Herbert Clark Hoover, a Republican, was the thirty-first President of the United States. He held this post from 1929 to 1933. In his post-presidential years, he continued to take an active part in public service.
Hoover's Initial Proposal for Transfer
In 1943, Hoover together with Hugh Gibson (a former U.S. ambassador to Belgium), published their book “The Problems of Lasting Peace”. When discussing “Irredentas”, the authors realised that the nations of Europe would be faced with problems of mixed populations on their borders and long bitter experience had shown that European irredentas were a constant source of war. Their solution to this problem was: “Consideration should be given even to the heroic remedy of transfer of populations.” They added that the “hardship of moving is great, but it is less than the constant suffering of minorities and the constant recurrence of war.”(37)
It was during that year that Hoover first put forward the idea of transfer for the Arabs of Palestine. In July 1943, an “Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe” was held in New York. Hoover, who was at that time in San Francisco, addressed this conference by telephone. He pointed out that the long-term solution to this problem was divided into two phases - where to move the Jews so as to give them permanent security, and how to establish them in that place. He concluded that one such destination was Palestine, adding, “but after all Palestine would absorb only a part of the three or four millions whom this Conference has been discussing as needing relief. This could be accomplished only by moving the Arab population to some other quarter.” He realised however that this was a problem which could not be settled during the war.(38)
Less than a fortnight later, Judge Louis Levinthal, one of the leaders of the Zionist Organization of America, had a long meeting with Hoover.(39) Levinthal reported that during this meeting Hoover told him: “1) That in his opinion Palestine cannot become a Jewish Commonwealth when the Arabs are evacuated to other countries in the Near East. [From the context there is obviously a typographical error and instead of “when”, one must substitute “unless”.] 2) That this evacuation cannot be voluntary, but must be compulsory, imposed by the British or the United Nations. 3) That the British are afraid to impose such compulsory evacuation because of the repercussion on the 'Arab world'.” Later in that meeting, Hoover considered that rather than give Kenya and Tanganyika as a haven for refugees, Britain would “much prefer to make a real Jewish State of Palestine, and will even force the Arabs to evacuate to the Arab countries, investing the necessary funds to develop these undeveloped lands [Arab countries] so as to receive the Arabs from Palestine.”(40)
Hoover's Statement to “World-Telegram”
It seems that during the next two years, Hoover did nothing to advance his plan for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. BenHorin (who had been retained by the American Zionist Emergency Council as a full-time adviser on Middle East affairs) reports in his unpublished autobiography that in 1945 Abba Hillel Silver, a co-chairman of this Council, asked him whether he “could get a statement from Mr. Hoover in support of our position.” Ben-Horin answered that he would try, and the opportunity arose on the following day (according to Hoover’s calendar, this was 25 October 1945(41)) when he met with Hoover. When he made his request, Hoover answered, “I am willing to issue a statement, but not the one you have in mind. I was impressed with the plan you outline in your book ... for a transfer of Palestine's fellaheen to Iraq. What is more, it is a solution which would greatly benefit all concerned: the Jewish people, the Palestinian Arabs and the State of Iraq. I am willing to propose this solution in a statement to the press.” Ben-Horin answered Hoover, “But you probably know that the Zionist Organization does not favor such a transfer.” [This maybe true as far as official policy went, although as we can see this was certainly not the view of the various members of this organisation.] Hoover answered “with a twinkle in his eye: 'Fortunately, I am not a member of the Zionist Organization, and my statement would not be in their name.'“ Hoover just wanted to know “whether such a statement by him would be welcome to the Zionist movement and would be considered a positive contribution to the solution of the Palestine problem. After consulting Dr. Silver, I gave him this assurance. Thus the 'Hoover Plan' was born.”(42)
To assist Hoover prepare his statement, Ben-Horin sent him a booklet. When acknowledging receipt, Hoover wrote, “I have now gone over some fifteen books! I am trying to boil a statement down to 200 words.”(43) On the same day, Hoover wrote in another letter to Ben-Horin, “I have purposely omitted any emotional phrase or appeal. The people to be reached by such statements as this are more convinced in this way.”(44)
Hoover's first draft(45) is dated 14 November 1945. His final typewritten version,(46) which is dated the following day, is identical (except for a few insubstantial words here and there) to his statement which appeared in the “New York World-Telegram” of 19 November 1945.
The statement appeared under the main heading, “Hoover Urges Resettling Arabs to solve Palestine Problem”, and this was followed by two subsidiary headings, “Says Irrigation could provide Good Iraqi Land”, and “Believes Migration Would End Conflict over Jewish Refuge”.
Hoover approached the problem as an engineer and considered that there was a sane and practical solution to the Palestine problem. As a result of his solution, the “emotional, racial and political aspects of the problem would be subordinated in a process by which both Jews and Arabs would benefit materially.”
In reply to the question posed by the “World-Telegram” as to whether he believed any sound or practical basis existed for settlement of the highly inflammatory Jewish-Arab question, Hoover replied that “there is a possible plan of settling the Palestine question and providing ample Jewish refuge.” He felt that it was worth serious investigation since it offered a “constructive humanitarian solution.” [When Hoover wrote his first draft, he was far less sure of his plan's possible success since he wrote, “There is a possible - possibly remote - method of settling the Palestine question ...”]
Hoover went on to summarise the history of the irrigation system in Iraq. “In ancient times the irrigation of the Tigris and the Euphrates valleys supported probably 10 million people in the kingdoms of Babylon and Ninevah.” This was the most densely populated area on earth and the granary of the world. Hoover said that the subsequent deterioration and destruction of these irrigation works by the Mongol invaders centuries later, were responsible for the shrinkage of the population to about three and a half million in modern Iraq. In 1909, Sir William Willcocks, an eminent British engineer and adviser to the Ottoman Ministry of Public Works put forward a proposal to restore the old irrigation system in Iraq. According to Hoover, Willcocks estimated that nearly three million acres of the most fertile land in the world could be recovered at a cost of under one hundred and fifty million dollars. However only part of Willcocks plan was executed by the British engineering firm of Sir John Jackson Ltd. between 1911 and 1913, since the lack of financial resources of the Iraqi Government and the delays of war greatly retarded this work.
Hoover continued, “Some years ago it was proposed that this area should be developed for settlement by Jewish refugees. This did not however, satisfy the Jewish desire for a homeland.” The plan referred to by Hoover was possibly that proposed about half a century earlier, when it had been suggested that twenty miles of each side of the Baghdad railway should be handed over to Jews from Russia and Poland.
Hoover then put forward his plan for transfer of the Arabs from Palestine. “My own suggestion is that Iraq might be financed to complete this great land development on the consideration that it be made the scene of resettlement of the Arabs from Palestine. This would clear the Palestine completely for a large Jewish emigration and colonization.”(47) [The word “emigration” instead of “immigration” is used in both drafts and also in the “World-Telegram” - maybe Hoover's intention was that Jews would emigrate from the Diaspora countries to Palestine. In the daily news bulletin of the Palcor News Agency, quoting from this statement, the word “immigration” is in fact used instead of “emigration”.(48)]
A suggestion for funding Hoover's plan was put forward by Elisha M. Friedman, at that time, a member of the American Economic Committee for Palestine, on the Board of the American Friends of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and on the Finance Committee of the Palestine Endowment Funds and the Hadassah Medical Organisation. In a letter to “The New York Times”, Friedman recommended linking the cost of the scheme estimated at around one hundred million dollars to reparations for the property of the seven million Jews of Europe. This property destroyed by the Nazis, was conservatively estimated at eight billion dollars. “Are the survivors entitled to no reparation - not even 1 per cent?” asked Friedman. “The number of Jews killed is officially stated at six million... The nations of the world did not avert the murder of these millions of Jews. Let them save the Jewish remnant. An international reparation loan for the Jews by the United Nations Organization to irrigate Iraq should be issued to finance Mr. Hoover's proposal.”(49)
Hoover's statement to the “World-Telegram” continued, “A suggestion of transfer of the Arab people of Palestine was made by the British Labour Party in December 1944 but no adequate plan was proposed as to where or how they were to go.”(50) [Although the text of the resolution of the Labour Party did not mention where the Arabs were to go, the Acting Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Arthur Greenwood, had in June 1944 suggested Iraq as the destination of transfer.] One should note that the first draft did not mention the British Labour Party's transfer proposal. Maybe he was not aware of it when he wrote this draft.
“There is room for many more Arabs in such a development of Iraq than the total of Arabs in Palestine,” continued Hoover, “The soil is more fertile. They would be among their own race, which is Arab speaking and Mohammedan.” [This latter advantage had also been indicated eight years earlier, by the British Colonial Secretary when he appeared before the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations.]
Hoover pointed out that “the Arab population of Palestine would be the gainer from better lands in exchange for their present holdings. Iraq would be the gainer for it badly needs agricultural population.” In his letter to “The New York Times”, Friedman brought support for this opinion from a paper presented by the Prime Minister of Iraq, Jafar Pasha al-Askari to the Royal Asia Society in London in 1926. al-Askari said, “The size of the country is 150,000 square miles, about three times that of England and Wales, while the population is only three million... What Iraq wants above everything else is more population.” Friedman then quoted from the book “Palestine, Land of Promise”, by Walter Clay Lowdermilk, Chief of the Soil Conservation of the United States, “In the great alluvial plain of the Tigris and Euphrates Valley there is land enough for vast numbers of immigrants.”(51)
Hoover had suggested his plan at a time when millions of people were being moved from one land to another. Immediately after the Second World War (1945), some nine and a half million Germans were physically driven into Germany from the countries of Eastern Europe. The transfer from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary had been carried out with the prior approval of the three Great Powers participating in the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. These transfers had been carried out in such a way that many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of refugees had died in the process. Their property had been confiscated and no-one had even suggested paying them compensation.
In contrast to this, Hoover said of the transfer of the Arabs from Palestine to Iraq, “If the lands were organized and homes provided, this particular movement could be made the model migration of history. It would be a solution by engineering instead of by conflict.”(52)
In his first draft, Hoover had based his whole plan on obtaining the consent of the Iraqi Government. The final paragraph of this draft thus read, “To determine the possibilities of this plan, it would be necessary to learn from the Iraq Government if they would approve such a plan and to enlist the support of various Jewish and Arab leaders to the idea and their co-operation in its consummation.”(53)
However, under the influence of Ben-Horin, Hoover deleted this condition. Indeed, two months later, in a meeting between Hoover, Ben-Horin and Friedman, Hoover was to accept fully Ben-Horin's view that “we should not bother at all about the approval or support of the British or of the Iraqians until the plan is prepared in all its aspects and the report is published under the name of outstanding people and let the British and the Iraqians object to the plan then, thus taking upon themselves the odium of rejecting a sound and logical project proposed by men of standing.” At this meeting, Hoover also made it absolutely clear that his primary interest did not lie in Iraq but in Palestine and in solving the Palestinian problem by means of handing over the land to the Jewish people.(54) He thus rewrote this paragraph to read, “I realize that the plan offers a challenge both to the statesmanship of the Great Powers as well as to the good-will of all parties concerned. However, I submit it and it does offer a method of settlement with both honor and wisdom.”(55)
It seems that Hoover's statement was first released to the “New York World-Telegram” who published it on the first page of their paper on 19 November. The historian Rafael Medoff comments: “This was evidently by prior arrangement; the article began by falsely asserting that Hoover's plan was 'offered in response to an inquiry by the World-Telegram as to whether he believes any sound or practical basis exists for settlement of the highly inflammatory Jewish-Arab question.'“(56)
Distribution was certainly not limited to this paper. In fact the Associated Press sent Hoover's statement to more than 350 newspapers in the U.S., but to Hoover's annoyance only seven published it.(57) The Yiddish language newspapers of New York, however, gave it publicity. “Der Tog” published his entire statement translated into Yiddish.(58) A few days later, another Yiddish newspaper, “Der Morgen Journal” wrote a very favourable Editorial under the heading “Hoover Plan for Arabs”. It described the plan as a “very practical solution to the Palestine problem” and considered it important that it was prepared by a non-Jew: “Should this plan have originated from Jewish sources, anti-Zionists would have surely made use of it to say that the Jews intend doing an injustice to Palestine's Arabs. However, if this plan originates with a non-Jew of Herbert Hoover's prominence, the reaction is bound to be entirely different.”(59)
American Zionists' Reaction to Hoover Plan
Two days after Hoover's statement appeared in the “World-Telegram”, Ben-Horin wrote to Hoover informing him that “the Jewish press in New York has commented very favorably on your proposal.”(60) He also enclosed a statement issued by the American Zionist Emergency Council in reaction to Hoover's proposal.(61)
This statement began by stating that the “Zionist Organization never advocated the transfer of Palestine's Arabs to Iraq or elsewhere” but had always maintained that Palestine had “room enough for its present population, Jew and Arab, and for several million more of Jewish settlers.” It was also pointed out that Zionist enterprise in Palestine had “greatly benefitted” the local Arabs, improving their living standards and “increasing tremendously their numerical growth.”
The statement continued, “All this we state for the record.” The Council then welcomed the plan put forward by Hoover “as an expression of constructive statesmanship. When all the long accepted remedies seem to fail, it is time to consider new approaches. The Hoover Plan certainly represents a new approach, formulated by an unprejudiced mind well trained in statesmanship, relief and rehabilitation.”
The statement then pointed out that the Zionists had always been willing to co-operate with the Arabs in solving the Palestine problem but it was the Arabs who had refused Zionist offers. “Whether their attitude will be different in the case of the Hoover Plan it is not for us to say. Should they respond to the idea, we shall be happy to cooperate with the great powers and the Arabs in bringing about the materialization of the Hoover Plan.”
. The statement concluded, “We highly appreciate the timing of Mr. Hoover's statement. Coming as it does at a time when Jewry seems to have been deserted by most of its friends, it will greatly encourage us in our belief that the great leaders of the Christian world stand ready to offer us justice, understanding and constructive assistance in the re-establishment of our statehood.”
Extracts from this statement appeared in several Palestine newspapers(62) (as well as in a number of Jewish Diaspora newspapers.(63)) Hence the claim made by the historian Yoel Rafel that the reason that no reaction was made to this plan by the Jews of Palestine was that the newspaper censor of the Mandatory authorities forbade any mention of it in the Palestinian newspapers,(64) is difficult to understand.
At a meeting held between Hoover, Ben-Horin and Friedman, a couple of months later, Hoover said that he would like to know what Dr. Abba Hillel Silver, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the American Zionist Emergency Council thought about his plan. In a letter to Silver, Ben-Horin wrote that he had informed Hoover that “you were greatly impressed by Mr. Hoover's initiative” adding that for “obvious reasons neither the Zionist Movement nor you personally could take the commitment of an official endorsement of his plan.” Ben-Horin went on to say that he had however, assured Hoover that “his plan enjoys the sympathy and interest of the Zionist leadership, and of you personally.”(65) In reply to this letter, Silver, writing on official stationery of the American Zionist Emergency Council said that he was “pleased that progress is being made” in connection with this plan.(66) However, since some members of this Council objected to Hoover's plan altogether, the Council's discussions of the plan and deliberations on an appropriate resolution were shrouded in secrecy, so much so that when they adopted the Resolution, (presumably the Resolution quoted above), “some people insisted that it should not even be recorded.” The only person outside the Council office who was given full information on the plan was Elisha Friedman.(67)
Another Jewish organisation to give a positive reaction to this plan was the American Jewish Conference, which was a coalition of all major Jewish organisations (with the exception of the American Jewish Committee). On 28 November, their Radio Director, Allen Roberts, wrote to Hoover stating that “your suggestion would, if carried out, provide a real solution to the perplexing problem now confronting world statesmen.” He went on to say that the “American Jewish Conference would appreciate it if you could find time to broadcast your views over a national network.”(68) In reply Hoover wrote, “I am sorry that I am just not able to undertake the suggestion you make at the present time. I am so overwhelmed with obligations and commitments that I cannot take on any additional.”(69) For a person doing his best to promote a plan, the refusal to utilise an opportunity to broadcast such a plan over the national radio seems strange. However, Hoover's biographers have pointed out that “throughout his career, Hoover felt uncomfortable delivering radio addresses.”(70)
We can also see from a telegram sent by Hoover to the “National Committee for Labor Palestine” on 24 November 1945, that their National Chairman had made a “kind reference” to this plan. Hoover replied, “I was glad to have your kind reference to the plan I proposed for amelioration of the Palestine situation so as to give larger refuge to the Jews in distress. I am hopeful it might contribute to a solution of so grievous a problem by an .approach that must be beneficial to all sides.”(71)
A further Zionist reaction came from Eliahu Epstein of the Jewish Agency, who, on 28 November 1945, had a meeting with Hoover(72) to discuss his transfer plan. Hoover described his plan in great detail, obviously hoping for a Zionist endorsement of it. Epstein, however, explained to Hoover “the political inadvisability of our becoming sponsors for such a plan which might, despite all its good intentions for Jews and Arabs alike, lead to all kinds of dangerous conclusions regarding our aims in Palestine.”(73) It is likely Epstein's approach was tactical since he himself had been in the past a strong supporter of transfer of Arabs and had even been active in a Population Transfer Committee of the Jewish Agency.
About two months later, on 4 January 1946(74), Meir Grossman, leader of the Jewish State Party, met with Hoover to discuss this plan and a “second-hand” report was given by Ben-Horin. Grossman told Hoover how highly he thought of his plan and went on to say that “he and his people would like to arrange a dinner in Hoover's honor, with him as the main speaker, at which time a group would be organized to sponsor the Hoover plan.” Ben-Horin related that Hoover was noncommittal, asked for a memorandum on these suggestions and hinted that he would like his (Ben-Horin's) opinion on Grossman's proposal.(75)
Zionist reaction can be summarised in a letter written by Hoover a few weeks after setting out his plan. He wrote that he had “received very favorable responses from several of the Zionist leaders” although, “for some years, the Jewish leaders were apparently not interested at all in this solution as they were insistent on simply opening up Palestine and doing it quickly.”(76)
As to be expected, Iraqi reactions to Hoover's transfer plan were extremely hostile.
The American Secretary of State was informed of the Iraqi reactions in a telegram which was sent to him from Baghdad by Moose. In this telegram, Moose said Hoover's proposal made the front page in Baghdad's papers of 22 November, under such headings as “Fiendish American proposal - Iraq after Palestine”, “From the insides of Truman's bomb comes a new Zionist proposal”, “No sir! Ex-President Hoover proposes transferring Arabs of Palestine to Iraq so that Palestine may absorb the Jews”, “Weird proposal for solving Palestine problem”.
The telegram also said that on the following day the leftist newspaper “Al Rai Al Am” in its main Editorial under the heading “Hoover's hateful statement” pointed out that “such statements show that both unofficial and official opinions America are wholly on side of Zionist; that there is a competition between American imperialists and capitalists to achieve Zionist aims; and that it is questionable that there remains any American conscience to be moved in defense of wronged Arabs.”
In addition, the nationalist newspaper “Al Nida” asserted that the Arabs would never agree to the creation of a Zionist state which would threaten the political and economic interests of the Arabs.(77)
Further comments on the reactions of the Iraqi press came from a despatch of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from Cairo on 23 November. This read: “A boycott of American goods was urged today by Bagdad papers in reply to a suggestion by former President Herbert Hoover that the United States grant a large loan to Iraq to finance the resettlement there of Arabs from Palestine, according to a Reuters dispatch. Under such headings as 'Devilish American Plan' and 'New Zionist Scheme,' the papers sharply attack Hoover's suggestion for large-scale irrigation of arid land in Iraq and the transfer of Palestinian Arabs as a means of solving the Palestine problem.”(78)
All this is in complete contrast to the response of King Feisal of Iraq in 1927, when a Moslem journalist asked him why Iraq did not make use of its large territorial area to raise cotton. Feisal replied that the poor labour force available inhibited capital investments. Bedouin were liable to disappear overnight, even in times of most pressing seasonal work, should they hear a rumour of rain in the desert several hundred miles away. “I would welcome with great pleasure”, said Feisal, “an immigration of Mohammedan Arab fellahin from Syria and Palestine.”(79)
Correspondence in “The New York Times”
On 25 November 1945, Hoover wrote to Elisha Friedman pointing out the merits of his plan. In his letter, he complained that “the New York Times ... have not deigned to notice it [his plan]”, and he suggested that Friedman write them a “strong letter”. He offered to meet with Friedman,(80) and from Hoover's “Calendar” we can see that a meeting between them took place three days later.(81)
Likewise, Bernice Miller - a member of Hoover's secretarial staff - in a letter, commented that “the New York Times has completely ignored, in every sense of the word, the Chief's [Hoover] proposal - not even having mentioned it, although they could have had it through the United Press.”(82)
Friedman accordingly wrote a letter to “The New York Times”, which as we shall see evoked a chain of letters, so that ironically “The New York Times” which “deigned not to notice Hoover's plan” ended up by giving it more publicity than probably any other newspaper!
Friedman's first letter appeared on 16 December under the heading “Hoover Plan Approved, An Irrigated Iraq Regarded as Best Home for Arabs” and began, “Herbert Hoover made a constructive practical and humanitarian proposal to solve the problem of Palestine. It becomes even more significant upon the appointment of the Anglo-American Committee of Immigration of Jews into Palestine.”
[A few months earlier, the British Labour Party had come into power in a landslide victory at the General Election. They very soon reversed their pre-election platform and resolutions on Palestine, and Jewish immigration into Palestine continued to be very restricted. As a result, the Jewish Resistance Movement (the Hagana, the Irgun and the Stern Group (Lehi)), took coordinated action in Palestine against the British Mandatory rule. In order to withstand American pressure to solve the Jewish refugee question, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, decided to set up an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry whose recommendations Bevin solemnly promised to follow.] Friedman wrote that Hoover's proposal deserved “the earnest study of the new Anglo-American Commission.”(83)
James G. McDonald had just been appointed to sit on this Committee and three weeks after publication of his transfer proposal Hoover wrote to him, “I have made this proposal from time to time over a long period, and it does seem to me worthy of consideration.” He felt that if the Heads of the Arab States could be made to realise that this proposal was a real way out, then the Jews could have no objection.(84) In reply to Hoover's letter, McDonald wrote that he had read Hoover's statement about Iraq and was sure that the Anglo-American Committee would want to study the proposal carefully. He planned to write to Hoover concerning this proposal in the near future.(85) A month later, possibly at the request of Hoover, Friedman contacted McDonald on this question. McDonald however pointed out that “the terms of reference of the Committee and the heavy schedule of appearances would make it unlikely that the Committee could consider the question of population transfer.”(86) [It did in fact briefly come up twice during the hearings - in the evidence of Reinhold Niebuhr and Emanuel Neumann.]
In a similar vein, in a memorandum of 3 December 1945, Frankenstein suggested to a Sub-Committee of the Political Committee of the British Zionist Federation, that they should “urge the Jewish Agency to set up at once, a committee of experts of standing, both Jews and non-Jews possibly in consultation with Mr. Hoover and other important personalities, for elaborating a concrete plan (for transfer).”(87)
After summarising the details and advantages of Hoover's plan, Friedman wrote that “the previous proposals to irrigate Iraq were intended to develop it economically and to benefit its masses. But no one before Mr. Hoover made this proposal as a means of solving the Palestine question.” Friedman further claimed that, “If the Arab countries are regarded as a unit, as the Pan-Arab League assumes, the movement of the Arabs from Palestine to Iraq would have an analogue in American history.” Friedman pointed out how hundreds of thousands of farmers from the New England States abandoned their poor soil and went west to Ohio, Iowa and Oregon where they acquired fertile lands. “Mr. Hoover's proposal shows a large conception in social engineering.”(88)
A similar idea had been put forward in an Editorial written in 1943 in the journal “Great Britain and the East”. The writer referred to a statement made by King Ibn Saud at some earlier date to an American correspondent and later published in a Saudi Arabian newspaper. The King had said that he hoped that after the war, the Arabs would become a single State with the help of the Allies.
The “Great Britain and the East” Editorial pointed out that a major grievance among the Arabs had been that after the First World War, the Allies had arbitrarily divided the Middle East into separate states, whereas left to themselves, the Arabs would have formed one people, one State. There was no longer any outside influence preventing a union of all the Arab States. “As soon as that union is achieved”, said the Editorial writer, “the effect will be that an Arab moving from Syria to Saudi Arabia, or from Palestine to Iraq, will no longer be migrating from one country to another; he will merely be changing his position from one part of the same country to another part.” The Editorial writer pointed out that Saudi Arabia was under-populated and that “in Palestine he (Ibn Saud) could find as many ready-made Arab settlers as he had suitable accommodation for.” Those Arabs who did not wish to go to Saudi Arabia “could find a warm welcome elsewhere in the peninsula.”(89)
Eight days after the appearance of Friedman's letter in “The New York Times”, a reply by Khalil Totah, Executive Director of the Institute of Arab-American Affairs was published under the headings “Hoover Iraq Plan Opposed”, “Suggested Transfer of Arabs to that Country is Disapproved”.
As was to be expected, Totah was very critical of Hoover and Friedman. “In his letter, Mr. Friedman never alluded to the crux of the matter - whether the Palestine Arabs wish to be transferred to Iraq or not. Is it not high time for those who volunteer to solve the Palestine question to consider the wishes of two-thirds of its inhabitants? Palestine is home to the Arabs. It has been home to them for only thirteen centuries. Millions of their babies were born on Palestine's holy soil and millions of their dead lie buried there.”
Totah continued on the theme of religion and the holy places of Christians and Moslems in Palestine. “It is not a question of financing and of engineering; it is a human, moral and religious matter which cannot be viewed from mere technical considerations. Matters affecting religion and traditions in the Middle East are exceedingly explosive and must be handled with care.” [It is true that Moslem leaders had utilised religion and the holy places to unite the masses against Zionism. In the late 1920s, the Mufti had called for a holy war and had conducted an unceasing campaign alleging an imminent Jewish threat to Moslem holy places. In the summer of 1929, Moslems attending Friday prayers on the Temple Mount heard sermons concerning the Zionist enemy who supposedly intended to burn the Al-Aksa Mosque and rebuild the Temple in its place. In the days that followed, Jews were massacred in Motza, Safed and especially Hebron.]
In answer to Friedman's contention that the Arab countries should be regarded as a unit, Totah replied, “This is no excuse for packing a million Arabs from Palestine to Iraq in order to make room for further Zionist immigration.” In concluding his letter, he reiterated that the problem “is one of ethics and justice and not one of finance and engineering.”(90)
Some days later, Friedman replied to Totah's letter stating, “Mr. Totah seems to have misunderstood the Hoover proposal. There will be no need to 'pack a million Arabs from Palestine to Iraq'. They would go willingly, if for every acre of stony semi-arid land in Palestine they would receive two or three acres of fertile, irrigated soil in Iraq. Iraq has about fourteen times the area and only about twice the population of western Palestine.”
In answer to Totah's contentions regarding religion and the holy places, Friedman pointed out that the “holy places in Palestine are only holy because the Jews lived there” but “the Jews would gladly yield the tombs of their ancestors... for the right to live and toil on the land.”
In defence of Hoover, Friedman wrote, “Mr. Hoover's suggestion is opposed by Mr. Totah, because the transfer of population is 'not a question of financing and engineering; it is a human, moral and religious matter'. Why set off engineering against humanitarianism? Was there ever a finer synthesis of the great engineer and the great humanitarian than Herbert Hoover?” He then pointed out that the Hoover Dam, a monumental work of engineering initiated by Hoover was a contribution to the economic and social welfare of the United States.(91)
One could note that immediately before the publication of both his letters in “The New York Times,” Friedman had meetings with Hoover, for the first letter, one day before publication (15 December)(92) and for the second one, two days before (4 January).(93) It is quite possible that there was a connection and Friedman wanted to show Hoover the letters before they were published. The second meeting also took place on the same day as Meir Grossman’s meeting with Hoover to discuss the transfer of Arabs, although, as we have already seen, Friedman was not present, but he was briefed on what transpired. This, of course, could also have been the reason for their meeting that day.
A week after the publication of Friedman’s second letter, a letter written by Samir Shamma of the Arab Office in Washington D.C. was published. It began with the claim that the Arabs had been “uninterruptedly living in that country at least for the last thirteen centuries. A great number of the peasants who form 70 per cent of the Arab population of Palestine are descendants of those who worked the land centuries before the Jewish migration from Egypt in Biblical times.”
Shamma said that to compel these Arabs, even with compensation, to leave their land to make room for Jews from Europe would be treatment that “used to be inflicted on a conquered enemy in old times, but it would be hard to justify these days on any legal or moral grounds.”(94) Shamma seemed to be unaware of the Greco-Turkish population exchange, which had been proposed by the Nobel Peace prize-winner Dr. Nansen, sanctioned by the League of Nations and carried out under the guidance of a mixed commission, not “in old times”, but only just over twenty years earlier. In justification of such an Arab transfer, Friedman had quoted a statement, made in 1940, by Alfred Duff Cooper, former First Lord of the British Admiralty in Washington, “In 1914 there was hardly any territory which the Arabs could call their own. Since 1914 they have acquired vast tracts of territory where they are independent; the whole of Arabia; Trans-Jordan, which was taken away from the original conception of Palestine; Syria, where again they exercise semi-independent rights. No nation in the world has so little ground for complaining as the Arab race. They have vast spaces in which to expand. They have been among the greatest beneficiaries of the World War, and now they are subject to no particular evils.”(95)
The next point made by Shamma was that the Hoover plan was “obviously incompatible with the terms of the Mandate.” He obviously had in mind the section which stated that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. In fact a similar question had been asked by a member of the Permanent Mandates Commission after the publication of the Peel Report. To this, the British Colonial Secretary, Ormsby-Gore, had answered in terms of “natural rights”, but he had in no way suggested that the transfer of the Arab population contravened the terms of the Mandate.
In concluding his letter, Shamma wrote, “Mr. Friedman knows well that, according to the findings of the Commissions of Investigation, it was the Arabs' fear this would happen that was one of the principal causes of the serious disturbances in 1929 and 1936 - 1939.”(96) [These “serious disturbances” of 1929 and 1936-39 consisted of pogroms, massacres and acts of terror by Arabs against unarmed Jewish men, women and children in all parts of Palestine.] Here Shamma was referring to the Report of the British appointed Shaw Commission of 1930 which claimed that the riots were a natural reaction against Zionism - a report received by the Arabs with jubilation but by the Jews with outrage!
Meetings and Proposals on the Hoover Plan
At a meeting of the American Zionist Emergency Council held on 14 January 1946, Eliahu Ben-Horin was officially confirmed as a permanent member of the staff of the Council. The minutes state that at this meeting Ben-Horin “reported on an interview with Mr. Hoover which evoked a lengthy and detailed discussion.”(97)
A report of this interview and the subsequent discussion can be found in an “addendum” to these minutes, although the actual date of this interview is not stated. According to Hoover’s calendar, the latest meeting between them had been nearly three months earlier, on 25 October 1945.(98) From the contents of the report of his interview, he is almost certainly referring to this meeting on 25 October.
Ben-Horin had met with Hoover “on behalf of the American Zionist Emergency Council.” He reported that “Hoover is very interested in the irrigation plan of Iraq and the transfer of the Arabs from Palestine.” Hoover, however “felt that if the Zionists were not in favor of the transfer proposal that was their business.” He had asked Ben-Horin “whether his statement [published in the newspapers] was received favorably by the Zionists of America.” Ben-Horin[?] had replied that “several individuals lauded and praised him and told him that they were in accord with his proposal - some Jewish, non-Jewish and several Zionist quarters. In view of the present Zionist relations it would be very harmful if the Zionists were to launch a program of transfer. The Zionist movement cannot and will not commit itself officially with the transfer proposal. Furthermore, it is very good for Zionism to be in a position to say no to any question regarding transfer.”
In the subsequent discussion at that American Zionist Emergency Council executive committee meeting, Ben-Horin “suggested that, with the approval of this body, the initiative should be taken to organize an independent group, headed by Mr. Hoover, and from the moment this group is organized no Zionist group should appear in the picture.” Ben-Horin commented that “it would be very harmful for Zionism if it later appeared that we were financing Mr. Hoover’s group.”
Different views were then expressed in connection with the attitude to be taken by the Zionists to Hoover’s transfer proposal. None of those opposing Zionist support for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine did so on moral grounds - the opposition was entirely for tactical reasons. Rose Halprin “felt that the entire question was dynamite, and that we should do nothing on this question without first consulting with the Jewish Agency representative.” Gedalia Bublick “felt it would be dangerous for our cause to suggest the transfer of the Arabs.” He considered that the public would then say that the Jews cannot live together with the Arabs in Palestine.
Although Abba Hillel Silver stated that “it is quite clear that our movement will not be associated with this idea,” as we have already seen, he himself was pleased that progress was being made with Hoover’s transfer plan! An additional point was made by Dr. I. B. Berkson and “agreed fully” to by Pinchas Cruso. Berkson considered that whilst for the Zionists to suggest the transfer of Arabs “would be a calamity for the Zionist movement ... if we should adopt the plan it should be made public. It would be a complete disaster to denounce something publicly and privately support it.”
There were also members of this Committee who came out in favour of the Zionists publicly supporting Hoovers’ transfer plan. These included David Wertheim and Louis Lipsky. Wertheim “did not see any danger ... Here is a plan brought up by non-Zionists which will mean that we will have a majority sooner than in any other manner. We should facilitate the sponsoring of such a group.” Lipsky said that “the projection of this idea would be valuable to us.” Max Kirshblum was also “favorably inclined” towards this plan but added that “it must be done tactfully.”(99)
On the following day, Elisha Friedman wrote a letter to Hoover pointing out that the Zionist Organization “officially takes the position” that there is sufficient room in Palestine for everybody. “If they advocated population transfer, it would furnish an argument for anti-Zionists.”
Realising that one had to overcome this stumbling block, Friedman went on to propose a scheme to move the plan forward: “If we can get a responsible group of scientists, technical men, and distinguished citizens to undertake this proposal quite independently of any existing organization, I shall take the liberty of writing you.”(100)
Ben-Horin was therefore especially insistent in excluding Meir Grossman, (the leader of a splinter group who had broken away from the Revisionist Party), who was an enthusiastic supporter of this plan, from this group. “He will want to be in the foreground of this affair, whereas the [American Zionist] Emergency Council is vitally interested in keeping any Jews, especially Zionists who may be active in the Hoover Plan, as far in the background as possible.” The last thing Ben-Horin wanted was for this group to degenerate into a “predominantly Jewish group which would agitate for transfer, and possibly do more harm than good.”(101)
A week later, a meeting took place between Hoover and Friedman and Ben-Horin,(102) and a confidential comprehensive report of this meeting was made by Ben-Horin in a letter to Abba Hillel Silver on the following day. Two weeks prior to this meeting, Ben-Horin had suggested to Hoover that his plan be shaped along the lines of exchange of populations, rather than transfer, in which seven hundred thousand Jews living in Arab countries would be transferred to Palestine in exchange for the Arabs of Palestine who would move to Iraq.(103) At this meeting, Hoover took up Ben-Horin's suggestion saying that it was a “great improvement on his (Hoover's) original idea.”(104) Silver, however, disagreed with the removal of Jews from Arab lands, since the Jewish public was not yet prepared for it and many Jews from North Africa, especially Egypt would “raise furious objection”. He went on to concede that this idea might come about as a by-product of Hoover's plan but that there was no point in being involved at that stage in a “bitter controversy with our own people.”(105)
A crucial point in the implementation of Hoover's plan was finding the necessary finance. At the meeting(106) between Hoover, Ben-Horin and Friedman, Ben-Horin told Hoover in “very careful language” that he could reliably count on a certain source providing the “first leg money for the promotion of his plan.” Friedman pressed Ben-Horin to state definitely that the first twenty-five thousand dollars could be placed at Hoover's disposal, but Ben-Horin refused to give a definite commitment. Ben-Horin suggested that an independent group be set up, with Hoover at its head, “in order to produce an authoritative report of the Plan.”
Hoover agreed to undertake to try and interest Bernard Baruch. Baruch was a self-made millionaire who had sat on American Government Committees and a few years earlier had been made adviser to the War Mobilisation Director.
Hoover also suggested the names of people outstanding in the field of engineering, irrigation and agriculture, and a public relations man, whose services he could enlist, and he undertook to talk to these people himself in order to ascertain whether or not they were interested.(107)
On the following day, Hoover had a meeting with Bernard Baruch and also with Baruch’s wife,(108) although what was discussed has not been traced.
On 25 January, Friedman wrote to a certain Julius Fohs who replied with details about assembling technical data and a technical committee and raising the first twenty-five thousand dollars for the project.(109)
A further meeting took place on the afternoon of 4 February between Hoover, Ben-Horin and Friedman(110) but we do not have a report on its deliberations.
That same evening a meeting took place at the house of William Fondiller, Vice-President of the Bell Research Laboratories, at which, according to Friedman “considerable progress” was made. Friedman informed Hoover that Fondiller was “greatly interested” and planned to call in the very near future a meeting of a group of engineers and “after this group meets and perfects the details of organization, we hope you will permit us to call on you to carry your project forward.” It was also hoped that they might get funds from the Refugee Economic Corporation.(111)
A month later, a meeting of seven prominent engineers took place at the New York University Faculty Club in order to discuss the Hoover Plan.
. At this meeting, Ben-Horin was called upon “to outline briefly the genesis of the project”. The engineers then had a heated discussion on the engineering aspects of the problem and they soon arrived at the conclusion that the data before them was insufficient.
Professor Boris Bakhmeteff of Columbia University, and former Russian ambassador to the U.S.A. “declared that the solution of the matter of making Palestine a Jewish Home was a serious international one, and he was strongly in favor of Mr. Hoover's proposal” and that it was “probably the best solution for the Jewish-Palestinian problem”.
In answer to a question regarding the attitude of the Arab leaders, Ben-Horin indicated “that under present conditions their attitude would not be co-operative.”
Another member of the committee, Eugene Halmos, a non-Jewish irrigation engineer said that his interest in the project “was purely from an engineering standpoint, and that his firm would be prepared to undertake these studies on a commercial basis as might be required” and that “no engineer of repute would lend his name to such a project unless all the necessary research and planning is done to prove that the quantity of water required is available, etc., etc.”
After a long discussion, the engineers all agreed that the first thing to be done was to assemble all the data available on the subject and prepare a summary. They also decided to have an early meeting with Hoover in order that they might “learn what information he had gathered together in his own investigation.”(112)
Two days later, Fondiller wrote to Hoover enclosing minutes of this meeting and the decision to have an early meeting with him “to fortify itself with such data as you have, bearing on the feasibility of the engineering phases of the project and its estimated cost.”(113) However such a meeting never took place, since Hoover became interested in other causes and his interest in his Iraq plan faded.(114)
After this date, there seems to be no more information on this proposal for the years 1946 and 1947 in either the Hoover Library or the Central Zionist Archives. However, from about August 1948, which was soon after the establishment of the State of Israel, considerable efforts were made by both Ben-Horin and Friedman to revive the Hoover Plan and use it as a means of resettling the Arab refugees in Iraq and thus prevent their returning to Israel. Hoover gave these efforts his blessing, but he himself (possibly due to his advancing age) did little to further them.(115)
In August 1954, Hoover reached the age of 80 and Ben-Horin wrote to him a congratulatory letter, including a reference to the Hoover transfer plan. In a letter of thanks, Hoover added a post-script in his own handwriting, “We were on the only sane track!”(116) We can thus see that even after nearly nine years' reflection, Hoover still believed his plan was correct.
When Hoover died ten years later, in a tribute issued by the Zionist Organization of America, its President, Dr. Max Nussbaum, devoted almost his entire tribute to giving a detailed account of Hoover's transfer plan.(117)