How Israel Sought to Maintain a Jewish Majority without Expelling the Arabs

BDS activists assert that Israel came into being through a calculated plan to ethnically cleanse the country of the Arab population, this is simply libel and the evidence shows the complete opposite.

The mainstream leadership under Chaim Weizmann, the head of the World Zionist Organisation and David Ben Gurion as the head of the Jewish agency had a different plan for dealing with this demographic question.

On 7th June 1939, the Jewish Agency Executive held a meeting where Ben Gurion proposed his ‘lines of action’ regarding the question of the Arab population in the prospective Jewish State.1 He proposed the following points:

  • ‘The constitution of the Jewish State will be based on the general voting right of all its adult citizens regardless of their religion, race, sex or class…’(Line of Action 19)
  • ‘The Jewish State will protect the rights of the religious and national minorities and will ensure the freedom of worship and conscience of all communities and citizens’ (Line of Action 21)
  • ‘Every religious community will enjoy complete freedom to make its own practising arrangements, without undermining public order and the foundations of morality. Holy days of each religious community will be recognized as official resting days of this community’ (Line of Action 22)
  • ‘There will be no discrimination among citizens of the Jewish State on the basis of race, religion, sex or class…’ (Line of Action 23)
  • ‘Hebrew will be the state language. But every national minority will be given the full freedom to use its own language in educating its children and managing the rest of its internal needs’ (Line of Action 24)
  • ‘The Arab minority will be able to use the Arabic language not only in its own educational, religious, and communal institutions, but also its contacts with all state institutions. In every district, town, or village, where Arabs form a majority, all government announcements will be published in Arabic as well’ (Line of Action 25)
  • ‘The Jewish State will not contest itself with full legal equality of all its citizens but will make deliberate graduated efforts to bring the equality of life of the Arab minority to the cultural, social, and economic level of the Jewish majority – through compulsory education to all children, medical and sanitary services, special legislation to protect industrial workers, and the cultivation of general trade unionism and market cooperation with no ethnic discrimination among Jewish and Arab workers, peasants, members of free professions, industrialists, and merchants’ (Line of Action 26)
  • ‘Until the barriers between the standards of living of the Jewish majority and the Arab minority have been blurred – the state will ensure a fair percentage of its working places and services to Arab civil servants and workers at equal salaries to Jewish servants and workers. In addition, Arab representatives will be ensured a fair percentage in the states elected institutions, without institutionalizing sectarian elections’ (Line of Action 27)
  • ‘In tandem with its effective protection of minority rights in all economic, political, and cultural walks of life – the state will endeavour to root among all its citizens a mutual awareness of their being members of the same state and will cultivate any action and organization aimed at destroying barriers between ethnic groups and religions in official spheres’ (Line of Action 28)

Contrary to the distortions of the evidence by many anti-Zionist historians, the Jewish Agency did not uphold the idea of transfer of the Arab population as its solution to the Arab question. The Jewish agency looked to Aliyah as its answer to the demographic problem.

In Ben Gurions speech on 13th December 1947, he describes the states plans on how to change the 60/40 Jewish/non-Jewish ratio:

“ In the territory allotted to the Jewish State there are now above 520,000 Jews (apart from the Jerusalem Jews who will also be citizens of the state) and about 350,000 non-Jews, almost all whom are Arabs. Including the Jerusalem Jews, the state would have at birth a population of about 1 million, nearly 40% of which would be non-Jews. This [population] composition does not constitute a solid basis for a Jewish State; and this fact must be viewed in all its clarity and sharpness. In such composition there cannot be complete certainty that the government will be held by a Jewish majority … There can be no stable and strong Jewish State so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60%, and so long as this majority consists of only 600,000 Jews.

From here stems the first and principal conclusion. The creation of the state is not the formal implementation process discussed by the UN general assembly… In order to ensure not only the establishment of the Jewish State but its existence and destiny as well – we must bring a million-and-a-half Jews to the country and root them there. It is only when there will be at least 2 million Jews in the country – that the state will be truly established. This aliya and settlement enterprise may require at least 10 years – and these ten years should be viewed as the implementation of the actual creation of the state. A Jewish government whose concerns and actions will not be predominantly geared to the enterprise of aliya and settlement that will increase our number in the Land of Israel to two million in the shortest period of time – will betray its foremost responsibility and will endanger the great historical achievement gained by our generation.”2

Unfortunately a lot has changed. Many of those Arabs fled, some out of fear and some due to hostility towards the Jews hoping to return to their homes after the Arab armies,“drive the Jews into the sea.”

The problem Israel faced was that the plan to bring more Jews to the country was based primarily on the Zionist movements desire to bring European Jews to Palestine, as the early founders envisaged a country modelled on a modern European state. However, they didn’t foresee the Holocaust or think that 6 million Jews would be murdered.

Towards the later stages of the war, Arab fears and hostility to immigration from Jews fleeing Nazi Europe had increased and led to Arab violence against the Jews.

The Zionist solution to its demographic question was being eliminated by the atrocities of Nazism, and attempts at establishing a partnership and a peaceful coexistence with its Arab population had turned sour.

The Demographic realities and Arab hostilities led to yet another proposal by the United Nations to partition the land based on ethnic majorities.

unpartplan1947

With the establishment of the Jewish State in May 1948, Israel’s declaration of independence still held the policies laid down in the JAE meeting in 1939, of granting equality to all its citizens and calling on “Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles.”

In the coming years Israel absorbed nearly 1 million Jews, mostly Jews fleeing from Arab lands expelled due to their opposition to the establishment of the State of Israel, and also Holocaust survivors who could now freely enter Israel.

At this stage Israel’s demography was not its primary concern to its survival. Its resources and security were.

After the 6-day war in 1967, Israel had conquered the territories of Palestine which Zionism had hoped would be a part of the Jewish State, before the vote to partition. And now faced the paradox of having secure borders but unable to incorporate the Arab populations of the West bank and Gaza into Israeli society, due not only to the Jewish/non-Jewish ratio in the Jewish State, but also as a result of the birth of Palestinian Nationalism.

post67a

Israeli strategists felt that the original goal could still be possible through annexation of the West bank and Gaza, Jewish settlement of these territories and through more waves of Aliyah, Israel would then be in a stable position demographically that it could grant the Arabs living in the West bank and Gaza Israeli citizenship, and would solve Israel’s security concerns and give it full control of Jerusalem and other sites of religious and historical significance to the Jewish people.

To achieve this, Israel would have to marginalize the Palestinian leadership  (P.L.O) under Yasser Arafat, who were pushing for Palestinian independence in all of Palestine and the destruction of Israel. Instead Israel’s leaders chose to view the Palestinians, as “the Arabs living in West Bank and Gaza,” and not as a distinct national group. When referring to returning the territories conquered in 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, responded; “How can we return the occupied territories, there is no one to return them to.” 

The P.L.O had been responsible for many acts of terrorism against Israel, and was not regarded as a partner to peace, not that at this time Israel was looking for a peace partner amongst the Palestinian Arabs.

Jewish settlements began to spring up in the West Bank and Gaza, some of them were religious settlers who wanted to settle by Jewish holy sites in East Jerusalem, Hebron and other parts of Biblical Judea and Samaria. Others were security settlements that the Israeli government had encouraged around strategic areas that would give Israel a qualitative military edge in the event of future attacks against Israel by its enemies. The architect of the settlements was former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Sharon felt very strongly about Israel’s security and considered the possibility of pushing for the Palestinians to be granted political expression in Amman, Jordan. Not that the Arabs would have to leave their homes in the West bank, but would have residency rights and be Jordanian citizens living in Israel.3 This idea has not been popular amongst the Palestinian nationalists.

Israel failed to suppress Palestinian Nationalism. Israel now had to find enough Jews in the Diaspora to make Aliyah. Israel had two more major waves of Aliyah, from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. The PLO was successful in forging  a sense of nationalism that had not only had gained support from the Palestinian people but also had come to be recognized by the International community as an occupied people, whose territory had been occupied by Israel since 1967.

Israel was now faced with pressure from Europe, the Arab world, even from its biggest ally the United States and from many Jews inside and outside of Israel to recognize the Palestinian peoples right to self-determination and work towards the establishment of a Palestinian State in return for peace. Israel had accepted the idea of the creation of two states west of the Jordan in 1947. Golda Meir met with Jordanian King Abdallah  to discuss possible Jordanian intervention, “to maintain law and order until the UN could establish a government in that area.”

Between 1948 and 1967, Israel had been subjected to years of cross border Palestinian terrorism which Israeli leaders came to deem as unsustainable, Abba Eban coined the term “Auschwitz lines” to describe the indefensible pre-1967 borders.

Most of Israel’s Jewish population had come to Israel fleeing persecution. Zionism was deeply based on the theory that anti-Semitism will continue to exist as long as the Jews remain in exile. The story of American Jewry and Jews living in other liberal democracies to some degree challenged this theory, where American Jews have lived a very different experience to the societies of Russia or Western Europe in the 19th century which gave birth to modern Zionism.

The return of the Jews from western countries didn’t materialise as the Zionists hoped, Aliyah from the west was minuscule and only religious or ideological if at all. This has been part of an on going tension between Israel and the diaspora since the mid to late 1800s.

However, this state of affairs is changing, we now do see what the early Zionists believed. A return of anti-Semitism to Europe and it is making inroads into the United States, which many would not have predicted a generation ago. Aliyah is now increasing from these countries, France at the top of the list.

Zionism set out what it believed to be noble and righteous policies towards the Arabs of Palestine hoping that it would eliminate all their fears of being a large minority of a Jewish State. In hindsight, and it was viewed by critics at the time as naïve to think that any people would voluntarily give up control of what they believe is their land without a fight.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the rival Revisionist Zionist movement in 1923 believed that conflict would be inevitable between the Jews and the Arabs. In his essay The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs) he describes his common cause with the concept of living together with the Arabs but also with his disbelief in Arab acceptance of coexistence and mass Jewish immigration.

“ My emotional relationship to the Arabs is the same as it is to all other peoples – polite indifference. My political relationship is characterized by two principles. First: the expulsion of the Arabs of Palestine is absolutely impossible in any form. There will always be two peoples in Palestine – which is good enough for me, provided the Jews become the majority. Second: I am proud to have been a member of that group which formulated the Helsingfors Program. We formulated it, not only for Jews, but for all peoples, and its basis is the equality of all nations. I am prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will never destroy this equality and we will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs. Our credo, as the reader can see, is completely peaceful. But it is absolutely another matter if it will be possible to achieve our peaceful aims through peaceful means. This depends, not on our relationship with the Arabs, but exclusively on the Arabs relationship to Zionism.”

“Any native people- its all the same whether they were civilized or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner… We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. ”4

Jabotinsky was correct, in spite of the Zionist movements reaching out to the Arabs, many did not extend their hand back.

Many key Zionist leaders, including David Ben Gurion originally believed the local Arabs particularly the fellahin (the peasantry) to actually be the descendants of the biblical Israelites like themselves who had remained on the land whilst the other Jews were sent into exile. Jews remained a majority in Palestine up until the first Arab conquest in 640, but due to Dhimmi taxes on non-Muslims had converted to Islam and had assimilated into the Arabic culture.5

This very idea undermines the ideology of Israel’s first immediate enemies, the Arab states, and their Pan-Arab ideology. Zionism was exposing the fact that rather than Pan-Arabism being a native, indigenous movement overthrowing European Colonialism it was in fact an Imperial and Colonial movement itself.

Pan-Arabism sought to unite all Arab peoples from Morocco to Iraq under one Arab regime. Zionism was correctly pointing out that many of these peoples in the Middle East and north Africa were not ethnically Arab, they had been Arabised, true De-C0lonization would mean not only the Palestinian Arabs rediscovering their Jewish roots, but for other peoples to do the same, such as Berbers in Morroco, Kurdish independence or the Egyptian identity that is preserved through its minority of Coptic Christians.

It was not purely Israel’s geographical location wedged directly in the middle of the territory that the Pan-Arabists sought to establish this vast kingdom, but the very ideology of Zionism as the more grounded historical nation to the land. They therefore branded Zionism with the Europeans and Americans as an extension of Colonialism.

To add further context, Zionism prior to WW2 did not foresee the fall of the British Empire. Zionists such as Chaim Weizmann believed that the Arabs would welcome the Jews back to Palestine because they would bring with them knowledge and expertise from Europe that would eventually industrialise the Middle East. This would improve the standard of living for the non-Jewish inhabitants of the region and would also serve as part of the British commonwealth.

To some extent this was acknowledged in the Faisal-Weizmann agreement, where prior to the Paris Peace conference in 1919, Emir Faisal said:

“The two main branches of the Semitic family, Arabs and Jews, understand one another, and I hope that as a result of interchange of ideas at the Peace Conference, which will be guided by ideals of self-determination and nationality, each nation will make definite progress towards the realization of its aspirations. Arabs are not jealous of Zionist Jews, and intend to give them fair play and the Zionist Jews have assured the Nationalist Arabs of their intention to see that they too have fair play in their respective areas. Turkish intrigue in Palestine has raised jealousy between the Jewish colonists and the local peasants, but the mutual understanding of the aims of Arabs and Jews will at once clear away the last trace of this former bitterness, which, indeed, had already practically disappeared before the war by the work of the Arab Secret Revolutionary Committee, which in Syria and elsewhere laid the foundation of the Arab military successes of the past two years.”6

Britain and the western powers concerned about their oil interest post-war, decided to abandon Zionism. This involved the French and British carving up the Middle-east and establishing various Arab dictatorships. Dictatorships are rarely popular with the masses, and dictators need to find ways to suppress uprisings and anything that will challenge their authority.

At the same time Israel is their neighbour, a small country composed of Socialist revolutionary Jews, who have established Kibbutzim, preaching equality, tolerance, democracy and offering peace and partnership. The Arab dictators, whilst they were against Israel, they also saw it as an ideal scapegoat, in classic anti-Semitic fashion. Both domestic problems between Arabs could be managed through uniting against Israel as well as holding Israel responsible for their grievances with the world powers.

In summary, we find that Zionism is a national liberation movement that during various periods may have allied itself with other world powers if it would have helped them to establish a Jewish state due to mutual shared interests. Often these interests shifted and were not mutual, as is the case with all political actors.

The Zionist movement did not have any campaign to expel the Arabs living in Palestine in order to create a Jewish majority. This was to be achieved through granting full equality and respect to the Arab population and to promote Jewish immigration to Palestine. None of this came to fruition due to Arab rejection of Israel’s existence in any part of Palestine.

Bibliography 

  1. Jewish Agency Executive, meeting of 7th June 1938, p.16, Line of Action 19,21-28.
  2. Ben Gurion, Ba-Ma’ahara, Vol IV, 2, pp. 258-9
  3. Sharon, A and Chanoff D (1989) Simon and Schuster: USA
  4. Jabotinsky, Z (1923) The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)
  5. Misinai, T (2008) Brother Shall not Lift Sword against Brother: The Roots and Solution to the Problem in the Holy Land, Liad publishing: USA
  6. Jews And Arabs In Syria: The Emir Feisul Looks To A Bright Future’, The Times, Thursday, 12 December 1918; pg. 7; Issue 41971; col B