Menu JTA Search

When Israel Comes Home

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

At the middle of the beach at Tel Aviv, there juts out over the sea a pier with a casino at its end. It was in this flowered rotunda, through which the Mediterranean breeze blew freshly, I spent my last Palestinian hours in the company of David and several of his friends who had come for the occasion. Soon, a small boat would take me to the great white steamer which was anchored a short distance down the coast.

Once again I was surprised by the serenity of the people and things round about me, by the peace that seemed to emanate from this white beach with its colorful beach umbrellas, with its bathers playing amid bursts of laughter, with its half-nude children playing in the waves that cast pearls of joy upon their legs.

Where was that type of humanity that I had so often encountered elsewhere? Was he hiding, the wretched Jew, with his drooping shoulders and his too-feverish eyes beneath his too-heavy brow? Or had it been sufficient for him, like Anthes in the legend, to touch his ancestral soil and be regenerated?

Thus I meditated, while David and his friends spoke of a boat expected at Haifa with another contingent of pioneers.

“A hundred and thirty German refugees,” said David, looking at me, “and a hundred others.”

“But tomorrow?” I asked.

My companions did not understand right away. They did not know how this idyllic peace had reawakened in my mind, by the law of contrasts, a picture and a voice. The picture of a dark hand, with polished nails, sweeping across a marble-topped table; a voice saying, “We’ll handle them.”

So I explained, “The Arabs, David.”

JEWISH ATTITUDE TOWARDS ARABS

David did not seem surprised. Neither did his companions. It was one of them who answered staidly:

“Tomorrow, we will live in peace with the Arabs. They know well that we desire an understanding with them, that we do not wish to bother or molest them. And besides, what harm have we done them so far? Don’t they know that they have everything to gain from our being here? We bring them new ideas of progress, of hygiene, of comfort. Ended the misery and ignorance in which they stagnated in a state bordering on barbarity. See how different their homes are already. For their mud-brick hovels they are substituting, following our example, brick houses with red tiled roofs. And see how, inspired by our agricultural methods, they are taking from the soil crops of which they had no idea before our arrival. Ten years ago, their orange plantations occupied 2,000 hectares; today, their plantations cover more than 7,000 hectares.

“May I cite a typical example? You have visited, I believe, the neighboring country of Transjordania. You have seen the desert-like aspect of that region. Now, did you know that there is more fertile land there than here, that Transjordania could have an extraordinary richness? The only thing is, our influence has not penetrated into that zone and the fellah continues to cultivate the land according to the methods of two or three thousand years ago. Can I not say that our presence here has been a source of good to the Arabs?”

“No doubt,” I answered. “But do they realize it? For my part, I found an altogether different feeling among them.”

MASSES NOT HOSTILE

“Among them? Let us understand one another. The hostile {SPAN}##{/SPAN} that you noted was not among the masses–who, by the way, would not have understood you since they know no other language but their own–but among the ‘interpreters’ of these masses, that is, among the governing class. Yes, it is among this governing class that you will find our irreconcilable enemies. They belong to the feudal aristocracy that has held power here, for centuries, over a mass of people held in servitude. But now, coming in contact with us, this mass is beginning to realize its rights. it is beginning to understand that it too can attain a certain comfort and wealth. It is raising its head–And that is the motive for the rancor and grievance against us.

“And there is another thing, still less known. These landowners regret the lands they sold us for the establishment of our colonies, as well as the lands that they are still selling us each day. They wish to sell and keep their land at the same time. What can they do to get it back? There is but one means–violence. And they attempt to excite the people against us.”

“But it seems to me that they are succeeding,” I said. “And since they are succeeding, I must conclude that the people also have motives for rancor.”

“Yes. But of a very different order whose artificial character I shall demonstrate. We are described to them as people who are enemies of Mahomet, as destroyers of the religion of Allah. They are trying to awaken the old fanaticism against us. But don’t think that they will succeed. The Arab is beginning to understand more and more that we respect his religious convictions, that we have never attempted propaganda against those convictions. These recent riots to which you refer–have you not noticed that they were much less serious, much less ‘convinced’ than those of four years ago? No, we have no fear. The Arab people will not always permit itself to be fooled by the lies of a caste. And besides, I may say that we would know how to defend ourselves in case of trouble.”

MEANS OF DEFENSE

I jumped upon his last sentence.

“Defend yourselves? How?”

He made a vague gesture. Already he regretted having mentioned the subject. To lead him on, I asked, “But wouldn’t you be quite impotent before an Arab aggression?”

He hesitated still, then spoke, bruskly:

“There are 40,000 young men, strong and firm in their convictions, ready to rise tomorrow to defend the new Jewish fatherland if anyone though of contesting by violence the imprescriptible rights that we have over Palestinian soil.”

“But weapons? You would need weapons, wouldn’t you?”

“We have them.”

“Here?”

“Yes.”

“Hidden?”

“No. They are being kept under the British seals. But, according to the terms of our agreement with the mandatory government, we may break these seals immediately our security is threatened.”

There was a feeling of uneasiness in the atmosphere. The soft voice of old David destroyed it:

“We would like nothing better than never to touch those weapons. We know too well the price of war, and that by peace alone our efforts here can bring results. It is prosperity and not blood that we desire for Palestine. Rest assured that the Arab people realizes that; it sees for itself how our work has been beneficial to the soil, which has regained its ancient fertility. And do not they profit as much as we? Is it not true that before our arrival in this desert, thousands of Arabs were leaving Palestine each year? Is it not true that they are returning en masse today? I can give you the figures. From the census of 1922 to the census of 1931, the Arab population increased by 225,000, that is, by forty per cent. People speak a great deal of the Jewish immigration in Palestine, but they forget to speak of the Arab immigration, the latter a result of the former.

“What else can we say? Nothing but this: the future will tell you whether we are right in having confidence.”

Now that I have left Palestine to rejoin my “Aryan” brethren, that question–the answer to which will be the conclusion of this examination–keeps posing itself in my mind: What will eventually happen to Zionism, to the effort of this small group of humans so resolutely attached to the rock of their ancient fatherland?

If, with the necessary withdrawal, we study this fatherland, we cannot fail to notice the clouds that are massing on the horizon. Can we, then, share entirely the fine confidence that we found there?

But, on the other hand, are we not permitted to think that a people, having already given so many examples of will and energy, can face this horizon staunchly? For why, since it has accomplished so many miracles already, can it not accomplish more tomorrow?

NEXT STORY