Zionism and Its Impact
by Ann M. Lesch
The Zionist movement has maintained a
striking continuity in its aims and methods over the past century.
From the start, the movement sought to achieve a Jewish majority
in Palestine and to establish a Jewish state on as much of the
LAND as possible. The methods included promoting both mass Jewish
immigration and acquiring tracts of land that would become the
inalienable property of the Jewish people. This policy inevitably
prevented the indigenous Arab residents from attaining their national
goals and establishing a Palestinian state. It also necessitated
displacing Palestinians from their lands and jobs when their presence
conflicted with Zionist interests.
The Zionist movement-and subsequently
the state of ISRAEL-failed to develop a positive approach to the
Palestinian presence and Palestinian aspirations. Although many
Israelis recognized the moral dilemma posed by the Palestinians,
the majority either tried to ignore the issue or to resolve it
by force majeure. Thus, the Palestine problem festered
and grew, instead of being resolved.
The Zionist movement arose in late nineteenth-century
Europe, influenced by the nationalist ferment sweeping that continent.
Zionism acquired its particular focus from the ancient Jewish
longing for the return to Zion and received a strong impetus from
the increasingly intolerable conditions facing the large Jewish
community in Tsarist Russia. The movement also developed at the
time of major European territorial acquisitions in Asia and Africa,
and benefited from the European powers' competition for influence
in the shrinking Ottoman Empire.
One result of this involvement with European
expansionism, however, was that the leaders of the nascent nationalist
movements in the Middle East viewed Zionism as an adjunct of European
colonialism. Moreover, Zionist assertions of the contemporary
relevance of the Jews' historical ties to Palestine, coupled with
their land purchases and immigration, alarmed the indigenous population
of the Ottoman districts that comprised Palestine. The Jewish
community (yishuv) rose from 6 percent of Palestine's population
in 1880 to 10 percent by 1914. Although the numbers were insignificant,
the settlers were outspoken enough to arouse the opposition of
Arab leaders and induce them to exert counter pressure on the
Ottoman regime to prohibit Jewish immigration and land buying.
As early as 1891, a group of Muslim and
Christian notables cabled Istanbul, urging the government to prohibit
Jewish immigration and land purchase. The resulting edicts radically
curtailed land purchases in the Sanjak (district) of JERUSALEM
for the next decade. When a Zionist Congress resolution in 1905
called for increased colonization, the Ottoman regime suspended
all land transfers to Jews in both the Sanjak of Jerusalem and
the Wilayat (province) of Beirut.
After the coup d'etat by the Young Turks in 1908, the Palestinians
used their representation in the central parliament and their
access to newly opened local newspapers to press their claims
and express their concerns. They were particularly vociferous
in opposition to discussions that took place between the financially
hard-pressed Ottoman regime and Zionist leaders in 1912-13, which
would have let the world Zionist Organization purchase crown land
(Jiftlik) in the Baysan Valley, along the Jordan River.
The Zionists did not try to quell Palestinian
fears, since their concern was to encourage colonization from
Europe and to minimize the obstacles in their path. The only effort
to meet to discuss Palestinian and Zionist aspirations occurred
in the spring of 1914. Its difficulties illustrated the incompatibility
in the aims of both sides aspirations. The Palestinians wanted
the Zionists to present them with a document that would state
o Zionists precise political ambitions,
o Zionists willingness to open their schools to Palestinians,
o Zionists intentions of learning Arabic and integrating with
the local population.
The Zionists rejected this proposal.
The British Mandate
The proclamation of the BALFOUR DECLARATION
on November 2, 1917, and the arrival of British troops in Palestine
soon after, transformed the political situation. The declaration
gave the Zionist movement its long-sought legal status. The qualification
that: nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and
religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine
seemed a relatively insignificant obstacle to the Zionists, especially
since it referred only to those communities': civil and religious
rights, not to political or national rights. The subsequent British
occupation gave Britain the ability to carry out that pledge and
provide the protection necessary for the Zionists to realize their
In fact, the British had made three mutually
contradictory promises for the future of Palestine. The Sykes-Picot
Agreement of 1916 with the French and Russian governments proposed
that Palestine be placed under international administration. The
HUSAYN-MCMAHON CORRESPONDENCE, 1915-1916, on the basis of which
the Arab revolt was launched, implied that Palestine would be
included in the zone of Arab independence. In contrast, the Balfour
Declaration encouraged the colonization of Palestine by Jews,
under British protection. British officials recognized the irreconcilability
of these pledges but hoped that a modus vivendi could be achieved,
both between the competing imperial powers, "France and Britain",
and between the Palestinians and the Jews. Instead, these contradictions
set the stage for three decades of conflict-ridden British rule
Initially, many British politicians shared
the Zionists' assumption that gradual, regulated Jewish immigration
and settlement would lead to a Jewish majority in Palestine, whereupon
it would become independent, with legal protection for the Arab
minority .The assumption that this could be accomplished without
serious resistance was shattered at the outset of British rule.
Britain thereafter was caught in an increasingly untenable position,
unable to persuade either Palestinians or Zionists to alter their
demands and forced to station substantial military forces in Palestine
to maintain security.
The Palestinians had assumed that they
would gain some form of independence when Ottoman rule disintegrated,
whether through a separate state or integration with neighboring
Arab lands. These hopes were bolstered by the Arab revolt, the
entry of Faysal Ibn Husayn into Damascus in 1918, and the proclamation
of Syrian independence in 1920. Their hopes were dashed, however,
when Britain imposed direct colonial rule and elevated the
yishuv to a special status. Moreover, the French ousted Faysal
from Damascus in July 1920, and British compensation-in the form
of thrones in Transjordan and Iraq for Abdullah and Faysal, respectively-had
no positive impact on the Arabs in Palestine. In fact, the action
underlined the different treatment accorded Palestine and its
disadvantageous political situation. These concerns were exacerbated
by Jewish immigration: the yishuv comprised 28 percent
of the population by 1936 and reached 32 percent by 1947 (click
here to view map of Palestinian vs. Jewish population distribution
as of 1946). The British umbrella was critically important to
the growth and consolidation of the yishuv, enabling it
to root itself firmly despite Palestinian opposition. Although
British support diminished in the late 1930s, the yishuv was strong
enough by then to withstand the Palestinians on its own. After
World War II, the Zionist movement also was able to turn to the
emerging superpower, the UNITED STATES, for diplomatic support
The Palestinians' responses to Jewish
immigration, land purchases, and political demands were remarkably
consistent. They insisted that Palestine remain an Arab country,
with the same right of self-determination and independence as
Egypt, Transjordan, and Iraq. Britain granted those countries
independence without a violent struggle since their claims to
self-determination were not contested by European settlers. The
Palestinians argued that Palestinian territory could not and should
not be used to solve the plight of the Jews in Europe, and that
Jewish national aspirations should not override their own rights.
Palestinian opposition peaked in the late
1930s: the six-month general strike in 1936 was followed the next
year by a widespread rural revolt. This rebellion welled up from
the bottom of Palestinian society-unemployed urban workers, displaced
peasants crowded into towns, and debt-ridden villagers. It was
supported by most merchants and professionals in the towns, who
feared competition from the yishuv. Members of the elite
families acted as spokesmen before the British administration
through the ARAB HIGHER COMMITTEE, which was formed during the
1936 strike. However, the British banned the committee in October
1937 and arrested its members, on the eve of the revolt.
Only one of the Palestinian political
parties was willing to limit its aims and accept the principle
of territorial partition: The NATIONAL DEFENSE PARTY, led by RAGHIB
AL-NASHASHIBI (mayor of Jerusalem from 1920 to 1934), was willing
to accept partition in 1937 so long as the Palestinians obtained
sufficient land and could merge with Transjordan to form a larger
political entity. However, the British PEEL COMMISSION's plan,
announced in July 1937, would have forced the Palestinians to
leave the olive- and grain- growing areas of Galilee, the orange
groves on the Mediterranean coast, and the urban port cities of
HAIFA and ACRE. That was too great a loss for even the National
Defense Party to accept, and so it joined in the general denunciations
During the PALESTINE MANDATE period the
Palestinian community was 70 percent rural, 75 to 80 percent illiterate,
and divided internally between town and countryside and between
elite families and villagers. Despite broad support for the national
aims, the Palestinians could not achieve the unity and strength
necessary to withstand the combined pressure of the British forces
and the Zionist movement. In fact, the political structure was
decapitated in the late 1930s when the British banned the Arab
Higher Committee and arrested hundreds of local politicians. When
efforts were made in the 1940s to rebuild the political structure,
the impetus came largely from outside, from Arab rulers who were
disturbed by the deteriorating conditions in Palestine and feared
their repercussions on their own newly acquired independence.
The Arab rulers gave priority to their
own national considerations and provided limited diplomatic and
military support to the Palestinians. The Palestinian Arabs continued
to demand a state that would reflect the Arab majority's weight-diminished
to 68 percent by 1947. They rejected the UNITED NATIONS (U.N.)
partition plan of November 1947[click here for a map illustration],
which granted the Jews statehood in 55 percent of Palestine, an
area that included as many Arab residents as Jews. However, the
Palestinian Arabs lacked the political strength and military force
to back up their claim. Once Britain withdrew its forces in 1948
and the Jews proclaimed the state of Israel, the Arab rulers used
their armed forces to protect those zones that the partition plans
had ALLOCATED to the Arab state [click here for a map illustration].
By the time armistice agreements were signed in 1949, the Arab
areas had shrunk to only 23 percent of Palestine. The Egyptian
army held the GAZA STRIP, and Transjordanian forces dominated
the hills of central Palestine. At least 726,000 of the 1.3 million
Palestinian Arabs fled from the area held by Israel. Emir Abdullah
subsequently annexed the zone that his army occupied, renaming
it the WEST BANK.
The Zionist Movement
The dispossession and expulsion of a
majority of Palestinians were the result of Zionist policies planned
over a thirty-year period. fundamentally, Zionism focused on two
1. to attain a Jewish majority in Palestine
2. to acquire statehood
irrespective of the wishes of the indigenous
population. Non-recognition of the political and national rights
of the Palestinian people was a KEY Zionist policy.
Chaim Weizmann, president of the World
Zionist Organization, placed maximalist demands before the Paris
Peace Conference in February 1919. He stated that he expected
70,000 to 80,000 Jewish immigrants to arrive each year in Palestine.
When they became the majority, they would form an independent
government and Palestine and would become: "as Jewish as
England is English". Weizmann proposed that the boundaries
should be the Mediterranean Sea on the west; Sidon, the Litani
River, and Mount Hermon on the north; all of Transjordan west
of the Hijaz railway on the east; and a line across Sinai from
Aqaba to al-Arish on the south. He argued that:
"the boundaries above outlined are
what we consider essential for the economic foundation of the
country. Palestine must have its natural outlet to the sea and
control of its rivers and their headwaters. The boundaries are
sketched with the general economic needs and historic traditions
of the country in mind."
Weizmann offered the Arab countries a
free zone in Haifa and a joint port at Aqaba.
Weizmann's policy was basically in accord
with that of the leaders of the yishuv, who held a conference
in December 1918 in which they formulated their own demands for
the peace conference. The yishuv plan stressed that they
must control appointments to the administrative services and that
the British must actively assist their program to transform Palestine
into a democratic Jewish state in which the Arabs would have minority
rights. Although the peace conference did not explicitly allocate
such extensive territories to the Jewish national home and did
not support the goal of transforming all of Palestine into a Jewish
state, it opened the door to such a possibility. More important,
Weizmann's presentation stated clearly and forcefully the long-term
aims of the movement.
These aims were based on certain fundamental
tenets of Zionism:
1. The movement was seen not only as inherently righteous,
but also as meeting an overwhelming need among European Jews.
2. European culture was superior to indigenous Arab culture;
the Zionists could help civilize the East.
3. External support was needed from a major power; relations
with the Arab world were a secondary matter.
4. Arab nationalism was a legitimate political movement, but
Palestinian nationalism was either illegitimate or nonexistent.
5. Finally, if the Palestinians would not reconcile themselves
to Zionism, force majeure, not compromise, was the only feasible
Adherents of Zionism believed that the
Jewish people had an inherent and inalienable right to Palestine.
Religious Zionists stated this in biblical terms, referring to
the divine promise of the land to the tribes of Israel. Secular
Zionists relied more on the argument that Palestine alone could
solve the problem of Jewish dispersion and virulent anti-Semitism.
Weizmann stated in 1930 that the needs of 16 million Jews had
to be balanced against those of 1 million Palestinian Arabs:
"The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate have definitely
lifted [Palestine] out of the context of the Middle East and linked
it up with the world-wide Jewish problem. ...The rights which
the Jewish people has been adjudged in Palestine do not depend
on the consent, and cannot be subjected to the will, of the majority
of its present inhabitants."
This perspective took its most extreme form with the Revisionist
movement. Its founder, Vladimir Jabotinsky, was so self-righteous
about the Zionist cause that he justified any actions taken against
the Arabs in order to realize Zionist goals.
Zionists generally felt that European
civilization was superior to Arab culture and values. Theodor
Herzl, the founder of the World Zionist Organization, wrote in
the Jewish State (1886) that the Jewish community could serve
"part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost
of civilization against barbarism."
Weizmann also believed that he was engaged
in a fight of civilization against the desert. The Zionists would
bring enlightenment and economic development to the backward Arabs.
Similarly, David Ben-Gurion, the leading labor Zionist, could
not understand why Arabs rejected his offer to use Jewish finance,
scientific knowledge, and technical expertise to modernize the
Middle East. He attributed this rejection to backwardness rather
than to the affront that Zionism posed to the Arabs' pride and
to their aspirations for independence.
Zionist leaders recognized that they needed
an external patron to legitimize their presence in the international
arena and to provide them legal and military protection in Palestine.
Great Britain played that role in the 1920s and 1930s, and the
United States became the mentor in the mid-1940s. Zionist leaders
realized that they needed to make tactical accommodations to that
patron-such as downplaying their public statements about their
political aspirations or accepting a state on a limited territory-while
continuing to work toward their long-term goals. The presence
and needs of the Arabs were viewed as secondary. The Zionist leadership
never considered allying with the Arab world against the British
and Americans. Rather, Weizmann, in particular, felt that the
yishuv should bolster the British Empire and guard its
strategic interests in the region. Later, the leaders of Israel
perceived the Jewish state as a strategic asset to the
United States in the Middle East.
Zionist politicians accepted the idea
of an Arab nation but rejected the concept of a Palestinian nation.
They considered the Arab residents of Palestine as comprising
a minute fraction of the land and people of the Arab world, and
as lacking any separate identity and aspirations (click here,
to read our response to this myth). Weizmann and Ben-Gurion were
willing to negotiate with Arab rulers in order to gain those rulers'
recognition of Jewish statehood in Palestine in return for the
Zionists' recognition of Arab independence elsewhere, but they
would not negotiate with the Arab politicians in Palestine for
a political settlement in their common homeland. As early as 1918,
Weizmann wrote to a prominent British politician:
"The real Arab movement is developing in Damascus and Mecca.
..the so-called Arab question in Palestine would therefore assume
only a purely local character, and in fact is not considered a
In line with that thinking, Weizmann met
with Emir Faysal in the same year, in an attempt to win his agreement
to Jewish statehood in Palestine in return for Jewish financial
support for Faysal as ruler of Syria and Arabia.
Ben-Gurion, Weizmann, and other Zionist
leaders met with prominent Arab officials during the 1939 LONDON
CONFERENCE, which was convened by Britain to seek a compromise
settlement in Palestine. The Arab diplomats from Egypt, Iraq,
and Saudi Arabia criticized the exceptional position that the
Balfour Declaration had granted the Jewish community and emphasized
the estrangement between the Arab and Jewish residents that large
scale Jewish immigration had caused. In response, Weizmann insisted
that Palestine remain open to all Jews who wanted to immigrate,
and Ben-Gurion suggested that all of Palestine should become a
Jewish state, federated with the surrounding Arab states. The
Arab participants criticized these demands for exacerbating the
conflict, rather than contributing to the search for peace. The
Zionists' premise that Arab statehood could be recognized while
ignoring the Palestinians was thus rejected by the Arab rulers
Finally, Zionist leaders argued that if
the Palestinians could not reconcile themselves to Zionism, then
force majeure, not a compromise of goals, was the only
possible response. By the early 1920s, after violent Arab protests
broke out in Jaffa and Jerusalem, leaders of the yishuv
recognized that it might be impossible to bridge the gap between
the aims of the two peoples. Building the national home would
lead to an unavoidable clash, since the Arab majority would not
agree to become a minority. In fact, as early as 1919 Ben-Gurion
"Everybody sees a difficulty in the
question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody
sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution!
There is a gulf, and nothing can fill this gulf. ...I do not know
what Arab will agree that Palestine should belong to the Jews.
...We, as a nation, want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as
a nation, want this country to be theirs."
As tensions increased in the 1920s and
the 1930s Zionist leaders realized that they had to coerce the
Palestinian acquiesce in a diminished status. Ben-Gurion stated
in 1937, during the Arab revolt:
"This is a national war declared
upon us by the Arabs. ... This is an active resistance by the
Palestinians to what they regard as a usurpation of their homeland
by the Jews. ...But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict,
which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are
the aggressors and they defend themselves."
This sober conclusion did not lead Ben-Gurion
to negotiate with the Palestinian Arabs: instead he became more
determined to strengthen the Jewish military forces so that they
could compel the Arabs to relinquish their claims.
In order to realize the aims of Zionism
and build the Jewish national home, the Zionist movement undertook
the following practical steps. They:
1. Built political structures that could assume state functions
2. Created a military force.
3. Promoted large-scale immigration.
4. Acquired land as the inalienable property of the Jewish
5. Established monopolistic concessions. The labor federation,
Histadrut, tried to force Jewish enterprises to hire only Jewish
6. Setting up an autonomous Hebrew-language educational system.
These measures created a self-contained
national entity on Palestinian soil that was ENTIRELY SEPARATE
from the Arab community.
The yishuv established an elected
community council, executive body, administrative departments,
and religious courts soon after the British assumed control over
Palestine. When the PALESTINE MANDATE was ratified by the League
of Nations in 1922, the World Zionist Organization gained the
responsibility to advise and cooperate with the British administration
not only on economic and social matters affecting the Jewish national
home but also on issues involving the general development of the
country. Although the British rejected pressure to give the World
Zionist Organization an equal share in administration and control
over immigration and land transfers, the yishuv did gain
a privileged advisory position.
The Zionists were strongly critical of
British efforts to establish a LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL in 1923, 1930,
and 1936. They realized that Palestinians' demands for a legislature
with a Palestinian majority ran counter to their own need to delay
establishing representative bodies until the Jewish community
was much larger. In 1923, the Jewish residents did participate
in the elections for a Legislative Council, but they were relieved
that the Palestinians' boycott compelled the British to cancel
the results. In 1930 and 1936 the World Zionist Organization vigorously
opposed British proposals for a legislature, fearing that, if
the Palestinians received the majority status that proportional
representation would require, then they would try to block Jewish
immigration and the purchase of land by Zionist companies. Zionist
opposition was couched indirectly in the assertion that Palestine
was not ripe for self-rule, a code for not until there's
a Jewish majority.
To bolster this position, the yishuv formed defense forces
(Haganah) in March 1920. They were preceded by the establishment
of guards (hashomer) in Jewish rural settlements in the 1900s
and the formation of a Jewish Legion in World War I. However,
the British disbanded the Jewish Legion and allowed only sealed
armories in the settlements and mixed Jewish-British area defense
Despite its illegal status, the Haganah
expanded to number 10,000 trained and mobilized men, and 40,000
reservists by 1936. During the 1937-38 Arab revolt, the Haganah
engaged in active defense against Arab insurgents and cooperated
with the British to guard railway lines, the oil pipeline to Haifa,
and border fences. This cooperation deepened during World War
II, when 18,800 Jewish volunteers joined the British forces. Haganah's
special Palmach units served as scouts and sappers for the British
army in Lebanon in 1941-42. This wartime experience helped to
transform the Haganah into a regular fighting force. When Ben-Gurion
became the World Zionist Organization's secretary of defense in
June 1947, he accelerated mobilization as well as arms buying
in the United States and Europe. As a result, mobilization leaped
to 30,000 by May 1948, when statehood was proclaimed, and then
doubled to 60,000 by mid-July-twice the number serving in the
Arab forces arrayed against Israel.
A principal means for building up the
national home was the promotion of large-scale immigration from
Europe. Estimates of the Palestinian population demonstrate the
dramatic impact of immigration. The first British census (December
31, 1922) counted 757,182 residents, of whom 83,794 were Jewish.
The second census (December 31, 1931) enumerated 1,035,821, including
174,006 Jews. Thus, the absolute number of Jews had doubled and
the relative number had increased from 11 percent to 17 percent.
Two-thirds of this growth could be attributed to net immigration,
and one third to natural increase. Two-thirds of the yishuv
was concentrated in Jerusalem and Jaffa and Tel Aviv, with most
of the remainder in the north, including the towns of HAIFA, SAFAD,
The Mandate specified that the rate of
immigration should accord with the economic capacity of the country
to absorb the immigrants. In 1931, the British government reinterpreted
this to take into account only the Jewish sector of the economy,
excluding the Palestinian sector, which was suffering from heavy
unemployment. As a result, the pace of immigration accelerated
in 1932 and peaked in 1935-36. In other words, the absolute number
of Jewish residents doubled in the five years from 1931 to 1936
to 370,000, so that they constituted 28 percent of the total population.
Not until 1939 did the British impose a severe quota on Jewish
immigrants. That restriction was resisted by the yishuv
with a sense of desperation, since it blocked access to a key
haven for the Jews whom Hitler was persecuting and exterminating
in Germany and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe. Net immigration
was limited during the war years in the 1940s, but the government
estimated in 1946 that there were about 583,000 Jews of nearly
1,888,000 residents, or 31 percent of the total Seventy percent
of them were urban, and they continued to be overwhelmingly concentrated
in Jerusalem (100,000) the Haifa area (119,000), and the JAFFA
and RAMLA districts (327,000) (click here for a map illustrating
Palestine's population distribution in 1946) . The remaining 43,000
were largely in Galilee, with a scattering in the Negev and almost
none in the central highlands.
The World Zionist Organization's purchasing
agencies launched large-scale land purchases in order to found
rural settlements and stake territorial claims. In 1920 the Zionists
held about 650,000 dunums (one dunum equals approximately one-quarter
of an acre). By 1930, the amount had expanded to 1,164,000 dunums
and by 1936 to 1,400,000 dunums. The major purchasing agent (the
Palestine Land Development Company) estimated that, by 1936, 89
percent had been bought from large landowners (primarily absentee
owners from Beirut) and only 11 percent from peasants. By 1947,
the yishuv held 1.9 million dunums. Nevertheless, this represented
only 7 percent of the total land surface or 10 to 12 percent of
the cultivable land (click here for a map illustrating
Palestine's landownership distribution in 1946).
According to Article 3 of the Constitution
of the Jewish Agency, the land was held by the Jewish National
Fund as the inalienable property of the Jewish people; ONLY Jewish
labor could be employed in the settlements, Palestinians protested
bitterly against this inalienability clause. The moderate National
Defense Party , for example, petitioned the British in 1935 to
prevent further land sales, arguing that it was a: life and death
for the Arabs, in that it resulted in the transfer of their country
to other hands and the loss of their nationality.
The placement of Jewish settlements was
often based on political considerations. The Palestine Land Development
Company had four criteria for land purchase:
1. The economic suitability of the tract
2. Its contribution to forming a solid block of Jewish territory.
3. The prevention of isolation of settlements
4. The impact of the purchase on the political-territorial
claims of the Zionists.
The stockade and watchtower settlements
constructed in 1937, for example, were designed to secure control
over key parts of Galilee for the yishuv in case the British
implemented the PEEL PARTITION PLAN. Similarly, eleven settlements
were hastily erected in the Negev in late 1946 in an attempt to
stake a political claim in that entirely Palestinian-populated
In addition to making these land purchases,
prominent Jewish businessmen won monopolistic concessions from
the British government that gave the Zionist movement an important
role in the development of Palestine's natural resources. In 1921,
Pinhas Rutenberg's Palestine Electric Company acquired the right
to electrify all of Palestine except Jerusalem. Moshe Novomeysky
received the concession to develop the minerals in the Dead Sea
in 1927. And the Palestine Land Development Company gained the
concession to drain the Hula marshes, north of the Sea of Galilee,
in 1934. In each case, the concession was contested by other serious
non-Jewish claimants; Palestinian politicians argued that the
government should retain control itself in order to develop the
resources for the benefit of the entire country.
The inalienability clause in the Jewish
National Fund contracts included provision that ONLY JEWS could
work on Jewish agricultural settlements. The concepts of manual
labor and the return to the soil were key to the Zionist
enterprise. This Jewish labor policy was enforced by the General
Foundation of Jewish Labor (Histadrut), founded in 1920 and headed
by David Ben-Gurion. Since some Jewish builders and citrus growers
hired Arabs, who worked for lower wages than Jews, the Histadrut
launched a campaign in 1933 to remove those Arab workers. Histadrut
organizers picketed citrus groves and evicted Arab workers from
construction sites and factories in the cities. The strident propaganda
by the Histradut increased the Arabs' fears for the future. George
Mansur, a Palestinian labor leader, wrote angrily in 1937:
"The Histadrut's fundamental aim
is 'the conquest of labor' ...No matter how many Arab workers
are unemployed, they have no right to take any job which a possible
immigrant might occupy. No Arab has the right to work in Jewish
Finally, the establishment of an all-Jewish,
Hebrew-language educational system was an essential component
of building the Jewish national home. It helped to create a cohesive
national ethos and a lingua franca among the diverse immigrants.
However, it also entirely separated Jewish children from Palestinian
children, who attended the governmental schools. The policy widened
the linguistic and cultural gap between the two peoples. In addition,
there was a stark contrast in their literacy levels. In 1931:
o 93 percent of Jewish males (above age seven) were literate
o 71 percent of Christian males were literate
o Only 25 percent of Muslim males were literate.
Overall, Palestinian literacy increased
from 19 percent in 1931 to 27 percent by 1940, but only 30 percent
of Palestinian children could be accommodated in government and
The practical policies of the Zionist
movement created a compact and well-rooted community by the late
1940s. The yishuv had its own political, educational, economic,
and military institutions, parallel to the governmental system.
Jews minimized their contact with the Arab community and outnumbered
the Arabs in certain key respects. Jewish urban dwellers, for
example, greatly exceeded Arab urbanites, even though Jews constituted
but one-third of the population. Many more Jewish children attended
school than did Arab children, and Jewish firms employed seven
times as many workers as Arab firms.
Thus the relative weight and autonomy
of the yishuv were much greater than sheer numbers would suggest.
The transition to statehood was facilitated by the existence of
the proto state institutions and a mobilized, literate public.
But separation from the Palestinian residents was exacerbated
by these autarchic policies.
Policies Toward the Palestinians
The main viewpoint within the Zionist
movement was that the Arab problem would be solved by first solving
the Jewish problem. In time, the Palestinians would be presented
with the fait accompli of a Jewish majority. Settlements, land
purchases, industries, and military forces were developed gradually
and systematically so that the yishuv would become too
strong to uproot. In a letter to his son, Weizmann compared the
Arabs to the rocks of Judea, obstacles that had to be cleared
to make the path smooth. When the Palestinians mounted violent
protests in 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-39, and the late 1940s, the
yishuv sought to curb them by force, rather than seek
a political accommodation with the indigenous people. Any concessions
made to the Palestinians by the British government concerning
immigration, land sales, or labor were strongly contested by the
Zionist leaders. In fact, in 1936, Ben-Gurion stated that the
Palestinians will only acquiesce in a Jewish Eretz Israel
after they are in a state of total despair.
Zionists viewed their acceptance of territorial
partition as a temporary measure; they did not give up the idea
of the Jewish community's right to all of Palestine. Weizmann
commented in 1937:
"In the course of time we shall expand
to the whole country ...this is only an arrangement for the next
Ben-Gurion stated in 1938,
"After we become a strong force,
as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition
and expand to the whole of Palestine."
A FEW EFFORTS were made to reduce Arab
opposition. For example in the 1920s, Zionist organizations provided
financial support to Palestinian political parties, newspapers,
and individuals. This was most evident in the establishment and
support of the National Muslim Societies (1921-23) and Agricultural
Parties (1924-26). These parties were expected to be neutral or
positive toward the Zionist movement, in return for which they
would receive financial subventions and their members would be
helped to obtain jobs and loans. This policy was backed by Weizmann,
who commented that:
"extremists and moderates alike were susceptible to the
influence of money and honors."
However, Leonard Stein, a member of the London office of the
World Zionist Organization, denounced this practice. He argued
that Zionists must seek a permanent modus vivendi with the Palestinians
by hiring them in Jewish firms and admitting them to Jewish universities.
He maintained that political parties in which Arab moderates are
merely Arab gramophones playing Zionist records would collapse
as soon as the Zionist financial support ended. In any event,
the World Zionist Organization terminated the policy by 1927,
as it was in the midst of a financial crisis and as most of the
leaders felt that the policy was ineffective.
Some Zionist leaders argued that the Arab
community had to be involved in the practical efforts of the Zionist
movement. Chaim Kalvarisky, who initiated the policy of buying
support, articulated in 1923 the gap between that ideal and the
"Some people say. ..that only by
common work in the field of commerce, industry and agriculture
mutual understanding between Jews and Arabs will ultimately be
attained. ...This is, however, merely a theory. In practice we
have not done and we are doing nothing for any work in common.
o How many Arab officials have we installed in our banks? Not
o How many Arabs have we brought into our schools? Not even
o What commercial houses have we established in company with
Arabs? Not even one."
Tow years later, Kalvarisky lamented:
"We all admit the importance of drawing
closer to the Arabs, but in fact we are growing more distant like
a drawn bow. We have no contact: two separate worlds, each living
its own life and fighting the other."
Some members of the yishuv emphasized
the need for political relations with the Palestinian Arabs, to
achieve either a peacefully negotiated territorial partition (as
Nahum Goldmann sought) or a binational state (as Brit Shalom and
Hashomer Ha-tzair proposed). But few went as far as Dr. Judah
L. Magnes, chancellor of The Hebrew University, who argued that
Zionism meant merely the creation of a Jewish cultural center
in Palestine rather than an independent state. In any case, the
binationalists had little impact politically and were strongly
opposed by the leadership of the Zionist movement.
Zionist leaders felt they did not harm
the Palestinians by blocking them from working in Jewish settlements
and industries or even by undermining their majority status. The
Palestinians were considered a small part of the large Arab nation;
their economic and political needs could be met in that wider
context, Zionists felt, rather than in Palestine. They could move
elsewhere if they sought land and could merge with Transjordan
if they sought political independence.
This thinking led logically to the concept
of population TRANSFER. In 1930 Weizmann suggested that the problems
of insufficient land resources within Palestine and of the dispossession
of peasants could be solved by moving them to Transjordan and
Iraq. He urged the Jewish Agency to provide a loan of £1
million to help move Palestinian farmers to Transjordan. The issue
was discussed at length in the Jewish Agency debates of 1936-37
on partition. At first, the majority proposed a voluntary transfer
of Palestinians from the Jewish state, but later they realized
that the Palestinians would never leave voluntarily. Therefore,
key leaders such as Ben-Gurion insisted that compulsory transfer
was essential. The Jewish Agency then voted that the British
government should pay for the removal of the Palestinian Arabs
from the territory allotted to the Jewish state.
The fighting from 1947 to 1949 resulted
in a far larger transfer than had been envisioned in 1937. It
solved the Arab problem by removing most of the Arabs and was
the ultimate expression of the policy of force majeure.
The land and people of Palestine were
transformed during the thirty years of British rule. The systematic
colonization undertaken by the Zionist movement enabled the Jewish
community to establish separate and virtually autonomous political,
economic, social, cultural, and military institutions. A state
within a state was in place by the time the movement launched
its drive for independence. The legal underpinnings for the autonomous
Jewish community were provided by the British Mandate. The establishment
of a Jewish state was first proposed by the British Royal Commission
in July 1937 and then endorsed by the UNITED NATIONS in November
That drive for statehood IGNORED the presence
of a Palestinian majority with its own national aspirations. The
right to create a Jewish state-and the overwhelming need for such
a state-were perceived as overriding Palestinian counterclaims.
Few members of the yishuv supported the idea of binationalism.
Rather, territorial partition was seen by most Zionist leaders
as the way to gain statehood while according certain national
rights to the Palestinians. TRANSFER of Palestinians to neighboring
Arab states was also envisaged as a means to ensure the formation
of a homogeneous Jewish territory. The implementation of those
approaches led to the formation of independent Israel, at the
cost of dismembering the Palestinian community and fostering long-term
hostility with the Arab world.