Meetings with American Government Officials
About 17 October 1938, Norman received a long letter from Montague Bell (letter untraced) who was in London. He had obviously asked Bell's advice on the wisdom of trying to obtain a meeting with the British Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, in order to discuss his transfer plan. Bell answered that in his opinion “it would be very dangerous” to discuss this plan with MacDonald at that period. He felt that “it would be rejected” and thus “it might be very difficult to bring it up again”. In addition it might leak out to the Arabs who would then completely denounce it.(522)
Following a meeting held between Norman and James McDonald on 15 October (namely, a few days before receiving Bell's letter), whose purpose was to discuss this plan, James McDonald prepared a long letter to send to the Colonial Secretary. He sent this letter to Norman to read and then mail. However after he received Bell's letter, Norman decided that it would be prudent not to send it.(523)
In this letter James McDonald wrote that he was “suggesting a way in which colonization of Palestinian Arabs in Iraq might contribute towards a solution of the problem of the Jewish homeland.” We should remember that this was during the period of the Arab rebellion in Palestine and the Woodhead Commission was about to publish its report regarding thr future of Palestine.
He pointed out that for the last year he had known of a scheme developed by Norman which is “far-reaching and may strike at the roots of the Palestine problem.” In his letter, James McDonald went on to summarise the main points of the Norman plan, and he pointed out that increasing Iraq's population would strengthen that country and this would be of “strategic importance to Britain”. He also explained that Norman's research had shown that the Iraqis would only permit the immigration of Arabs and that the only Arabs with reason to come were those from Palestine. Furthermore, it was also psychologically important that the Iraqis should themselves put forward this idea.
James McDonald concluded his letter by asking the Colonial Secretary “to consider this plan, which approaches the present impasse in a new and practical way. Mr. Norman is prepared to come to England at once to see you if you would like to discuss his plan with him. If you would wish him to come, you can cable me to that effect and he will leave on the first fast ship to sail.”(524)
Norman had also asked advice from other people regarding this question. One of these was Justice Louis Brandeis, who thought that he should go to such a meeting.(525) At that period Brandeis had met with President Roosevelt and the latter had informed him of his views on “the need of keeping it [Palestine] whole and making it Jewish” and “he was tremendously interested ... on learning of the plentitude of land for Arabs in Arab countries.”(526) It is not clear whether Brandeis had met with Roosevelt before the former wrote to Norman, and if so, whether Brandeis told Norman of this meeting with the President.
Norman also planned to discuss this matter with presidential advisor Ben Cohen and hoped that he would “be able to work it out so that I can go to London with an introduction from our Government in a month or so, when perhaps the British will have established better control in Palestine.”(527)
Norman seems to have had a further meeting with Brandeis about 14 November 1938 and he was again put in touch with Ben Cohen, who arranged a meeting for him with the Under-Secretary of State, Sumner Welles.(528) This meeting with Welles took place on 16 November. The minutes of this meeting state that “Mr. Norman had formulated a plan regarding Palestine and that Mr. Welles had agreed to give him letters to our Embassy in London with a view to his meeting Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, British Colonial Secretary.”(529)
Welles also suggested that Norman meet with Paul Alling, who was the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, and this he did straight away. The meeting lasted for an hour and a half and during it he described his plan in some detail and also the steps which he had so far taken to carry it out. Norman told Alling that Bell was returning to Iraq on that very day and would spend the winter there, and that he himself “was expecting to visit Iraq after a week or two in London soon after the first [month - January] of the year.” Norman asked whether it would be possible for Alling's office to give him letters for the U.S. representatives in Baghdad, Jerusalem and Beirut, to which Alling answered in the affirmative. When asked that if the Norman plan would prove successful, it would completely solve the Jewish refugee problem, Norman “replied with a categorical negative.” At the end of the meeting, Norman requested that “for the time being at least” his plan should not be made known to the American representatives in the Near East.(530)
On 14 December 1938, Norman wrote a letter to Sumner Welles reminding him of the contents of their meeting of 16 November and of Welles' agreement to furnish him with “letters of introduction to the United States diplomatic and consular representatives in certain foreign countries.” Norman pointed out that in all probability he would be leaving for England on 26 December and asked that Welles should prepare letters of introduction to the United States Ambassadors in Great Britain and France, the United States Ministers in Iraq and Egypt, and the United States Consuls General in Palestine and Syria. He also requested that these letters “not only would introduce me to them but would ask them to facilitate my meeting various personages in the respective countries to which they are accredited.”(531)
On the following day, Welles wrote to Murray, asking him to draft out these letters of introduction and “send such word with regard to him to the diplomatic representatives mentioned in his letter, as may in your judgment be wise and appropriate.”(532)
Two days later, Welles wrote to Norman enclosing letters of introduction to all these people adding, “I am sure that these representatives will be glad to assist you in meeting the persons with whom you may wish to discuss your plan.”(533)
In these letters of introduction which Welles wrote to the various persons, he included “Mr. Norman may wish to meet certain personages, and I should be appreciative of any facilities in this respect which you may be able to extend to him.”(534)
Welles sent copies of these letters of introduction to the various persons together with an accompanying letter “as well as a copy of a letter which I have received from him explaining the general nature of his plans during a proposed visit to Europe and the Near East.” In the accompanying letter, Welles wrote that “Mr. Norman has come to me well recommended.” He also pointed out that Norman might not find it necessary to call on him for assistance.(535)
It would seem that Norman only got as far as England and there is no record of his even meeting the United States Ambassador in Britain. The reason for his remaining in England was “to explore the practical possibilities” of his working together with Pinhas Rutenberg.(536)
On 22 December 1938, Norman wrote a long letter to Solomon Goldman, enclosing a copy of the latest version of his memorandum together with his progress report, stressing the need for secrecy. Norman informed Goldman that he had agreed that Rose Jacobs, the President of Hadassah, discuss the matter with Weizmann and Shertok and “she has sent word that the idea and plan appeal to them very much, and that they are pleased that the matter is being handled privately, inasmuch as they feel that if a public body were to become involved, and if that fact ever were to become public, there might be very serious repercussions”(537). A question that could be asked is when Rose Jacobs said “that the idea and plan appeal to them”, does the word “them” include Rose Jacobs?
We do know that towards the end of 1940, Rose Jacobs was still involved with Norman’s plan. It was at that period that Hadassah set up a (non-publicised!) “Committee for the Study of Arab-Jewish Relations” chaired by Rose Jacobs. She sent a member of this Committee, Dr. Max Schloessinger, some material which included material on the Norman plan. (Schloessinger was a scholar of Islamic Jewish literature, who held that the only hope for peace with the Arabs was to abrogate the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.)
In his letter of reply to Rose Jacobs, dated 26 December 1940, Schloessinger wrote that it was “useless to discuss” Norman’s plan then, “but even in 1937 I doubt whether the Arabs could be persuaded to sell out at home and start out anew.” He then pointed out that “the argument in paragraph 21 (2) [of Norman’s document], that the Jews in Palestine will crowd out the Arabs is positively dangerous, if used as a means of inducing the Arabs to emigrate as Norman seems to propose.”(538) His comments seem to be in conformity with his views on Jewish statehood in Palestine!
The fact that Schloessinger refers to “paragraph 21 (2)” proves that he received the second version of Norman’s plan. However, the archival file of this Committee(539) includes the third version of this plan and one might thus ask why he was not sent this latest version. It is possible that the reason is that the second version is more detailed, or, that he in fact received both these versions but he commented only on the second version.
In March 1941, Dov Joseph, the legal adviser to the Political Department of the Jewish Agency told the Hadassah National Board that the Arabs of Palestine would have to look elsewhere to give “satisfaction to their desire to live an Arab national life.” He recommended Iraq as such a place.(540)
A month later Weizmann told the Hadassah National Board: “If you can organize the exodus of 150,000 Arabs [from Palestine], you already have room for [an additional] over 600,000 Jews ... It is not a problem which one would shirk at the end of this war. The change in old values will take place, and I believe we don’t have to be too timid about it. We ought to take courage in the midst of this great upheaval.”(541) The minutes of this meeting show that the Hadassah National Board members refrained from criticising this transfer plan of Weizmann’s.(542)
At the end of April 1942, Waldo Heinrichs, a Professor of Contemporary Civilisation at Middlebury College in Vermont, lectured to the Hadassah Committee on Arab-Jewish Relations. In the course of this lecture he proposed that “a purchase of land could be made in the adjacent territories around Palestine, Syria, Trans Jordan, even Sinai, and therefore be irrigated and prepared for occupation ... and then that land turned over to Arabs living in Palestine on the condition that they occupy it and it become fertile.”(543) The transcript of the discussion which followed this lecture shows that that none of the Hadassah leaders present questioned or criticised this proposal. This was not a question of politeness, since we can see from other lecturers that these Hadassah members would readily criticise proposals which they did not agree with!(544)
Now to return to Norman’s letter to Goldman of December 1938. He also included in it a resume of his work up to date and of his future plans on this project, and informed him that he wanted and needed help “and lots of it” but it had to be coordinated with his line of action, otherwise it could be counter-productive.(545)
Norman had left a copy of the third version of his plan with the State Department. They read it carefully and wrote a number of handwritten notes in the margin. All these notes seem to be written in the same handwriting. Whether they are the work of just one official, or they are the collated comments of a number of officials is not known.
When Norman wrote about the economic incentives to encourage transfer, a marginal note asks: “Are there instances of such voluntary migrations of entire communities?”(546)
On Norman's proposal that Arab immigration to Palestine “be stopped completely and for ever”, there is a marginal note: “But the natural increase in the Arab population could not be stopped thus by fiat. Between 1922 & 1937 the increase of the Jewish population by immigration was less than the natural increase of the Arab population.”(547)
Norman's conclusion that whereas Jews would be loyal to British Empire interests, Arabs would not, is questioned in a marginal note: “? ? This is extremely questionable.”(548) [One could comment here that the events of the Second World War, namely, when many of the Arab leaders sided with the Nazis, whilst the Jews of Palestine actively fought with the Allies, shows that Norman's prediction on this matter was correct.]
At the end of the section dealing with “Proceedure” there is a note: “But in the meantime there would probably take place a progressive increase in the Arab population remaining in Palestine which has shown a remarkably interesting tendency to more than match the increase in the Jewish population by immigration.”(549)
Bell's Second Visit to Iraq
In November 1938, Bell returned to Iraq for an extended stay. He took one of his daughters with him and they rented a comfortable house in Baghdad. Thus, he was able to say that his return to Iraq “was in part for a rest and in part to continue his studies of Central Asian affairs in connection with his profession as a journalist and political student.”(550)
Norman pointed out to Bell that this time he had to “accomplish something very definite.” He informed him that the method he had to use to accomplish his task was “to gather material for the writing of a real book on present day Iraq.” This book would then have to be written and published without much delay. In order to gather information for this book, Bell was instructed to “ask a great many questions of the leading people in Iraq, which questions must lead to very profound and lengthy discussions” regarding the most serious problems which faced the statesmen of that country. During these conversations, he must “attempt to more and more arouse these statesmen to feeling that the need for an increase in their population is a pressing one, from three main angles.” These angles were: a return for the money which had been invested in the country's improvements; enabling the country's communications and other amenities to develop; and to put the country in a position where nobody could claim that its valuable resources were being neglected. In addition there was also the defence angle. Norman wrote that Bell should try and arouse the Iraqi statesmen “to a realization of the need of their country to increase its population at once with a considerable immigration of Arabs who will not form an unassimilated minority element, and who are farmers and who will immediately constitute productive factors.” Bell had to aim to have these statesmen say that they were “fully convinced of the .need for an increased population” and that they “desire financial help in obtaining it.” It was also important that these Iraqi statesmen should be convinced that this was their own idea. If Bell were successful in influencing the Iraqi statesmen, he should tell them of his many acquaintances in London, who would be interested in discussing the financial aspects of such a population increase.(551)
In reply to this letter, Bell wrote that he was in full agreement with Norman's “plan of campaign” except that he was against publishing a book in a hurry. “I should not care to be identified with a hurried, and therefore possibly slapdash work.” Norman had obviously mentioned to Bell that he might himself come out to Iraq. In reply Bell wrote that an advantage of his coming out would be that they could “go over the ground more fully”. Until such time, however, Bell urged “the advisibility of minimum discussion with others.”(552)
In a further letter written by Bell at the beginning of December, he told Norman that at his meeting with the Prime Minister of Iraq, he had raised “the question of Iraq's need of population and the advantage to be derived from attracting settlers from Palestine.” The Prime Minister answered “that Iraq would welcome any Palestinians coming of their own accord.”
This letter was written just a couple of months before the “London Conference”, which was called by the British Government to discuss the future of Palestine. Representatives of the Jewish Agency, as well as Arabs from Palestine and from the various Arab States had been invited. However, Bell felt that in view of the then present frame of mind of the Arabs, he could not expect them to put forward “a proposal for the migration of the Palestinian Arabs” at the conference. In fact, the Prime Minister had informed him that “for the moment the Arabs were thinking more of the Jews leaving Palestine than of themselves doing so.”(553)
In mid-December, Norman wrote to Bell asking him if he felt that by the end of the winter he could induce the leading Iraqis to favour increased immigration. He added that it would not be necessary at that time for them to make the matter public. On the contrary, it would be preferable that it should be on a “very quiet basis.” However, Norman thought that it was “necessary to have as an objective the open desire for serious negotiations concerning immigration by the end of this winter.”(554)
On 22 December Bell wrote that he had nothing to report since the members of the Iraqi Government felt that anything connected with Palestine must wait until after the London Conference. He added that meanwhile he was “proceeding with the collection of material with a view to preparing, if possible, a comprehensive programme of what Iraq should do, while steadily propogating the idea of supplementing the population of the country from Palestine.” Bell also mentioned that a member of the opposition had suggested to him that his advocacy of immigration to Iraq might be a “device for easing the British Government's problem by eliminating Arabs from Palestine.” Bell therefore led the talk back to the advantages to Iraq which would derive from such a scheme.(555) [It seems from his letter that this took place during Bell's previous visit to Iraq.]
In a further letter written by Bell a week later, he was optimistic that the Conference would grant some concession to the Arabs. As a result, it would then be psychologically possible to “put up a more or less concrete scheme” to the Iraqis by which they could “help their Palestine brothers and themselves”. Bell felt sure that the Iraqi leaders would then be prepared to “welcome any constructive proposal that would enable Iraq to pose as a factor in Arab affairs. Psychology plays an important part in these things.”(556)
In his reply dated 7 January 1939, Norman referred to Bell's remarks about the psychology and yearning for prestige of the Iraqis. He suggested that the forthcoming Conference might offer the right opportunity for Iraq to attract world esteem and attention and thus leadership among the Arab states “by openly offering to provide land and the necessary financing to as many Palestinian Arabs as would like to come to settle in Iraq.” Norman recommended that the Iraqis proclaim that their country, now free, was on the road to reconstructing its former glory. Therefore, the peasants of Palestine “would be far better off economically than they can hope to be in Palestine, that rocky little spot that is being overrun by these foolish Jews.” Norman pointed out that this last part was “meant to suggest the propaganda that would surround the project.”
A revolution had taken place in Iraq towards the end of December 1938, and as a result, Nuri had become the new Prime Minister. Norman then asked Bell whether he thought there would be any good in his trying to convey this sort of idea to Nuri? “Could you do it without revealing that this was the real reason why you are in Iraq? Do you think there would be any chance of Nuri following such a line?”(557)
In a letter written by Bell on 16 January, (it is not clear whether he had already received Norman's letter of 7 January), he suggested that Lord Glenconner should privately suggest to Nuri that Iraq take advantage of the Conference to “hold out to the Palestinian Arabs the ultimate best solution for the Arab States that the Palestinians should migrate to Iraq.” He added that only Nuri would know whether that was the right moment, and this would depend on the Palestinian frame of mind in London, which in turn would depend on “how the Conference pans out.” Bell however felt that Nuri would “not take kindly to a scheme of which the outstanding feature can be represented as favouring the Jews.” He pointed out that the emphasis would have to be on the “ultimate security and development of Iraq, and the possibility of using the existing situation in Palestine to 'make' the Jews pay for this development.” Bell disagreed with Norman's comments regarding reconstructing Iraq's former glories, saying that he did not think that they would “cut much ice.” He considered that a more “cogent motive” would be that thus Iraq would be enabled to stand up more confidently to Turkey and Iran.(558)
Towards the end of February, Bell wrote a letter from Iraq to Sir Lancelot Oliphant, who was Director General of the British Foreign Office. The main import of this letter, was the necessity for unifying the Arabs into a single state, comprising Iraq, Syria and Transjordan. At the end of his letter, as if thrown in as an afterthought, Bell mentioned the population transfer idea. He pointed out “at the risk of having you doubt my sanity” that he did “not despair of a time when Iraq will have attracted the great bulk of Palestine Arabs to Iraq, the cost of transfer and settlement being defrayed by the Jews.” He concluded that such an “idea must come from the Iraqis themselves and not from an Englishman.”(559) In reply Oliphant wrote that he agreed with what Bell had said in his letter, but the obstacles in the way of their realisation in the near future were formidable.(560) We should mention that one of the Foreign Office civil servants asked to comment on Bell's letter to Oliphant, realised what Bell was up to and pointed out that Bell was “not a disinterested observer” but was “only there to forward Mr. Norman's rather fantastic schemes, and to inculcate his ideas into the minds of the Iraqi authorities.”(561)
Unsolicited and Unwanted Help
Norman realised that the success of his plan depended on absolute discretion and no publicity. He was therefore apprehensive that at the forthcoming London Conference, the British Government or the Jewish Agency might put forward “the idea of transferring a large part of the Arab population of Palestine to Iraq,” whereas it was crucial that the idea be put forward by Iraqi sources. He was also concerned that the desire of Pinhas Rutenberg, the managing director of the Palestine Electric Company, to engage in large scale economic cooperation with the Arabs in Palestine might make the realisation of Norman's scheme impossible.(562)
Norman discussed this situation with Justice Louis Brandeis, and Dr. Maurice Karpf, an American non-Zionist member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency who had privately endorsed Norman's plans for transfer.(563), and also with Sir Robert Waley Cohen by telephone. Norman decided to go to London to discuss this matter with the various parties in order to ensure that “they understood the undesirability of the scheme's being put forward openly by any but Iraqi sources.” He arrived in London on the last day of 1938 and remained until 25 March 1939.(564)
In preparation for this London Conference, the London Executive of the Jewish Agency felt it desirable that the “panel” should include a non-Zionist representative from America. In answer to a suggestion that Norman be such a representative, the U.S. Zionist leader and founder member of “Hadassah”, Rose Jacobs answered “that in view of Mr. Norman's special interests, it might perhaps not be advisable for him to be identified with the panel.”(565) She did not explain what she meant by “special interests”, but it could well be his transfer plan. However, when the same proposal had been put forward a week earlier,(566) Rose Jacobs who was present at the meeting,(567) is not reported to have made any such objection. From an entry in Ben-Gurion's diary, we can see that Norman himself wanted to be a member of the “panel”.(568)
In London, Norman met with a number of members of the Jewish Agency, with whom he had not previously discussed his Iraqi scheme, since they had all been in Palestine when Norman visited England in 1937 and 1938. These included Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and Shertok.
Norman observed that “they were very much interested in the scheme” and had thought of bringing up something like that at the conference. Once they were aware, however, of the desirability of allowing the Iraqis themselves, to propose it, they agreed to practice reticence.(569)
The meeting with Ben-Gurion took place on 3 February. At this meeting, Norman gave a resume of his plan, activities and expectations, adding that he himself was planning to go to Iraq “as an ordinary tourist, so that he would be able to answer if asked 'Have you been to Iraq?' 'Yes, I was there'.” Ben-Gurion told Norman that the importance of transfer was in essence political; it would solve the difficulty of Arabs living within Palestine. It was not to make room for Jewish settlement, since at that time there was sufficient room. He summed up Norman as a sensible person, loyal to his ideas, and prepared to devote his own money and time without wanting any honour or recognition.(570) As we have already seen, at the same period Ben-Gurion was also considering the transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Iraq, although there is no evidence that he disclosed this fact to Norman during their meeting.
Shertok reports on meeting Norman at London's Paddington station on 4 February.(571) Whether it was at this meeting they discussed the transfer plan or whether any other contact took place is not recorded. What we do know is, that on that day at Paddington station, a number of Zionist leaders went to meet a number of representatives of American Jewry who were just arriving in London. It is therefore not very likely that any detailed discussion on transfer took place that day between Shertok and Norman.
A few weeks earlier, Norman had written to Bell saying that his chief worry at that moment was Weizmann and some of the other Zionist leaders. Weizmann “is aware of our work, thinks well of it, and is tempted to speak of it openly because without it he apparently has nothing constructive to offer.” Norman continued that he was taking it upon himself to impress on Weizmann and his associates the importance of continuing these indirect negotiations, and of making no open mention of the transfer of Arabs from Palestine as this “would be the one thing most calculated to strengthen those who for their own reasons want Palestine to remain largely Arab.” He concluded that this would be the hardest task he had ever had to face!(572)
A letter written by Weizmann to the American Zionist leader, Solomon Goldman, after the London Conference shows that Weizmann did not maintain complete silence on the matter. He stated that during the period of the conference he mentioned this transfer idea to the Iraqis adding that “I did not wish to go deeply into this matter, because I knew that Mr. Edward Norman was dealing with it very discreetly and I believe very ably.” Weizmann continued that it would be useful for Goldman to talk with Norman and Lewis Ruskin “on the subject of emigration to Iraq in connection with the President's remarks.”(573) [Roosevelt, who was at the time President of the United States had just put forward his own proposal for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Iraq.] Goldman answered that should Norman's Iraq plan materialise “we should be in a position to get large sums of money in the United States.”(574)
A specific mention of Norman and his plan did appear in the American Jewish press towards the end of 1943. It was in an article which appeared in the journal “Hamigdal”, which was the organ of the United States wing of the Religious Zionist movement. The article was written by Meir Grossman, the leader of the Jewish State Party, a splinter group of the Revisionists. In it, Grossman wrote: “... the support lent by Dr. Weizmann to a very similar project expounded by Edward Norman of New York City in 1937-38.... Mr. Norman’s scheme, I understand, had the ear of the State Department and of some leading Iraquian statesmen.”(575) There is nothing in Norman’s extant correspondence which indicates that he was aware of this article.(576)
As we shall see, one person who at the end of the 1930s refused requests not to publicly propose transfer of Arabs to Iraq was the American Zionist leader, Emanuel Neumann.
In June of that year, Weizmann wrote to Norman that he had heard of the possibility of Nuri's being replaced as the Prime Minister of Iraq. Nuri had been considered the most intransigent among the non-Palestinian Arabs at the London Conference; hence Weizmann hoped that should he be replaced, there might be an opportunity of pressing Norman's plan further. To this end, Weizmann offered Norman his services.(577)
Norman and Rutenberg
In the middle of January 1939, whilst in London, Norman met with Pinhas Rutenberg, who had just arrived from Palestine. Norman writes that “he found at once that his [Rutenberg's] ideas and mine had much in common, although he had not considered a transfer of peasants from Palestine to Iraq”. Rutenberg felt that one could “win the confidence and friendship of an influential section of the Arabs... by the launching of fundamental economic enterprises, mostly of a public utility nature, in which the leading Arabs could take an interest and share in the direction.” He hoped that by this method “the Arabs of both Palestine and the neighboring countries would develop a sense of partnership with the Jews”. Rutenberg also thought that “if greater economic vitality could be stimulated in the various Arab countries, they might attract some of the attention of the Arabs that is now focused on Palestine, and there might even develop a migration of Arab labor from Palestine to those [neighbouring Arab] countries.” Following a number of conversations, Norman and Rutenberg agreed that it would be desirable for them to cooperate with one another.(578)
The launching of any enterprise requires funding. As a result of preliminary inquiries, Norman concluded that the first person to approach for funding the corporation which he and Rutenberg desired to establish, was Albert D. Lasker. Lasker was an advertising pioneer and a communal leader in the U.S.A., who was active in Jewish affairs. He had also founded and endowed the Lasker Foundation for medical research. Solomon Goldman had already started to direct Lasker's attention towards Palestine, and felt that the next steps should be a further conversation between Goldman and Lasker to be followed by a conversation between Lasker and Judge Louis Brandeis. Norman “thought this was very wise, and agreed to wait [for a consultation with Lasker] until these conversations had taken place.” On 19 May 1939, Norman wrote to Goldman saying that he thought that this reasoning was very wise. However, since Goldman was now very busy, Norman suggested that he himself meet with Brandeis and following that with Lasker. Norman added that he did not like this alternative since he realised that Goldman's influence on Lasker “would be highly valuable.” Since the matter was urgent, Norman asked Goldman for his opinion.(579)
Three days later, Goldman sent a telegram to Norman informing him that he had just spoken to Lasker, who said that he would not be coming to the east [coast?] before 11 June. Goldman promised to meet with him on his next visit to Chicago on 3 June, and suggested that Norman meet with Brandeis without waiting for Lasker to return.(580) Whether or not, such meetings took place or if they did, whether anything resulted from them, is not known.
Brandeis during the previous year or so had been assisting both Norman and President Roosevelt to advance their transfer proposals. In August 1939, Brandeis had a conference with Robert Szold. According to the minutes of this conference, Brandeis said that “the Rutenberg and Norman plans (Iraq) of cooperation with Arabs are good.”(581) Later the minutes state: “11. L.D.B. [Brandeis] suggested that Norman give priority to and concentrate on the Iraq plan. He did not know where the funds for the Rutenberg ten million pound corporation could be raised.”(582) It is not clear from these minutes whether Norman and Rutenberg were still cooperating. The fact that on both occasions in these minutes their names appear in close proximity might indicate that they were still cooperating.
One could ask, why Norman wanted to cooperate with Rutenberg. Did he think that it would advance his transfer plan, or did he think that by cooperation, Rutenberg would not do anything which could possibly (even unintentionally) wreck the transfer plan?
Attempts at a Pilot Plan
The Latifiyah estate in Iraq was the site of a British company which had a concession for cotton growing on a large area of land near Baghdad. Due to the lack of labour, the company was able to cultivate only half its land.
During his first visit to Iraq, Bell suggested to the Manager that he “import some 500 or 600 Arab families from Palestine to work the rest of his land.” This idea considerably appealed to the Manager and on his return to London, Bell followed this up with an approach to the officials of the company.(583) There had been some trouble between the company and the Iraqi Government, and just before Bell left England, an official of the company informed him that he would like to discuss his plan as soon as the negotiations with the Iraqi Government, which had already extended for two years, were concluded.
On his return to Iraq, Bell met by chance the Manager of this company, who informed him that the company had accepted the Iraqi Government's terms for being allowed to continue operations. Bell observed that between the time of his two visits to Iraq, the Manager had “abandoned his intransigent attitude”. Bell wrote that after the four days' Moslem festival, he intended travelling to Latifiyah to learn details of the agreement with the Iraqi Government and to discuss the bearing on Norman's transfer plan.(584)
Both Bell and Norman realised the importance of applying their plan successfully to the company at Latifiyah. Although this involved the transfer of only a small number (about five hundred) of Arab families from Palestine to Iraq, it would be an important precedent and would show that the plan was feasible. Norman felt sure that “it would hasten the development of our larger scheme.”(585) On 22 December, Bell told Norman that he had not be able to arrange a visit to the Latifiyah estate until the first week in January, because of the Manager's domestic affairs and the impassability of the roads due to the exceptionally heavy rains. He added that he would do all he could to influence the Latifiyah people at the Iraqi end.(586) At the beginning of January, Bell had his meeting with the Manager. At that period, the Latifiyah estate was so much in the debt of the Iraqi government, that Sir Maurice Peterson, who was at that time in Baghdad “had considerable difficulty in persuading the latter [Iraqi government] not to liquidate the whole concern.”(587) However, the company did succeed in coming to terms with the Iraqi Government agreeing to pay off its debt in full to the Government, receiving in exchange tenure on additional land. In order to recoup the cost of this agreement, the company would have to pursue an active programme of development. Hence the Manager was “all the keener” to get additional labour “and would be glad enough to get Palestinians,” as the local Iraqi labour force had been most unreliable. In preparation for Bell's talks in London, the Manager was to map out a programme of the development he would like to see on the Estate. Thus Bell would have something to put before the Directors as an inducement to provide a better labour force through immigration.
Bell then asked whether it would be possible, after the unrest in Palestine had subsided, to locate one or more villages there whose lands the Jews would like to purchase, and very carefully start pro-Iraqi propaganda among them. A Latifiyah agent would then offer “a complete transfer of from 20 to 50 families as a start.” Bell felt that with a definite proposition such as this, it would be possible to obtain the agreement of the Iraqi Government for the facilities for transfer of large numbers of Arabs. One problem raised by the Manager was the difficulty of dismissing an unsatisfactory employee who was a transferee from Palestine. Bell concluded that this point needed more consideration than he had been able to give it.(588)
After a series of discussions, Bell was able to induce a majority of the directors of the company, including the chairman, to favour the idea of transferring Arabs from Palestine to Iraq to work on the company's land. Bell was hopeful that the company would proceed to carry out this plan after the completion of certain financial arrangements.(589)
No evidence of further developments in this direction have been found. However, a marginal note to a Foreign Office minute regarding the company's financial state in mid-1942, says “there is no reason to think that its position has improved.”(590)
Meeting with the British Colonial Secretary
Norman met with the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, in the presence of Sir John Shuckburgh on 20 January 1939 and discoursed on his projects at considerable length. This meeting had been arranged by Sir Neill Malcolm, former League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from Germany, who was interested in Norman's plans.(591) At this meeting, Norman appeared very confident “that all was going swimmingly and that there would be no difficulty in getting the Iraq authorities to make the necessary move (i.e. to ask officially for Arab immigrants from Palestine) when the right moment arrived.” He fully recognised and the Colonial Secretary was explicit “that there could be no question whatever of an official move by the British Government or any of its representatives.”(592)
Norman said that MacDonald and Shuckburgh fully understood the undesirability of any official British mention of a transfer plan and had assured him that it would not be brought up by any British officials. This pledge was observed.
Norman added that he had no way of knowing whether the British Government “had ever thought of using it”.(593) This statement of Norman's is difficult to understand, since he was surely aware of the fact that already in early 1938, the British Government was opposed to transfer of Arabs. They would thus obviously not propose it, (unless of course they had wanted to be Machiavellian and propose transfer, in order that the Iraqis would then reject it since it was not their own proposal!). In fact, commenting on Norman's plan at that time, a senior civil servant at the Foreign Office, wrote, “In itself Mr. Norman's scheme is fantastically impracticable and his veiled attempts to `jump' the Iraqi authorities into unconscious concurrence are not only foolish but reprehensible.”(594)
In mid-March 1939, Norman had a meeting with Iraqi and Egyptian delegates to the London Conference. At this meeting, these delegates who included Tewfik es Suwaidy, the Foreign Minister of Iraq, tried to impress on Norman that Iraq needed an immediate increase in population and that “the Palestinian Arab peasants constituted the most desirable immigrants, and that the Jews had an opportunity to decrease the Arab element in Palestine by cooperating in financing the migration.” Norman realised that they were “quoting the ideas that had been implanted in their minds without their perceiving it by Mr. Bell, whose reports to me had mentioned these men as among those with whom he had had frequent and long talks.”(595) Tewfik wanted to obtain Norman's co-operation “in securing funds to defray the expenses” of the transfer of these peasants. He was also interested in settling the peasants from Palestine in these newly reclaimed areas of Iraq, since without such settlers, the dam would be virtually useless. Its outlay would therefore not be earned back and it would thus not be possible to repay the loan for its construction to the London bankers.(596)
Before parting, they invited Norman to come to Baghdad “shortly after their return in April to see the country and discuss ways and means of cooperation.” Norman explained that for personal reasons he could not come until the autumn, and they agreed that he would thus come in October or November.(597)
However, due to the outbreak of the Second World War on 1 September 1939, Norman decided not to go to Iraq as planned. He wrote to Tewfik informing him of his decision. In his reply Tewfik wrote that he was pleased that Norman was still interested in the scheme but agreed that “the time was inopportune for the discussion of a long-range development plan” and he suggested that he defer his visit “until a more propitious occasion.”(598)
Further Contacts with American Officials
Norman had further lengthy conversations on 6 and 7 June 1939, with Wallace Murray who was Chief at the Division of Near Eastern Affairs, and his assistant Paul Alling, in which he updated them on the developments regarding his transfer plan. He related his chance meeting with Tewfik es Suwaidy, the Foreign Minister of Iraq and Azzam Bey, the Egyptian Minister in Baghdad, and how the former had invited him to visit Iraq in order to further his transfer plan. Norman concluded that from these conversations with these Arab ministers, he “felt that a very good start has been made, or at least the door has been opened, and he was reasonably hopeful that his conversations in Baghdad would open the way for an experimental settlement.” So long as there was “any hope of success”, Norman told Murray and Alling, he would be prepared to devote his time to this project.(599)
On the evening of 12 June, Murray briefly discussed Norman's plan with Adolf Berle, the Assistant Secretary of State. The next day he sent him a short letter enclosing Norman's various memoranda and felt that Berle “would be interested in meeting with and talking to Mr. Norman in the event he comes to Washington again”. Murray concluded, “Personally I was very much impressed with Mr. Norman's reasonable views on the Palestine problem and his sincere desire to effect a settlement which would be fair to both the Jews and the Arabs.”(600)
In an undated handwritten note, Berle wrote, “I should be interested to see Mr. Norman when he comes again.”(601)
On 15 June, Murray sent the memoranda of Norman to Sumner Welles, and in an accompanying short note wrote, “I may say that we in this Division [of Near Eastern Affairs] have been very much impressed with Mr. Norman personally and with the skillful and intelligent manner in which he is proceeding with his plans.”(602)
One can immediately see the completely different attitudes and appreciations to the Norman plan by the U.S. government on the one hand and the British government on the other. In all fairness, however, we should add that at that period, Britain was the Mandatory power over Palestine and was thus responsible for law and order and hence for any negative and violent reactions by the Arabs to such a transfer proposal. On the other hand, the U.S. government could encourage the proposals by Norman without having to deal with the consequences!
A few weeks later, the U.S. Secretary of State sent copies of the minutes of the meeting between Murray, Alling and Norman of 6 and 7 June and also Norman's confidential report of 15 May 1939, to the American Consular Officer in charge in Jerusalem,(603) the American Minister Resident and Consul General in Baghdad,(604), and the American Ambassador in London.(605)
In July 1939, Norman wrote to Sumner Welles, that he had heard from a “fairly reliable source” of a plan by Roosevelt in which he had proposed that the American government, the British and French governments, and World Jewry would each provide about one hundred million dollars for a “mass transference of the Palestine Arabs to Iraq, thus at one stroke solving the Palestine problem and providing the possibility of finding new homes in Palestine for a large number of European Jews.”
Norman then continued, “Of course, I believe that in essence the idea is splendid.” He however saw that in the light of his own experience on this subject which extended over a number of years he was “convinced that were the President actually to undertake to carry out the idea in the manner described above, not only would he be completely unsuccessful, but what is more serious, he would forever destroy the possibility of the scheme being carried out by other methods.”
Norman explained the importance of the Iraqis thinking that such an idea was their own. Thus the President should wait until the Iraqis proposed the scheme and then Roosevelt's idea of financing it could be put forward “as a humanitarian responding to an appeal made by an Arab kingdom for the benefit of itself and all other Arabs and only incidentally involving any benefit to Jews.”
He asked Welles to “ascertain how much truth there is to what I have been told, and if there is anything to it, if you could arrange somehow to have the President informed as to the destructive implications of his plan.” In the event that Welles investigations would show that “there is any substance to this story”, Norman said that he would request a meeting with the President. In any event, unless this information was found to be “absolutely false”, Norman would want a meeting with Welles to discuss the matter.(606)
On receipt of Norman's letter, Welles immediately passed it on to Murray with an attached note, “If the President has any such ideas as those referred to in this letter, he has not spoken of them to me. Please let me have your opinion with regard to the matters taken up in the letter and your advice as to whether this inquiry deserves my taking it up personally with the President.”(607)
In reply Murray wrote that he agreed with Norman's assessment that “any premature action or publicity regarding his plan to transfer Arabs from Palestine to Iraq might well jeopardize the success of the proposal”, and that “if these Iraqi leaders suspected that the plan had been formulated in Jewish circles they would almost certainly reject it.” Murray thus recommended that “if, therefore, there is any likelihood that the President has in mind any such plan as that referred to in Mr. Norman's letter it would seem desirable to acquaint him with the background of the situation.” He personally felt that it was unlikely that Roosevelt did have such a plan and wondered whether the report Norman had received was “not a garbled version of the British proposal that the Governments interested in the refugee question should match, pound for pound, contributions made from private sources with a view to a large scale settlement of the refugee problem.”(608)
Norman's “fairly reliable source” was obviously the Zionist leaders who had heard of this plan via Brandeis. As we know, from elsewhere in this book, the information that Norman had received was accurate. What is interesting however, was that top officials in Roosevelt's Department of State were not taken into his confidence in this matter. This might explain our inability to trace official letters on Roosevelt's transfer plan.
On 3 August, Welles replied to Norman that he had submitted the latter's inquiry to Roosevelt and on receiving a reply answered Norman: “while the plan to which you refer in your letter was given very careful study by him a year and a half ago, he does not feel that under present conditions it would seem to be practicable.” Welles also offered to meet with Norman to discuss this question further.(609) It is not known whether such a meeting took place.
Contacts with Bell
On 8 September 1939, Bell went to see Jesse John Paskin, the Principal Private Secretary to MacDonald, in order to offer his services for work in the Middle East, since the outbreak of war would interfere with the progress of Norman's scheme.(610) During this meeting, Bell told Paskin, that Norman had informed him after meeting with MacDonald in the previous January, that MacDonald “had expressed his sympathy with, and approval of this project.”
Bell now wanted to know whether MacDonald “had really approved this project, or was merely `being polite to an American' when he saw Mr. Norman.”(611) In a handwritten internal note, MacDonald wrote that Shuckburgh's minute of 23 January “records what actually took place at my interview with Mr. Norman.”(612) In a letter from Paskin to Bell, answering among other things, this query of Bell's, he wrote, “Mr. MacDonald asks me to make it clear that the position in regard to this project is that it is one which should not be regarded as having either the acquiescence or the encouragement of His Majesty's Government, and that the responsibility for it must rest solely with its sponsors.”(613)
In March 1940, Weizmann wrote in a letter to Harry St John Philby that Norman was planning to visit the Middle East “before long”. Philby, although a staunch Arab supporter and an anti-Zionist, had for pro-Arab reasons suggested a plan, a few months earlier, which incorporated the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. In his letter to Philby, Weizmann introduced Norman, adding that he had “been working for several years on a proposal for large-scale development in Irak, which I think has some merit and in which you may be interested.” He stated that during his planned visit, Norman intended getting in touch with Philby.(614) A footnote in the published volume of “Weizmann's Letters”, adds that there was no record of Norman's meeting with Philby.(615)
Three months later, Bell wrote that he had met with Sir Andrew McFadyean, (who was a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of International Affairs), whom he reported as one, “who agrees with the movement and believes that there must be a World Conference at the end of the war when the Arabs could bring forward the solution” at which Norman was working.(616) Norman had first discussed his plans with McFadyean towards the end of 1937.(617) McFadyean was obviously very impressed by the plan. This we know from an independent source, namely, the High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Harold MacMichael, who wrote that Norman's plan had been “backed” by McFadyean, and that the latter had left a copy of the plan with him in February 1938, before taking up his position as High Commissioner.(618) McFadyean again came into the picture in November 1938, when Norman informed Bell that if he succeeded in convincing the Iraqi statesmen of the need for increased population, and financial help was thus required to absorb the new immigrants, he would take the matter up with McFadyean and other financiers in the City of London.(619) There is however no record of a meeting between Norman and financiers in London, but since Bell did not succeed in advancing Norman's plan to the stage of implementation, this is in fact not surprising.
Request by Bell for Permit to Travel to Iraq
Although the outbreak of the Second World War seemed to have put a virtual stop on Norman's efforts to advance his plan, this was certainly not the case with Bell. Maybe the reason was that his livelihood depended on the continuance of the plan. However, Bell came up against the problem of exit visas from Britain.
Prior to the outbreak of the war in September 1939, the British government, whilst not supporting Norman's transfer plan, had no power to stop Montague Bell from travelling to Iraq. After the commencement of the war, however, all this changed; Britain discouraged foreign travel, and no-one was allowed to leave the shores of Britain without an exit permit from the British authorities. As we shall see, senior civil servants at the Colonial Office and Foreign Office utilised this fact to deny Bell an exit permit and hence prevented any chance of implementing Norman's plan. We now know that during the Second World War, officers at the British Passport Control Office “were not regular foreign service employees, but members of MI6 [the British Secret Service] seconded to the Foreign office as a cover.”(620)
In a book by Eliahu Ben-Horin which was published in 1943, the author observed, “A certain project dealing with the transfer of the Palestinian Arabs to Iraq was welcomed by the Iraqian Government. The outbreak of the war unfortunately interrupted the negotiations over the materialisation of such a project.”(621)
Ben-Horin did not mention the author of the project by name, but it seems very likely that he is referring to Norman's plan, since unlike the instigators of several other contemporary proposals for the transfer of Arabs to Iraq, Norman did not just make a proposal, but entered into actual negotiations via Bell on its implementation.
The historian Rafael Medoff is also of the view that the transfer proposal brought by Ben-Horin in his book is the proposal by Norman. Furthermore Medoff holds that “it may be that Norman was the source of Ben-Horin's discussion of Arab transfer”,(622) This, however, does not seem to be correct, since in a letter written by Ben-Horin to Hugh Gibson, who was co-author with former President Herbert Hoover of a book which contains a transfer proposal, he wrote that it was this book which inspired him to propose the transfer of Arabs from Palestine to Iraq.(623)
We do know however that Ben-Horin was acquainted with Norman and his specialities in Zionism, when the former wrote his book, since he sent him a copy of the manuscript for him to offer an “opinion and criticism” and also to “introduce small changes”.(624) In his reply, Norman did not even comment on the “certain project dealing with the transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq ...” which was presumably brought in this manuscript. However it is very likely that he did not finish reading the entire manuscript(625) by the time Ben-Horin requested its return.(626)
When the book was published, Norman received an inscribed copy, and he then wrote to Ben-Horin commenting, “However in regard to Iraq, I know of no negotiations looking to the settlement of immigrants in the country that were carried out with the government or any officials. All I know of were very tentative and general conversations, that certainly could not be characterized as negotiations.”(627)
However, whatever term one uses to describe the attempts for the advancement of Norman's transfer plan, it would be more correct to say that it was the “utilisation” of war-time regulations by the British officials, rather than the actual outbreak of war that interrupted these conversations/negotiations. It will thus be instructive to study in detail the progress of Bell's application for an exit permit.
In December 1939, which was only a few months after the outbreak of war, Bell called at the Passport Office and handed in applications for exit permits on behalf of himself and his daughter, for the purpose of travelling to Iraq. He explained that the real reason for his journey was “to study a scheme for the transference of Arab populations in the Middle East.” He showed the official of the Passport Office, Richard Moore, a letter from the Colonial Office which disclaimed official support for his mission but added that this was by way of “official caution”. Moore said that he would refer the matter to the appropriate government departments and let Bell know of their decision. He added that if indeed this project had even the unofficial support of the Colonial Office and the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office, then the Passport Office could agree to grant both Bell and his daughter exit permits.(628)
Eight days later, the Passport Office passed on Bell's request to the Middle East Department of the Colonial Office to obtain their views on this request.(629) In answer, the official, C.B.A. Darling said that Bell's mission was “not supported either officially or unofficially by this Dept and his application should therefore receive no special preference.”(630)
John Sloman Bennett who sat at Palestine desk at the Colonial Office, whilst concurring with Darling, added that Bell had evidently tried to persuade the Passport Office that the letter from the Colonial Office had been “worded cautiously so as to be non-committal on paper, but that he has been told privately that we support him.” Bennett then commented that “such a suggestion is quite unwarranted.”(631) In fact, a study of the Passport Office minute shows that Bell had never given such an explanation to Moore.
The reply of Darling was obviously an invitation for the Passport Office to refuse Bell's request. However, Sir John Shuckburgh was prepared to take a more favourable stand. In a note to Sir Cosmo Parkinson, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office, Shuckburgh felt that Norman had “been 'encouraged' at least to the extent of being given a personal interview” by the Colonial Secretary. He suggested that the Passport Office be told that whilst Bell's mission was not supported by the Colonial Office, they had known about it for some two years and had never gone out their way to discourage it. He concluded that the Colonial Office “should not be sorry to hear that it had been found possible to meet Mr. Bell's wishes.”(632)
Parkinson was not so sympathetic, and in a marginal note questioned Shuckburgh's use of the word “encouraged”(633) and in a note to Downie wrote, “we must not let Mr. Bell get away with his misrepresentation” of the Colonial Office letter to him.(634)
On the basis of Shuckburgh's observation and Parkinson's amendment, Bennett drew up a draft answer for the Passport Office, which he took to the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office to discuss with Harry Maurice Eyres. Eyres, however, took a less favourable view of this reply, feeling that it “was a little too forthcoming”.(635) Therefore, using a minute written by Herbert Lacy Baggallay, First Secretary at the Foreign Office,(636) and a letter he had received from Eyres,(637) Bennett proposed some amendments which were accepted by Downie at the Colonial Office.(638) He then notified the Passport Office of the agreed views of the Colonial and Foreign offices.(639)
About 25 January 1940, Bell received a reply. The actual reply has not been traced, although it is certainly a rejection of his application. Bell's reaction was a letter (untraced) written on 8 February to Sir Robert Vansittart. By some oversight, this letter remained unanswered until probably the beginning of April, and then once again Bell received a rejection of his application.
On receiving this reply, Bell went to see Baggallay. Bell could not understand why, if both the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office had no objections to his journey, the Passport Office had declined to give him an exit visa. Baggallay pointed out to Bell that this was not sufficient, and that a visa would be granted only where there was some “definite reason” for undertaking such a journey. Bell felt it was strange that whereas his own typist, as well as many other British subjects, had been given permission to go abroad on mere holidays, he was denied permission to travel on a matter which he considered to be of “national importance”. Bell pointed out that he had been indisposed for several weeks and as a result it was too late for him “to entertain the idea of visiting Iraq until the heat of the summer was over”, but he might want to travel in the coming autumn. Baggallay advised him not to make a further application until then, “By that time much might have happened.”(640)
It seems that in fact Bell renewed his application only at the beginning of 1941. He obviously realised that if he made an application in the usual manner to the Passport Office, it would almost certainly be rejected. He therefore first went to the India Office to see Leopold Amery, who referred him to Shuckburgh. Amery was obviously sympathetic to the transfer solution, since he himself was to propose the same idea some months later in a letter which he was to write to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
Bell met Shuckburgh on 27 January and pointed out that he stood no chance of obtaining a passage by aeroplane unless either the Colonial Office or the Foreign Office informed the Air Ministry that they regarded his going to Iraq to be “in the public interest”. He added that the “neutral statement”, made a year earlier, to the effect that the Colonial Office had no objection to his travelling to Iraq was insufficient, he needed a positive recommendation. Shuckburgh passed the buck, and said that it was the business of the Foreign Office.(641)
At the end of his conversation with Shuckburgh, Bell informed him “that his income depended upon his continuing his work for Mr. Norman and that for financial reasons it was essential to him that he should be enabled to proceed with the project.” On this fact Shuckburgh commented, “It is perhaps not too cynical to suggest that this is the primary motive underlying his persistency.”(642)
. Bell could see that he stood little chance of being granted an exit permit for the purpose of pursuing his population transfer scheme. Therefore, on the following day, Bell wrote to Shuckburgh stating that there was a non-political reason for his wishing to go to Iraq which might simplify matters. “I am to be entrusted with negotiations for a project to use Iraqi dates for war purposes (chemical): it is a serious scheme, but it may not be necessary to say more than this at the moment.”(643)
Shuckburgh passed Bell's request on to the Foreign Office.(644) A few days later, Eyres of the Foreign Office replied, “We have never been able to see that Mr. Bell's resettlement scheme was likely to be of any real interest or advantage to His Majesty's Government, and in the circumstances we see no particular reason why you should ask the Air Ministry to facilitate any part of his journey”, adding, however, that they had “no objection in principle to Mr. Bell going out to Iraq.”
Bell's mentioning an “Iraqi date project” seems to have made an impression on Eyres, since he wrote in the last paragraph of his letter, “If you can convince the departments concerned that his date project is of importance from the point of view of our war effort, they might be able to help him.”(645) Others, however, were not so responsive, since a note was added in the margin of this letter (probably by Shuckburgh), “Why we? It is for Mr. B., if anybody.”(646)
After receiving this reply from Eyres, Bennett of the Colonial Office, in a departmental note wrote, “If the Foreign Office, who are the Dept. responsible for Iraq, see no reason why we should ask the A/M [Air Ministry] to facilitate any part of his journey, I feel that we should definitely decline to help him. It seems to me that the time has come when we cannot avoid defining our attitude towards Mr. Bell & his plans.” Significantly, Bennett ignored the Foreign Office comment of having “no objection in principle”. He recommended that a polite but firm note should be written to Bell pointing out the Government's inability to intervene on his behalf.(647) In a concurring note, Downie added, “It is obvious to me that Mr. Bell's plan for encouraging this transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq to make room for Jews, so far from being of service to H.M.G. [His Majesty's Government] is likely to embarrass us.”(648)
On 5 February, Bell telephoned Shuckburgh asking him for a speedy reply to his application since he wanted to be back in England before the beginning of the hot Iraqi summer season. Shuckburgh pressed him for more details regarding his project “to use Iraqi dates for war purposes.” Bell was rather reticent, but he did say that Weizmann was the moving spirit in this matter. On the following day Shuckburgh telephoned Weizmann, who told him that since Iraqi dates, which were cut off from their normal markets were probably running to waste, it might be possible to utilise them for chemical purposes in connection with the war effort. Weizmann had suggested to Bell that if he were going out to Iraq he might utilise this opportunity to look into this question as well. In reporting these two telephone conversations to Sir Cosmo Parkinson, Shuckburgh observed, “The Zionists are apparently favourably disposed towards Mr. Bell's political project: naturally, they would be.”(649)
In his official reply to Bell's application, Shuckburgh wrote that neither the Colonial Office nor the Foreign Office thought that they were justified in complying with his request. They did not feel that the circumstances to be such, as would warrant their taking so definite a line, as declaring his journey to be “essential in the national interest.” Shuckburgh added that there was nothing in the Iraqi dates idea which would affect their decision in this matter. Although he also pointed out in his letter that neither the Colonial nor Foreign offices had “any desire to place obstacles” in his way(650), this was obviously an example of “British politeness”, since the internal departmental comments in fact showed the opposite to be the case.
Shuckburgh's letter angered Bell. He telephoned Shuckburgh and informed him that unless he changed his decision, he himself would go straight to the Prime Minister, to which Shuckburgh replied that he was “not very fond of listening to threats.” Bell then repeated over and over again, that no question could be of “greater national interest than the settlement of the Palestine problem” and that the Government should therefore help him with his project which was the only one offering a chance of success. To this Shuckburgh replied that the Government did not share his views on the importance of his plans.(651)
Ten days later Bell wrote to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, summarising the main aims of his plan. Bell then pointed out that both the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office refused to consider this plan as coming under the category of “national importance” in order to qualify for a priority passage to the Middle East. Bell added that this plan could only be put through “by a non-prominent non-official, who attracts no attention, but yet has the confidence of the Iraqis.” He asked that the Prime Minister issue a ruling which would enable him to receive an exit permit.(652)
Sir John Martin, a private secretary to Churchill (and formerly secretary to the Peel Commission) sent copies of Bell's letter to both the Foreign Office(653) and the Colonial Office(654) for their comments.
He also sent an acknowledgment to Bell and said that he would receive a reply as soon as possible.(655) Bell did not however wait for such a reply and a few days later “called” Martin (presumably by telephone). He asked Martin what he thought of the scheme but the latter “refused to be drawn on that, but asked him [Bell] to explain it further.” In his answer, Bell recognised that there were “practical difficulties of migration” but suggested that initially this transfer be done on a small scale and hoped that as a result, the Iraqi authorities would then implement a larger scheme.
Martin commented that Bell did “not ask for official approval of his proposal” but just “for assistance in getting to Iraq to make further progress with it.” Bell said that without such approval he had little hope in arriving in Iraq “for many months.”(656)
There is a note dated 28 February from Downing Street (the Prime Minister’s Office) on this project. It was pointed out that there was no evidence that the Iraqi government would be willing to make such a request for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine “and it is indeed incredible that they would do so, since the whole purpose of the transfer would be to facilitate a new large Jewish immigration into Palestine. For the same reason it is certain that the Palestinian Arabs would reject any such proposal outright, and therefore that the transfer, if carried out at all, would have to be done forcibly.” The note went on to point out that when the Peel Commission had proposed such a transfer it “caused great indignation among the Arabs of Palestine” and any suggestion that the British Government would revive such a plan “would have the most dangerous political repercussions.”(657)
In answer to Martin’s request, Bennett of the Colonial Office prepared a memorandum on the subject. Whilst outlining the plan, Bennett described it as “thoroughly amateurish and impractical.” As in the note from Downing Street, Bennett pointed out that the principle of population transfer to solve the Palestine problem dated back to the Peel Commission and that it was this recommendation, more than any other single factor in the Peel Report “which excited the fear and hatred of the Arabs of Palestine and contributed largely to popular backing for the Arab rebellion.” Bennett wrote that “the Montague Bell scheme involves the removal of about a million Arabs” and he considered that there was not the slightest reason to suppose that the Arabs would go willingly nor that the Iraqi Government would request their transfer. “The only purpose of such a move would be to turn the whole of Palestine over to the Jews.” Bennett felt that the major fallacy of this scheme was that it was built on the assumption that “all the Arabs of Palestine want is 'living space'“ when in fact their whole political conviction is that “Palestine is an Arab country.” In conclusion, Bennett wrote that there was “no reason for us to relax our refusal to give Mr. Bell official backing.”(658)
Following this memorandum, the Colonial Office(659) wrote to Martin, recommending that the Prime Minister not agree “that Mr. Bell's journey to Iraq is of a character to warrant, in these difficult time, a priority passage.” In a similar vein, the Foreign Office wrote that they could “see no reason why Mr. Bell should receive any official support for his self-imposed mission to Iraq.”(660)
Since by the 3 March, Bell had not heard from Martin, he sent him a letter. He wrote that “the sympathetic hearing you gave me last week prompts me to believe that I shall yet hear a favourable answer from Mr. Churchill, and that I shall be allowed to go out by air, as the season in Iraq is already well advanced.” He added that since this was his “sole means of livelihood”, he hoped they would be more inclined to grant his request.(661)
Martin, who was at that time out of town, had Bell’s letter forwarded to him. He replied to Anthony Bevir (another of Churchill’s private secretaries): “I expect that by now he has been given his answer - presumably ‘no’, though I am sorry because I liked him and think there may be something in his scheme.”(662) We should remember that Martin had been secretary to the Peel Commission and thus his remark “that there may be something in his scheme” was made with an extensive background knowledge of the situation in Palestine.
Bevir sent Bell’s letter together with a note to Churchill, in which he wrote that “the Foreign Office and Colonial Office did not recommend that facilities should be given.”(663) Churchill annotated this note in his own handwriting with the comment “civil disengage”(664) - a euphemistic term for saying no politely.
On 8 March, Bevir thus wrote to Bell saying that the Prime Minister “regrets that he cannot see his way to making arrangements for you to have special facilities for a priority passage for a journey to Iraq to deal with the project which you have in mind.”(665)
Bell did not give up and at the beginning of July again wrote (letter untraced) to Martin. In reply Martin wrote that the Prime Minister could not intervene in this matter and his letter was being forwarded to the Foreign Office.(666) At the same time Martin asked the Foreign Office to deal with Bell directly.(667)
Obviously, Bell's application for an exit visa was again rejected, although the letter to him has not been traced. We can see however, that the opposition to Norman's transfer plan by the British government officials had in fact intensified since the previous year.