Endless Conflict of Oppressed Groups

By heroic efforts, these new immigrants succeeded in creating almost a whole-new separate Jewish sector of Palestine's economy. Jews who'd been city workers or intellectuals in Europe set up the collective farms and co-operatives, the kibbutzim and moshavim, that helped drain swamps and make things grow and became, for awhile, in the case of the kibbutzim, the wonder of socialists around the world.

But at the same time, the success of the Jewish sector of the economy--traceable partly to remarkable dedication but more importantly to the modern ways of doing and thinking about things the immigrants had brought with them from Europe--made the Arab majority of Palestine's population less and less sure that the future belonged to them, and more and more restive with their prospects.

Most Zionist leaders wanted to win the Arabs' friendship, and following the lead of Ber Borochov, a Russian Marxist who had taught that the Arabs' lack of an economically distinct culture would lead them to accept Jewish settlement easily, many of them thought it wouldn't be too difficult. Nearly all of them found it hard to realize that there were two separate nations in Palestine, that they had divergent concerns and nationalisms, and that economic separatism, though it kept one nation from directly exploiting the other, was making them more separate all the time.

UT FOR EVEN those Zionist leaders who could see this, what happened to European Jews under the Nazis was of overriding importance. It seemed to prove once for all that Jews could only find protection in their own country. It seemed to prove that Jews hadn't done enough to protect themselves and their brothers and sisters in the past, and that they needed to do more in the future. It meant that thousands of displaced persons had to be cared for. And to the rest of the world, it meant that some sort of Jewish nation ought to be established in Palestine as a sort of expiation.

At the same time, Palestinian Arabs, reacting against British rule, were awakening a national pride kept alive for the last 25 years by the misery of Palestinian refugees kept from entering either the Israel their homes were in or most of the feudal or nationalistice Arab states which claimed to be protecting them. But Palestinian revolutionaries faced not a colonial government, like the one Angolans face today, not a government whose day-to-day operation depended on an all-pervasive racism, like the one South Africans face today, not even a government existing primarily as an agent of another country's imperialism, like the one South Vietnamese face today. Rather, the Palestinians faced another nation in a territory both thought of as their homeland.


The other nation's continued existence, at least in its present form, apparently depended on the Palestinians' expulsion. At least, both its leaders and the Palestinians' leaders seemed to think so. But because Israel was not just an exploiting class but a nation--in its internal policies, the most democratic and egalitarian in the Middle East--with a nationalism and national pride and history of oppression all its own, things were even more complicated than they usually are. Israel had an economic and historic viability most states under attack by emerging nationalisms lack, and even more important, it had a historical legitimacy of its own that made calls for its destruction seems less think able than such calls sometimes do, and that made its inhabitants unusually sensitive to calls for--or even intimations of--their destruction.

So one set of victims of imperialism--the Palestinian refugees, crowded into their miserable and inhuman camps, and their compatriots who'd stayed behind in Israel and found economic security there but neither personal nor national equality with the Israeli Jews who had replaced the British as the country's rulers--was pitted against another, perhaps the longest suffering people in history. Amos Elon, an Israeli journalist, wrote in 1971: "Life was stronger than the simplicities that were generated by the disasters and complexities of the times, and made a mockery of them all.

Recommended Articles