settled
before we became Zionists. Actually we have settled that question,
and in the affirmative.
We hold that Zionism is moral and just.
And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter
whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmet agree with it or not.
There is no other morality.
All this does not mean that any kind of
agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible.
As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us,
they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words
or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation,
perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes
such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when
there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible
in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway,
and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these
moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions.
And only then will moderates offer suggestions for compromise
on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or
equality and national autonomy.
I am optimistic that they will indeed
be granted satisfactory assurances and that both peoples, like
good neighbors, can then live in peace. But the only path to such
an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening
in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence,
that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other
words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an
absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.
First published in Russian under
the title O Zheleznoi Stene in Rassvyet, 4 November 1923.
Published in English in Jewish Herald (South Africa), 26 November
Transcribed & revised by Lenni Brenner.
Marked up by Einde O'Callaghan for REDS - Die Roten.