Tuesday, October 28, 2008

7. Fighting the White paper as if there is no war

In 1939 Ben Gurion in a few words summarized the future policy of the Zionist movement: ‘We shall fight with Great Britain in this war as if there were no White Paper. And we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no war.’[1] These words became an often-used slogan, but it was impossible to implement. Fighting the White Paper automatically meant fighting Britain, while helping Britain in its war effort meant stopping the fight against Britain on other fronts.

Although the Zionist leaders were very angry about the White Paper, they maintained a guarded optimism that it was only meant to pacify the Arabs and that Britain would postpone its implementation indefinitely. The rigid application of the immigration paragraphs and the Land Transfer Regulations of February 1940 dashed the optimism that still lived in the Jewish community.[2]

The immigration provisions of the White Paper policy were put into immediate operation. From April to 30 September 1939, 10,350 Jews were allowed to enter Palestine. Because during the same period illegal immigration was very high, the Colonial Office announced its decision not to let any other Jew enter Palestine until 31 March 1940. After 1940 the number of legal and illegal immigrants drastically dwindled.[3]

In order to combat illegal immigration, Britain went as far as to deport those who were caught. In November 1940 the Palestine Government announced that the 1,771 illegal immigrants who had tried to enter in two ships, would be deported in the S.S. Patria to a British colony. A few days later the ship was sunk in the harbor of Haifa with explosives smuggled on board. More than 250 died. Weizmann used all his abilities in political maneuvering, so finally Britain decided to let the survivors remain in Palestine.[4]

1,584 Refugees were sent to Mauritius on 8 December 1940, but because of the storm of protest in Great Britain, no further deportations were carried out during the war.[5] Early in 1942, 769 refugees on the S.S. Struma, a very old, converted yacht which waited in Istanbul, were refused visas. Turkey therefore demanded the ship to leave its territorial waters. On 23 February the ship sank in the Black Sea, probably after striking a mine. The Palestinian Jews were horrified, while in Britain the tragedy was angrily debated in Parliament.[6]

Many other small boats, the ‘little death ships’, as Koestler described them, packed with exhausted people who hoped to be safe in Palestine, were being turned back to the port of origin. The Palestine Coast Guards were authorized to shoot at or into any ship suspected of bringing illegal immigrants and refusing to turn back.[7] In 1946 the Jewish Agency’s Memorandum to the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry summed up what the Jews felt effect of the strict application of the White Paper was: ‘There can be little doubt that substantial numbers who are dead today, certainly tens of thousands, might have been alive if the gates of Palestine had been kept open.’[8]

The Land Transfer Regulations of 26 February 1940 also came as a shock to the Jews. A general strike was proclaimed on 29 February and during the next week large demonstrations were held. On 6 March these demonstrations stopped, as on that day the House of Commons in London debated a motion against these Regulations.[9] Noel Baker, on behalf of the Labor Party, strongly criticized the Regulations, stressing that in the future the Colonial Secretary would allow the Jews the right to free purchase in only 2.6 percent of the total area of Palestine. According to him the Land Regulations ‘…brought to the Jews of Palestine the three evils of the dispersion-barred doors, legal discrimination on racial and religious backgrounds, and permanent minority status.’[10]

The motion was rejected, so the Regulations were enacted. They were effective in greatly reducing the possibility of Jews’ acquiring land, but still the organization for Jewish settlement, the Jewish National Fund, found ways of circumventing the rules. They were able to buy large tracts of land in the restricted and prohibited areas, as many Arabs were willing to arrange legal fictions in order to sell land at high prices. Although the Government spoke of 9,387 acres that were being sold in the first three years of the war, the Jewish National Fund said it acquired about 27,000 acres from the Arabs during that time.[11] According to Kenneth W. Stein,
…the British did not comprehend the depth of Zionist commitment to own land nor did they understand why Palestinian Arabs were positively eager to sell portions of the patrimony. As a result they did not conceive of the artful deceptions conjured up by purchasers and sellers to satisfy their respective needs.[12]
No wonder in Zionist literature one does read much less criticism on those Land Transfer Regulations than on the immigration quota, as the former were easily circumvented, while the latter were not. As soon as the White Paper was being published the Irgun started a terrorist campaign. The only way to make the British change their evil policy, so they thought, would be by means of violence, as the White Paper itself was a result of Arab violence. Very soon most leaders of Irgun including their commander-in-chief David Raziel, were imprisoned.[13]

When the war started, the Irgun offered a truce to the Palestine Government, which was accepted. The Revisionists did not even demonstrate after the publication of the Land Transfer Regulations, while all other parties did so. Probably an agreement with the Government assured good treatment if Irgun’s leaders in jail, provided Irgun would co-operate with the British during the war. Even Sami Hadawi, who wrote about Zionist terrorism, is not able to mention any act of Jewish terrorism in 1941.[14] In May 1941 David Raziel was even prepared to be involved in a British action against Iraq.[15]

Although during the Arab revolt the British Forces had unofficially co-operated very much with Haganah (Defense), the illegal Jewish Defense Forces, obeying the orders of the Jewish Agency, and in January 1939 a start was made with giving the Haganah better weapons, after May 1939 this policy was totally reversed.[16] During the autumn of 1939 and the spring of 1940 British Police and Army searched many Jewish settlements to confiscate their weapons and to arrest the Haganah leaders. Heavy sentences were pronounced by the military tribunal.

Most of these sentences, however, were never being enacted, as after the German assault on West Europe in May 1940, unofficially the Palestine Government again began to make use of the military capabilities of the Haganah. Very often units of Haganah were used as shock troops, sometimes in British uniforms.[17] In 1942 the threat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps united the British Military and the Haganah even more. Haganah received training from the British to perform guerrilla activities in case Rommel would be able to enter Palestine and drive the British out. The cooperation between Haganah and the Palestine Military Command did not mean Haganah did not continue its smuggling of weapons and clandestine training.[18] Zionist historian Yehoshua Porath supposes that if the war had not been interfered, the revolt would probably have continued, but now not by the Arabs, but by the Jews.[19]

In 1942 another reversal in relations between the Palestine Government and the Zionists took place. After the affair with the S.S. Struma in February, Irgun started with terrorist deeds again. They were no longer willing to bury their resistance against the implementation of the White Paper in order to help the British with their war effort. After Rommel was defeated at al-Alamein the British did not need the help of Haganah anymore, and began once more to persecute members and searching settlements for the many weapons that Haganah had been able to smuggle into the country.[20]

Until 1942 the imminent danger for Palestine kept the level of Jewish violence against the British down. While illegal immigration, the circumvention of the Land Transfer Regulations, the smuggling of weapons and clandestine military training were clearly anti-British acts, as long as the British were confronted by the military danger, self-restraint was exercised by most of the Jewish community. Even the Irgun was prepared to stop with terrorism in order to help Britain against the Axis. Many Jews were prepared to enlist in the army in order to fight with Britain against the Axis.

[1] Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, p. 78.
[2] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 144.
[3] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 141, gives the numbers of legal and illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine:

1939 (April-December) 8,617 12,296 20,913
1940 4,547 3,851 8,398
1941 3,647 2,239 5,886
1942 2,194 1,539 3,733
Totals: 19,005 19,925 38,930

[4] Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, p. 61; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 140; Chaim Weizmann, The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (New York, 1949), p. 403.
[5] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 140.
[6] Ibid.; Sachar, History of Israel, pp. 237-8.
[7] Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, p. 59.
[8] Ibid., pp. 64-5.
[9] Kirk, Survey, pp. 233-4.
[10] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 939.
[11] Ibid., p. 941; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, pp. 138-9; Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, p. 259 footnote.
[12] Stein, Kenneth W., ‘Legal Protection and Circumvention of Rights for Cultivators in Mandatory Palestine’, in Joel S. Migdal (ed.), Palestinian Society and Politics (Princeton, Guildford, 1980), p. 256.
[13] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 188; Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, pp. 77, 91.
[14] Sami Hadawi, Crime and No Punishment: Zionist Israeli Terrorism 1939-1972 (Beirut, 1972), pp. 33-4.
[15] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, pp. 126-7; Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, pp. 77.
[16] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, pp. 109-10.
[17] Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, pp. 75-6; Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, p. 262.
[18] Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, pp. 85-6; Sachar, History of Israel, p. 233.
[19] Yehoshua Porath, The Palestinian Arab National Movement: From Riots to Rebellion, Volume Two 1929-1939 (London, 1977) p. 290.
[20] Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment, pp. 86-7; Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, p. 274.

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