Printer Friendly

Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948.

Historian Anita Shapira is the bellwether of Zionist orthodoxy. Her most recent volume, Land and Power, effectively summarizes the current state of mainstream Zionist scholarship.

Shapira's main aim is to validate one of Zionism's central myths. The mainstream, labor Zionist movement long publicly maintained that it did not anticipate or intend to resort to force against the indigenous population to achieve its aims, but only did so as the result of an accumulation of intractable circumstances. Shapira does not put the myth of Zionism's "peaceful intentions"--or, as she dubs it, "defensive ethos"--in quite such crude terms. Indeed, she cannot; even within the dwindling circle of Zionist faithful, it carries less and less conviction with time. Thus, she repeatedly qualifies and contradicts her main thesis. The result is a book at war with itself: on the one hand, sustaining the myth of Zionism's "defensive ethos", but on the other, conceding that "defensive ethos" was simply a mask for what was, from its inception, a mission of conquest.

This internal conflict is, I think, the main significance of Shapira's book. It contains no original research, makes little use of recent scholarship, and extensively resorts to such dubious sources as the official History of the Hagana.(1) Even as a work of interpretation or synthesis, Land and Power offers few original insights. The main outline of Shapira's story--Zionism's initial strategy of gradual settlement and its eventual resort to outright armed conquest--has been described many times before, with considerably more eloquence and grace. Shapira writes in the wooden, bombastic style of most official histories. Here is the overwrought prose of the Zionist initiate--endlessly repetitious and barely coherent, often impenetrable and replete with arcane references.(2) In a word, Land and Power is in all respects a party-spirited work. Yet, precisely that is what makes it so interesting. It vividly captures the crisis of Zionist ideology--or, at any rate, the withering of another of Zionism's central myths.(3)

Shapira rightly places the Jewish settlement of Palestine within the framework of the Zionist idea. Zionism, Shapira observes, originated in the "Romantic-exclusivistic" (also: "German," "volkisch") brand of nationalism that purported that "blood ties, common ethnic origin," etc., not citizenship or "agreement," were the proper foundations of community. Accordingly, its aim from the outset was to create a Jewish state in "all of Palestine," that is, to "alter the demographic, economic, and cultural balance of power" so that Jews would be its "rulers and masters," "lords and masters" (also: "to change the character of the land from an Arab country to a Jewish one"). The minimum requirement for such a state was a Jewish majority that would "rule over" the Arabs. The ideal was a state that was homogeneously Jewish, since Zionism's ultimate purpose was "to liberate Jews from the burden of living in the midst of another people" (also: "liberation from a multinational situation ... from the obligation to take the existence of others in their country into consideration"). (pp. 6-7, 84, 112, 125, 138, 170, 280, 283, and 321)(4)

Throughout Land and Power, Shapira puts on an equal ethical plane--or, at any rate, makes no ethical distinction between--the Zionist aim to transform Palestine into a Jewish state and the resistance of the indigenous Arab population to such a conquest mission. Hence she refers to "rivals laying claim to the land"; to Jews as the "other contenders for Palestine"; to the Arabs as a "second full claimant to the land"; to the "struggle between two national movements for one and the same piece of territory"; to a "fundamental clash between two national movements fighting to gain sovereignty and control over the same country"; and so on. (pp. 107, 115, 117, 125, and 356) For Shapira, the conflict was essentially a clash between "two rights," more or less equal. This puts her ahead of mainstream Zionist historiography, which typically attaches a far greater value to the Zionist claim--but behind what I think any objective valuation shows.

The Zionist claim to Palestine rests on one or a combination of the following arguments: (1) divine right, (2) historical right, (3) compelling need. None of these can withstand close scrutiny, however.

Shapira makes little if any mention of the Jewish people's providential claim to Palestine. Rightly so, I think, especially since colonizing projects have typically invoked the same rhetoric of a "divinely-ordained mission," "chosen people," etc., and the same authority of the Old Testament to justify themselves. In the case of the United States, Thomas Jefferson suggested that the new national seal should show the children of Israel led by a pillar of light from the heavens, since he was "confident that Americans were the new chosen people of God." In later years, the same pretense was captured in the doctrine of "Manifest Destiny," which--in the words of the journalist who coined the phrase--signalled that the North American continent was "allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." Arnold Toynbee once observed that it was the same "biblically recorded conviction of the Israelites that God had instigated them to exterminate the Canaanites" that sanctioned the British conquest of North America, Ireland and Australia, the Dutch conquest of South Africa, the Prussian conquest of Poland, and the Zionist conquest of Palestine.(5)

The full gamut of the Zionist movement made much of what was dubbed the "historical right" (Shapira also refers to it as the "proprietary right") of the Jews to Palestine. It was a "right that required no proof ... a fundamental component of all Zionist programs." Steeped in German Romanticism, the claim was that because the forefathers of the Jewish people had originated and been buried in Palestine, Jews could only--and only Jews could--establish an authentic, organic connection with the soil there. Noting its "German source," Shapira points to the "recurrent motif" in Zionism of the "mysticism that links blood and soil," the "cult of heroes, death and graves," the belief that "graves are the source of the vital link with the land, and they generate the loyalty of man to that soil," and that "blood fructifies the soil (in an almost literal sense)," and so on. Even so sober a thinker as Ahad Ha'am could aver that Palestine was "a land to which our historical right is beyond doubt and has no need for farfetched proofs." The veteran Zionist leader, Menachem Ussishkin, pushed the logic of the argument to its ultimate, if fantastic, conclusion, stating that "the Arabs recognize unconditionally the historical title of Jews to the land." (pp. 40-1, 45, 47, and 73-4)(6)

This sort of "historical right" was also seized by the Romantic precursors of Nazism and, with a vengeance, by the Nazis themselves, to justify the conquest of the East.(7) Germany was said to have legitimate claims on Slavic territory (especially but not limited to Poland) since it was "already inhabited by the Germans in primeval times," "fertilized by the most noble ancient German blood," "Germanic for many centuries and long before a Slav set foot there," "Teutonic-German Volksboden for 3,000 years as far a the Vistula .... In the 6th and 7th century after Christ the Slavs pushed outward from their eastern homelands and into the ancient German land ... admittedly only for a few hundred years," etc. The Slavic "interlopers," by contrast, were seen as "history's squatters" who merely "existed" in surroundings that they "could not master." Only the remnant or newly-settled German communities were supposedly able to "shape" the environment and by so doing make it "their own" in the course, ephemeral as it was, of Slavic rule. Poland under the Slavs, for example, was depicted as an artificial entity, more a melange of inchoate nationalities than a cohesive nation, that had fallen into a state of abject decay--"untilled fields surrendered to the thorny clutches of wild nature, desolate farm buildings, soil erosion ..."--with the notable exception of the German enclaves that managed to endure and even thrive despite all. Substitute the proper nouns and one could be reading any standard Zionist history of Palestine. Indeed, so profound is the affinity of these two literatures that it is registered even in specific phraseology. Thus in 1939, the eminent pro-Nazi historian, Albert Brackmann, portrayed Germany as Europe's "defender" and "bulwark" against the "east," and the "bearers of civilization" against "barbarism." A half century earlier, Theodor Herzl portrayed the prospective Jewish state as Europe's "wall of defense against Asia," and "an outpost of civilization against barbarism."(8)

In any event, Zionism's "historical right" to Palestine was neither historical nor a right. It was not historical inasmuch as it voided the two millennia of non-Jewish settlement in Palestine and the two millennia of Jewish settlement outside it. It was not a right, except in the Romantic "mysticism" of "blood and soil" and the Romantic "cult" of "death, heroes, and graves." (The quoted phrases are Shapira's.)

The Zionist claim against the indigenous Arab population also rested on compelling need. This argument took two, overlapping forms. The first was the ideological, Romantic one that the Jewish "nation" suffered persecution on account of its "homelessness;" and only the "restoration" of the Jewish "nation" to a state of its "own" in its "ancestral homeland" would end the persecution. Yet, the claim of Jewish "homelessness" is founded on a cluster of assumptions that effectively negates the liberal idea of citizenship and duplicates the anti-Semitic one that the state belongs to the majority ethnic nation. In a word, the claim is as valid or invalid as anti-Semitism itself.(9)

The non-ideological, humanitarian kernel of the above argument was that Jews suffering persecution needed and were entitled to a place of refuge. Why should not Palestine, which was surely able to accommodate an influx of Jews, have served as such a haven? Why should not the indigenous Arab population have shared Palestine with the Jews suffering persecution?

Shapira makes the most of this argument. The Arabs are repeatedly cast as making an "exclusive claim to Palestine" and the Jews as merely demanding "their right to settle side by side with the Arabs in Palestine." Yet, as we have seen, she also acknowledges--often on the very same pages--that the Zionist aim was to create a Jewish state in "all of Palestine" that would at minimum politically "rule over" the Arabs and ideally physically displace them altogether so as to "liberate Jews from the burden of living in the midst of another people." (pp. 115-6, 134, 138-9, and 356)

One can imagine an argument for the right of a persecuted minority to find refuge in another country able to accommodate it.(10) One is hard-pressed, however, to imagine an argument for the right of a persecuted minority to politically and perhaps physically displace the indigenous population of another country. Yet, as Shapira forthrightly acknowledges, the latter was the actual intention of the Zionist movement.

In this connection, consider Shapira's murky discussion of the partition and transfer issues. Regarding the 1937 partition proposal of the Peel Commission, Shapira juxtaposes the "Arab side" which "rejected [it] out of hand" because "they still viewed themselves as the exclusive owners of Palestine," against the "Jewish side" where "a stormy debate developed" between proponents and opponents of partition. She does admit that "at least a segment" of the Zionist proponents of partition viewed the creation of a Jewish state as a "bridgehead for continuing the expansion of Jewish settlement in Palestine." (p. 271) In fact, the mainstream Zionist movement was as united in its exclusivist claim to all of Palestine as the Arab side. Even Ben-Gurion, who was the central advocate of partition, viewed it as merely a "stage" along the "path to greater Zionist implementation," a "means toward" the "final aim of Zionism."

Shapira further maintains that the "topic of force was marginal" to the Zionist debate surrounding the partition proposal, with all sides desiring above all "to avoid the need for the use of force." (p. 271) But, Ben-Gurion stated on the eve of the twentieth Zionist congress in 1937 that the Jewish state being offered them by the British "will consolidate in Palestine, within the shortest possible time, the real Jewish force which will lead us to our historic goal;" and to the Jewish Agency Executive in 1938 that, "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." In his private correspondence, Ben-Gurion elaborated on this point. The Jewish state, he wrote, "would have an outstanding army--I have no doubt that our army will be among the world's outstanding--and so I am certain that we won't be constrained from settling in the rest of the country, whether out of accord and mutual understanding with the Arab neighbors or otherwise."(11)

For a study that is centrally concerned with the "Zionist resort to force" (the book's subtitle) and is nothing if not verbose, the crucial topic of "population transfer" in Zionist thinking gets remarkably short shrift. Shapira dispatches it in a little over one page. (pp. 285-6) By comparison, fully 20 pages are devoted to the early Zionist frontier settlement of Tel Hai. This is all the more noteworthy inasmuch as the culmination of the "Zionist resort to force" was, after all, a massive "transfer" of the indigenous Arab population in 1948.

Shapira's discussion of the Zionist conception of transfer is, for all its brevity, remarkably disingenuous. She contextualizes it as "based on what was assumed as [the] positive experience" between Turkey and Greece, and of the Volga Germans and Tartars by the Russian government. There is not even a hint at the terrifying brutality that accompanied the "positive experience." Another enlightened antecedent she points to was "the lesson of the 1930s" that "states should aspire to ethnic uniformity." Indeed, Hitler's lesson. One is hard-pressed to reconcile these precedents with Shapira's assertion that Zionist leaders like Berl Katznelson were committed only to a "peaceful transfer of population based on mutual agreement." In fact, Katznelson--the "conscience of the Yishuv"--repeatedly placed himself on record as being one "with an absolutely clear conscience" who favored the compulsory transfer of the Palestine Arabs. Ben-Gurion is said by Shapira to have "firmly opposed the idea of an imposed transfer plan" in the 1940s. Yet, already in 1938 he declared that, "I am for a compulsory transfer; I don't see anything immoral in it." When the opportunity for such an expulsion arose in 1948, he showed no scruples about implementing it; rather the contrary.(12)

Shapira concludes that the "traditional," "mainstream" Zionist view was that there was "enough room" in Palestine for Jews and Arabs. Transfer was thus viewed as merely a "good thing" that one could just as well "do without." Yet the benign spin Shapira puts on Zionist thinking is not supported by recent scholarship. Historian Benny Morris observes, for example, that, from the mid-1930s, "transferring the Arabs out" was seen as the "chief means" of "assuring the stability and 'Jewishness' of the proposed Jewish State."(13)

We have seen that none of the Zionist movement's standard rationales--divine right, historical right, compelling need--could justify its goal of transforming Palestine into a Jewish state. A violent conflict with the indigenous Arab population was thus inevitable. As the dissident Zionist intellectual, Judah Magnes, succinctly put it, "The slogan Jewish state ... is equivalent, in effect, to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs."(14)

Yet, it is Shapira's central contention that, until the late 1930s, the mainstream Zionist movement was animated by a "defensive ethos" which had as its "fundamental supposition" that "the realization of the Zionist project would not require the use of force." (p. 175) She enumerates the main components of the "defensive ethos" as follows:

The Jews have no aspirations to rule in Palestine--they are coming to colonize the wilderness and to develop regions that to date have gone unploughed. They bring tidings of progress and development to the land, for the benefit of all its inhabitants. The clash of interests between Jews and Arabs is not the product of a genuine contradiction in interests between two peoples. Rather, it is the result of agitation and incitement by the reactionary elements among the Arab people, who are motivated by the fear of the progress and change now being ushered in by the Zionist colonization. In addition, the ruling power, guided by imperialist motives, has acted to undermine relations between the two peoples in Palestine: In order to maintain power, it is pursuing a policy of "divide and rule."(15)

Shapira's discussion of the "defensive ethos" reveals her deep ambivalence about the justice of the Zionist enterprise. Especially in the book's conclusion, she admits that the ethos was a sham from start to finish. She states that it disguised the "reality" that "European[s]" were "usurping the rights of the native population" and "blurred the fact that there was a basic clash of interests in Palestine between the Jewish immigrants and the people already settled there." Zionism is similarly described as, besides a national movement, "a movement of European colonization in a Middle Eastern country" that "had to be prepared to enter into confrontation with another people and to demand [its] national rights, even at the point of a gun." "Aggressiveness," she concludes, "was an integral component of the process."(16)

Accordingly, Shapira suggests that the "defensive ethos" served simply as a cynical public relations device to assuage world and especially British opinion as well as the concerns of potential Jewish immigrants, and a psychological defense mechanism to ease the conscience of labor Zionism, which was in theory opposed to colonialism. She quotes the Zionist leader Tebenkin to the effect that, "Political necessities are forcing the leaders of Zionism to foster the illusion that we can settle the land peacefully and in agreement with the Arabs." The pretense that Zionism would bring "progress" to Palestine is described as "self-persuasion" to deny the inevitability of conflict with the native population. The claim that anti-Semitism, effendi agitation and British machinations, not basic interest, lurked behind the mass Arab opposition to Zionism, is said to have been motivated by a need to "strengthen the conviction about the righteousness of the movement against all its contenders, to preserve the sense of inner truth." (pp. 49, 51, 115, 122-3, 126, 185, 227, and 229)

Half-hearted as it is (see below), Shapira's concession that the rhetoric of socialist-Zionism during the Mandate years was an exercise in cynicism and a more or less conscious self-deception is still remarkable for a historian plainly beholden to the mainstream, labor Zionist tradition. She is not the only one to make such an admission, however. Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion's current biographer, recently devoted a study to Ben-Gurion's evolving views on the Arab question during the Mandate years. For nearly two hundred pages, Ben-Gurion is cast as heroically and guilelessly wrestling with formulae to reconcile Arab and Jewish interests in Palestine. In the epilogue of his much-acclaimed book, however, Teveth abruptly discounts Ben-Gurion's posturing as sheer opportunism:

A careful comparison of Ben-Gurion's public and private positions leads inexorably to the conclusion that this twenty-year denial of the conflict was a calculated tactic, born of pragmatism rather than profundity of conviction. The idea that Jews and Arabs could reconcile their differences ... was a delaying tactic. Once the Yishuv had gained strength, Ben-Gurion abandoned it. This belief in a compromise solution ... was also a tactic, designed to win continued British support for Zionism.

Yet, Teveth seems blissfully unaware that this acknowledgement cancels the value of his book, save as a study in the cynicism of Zionist diplomacy: Ben-Gurion's public positions which Teveth so minutely scrutinizes were by Teveth's own admission never meant seriously.(17)

Shapira likewise wants to have it both ways. She denies in one breath what she concedes in the next. Thus, the bulk of Land and Power is given over to proving the authenticity of the "defensive ethos." She argues that mainstream Zionism was, from its inception until World War II, not a "conquest" movement but one committed to gaining Palestine "by virtue of labor." The embodiment of this approach was supposedly the example of Tel Hai, an early Zionist settlement attacked by Arabs. Its martyred Jewish defenders quickly emerged as the main subject of Zionist iconography. According to Shapira, Tel Hai "had a clearly defensive message" summed up by her as, "We have no aspirations for the domain of others or to conquests by the sword. The Hebrew worker came to Tel Hai with the plough, and was driven out from there by the sword, and returned to Tel Hai with the plough." And again: Tel Hai "symbolized ... that Palestine would not be 'conquered' by settling it, by making a stubborn stand in each and every place." In this reckoning of Shapira's, the Zionist--or, for that matter, British--recourse to armed force becomes not "aggression" but rather the "necessity," "obligation," "moral duty," etc. of "self-defense" against the "waves of Arab assault." (pp. 98, 106, 108, 180, and 223; emphasis in original)

It may be true that labor Zionism was wont to view matters in this way. That scarcely alters the factual reality, however, that Tel Hai was part and parcel of a conquest enterprise made possible in the first place by the "foreign bayonets" (Ben-Gurion's phrase) of Great Britain in which "Europeans" were "usurping the rights of the native population" (Shapira). Settlements were not in lieu of but an integral means to that conquest. Shapira suggests that Tel Hai's "clearly defensive message" is shown by its central image of the pioneer who also fights as against "the fighter, whose only craft is warfare." Yet, the conquerors of the North American continent likewise "farmed part-time and fought part-time" as they "discovered from the Indian wars that they had to break with the European tradition of a professional army." Consider even Shapira's description of Tel Hai's symbolic meaning. It captured the Jewish settler's willingness to relocate in regions of "considerable Arab presence" that were "remote from the main centers of Jewish settlement" in order to establish the "principle of settlement in general" and stake out the "frontiers" of a future Jewish state. One may excuse, I think, the indigenous Arab population for being blind to the "clearly defensive message" of Tel Hai. (pp. 106, 108, and 254)(18)

Every mission of conquest conceives its use of force as a justifiable act of "self-defense" against "aggression." Thomas Jefferson defensively declared that, if "constrained" by the Indians resisting American expansion to "lift the hatchet ..., we will never lay it down till the tribe is exterminated, or is driven beyond the Mississippi." Adlai Stevenson told the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam was actually a case of resisting "internal aggression." Albert Camus defended the French war against Algeria on the grounds that the revolt of its North African colony was really an integral part of a "new Arab imperialism" led by Egypt and an "anti-Western" offensive orchestrated by Russia to "encircle Europe" and "isolate the United States." Hitler claimed that his attack on the Soviet Union was a preemptive strike against the threat posed by "bolshevik barbarism." Indeed, the Nazis justified the genocide against the Jews as an act of self-defense. Thus, amidst the Nazi holocaust in 1942, Hitler recalled in apparent extenuation his earlier "prophecy" that "if Jewry should plot another world war in order to exterminate the Aryan peoples of Europe, it would not be the Aryan peoples which would be exterminated, but Jewry." Himmler, in his infamous Posen speech on the Nazi extermination campaign, declared that "we had the moral right, we had the duty to our people, to destroy this people which wanted to destroy us." Even the murder of Jewish children was rationalized by Himmler in another speech on defensive grounds: "We as Germans, however deeply we may feel in our hearts, are not entitled to allow a generation of avengers filled with hatred to grow up with whom our children and grandchildren will have to deal because we, too weak and cowardly, left it to them."(19) One may also recall in this regard Joseph Schumpeter's crucial insight in The Sociology of Imperialism that a characteristic, indeed unique, feature of the modern world is precisely that a characteristic, indeed unique, feature of the modern world is precisely that "every war is carefully justified as a defensive war by the government involved, and by all the political parties, in their official utterances."(20)

There is, moreover, not a priori reason not to credit the "sincerity" of these defensive protestations. Raul Hilberg observes that "in Hitler's eyes, the Jews were Germany's principal adversary. The battle he fought against them was 'defense.'"(21) And the Zionist leader Moshe Sharett perhaps truly believed that "preventing Arab rule in Palestine is defense." (p. 287) Noam Chomsky has noted that it is not unusual for policy makers to get "caught up in the fantasies they spin to disguise imperial interventions" and even for the "delusional system" to "present a faint reflection of reality. It must, after all, carry some conviction." Yet the point of the serious historian, Chomsky pertinently observes, is "to disentangle motive from myth." Shapira is, for the most part, unwilling or unable to do so. For her, Zionism, whose aim was to transform "all of Palestine" into a Jewish state that would at minimum "rule over" the Arabs, was nonetheless not a movement of "conquest" but one committed to gaining Palestine "by virtue of labor" as typified in the "clearly defensive message" of Tel Hai, where force was used only when "necessary" in "self-defense." Ironically, Ben-Gurion himself had no difficulty disentangling the rhetoric of self-defense from the reality of conquest. Thus in 1938 he stated,

When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves--that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves ... 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.(22)

Aside from the "clearly defensive message" of Tel Hai, the only piece of evidence Shapira adduces for the genuineness of the "defensive ethos" was Ben-Gurion's allegedly tireless efforts to "forge an alliance between Arab and Jewish workers." Shapira would have it that Ben-Gurion served as the "tribune" for the "revolutionary idea" of a "joint union" that would "vault national lines, underscoring the superiority of class identity over national identity." (pp. 135-8, 182-3, and 283). Yet, as Shapira also half admits, his support for a joint union with the Arabs was purely pragmatic. Ben-Gurion was a veteran of the Second Aliya, which was fully committed to the principle of Jewish labor--i.e., to the "building of a Jewish society by Jews alone, from foundation stone to rafter." (pp. 64; cf. 220) The main obstacle posed to the "conquest of labor" by Jewish workers was the competition of cheap Arab labor. In the sectors of the Palestinian economy financed by Jewish capital, the principle of Jewish labor was eventually established--more often than not, coercively--by the Histadrut. Especially in public works and government service under the auspices of the British Mandate administration, however, such a discriminatory principle could not be imposed by the Yishuv. In this exceptional instance, Ben-Gurion proposed to free up spaces for Jewish workers with higher wage demands by organizing the Arab workers as well, thereby making Jewish labor more competitive. The "revolutionary idea" of a "joint union" was plainly not a principled commitment to "vault" national lines. It did not contradict the labor Zionist aim of an exclusively Jewish economy in an exclusively Jewish state. The "joint union" was merely a lesser evil where the principle of Jewish labor could not--yet--be enforced. And, in any event, almost nothing ever came of it. Indeed, so little was labor Zionism committed to "vaulting" national lines in the interests of "class solidarity" that it was given to "stressing the national component of the Jewish-Arab conflict" in order to dissuade Jewish landowners from using Arab labor. (p. 67, emphasis in original)(23)

The "defensive ethos" was never the operative ideology of mainstream Zionism. From beginning to end, Zionism was a conquest movent. The subtitle of Shapira's study is "The Zionist Resort to Force." Yet, Zionism did not "resort" to force. Force was--to use Shapira's apt phrase in her conclusion--"inherent in the situation." (p. 357) Gripped by messianism after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the Zionist movement sought to conquer Palestine with a Jewish Legion under the slogan, "In blood and fire shall Judea rise again." (pp. 83-98) When these apocalyptic hopes were dispelled and displaced by the mundane reality of the British Mandate, mainstream Zionism made a virtue of necessity and exalted labor as it proceeded to conquer Palestine "dunum by dunum, goat by goat." Force had not been abandoned, however. Shapira falsely counterposes settlement ("by virtue of labor") to force ("by dint of conquest"). Yet, settlement was force by other means. Its purpose, in Shapira's words, was to build a "Jewish infrastructure in Palestine" so that "the balance of power between Jews and Arabs had shifted in favor of the former." (pp. 121, 133; cf. 211) To the call of a Zionist leader on the morrow of Tel Hai that "we must be a force in the land," Shapira adds the caveat: "He was not referring to military might but, rather, to power in the sense of demography and colonization." (p. 113) Yet, Shapira willfully misses the basic point that "demography and colonization" were equally force. Moreover, without the "foreign bayonets" of the British Mandate, the Zionist movement could not have established even a toehold, let alone struck deep roots, in Palestine.(24) Toward the end of the 1930s and especially after World War II, a concatenation of events--Britain's waning commitment to the Balfour Declaration, the escalation of Arab resistance, the strengthening of the Yishuv, etc.--caused a consensus to crystallize within the Zionist movement that the time was ripe to return to the original strategy of conquering Palestine "by blood and fire."(25)

Mainstream Zionism adapted its tactics to accommodate new contingencies. But force was a constant throughout. Zionism did not come to use force despite itself. The recourse to force was not circumstantial. It was "inherent" in the aim of transforming Palestine, with its overwhelmingly Arab population, into a Jewish state.

The scant evidence Shapira marshals to demonstrate a rupture in mainstream Zionist ideology--its mutation from a "defensive" to an "offensive" ethos--proves just the opposite. She purports that a new, more militant "myth of Hanita" displaced the "myth of Tel Hai" in the late 1930s. To illustrate the "change that had taken place," she points to "Hanita's distance from any other point of Jewish settlement and its location in an area of danger" in "the heart of an Arab area." (p. 253) Yet, she earlier described Tel Hai as "remote from the main centers of Jewish settlement" in a region "characterized by dubious government control and considerable Arab presence." (p. 108)

According to Shapira, "up until the world war, the only organization that regarded physical force as a decisive factor in the 'conquest' of Palestine" was the Revisionists. (p. 283) It is true that Jabotinsky viewed as inevitable a violent clash with the indigenous Arab population in Palestine. In 1923, he observed that

... there can be no kind of discussion of a voluntary reconciliation between

us and the Arabs, not now and not in the foreseeable future .... Everyone,

with the exception of those who were blind from birth, already understood

long ago the complete impossibility of arriving at a voluntary agreement

with Arabs of Palestine for the transformation of Palestine from an Arab

country to a country with a Jewish majority.(26)

Yet, how different is the sentiment expressed in these words written five years earlier, in 1918?

Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to the question. No solution! There is a gulf and nothing can fill this gulf. It is possible to resolve the conflict between Jewish and Arab interests [only] by sophistry. 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. The author was David Ben-Gurion.(27)


(1.)E.g., to document the "prevailing consciousness" of Palestine's Arabs on the morrow of the Young Turk revolution (p. 379, note 60).

(2.)Cf. pp. 317-8: "While in Ha-Noar ha-Oved, the Masada cult of heroism was characterized by an extremely high level of pathos, it was integrated in Ha-Mahanot ha-Olim within a methodical program of education, aimed at inculcating patriotism, along the lines of Bi-Vriteckh."

(3.)Shapira's ambivalent relationship to Zionist mythology is signalled in ways small as well as big. Thus, she observes that the Yishuv leadership in 1936 used the locution "disturbances" as against "rebellion" to deny that the unfolding Arab revolt was an authentic national movement. (p. 225) Yet, Shapira herself seems unable to decide what happened then, vacillating between "disturbances" and "rebellion" to describe these events. (pp. 224, 227, 228, 264, and 270) Cf. also Shapira's use of such hackneyed Zionist phraseology as "Arab terrorist gangs." (pp. 247, 250)

(4.)In conformity with most recent scholarship, Shapira argues that strictly tactical considerations dictated the mainstream Zionist movement's public endorsement of a binational state and its public disavowal of a Jewish state until 1942. (pp. 167, 170, 189-93, and 280) For a dissenting view, cf. Susan Lee Hatis, The Bi-National Idea in Palestine During Mandatory Times (Haifa, 1970).

(5.)Walter LaFeber, The American Age (New York, 1989), p. 45; Albert Weinberg, Manifest Destiny (Baltimore, 1935), p. 112; Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, vol. viii (London, 1954), p. 310.

(6.)In labor Zionism, Shapira notes, the Jews' historical writ established a "primary right: to settle in Palestine, but that "primary right" still had to be redeemed by actual labor on the land. (p. 65) For the roots of Zionism's "historical right" in German Romanticism, cf. especially George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology (New York, 1981). For further documentation and discussion of this theme in Zionist literature, cf. my doctoral dissertation, From the Jewish Question to the Jewish State (Princeton, 1988), especially pp. 101-10.

(7.)The singular exception was, oddly, Hitler himself, who asserted in his so-called Secret Book (New York, 1962), p. 15, that "there is no spot on this earth that has been determined as the abode of a people for all time, since the rule of nature has for tens of thousands of years forced mankind eternally to migrate." Cf. Bernd Wegner, The Waffen-SS (Cambridge, 1990), p. 25, in which a contrast is drawn between Himmler's "romantic" ideology and Hitler's "more rational instinct about strategic questions."

(8.)Michael Burleigh, Germany Turns Eastward (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 25-31, 132, 151, 197-8, 205-6, 240, 242, and 267 (the Brackmann quote is on p. 151); Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman, The Racial State (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 26-7; Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (New York, 1970), p. 52.

(9.)For a full exposition of this argument, cf. my doctoral dissertation cited in Note 6 above.

(10.)Cf. Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice (New York, 1983), chapter 2. Unfortunately, Walzer's discussion in this chapter, as throughout the book, is marred by what are plainly apologetics for Israel and Zionism, although neither is ever mentioned by name; see my unpublished ms., "Tribal Rumblings," June 1990.

(11.)For extensive documentation of the arguments in these two paragraphs, cf. Yosef Gorny, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882-1948 (Oxford, 1987), p. 259; Shabtei Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs (Oxford, 1985), pp. 187-9; and Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians (New York, 1979), pp. 265-6. Equally disingenuous is Shapira's juxtaposition of the "pragmatic" Zionist elder statesman against the "impassioned" Zionist youth, the latter supposedly unique in their opposition to "sharing [Palestine] with another people" and in their certainty "that all of Palestine was their country ... the land was theirs, theirs alone," etc. (pp. 271-5) For the mainstream Zionist movement's commitment to a Jewish Agency's formal endorsement of the United Nations partition resolution, cf. Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel (New York, 1987), p. 33, and Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan (New York, 1988), p. 16.

(12.)The most extensive study to date of Zionist "transfer" policy is Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians (Washington, 1992). Masalha's conclusion, amply documented, is that the "transfer" concept "occupied a central position in the strategic thinking" of the Zionist movement from its inception. For Zionist cognizance of the brutality of the often cited Turkish-Greek precedent, cf. pp. 29, 70, and 88-9. For Katznelson's views, cf. pp. 71, 114, and 136. (Shapira similarly misrepresented Katznelson's views in her hagiographic biography, Berl [Cambridge, 1984], p. 292.) The Ben-Gurion quote is on p. 117. There is no evidence whatsoever that Ben-Gurion underwent a change of heart in the 1940s, although for reasons of political expedience he did mute his views in public fora; cf. pp. 128-9. For Ben-Gurion's emphatic implementation of transfer in 1948, cf. chapter 5, and Norman G. Finklestein, "Myths, Old and New," in Journal of Palestine Studies, Autumn 1991.

(13.)Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge, 1987), p. 25. Morris's conclusion is fully supported by Masalha's study, which demonstrates that, by the late 1930s, the full spectrum of the Zionist movement (with the notable exception of Hashomer Hatzair) embraced the morality and necessity of compulsory transfer, debate focussing only on the modalities for implementing it; cf. chapters 2-3.

(14.)Arthur A. Goren (ed), Dissenter in Zion (Cambridge, 1982), p. 382.

(15.)P. 15. Interestingly, right-wing Zionists (e.g., Jabotinsky) were the least and extreme left-wing Zionists (e.g., Hashomer Hatzair) most given to illusions on this score. (pp. 185, 227)

(16.)Pp. 355 and 356. For the enormous distance Shapira has traveled in making these admissions, cf. Bernard Avishai's supposedly critical account, The Tragedy of Zionism (New York, 1985), p. 147f., where the "anti-colonialist ethos" of labor Zionism is acclaimed, and the "myth of Zionist colonialism" is contemptuously dismissed as a "test of faith for the PLO's radical factions." To be sure, Jabotinsky freely referred to Zionism as a colonializing enterprise. Mainstream, labor Zionism's preferred self-image was the morally more edifying and politically less incriminating one of the "pioneer" (halutz).

(17.)Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs (Oxford, 1985), pp. 198-9.

(18.)LaFeber, p. 11. For Zionism establishing itself by virtue of "foreign bayonets," see Teveth, p. 104. Shapira uses the euphemism "buffer defense" to portray this crucial British function during the years of allegedly defensive Zionist settlement. (p. 330) Ironically, Teveth entitles the chapter devoted to the period of Zionist settlement after 1930, "Not by Force Alone," whereas for Shapira it was the period before 1930 that was "not by force alone." The fact is that force was deployed from the inception of Zionist colonization to its culmination in 1948. I return to this point below.

(19.)David Stannard, American Holocaust (New York, 1992), p. 120; Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State (New York, 1973), p. 114; Albert Camus, Actuelles III: Chroniques Algeriennes, 1939-1958 (Paris, 1958), pp. 367, 370-1; David S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews (New York, 1984), p. 53; J. Noakes and G. Pridham (eds), Nazism, A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, 1919-1945 (New York, 1988), vol. 2, p. 1200. Cf. Richard M. Lerner, Final Solutions (University Park, 1992), p. 44, quoting Otto Ohlendorf, director of the Reich Security Main Office, "It is very easy to explain if one starts from the fact that Hitler's order not only tried to achieve security, but permanent security, lest the children grow up and inevitably, being the children of parents who had been killed, they would constitute a danger no smaller than that of the parents." (emphasis in original)

(20.)Joseph Schumpeter, Imperialism and Social Classes (New York, 1955), pp. 64-98. Schumpeter, however, ascribes the need by modern ruling elites to depict all wars as defensive to the rationalizing effects of capitalism which turns wars into "troublesome distractions" for the working classes. One may add that political rivals are adept at seeing through the hypocritical official pieties of each other, if not themselves. When Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 righteously exposed the aggressive designs behind Nazi Germany and Italy's "defensive" maneuvers in Europe and Africa, Hitler riposted that Germany had "played no part" in the "twenty-six violent interventions and sanctions carried through by means of bloodshed and force" since the end of World War I whereas "the United States alone carried out military interventions in six [of these] cases;" that "it is not a question of one nation in Africa having lost its freedom--on the contrary practically all the previous inhabitants of this continent have been made subject to the sovereignty of other nations by bloody force, thereby losing their freedom. Moroccans, Berbers, Arabs, Negroes, etcetera, have all not 'Made in Germany,' but 'Made by Democracies;'" that, despite Roosevelt's "noble principle" that "unquestionable home defense" is the only valid grounds for waging war, "there is hardly any possibility of doubt, for example, that America's entry into the Great War was not a case of unquestionable home defense ... [but] ensued chiefly for exclusively capitalistic reasons;" that Roosevelt's "belief that every problem can be solved at the conference table" rang hollow inasmuch as "the statement of the United States, and especially her greatest, did not make the chief part of their history at the conference table but with the aid of the strength of their people," e.g., "the innumerable struggles which finally led to the subjugation of the North American Continent as a whole;" that just as Roosevelt would reject German "interference in the internal affairs of the American continent" in the name of the "Monroe Doctrine" so "Germans support a similar doctrine for Europe--and above all, for the territory and the interests of the Greater German Reich," etc. Adolf Hitler, My New Order (New York, 1941), pp. 657-77, emphasis in original.

(21.)Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders (New York, 1992), p. 10. Cf. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York, 1985), vol. 3, pp. 1018-1021, "The theory of world Jewish rule and of the incessant Jewish plot against the German people penetrated into all offices [of the German bureaucracy]. In the minds of the perpetrators, therefore, this theory turned the destruction process into a kind of preventive war."

(22.)Chomsky, For Reasons of State, pp. 54-5. Ben-Gurion cited in Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, p. 141. For the failure of the "revisionist" West German historians to disentangle "motive from myth," cf. Richard Evens, In Hitler's Shadow (New York, 1989). West German historian Ernst Nolte, e.g., has credited Hitler's perception of the invasion of the Soviet Union and his "internment" of the Jews as acts of "preventive war" inasmuch as Stalin had committed "mental acts of war" against Germany and Weizmann had aligned the World Zionist Organization with Great Britain.

(23.)Baruch Kimmerling, Zionism and Economy (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 81-2; Teveth, pp. 12, 44-5, and 57-65; Gorny, pp. 134, 138, 143, and 228-31; Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, chapter 6. Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914 (Cambridge, 1989), p. 87, observes that, for labor Zionism, "National conflict was not seen ... as a danger, as it was viewed by the property owners, but as the lever to the workers' own interest," and quotes Ben-Gurion's declaration at a party meeting in 1910 that, "[Arab] national hatred is the reason that will force, and bit by bit is already forcing, Jewish farmers to take on Jewish workers, whom they hate so much." Cf. Amnon Rubenstein's purportedly critical study, The Zionist Dream Revisited (New York, 1984), pp. 60, 62, where it is written that labor Zionism relentlessly sought solidarity with the Arab working class so that "class interests would cut across national barriers put up by the scheming effendis," but these noble labor Zionist efforts invariably "crashed against the wall of Arab rejection." Not only did labor Zionism not in principle want to "cut across national barriers," but it was the aspiration of Arab workers (as well as extreme left Zionist elements) in the Histadrut to do so that "crashed against the wall of Jewish rejection" (cf. Teveth, 64f.).

(24.)Ideological fanaticism could even obscure so basic a fact as this one. Thus the socialist Zionist leader Tabenkin, eager to reconcile Zionist dependence on Great Britain with his anti-imperialist sensibility, "systematically refused to acknowledge the British role in the development of the national home. He contended that the growth in Jewish power in Palestine had taken place despite British policies, not by dint of them." (p. 226, emphasis in original)

(25.)To her credit, Shapira acknowledges that the Nazi holocaust did not decisively influence Zionist policy in this regard. Discounting "the tendency to explain phenomena by using the Holocaust," she observes that the basic factors that shaped Zionist decision-making already "existed prior to that event." (p. 342)

(26.)V. Jabotinsky, "The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)," (Berlin, 1923).

(27.)Neil Caplan, Palestine Jewry and the Arab Question, 1917-1925 (London, 1976), p. 42, emphasis in original.

With his usual lucidity and candor, Jabotinsky accordingly observed that, so far as force was concerned, only tactical differences divided him from mainstream Zionism: "There is no meaningful difference between our 'militarists' and our 'vegetarians.' One proposes an iron wall of Jewish bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets, ... but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall." ("The Iron Wall")
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association of Arab-American University Graduates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Finklestein, Norman G.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Previous Article:The painful transition from authoritarianism in Algeria.
Next Article:Cruelty and Silence.

Related Articles
Deliberate Deceptions: Facing the Facts About U.S.-Israeli Relationship.
Anxious for Armageddon.
The Modern Middle East: From Imperialism to Freedom, 1800-1958.
The Jewish State: A Century Later.
Palestine and the Palestinians.
The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. (Books In Brief).

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters