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*Editor’s Note: This is the fifteenth installment in the most recent series of articles from Jewish Press Online contributor, Alex Grobman, PhD 

Attempts to assure the Arabs they had more to gain materially by embracing the efforts of Jews to immigrate and settle the land of Israel was an ongoing process. Zionist historian Yosef Gorny notes that in 1907, Yitzhak Epstein, an intellectual and teacher, declared that the Arabs “must, for its own good let the Jews into the country, for it is powerless to improve its situation and to extricate itself from its poverty and ignorance by its own efforts; only our people can provide for their needs.” It was to be a win-win situation. The Jews would reclaim their homeland and the Arabs would be able to improve their lives. This would hasten “the renaissance of two ancient and gifted Semitic people with great potentialities, who complement each other.” [1]


In 1921, Winston Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, echoed the same theme of “economic blessing” on a visit to Palestine. He urged the Arabs to give Zionism a “fair chance,” since Zionism would be “accompanied by a general diffusion of wealth and well-being and by an advance in the social, scientific and cultural life of the people as a whole.” He concluded by urging the Arabs to recognize the promising possibilities that lay ahead: “If instead of sharing miseries through quarrels you will share blessings through cooperation, a bright and tranquil future lies before your country. The earth is a generous mother. She will produce in plentiful abundance for all her children if they will but cultivate her soil in justice and peace.” [2]

Lieutenant-Colonel F. H. Kisch, Chairman of the Jerusalem Zionist Executive, tried to improve relations between the two communities in the hope it would bring about reconciliation. In the February 7, 1923 entry of his diary he quoted Arthur Ruppin, director of the Palestine Office of the Zionist Organization in Jaffa, who said: “Fight the political issue of Zionism if you like, but cooperate with me economically because it is in your interest to do so.” [3]

In the 1930s, when the Arabs rioted over increased Jewish immigration, David Ben-Gurion, who was elected to the Zionist Executive, thought the Arabs might be more receptive to Jewish settlement if he could demonstrate how it would benefit them economically. In 1934, he went to see Musa Alami, a young “moderate” Arab lawyer, who served as the Private Secretary to Arthur Wauchope, High Commissioner for Palestine. When Ben-Gurion discussed “the benefits of our land settlement held for [his people],” Alami’s response was quite telling: “That’s true,” he said, “but we don’t want your blessing. We prefer the land to remain impoverished, barren and empty until we ourselves are capable of doing what you are doing. And if it takes another century, then we will wait a hundred years.” [4]

Ben Gurion confessed that he “like all of the early Zionists” had “believed in the theory that our labour [to economically improve Eretz Israel] would convey a blessing to the Arab peoples.” He admitted he was “naïve then to imagine …that the Arabs think like us.” In 1936, for example, he acknowledged that “the economic blessing” had no impact on Arab leaders: “Even if they admit—and not all of them do—that our immigration brings material blessing to the land, [t]hey say—and from the Arab viewpoint I think rightly so-‘None of your honey and none of your sting.’ [5]

Proof the Arabs would gain substantially from Jewish presence was found in a survey conducted by the Arab community as the British Mandate was about to be terminated, just before 1947-1949. At this

point, the Jewish community had increased to 630,000 or 30 percent of the population. Since 1936, the “relative size of the Jewish population to the Arab population” stayed practically the same, despite the number of legal and illegal Jewish emigrants. This occurred because the Arab birth rate was slightly higher than that of the Jews, and because during the period of the Mandate (July 24,1922-May 14, 1948), Palestine had assimilated 100,000 legal and illegal Arab immigrants and their progeny. [6]

The Arabs benefited significantly as a result of this increase. Their economy advanced beyond that of the other bordering Arab countries, and their birth rate and life expectancy rose. Government sponsored educational and health institutions, that mainly provided for Arabs increased. Seventy percent of the tax revenue that funded these institutions were paid by Jews. Most of the government employees who worked in the police department, the courts, the railroads and public works were Arabs. In other words, the position of the Arabs in Palestine was “strong and secure.” The Jewish National Home “did not displace or uproot the Arab population. On the contrary—it accelerated the rate of a symbiotic relationship with their Jewish neighbors. The Arabs who had no contact with Jews enjoyed a slower rate of development. [7]

Yet, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Zionist Revisionist movement, understood the futility of trying to convince the Arabs that their lives would be better because of the Jewish presence in Palestine. As far back as November 1937, Jabotinsky publicly warned of the folly of trying to entice the Arabs with economic riches. In the November 26, 1937 edition of South Africa’s The Jewish Herald he said, “The Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains…To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow upon them is infantile. This childish fantasy… comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.” [8]

Furthermore, “As long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us,” he proclaimed” they will refuse to give up this hope in return for either kind words or for bread and butter, because they are not a rabble, but a living people. And when a living people yields in matters of such a vital character it is only when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of us, because they can make no breach in the iron wall. Not till then will they drop their extremist leaders whose watchword is “Never!” [9]

A Final Note

“The Jews were forced to set up their state by themselves with only the moral authority of the United Nations partition resolution behind them, but with no assistance against armed invasion,” asserted Dr. Jorge García Granados, the Republic of Guatemala ambassador to the UN, and a member of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine(UNSCOP). “Their state did not come to them as a gift: they created it as the price of great struggle, in the same way in which every people throughout history has won freedom.” [10]

For all the well documented reasons, the evidence is clear that Jewish purchases of the tracts of formerly Arab-owned lands was part of a systematic Arab disposition of real property for which they envisioned no productive return by further holding on. The transactions were made freely, with no coercion, and

with well-defined, recognizable economic benefit to the sellers, but significant financial risk to the purchasers. Any argument to the contrary defies fact and proof.

Approaches to find a solution to the impasse fell on deaf ears. Speaking for the Palestinian Arab leadership at the London Conference in February 1939, Jamal Husseini was adamant about preventing further Jewish immigration lest they become the majority in Palestine; precluding Jews from purchasing Arab lands; abandoning the idea of establishing a Jewish National Home; abrogating the British Mandate and replacing it with a treaty comparable to the one between Great Britain and Iraq, creating an independent Arab state in Palestine. [11]

On February 6, 1948, Jamal Husseini, representing the Higher National Committee(AHC), the central political organization of the Arab Palestinians in Mandatory Palestine, wrote to UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie that, “The Arabs of Palestine…will never submit or yield to any Power going to Palestine to enforce partition. The only way to establish partition is first to wipe them out — man, woman and child,” which is precisely what the Arabs had planned for the Jews. [12]

The Palestinian Arab delegation and the British Government could not have predicted that the independent Jewish state of Israel would be founded in less than ten years later in an area 77 percent of the area of Palestine west of Jordan. Neither would they have envisioned that the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon that invaded the new state would be defeated by the Israeli army—even though the population of the invading countries totaled 30 million, and that of the restored state of Israel numbered 650,000. [13]

Perhaps Lieutenant-Colonel Kisch understood it best that if there is ever to be peace between Jews and the Palestinian Arabs, they will not be able to achieve it alone without outside help. “It is, and always has been, my conviction,” he said, “that the understanding which we have to reach with the Palestinian Arabs will be achieved only by our developing relations with the larger Arab world, that is, with the real leaders who enjoy unquestioned authority in the neighbouring Arab countries.” [14]


[1] Yosef Gorny, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882-1948: A Study of Ideology (London: Oxford University Press, 1987), 44-45.

[2] Martin Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007), 60-61.

[3] F.H. Kisch, Palestine Diary (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1938), 32.

[4] Zaki Shalom, David Ben-Gurion, the State of Israel, and the Arab World, 1949-1956 (Portland, Oregon: Sussex Academic Press, 2002),6; David Ben-Gurion, My Talks With Arab Leaders (Jerusalem, Keter Books, 1972),15.

[5] David Ben-Gurion, My Talks With Arab Leaders op.cit. 80, 216; Zaki Shalom, David Ben-Gurion, the State of Israel, and the Arab World, 1949-1956 (Portland, Oregon: Sussex Academic Press, 2002), 6; Musa Alami, “The Lesson of Palestine,” The Middle East Journal Volume 3 Number 4 (October 1949): 375.

[6] Arieh L. Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land Settlement and the Arabs 1878-1948 (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 2006), 282- 283; 282-283; Palestine: A Study if Jewish, Arab,

and British Policies Esco Foundation for Palestine, Inc. Volume One (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947), 616-617.

[7] Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession, op.cit. 282- 283; Alex Ben, Arthur Ruppin: Memoirs, Diaries, Letters (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971), 115.

[8] Vladimir Jabotinsky, “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs),” The Jewish Herald (November 26, 1937) reprinted by the Middle East Forum; Hillel Halkin, Jabotinsky: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).


[10] Jorge Garcia-Granados, The Birth of Israel: The Drama As I Saw It (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), vii-viii.

[11] Ben-Gurion, My Talks with Arab Leaders (Jerusalem, Keter Books, 1972),216-217.

[12] Trygve Lie, In the Cause of Peace: Seven Years with the United Nations (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1954), 165.

[13] Ben-Gurion, My Talks with Arab Leaders op.cit.266.

[14] Kisch, op.cit. 361.

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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.