David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the State of Israel was born in Plonsk in 1886 and at the age of twenty emigrated to Palestine. His numerous Zionist activities included directing the New York branch of the Hehalutz organisation in 1915 where he trained young Jews to settle in Palestine. Four years later he called upon Jewish workers in Palestine and the Diaspora to unite in forming a political force that would direct the Zionist movement towards the establishment of a new Jewish socialist society in Palestine. Amongst the various offices which he held, before the establishment of the Jewish State, were Secretary General of the Histadrut and Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive.
Ben-Gurion's Transfer Proposals
On 9 July 1936, Ben-Gurion and Shertok met with the High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Arthur Wauchope at Government House, Jerusalem. Shertok recorded a note of the conversation. At this meeting they discussed the embargo on immigration, Cantonisation and Transjordan, and the reopening of the Port of Jaffa. While discussing the subject of Transjordan, “Mr. Ben-Gurion asked whether the Government would make it possible for Arab cultivators displaced through Jewish land purchase in western Palestine to be settled in Transjordan”, adding that if Transjordan was closed to Jewish settlement, it surely could not be closed to Arabs.(69) The High Commissioner thought that this was “a good idea”, but his advisers contended that since Transjordan was such a poor country, it was impossible to increase its population without at the same time increasing its capital resources. The High Commissioner asked “whether the Jews would be prepared to spend money on the settlement of such Palestinian Arabs in Transjordan.” Ben-Gurion replied that this could be considered.
Shertok “remarked that the Jewish colonising agencies were in any case spending money in providing for the tenants or cultivators who had to be shifted as a result of Jewish land purchase either by the payment of compensation or through the provision of alternative land. They would gladly spend that money on the settlement of these people in Transjordan.”(70) From Shertok's words “had to be shifted,” it would appear that such transfers could be compulsory, and his assertion that the Jews would “gladly spend... money to settle the displaced Arabs in Transjordan” suggests preference for resettling the Arabs in this region, rather than in another part of Palestine.
In a report on the meeting made to the Jewish Agency Executive on the following day by Ben-Gurion himself, he said that he had told the High Commissioner that “if at present Jews are not permitted to settle in Transjordan; at least give us permission to purchase land in Transjordan and settle there Arabs from Palestine from whom we are buying land.”(71)
Ben-Gurion also wrote of this proposal in a letter to Zalman Rubashov (later Shazar) on 17 July. There Ben-Gurion added that the High Commissioner had previously been strongly opposed to Jews purchasing land in Transjordan for the resettlement of Arabs from Palestine, but that he no longer opposed it.(72) This indicated that it was not Ben-Gurion's first attempt at enlisting the High Commissioner's support for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Transjordan.
We do know that such an attempt was made in July 1933 and that the High Commissioner had opposed it. The village of Rumman in Transjordan was up for sale or long-term lease, and Moshe Shertok “suggested that the [Palestine] Government may like to purchase the property for settlement thereon of 'landless Arabs'“.(73) In answer, the High Commissioner wrote that “The Palestine Government has no intention of entertaining the suggestion that these lands might be purchased for the purpose of resettling Arabs who have been rendered landless in Palestine as a result of the change from Arab to Jewish landlords ... Any attempt on the part of the Palestine Government to transfer Palestinian Arabs to new holdings in Trans-Jordan would be looked upon as tantamount to expulsion of the existing inhabitants of this country.”(74) However, as we shall see later, after the start of the Arab rebellion in Palestine in 1936, the very same High Commissioner himself ordered the “repatriation” of Arabs whose “presence in Palestine” was “considered undesirable”!
On 10 November 1936, at a meeting of the Zionist General Council, held in preparation for the arrival of the Peel Commission, Ben-Gurion made a long statement which included his same transfer proposal.(75)
Nearly seven months later, in May 1937, Ben-Gurion had a meeting with some colleagues amongst whom was included Pinhas Rutenberg. Rutenberg was a Russo-Jewish electrical engineer and founder and director of the Palestine Electric Company, who had set up a hydro-electric power station in Transjordan to harness the waters of the upper Jordan and the Yarmuk rivers. On the political level, he had co-operated in the 1930s with a number of other Jewish personalities, including Magnes and Smilensky (two strong opponents of Arab transfer), in search of a programme for Arab-Jewish understanding.
At this meeting on 5 May, it was concluded that “We see need... to pressure the British Government” on the possibility of Jewish settlement in Transjordan, “or at least the possibility of purchasing land for the purpose of settling Arabs from Western Palestine who will agree to transfer to Transjordan.”(76) This was the first time that Ben-Gurion, in putting forward this transfer proposal, had included the element of agreement by the Arabs. However, this is not necessarily Ben-Gurion's own personal opinion but a joint statement as evidenced by the opening “ We see” (our emphasis).
At another meeting held a month later, between Ben-Gurion and Rutenberg a joint letter was prepared which mentioned this transfer proposal and included the element of Arab consent.(77) However, in the interval between these two meetings, Ben-Gurion again mentioned this proposal, not this time in Rutenberg's presence and without this time including the need for Arab consent!(78)
Ben-Gurion's transfer proposals were not limited to transferring Arabs to Transjordan. In December 1937, he entered in his diary a proposal to transfer Arabs - this time from Palestine to Syria. On 9 December, Ben-Gurion had a meeting with Yehoshua Henkin, a major purchaser of land in Palestine for the Jewish National Fund, and questioned him regarding the purchase of land in Upper Galilee and in the North of Palestine.(79)
Four days later, Joseph Nachmani, another land purchaser, handed Ben-Gurion a detailed list of lands which could be purchased in Upper Galilee, together with survey of the number of tenant farmers and Bedouin currently working on these lands.(80) Whereupon Ben-Gurion commented in his diary, “At present there are difficulties regarding the purchase of land; there is the question of the Arab tenant farmers and the Bedouin; there are political difficulties.” In Northern Syria, in particular the el-Jezireh area, there were wide open spaces settled by Kurds and non-Arab tribes. Ben-Gurion's proposal was that, “By agreement with the Syrian government it would be possible to transfer large numbers of tenant farmers and Bedouin to Northern Syria. The land there is cheap and plentiful.” If the Arab tenant-farmers were to be transferred from the Galilean Hills, the Jewish farmers would be able to establish orchards and grow tobacco there.(81)
In this proposal, Ben-Gurion does not specify whether the Arab tenant-farmers and Bedouin would have to give their consent to their proposed transfer to Northern Syria where the land was “cheap and plentiful.”
As we can see, the above-mentioned proposals suggested by Ben-Gurion were for transfer of Arabs just from Palestine west of the Jordan river. However, two years earlier, in the summer of 1934, Ben-Gurion put forward a proposal which would have involved transferring Arabs from Transjordan as well as from Palestine west of the Jordan.
This proposal was made in a meeting with the Arab leader Shekib Arslan, who at the time was living in Geneva. At this meeting, Ben-Gurion suggested that “if the Arabs would leave Palestine and Transjordan to the Jews, they could count on Jewish help, not only in resettling the displaced Palestinians, but for Arab causes in other countries.” Ben-Gurion's proposal received a “summary rejection” by Arslan!(82)
Enthusiastic Reaction to Transfer Proposal
On 3 July 1937, Ben-Gurion, who was at the time in London, received a summary of the Peel Report from Moshe Shertok, in Cairo. The same day, Ben-Gurion wrote a letter back to Shertok commenting on the Report's recommendations. He told Shertok that one paragraph remained unclear - the transfer of the Arab population. “Is the proposal a voluntary one or a compulsory one? It is difficult for me to believe in a compulsory transfer, and it is difficult for me to believe in a transfer by agreement.”(83) Towards the evening of 6 July, Ben-Gurion received a full copy of the Report and by the afternoon of 10 July he had completed his first reading. On 11 July, he noted in his diary that the proposal to transfer the Arabs out of the proposed Jewish State would give a bargaining counter. “If the Arabs agree to give us the Dead Sea and the Negev - it may be worth our while to forgo their compulsory transfer from the plains, as proposed by the Commission.”
Ben-Gurion considered that the implementation of this transfer proposal presented “great difficulties and it is doubtful whether the British will implement it, even assuming that Abdullah, (the ruler of Transjordan) agrees to it.” Ben-Gurion considered that Abdullah would undoubtedly be interested in such a transfer of Arabs both for financial and other reasons.(84)
Abdullah, one of the sons of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, had, in 1921, moved into Transjordan with a band of guerilla Arabs, declaring his intention to recover Syria, from which his brother Feisal had been driven out by the French. Winston Churchill, then British Colonial Secretary, went to the Middle East to meet with Abdullah and promised him recognition as Emir of Transjordan, provided that he did not violate the frontier with Syria. At his meeting with Churchill, Abdullah had asked whether the British Government's policy was to “establish a Jewish Kingdom west of the Jordan and to turn out the non-Jewish population?” Abdullah said, “The Allies appeared to think that men could be cut down and transplanted in the same way as trees.” The High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, who had accompanied Churchill replied that “there was no intention either to cut down or to transplant but only to plant new ones.” Churchill said that there was a “great deal of groundless apprehension among the Arabs in Palestine” and that their rights would be strictly preserved.”(85)
In July 1937, Ben-Gurion, writing in his diary on the Peel transfer proposal, continued, “We should not assume that it is definitely impossible. If it were put into effect, it would be of tremendous advantage to us.” Transfer would enable vast numbers of Jews to settle on land previously occupied by Arabs. “For every transferred Arab, one could settle four Jews on the land,” and even more Jews in non-agrarian occupations. In fact, Ben-Gurion considered it very doubtful whether within the entire Negev, one could settle even half the number of Jews that could be contained within the lesser area proposed by the Peel Commission for the Jewish State, were the Arabs to be transferred from this area.
Ben-Gurion concluded that the choice between the addition of the Negev to the proposed Jewish State or the compulsory transfer of the Arabs from the Plains was not easy. “But if the Government rejects the Commission's proposal for compulsory transfer - which is almost certain - then we will have an additional and weighty argument in favour of our claim on the Negev.”(86)
At that time, there were already a number of Jewish settlements on the eastern side of the River Jordan. These were situated between the Sea of Galilee and the junction between the Jordan and Yarmuk Rivers. Geographically, these settlements were in Transjordan, but in fact this small area of land was outside the boundaries of Transjordan as they had been fixed in 1922. According to the Peel Commission's recommendations the area of these settlements was to become part of the Arab State and its Jewish inhabitants transferred to the Jewish State. The Zionists made an immediate appeal for this small area to be incorporated within the boundaries of the Jewish State.(87) However, as Ben-Gurion noted in his diary, “In the event of the compulsory transfer being rejected by the Government, we will remain in Transjordan - even if the border suggested by the Commission, north of the Yarmuk-Jordan junction is not rectified.”(88)
By 12 July, Ben-Gurion had already come out strongly in favour of immediate implementation of the compulsory transfer of Arabs from the Jewish State. “In my notes on the Report immediately after my first reading (of 10.7.37), I ignored a central point whose importance is far greater than all the other advantages and outweighs all the deficiencies and drawbacks in the Report and, if it does not remain a dead letter, is likely to give us something which we have never had, ... namely the compulsory transfer of Arabs from the Plains.”
According to Ben-Gurion, he initially ignored this transfer proposal because of a “pre-conceived notion” that compulsory transfer could never take place. However, on further study of the Peel's Commission's conclusions, the crucial importance of the transfer proposal became clear to Ben-Gurion. He concluded that the primary obstacle to the realisation of this proposal was a lack of appreciation among the Jewish community, of the importance of a compulsory transfer.
“With the removal of the Arabs from the Plains, we are getting for the first time in our history a truly Jewish State,” continued Ben-Gurion. He explained the advantages which would accrue from such a transfer. There could be large scale Jewish settlement entirely within the autonomous Jewish State. Hitherto insoluble difficulties would disappear revealing hitherto unimagined possibilities.
Ben-Gurion insisted that the transfer proposal could not succeed without a firm recognition that transfer was both possible and desirable. He envisaged great difficulties in the forceful removal of something in the region of one hundred thousand Arabs from the villages in which they had been living for hundreds of years and he queried whether the English would have the courage to carry it through. “Of course they will not do it,” wrote Ben-Gurion, “if we do not will it and if we do not urge them with all our might and main.” He feared that even if the pressure were maintained, the English might falter but “any wavering on our part as to the necessity of this transfer, any doubt on our part as to the possibility of its achievement, any hesitation on our part as to the justice of it, are likely to lose us a historic opportunity which will not reoccur.”
Ben-Gurion continued, “We must insist on the implementation of this proposal with all our strength, heart and soul, since of all the proposals of the Commission, this is the (only) one which can compensate us for the amputation of the remaining parts of Palestine.”
Ben-Gurion considered that this transfer proposal would also benefit the Arab cause, since Transjordan was in need of increased population, development and money.
On the previous day, Ben-Gurion had been considering forgoing the transfer proposal in exchange for the inclusion of the Negev within the borders of the proposed Jewish State. After further consideration, he came to exactly the opposite conclusion. “The transfer paragraph is in my eyes more important than all our demands for additional land.”
Ben-Gurion concluded his diary entry on this subject with a reiteration of the need for an immediate implementation of the transfer proposal. “If we are not able to remove the Arabs from our midst now and transfer them to the Arab area as the British Royal commission has suggested to England, then we will not be able to do it easily (if at all) after the establishment of the State.” He explained that the Arabs, if left in the future Jewish State, would acquire rights as a minority group and gain the sympathy extended to minorities by a world hostile to the Jews. Therefore “we must do this (transfer) now - and the first and perhaps decisive step is preparing ourselves to implement it.”(89)
In his diary entry for 17 July, Ben-Gurion listed the advantages and disadvantages of the Peel Commission's partition proposals. Amongst the advantages, he included, “All the Plains in the Jewish State will be cleared of their Arab residents.”(90)
The Report of the Peel Commission recommended that whereas the transfer of Arabs from the Plains was in the last resort to be compulsory, the transfer of Arabs from the Galilee should be on a voluntary basis. Ben-Gurion listed this last restriction as one of the disadvantages of the Peel Report, “The Arabs in the Galilean-hills who wish to remain in the Jewish state cannot be removed by force.”(91) We can thus see that Ben-Gurion would have liked the right to remove these Galilean Arabs compulsorily in the same way as the Arabs of the Plains. He also considered that one of the disadvantages of the Report was “The compulsory transfer of all Jews from the 'Arab State'.”(92)
At the end of 1937, the British Government retracted from its support of the Peel Commission's recommendation on compulsory transfer. In his writings and speeches during 1938, Ben-Gurion showed his disappointment over this retraction.
In September 1938, he wrote in his diary, “One should remember that the cancelling of the compulsory transfer (proposal) decreased our possibilities and serves as a great legacy for the Arabs.”(93)
A few weeks later, in a letter written to his children from London, Ben-Gurion observed that within a few weeks, the Woodhead Commission would publish its report. Whilst describing the possible recommendations that the Commission might make, Ben-Gurion observed, “In my opinion, the suggestion of the Peel Commission was on the whole good, provided that they were also to implement the transfer (of Arabs) from all the Plains as the 'Royal Commission' suggested.”(94)
Ben-Gurion's Letters to his Son Amos
In a long letter sent from Paris in 27 July 1937 to his sixteen year old son Amos, David Ben-Gurion wrote that the partition plan of the Peel Commission differed from the plan which he had suggested to the Mapai Central Committee, both for the better and for the worse. He then listed these differences.
Ben-Gurion approved of the Peel Commission's recommendation that all the Arabs living on the Coastal Plain, the Jezreel Valley and the Jordan Valley be removed and transferred to Transjordan or some other place within the proposed Arab State. “By this means the Jews will receive these valleys completely free of Arabs and hence the possibility of Jewish settlement will grow considerably. This proposal has an enormous advantage and is equivalent in my opinion to the Negev (if it is put into practice).”
Ben-Gurion wrote that when he weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of the Peel Report as against his own plan, he found in general that the former was better. He considered that in two important things “whose value cannot be estimated” the proposals of the Peel Commission excelled. The first was the inclusion of the Galilee in the Jewish State and the second was the proposal to transfer the Arabs from the valleys. “We were not able nor permitted to express such an idea, since we never wanted to drive out the Arabs. But since the British are diverting part of Palestine which had been promised to us, to the Arab State, it is only fair that the Arabs in our State be transferred to the Arab area.”(95)
A few months later, in a further letter which he wrote to his son from London, Ben-Gurion displayed more extreme views. Writing about the Negev, Ben-Gurion suggested that the Arabs might say that “it is better that the Negev should remain desolate than that the Jews should live in it.” Ben-Gurion felt that a situation where large tracts of land capable of absorbing large numbers of Jews were remaining empty, while Jews were being barred from returning to their land under the Arab pretext of insufficient room for both peoples, was unacceptable. Ben-Gurion's answer was simple, “We must expel Arabs and take their place.” He explained that the Jews' aspirations were founded on the assumption that there was sufficient room in Palestine for both Jews and Arabs but “if we have to use force - not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our right to settle in those places - then we will have force at our disposal.”(96)
The above paragraph is quoted (in English translation) exactly as it appears in Ben-Gurion's handwritten letter, and also in the typewritten copy, both of which are to be found in Ben-Gurion's Archives in Sede Boker. It is from this text that Shabtai Teveth has quoted in the English version of his book “Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs.”(97) In the Hebrew version of his book, however, four Hebrew words have been added making it read, “We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their place.”(98); these same additional four words (together with the previous two and a half lines) are in fact crossed out in Ben-Gurion’s handwritten letter! In the published edition of this letter,(99) the Editor (and, according to Shabtai Teveth, with the consent of Ben-Gurion(100)) completely omitted this sentence!
From the mid-1990s, a number of historians began to study in depth the “crossings out” in this letter of Ben-Gurion’s. In his book “Fabricating Israeli History”, Efraim Karsh, Professor of Mediterranean Studies at the University of London, argued that Ben-Gurion only intended to cross out the previous sentence but “in so doing, most probably due to an abrupt brush of the pen, he erased the critical [four Hebrew] words.”(101)
In an article in the journal “Alpayim”, Benny Morris wrote that “between 1937 and the 1970s, someone - presumably not Ben-Gurion himself - ‘vandalised’ the original letter” by crossing out several lines of it. He added that the Archives of the Israel Defence Forces had, with the aid of modern technology, managed to decipher these crossed out words.(102) In a later article, Morris slightly modified this statement and wrote that these three lines had been crossed out “by Ben-Gurion or someone else, subsequently.”(103)
These views of Morris’s were ridiculed by Shabtei Teveth. Teveth indicated that one did not require the Archives of the Israel Defence Forces to decipher what was written under the crossing out - it could be read, albeit with a little difficulty, by just looking at the letter. In addition, a letter which he had received from these Archives stated that they had not even attempted to use modern technology to decipher it, since it was unnecessary in this case!. Teveth also regarded as absurd the idea that someone other than Ben-Gurion had done this crossing out. Also, the appropriate page of Ben-Gurion’s letter had been sent to the Criminal Investigation Department of the Israel Police in order to determine at what date these lines had been crossed out, but they were unable to do so.(104)
In conclusion, one must therefore say that this particular quote on transfer by Ben-Gurion is problematic!
In his book, Karsh also wrote that Ben-Gurion had constantly and completely opposed the transfer of Arabs.(105) In answer, Morris gives a number of examples of how Ben-Gurion supported the transfer of Arabs from Palestine, and he wrote: “But at no point during the 1930s and 1940s did Ben-Gurion ever go on record against the idea or policy of transfer. On the contrary, Ben-Gurion left a paper trail a mile long as to his actual thinking, and no amount of ignoring, twisting and turning, manipulation, contortion, and distortion can blow it away.”(106)
Furthermore Karsh claimed that the Zionist leaders also opposed transfer(107) and on this Morris answered: “Karsh can shout until he is blue in the face that the Zionist leaders in the 1930s and 1940s rejected all thought of transfer: Mountains of evidence speak to the contrary.”(108)
Ben-Gurion's Plan to Transfer Arabs to Iraq
Towards the end of 1938, Ben-Gurion began to work out details of a plan to transfer Arabs from Palestine to Iraq.
In a diary entry dated 10 December 1938 - during the period when preparations were in hand for the St. James's Palace [London] Conference - Ben-Gurion wrote that the Jews would come to this conference with maximalistic claims. They would suggest that the Feisal-Weizmann agreement of 1919 should serve as a basis for negotiation and would stand by their demand that at least all of Western Palestine be handed over to the Jews.
Ben-Gurion then continued, “We will offer to Iraq ten million pounds to transfer one hundred thousand Arab families from Palestine to Iraq. Were it not for Ibn-Saud and Egypt, there would perhaps be a chance for this proposal. However, whether or not there is a chance, we should approach them with this extensive plan.”(109)
On the following day, Ben-Gurion put forward this plan at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive. He said that he did not know whether Iraq would be prepared to accept it “but if it were just Iraq, perhaps they would listen to us. Iraq needs a much larger Arab colonisation and obviously they would not loathe the millions [of pounds].” The problem, as Ben-Gurion saw it, was the presence of Ibn-Saud and Egypt at the forthcoming London Conference. A miracle would be required to come to an agreement with the Arabs.(110)
Nearly two weeks later, in a letter to Eliezer Kaplan, Ben-Gurion wrote that on the previous day, a meeting of the Advisory Council of the Jewish Agency had taken place and before his (Ben-Gurion's) arrival, the non-Zionists had agreed that the Jews demand Palestine for themselves and also “they agreed to the proposal that Iraq be given ten million (pounds sterling) on condition they receive one hundred thousand Arab families from Palestine.”(111)
At the beginning of 1939, Ben-Gurion had a meeting with Maurice Hexter, a non-Zionist member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, and he wrote a report of this meeting in his diary. He told Hexter that at that time they had only general ideas and the non-Zionists had agreed to them. These included the demand for Western Palestine and “the suggestion to grant large financial support to Iraq for the purpose of transferring Arabs from Palestine.” In reply, Hexter had stated that he did not believe in the possibility of transfer. Ben-Gurion answered that neither did he see at that time this suggestion as the most practical, not because it was not possible but because the political situation and the conditions for negotiation were not suitable. He considered that King Ibn-Saud of Saudi Arabia would be strongly opposed to such a proposal, even if Iraq would be inclined to agree, since Ibn-Saud would not be interested in the strengthening of Iraq militarily. He did not even suppose that Iraq under the prevailing conditions, would agree to such a suggestion. However, Ben-Gurion concluded, “But there is a moral and strategic value to this suggestion.”(112)
On 11 January 1939, Ben-Gurion who was at the time in New York, had a meeting with the Hadassah executive. In his diary he wrote that “they accepted with great satisfaction my comments on our 'programme': Western Palestine; the proposal of transfer to Iraq; no yielding on the question of Aliyah.”(113)
In an undated (early 1939) document headed “Future Policy”, Ben-Gurion again put forward a plan for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. “A proposal should be made to Iraq and to Saudi Arabia for ten million pounds to transfer 100,000 Arab families from Palestine.”(114) The document continues with the reaction of Dr. Selig Brodetsky, Head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency in London, who agreed that the Jews “should, as suggested by Mr. Ben-Gurion approach the Arab States, with the proposal of taking Arabs out of Palestine, but the scheme should perhaps not be linked to the conception of compulsory transfer.”(115) It would seem from this answer of Brodetsky, that Ben-Gurion had intended his transfer of Arabs to be of a compulsory nature.
At that period, there were a number of people were putting forward proposals for the transfer of Arabs to Iraq. At a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in London, chaired by Ben-Gurion, arrangements for the St. James's Palace Conference were being discussed. Whilst discussing the contents of the opening statement to be presented by the Zionists, Dr. Nahum Goldmann referred to such a possible transfer. “If there were to be a transfer of Arabs to Irak, then they might help to float a loan to Irak. But he did not know if the Arabs needed their help so much.”(116)
Towards the end of 1938, Chaim Weizmann also put forward the suggestion for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Iraq. It was on 12 November 1938, just a few days after Kristallnacht, that Weizmann met with Malcolm MacDonald, the Colonial Secretary, and two days later MacDonald reported to his Cabinet colleagues on this conversation. He said that Weizmann was very despairing about the situation of the Jews in Central Europe and suggested to MacDonald that the Government of Iraq might agree to some development scheme which would enable a considerable increase in its population. Weizmann believed that the Jews would be prepared to raise between twenty to thirty million pounds for such a scheme and it could be used to either enable Iraq to settle 300,000 Jews or to transfer 100,000 Arabs from Palestine “whose land would then pass to Jewish immigrants.”(117)
The Early 1940s
As we shall see elsewhere in this work, when during the 1940s, Ben-Gurion would propose transfer of Arabs, his words would be tailored to the receiving audience! Another example of this occurred in 1941, when he put forward in a memorandum his “Outlines of Zionist Policy”. It should be noted that this document was in the English language and thus intended for the Diaspora.
He included in the memorandum a discussion on the possible transfer of Arabs. Ben-Gurion began by pointing out that although some people in England and America “advocate the transfer of the Palestinian Arabs to Iraq and Syria as the best solution of the so-called 'Arab Question', we must consider first whether such a transfer is practicable, and secondly whether it is indispensable”. He felt that “complete transfer without compulsion - and ruthless compulsion at that - is hardly imaginable.” Although there were “sections of the non-Jewish population of Palestine which would not mind being transferred, under favourable conditions”, the majority would not do so voluntarily.
Ben-Gurion commented that although at that period “the idea of transfer of population is steadily gaining in popularity ... it would, however, be unsafe and unwise on our part to advocate, or even expect, a compulsory transfer of Arabs from Palestine.” Since the Arabs (who were “more inclined to the Nazis” than to the Allies) were “formally ... 'friends' of the allies, especially of Great Britain ... it can, therefore, hardly be expected that a victorious England will undertake the compulsory transfer of Arabs from Palestine merely for the benefit of the Jewish people. It would thus be a mistake, politically and even morally, for us to advocate a compulsory transfer of the Arabs.”
He then went on to discuss a voluntary transfer and felt that “it would be rash to assert that in no circumstances and under no conditions can such a transfer take place”. Ben-Gurion put forward various ideas how, and to what extent, such a voluntary transfer could take place, and that the Zionists should “work out plans” accordingly.(118)
It would seem from this document, that Ben-Gurion would have loved to have proposed a compulsory transfer. However it would have been politically imprudent and also bad for public-relations to propose compulsory transfer at a time when one is not in a position to implement it.
A copy of this “Private and Confidential” memorandum was “extracted” from Ben-Gurion's “luggage when he left England for America” by, presumably, agents of the British Foreign Office! This memorandum was read by civil servants of the Foreign Office and four of them appended their comments.(119) However, none of them made any mention of his remarks on Arab transfer.
About three years later, at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion specifically did not reject transfer of Arabs on ethical or political, grounds but only on tactical grounds. In his speech to this forum he said: “I am against that any suggestion of transfer should come from our side. I do not reject transfer on ethical grounds and I do not reject it on political grounds; if there was a chance for its realisation. With regards to the Druze it is possible. With their consent, it is possible to transfer all the Druze to the Jebel Druze. The others - I don’t know. But it must not be a Jewish proposal. If such a suggestion would come from Iraq and Syria, we could join in. If such a suggestion would come from the British, we would say to them: go (yourselves) to the Arabs; don’t send us. If we were to suggest it, the Arabs would reject it and the non-Jews will say that there is no room for the Jews in Palestine.”(120). As we shall see later in this work, during the 1940s, when the Jews were fighting to get immigration quotas to Palestine lifted, they were very concerned that any proposal for Arab transfer from Palestine, could be interpreted that there was a lack of room in Palestine, and thus give an excuse for continuing to limit Jewish immigration into Palestine.
Ben-Gurion's Path to Pragmatism
Ben-Gurion's transfer proposals during the 1930s and 1940s, especially in his letters to his son and in his diary entries, indicate a complete reversal of the opinions he expressed on this question during the First World War, when he was in the United States.
In March 1915, Ben-Gurion and Yitzchak Ben-Zvi (later to be second President of the State of Israel) were deported by the Turks from Palestine. They went to the United States, where they remained for the next three years. The early part of this period was spent touring thirty-five cities recruiting for the Hehalutz organisation.
In a communication postmarked Omaha, Nebraska, 14 February 1916, Ben-Gurion sent Ben-Zvi, then in New York, some brief notes on Jewish settlement in Palestine. He included a number of observations on the Arabs of Palestine. They “object to Jewish settlement... But this cannot stop us,” he wrote. We did not come to expel the Arabs, but to build up the land for ourselves.” Ben-Gurion considered that the Arabs were incapable of building up the country and “they do not have the power to expel us - this the Arabs must understand. Then we will be able to work together.”(121)
Two years later, early in 1918, a few months after the publication of the Balfour Declaration, Ben-Gurion published an article entitled “The Rights of Jews and Others in Palestine”, in which he wrote that the historic area of Palestine was not unpopulated. On the two sides of the Jordan there were just over a million people, three quarters of whom lived on the west side. “Under no condition may we harm the rights of these inhabitants. Only 'Dreamers of the Ghetto' like Zangwill can imagine that Palestine will be given to the Jews with the additional right to remove the non-Jews from the country.” Here, Ben-Gurion's predictions were wrong. Only two decades later, this was precisely what the six respected Englishman comprising the Peel Commission were to recommend unanimously (with respect to a part of Palestine)!
Ben-Gurion not only did not believe that any country would agree to such a transfer, but felt that even if the power to achieve such a transfer were to be given to the Jewish establishment, “the Jews have neither the right nor ability to utilise it. It is not proper nor possible to deport the country's present inhabitants.” Ben-Gurion felt that any attempt to implement such a transfer would be “damaging and reactionary.”(122)
In his political biography on Ben-Gurion, Michael Bar-Zohar comments on Ben-Gurion's change of attitude on transfer. Bar-Zohar writes, “And therefore in place of Ben-Gurion's humanist thesis ten years earlier which absolutely disqualified the expulsion (of Arabs), there now appears a more harsh theory; the expulsion is permissible on condition that the evacuated Arabs are settled in new places and receive the means of rehabilitation.” In such an event, Ben-Gurion was prepared to abandon principles which he himself had sanctified and adopt a more realistic but less idealistic approach.(123)
So long as the British ruled Palestine, Ben-Gurion could only talk about this subject - he could not act. In May 1948, the British left the country and Ben-Gurion was made Prime Minister.
During the battle for the capture of the cities Lod and Ramleh, Ben-Gurion met with his army chiefs. The Commander of the Palmach, Yigal Allon asked him, “What shall we do with the Arabs?” Ben-Gurion answered (or according to another version, gestured with his hands), “expel them”. This was immediately communicated to the Army Headquarters and the expulsion implemented.(124)
In the case of Nazareth, however, Ben-Gurion only arrived after its capture. On seeing so many Arabs, he asked, “Why are there so many Arabs? Why didn't you expel them?”(125)
Attempts were also made to persuade Arabs to remain in Palestine, and this was not to Ben-Gurion's liking! On 1 May, two weeks before the establishment of the State of Israel, Ben-Gurion paid a visit to Haifa, which was then in its final stage of capture by the Jews. He asked for a meeting with Abba Hushi who was the central figure of Mapai in Haifa. On being told that Hushi was busy trying to persuade Arabs in the city to remain, Ben-Gurion asked, “Doesn't he have anything more important to do?”(126)