Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Monday 15 November 2010

British Plans for the Resettlement of Palestinian Arabs

Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis will know that from time to time I delve into historical archives, and it’s something I’ll continue to do. The article below isn’t by me, however – it was written 30 years ago by Professor Joseph Nedava, a political scientist at the University of Haifa (citation details at the end).

Let me, as a prelude, explain who some of the people mentioned in the article are, since they may not be familiar to non-British or younger readers. Robert Boothby (1900-86) was a long-serving, very colourful Conservative MP who was given a life peerage as Baron Boothby in 1958. During the 1930s he was strongly anti-Appeasement. Richard Crossman (1907-74) was a Labour MP and Cabinet Minister well-known for his support of Israel. Like Boothby, he was familiar to television viewers , often appearing in political discussion programmes. William Ormsby-Gore (1885-1964) was a Conservative MP from 1910-38, when he succeeded his father as Baron Harlech. During 1921-22 he was British representative to the League of Nations' Permanent Mandates Commission, and from 1922-29 – except briefly in 1924, when Labour was in power – was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. From 1936-38 he was Colonial Secretary. Sir Alec Kirkbride (1897-1978), who served as an officer under General Allenby from 1916-21, was Governor of Acre (1922-27 and 1937-39). One of Britain’s principal advisors to King Abdullah, he was Deputy Resident in Transjordan (1927-1937), Resident (1939-46), and then Ambassador to Jordan. Richard Meinertzhagen (1878-1967) was an army officer who served under General Allenby, attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and was involved in the creation of the Mandate; he came of a non-Jewish merchant banking family and was, incidentally, the nephew of Beatrice Webb. Hugh Dalton (1885-1962) was a Labour politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1945-47. St John Philby (1885-1960), father of Soviet spy Kim Philby, was an Arabist explorer and intelligence officer.

Many a historian is responsible for the injection of a myth into recent Jewish history; they claim that the underlying causes of the present Israeli-Arab conflict are to be ascribed to the error of omission of the Zionist leaders in not perceiving the existence of a latent Arab problem – a problem which wide expansion of the Zionist settlement could only exacerbate.

This, however, is clearly a misconception. Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, was not blind to realities. When he visited Palestine in 1898 he found an almost empty country with a relatively small Arab population (estimated by some reliable authorities at 250,000). He saw no reason to regard them as a potentially hostile element, and he sincerely believed that they would easily be integrated into a sovereign Jewish State, reaping all the prospective benefits due to a loyal minority. In his Utopian novel Altneuland Herzl paints in most idyllic terms a multi-racial society in a prosperous Holy Land.

Israel Zangwill
Of the “Founding Fathers” of modern Zionism, Israel Zangwill was the only one to deny the possibility of peaceful Jewish-Arab co-existence in the future Jewish State. In his mind there was no room for both peoples in this small country, and as “we cannot allow the Arabs to block so valuable a piece of historic reconstruction ... therefore we must gently persuade them [the Arabs] to ‘trek’. After all, they have all Arabia with its millions of square miles ... and Israel has not a square inch.” (The Voice of Jerusalem, London, 1920, p. 93.)

Zangwill’s original view caused quite a furor [sic] in official Zionist circles in 1919, and Max Nordau expressed a well-established consensus when he wrote to him from Madrid (15 January 1919):
“...The stand you have taken in the Arab question seems to me regrettable. It’s no use qualifying your scheme as your own individual idea – we have not to count on the good faith of our eternal enemies, and henceforward they will quote you as their authority for the accusation that, not you Israel Zangwill, but ‘the’ Jews, all the Jews, are an intolerant lot dreaming only violence and high-handed dealings and expulsion of non-Jews and longing for the continuation of Joshua’s methods after an enforced interruption of 3400 years or so.” (Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem.)
Zangwill’s views, though unusual, had an impact on various British statesmen, and their effect was particularly felt on the eve of the Balfour Declaration (1917). Intimation of a possible transfer of the Palestinian Arab population to the neighbouring states can be seen in the early drafts of the Declaration. This was brought out as late as 1963 in Lord Boothby’s contribution to the BBC Third Programme’s tribute to Dr Weizmann. He stated that “the original Balfour Declaration made provision for the Arabs to be moved elsewhere, more or less”. (Jewish Chronicle, London, 3 January 1964, p. 7)

Richard Crossman
A lively controversy in the British-Jewish press followed Lord Boothby’s broadcast. The Jewish Chronicle categorically disclaimed the allegation, contending that all the versions of the Declaration were on record, and “the displacement of the Arabs was never considered or thought of, either on the British or the Zionist side”. (Ibid.) Lord Boothby stood his ground, reiterating in his rejoinder that “at the time of the original Balfour Declaration, some resettlement of the Arabs in Palestine east of the Jordan was envisaged following the establishment of the National Home”. (Ibid., 17 Jan., p. 7)  He based himself on an essay written by Richard Crossman on Weizmann, as well as on Sir Alec Kirkbride’s memoirs. (Sir Alec Kirkbride, as a British civil servant, was closely associated with the Hashemite family in Transjordan for many years. In his book A Crackle of Thorns, London, 1956, pp. 19-20, he writes: “... the remote and undeveloped areas which lay to the east of the [Jordan] river... were intended to serve as a reserve of land for use in the resettlement of Arabs once the National Home for the Jews in Palestine ... became an accomplished fact. There was no intention at that stage of forming an independent Arab state.”)

Moreover, Lord Boothby, who proclaimed himself a life-long Zionist, was absolutely convinced that a massive immigration of Jews to their small historic homeland, “without great natural resources, was quite unrealistic unless accompanied by some resettlement of the Arab population.” (JC, 17 Jan. 1964, p. 7)

Lord Boothby
In the wake of the Jewish Chronicle's rebuttal, Lord Boothby finally admitted his error in implying the existence of a written substantiation of his allegation, but he still insisted on the validity of his argument quoting Mrs Weizmann’s letter to him (The Jewish Observer and Middle East Review, London, 28 Feb. 1964) by way of support and having his contention confirmed by Mr Boris Guriel, senior staff officer of the Weizmann Archives. In a letter to the London Jewish Observer and Middle East Review, Mr Guriel writes:
”Serious substantiation can be found for Lord Boothby’s contention as to the original meaning of the Balfour Declaration prior to the final version... The Arabs were never mentioned in the original draft, and, by way of omission, the possibility of a transfer became plausible... Regardless of whether or not the actual draft contained the “transfer” point in letter, it is the spirit and the logical consequence which count.” (The Weizmann Archives, Rehovoth, Israel)
Further confirmation of Lord Boothby’s contention is found in some remarks made by Churchill concerning the prospects for a Jewish Palestine in years to come. Presumably having Zangwill’s views in mind, Churchill is quoted as having said that “there are the Jews, hom we are pledged to introduce into Palestine, and who take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” (Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, London, 1975, vol. IV (1916-1922), p. 484)

The prospect of an Arab transfer also occupied Emir Abdullah’s mind when the Churchill-Abdulla  [sic] “settlement” was discussed in March 1921. The Hashemite prince wanted to know whether “His Majesty’s Government mean to establish a Jewish kingdom west of the Jordan and to turn out the non-Jewish population? If so, it would be better to tell the Arabs at once and not keep them in suspense.”  Churchill may have been somewhat unhappy about a decision of the Allies to that effect, for he remarked sarcastically: “The Allies appear to think that men could be cut down and transplanted in the same way as trees.” (ibid., p. 561)

Even when the bitter experiences and cruelties of the Arab riots of 1929 clearly demonstrated that Jewish-Arab co-existence was nothing but an empty vision, Zionist leaders consistently refrained from airing suggestions of a possible Arab transfer. It was a British Royal Commission, set up to investigate the 1936 disturbances, that dared to bring up such a proposal openly. In its Report (1937), proposing the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab State, it dealt, inter alia, with the problems involving exchange of land and population, and suggested the transfer of about 225,000 Arabs from the Jewish to the Arab State. It cited as an example the precedent which saw some 1,300,000 Greeks and some 400,000 Turks exchanged following an agreement reached by Greece and Turkey in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War of 1922. (Palestine Royal Commission Report, London, 1937, cmd. 5479, ch. xxii, p.390)

The Partition proposal was hotly debated in the Zionist camp, and the provision for the Arab transfer no doubt greatly helped in strengthening its supporters. (See, for instance, the reasoning which led David Ben-Gurion to his final acceptance of the Partition Plan. Zichronot (Hebrew), Tel Aviv, 1974, vol. 4, pp. 297-299)

The British Government was determined to implement the Partition Plan, fully subscribing to the Arab transfer provision. Appearing before the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, the British Colonial Secretary, Mr W. Ormsby-Gore, although emphasising that the Mandatory Power would not accept the proposal for compulsory transfer contained in the Report of the Royal Commission, pointed to the possibility of a voluntary transfer of Palestinian Arabs to the neighbouring states. “These people”, he said,
“had not hitherto regarded themselves as ‘Palestinian’ but as part of Syria as a whole, as part of the Arab world. They would be going only a comparatively few miles away to a people with the same language, the same civilization, the same religion; and therefore the problem of transfer geographically and practically was easier even than the interchanges of Greeks and Turks between Asia Minor and the Balkans ... if homesteads were provided and land was prepared for their reception not too far from their existing homes, he was confident that many would make use of that opportunity.” (Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes, 13 August 1937, pp. 179-181)
In a conversation Dr Weizmann had with Mr Ormsby-Gore, the latter reassured the Zionist leader that the British Government was proposing to set up a Committee for the purpose of finding land for the Arab transfer (in Transjordan, and, possibly, also within the borders of the Arab State, in the Negev), and for arranging the actual terms of the transfer. Mr Ormsby-Gore mentioned the name of Sir John Campbell, who had much relevant experience in the field. (JC, 13 August 1937, pp. 22-25)

The recommendations of the Royal Commission became Dr Weizmann’s political platform for the following years up to the establishment of the State of Israel. In his article in Foreign Affairs (on the eve of the Biltmore Conference), he outlined the position of the Arabs in the prospective Jewish State: “In that state there will be complete civil and political equality of rights for all citizens, without distinction of race or religion, and, in addition, the Arabs will enjoy full autonomy in their own internal affairs. But if any Arabs do not wish to remain in a Jewish State, every facility will be given to them to transfer to one of the many and vast Arab countries.” (“Palestine’s Role in the Solution of the Jewish Problem”, Foreign Affairs, N.Y., January 1942, pp. 337-338)

Ze'ev Jabotinsky
 A similar stand was taken by the Revisionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, in the book which turned out to be his last (1940). He and his party have quite often been wrongly and maliciously attacked for their ostensible intention to drive the Arabs out of Palestine. (See, for instance, Hannah Arendt’s article in The Menorah Journal, Autumn 1945, vol. xxxiii, no. 2, reproduced in Zionism Reconsidered, edited by Michael Selzer, London, 1970, where she mistakenly states (p. 215) that the transfer of all Palestinian Arabs “is openly demanded by Revisionists”, and that “they [the Revisionists] were the first to advocate the transfer of Palestine Arabs to Iraq” (p. 218).)

Nowhere and at no time did Jabotinsky propagate the evacuation of the Arabs from Palestine. On the contrary, he expressed himself many times in favour of granting the Arabs in a Jewish State full equality, but, as he was not sure that all this would be sufficient inducement for the Arabs to remain in a Jewish country, he
“would refuse to see a tragedy in their willingness to emigrate. The Palestine Royal Commission did not shrink from the suggestion. Courage is infectious. Since we have this great moral authority for calmly envisaging the exodus of 350,000 Arabs from one corner of Palestine, we need not regard the possible departure of 900,000 with dismay.” (The War and the Jew, NY, 1942, pp. 218-219)
Chaim Weizmann
Jabotinsky based himself on the Greek-Turkish precedent of 1923, and Dr Weizmnn, too, often referred to the “Greek example”. At a meeting held in New Court, London, Dr Weizmann told the assembled representatives of British Jewry (Anthony de Rothschild, Lionel de Rothschild, Lord Bearsted, Sir Robert Waley-Cohen, Lord Victor Rothschild, Mr Leonard Montefiore and others), that the question of a Jewish State’s boundaries raised the question of transfer of population; "If, for instance, they could transfer those Arab tenants who owned no land of their own (he believed there would be about 120,000 of them) they would be able to settle in their stead about half a million Jews.” (Note of meeting held at New Court, Tuesday, 9 September 1941, Weizmann Archives).

Officially and publicly Dr Weizmann quite often expressed himself, in the late 20s and early 30s, against Zionist aspirations for a Jewish State in Palestine, or for a Jewish majority, but in informal gatherings and in his private correspondence he almost never repudiated what seemed to him the correct interpretation of the historic pledges made by the British concerning the fulfilment of Zionist aims. He referred to a Jewish State and the prospective evacuation of at least a portion of the Palestine Arabs to the neighbouring states. To cite but one example, in his letter of 17 January 1930 to James Marshall, the son of the well-known leader of American Jewry, Louis Marshall, he writes: "There can be no doubt that the picture in the minds of those who drafted the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate was that of a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine. Palestine was to be a Jewish State in which the Arabs would enjoy the fullest civil and cultural rights; but for the expression of their own national individuality in terms of statehood they were to turn to the surrounding Arab countries – Syria, Iraq, Hedjaz, etc.” (The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Jerusalem, 1978, vol. xiv, p. 206)

R. Meinertzhagen
The Royal Commission’s recommendation to the effect of an Arab transfer really proved to be infectious, and it caused great enthusiasm among British friends of Zionism. Col. Meinertzhagen insisted on the need to establish Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, and “if any Arabs have doubts about it, let them go to the large Arab territories bordering Palestine after full compensation”.

He believed that two or three million pounds would be enough to “buy the lot out”, and he was sure that thousands of Englishmen would follow his example in contributing to this cause. (R. Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary (1917-1956), vol. xx, p. 203)

The Partition proposal with its concomitant clause about a transfer of Palestinian Arabs was ultimately shelved by the British Government itself, mainly because of Arab opposition, but its basic principles seem to have lived on, and to have been implemented by the force of inexorable circumstances brought about through the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The British Labour Party too, on the eve of its coming to power, adopted the transfer proposal. Its Party Conference, held in December 1944, adopted the following Declaration on “The Post-War International Settlement” with respect to Palestine:
'There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home” unless we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the war. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German plot to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine, surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement for transfers of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land, and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organized and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own... Indeed, we should re-examine also the possibility of extending the present Palestinian borders, by agreement with Egypt, Syria, or Transjordan.’ (Documents Relating to the Palestine Problem published by the Jewish Agency for Palestine, London, 1945, p. 81. See also Dr [Hugh] Dalton’s statement on behalf of the Labour Party Executive 1945, on the same issue – Ibid.)
This unexpected pledge caught Dr Weizmann completely by surprise. In his autobiography he tells us that he pleaded with Dr Hugh Dalton, the Labour statesman, saying that there was no need of their proposal, and that the Zionists “never contemplated the removal of the Arabs, and the British Labourites, in their pro-Zionist enthusiasm, went far beyond our intentions.” (Trial and Error, Phila., 1949, vol. 2, p. 436.)

St John Philby
Another British plan to solve the Palestine problem, involving the evacuation of the Palestinian Arabs, was afoot in 1938-1939, at the initiative, or at least, with the active participation of King Ibn Saud’s “confidant”, St John Philby. Under “Philby’s Plan”, “The whole of Palestine should be left to the Jews. All Arabs displaced therefrom should be resettled elsewhere at the expense of the Jews , who would place a sum of £20 millions at the disposal of King Ibn Saud for this purpose.” (J. B. Philby, Arabian Jubilee, NY, 1953, pp. 212-213) The price the British and American Governments were expected to pay for this was the formal recognition of the complete independence of all Arab countries with the exception of Aden. It was Philby’s allegation that the Plan failed because Dr Weizmann was unable “to interest his powerful friends [Churchill and Roosevelt].” (Ibid., p. 214. As for Dr Weizmann’s version of the story, see Trial and Error, pp. 427-428.)

Victor Gollancz
The readiness to entertain the idea of a transfer of the Palestinian Arabs to neighbouring states, which was a radical change in the accepted view of the Palestine problem, evolved as a result of the impact of the Holocaust on British public opinion. This also accounted for the change of mind regarding Zionism on the part of such a leftist intellectual as the publisher Victor Gollancz. Arguing for the Zionist cause he writes:
“Suppose that a few hundred thousand of the million Arabs at present in Palestine would consider life in a Jewish Commonwealth impossible ... is there no way out? Surely there is, and a very simple one. The world has recently been discussing the project of moving great hordes of men and women – not a few hundred thousand, but ten to twelve million – from their old homes to a new environment... Suppose the United Nations said to the Arab statesmen “We desire to establish, by the necessary stages, a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine, for we believe a settlement of the Jewish question on lines such as these to be an indispensable part of the world settlement. We give our guarantee that every Arab in Palestine shall have complete civic equality and religious freedom. But if, in spite of this guarantee, any Arab should wish to leave Palestine and settle elsewhere we would make it easy for him to do so; we will see to it that the change takes place in the best conditions, and we will provide ample funds, in each case, for the decure establishment of a new home.” (Nowhere to Lay Their Heads, London, 1945, pp. 28-29)
Mr Gollancz then points out that the agricultural and industrial development of the Arab lands is hampered by shortage of population. Iraq, for instance, openly invited Arabs to come and settle on its land.

Indeed, efforts were made during World War II and the years immediately following, to bring about a transfer of the Palestinian Arabs to Iraq. In one such project, the correspondent of the London Times, H. T. Montague Bell, was involved. In his article “Iraq To-Day”, he writes: “Iraq’s paramount requirement is an increase of population. With from 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 inhabitants, she cannot do justice to the potentialities of the land – the lack of labour is a constant problem – and she is at a disadvantage against Turkey and Iran with their far larger populations ... any substantial increase of population in the near future must come from outside.” (The Times, 27 Oct. 1938, p. 13. For a discussion of Mr Bell’s involvement with the plan for the transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq, see my article “Exchanges of Population Plans for the Solution of the Palestine Problem” (Hebrew), Gesher, Spring-Summer, 1978, pp. 160-162.)

However, all these plans, too, failed to materialise either because of lack of goodwill or sustained drive.

(Article first published in Forum on the Jewish People, Zionism and Israel, No. 42/43, Winter 1981, pp. 101-107; pictorial content added for this blog by Daphne Anson.)


  1. Glad to know it has at least one reader - typing it up was rather time-consuming!

  2. But in the end, it's all about Jerusalem. Had any of these plans worked and a peaceful settlement ensued, Islam's capture of the heart of Judaism and Christianity would have ended. This would have been a mortal blow to the claim of Islamic supremacy. Islam also holds to supersessionism. It's just one step further. God has abandoned Israel, then He abandoned the Church. Can He be trusted? Islam offers no guarantees. But Judaism and Christianity both have covenants/promises. Supersessionism is not only not necessary to Christianity it is anti-thetical. In which case, Islam is unnecessary, rendered null and void by the reappearance of Israel in the Land. It is theology, ideas , beliefs which drive this conflict whether we like it or not.

  3. Many thanks, Ian. Your comments are always very welcome and informative.

  4. Thank you for this valuable article- I thought I knew Zionist history but I didn't know this.
    Yisrael Medad: my Betar education in SA was clearly inadequate!

  5. Good job I'm a hoarder of books and journals - I discovered this in a cardboard box in the spare room last week!

  6. By the way, the date for the Jabotinsky quote is slightly off. Should be 1939, i believe. The reason it is important is that Jabotinsky was dead in 1940.


  7. Thanks, Danny - yes, he died 4th August 1940. I'll leave it as it is, because Nedava wrote it - not me.

  8. Thank you! This is brilliant. I read "Palestine Papers 1917-1922" (?) by Doreen (something) which covers some of this ground.

    Some years ago there was a lot on the web which has now disappeared and has to be paid for. The debates of the second Knesset, for example and quite a lot on Richard Crossman and on Churchill in the 1920s.

    It is wonderful to have your articles.

  9. Thanks, Ariadne - I really appreciate it. I know how frustrating it is to see something of interest on the web, only to find that one needs an institutional log-in to access it. Being what is grandiosely known as an "independent scholar", no longer with affiliation to a university, I know how deeply annoying that can be (though I believe an arrangement can be obtained through one's local public library). Will dig some more into my cardboard boxes ...

  10. PS I should add that the antisemitic monster Ernest Bevin did as much harm to Jews as he could.

  11. in case you don't read the comment thread at EoZ who has linked your post, here is what my memory came up with while reading it (from first to last, it was quite a treat)

    reading the Daphne Anson piece I remembered these pieces published shortly after the Balfour Declaration -
    from the pieces linked therein I remember 2,
    one (probably the first one offered) as telling me that once Israel was up and running the whole world would become a wonderful place, kind of the beautiful brother of today's IP is the source of all evil, isn't it
    and the second one as telling me that Jews will never be able to manage a state, because they don't know how to do it.
    Anyway based on those 2 pieces I came up with the epiphany that no matter what Israel will always be required to spin straw into gold, nothing less will ever do
    Prophesying Palestine
    Jeffrey Goldberg looks back at a mixed bag of Atlantic predictions from the 1920s and '30s about prospects for a Jewish homeland.

  12. I agree with Ian that the core problem in Israel is theological and not land based. Until Jewish and Christian leaders (forget the Pope - he is nought, but a Vatican stooge) are willing to cast a serious glance at the supersessionist aspirations of Islam we will not even come close to a solution.

  13. Thanks for these comments!

    Ariadne, Bevin was indeed terrible - btw, as you probably know he was illegitimate, and there was/is rumour that his biological father was Jewish (haven't got the details in front of me).

    Silke, very flattered to find the esteemed Elder linking to this, and thanks for your interesting post - will have to check out that site you mention.

    Elkanah, I agree with you.

  14. I am completely at a loss to understand why my coblogger, Yisrael Medad, sent me to this site.

    I learn here what I knew -- that there were British statesmen and politicians who supported Zionism, that the Balfour declaration had been interpreted in one way by them and in another way by others, and that the Zionists contemplated transfer privately and, for tactical reasons, refrained from saying it openly.

    Many people then supported voluntary transfer of Arabs, and no doubt a handful of Arabs would have left voluntarily. But c. 700,000 Arabs did not leave Palestine permanently voluntarily. They were prevented from returning home to their land and possessions, thus violating the principles of the voluntary transferists, and, needless to say, violating the Balfour Declaration, which quite explicitly said that the Jewish homeland could not arise in ways that prejudice the rights of the inhabitants. I daresay that none of the drafters of the Balfour Declaration contemplating Palestinians leaving during wartime and then being prevented from returning.


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