Tuesday, October 28, 2008

11. Working for cooperation between Jews and Arabs

After the Arabs were appeased and the Second World War broke out, the mood in Palestine was one of an unfinished battle. As soon as political circumstances permitted, the battle might be resumed. For the time being, some cooperation between Arabs and Jews could be witnessed. Most important was the cooperation of Palestine citrus growers. When the war made exporting the annual production of 15,000,000 boxes of oranges impossible, Jews, Arabs, and the British Government united. This heavy blow against 80 percent of the total export of Palestine made all parties realize that only unity was the way out of this crisis. In the two Boards which were established, both consisting of Arab, Jewish and British members, nationality never made any difference.[1] Beside that, Arab and Jewish officials and Government workers and those engaged in army projects and foreign companies sometimes cooperated in trade union campaigns. It seems that in general relations between Jews and Arabs became a little friendlier than they were in the years before.[2]

As soon as possible after the foundation of the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation, a start was made with implementing its Program.[3] In Jerusalem a number of joint Arab-Jewish social gatherings were organized. Scientific and social lectures were delivered to mixed groups of students. Near Jaffa a joint Jewish-Arab youth club came into existence. The League submitted a detailed proposal to the Agency Executive for cooperation with Arabs on emergency work during the war, such as in air-raid protection, first aid, and fire-brigades. Posters were printed against boycotting Arab products and for closer economic cooperation.[4] As in economic matters some possibilities for cooperation existed, some of the League’s activities were a success, though on a very small scale.

These kinds of activities was already being envisaged by Hakibbutz Haartzi of Hashomer Hatzair since 1935. The movement’s special approach became one of its hallmarks. Although both the lack of suitable personnel and the Arab Revolt hampered many of their efforts, they did train some of their leaders in the Arab language and culture, by sending then to Arab villages for a training program of half a year.[5] In 1940 an Arab Department was formed, with Aharon Cohen as one of its three members, so in the early forties Hashomer Hatzair continued to devote the most serious attention to Arab affairs.[6] They were able to create better relations between the kibbutzim and the local Arabs, gave medical help, had contact with Arab schools, and partook in festivals, published in Hebrew and Arabic and advised the Arab smallholders in modern agriculture. Very important to Hashomer Hatzair was the organization of joint trade-union work.[7]

The setting up of the Arab Department of Hashomer Hatzair was instrumental in bringing together leaders of Hashomer Hatzair, Poale Zion Smol, the Socialist League, and some Bi-nationalist members of MAPAI[8] to put pressure on the Histadrut (ha-Histadrut ha-Kelalit shel ha-Ovedim b‘Eretz Yisrael, the General Federation of Jewish Labor in Palestine) for Jewish-Arab labor cooperation by increasing activity amongst the Arabs.[9]

In a letter of 25 June 1941 to the Histadrut Executive, the signatories urged the Histadrut to activate its Committee for Arab Work while rapprochement and cooperation between the Jews and Arabs could be witnessed anywhere, such as among the citrus growers. Although the Iraqi revolt had disturbed these peaceful relations for a short time, they were better again after the Revolt was defeated. As the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation could only do small-scale work, the Histradrut (as a public institution with its resources should carry the burden of this work of bringing Jews and Arabs together.
Projects such as the establishment of the Alliance of Palestinian Workers; cooperation between Arab and Jewish workers to obtain cost-of-living allowances for workers employed by the large Government companies; a public works program by Government and municipal institutions to relieve unemployment; encouragement of producers’ cooperatives among Arab workers in town and country; far-sighted and planned efforts to settle the problems of marketing the products of Arab and Jewish workers; provision of medical help for neighboring Arab settlements; agriculture and veterinary instruction and guidance, and the development of mutual aid and cooperation between Arab and Jewish farmers; the establishment of joint centers for adults and youth in mixed residential areas, and help in establishing such centers in friendly Arab settlements; the dissention of Arabic among Jews, and Hebrew among Arabs; extensive educational work in the economic, social, cultural, and political field – all these are waiting for the directing hand of the Histadrut.[10]
The signatories of this letter finally requested the Histradrut Executive to receive them as an inter-party delegation for an exchange of views on this weighty problem. When after two months nothing was heard, they sent a reminder. On 28 August 1941, they finally received a letter, stating that the Histadrut agreed to a discussion ‘within the next few weeks’ and asked for practical proposals on the Arab activity of the Histadrut. On 7 September Cohen, as one of the signatories, submitted these proposals, which were a repetition of the practical goals and activities of the League and of the Arab Department of Hashomer Hazair, and were an enlargement of those written in the letter of 25 June 1941. On 19 May 1942, this correspondence was submitted to the members of the Histadrut Council for consideration, as their Executive had not reacted yet.[11]

Although there were some small successes in socio-economic and cultural matters on the local level, a large-scale program for economic cooperation was impossible when it depended on a majority vote in the Histadrut. The slackness of reacting of the Histadrut was a result of its unwillingness to adopt a far-reaching program of cooperation with the Arabs.

Cohen suggests that the defeat of these proposals in the Histadrut Council was a result of the adoption of the Biltmore Program on 11 May 1942.[12] Already on 14 May 1942, the Jewish Press in Palestine wrote that a statement on the principles of Zionist policy had been adopted in the United States. On 17 May, Shertok informed the Jewish Agency Executive that ‘the censorship kept out from…the resolutions the words on a Jewish Commonwealth and a Jewish Army’.[13]

It is clear, then, that the politically active people knew the content of the Biltmore resolutions very early, though the censor did not permit the publication of the full text. This does not mean, however, that these resolutions had much influence on the decision of the Histadrut in May. The public’s main preoccupation was with European Jewry and the advance of Rommel. The Histadrut’s decision, therefore, was a result of their preoccupation with things they considered more important than working for better relation with the Arabs. It can be said, however, that the ‘general trend’ that had led to the Biltmore Program also influenced the Histadrut’s Council’s decision. This is no wonder, as in the elections of November 1941 for the Histadrut Council candidates of MAPAI, Ben Gurion’s party, received 69.3 percent of the votes.[14]

The results of the strive for economic and social rapprochement and cooperation were small, but the hope of the Bi-nationalists to bridge the political gap between Jews and Arabs was also disappointed in spite of the friendlier attitude of the Arabs towards the Jews.

In 1940 Adil Jabr, a highly educated Arab, member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, began to attempt to negotiate an Arab-Jewish accord. Kalvarisky suggested him to contact the Political Department of the Jewish Agency first, for receiving its consent and support. In the autumn of 1940 he went to Baghdad, to talk with Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, Transjordan, and exiled Palestinian Arabs. After returning to Jerusalem he reported his impressions to Moshe, Shertok, head of the Agency’s Political Department, and to Kalvarisky. In order to advance the negotiations he repeatedly asked for Jewish proposals. Having waited several months and having received no reaction of the Agency, he drafted in cooperation with Kalvarisky a proposal as a point of departure for further talks with Arab leaders. A basis for further talks would be the idea that a Federal of Semitic peoples would be formed with autonomy for all its component States. Palestine would enter this Federation as an autonomous country, with a Bi-national structure based on full equality. Jewish immigration to all federated States should be possible, by agreement with the federated autonomous States. This proposal clearly agreed with the ideas of the League as stated in the next chapter. This is no wonder, as Kalvarisky was the spiritual father of the program of the League.[15]

On 7 July 1941, Shertok communicated his criticism on this proposed basis for negotiations. Adil Jabr was very disappointed and wanted some clarification of this criticism, so in the absence of Shertok, Kalvarisky had a meeting with Ben Gurion on 21 July. During that meeting Kalvarisky reported his last talks with Adil Jabr and tried to get some clarification on the criticism that was given to the proposals. In his diary Kalvarisky writes that when he laid before Ben Gurion the proposals and the critical letter of Shertok, ‘before he had a chance to even glance at the Jabr proposal, he pushed it aside in unrestrained anger and said: “I don’t want to deal with this document at all, it’s an abomination.”’[16]

On 19 August 1941, Shertok replied to the question of Adil. The crux of the matter was the fact that a favorable attitude to the Federation would be conditional on a Jewish state being part of it. The reason why the negotiations with the Arabs were not continued was the fact that the Zionists wanted a Jewish state, not a Bi-national state. Although rapprochement and cooperation were possible on the social and economic plain, the Zionists were not prepared to give up their vision of a national state of their own.[17] It is logical that Aharon Cohen, who blames the Zionists for not having reached political agreement with the Arabs, describes these incidents in detail. The slightly pro-Zionist publication of the Esco-foundation does not mention it, but describes other negotiations, showing that even the idea of Bi-nationalism was unacceptable to the most cooperative Arabs, proving that fault for not reaching an agreement lay with the Arabs.

The Arabs who were not prepared to give up their most cherished ideal of an independent Palestinian Arab state either. Even the most ‘progressive’ groups were not prepared to negotiate about their final goal. The League of Arab Students, aiming to eradicate illiteracy among Arab Palestinians and to improve the conditions of the Arab village in general, wanted full cooperation with the Jews in the economic, social, and cultural fields.[18] As the Palestine Communist Party had much influence in the League of Arab Students, they wanted to struggle with the Jews against fascism and Nazism.[19] In December 1941 a secret meeting of leaders of the League of Arab Students with a number of Jewish representatives was held in Jerusalem, where the Arabs assured the Jews of their willingness to cooperate as much as possible. Immigration, however, could not be discussed, and they emphasized their aim of the immediate establishment of a democratic Palestine, where Jews would be guaranteed democratic minority rights.[20]

One of the Jewish representatives, possibly someone of the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation, suggested parity might be a guiding principle, including numerical parity between the inhabitants for a definite period and parity of representatives in all branches of government. Furthermore he proposed Jewish assistance in the formation of an Arab Federation. The Arabs did not want to discuss a Federation, as that was an academic question at that moment, and rejected the idea of Bi-nationalism. In their opinion a government based on parity was no improvement on the usual type of democracy, which meant rule by the majority.[21] Constitutional parity would be a negotiation of democracy. So although the League of Arab Students had a reputation of willingness for Arab-Jewish rapprochement, and the Arab-Jewish problem was not very important to them, in the final analysis their position on the Jewish National Home differed not essentially from that of the nationalist leaders.[22]

[1] Moshe Smilansky, ‘Citrus Growers have Learnt to Cooperate’, in M. Buber, J.L. Magnes, E. Simon (eds.), Towards Union in Palestine; Essays on Zionism and Jewish-Arab Cooperation (Jerusalem, 1947), pp. 59-60.
[2] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p.284.
[3] For this program, see above.
[4] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 301; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1016; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 224-5.
[5] Aharon Cohen lived six months in an Arab village for studying Arabic language and culture.
[6] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 231.
[7] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 304-5.
[8] These founders were E. Bauer, Aharon Cohen (both of Hashomer Hatzair), Y. Thon and H. Naaman (both of MAPAI), L. Tarnopoler, I. Itzhaki, Moshe Erem, and Y. Peterzeil (all of Poale Zion Smol) and A. Lichtinger and H. Rubin (both of the Socialist League).
[9] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 231.
[10] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 317-9.
[11] Ibid., pp. 319-21.
[12] Ibid., p. 321.
[13] This information comes from Dr. M. Heyman of the Central Zionist Archives Jerusalem in a letter to the author (19 June 1986). This contradicts Magnes, who wrote on 7 January 1943 to Dushkin in New York: ‘...no one here knew of the Biltmore resolutions of last May until Mr. Ben Gurion brought them in his pocket upon his return to Palestine in November.’ Maybe Magnes only meant to say that no one knew about these resolutions officially, for he himself must have been informed about the true content of the Biltmore Resolutions. Goren, Dissenter in Zion, p. 387.
[14] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 203.
[15] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 285-6.
[16] Ibid., p. 286.
[17] Ibid., pp. 286-7.
[18] Musa Budeiri, The Palestine Communist Party 1919-1948: Arab and Jew in the Struggle for Internationalism (London, 1979), p. 200.
[19] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1018.
[20] Ibid., pp. 1018-9.
[21] Ibid., p.1019.
[22] Ibid., p. 1011.

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