Numerous population transfers have been carried out during this century in many parts of the world. The ethical considerations underlying such transfers have been debated since the First World War.
Schechtman, in his study of “Postwar Population Transfers in Europe 1945 - 1955” writes, “Lessons of the immediate postwar era and the experience of the war years have brought many statesmen, scholars and writers to the conclusion that the ethnic sifting of the minorities is the most constructive answer to many of the territorial and minorities problems in several European danger zones.” He quotes authorities who supported the necessity for population transfer in the interests of world peace and universal brotherhood.(1)
There are also other authorities quoted by Schechtman who emphatically reject any compulsory population exchange as a denial of individual rights,(2) while a third group of scholars and writers take a middle of the road stance.(3)
Of course, mass transfer of a population, or for that matter transfer of individuals is not an experiment to be undertaken lightly. However, as a former director of the Pan-European Union wrote of population transfer, “To cut the cancer from a sick body is not cruel, it is necessary.”(4)
Very few people have had the courage to support publicly the transfer of Arabs from Palestine. Most leaders of the Zionist movement publicly opposed such transfers. However, a study of their confidential correspondence, private diaries and minutes of closed meetings, made available to the public under the “thirty year rule”, reveals the true feelings of the Zionist leaders on the transfer question. We see from this classified material that Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Weizmann, Sharett and Ben-Zvi, to mention just a few, were really in favour of transferring the Arabs from Palestine. Attempts to hide transfer proposals made by past Zionist leaders has led to a “rewriting of history” and the censoring and amending of official documents!
Many non-Jews were also in favour of transfer and publicly proposed various transfer plans. These proponents of transfer, included two official bodies, namely the Peel Commission, which unanimously recommended transfer, compulsory if necessary, and the British Labour Party who resolved to “encourage” the Arabs to leave.
Four Nobel Peace Prizewinners also proposed population transfer - Sir Norman Angell, Christian Lange and Philip Noel-Baker in the specific case of Palestine, and Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, who was the proponent of the Greco-Turkish exchange which later formed a precedent for the Peel Commission's recommendations for Palestine. Two United States Presidents, Roosevelt and Hoover, and Czecho-Slovakian President Benes, also put forward their own proposals for the transfer of the Arabs from Palestine.
Were the non-Jews who made such proposals exclusively non-Jewish Zionists? Not at all. There were a number of anti-Zionists who felt that it was in the best interests of the Arabs of Palestine to be transferred out of a Jewish State. Thus, Harry St. John Philby was in favour of transfer, as were the prominent Arab, Mojli Amin and the rulers of Arab countries such as Iraq, Transjordan and possibly Saudi Arabia.
Many of those who opposed proposals for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine claimed that it was unethical to displace Arabs who had lived in the country for “very long periods” of time. Some of these opponents quoted these “very long periods” in terms of centuries, others thirteen hundred years, and still others claimed that the Arabs of Palestine were the descendents of the Biblical Canaanites. Historically, however, such statements have little or no basis. A booklet published by the “Israel Academic Committee on the Middle East” brings numerous references to show the complete desolation of Palestine in the mid-nineteenth century. According to their research, a substantial segment of the “so-called Arabs of Palestine” were “migrants from the surrounding lands - and even farther afield - who have arrived in the country in course of the last 100 - 150 years.”(5)
Furthermore, a quantitative study by the German-Jewish jurist, Ernst Frankenstein, concluded that as at 1939, “75 per cent of the Arab population of Palestine are either immigrants themselves or descendents of persons who immigrated into Palestine during the last hundred years, for the most part after 1882.”(6)
It is easy to dismiss population transfers as “racist” or “Nazi”. This is, however, a historical error since successful population transfers were taking place well before the Nazi era. Even Leonard Woolf, who described population transfers as Nazi policy, admitted that sometimes such transfers were necessary.(7)
We have also seen that support for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine was not a prerogative of the right wing. In fact the opposite was usually found to be the case. The first published plan for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine was put forward by Nachman Syrkin, a founder of socialist Zionism. A number of members of “Brit Shalom”, a group advocating a bi- national state in Palestine recommended the voluntary transfer of Arabs from Palestine. The Peel Report recommendation for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine, compulsory if necessary, was on the whole supported by the members of Mapai (Labour Zionists), whereas the Revisionists strongly opposed it. Finally, the proposal to encourage the Arabs to emigrate from Palestine was made by the British Labour Party and not by the British Conservative Party. It was only in the 1940s that the Revisionists (from America) came out in favour of transfer.
It is true that the extreme left wing party, Hashomer Hazair was consistently very vocal in its opposition to population transfer. However, “actions speak louder than words” and the actions of Hashomer Hazair in displacing Arabs in its own settlement programme, and the population transfers in mixed Mapai/Hashomer Hazair kibbutzim makes further comment superfluous!
In conclusion, we can say that in general, the various proposals for the transfer of the Arabs from Palestine were intended to remove the friction, either present or future, resulting from an Arab minority in a Jewish State and to enable each nation to live amongst its own people. It was considered, that after the initial trauma of transfer, both Arabs and Jews would live unmolested by each other in their own States and that each people would be able to develop the under-populated and under-developed areas of their respective States.