Tuesday, October 28, 2008

8. Supporting Britain as if their were no White Paper

Immediately after the war in Europe started, the Jewish Agency drew up blueprints for helping Britain by a total mobilization of the economy and manpower of the Jewish community in Palestine. All men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 were called upon to register. Between 10 and 21 September 1939, a total of 119,293 Palestine Jews did so, expecting to be of use in serving the needs of the Jewish community as regards security, economic life and other public requirements and to be at the disposal of the British military authorities in Palestine for such services as would be required.[1]

Now that war was declared on Hitler, the Jews in Palestine were impatiently demanding to be of military use, in the first place because they wanted to take part in the fight for saving the Jews in Nazi-Europe. The Zionists had other reasons too. They hoped for the indefinite shelving and abrogation of the White Paper, as a reward for helping Britain.[2]

The Jews did not want to just fight in the British Army, they wanted to form separate military units and battalions, fighting under the Jewish flag. If their national status would be recognized in the war, their cause would be strengthened in the peace settlement after the war. But probably of more importance, the recruitment of Palestinian Jews into military units would form the nucleus of a future Jewish Army. Because the Jewish Defense Forces, Haganah, were illegal and its leaders were being persecuted since the publication of the White Paper, the Zionist leaders wanted to legalize Haganah as a Jewish Army, enlarged and trained in modern warfare.[3]

This future Jewish Army would be the means to compel a Zionist solution of the Palestine problem by forces of arms, by threatening but if necessary even at cost of civil war by the conquest of the country. Sykes speaks of a ‘Jabotinskian’ policy by the Jewish Agency.[4] Sixty percent of the Jews who became members of the British services had formerly been members of Haganah and remained under Haganah directions. Those who were able to do so secured weapons for Haganah. Within the Haganah committees the possibility of using the force against the authors of the White Paper was freely discussed.[5]

In order not to strengthen the Jewish position in Palestine and to antagonize the Arabs the British Cabinet viewed the suggestion to organize a special Jewish military force for the defense of Palestine with disfavor. All Palestinian units should be made up of Arabs as well as Jews.[6] Beside that, during the early months of the war there was no need for a large army in Palestine.[7]

After May 1940, when West Europe fully entered the war, and when Churchill became Prime-Minister in London, the Cabinet wanted to take the suggestion of Jewish military units more seriously.[8] The conversations between the Jewish Agency representatives and the new Colonial Secretary, Lord Lloyd, did not lead to definite conclusions. The Colonial Office insisted on an approximate parity in the numbers of Jews and Arabs recruited for specific mixed, Jewish and Arab noncombatant units in Palestine. From July 1940 on, however, small fully Jewish infantry units were being formed. Zionist persistence and the threat of losing war led the Britain in July to abandon the rule of numerical equality in noncombatant enlistments and to form a Palestine infantry regiment for defense duties, consisting of two Jewish and two Arab companies of 200 men each, the so-called ‘Palestine Buffs.’ As Arabs were very slow in enlisting, the number of Jewish units in this regiment could not grow very much.[9]

The parity rule soon had to be dropped with respect to the infantry companies because the number of Jewish volunteers was very high and in the spring of 1941 the military situation in the Middle East became very critical. In August 1942, when the threat from the Western Desert by Rommel was immediate, the Jewish companies were permitted to form separate Palestinian infantry battalions for general service in the Middle East, beside Arab infantry battalions.[10] Because of the German threat, there was a considerable growth in Jewish recruiting for the British Army. By August 1942, 18,000 Palestine Jews were incorporated into purely Jewish battalions.[11] Also, the number of Jewish Palestine police was increased to 24,000. Since May 1942 they resorted under Military Command and were employed for military duties in the defense of Palestine.

In order to create a real Jewish Army under a Jewish flag, Weizmann addressed a letter to Churchill in August 1940, wherein he pleaded for a Jewish army:
Should it come to a temporary withdrawal from Palestine… the Jews of Palestine would be exposed to wholesale massacre at the hands of Arabs encouraged and directed by the Nazis and Fascists. This possibility reinforces the demand for our elementary human right to bear arms, which should not morally be denied to the loyal citizens of a country at war.[12]
On 6 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, Churchill assured Weizmann of his full and official support for the Zionist project of raising a Jewish Army. He hoped to be able to recall to Western Europe the eleven British regular battalions, which had been sent to Palestine to suppress the Arab Revolt.[13] After a meeting on 13 September a decision was taken. Weizmann and a small Zionist delegation met with Secretary of State, Anthony Eden, Lord Lloyd of the Colonial Office, and a representative of the Foreign Office. After discussion Eden told Weizmann that
…the Government have decided to proceed with the organization of a Jewish army, on the same basis as the Czech and Polish armies. Its size, to begin with, would be 10,000 including 4,000 from Palestine. They would be trained and organized in England and then dispatched to the Middle East.[14]
It is recorded that Weizmann afterwards said that, ‘it is almost as great a day as the Balfour Declaration.’[15] The Zionists, however, were soon gravely disappointed. As no decision as to a Jewish Army could be taken without reference to the authorities in Palestine and the Middle East Head Quarters, their dislike of the idea led to the postponement of the implementation again and again. Churchill could not override the Middle East opposition.[16] Finally, on 15 October 1941, the new Colonial Secretary, Lord Moyne, notified Weizmann that the proposal of the Jewish Agency had been rejected.[17] Not before 1944, a genuine Jewish Brigade – not an Army – with its own flag would be formed with British consent. This flag is the flag of Israel today.[18]

This rejection made the Jewish Agency redirect its pressures from the British Government departments to the public opinion in Britain and America. Though Britain continued to be of great importance, as the mandate for Palestine was still hers, the United States had become the focal point of Zionist political activity.[19]

[1] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1021; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 125.
[2] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 125.
[3] Ibid.; Taylor, Prelude to Israel, p. 67.
[4] Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, p. 258.
[5] Ibid., p. 277.
[6] Taylor, Prelude to Israel, p. 67.
[7] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1022.
[8] Ibid., p. 1022-3; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 126.
[9] Kirk, Survey, pp. 238-9; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 128.
[10] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 128.
[11] Sachar, History of Israel, pp. 232-3; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, pp. 1025-8.
[12] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1024.
[13] Kirk, Survey, p. 237
[14] Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, p. 249
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., p. 251.
[17] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, pp. 1024-5; Kirk, Survey, p. 245.
[18] Taylor, Prelude to Israel, p. 69.
[19] Ibid., p. 59.

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