Council of “World Unity”

From the beginning of the twentieth century, a number of Zionist socialist parties of differing shades of ideology had been formed in the Diaspora, and during the course of the subsequent decades these underwent a number of splits and amalgamations. In 1932, at a meeting in Danzig, most of these Zionist socialist parties amalgamated to form “World Unity” (Ihud Olami).

Immediately before the 1937 Zionist Congress, “World Unity” held its own conference in Zurich and on the evening of 29 July 1937, Ben-Gurion delivered the opening lecture. During the course of this lecture, he spoke at length on the Peel transfer proposal, giving it his full support. He listed what he saw to be the advantages of the Peel recommendations including the fact that “The Arabs dwelling in these plains will be removed and transferred to the Arab State.”(90) He praised the Commission for proposing by this transfer (if necessary compulsory), to compensate for the small territorial area of the designated Jewish State, thus providing opportunity for increased Jewish settlement. He then claimed that using Jewish agricultural methods it would be possible to replace each Arab family by at least five Jewish families.

However, “The Commission does not suggest removal of the Arabs, it suggests transferring them and settling them in the Arab State. I think”, said Ben-Gurion, “that I do not need to explain the fundamental difference between removal and transference.”

Ben-Gurion continued, “Up to now we have implemented our settlement in Palestine by means of transfer of the (Arab) population from location to location... only in a few cases of our new settlement was it not necessary to transfer the former inhabitants.”

Was such transfer of Arabs on a voluntary basis or was compulsion used? Ben-Gurion said, “In most cases the transfer was arranged by agreement with the tenant farmers and only in a minority of cases was a compulsory transfer necessary.” It would seem that the tenant farmers were first given an opportunity to come to an arrangement with the Jewish settlers. Failing such an arrangement, compulsion was used.

Ben-Gurion did not consider that there was anything wrong with such transfers. “If it is possible to transfer the Arabs from one village to another within the area of the British Mandate - it will be difficult to find any political or ethical reason against transferring these Arabs from an area under Jewish rule.”

As is evident from our earlier quotation, Ben-Gurion considered that there was a fundamental difference between removal and transference. He added that the Jews would not be able to agree to a transfer, even if suggested and implemented by the British, were it to involve removal. He defined “removal” as “the destruction of the financial basis of the transferees.” He said however, that even with the highest ethical standards, one could not oppose a transfer which guaranteed the transferees “sufficient material conditions” and “maximum national security”. These were the conditions which the Peel Commission required.

Ben-Gurion concluded that by this transfer the Arabs would obtain “full and complete satisfaction of their national desires.” If this transfer were to guarantee the Arabs physical living conditions which were no worse than those obtaining (and only under such conditions would transfer, according to Ben-Gurion, be possible), then their financial and personal rights would in no way be affected.”(91)

At the subsequent debate, nearly twenty speakers referred to this transfer proposal. Berl Katznelson, who was a strong opponent of partition, came out strongly in favour of transferring the Arabs from Palestine. On the morality of transfer, he said, “My conscience is completely clear. A distant neighbour is better than a close enemy. They will not lose by their transfer and we certainly will not. In the final analysis, it is a political reform of benefit to both sides. For a long time, I have been convinced that this is the best solution and during the time of the troubles, I was strengthened in my conviction that this must happen one of these days.” Katznelson was disappointed by the Peel Commission's recommendation that the Arabs be transferred to areas of the proposed Arab State within Palestine. “I did not imagine”, he continued, “that the transfer 'to outside Palestine' would mean the area of Shechem (Nablus). I believed and still believe that their future lies in Syria and Iraq.”(92) According to the historian Yosef Gorny, Katznelson's strong endorsement of transfer was also made in a private conversation with Ahuvia Malkin.(93)

Aharon Zisling, a leader of the Kibbutz HaMe'uhad movement and member of the original Ahdut Ha'avodah party, like Katznelson opposed partition. He said, “I do not dispute our moral right to the transfer proposal. There is absolutely no ethical objection to this suggestion, which will have the effect of stimulating the development of national life.” He added that this could turn out to be a most humane inspiration.(94)

Eliezer Kaplan, a founder of Ze'irei Zion in Russia and treasurer of the Jewish Agency Executive discounted any comparison with the expulsion of Jews from Germany. “Here we are not speaking of expulsion but of an organised transfer of a number of Arabs from an area within the Jewish State to another place within the Arab State, i.e. to their own national environment, and we want to ensure that the conditions there will be, at the least, no worse than their previous conditions.”(95)

Eliahu Lulu, a public worker in Mapai, was a supporter of partition. He refuted the idea that transfer would be political provocation. “It is a just and reasonable plan, ethical and humane in all senses.” He pointed out that in exchange for the land in Palestine which an Arab transferee would have to sell, he .would be able to purchase plots in Iraq, causing what had once been a prosperous land to flourish again, as a result of Arab immigration. Even should it be compulsory, Lulu had no doubts that transfer was justified. “If we oppose all rights to transfer, then we must oppose what we have achieved up to now - the transfers from Emek Hefer to the Bet Shean valley, from the Sharon to the mountains of Ephraim etc.”(96)

Golda Myerson (later Golda Myer, Prime Minister of the State of Israel) said, “I would agree that the Arabs leave Palestine and my conscience would be perfectly clear”, but she questioned the possibility of such a transfer. If the Arabs remained, however, they would have to be guaranteed equal rights.(97)

Joseph Bankover, a member of Ahdut Ha'avodah and a founder of Kibbutz Ramat Hacovesh said, regarding compulsory transfer, “As a member of (Kibbutz) Ramat Hacovesh, I would be very happy, were it possible to free ourselves of our pleasant (Arab) neighbours of Kfar Miski, Tirah and Kalkiliya.” However, like Golda Myerson, Bankover questioned the feasibility of transfer. He said that he had not been able to find any firm commitment to compulsory transfer in the Peel Report.(98)

David Remez, one of the leaders of the Histadrut Labour Union said that he had little faith in population transfers “although this solution is completely ethical and just.” Since the conditions of the Arabs would be incomparably better in the Jewish State than in the Arab State, Remez did not think that the Arabs would move voluntarily and he doubted whether there was anyone who would force them to move.(99)

Shlomo Lavi, an enthusiastic supporter of partition said that the demand that the Arabs move out of Palestine because they had many other Arab Homelands, whereas the Jews had no other National Home, was “very just and very ethical.” However, in reality, this could not be put before the world as a serious claim.(100)

Hayim Greenberg, a leader of the Zionist labour movement in America said that he had not found in the Peel Report anything about England's implementing the transfer of the Arabs. This he thought was good, since England was intending to implement a compulsory transfer. He explained that it was not a question of ethics - “one could find an ethical authorisation” - but it would be dangerous for the Jews of Poland, Germany etc.(101) The next speaker, Dov Hos, a representative of the Histadrut and Mapai in London, said that on the question of transfer he was closer to the views of Greenberg than to Ben-Gurion.(102)

Israel Idelson (Bar-Yehudah), a leading member of the Kibbutz HaMe'uhad movement was also worried about the effect compulsory transfer might have upon the safety of Jews living in the Diaspora. He doubted whether the Arabs would agree to move out of Palestine voluntarily, since they were confident that no harm would come to them should they remain, and he rejected the use of force, as Jews in the neighbouring Arab countries would be hostages to the Arabs' displeasure.(103)

Dr. Aryeh Tartakover, a member of the Zionist labour movement in Poland, and author of the book “A History of the Jewish Labour Movement”, asked whether establishing a principle that a state should be free from minorities might not be used against the Jews in the surrounding Arab States to prevent them from living there. He suggested that this was “too great a price to pay in order to get rid of only a few tens of thousands of Arabs from the Jewish State, (because we would certainly not get rid of more than that)”.(104) [The words in parenthesis are Tartakover's.] [One might ask here, whether, if it had been possible to remove the quarter of a million or so Arabs then living in Palestine from the Jewish State, Tartakover would have been prepared to pay the price?]

Berl Locker pointed out that the transfer proposal depended on so many premises, such as the finding of suitable land, and Arab agreement, that he was in great doubt whether in fact it would be possible.(105) Another delegate who questioned its feasibility was Chaim Shorer, one of the few former members of “Hapoel Hazair” who opposed partition. Shorer spoke of the “illusion of the transfer of Arabs from our borders.”(106)

A similar line was taken by Shlomo Kaplanski, a founder of the World Union of Poale Zion, (and in the early 1940s Chairman of a committee on Jewish-Arab Relations). Kaplanski opposed the partition scheme preferring a bi-national state. He did not believe that it would be possible to transfer twenty thousand Arab families, who had lived in the plains for generations, to another part of Palestine. He said that he would not enter into the ethical side of the question. If a Jewish State were to be established in part of Palestine, it would be necessary to live in peace and harmony with the “Arab part of Palestine and with all the neighbouring countries.”(107)

Avraham Hirshfeld was critical of Ben-Gurion's attitude towards transfer, describing it as fantasy. “Transfer does not come into consideration”, said Hirshfeld. He pointed out that the Arabs would not move from areas such as Acre, Safed and Metulla where ther were large concentrations of Arabs.(108)

Strong opposition to the transfer proposal was voiced by the Labour ideologist, Yitzchak Tabenkin, who described it as “a wild and un-ethical idea.” He said that it was easy for the English to spread such slogans about, but that the Jews should not base their political aspirations on the removal of two hundred thousand Arabs from their villages and cities. Most of the Arabs would in any case not agree to move and such a transfer could completely poison relations with neighbouring countries and cause harm to world Jewry. It could also close the door on constructive meetings with the Arabs.(109) However, as we see elsewhere in this work, at the same period, in his speeches to the 20th Zionist Congress and to a Mapai Council Meeting, Tabenkin agreed to the idea of a voluntary transfer and such agreement of his continued into the 1940s.

Shmuel Yavne'eli, who had, a quarter of a century earlier, gone to Yemen in order to encourage the Jewish community to emigrate to Palestine, said that he did not consider it necessary to implement the forcible transfer of the Arabs from Palestine.(110) Opposition to transfer also came from Ze'ev Feinstein, a worker in Ahdut Ha'avodah and a founder of Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar. He said that there were a million Arabs in Palestine who must remain there. “We do not want to expel a single Arab... we have developed without expulsion.”(111)

As we have seen, many if not most of the speakers at this conference, all of them members of the Zionist labour movement, were in favour of transfer - although some felt that it was impossible in practice - whilst only a few came out against transfer. The division of opinion on this question, did not follow the pattern of the division on the question of partition of the country. There were delegates such as Katznelson and Zisling, who opposed partition, yet were in favour of transferring the Arabs.

In his book, “Partition of Eretz-Israel in Mandatory Period”, Shmuel Dothan, concluded from the proceedings of this Conference that “this transfer question was shown in a new light. No longer did the apologists try to prove that the Arabs had never been removed from their land, but more honestly denied that there was anything wrong with such removal. The transfer of Arabs from the Jewish area to an Arab State was not a sin, but an ethical act which would benefit both Jews and Arabs alike.”(112)

British Parliamentary Debates

The British Parliament has two chambers. The upper Chamber, known as the House of Lords, in 1937 consisted mainly of hereditary lords temporal and non-hereditary lords spiritual. The lower Chamber, the House of Commons, in 1937 had 640 members elected by popular franchise, each member representing a specific constituency of the United Kingdom.

On 20 and 21 July 1937, both Houses of Parliament debated the recommendations of the Peel Commission. In the Parliamentary Reports on both these debates, only a few scattered paragraphs dealt with the question of the transfer of population. Many of the speakers did not mention transfer at all.

The debate in the House of the Lords began on the 20 July and was adjourned to 21 July. Early speakers in this debate were Lord Peel, Chairman of the Peel Commission, and the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who was the Deputy Colonial Secretary. However, neither of these speakers specifically mentioned the subject of population transfer.

The first speaker to mention transfer was Viscount Samuel (Herbert Samuel). In the period leading up to the Balfour Declaration, Herbert Samuel, a Jew, played an important role in the preliminary behind-the-scene activities, constantly guiding the Zionist leaders. Weizmann described him as “discreet, tactful and insistent.” When the British were granted the Mandate over Palestine, Samuel, was appointed as the First High Commissioner and served between the years 1920-25. During the early part of his term of office, he laid the foundations of the Palestine civil administration and gave official recognition to the Jewish representative bodies. However, later in his term of office, he made efforts to appease Arab anti-Zionism and restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine.

In his speech to the House of Lords, Samuel came out against the partition proposal. This caused anger not only in the Zionist community, but also in the ranks of the British Government, who had gradually been persuaded to accept the idea of partition. Samuel was extremely scathing in his criticism of the recommendation of the Peel Commission concerning the transfer of population. “The Commission say there ought to be a removal of population, or what is called strangely enough, an exchange of population, that the Jews from the Arab State should be brought into the Jewish State and the Arabs in the Jewish State should be transferred. But how can you have an exchange of population where there are 225,000 Arabs in the Jewish State and 250,000 Jews in the other?”

Samuel then referred to the Peel Commission's approval of the way the Greco-Turkish exchange of population was carried out. It was “quite true”, said Samuel, that “it was admirably done”. But he believed that the circumstances surrounding this Greco- Turkish transfer were completely different - the Greeks were fleeing from Asia Minor after their disastrous campaign, their armed forces heavily defeated.

“There is nothing of that kind in Palestine,” said Samuel. “There is nothing of that sort to induce 225,000 Arabs to leave the land in which they and their fathers have been settled for a thousand years where they have their mosques and where they have their graveyards.”

Samuel objected to the proposal “that the new Jewish State should be built upon the basis of taking away 100,000 Arabs, or whatever the number may be, from this district, compulsorily dispossessing them, no doubt with compensation and finding them land elsewhere.”

We might again point out here that the Peel Report mentioned that when the Nobel Peace Prizewinner, Dr. Nansen, had first proposed the compulsory Greco-Turkish population transfer, he had been sharply criticised for the “inhumanity of his proposal.” However, the Commission considered that the success of the transfer had fully justified the apparent “inhumanity.”

Samuel noted that another part of the report referred to the protection of minorities and asked whether the protection offered to the Arab minority would take the form of the compulsory uprooting and relocation elsewhere. In fact, paragraph 39 of Chapter xxii of the Peel Report states that the whole purpose of the proposal for the transfer of population was to protect minorities. The emergence of nationalism as a force after the First World War, was endangering minorities in Europe and Asia including Palestine. However, Samuel questioned whether it would be possible to relieve the large disparity between the size of the Jewish and Arab populations in “the so-called Jewish State” by means of a transfer such as that advocated in the Peel Report.(113)

Lord Melchett, who was at the time Chairman of the Jewish Agency Commission, supported the transfer of population. Unlike Samuel, Melchett accepted the parallel of the Greco-Turkish transfer and added that he often quoted it himself, and often pointed out that it showed an example of how the Jewish population of Eastern Europe might be transferred to the Middle East. He believed in the feasibility of the Arab-Jewish transfer, but was sceptical of the British Government's intentions. He asked, “Do the Government really seriously intend to pursue the transfer? What are its real intentions in that matter?”(114)

Lord Lugard, British Member of the Mandates Commission hoped that, since the transfer would be attended with great difficulty and would take a great deal of time, the existing Mandate would continue in operation until the successful completion of the transfer was in sight.(115) [In the case of the Greco-Turkish transfer it had taken about eight years to resolve all the problems.]

A few days before this debate, Lord Lugard had met with Weizmann. Although there is no minute on this meeting in the Weizmann Archives, it is referred to in a letter written by Weizmann to Lord Hailey on 18 July.(116) On the day of the meeting, Weizmann reported to Ben-Gurion, who wrote in his diary, “Lugard favours the transfer of Arabs and is of the opinion that the Government is able and is obligated to put it into operation.”(117) Incidentally, from Weizmann's letter to Lord Hailey, it would appear that the meeting took place on 18 July, whereas from Ben-Gurion's diary the date is given as 17 July. Needless to say, this small discrepancy does not affect the reported contents of the meeting.

One of the speakers during the debate was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Cosmo Gordon Lang. The Archbishop supported partition and advised the Lords to “trust the judgment of the Commission” and give “at least a most favourable consideration to their verdict.” He fervently hoped that it would bring about an Arab-Jewish reconciliation in a country where peace and goodwill should prevail.(118) Nowhere in his speech did the Archbishop mention the proposal for population transfer. One would have assumed that had he considered it to be in any way unethical, he would have broached the subject.

The debate in the House of Commons took place on 21 July and continued for nearly eight and a half hours. It was opened by the Colonial Secretary, William Ormsby-Gore who supported the transfer of population. He indicated the need for a series of fact-finding inquiries to ascertain where and how many Arabs could be settled in Transjordan and elsewhere in Palestine, “if there is to be a scheme of transfer, and obviously a scheme of transfer is most desirable.”(119) In requiring these “fact-finding inquiries”, Ormsby-Gore was repeating a recommendation of the Peel Commission which called for an immediate survey and authoritative estimate of the practical possibilities of irrigation and development in the areas of Transjordan, the Jordan Valley and Beersheba.

Support for the transfer proposal was also voiced by Earl Edward Winterton, a Conservative member of over thirty years standing, who had served in Gallipoli and Palestine during the First World War and was afterwards Under-Secretary of State for India. It is of interest to note that although Winterton was an anti-Zionist and a leading supporter of the Arabs, he supported the population transfer proposal of the Peel Commission. Several months earlier, Winterton had suggested that Palestine be divided in such a way that Western Palestine up to the Jordan would be a Jewish State and Transjordan an Arab State. This was conditional on the British Government's investing very large sums of money in the development of Transjordan and the Arabs in the Jewish State (of Western Palestine) being given the choice of remaining or moving to Transjordan.(120)

In his speech to the House of Commons, Winterton said “The question of transfer is still in a very tentative state but I should hope that no one on either side of the House would say that the scheme is a bad one.” He commended the “very satisfactory transfer of minorities” in the Greco-Turkish population exchange and hoped that “something of the same kind could be done in Palestine, and that it might lead to a solution of the minorities question.” He recommended that population transfer be carefully considered in the greatest detail by the Mandates Commission.(121) A few weeks later, the Permanent Mandates Commission sitting in Geneva did fully consider this subject and also questioned Ormsby-Gore concerning the British Government's intentions regarding the proposed transfer of population.

Sir Arnold Wilson, a Conservative member with a long record of support for fascist regimes in Germany and Italy, who had spent nineteen years in Arabic-speaking countries said that he believed in, the inevitability of partition and saw in it a better prospect of justice for both Arabs and Jews than one could hope to obtain by the “present state of an indissoluble marriage of incompatible spouses.”(122) He considered that it was possible to get men of good will to work together under the auspices of a third party and was confident that “in the long run, provided we do not attempt a compulsory transfer of population, the thing will work.”

Stating that there were 260,000 Arabs and 2000 Jews to be transferred, Wilson added that the Jews should give the fullest assurances to the Arabs who wished to remain in the Jewish State. He believed that many Arabs would stay since nationalism had not reached the point where they would willingly leave their ancestral lands. In a similar vein, Wilson said that the Arabs should give the fullest assurances to the many Jews who, he believed, would wish to remain in the Arab State. He believed that “population makes work and work makes population” so that the Jewish population in the area of the proposed Jewish State could be considerably increased “without any great transference of population.”(123)

Daniel Frankel was the Labour member for the Mile End division of Stepney, in the East End of London, an area which had a large Jewish concentration. Although a Jew, Frankel had never officially been associated with the Zionist movement. He was concerned that if the population transfer took place, it would place hundreds of thousands of Arab peasants (fellaheen) under feudal Arab landlords for an immeasurable length of time.

[The semi-feudal economy was the principal factor preventing the Arab peasant from attaining a higher standard of living. The landlord would often take 55 per cent of the gross yield of the tenant farmer, whilst the usurer was paid according to a rate of interest that ran from 25 to 100 per cent in the period between sowing and harvesting.] Frankel felt that the salvation of the Arab peasants would come from working side by side with Jews in the Jewish State.(124)

A similar point was made by Colonel Josiah C. Wedgwood, a distinguished military man. He sat as an independent Labour member and whilst remaining a member of the Labour Party did not acknowledge the authority of the Parliamentary Whip. Wedgwood began his speech by congratulating the Arabs on the admirable presentation of their case that afternoon. He considered that the proposed population transfer would not be just a transference of over two hundred thousand Arabs from Jewish to Arab territory, it would mean delivering the Arab peasants into the complete control of the effendi landlords. “Nationalism is very well, but for those 500,000 peasant cultivators in Palestine, ... their livelihood, comes before politics.”

Wedgwood strongly objected to “the extraordinary proposal” to transfer at least one hundred thousand Arabs from the proposed Jewish State; to deport them from their ancestral homes and plots of land, to buy land for them elsewhere “and to take them there and dump them.” We can see that Wedgwood was making a very harsh assessment of the Peel Commission's recommendations, since the Report devoted many paragraphs to the need for careful preparation before such a transfer be implemented.

Wedgwood complained that the Report approached transfer “as though it were a natural and normal thing to do” without having taken a word of evidence as to the acceptability of such a premise. In fact, the Peel Commission spent two months in Palestine and heard evidence from over a hundred witnesses. However, for most of the two months, the Arabs boycotted the Commission and not until the end of this period did their spokesmen give evidence of an extremist nature. Therefore any absence of evidence from Arabs regarding the acceptability of transfer was largely due to the Arab attitude towards the Commission.

Wedgwood paralleled the proposed Palestine transfer with the deportation from Crete of the Mohammedan minority who had begged to be allowed to stay and even offered to convert to Christianity, but whose offer was not accepted.(125) Sir Arnold Wilson interjected that a much fairer parallel was the Panjat Canal Colonies. He said that there was in progress a great transfer of labour from one end of Iraq to the other. He also considered that an administrative operation in a small country (Palestine) in 1937, could not be compared to the transfer of a people from Crete to Asia Minor in 1910.(126)

Wedgwood replied, “For goodness sake let the people who are to be transplanted have some say in the matter before their fate is sealed.” He objected to the Colonial Office's dictating to Parliament. [Certainty in a democratic country, the legislature should be a control on the Executive branch of Government.] Wedgwood considered that the House of Commons was a “better guardian of British honour and a better guardian of humane principles than the Colonial Office.”(127)

In a letter to “The Times”, published on the day of the Commons debate, Wedgwood wrote, “The 250,000 Arab cultivators in the Jewish State (the size of Kent) are to be deported and they will learn the fate of the 250,000 Moslems who were deported from Crete, who begged to be allowed to become Christians that they might stop in their homes. It was not thought they would become good Christians and they went to die in Turkey.”(128)

From a reading of the above comments of Colonel Wedgwood in the House of Commons and his letter to “The Times,” one might easily conclude that Wedgwood was violently anti-Zionist. However, he was a strong supporter of the Zionist cause. He had promoted the idea of Palestine as a seventh dominion within the British Commonwealth, and had written a book on the subject entitled “The Seventh Dominion.” This idea had even received the blessing of the Zionist Revisionist Party at their third world conference in Vienna in 1928.

James Armand Edmond de Rothschild, a Liberal member of Parliament, (son of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, “Father of the Yishuv”), who had served in France and Palestine during the First World War and was Chairman of the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association, began his speech by opposing the transfer proposal. “I dislike this idea of the transfer of Arabs elsewhere.” He had hoped that the Jews and Arabs could get together and develop Palestine. Rothschild felt that a small Jewish State would not solve the problems since agitators from the Arab State would foment yet more strife in the Jewish State. He discounted the parallel of Greece and Turkey since there the population to be transferred was larger and the distances were greater than in Palestine.

However, despite his “dislike” of “this idea”, Rothschild did accept the principle of transfer, but with certain provisos. “The Commission envisage transfer to the new Arab State, but there are greater opportunities in Trans-Jordan.” [To be accurate, the Peel Commission planned on transfer to all the areas of the proposed Arab State (including Transjordan), provided large-scale plans for immigration and development were executed]. “With regard to the urban population,” continued Rothschild, “there should be scope in the towns of the new Arab State.”(129) His prime aim here was to ensure that urban Arabs were not forced to become land labourers, a point also made later in the debate by Douglas Clifton Brown.

The recommendation of the Peel Commission for the partition of Palestine placed the Galilee with its almost wholly Arab population within the boundaries of the Jewish State. The population transfer from this area was to be effected only on a voluntary basis. The Arabs who would not be part of this voluntary transfer troubled two Members of Parliament.

The Conservative member, Colonel Douglas Clifton Brown considered it unfair that 125,000 Arabs of the Galilee, including 10,000 Druze Arabs, would be forced to become citizens of the Jewish State. He was also concerned that if transferred, those Arabs should not be subjected to a topographical change. He felt it would be unfair that the Arabs of the coastal town of Acre who were seamen and merchants might find themselves transferred to the plains of Beersheba, a town at the north of the Negev desert far removed from the coast, or that Arabs from the hills of Northern Galilee be moved to somewhere in the plains. He suggested, “If nothing else could be arranged this block of Arabs should be transferred to Syria rather than to Jewish territory.”(130) Here, Clifton Brown was exceeding the recommendations of the Peel Commission on the transfer of the Galilean Arabs.

A similar issue was raised by Anthony Crossley, a Conservative member who was an enthusiastic supporter of the Arab cause. He said that he was not going to oppose the principle of partition, adding that he was the first member of the House to state, “that it was necessary to segregate Arab from Jew in Palestine, and to divide them.” He then made two criticisms of the partition plan. Firstly, that the Jews had been given too much land; secondly that the completely Arab population in the Galilee - an area in which “there is no Jewish colonisation at all” - could suddenly find themselves in the Jewish State. Crossley felt that in order “to avoid friction in the future, it would be far better if that population was handed over to the Lebanon and Syria.”(131) Here we see that Crossley, a strong supporter of the Arabs, realised that it was necessary to separate Arabs and Jews completely, even to the extent of moving all the Galilean Arabs out of Palestine.

The Labour member, Thomas Williams, who was a member of both the Executive Committee of the Labour Party and the Shadow Cabinet questioned the ability of the Government to carry out such a transfer of population. Williams referred to the Peel Commission's suggestion that such a population transfer would call for the “highest statesmanship on the part of all concerned.” He asked whether, when the Government accepted the principle of partition, they also accepted the principle of transfer and whether, in particular they accepted the principle of compulsory transfer in the last resort. Williams was convinced that the proposed transfer of the nearly quarter of a million Arabs who were then living within the borders of the proposed Jewish State would create a problem with which the Government would be incapable of dealing “unless they manifest much higher statesmanship than they have manifested for a long period of time.” He asked whether it was the Government's intention to carry out the transfer of population, if partition were to be accepted in principle and worked out in detail.(132)

The debate in the House of Commons was concluded, the House resolving “That the proposals contained in Command Paper No. 5513 (the Peel Commission Report) relating to Palestine should be brought before the League of Nations with a view to enabling His Majesty's Government after adequate inquiry, to present to Parliament a definite scheme taking into full account all the recommendations of the Command Paper.”(133) The British Parliament did not reject any of the recommendations of the Peel Commission, including the population transfer proposal.

Ben-Gurion, however, after reading reports of the Parliamentary debates was rather pessimistic, in particular in connection with the transfer proposal. In his diary entry of 22 July, he wrote that the most doubtful item was the removal of the Arabs and in the event of its non-implementation, it would be just for the British to compensate the Jewish State with additional territory.(134)

The Parliamentary Debates in both Houses showed a diversity of opinion regarding the transfer of population. Three speakers directly supported the transfer proposals as recommended by the Commission. Two members in suggesting that the Arab population of the Galilee (which was intended to become part of the Jewish State) should be transferred to Syria (and Lebanon), were in favour of a more comprehensive transfer than that envisaged by the Peel Commission. Of these five supporters of transfer, three were supporters of the Arab cause, having realised the necessity of removing the Arab population from the area of the proposed Jewish State, in order to avoid future friction.

Two members spoke strongly against transfer. Another member began by opposing it in moderate terms, but during the course of his speech showed himself prepared to accept transfer with certain provisos. One member did not want to see a compulsory transfer. Two speakers were concerned that transfer might place Arab peasants under feudal Arab landlords. A few speakers were sceptical of the ability of the Government to effect this transfer. Finally, many members did not even mention the proposal to transfer population, in their speeches.

Following the debate in the House of Commons, “a group of Members of Parliament representative of responsible pro-Arab opinion in this country” submitted a letter to Ormsby-Gore, which he in turn passed on to the Cabinet.(135) There were twelve signatories to this letter. They included Douglas Clifton Brown, Anthony Crossley and Arnold Wilson, all of whom had spoken on the transfer of Arabs, in their speeches in the House of Commons.

In their letter, they wrote concerning transfer: “The principal obstacle to the successful formation of the proposed states is the existence of the large Arab minority within the borders of the Jewish State. We doubt the possibility of compulsory transference; but we do not question the need and desirability of transference on a voluntary basis.”(136) As we can see from this letter, even a pro-Arab Parliamentary lobby realised that it would be undesirable for Arabs to live in a Jewish state.

Permanent Mandates Commission

The year 1920 saw the creation of the Permanent Mandates Commission, whose function was to examine the reports of the various Mandatory Powers and present facts and recommendations to the Council of the League of Nations.

Its thirty-second (extraordinary) session, held in Geneva, Switzerland between 30 July and 18 August 1937, was devoted entirely to Palestine. As in the case of the British Parliamentary debates, the discussions of the Mandates Commission revealed a wide divergence of opinion on the validity of the conclusions of the Peel Commission, in particular with reference to the workability of the Mandate and the desirability of partition.

The British member of the Permanent Mandates Commission, Lord Hailey, was in favour of the Peel plan. He considered that a sound scheme of partition would be greatly preferable to a continuation of the Mandate. However, Baron Van Asbeck took the opposite view. The Chairman, Pierre Orts believed that partition was in harmony with the spirit of the Covenant of the League of Nations and of the Balfour Declaration and that it took into account the principle of the dual obligation towards both Jews and Arabs. However, Orts considered that too early an establishment of independent Arab and Jewish States might be dangerous and suggested instead the establishment of separate Mandates for the Jewish and the Arab States.

During the course of the Commission's sessions, the British Colonial Secretary, William Ormsby-Gore, was subjected to both an oral and a written critical examination of the partition plan, including searching questions regarding the possibly compulsory transfer of population.

At one of the early sessions, Ormsby-Gore made a general statement regarding the proposed population transfer. He referred to the recommendation in the Peel Report that efforts be made to arrange some transfer of population. “But this,” said Ormsby-Gore, “will take time, and do not let the Mandates Commission imagine that transfers of population - particularly of Arab cultivators wedded for generations to their land - is going to be an easy matter!”

He suggested that the “cause of a lot of trouble already in Palestine” had been cases “where Jews have acquired land and displaced the cultivators.”(137)

However, in 1931, an investigation carried out by Lewis French, into allegations that Jewish land purchases were leaving Arab farmers landless, had found these allegations to be largely groundless.

Large tracts of land in Palestine were owned by absentee landlords, frequently residing in distant Arab capitals and worked by tenant farmers who were Arab peasants (fellaheen). Lands purchased by Jews could only be registered when the Registrar of Lands was satisfied that each tenant farmer involved would “retain sufficient land in the District or elsewhere for the maintenance of himself and his family.”(138)

Incidentally, the word “elsewhere” in this Ordinance and the phrase “other land” in a 1922 Ordinance requiring compensation of tenants by cash or “other land”, indicate that the British authorities did not disapprove of the transfer of Arab tenant farmers from one place to another.

Ormsby-Gore warned the Commission that the transfer of Arab families out of the proposed Jewish State would be a “slow laborious process”. He then tendered the views of his Government regarding the possibilities of transfer “assuming the Arabs are prepared to move.” The Peel Report had spoken of a compulsory transfer, if necessary, for the Arabs of the Plains. Until then, Ormsby-Gore had made no reservations in all his pronouncements on this subject. This was the first time that he had spoken of the need for agreement by the Arabs to such a transfer. It would seem that under “cross-examination” by the members of this Commission, and opposition from certain quarters, including some Jewish sources, he was put on the defensive and thus modified his stand on compulsory transfer. However, at a later meeting of the Commission, he defended the use of the term “compulsory”.

Ormsby-Gore informed the Commission that the British Government was in favour of the speedy appointment of an expert body to investigate the question of transfer, in order to advance a solution by means of partition. The Peel Report had in fact called for the immediate establishment of such a body, and nearly a month earlier in his meeting with Weizmann, Ormsby-Gore had spoken about setting up a committee which might include Sir John Campbell, who had had experience in population transfer. Ormsby-Gore told the Commission that the British Government already had some data on the question of transfer from one of their most experienced agricultural officers who was confident that one hundred thousand Arab families could be resettled in Transjordan alone. This was apart from the possibilities of resettlement of Arabs within the areas of the proposed Arab State, west of the Jordan.(139)

The question of a voluntary transfer as distinct from the compulsory transfer proposed by the Peel Commission came up during the proceedings. The Chairman of the Commission asked for confirmation that the “proposed transfer of the rural Arab populations would only be effected if these populations freely consented.” Ormsby-Gore replied that that was his view “as at present advised.” He defended the Peel Commission's use of the term “compulsory” saying that the Commission had felt that “after a period of trial, the possibility of using compulsion might be considered.” [The Peel Commission did not in fact use the expression “after a period of trial” as suggested by Ormsby-Gore, but “in the last resort.”]

Ormsby-Gore informed the Commission that “he was not prepared to commit himself there and then to the principle of eventual compulsion”, adding that “compulsion” involved a long preliminary trial period of voluntary transfer, after which the matter would be referred back to the League of Nations for discussion before any possible “compulsion” could take place. Neither the League nor the British Government, said Ormsby-Gore, should be asked to commit themselves at present to the principle of compulsory transfer. He added that he personally would hesitate to envisage a compulsory transfer to an Arab state without the prior agreement of the Government of the said Arab State.(140) We should note here that Ormsby-Gore spoke only of seeking agreement for transfer from the receiving Arab state and not from each individual Arab to be transferred.

Towards the end of the proceedings, in answering a written question about the natural rights of the native population, Ormsby-Gore said that “he did not like talk about compulsory transfer.” He added that he believed that quite a number of Arabs when faced with the fait accompli of a Jewish State would for “sentimental reasons” prefer to live “in an Arab atmosphere under an Arab government with Arab ways of life” rather than remain under a Jewish government. Ormsby-Gore was also doubtful whether Arabs would want to live under a Mandatory Power. He was of the opinion that provided there was a genuine Arab State and a genuine Jewish State, the operation of political factors would bring about a large voluntary transfer of population.(141)

As will be recalled, the Peel Commission had quoted the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey in 1923, as a precedent. Their final observation on the subject was that the courage of the Greek and Turkish statesmen had been justified by the resultant cordial relations between these two countries. On this Ormsby-Gore asked, “The question was: Were responsible statesmen justified in taking not a pessimistic view, not the most optimistic view, but a reasonably optimistic view?” He maintained that they were.(142)

Towards the end of the proceedings, this comparison with the Greco-Turkish transfer came up again in a reply given by Ormsby-Gore to a written question. He considered that the problem of the Arab transfer was easier even than the Greco-Turkish interchange of population, since the Arabs would be moving only a short distance to a society with the same language, civilisation and religion as themselves.(143)

A major objective, if not the major objective of Zionism was a massive Jewish immigration from the Diaspora into Palestine. How were all these Jewish immigrants to be absorbed, in view of the relatively small area of the proposed Jewish State? In reply to a question by Mlle. Valentine Dannevig, a Norwegian social worker and member of this Commission, regarding increasing Jewish immigration, Ormsby-Gore offered several alternative methods of absorbing a large Jewish immigration, including population transfer. He explained that the Zionists had estimated from experience gained in the last fifteen years, that they could “by their scientific methods enable at least three Jews to earn a livelihood for every one Arab who was displaced” from a given area of land. [Ben-Gurion had estimated at least four or five Jews for every Arab transferred.] Ormsby-Gore concluded that the concentration of Jewish brains, money and effort combined with the complete absence of restrictions, political or otherwise on Jewish immigration into the area of the proposed Jewish State would enable the full absorption of a large Jewish population.

Both the Balfour Declaration and the Preamble and Paragraph 2 of the Palestine Mandate, state “that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” In the continuation of her question on Jewish immigration, Valentine Dannevig asked how such a transfer of Arab population could be effected without prejudicing these rights. To this Ormsby-Gore replied that the Mandate guaranteed the civil and religious rights of the Arab population of Palestine, although these rights had never been clearly defined. He commented that although a specific obligation regarding these rights would be operative in the Jewish State, “it would be fatal to the political, if not also to the economic success of the Jewish State for the Jews to make a ruthless or over-speedy attempt to get the Arabs in that State out of it.” He explained that the rights of a native population, whether or not formally guaranteed, were in British eyes, inherent and known as “natural rights.”(144)

It should be noted that in his answer to Dannevig's question, Ormsby-Gore made no suggestion that the proposed transfer of Arabs from the Jewish State would contravene the terms of the Balfour Declaration or the Mandate. Nor had the six members of the Peel Commission who included lawyers and experienced diplomats, obviously well acquainted with every word of the Mandate, considered their unanimous proposal for population transfer, compulsory if necessary, to be incompatible with the terms of the Mandate. There is, of course, also the possibility that any incompatibility with the terms of the Mandate was felt to be irrelevant, since the Peel Commission proposed terminating the Mandate and replacing it by Partition.

The Chairman of the Permanent Mandates Commission then commented that his understanding of Dannevig's question was of a more limited scope than that attributed to it by Ormsby-Gore. According to the Chairman's understanding of the question, Dannevig was concerned that the Peel Commission's proposal to transfer the Arab population out of the Jewish State “might possibly lead to compulsory surrender of immovable property for example, by means of expropriation”, thus causing an infringement of the rights of the “non-Jewish population of Palestine.” In answer to the Chairman, Dannevig said that she was not only concerned with the “protection of property, but also the protection of persons.”(145)

One might add here, that although “property” is a far less sensitive subject than “persons” during an exchange of population, the question of immovable property must be considered very carefully. It took seven years to settle the property disputes following the Greco-Turkish population exchange. However, after settling these problems, the two countries signed a treaty of friendship.

In the Palestinian transfer, a further complication in this matter of immovable property arose. The Commission had received a letter from the Arab side pointing out that there was land belonging to certain Moslem religious foundations within the area of the proposed Jewish State. However, Ormsby-Gore pointed out that under Koranic law, while such land could not be sold, it could be exchanged for land of equivalent value. This had frequently been accomplished all over the Moslem world.(146)

Dannevig asked whether there was “any hope that Arabs would wish to leave the Jewish State, where they would have a better chance of livelihood than as settlers in a poor country which would have to be developed with all the toil and difficulty which fell to the lot of settlers in new countries?” [This question fails to mention that the areas designated as the future Jewish State had been “developed with all the toil and difficulty” of Jewish settlers who since the 1880s had laboured day and night to develop a Jewish homeland. In addition to draining malarial swamps and establishing agricultural settlements, the Jews had built cities which included amongst other facilities, health and educational institutions. This Jewish development had acted as an incentive for Arabs from neighbouring countries to move into Palestine, most particularly to areas of large Jewish concentrations, in order to take advantage of these social services and of the employment opportunities.]

In reply to Dannevig, Ormsby-Gore answered that “nothing was more remarkable in the history of the last few years in Palestine than the complete confounding of all those who took what might be called the economic interpretation of history.” He agreed that were it to be necessary to transfer the Arabs “long distances to a strange country” there might be difficulties. However, since the Arabs were to be transferred a mere few miles to a “people with the same language, the same civilisation and the same religion,” the transfer would be easier from a geographical and practical point of view, than the Greco-Turkish exchange of population. He felt that although not all the Arabs would be willing to be transferred some would wish for it on grounds of sentiment.” He was confident that if land was prepared and homesteads provided not too far distant from their present homes, many Arabs would utilise the opportunity to move. He concluded by assuring the Commission, that if the League of Nations approved the partition plan, the British Government would make an intensive study of Transjordan in order to determine the cost and areas suitable for resettlement.(147)

Transjordan occupied about seventy-six per cent of the area of the original Mandated Palestine and Ormsby-Gore explained that the reluctance of the people and Government of Transjordan to develop the country “had been entirely due to the fear that Trans-Jordan too, was to be regarded as an area of Jewish settlement.” He added that once this fear, (regarded by the Arabs as “the advance guard of Jewish aspirations for political power”), was shown to be groundless, and the development of Transjordan by and for the Arabs established, the situation would change. Ormsby-Gore considered that there was great potential for settling large numbers of Arabs in Transjordan where they would earn a better livelihood than they could hope for, while living as they were, on the “hills of Palestine.”(148)

The final stage in the proceedings was an exchange of views between the Members of the Commission concerning possible solutions for the future administration of Palestine.

Dannevig, in enumerating some of the advantages and disadvantages of partition, regarded a “large Arab minority in the proposed Jewish State leading to the proposal for a transfer of population,” as a disadvantage.(149) [Ben-Gurion, in his diary entry on the advantages and disadvantages of this partition plan had included the transfer of Arabs from the Jewish State as an advantage!]

The Chairman considered various possible solutions. He felt that one of the difficulties of the partition proposal was that “the Jewish State would again be exposed to the odium inevitably attaching to the transfer of the Arab rural population, no matter how that transfer might be effected.”

Over forty years earlier, Herzl had made the same point, but had concluded that a “bad odour” for a period following the removal of an indigenous population was worth the long-term result. Similarly, the Peel Report was concerned with finding a long-term solution of the Palestine question which included the establishment of a Jewish State within Palestine.

Any long-term solution was liable to cause short term inconveniences or unpleasantness, a fact that the Chairman of the Mandates Commission obviously recognised when he admitted that in spite of the odium inevitably attaching to it, “transfer was an essential condition if the appeal to the spirit of the Balfour Declaration were not to be revealed as serving merely as a lure.”(150)

In his concluding remarks, the Chairman again declared that any solution must be in conformity with the “spirit of the Balfour Declaration” and this meant the creation of a Jewish State capable of setting up a Jewish National Home within its borders. “A territory of the limited size” proposed by the Peel Commission for the Jewish State “would not fulfil that condition, particularly if the proposed transfer of the Arab rural population proved to be impracticable,” added the Chairman. He felt that it was illusory to imagine that the Arabs would “willingly migrate to Transjordan” and asked whether there had been a case in history where an entire population had abandoned their country of origin, home to their ancestors for generations, in order to make a fresh start by settling in another country where the soil was less fertile for the sole reason of a “feeling of racial community.”(151) The Chairman was effectively saying that since it was very unlikely indeed that the Arabs would voluntarily leave the Jewish State and since the fulfillment of the spirit of the Balfour Declaration would not be possible if the Arabs remained in the Jewish State, a compulsory transfer of the Arabs would be inevitable.

At the close of the session, the Permanent Mandates Commission submitted a Report to the Council of the League of Nations which included a “Preliminary Opinion.”(152) The Report stated that the Members of the Commission were formulating their views on the desirability of maintaining the existing mandate, and on the advantages and drawbacks of the various alternative systems which might be contemplated regarding the future of Palestine. These systems included, the Partition of the Territory, the Creation of Two Independent States, Provisional `Cantonisation' and Two Mandates.

Under the option of “Partition of the Territory” was a section dealing with the proposal for the transfer of population, which read, “The Commission would be failing in its duty if it did not draw the Council's attention to the delicate problem of the transfer of populations from one territory to the other which might be necessary if there was a partition. In order to guarantee that the advantages of such a transfer should outweigh the disadvantages, particular care would have to be given to ensure that it was carried out with the greatest fairness.”(153)

In other words, the Permanent Mandates Commission was prepared to accept the transfer of the Arabs from the Jewish State, provided it was carried out with due care.

League of Nations

The League of Nations was established in 1920 with the object of promoting international peace and security. It functioned through an Assembly, a Council and a permanent Secretariat. The Assembly consisted of representatives of all the members of the League and had six standing committees, the “Sixth Committee” dealt with political questions. The members of the Council were drawn from among the members of the League, some on a permanent basis and others elected for terms of three years.

On 14 September 1937, the 98th session of the Council discussed the work of the Permanent Mandates Commission on the Palestine question. The meeting was addressed by the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, but no specific mention was made of population transfer.(154)

Among the many subjects discussed by the Sixth Committee (Political Questions) of the Assembly was the Palestine Mandate, on which delegates from a number of countries spoke. These included the Moslem states of Egypt, Iran and Iraq; countries with a high Jewish population such as Poland and Lithuania; and also a number of European and American States. However, only two of the speakers directly mentioned the transfer of population, namely the delegates from Norway and Albania.

Christian Lange, the delegate from Norway and a Nobel Peace prizewinner, considered that the area allocated by the Peel Commission for the Jewish State was too restricted. He reminded the Committee that “it had been hoped to open up Trans-Jordan also to Jewish immigration”, but since nothing had been done in that direction, that possibility now seemed to have been excluded. He suggested increasing the area of the proposed Jewish state by including “the triangle situated in the south of Palestine between the Dead Sea, the Gulf of Akaba and the Mediterranean,” namely the area of the Negev. He pointed out that although it was a desert with “a very small scattered population” of nomadic Arab tribes, it was possible to sink wells and undertake irrigation projects in order to provide for a large colony of farmers. This would involve a large financial outlay, but as Lange pointed out “the Jews had been able to overcome financial difficulties in the north of Palestine.” With regard to the Arabs then living in the Negev, Lange suggested that if necessary they “could be transferred elsewhere at a relatively low cost.”(155)

Moshe Shertok, who had been present in the chamber to hear Lange, was pleased with his entire speech.(156)

The delegate from Albania, Medhi Frasheri, had been, under the Turks, Governor of Palestine and had represented Albania at the League of Nations for many years. In the course of his speech he gave a historical summary of Palestine in the twentieth century and observed that promises had been made to Jews regarding the establishment of a Jewish National Home which had been “embodied in various acts of the League of Nations, in particular the Balfour Declaration.” However, he added that “Nobody of course, contemplated turning the Arabs out of Palestine in order to allow the Jews to take their place.”(157)

It should be mentioned that the “promises” and “various acts” referred to by Frasheri, involved the whole of Palestine west of the Jordan, Transjordan and part of Syria. Subsequent partitions had, however, removed Syria and Transjordan from the Jewish National Home, and the Peel Report was proposing the removal of a large part of Western Palestine, thus necessitating the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Transjordan, south of the Sea of Galilee.

In the following year, however, Frasheri, speaking as a former Governor on the Palestine problem, suggested separate zones for Jews and Arabs “with minorities to be exchanged on both sides.”(158)

The Plenary Session(159) of the Assembly was addressed by the delegates from Egypt and Iraq, who spoke on the Palestine question, but neither speaker directly mentioned the transfer of population.

On 30 September 1937, the Assembly adopted a resolution in which it “Expresses its conviction that the problem of Palestine, which is at present before the Council, will be equitably settled, account being taken to the fullest possible extent of all the legitimate interests at stake.”(160)

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