How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
WHEN the United Nations prepared its plan for the partition of Palestine in the autumn of 1947, it drew the demarcation line in such a manner that the Arabs to be included in the proposed Jewish state looked like being very nearly as numerous as the Jews. This indeed was the principal problem which seemed likely to face the Jewish state when it came into existence on May 15, 1948. How were the Jews to run a "Jewish state" in which nearly half the inhabitants would be Arabs?
When the British Mandate came to an end on May 15, guerrilla fighting between Jews and Arabs had already been going on for some months, as the British forces gradually dwindled. On that date the fighting became general.
Both before and after the end of the Mandate, the Israelis seized every possible opportunity to get rid of the Arabs still living in the area allotted to the Jewish state. In some cases, massacre was resorted to, as in the Arab village of Deir Yassin, where the women of the village were massacred and their bodies thrown down the wells--one morning when most of the men of the village were away at work. One such incident went a long way, and the inhabitants of neighboring villages panicked and fled.
In the course of the fighting, the Jews captured a number of Arab towns and villages, some of which were in the area allotted to the Arabs under the United Nations partition plan. In many such instances, the civil inhabitants were driven out immediately by Israeli troops or were given half an hour to leave. In some cases, all the means of transport were seized by the Israeli army, so that the inhabitants were obliged to abandon all their possessions in their homes.
In general, the Israelis were most ruthless in driving out the Arab civil population from places in the coastal plain or near Tel Aviv, then the Israeli capital. In northern Galilee, which they captured from the Syrian Army, they were far less ruthless, and most of the Arab inhabitants remained. Presumably the hilly district, far removed from vital strategic centers, was not considered to threaten the safety of the State of Israel.
It was in this manner that the Arab refugee problem came into existence. More than half the total number of refugees sought asylum in Jordan, which according to United Nations statistics now contains 450,000 refugees. The total number of inhabitants of Jordan is about 1,400,000. Thus it will be seen that the refugees constitute about one-third of the inhabitants of the country.
The general fighting in Palestine came to an end in July 1948. When all parties accepted the United Nations Armistice, the Egyptian Army was still in occupation of the Negeb (the Beersheba area) and of the Wadi Araba, the depression which runs from the Dead Sea down to the Red Sea. This area had been allotted to Israel in the United Nations partition plan, but the Israelis had failed to occupy it. On the other hand, west of Jerusalem and in northern Galilee they had occupied areas allotted by the United Nations to the Arabs.
In October 1948, the Israeli Army broke the United Nations Armistice and attacked the Egyptians. It is true that the Israelis claimed that it was the Egyptians who broke it. For 15 days before the battle began, however, the Israelis had refused to allow United Nations observers to visit the area in which their troops were concentrating. The Egyptians were taken completely by surprise, and suffered a serious reverse. The Israelis thereupon occupied the Beersheba area.
Few outsiders realize now that the whole of the southern part of Israel as it stands today was won, not in the general fighting from May to July 1948, but by a deliberate violation of the United Nations Armistice in October 1948. The Israeli Army had been able to increase its strength in the interval by consignments of arms received from behind the Iron Curtain.
Israel was to be guilty of one more breach of the United Nations Armistice. Jordan had been in military occupation of the Wadi Araba since the end of the British Mandate in May 1948, and in August 1948, as already mentioned, the United Nations had arranged an armistice. In the autumn, Jordan and Israel concluded a separate agreement of their own covering the Jerusalem area, and representatives of the two countries met in Rhodes on April 3, 1949, to conclude a new armistice. While these direct Israel-Jordan negotiations were going on in Rhodes, suspicious Israeli troop movements were observed southeast of Beersheba. The Jordan Government cabled its delegation in Rhodes instructing it to ask for an Israeli explanation. The Israeli delegation vehemently denied any military movements. Three days later, however, while negotiations were still proceeding in Rhodes, the Israeli Army launched its offensive against the Jordan forces in the Wadi Araba, in defiance of the previous armistice agreements to which the Israel Government had subscribed, in contradiction of its own assurances given only three days before, and while its own delegation was negotiating with a Jordan Government delegation in Rhodes.
I do not refer to these past incidents in a spirit of recrimination. It is necessary, however, to understand the history of the problem in order to understand the obstacles to trust and reconciliation today.
The Israeli conquest of the Negeb (the Jews spell the word Negev) produced a new wave of refugees who sought asylum in Jordan. This was not the case, however, in the neighborhood of Beersheba; although that district was principally inhabited by Arab tribes, these were farmers despite the fact that they lived in tents. Homogeneous tribal communities like these did not panic and take to flight as did the individual citizens of the towns and villages further north. Israel took over control of the Beersheba area, but the tribes remained on their lands.
In the subsequent two years the great majority of these tribes were evicted by the Israeli authorities. Since such an eviction was contrary to the terms of the armistice signed at Rhodes it was not carried out by direct military action. The tribes were living and cultivating their own lands, but the Mandatory Government had not yet carried out complete land settlement of the area. Consequently individuals did not hold title deeds for their land, although the boundaries of tribal areas had been demarcated. This situation gave the Israeli authorities an opportunity. They began on various pretexts to move these tribes from place to place. They refused to admit the right of the tribes to ownership of tribal lands, and ordered them to live in other and less fertile areas. In some cases, tribes were allowed to plough and sow their land, and when the crop was above ground, the tribe was moved to another area and the crop was harvested by the Jews.
By such means life was made economically impossible for the Beersheba Arab tribes. At this stage, hints were dropped that perhaps the tribesmen would be happier in Jordan. If the suggestion was not welcomed they were moved once more, perhaps to a rocky hillside where life was virtually impossible. Eventually when a tribe "opted" to migrate into Jordan, the Israeli Government was careful to secure a signature from the chief to the effect that they had migrated voluntarily. In this manner the Israeli Government succeeded in getting rid of most of the tribes of the Beersheba plains and in taking over their lands. There is no doubt that this action was contrary to the spirit of the armistice. It was carried out by making life administratively and economically impossible for the Arabs in question. The process was arrested only in 1952, when yet another tribe arrived at the border to cross into Jordan. The Jordan Government refused to admit it and appealed to the United Nations. The Israeli Government was obliged to allow it to remain.
The Beersheba tribes who migrated into Jordan were peculiarly unfortunate because the United Nations Relief and Works Agency at first refused to recognize them as refugees or to give them relief. As hostilities were not in progress, they were presumably regarded as immigrants into Jordan and not as refugees. Many of these people died of starvation in the ensuing year, before their status was admitted and they were granted relief.
Such, in outline, are the origins of the Arab refugee problem in Jordan. A few of the refugees came voluntarily just before the end of the British Mandate. The vast majority were violently driven out by the Israeli Army during the fighting in 1948. The Arab tribes of the Beersheba area were manoeuvred out of their lands by making their lives economically impossible.
Let us now return to the refugees from the cities and villages of of the coastal plain and the foothills of Judaea and Samaria. When the fighting ended with the signature of the Israel-Jordan armistice agreement in April 1948, most of these refugees were huddled in camps or scattered in caves in the rocky hills of Judaea and Samaria. Many of them could actually see their homes and their farms, their cottages and their gardens. The great majority of them had fled in the clothes in which they stood, abandoning all their possessions in their houses. In a great many cases, families had become divided. Old people unable to escape had stayed behind. A wife had fled with her children when her husband had been away at work, and so on.
A naïve idea also prevailed amongst Arab villagers when the armistice was signed that the troubles were over and they could now go home and resume their normal lives. As a result of this idea, and the other considerations just mentioned, no sooner was the Rhodes armistice signed in April 1949 than a number of the refugees walked across the armistice line into Israel and made for their homes. All or nearly all were unarmed, and their intentions were perfectly innocently to collect their possessions, to search for their relatives or just plainly to "go home." The presence of these Arabs in Israel had, however, caused the Jews one of their principal anxieties at the beginning. They had got rid of them by ruthless methods, and they were certainly not going to allow them back.
I am personally convinced that the Israelis here made a major psychological error. They determined to use ruthless methods to prevent any of the refugees from returning. These Arabs returning to look for their homes were at first almost entirely unarmed. A great number of them were shot dead, without question or answer, by the first Israeli patrol they met. Others were maltreated or tortured.
It is of course easy to be wise after the event. Even so, I cannot help thinking that many later troubles would have been avoided if the Israelis had at this stage used more self-control. If "infiltrators" had been arrested and charged before a magistrate with illegal entry, the result might have been more effective. For more than 10 years now, the Jews of Israel have relied almost solely on violence, apparently disregarding the lesson so often taught in history that violence inevitably breeds counter-violence. As might perhaps have been foreseen, Israeli violence did not put an end to "infiltration." Instead, the innocent attempts of the refugees to find their relatives or to collect their property, which could scarcely have been more than a nuisance, assumed the proportions of a problem.
When it became clear that the Israelis would shoot on sight any Arab who crossed the armistice line, the number of persons crossing with no evil intent decreased. But the few who for one reason or another still went did so fully armed, and if they saw Israelis coming they shot first. What might have been a passport offense, a nuisance, was unnecessarily magnified by the brutal methods employed.
Not all so-called infiltrators were of this type, however. By occupying the Beersheba area down to the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel had severed the land passage joining Asia to Africa. The so-called Gaza strip, formerly a part of Palestine, was cut off from Arab Palestine and Jordan. There was no way of getting from Jordan, Syria or Lebanon to Gaza and to Egypt except by air, for such as could afford it. Those who could not pay for an air passage walked across the Israel-held Beersheba area in the hours of darkness. They did so for many reasons, but they did not do so to injure the Jews--merely because they had business on the other side. Some were engaged in perfectly legitimate trade, and drove pack animals loaded with rice, sugar or consumer goods. Some were smugglers. Some were traffickers in forbidden drugs. Some came from Gaza to Jordan to look for work. None of these persons who crossed the Beersheba area wished to attack the Jews, but Israeli patrols frequently intercepted and killed them. And as the numbers of killed increased, so did the numbers of embittered persons mount up. Men whose fathers, brothers, sons or even wives and daughters had been killed on the Gaza caravans longed for revenge. Some of them went back to kill a Jew to pay off the debt. Thus another comparatively harmless activity-- crossing from Jordan to Gaza and back--had been handled with unwarranted ruthlessness.
The armistice line itself produced other varieties of "infiltration." In many cases, the line divided a man's home from his orchard. If he went out to pick an apple in his own garden, he was shot dead as an infiltrator. The little town of Qalqiliya lies on the foothills of the mountains of Samaria, on the edge of the coastal plain. Just to the west of the town this plain is thickly covered with luxuriant orange groves, on the produce of which Qalqiliya lived. The armistice line divided the town from its orange groves and thereby cut off its livelihood. At the first orange-picking season, many people of Qalqiliya went over the line, each man to pick his own oranges from his own trees. The Israelis concealed patrols in the orange groves and killed the pickers. The resulting incidents were described by the Israelis as armed incursions of bandits.
There were other sorts of "infiltration." A certain Arab family had remained in Israel, and they had a son 15 years old. The boy refused to finish his education in Israel. He "infiltrated" into Jordan and went to college. At vacation times, he "infiltrated" back to Israel to see his parents. Or take another example. The women of the Moslem Arab tribes of South Palestine were used to being veiled and to wearing long sweeping skirts. They could not at once accustom themselves to wearing the European clothes and short skirts which were the only ones to be bought in Israel. Their husbands "infiltrated" to Jordan to buy them their traditional Arab clothes. Such examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Most of these cases were the inevitable result of the sudden violent bisection of a country which had been one for eight centuries. Inevitably all sorts of complicated problems and conflicting interests required settlement. Sub-machine guns and hand grenades did not provide an adequate solution.
When the Israeli Government discovered that shooting the infiltrators did not put an end to infiltration, they took refuge in military reprisals. These at first were on a small scale. A party of eight or ten Israeli soldiers would cross into Jordan and approach a small village; the first one or two persons encountered would be killed, and the patrol would return across the armistice line. Sometimes the patrols came across at night and threw hand grenades into the windows of houses, sometimes killing women and children in their beds. In these reprisals the Israelis almost invariably killed the innocent.
The Israeli Government, seeing that its reprisals by military patrols were not effective, did not apparently conclude that its policy was wrong. It decided to use more force. Platoon attacks by the Israeli Army became the order of the day. Against these military attacks on their villages, the Jordan authorities organized the National Guard to defend the villages. The Israeli platoon attacks were repulsed. The Israelis then stepped up their reprisals by using companies of infantry supported by mortars. The Jordan Government then began to put barbed-wire entanglements around frontier villages. The Israeli Army replied by using battalions, bombarding the villages with mortars and using detachments of engineers to blow a path through the barbed wire. Other engineers carried prepared charges, which they laid in the captured village and blew down the houses into heaps of rubble.
In the face of this situation, the Jordan Government has been saying the same thing for five years. The problem of the refugees, it says, was not invented by the Jordan Government. One-third of the people in the country are refugees driven out of territory now held by Israel. It is fruitless to argue whether the refugee problem was created by British policy or by the United Nations or by Israel or by Jordan. The problem is with us. Jordan has never undertaken to prevent every person from crossing an imaginary line nearly 500 miles long. It is quite impossible to do so. Jordan, however, believes that the problem is a police problem. It believes that intimate coöperation between the police forces of the two sides is the essential, and that this coöperation must be carried out at the level of the local police officer. If persons who have illegally crossed the armistice line are to be apprehended, a rapid exchange of information is essential. If an infiltrator is located in Israel, the information should be telephoned to the Jordan police within an hour so that an attempt can be made to arrest the offender as he recrosses the border.
Jordan has constantly pressed for frequent meetings of police officers all up and down the border line. It is confident that by steady police coöperation of this kind, together with full exchange of information between the two police forces, infiltration can be reduced to a minimum. On one or two occasions when Israeli and Jordanian police officers on either side of the border have "got together," incidents in their area have virtually ceased, a fact which seems amply to confirm the Jordan thesis. But Jordan has been preaching for five years to deaf ears.
In the absence of coöperation from Israel, Jordan has made the most strenuous efforts to prevent civilians from crossing the line. A great many arrests have been made in the past five years, and many hundreds of persons are in prison on charges of infiltration. The whole border area is crisscrossed with police and army patrols at night. As a result of these energetic measures, infiltration has been reduced to very small proportions. General Bennike, the United Nations Chief of Staff, bore witness in his last report of Jordan's efforts to prevent infiltration.
In this connection, it is worthy of note that in international practice every nation is responsible for the prevention of illegal entry into its frontiers. If a Canadian citizen should enter the United States illegally, the Government of the United States does not make a diplomatic protest to Canada. It merely tightens up its own frontier precautions. Israel, however, claims on the contrary that Jordan is solely responsible for preventing Jordanians from entering Israel illegally. Jordan constantly expresses her readiness to coöperate with Israel in doing so. But Israel, while refusing such coöperation in practical terms, claims that Jordan is solely to blame. In spite of this, Jordan, unaided by Israel, has almost put a stop to infiltration into Israel, although by international practice it is Israel which should be primarily responsible for the protection of her own border.
Against the Jordan plan for the decentralization of minor incidents so that they are handled by local police officers, the Israelis prefer that all incidents be dealt with in the Central Mixed Armistice Commission in Jerusalem. The number of complaints is, however, so great that the M.A.C. is often two months in arrears in dealing with them. From the point of view of police action, this is obviously absurd. If arrests are to be made, the police must receive information in a matter of hours--not weeks or even, as sometimes happens, months. Moreover, the Israelis have a habit of handing in a bunch of complaints, 20 or 30 together, and sometimes six weeks or more old. It seems unlikely that the Israeli police are so inefficient that this is the best they can do. Although such complaints are so out of date and so vague that they cannot be traced, the Israeli Government nevertheless adds them to its "statistics," which receive the maximum of publicity throughout the world.
Not only is the Mixed Armistice Commission overloaded with complaints, it works under another handicap also. It receives a good deal of publicity and the speeches made in it are often reported in the press. There is a strong impression that the Israeli speakers at meetings of the Mixed Armistice Commission are really addressing the people of Israel, the United Nations or the American public rather than attempting to settle minor disputes up and down 500 miles of border. The accumulation of many hundreds of complaints provides the opportunity for an eloquent speech of indignation. If, as should have been the case, three-quarters of these incidents had been settled by the local policemen within a few hours of their occurrence, they would have produced no dividend in the way of world publicity.
It is not my intention, however, to deny that infiltration has taken place in the past and that thefts of farm animals, water piping and a few other items have occurred. The articles stolen are usually such as are left out in the fields at night. But reference to United Nations statistics reveals that a high proportion of articles stolen are returned by the Jordan police. As against these thefts, Israeli Army patrols have an awkward habit of driving off Jordanian flocks of sheep. On the whole, the value of property lost by the two sides is often roughly the same. There is, however, a difference. Thefts from Israel by Jordanians are carried out by thieves, who are nearly all destitute refugees evicted from Israel. The looting of Jordan flocks is carried out by patrols of the Israeli Army.
The activities of the Israeli Army are not, however, limited to the occasional looting of sheep. Infinitely more serious, and in fact the root of the whole problem, are the military attacks on Jordanian villages carried out by units of the Israeli Army. The now notorious attack on Qibya village in October 1953 was only a peculiarly bloody example of the kind of "reprisal" attack carried out again and again by the Israeli Army for the past five years. In these attacks, men, women and children are slaughtered indiscriminately. Sometimes also the village is deliberately destroyed with explosives.
I do not arrogate to myself the right to pronounce on the moral aspect of such actions. But if I may adapt the famous epigram of Talleyrand, I would say, "These actions may or may not be crimes, but they are most certainly a mistake." Massacres of innocent people only make matters worse. As an Arab delegate recently said in New York, "Israel cannot shoot her way to peace."
One last word remains to be said. We have heard much lately of Israeli invitations to high-level meetings with Jordan, and of Jordan's refusal. This situation requires explanation.
As I have said above, Jordan believes that the problem of frontier incidents is one for the police. She believes that the solution lies under the hands of the two governments and is comparatively simple, namely: to stop using armies and to ensure police coöperation; and to decentralize the handling of minor incidents to local police officers on both sides. Jordan has found Israel completely uncoöperative towards these proposals.
Instead, Israel uses two weapons: set-piece attacks on Arab villages by the Israeli Army; and public statements on international platforms, offering peace and proposing high-level conferences, preferably in New York. The Jordanians are firmly convinced that such offers are purely political manœuvres made in order to gain publicity at Jordan's expense--particularly in America. "If the Israelis really want to stop incidents," say the Jordanians, "they have only to order their police force to coöperate fully with the Jordan police."
One often reads statements to the effect that both Jordan and Israel are equally guilty of aggression. But it is essential to remember the point which I have made above, namely that the incidents on the two sides are different in nature. The incidents carried out by Jordanians are the work of destitute refugees, whom the Jordan Government is doing its very utmost to control. The incidents carried out by Israelis, however, are not the work of individuals but are acts of aggression carried out by the armed forces of the Israeli Government.
The Army of Jordan is better known to the world at large as the Arab Legion. In the five years which have elapsed since the Rhodes Armistice was signed in April 1949, not one single incursion into Israel-held territory has been either planned or executed or even connived at by the Arab Legion, or by any other armed force controlled by the Jordan Government. This is a fact.