Foreign Affairs: 100 Years
A New Americanism
Why a Nation Needs a National Story
THE massacres of Jews in Palestine has lately stirred the indignation and pity of the world. Naturally, the bitterest wrath has been roused among the Jews scattered through various lands to the number of about fifteen millions, but all civilized peoples have deeply sympathized; for we cannot forget that it was from the Jewish race that nearly all civilized conceptions of conduct and divinity were ultimately derived. No matter how old-fashioned and even obsolete many of those conceptions may now appear, they still subsist deeply implanted in us all by tradition, and in our daily thoughts and behavior tradition is usually more powerful than reason herself. Even if we did not owe this moral and spiritual debt to the ancient Jewish race, our horror and sympathy would be moved by the slaughter and violation of so many human beings for the most part helpless and unarmed. For the massacres of Jews in Palestine at the end of last August were marked by the same brutal ferocity as were the pogroms of Russian Jews under the Tsars or the slaughter of Armenians by the Turks under the Red Sultan and under the Young Turks at Adana, and later in northern Anatolia.
A British Commission of Enquiry, consisting of Sir Walter Shaw and three Members of the British Parliament, one from each party, is still holding its sessions in Palestine, and I do not wish to forestall its report. But by fairly recent examination of the position in Palestine itself, helped by intercourse with Jews, Arabs, and British officials on the spot, I have been able to gather a good deal of information which I think may assist others in forming a fair judgment upon the report when it appears. Let me, however, first put one seldom realized part of the British claim for the Mandate -- a part which certainly has great influence with the majority of the British people.
You may call it emotional, sentimental, or what you will, but it is on deep feelings of this kind that most men and women form their opinions and act. I refer to the profound religious interest that most English and Scottish people have for Palestine as the scene of Old Testament and New Testament history. In childhood I was taught that the Bible was the Word of God. To doubt it, to question the truth of any single passage, was the unforgivable sin. Even the English translations from the Hebrew or Greek were divine, and indeed the Bible was regarded as so essentially British that, though we were accustomed to despise and hate the Jews, we identified ourselves with the Jewish race as belonging to the "Chosen People." We usurped the promises of future salvation made to Jews, and when every Sunday evening we sang, "To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of Thy people Israel," we thought of the Gentiles as indistinguishable lumps of black or yellow beings, such as negroes or Chinese, fit objects for missionary labors, but we never doubted that we were the people referred to as "Thy people Israel." So far as I remember, there was no reference to the Jews in the Church of England Prayer Book except in the Collect for Good Friday where we prayed specially for Jews, Turks, heretics, and infidels.
The consequence was that the history and geography of Palestine were far more familiar to us all than our own. It is true that I knew the dates and succession of our English kings fairly well, but it was a deeper reproach -- it was almost blasphemy -- not to know the names and order of the judges or kings of Judah and Israel. We heard chapters of Jewish history read every morning and evening. We learnt long passages of the Jewish poets by heart. We drew maps of Palestine divided into the tribes as a regular exercise. No book was allowed to rest on a Bible. If a Bible fell to the ground, there was a solemn hush as though the heavens fell. Our reverence for Holy Writ went so far that a large section of the Christians among us attempted zealously to prove that the English people were in reality descended from the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and so we were in truth to be reckoned among the Chosen People of God. To such lengths did religious enthusiasm for the Hebrew writings compel us.
I dwell upon this peculiarity because it to some extent explains why the English people rejoiced when the Mandate for Palestine was granted to Great Britain by the League of Nations. They felt that their knowledge and reverence for the Hebrew Testament as well as for the Christian Testament gave us a special right to the sacred charge. London newspapers, which, as I hear in New York, are demanding the surrender of the Mandate because it involves too much trouble, should remember with what feelings most English and Scottish people regard the Holy Land. It is their "spiritual home." They will not abandon it again to Moslems without a struggle. The spirit of Crusaders stirs among us. It is not only the scenes sanctified by the records of Christ's life for which we would contend -- Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Capernaum, the Mount of Olives, the garden of Gethsemane, the probable site of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre. Almost equally sacred to us are Mount Carmel, where Elijah heard the still, small voice; the mountains of Gilboa where Saul and Jonathan were slain by the Philistines ("Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives, and in death they were not divided"); the city of Beisan where their bodies were nailed to the walls; the little stream where Gideon selected his fighting men by the peculiar method of choosing them according to their way of drinking water; and the great Mount Hermon on which the dew was compared to brethren dwelling together in unity, so sweet it was, and, I suppose, so rare.
But if English and Scottish men and women, brought up in Evangelical Christianity, can feel like this, how much more intense must be the feeling of Jews, whose whole history, law, and religion are bound up with that land! Of all races the Jews have been the most scattered and the most persecuted. But of all races they have clung most tightly to their racial traditions and their patriotism for an ancestral country. "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered thee, O Zion. As for our harps, we hanged them up on the trees that grow therein. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, then let my right hand forget her cunning." We all know that poem, though we ignore its appalling conclusion. It is the lamentation sung by Jews for centuries, and beside waters far from Babylon.
The appalling conclusion has not been executed by them, but upon them and their children in almost every country of the world, especially in Eastern Europe. But still the hearts of all Jews have turned to Zion, and they have never forgotten Jerusalem. Early in the fourth century, while Constantine was still establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman-Greek Empire, we read of Jews going to their sacred city's ruins to utter their lamentations beside the big stones of the Wailing Wall, sole relics of their Temple. From age to age it was the custom of devout Jews to wander to the City, there to meditate upon the Law, and to die. Such holy pilgrims come even to this day, and I have seen them roaming about Jerusalem clad in enormous hats and long coats from head to foot, wearing besides long curls on each side of the face according to some Rabbinical precept. Pale and thin they looked, for the support they used to get from Russian Jews has now been shut off by the Soviets. One group at least of these solemn students, and probably more, are to be found among the mountain regions in the north. But though many of these scholars and pious hermits have been killed in the recent massacres -- including that gallant Dr. Wiener, chief of scholars, who devoted his life to the service and friendship of Arabs -- it was certainly not they against whom the fury of the Arabs was directed.
It was against the permanent settlers who have returned to Palestine from various parts of the world, not to meditate and die, but to labor and live. About fifty years ago, a few Jews in Jerusalem began to found "colonies" in the country, being assisted by Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris, who poured money into the cause. Their large and flourishing settlements still exist, such as Petah Tikvah ("Dawn of Hope"), famous for its Jaffa oranges; Rishon-le-Zion, famous for its wines till the United States adopted prohibition, but now converting its vineyards into orange groves; and Rosh Pinah, the beautiful hillside town above Lake Merom in the north. These settlements have been run upon the old-fashioned lines of private property and hired labor, both discouraged under the new Zionist rules. Like all pioneers the early settlers suffered, being harassed by the Arabs and the Turkish rulers, and plagued by malaria and absence of drainage.
Just at the beginning of this century a fresh start was made by the Palestine Land Development Company, which has grown into the Zionist Organization, directed till quite lately by the Zionist General Executive, appointed by the Zionist Congress meeting once in two years. Some change was effected in the constitution at the Zurich Congress last July and August, but the administrative powers of the new "Jewish Agency" are still divided into the two branches of "The Jewish National Fund" (Keren Kayemeth), for the purchase, draining, and improvement of inalienable land bought as a rule from big Arab owners incapable of putting it to use; and "The Zionist General Fund" (Keren Hayesod), which collects money, organizes immigration, allots settlers, controls the Jewish schools, and treats with the Mandatory Government. These two branches are the responsible instruments of Zionist movement in Palestine.
The main principles upon which these two organizations have hitherto acted are: 1, that each family should receive not more than 100 dunams (25 acres) on lease at a small rent for 49 years, the first 5 years free; 2, that the settler and this family should work the land themselves, without hired labor; 3, that the cultivation should be "mixed farming," each family supplying its own provisions first; 4, that the land should be prepared beforehand by drainage, water supply, and roads; and 5, that settlers should choose their own social system, whether "individual" or "collective." There is also a practical rule that Hebrew should be the common language. Happily most Jews have some acquaintance with Hebrew owing to their liturgies. Otherwise the numbers of Russian, German, Czech, Polish, American and other races could not communicate. In Tel-Aviv, a purely Jewish town, and at Haifa, mainly Jewish, I found Hebrew the only tongue among the people, though English and Arabic are also the official languages, and German is widely understood.
The expenses for the purchase of land and outfit are heavy. Arab landowners hold about 40 percent of the cultivable land. A great deal even of that is poorly managed, and the owners are always willing to sell more land than the Zionists can buy. With purchase and drainage I found the land cost the Keren Kayemeth about $100 an acre; the Fund then owned about 47,000 acres, and the total cost of settling each family worked out at about $6,000. Part of this is already being repaid by the small rent of 2 percent after five years free; on urban land the rent is 4 percent, and is revised every ten years. One may say that the two branches of the Zionist Organization between them have hitherto been bringing about $5,000,000 a year into the country by outside subscriptions. These have come mainly from Jews in the United States -- about one-third. The contributions from South African Jews come second. The English Jews come a poor third. Other nations "also ran."
The first object of the Zionist Organization is to establish agricultural colonies, and to me the greatest marvel of the whole scheme was to behold some 26,000 young Jewish men and women actually tilling the ground. There I found them in their own colonies, braving hardship, unaccustomed labor, heat, wet, dust, flies, cold, fever, isolation from the civilized world, and often a hostile neighborhood. Nothing but hope, patriotism, or religion could carry them through, and many had all three. All at least were filled with the joy of having escaped the tyranny, fear, and contempt under which they and their fathers had so long suffered. They run their colonies on one of two systems -- the individualist (Moshav Ovdim) or the communal (Kvutzah). In the one, each family keeps its own profits; in the other, all produce is placed in a common store and given out according to need. In communal settlements there is no money; a second miracle.
These communal settlements naturally attracted me most, for the interest of their experiment. Some kind of treasurer collected the produce, sold any surplus, and bought what was wanted from outside in a town such as Tel-Aviv. Then if anyone needed clothing, food, fuel, or furniture, he or she applied to the common storehouse and received it. In all the villages where I stayed there was a common hall for meals and concerts or debates; a common nursery for all children by night and day, controlled, not by the mothers, but by women specially adapted by nature to look after children. Thus the mothers were set free for work by day and sleep by night. I asked the mothers how they knew their babies, and they could only say, "Of course we know them!" The Platonic ideal of a communal state in which mothers would never know their own children and would be indifferent whose baby they nursed has not yet been reached. Public opinion, I was told, was strong enough to put any "slacker" to shame, but as a last resort the community might tell him to go. Life in all the colonies looked hard, but patriotism and freedom kept it fairly happy.
Of the towns, Tel-Aviv, which has extended far along the coast north of Jaffa, is the most important. Twenty years ago the site was a heap of sandhills, but by digging deep, one may make even sand into a firm foundation. Now the population is nearly 50,000, the streets straight, the houses strong, white, and clean, with banks, hotels, and small factories worked by the electric power supplied by the Ruthenberg system, soon to be maintained by the small but sufficient force of the Jordan and another river. It is a modern town, and along the shore all the modern delights of bathing places, casinos, cinemas, boating, and riding may be enjoyed. It was indeed a cheering sight to watch the young Jews exulting there in new-found freedom and the open sunshine beside the sea.
In a similar manner the large town of Haifa on the northern side of Mount Carmel is extending northward along the coast. A large tract of deserted land, mainly sand or marsh, towards Akka (Acre) has been purchased for future development, and if the design of the Mandated Government is carried out, Haifa is likely to become the most important port in Palestine, not to say in the eastern Mediterranean. For it is intended to convert the estuary of the river Kishon into a harbor, and in that case the Zionist city would run round it and away to the north. Already the Jews have big houses along the slopes of Mount Carmel, and a large School of Science for practical training besides. On the level stand cement works and soap works that appear to prosper. When I was there I saw gangs of Jewish youths toiling almost naked in the swamps -- always a dangerous task owing to the frequency of malaria. But I am told that now the Government are employing Arab labor upon the harbor scheme, because an Arab will work for five piastres a day (equal to twenty-five cents) whereas the Jew demands as much as fifteen.
I think what struck me most in examining the Zionist activities on the spot was the courage and hardihood of the Jewish pioneers (the Halutzim, as they are called) in fighting against the malarial marshes at Haifa, and just south of the Sea of Galilee, and throughout the long, broad reach of the Emek (the Valley of Jezreel, Esdraelon, or Armageddon, from which our poetic journalists took their name for the Great War). It stretches southeast from Mount Carmel right away almost to the Jordan, and bears many Zionist colonies on both sides of its length. But among Jewish towns one must also reckon Jerusalem itself, at least one-third, and some say two-thirds Jewish. It has a large Jewish quarter and a wealthy Jewish suburb to the northwest, not to speak of the Jewish University slowly rising on Mount Scopus whence the camp of Titus overlooked the ancient city before its destruction.
The Jewish population in Palestine is now reckoned at about 160,000 inclusive, as against about 750,000 Arabs. The number of immigrants permitted is regulated by the Keren Hayesod in consultation with the Mandate officials. In 1925 the immigrants were far too numerous, and counted among them too many professional people, for whom no place could be found. What the effect of the recent atrocities is upon immigration or emigration I cannot say, but Jews have suffered similar abominations so often and so long that probably they will not be discouraged. Zionist contributions at all events are said to have largely increased, and it must be remembered that the Zionist movement has the word and the support of the British Empire behind it. As Professor Einstein, finest of living intellects, has written:
The Jewish people, beset with a thousand physical wrongs and moral degradations, saw in the British promise the sure rock on which it could recreate a Jewish national life in Palestine, which, by its very existence as well as by its intellectual and material achievements, would imbue the Jewish masses, dispersed all over the world, with a new sense of hope, dignity, and pride.[i]
One feels a touch of reproach in that reference to the British promise as a sure rock; and, unhappily, the reproach is justified. It would take too long here to trace the negotiations leading up to the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 -- negotiations largely carried on between Mr. Balfour and the Zionists of those days in the United States.[ii] The main clause of the famous Declaration runs:
His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.
During the negotiations Mr. Balfour (now Lord Balfour) professed himself "a Zionist," and has since given proofs of his sincerity by supporting the Zionist cause, by laying the foundation of the Zionist University overlooking Jerusalem, by risking the hostility of the Moslem populace in Damascus, and by sitting patiently through interminable speeches at Zionist dinners. In accordance with the Declaration, the League of Nations conferred upon Great Britain the Mandate over Palestine, making her "responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative, and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of a Jewish National Home and the development of self-governing institutions;" also "for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine irrespective of race and religion."
Thus, with the consent of the other European Powers, such as France and Italy, Great Britain became the Mandatory responsible to the League for the good government of Palestine, and in many respects she has fulfilled her Mandate well. She sent Sir Herbert Samuel as High Commissioner, and his report upon his five years of administration is a model of what such a report should be. She sent Lord Plumer, one of the most distinguished generals in the war, and by his side stood Colonel Symes, a model of equity. Now she has sent Sir John Chancellor, an administrator with experience of the East; but, unfortunately, he was absent in London during the recent troubles. Mr. Luke, whom he appointed to act in his place, appears not to have shown the requisite wisdom or foresight in his charge, but his case has not yet, as I write, come before the Commission of Enquiry.
The Mandatory Power began characteristically by improving the water-supply of Jerusalem and cleaning up its filthy streets. But we owe to the British Governor of the City, Sir Ronald Storrs, its preservation from destruction by broad roads running through the ancient centers and tramways laid up the Mount of Olives. The government also instituted a tolerable system of justice under British judges, with an Arab and a Jewish assessor. They also offered an elective Council in place of government by Orders in Council, but the Arabs refused to take part, fearing, as they said, that Jews and British on the Council would combine against them. The fear was groundless, for among the government officials, as in the Roman and Anglican Catholic Churches, there is always a certain prejudice in favor of the Arabs. British officials favor uncivilized or partially civilized peoples as being easier to govern. Charges of favoritism arise from both sides, and there is no doubt that, in the appointment of police, the government has unhappily favored the Arabs, partly for cheapness, because the Arab will work for about a third of the Jew's wages, as I noticed above. In giving evidence before the Commission of Enquiry early in November, Major Saunders, Commandant of Police, admitted that during the atrocities he could not depend upon his force because they were nearly all Arabs -- a shameful lapse from good government.
In building the admirable new roads the government have shown more consideration for both races. Along both sides of the central track for motors they have left soft paths for the camels of the Arab population, and the frequent sight of camels and motors upon the same road suggested to me a comparison between the two races. Like the ancient and picturesque race of Arabs, there go the camels, stalking through this puddle of a world with turned-down noses and disdainful air, like members of a British House of Lords under a Labor Government. They will make their fifteen or twenty miles a day without much to eat or drink. But down the center of the road rushes the motor at more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour. Such is the clash of two races, of two civilizations, the eastern and the western, and that clash lies at the root of all the present woe.
In passing, I must notice certain charges brought against the British action throughout -- charges of self-interest. I do not know what thoughts influenced Mr. Balfour in framing his Declaration. I believe they were mainly a noble idea of seeking a home for Jews in their historic and religious land, but he may well have sought also how best to please the 15,000,000 Jews in the world at a crisis of the Great War. At all events the Mandate now gives us advantages which Mr. Balfour could not then foresee. By the recent Treaty we are now withdrawing the British troops from Cairo, with the apparent intention of camping them upon the Canal for its own defense. But in the war we found how absurd it was to make the Canal its own defense, and only people entirely ignorant of the Canal would have expected British soldiers to live healthy and contented upon its banks. I cannot doubt that ultimately we shall place our protective force somewhere in Palestine, as being far preferable for health and defense.
We shall also now have to consider, not only the reëstablishment of order in Palestine itself, but our defense upon the eastern frontier. Jews are not permitted to settle in the large and scantily populated region of Transjordania, which is a separate province under the Mandate. Its eastern frontier is vague and arbitrary, and beyond it lies the enormous land of Arabia proper. When I was in Ammam, the furthest outpost of Transjordania, and the seat of the Ameer Abdulla, son of Hussein, formerly Sherif of Mecca, and brother of King Feisal of Iraq, it appeared to me the weakest point of the Empire. Our British force there was obviously small. The Arab armed force was small too, and no one could say how trustworthy. If Ibn Sa'ud, the conqueror of the Hedjaz and ruler of all Arabia but the Yemen in the extreme south, were to sweep over the frontier with his fanatical Wahabis -- ! Well, all controversies between Christians, Zionists, and Palestinian Arabs would then be choked in the Mediterranean. Happily, Ibn Sa'ud is our friend, and we have Treaties concluded with him in May 1927 by Sir Godfrey Clayton, an administrator so grievously lost to the cause of peace this year. But Arab chiefs are not immortal, and it would be folly to remain blind to the possibilities of the peril. Now that we are withdrawing from Egypt, it is in Palestine that our line of defense must run. As to the charge that we hold Palestine for the sake of a possible pipeline to carry oil from Mosul to Haifa, that is an advantage which need hardly be considered yet.
"But," say the Arabs "what about us? There are between 700,000 and 800,000 of us in Palestine. We have lived here for some thirteen centuries, under one rule or another; for four centuries under the Turks. But we claim to belong to the great Pan Arabian movement that has been growing since the beginning of this century, and was encouraged by the promises of the British and other Allies, if only we would join in the revolt against the Turks in the Great War. We Arabs did join. In January 1916 Sir Henry MacMahon, British Resident in Cairo, made an agreement with Emir Hussein, then Sherif of Mecca and the Hedjaz, promising to help the formation of an independent Arab empire, one of the boundaries of which was to be the Egyptian frontier and the Mediterranean. How are you going to get out of that?"
I admit the terms are explicit, and we cannot get out of them, except on the assumption that Sir Henry in the confusion of the war either went beyond his instructions or forgot Palestine. The course of events swept that agreement away. Only a few months later the treaty between Great Britain and France known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, marking out Iraq and Syria as their several spheres of influence, laid it down that central Palestine should come under an international administration to be arranged by the Allies and the Sherif of Mecca. The Conference of San Remo and the Treaty of Sèvres followed. The Emir Hussein was driven from Damascus by the French, and from the Hedjaz by Ibn Sa'ud. His sons have been granted kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordania. Writing to Professor Felix Frankfurter, of Harvard University, in March, 1919, the Emir Feisal, now King of Iraq, expressed as follows his sympathy with the Zionist hopes:
We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in race, have suffered similar oppressions at the hands of Powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideas together. We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. . . . We will do our best, so far as we are concerned, to help them through; we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home. . . . We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is national, and not imperialist. Our movement is national and not imperialist, and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed, I think that neither can be a real success without the other.
I have a copy of the original letter, and that appears to me a strong argument as coming from one of Emir Hussein's sons. But I admit the wording of Sir Henry MacMahon's promise was a mistake, and it gives the Arabs of Palestine fair ground for complaint. It is calculated that out of a probable total of 10,000,000 Arabs, some 7,000,000 have now been delivered from Turkish rule, while about 2,000,000 live under the French Mandate in Syria, and 1,000000, under the British Mandate in Palestine together with Transjordania. That is the extent to which the rash promise has been fulfilled.
As to the dispute over the Wailing Wall which was the immediate occasion of the recent abominable onslaught upon the Jews throughout Palestine, the subject, as I write, is still under investigation by the special Commission, and in any case it was only a symptom of deep-lying antagonism. All the evidence at present before me certainly points to the evil influence of the Arab Mufti, Amin el Husseini, sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for his share in the outrages in 1920, but unhappily amnestied and then elected to his present position. Evidence also seems to show great negligence on the part of Mr. Luke, whose duty it was to maintain order and impartial justice in the absence of the High Commissioner. But we shall presently have the Commission's judgment, and to them we may leave the decision.
The future is obscure. At the present time Arab hostility thus aroused continues unabated. External order will be restored by British troops and a reformed police. But one cannot sit still on bayonets, and I can only hope that the wise words of King Feisal in the letter above quoted may be fulfilled. Only of one thing I am certain. No matter what clamor certain popular papers in London may raise, the Balfour Declaration will not be withdrawn, nor our Mandate over Palestine abandoned. Writing to Dr. Weizmann, chairman at the great Albert Hall meeting of indignant protest after the news of the Arab atrocities reached London, that aged and honored statesman, Lord Balfour, said:
Events in Palestine move my indignation and disgust, but they do nothing to shake my confidence in the general wisdom of the policy which you and your colleagues have been pursuing so successfully in Palestine under the Mandated system with all its inherent difficulties. The British Empire and all the Powers with whom it has been so closely associated, have solemnly declared their intention of again rendering Palestine the National Home of the Jewish People. That policy is in harmony with the best opinion of Western civilization in all parts of the world. To its fulfilment is promised the support of the British Empire. That pledge has been given. Depend upon it, it is not going to be withdrawn.
This appears to me conclusive.
[i] Letter to the Manchester Guardian, Oct. 18, 1929.
[ii] See especially "Louis D. Brandeis," by Jacob de Haas: pp. 48-123.