Palestine Meets the Challenge
Address By Moshe Sharett
Head of the Political Department, Jewish Agency for Palestine
Delivered at Carnegie Hall, Wednesday, March 17, 1943
It is indeed a great privilege to be able to stand here after having flown thousands of miles from Jerusalem to London and from London to New York - a journey which has spanned the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe and America, South and North.
Globe-trotting is a traditional Jewish occupation. The whole globe is covered by a tangled skein of aimless Jewish wanderings. But in the last few decades a new pattern has emerged - one of lines converging upon a center. Jewish peregrinations have assumed a purpose.
Zionism is a victory over time and space. We have indeed proved that the globe is small and history is short if after eighteen centuries of exile and dispersal we have managed to return to our country even in the present numbers, though those numbers are small. We are only just over one-half a million Jews in Palestine but never since the crushing by Rome of Bar Kochba's revolt have we occupied in Palestine such a position of real strength - a community rooted in the soil, master of its own immediate surroundings, living on the fruits of its own labor, productive in all fields of manual and mental endeavor, speaking its own language, developing its national culture and armed for its defense.
What we have today in Palestine, small and limited as it is, is the only nucleus of crystallized physical strength that the Jewish people possesses in the whole wide world. That nucleus found itself twice on trial in recent years. Tested by fire and sword it had to share its mettle.
In the four years preceding the war, 1936-9, a savage onslaught was made on the Jews of Palestine but they met successfully that test of physical and moral development.
The second great trial came with the war which is also already in its fourth year. In the great democracies and in the Soviet Union Jews as individual citizens have their full share in the war effort. But in Palestine alone were they given the chance and faced with the responsibility of playing their part in the war effort collectively, as Jews, as a distinct national entity.
Preparatory Work Helped War Effort
We did not go to Palestine in order to be able from there to take part in the World War. But we were happy to think that the war found us in Palestine at least as strong as we were. What we had reclaimed and planted and built and developed in the course of 60 years, particularly in the last 25 years, more especially in the last 10 years since 1933, was subjected to the test of a great emergency. Historically, that was the sense of what has happened. And because we had reclaimed land, because we had created a modern agriculture, because we had developed industries, because we had established scientific institutions and because we had built up a large and vigorous working class which had made itself at home in all occupations - because of all these things Palestine is able today to play such a decisive part in the war effort of the Middle East.
The productive capacity of the Yishuv, in agriculture and industry, in technique and science, came into full play. We were, in fact, perhaps for the first time properly discovered during this war by the factors about us, by the government of Palestine, by the allied armies, by the countries around us. We were discovered as a unit of production: as a dynamic economic force. It became clear that something new had appeared on the scene of the Middle East and put itself on the map – the Jews of Palestine as the young nucleus of a nation.
Our contribution to the economic war effort is measured in terms of manufactured goods supplied to the British and allied armies - even to Turkey, India and Russia - to the value of tens of millions of dollars; in terms of vastly increased agricultural production; of scientific and technical services unique in the Middle East; of urgent war jobs carried through by thousands of workers in Palestine, by hundreds of engineers and skilled artisans in countries all around, from Abyssinia to Persia, who built roads and bridges, erected fortifications and aerodromes, extended oil refineries, set new industries in motion.
Palestinian Jew a Worker and a Fighter
Much greater work could have been done by us for the war effort if there had been more Jews in Palestine to do it. But the Palestine Jew is not only a worker. He is also a fighter. The quintessence of our war effort is in military service. Along the whole democratic front and in the Soviet Union, Jews as individuals have their full share in the fighting.
There is no conscription in Palestine. The Administration rather frowned upon Jewish recruiting. But the army needed the Jews. The Yishuv stood there as the only local source of loyal and efficient manpower. But what was more decisive than the needs of the army, what preceded those needs in point of time, was the desire of Jews to fight - to strike a blow against their arch-enemy, for their own future, to do so in obedience to the call of the Jewish people.
The desire was there, from the outset, and the need was there, eventually, but over the question of form and framework there was a great struggle. Two questions posed themselves - very simple and elementary questions:
(1) Are the Jews a people?
(2) Are they as a people concerned in this war?
From an affirmative reply to these questions followed with irresistible logical sequence the claim for a Jewish Army, a Jewish Fighting Force.
For obvious reasons, by far not all the Jews who were to play their part in the present war could join such a Force, but at least those who could, ought to have been enabled to do so, so that the Jewish people should be represented on the front of battle. This claim was put forward early in the war on behalf of the Jews who were then available. It was put forward with particular force on behalf of the Jews of Palestine - those who were in their country not by accident and not as individuals but by national choice and as a collective unit.
This claim was refused. At first there was a promise to establish a Jewish Fighting Force. Not a vague promise but black on white, with specific conditions laid down, with a commander appointed, with an office opened. Then hostile forces prevailed and the promise was broken.
But the will and the duty to fight were there before the promise was broken and they persisted thereafter. This war concerned our rights as human beings, our existence as a people. Nothing could excuse our abstention from it. Our participation in it was more important to ourselves than it was to others. Palestine, moreover, became directly threatened. We had to throw ourselves into its defense. Whether it be in Greece, in Libya or in Syria, we were fighting to ward off the danger to our country apart from helping to defeat the enemy of our people. It would have been very poor and barren logic to say: so long as there is no Jewish Army we would not enlist. Moreover, inaction is a very bad political educator. The war was to the Yishuv a great opportunity of national education - education to act as a people - and this called for action. And when we say "action" we don't mean advertisements in the press. We mean men and women in uniform, handling rifles, guns and airplanes, driving cars, doing the hundred and one things that a soldier is doing.
The enlistment had to be organized. The Government imposed no conscription. In fact it washed its hands of the whole business of Jewish recruiting. But Jewish responsibility demanded that recruiting be regulated. Somebody had to decide who is to join the army and who to remain at his work. Somebody had to see to it that forces are properly distributed between military service and internal security. We had no state powers to do all this but we had state responsibility. And in the progress of our work powers generalIy lag behind responsibilities.
30,000 Palestine Jews with British Forces
The result has been, to date, the enlistment of about 30,000 Palestine Jews, men and women, for armed service - in the British Army, Navy, Air Force, Women's Auxiliary Service, local defense formations and a small number in various allied armies. Recruiting is still in progress. For the time being it is equivalent to a volunteer army of 8 millions in the U.S.A. The Jews are one-third of the population of Palestine. But among those serving from Palestine our men constitute four-fifths, our women ninety-eight percent.
This is the substance. But the form is also important. What we have managed to achieve is the formation of Palestine Jewish units in the British Army which stands today as the only collectively and distinctively Jewish participation in the war on Hitler. When I say Jewish units I mean literally in fact, though not in name, Jewish units. All men - or all women as the case may be - all the non-commissioned officers, many of the officers are Jews. As our officers are promoted to higher rank, unit after unit gets a Jewish commander. The internal language of the units is Hebrew. We have battalions in infantry companies; we have batteries in artillery; altogether we have about 60 companies.
Our first company saw service in France. Then our companies took part in the various phases of the Libyan campaign. They were sent to Greece where most of our men were taken prisoners. Fifteen companies are advancing under Montgomery. The rest are in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Iraq. They are all combatants - all meant for field service. There are no easy soft jobs for our boys. Non-combatants are not accepted. Only men for the field. Our units are scattered and as there is no one big force, there is no chance of fighting as a large compact body. But on a hundred and one occasions our men showed their mettle in deeds of bravery.
Their Heroism and Valor
I can tell you nothing that will stagger you or make any particular impression on you, you here in this huge country with its huge army, reading the news from all the fronts of the war and witnessing as readers of newspapers many deeds of bravery. But I want you to know that in our small way and on a small scale, as men to men, we have acquitted ourselves well of our tasks. Our boys in Palestine have not let you down. There is a tale of a group of 20 volunteers especially selected from a large number of picked men, some of them still fresh from the Palestinian prison in which they had spent eighteen months because they were caught drilling with illegal arms. Under a British officer they set out on an amphibious operation of a particularly daring and dangerous character. They all perished in battle; not one came back. There is a tale of youngsters of the Youth Aliyah, blue-eyed, fair-haired Jewish boys who could pass muster as Aryans and because they could pass muster as Aryans and because they had a personal account to settle with Hitler, they volunteered for commandos and they were sent on a dangerous mission. While in action behind the enemy lines, they were suddenly discovered and surrounded. There was no hope of escape but instead of surrendering they opened fire and went down fighting. They sold their lives as dearly as they could. An observer who remained behind and saw what happened managed to come back and he told the story. There are tales of boys of ours who had hair-breadth escapes from Greece, and having escaped to Egypt went back to Greece after it had fallen into the hands of Hitler, in order to rescue some of their fellows who were hiding in the hills. The graves of our boys are scattered from Tripoli in Syria to Tripoli in Libya and from Albania and Greece to Eritrea.
The Jewish units are charged with Jewish emotion and are acutely conscious of their Jewish responsibility. They feel themselves on trial – as Jews. They have to conquer their position and they have conquered it by hard work and by resolution. But they are denied a formal national status. The units developed a practice of hoisting the Jewish flag by the side of the Union Jack, doing it on certain ceremonious occasions, sometimes to usher in the Jewish Sabbath if they had a chance, sometimes to celebrate a Jewish holiday, sometimes on general army parades. The practice was unauthorized. There is no such thing as a Jewish flag in army regulations. The practice was discovered. It was prohibited. The boys gritted their teeth. The units seethed with excitement. It was difficult to swallow the insult. Some boys proceeded to salute the bare pole. To them the blue and white still fluttered, the blue and white which to them is the symbol of their being what they are - Palestinian Jews - is the symbol of their being what they are today-soldiers in the army. There was a long argument. The practice was eventually restored.
They have their happier moments – when they successfully carry through a particularly hard and dangerous job. When they get praise for courage and discipline. When a high British officer on inspection goes on record to say that their discipline and performance are on such high level just because the Jewish spirit was given full scope in the unit and imbued it with national pride and an esprit de corps. And they are happy to be Jews together. In a few weeks they will all be celebrating the Seder. To some it will be the fourth Seder under canvas. They will sit together celebrating the victory of liberty over bondage as a matter of personal experience. Blue-eyed boys - or girls - from Germany, dark-skinned from the Yemen, along with those born and bred in Palestine - after centuries of wandering they came home, after centuries of separation they got together; they have left home again, but they are celebrating the Seder on the soil of the same Egypt, not as slaves but as free men lighting in the world army of freedom.
Think how vastly different our whole position would have been today, how fundamentally different would have been the position of the Democratic front in the Middle East from the very beginning if instead of one-half million Jews there were in Palestine at the beginning of the war, say two or three million Jews! This is not a mere whimsical reflection. It is a vitally practical, bitterly serious point. What could be done and was not done in the past can still be done, must be done, in the future, and as quickly as possible. It has never been so urgent as after what has happened in Europe.
Palestine Welcomes Refugees
The thought uppermost in the minds of all Palestinian Jews, whether they be soldiers in the field or workers at home, is the same as that uppermost in your minds, only with much greater intensity. It is: what is being done to save our people in Europe? This question reverberates throughout the Jewish world. It is repeated by countless Gentiles. But it sounds different, much more imperious, when put in Palestine, when put in connection with Palestine. For it is not that these victims of Nazi slaughter have no home to which to go. That could have been said some decades ago. That cannot be said today. They have a home - the home is ready for them.
Throughout the war Palestine has served as a home for Jewish refugees, as a real haven of refuge to Jews fleeing from Europe. In spite of the difficulties of war, and with very little governmental help, very often despite governmental opposition, 35,000 Jews came in, by sea and overland, with and without official permission. I have referred to routes across the globe converging on Palestine. I wonder if it is known what queer configurations some of these routes assumed during the war.
Let me tell you of: groups of Jews from Poland who, having fled from the Nazi invasion, traversed the whole length of Russia and Siberia, and eventually got to Japan; from Japan they came by the long sea route west again via Singapore and India; and thence through the Suez Canal to Palestine. Let me tell you of other groups of Jews from eastern Europe and western Europe who came to Palestine by travelling the whole way south across the Equator around South Africa, around the Cape, and then north again up the eastern coast of Africa into the Red Sea and then to Palestine. There was a group of boys and girls of Youth Aliyah who during the war were taken by the Youth Aliyah Organization from Germany and brought into Denmark; taken out of Denmark and brought into Sweden; then they traveled via Finland, to Russia; south to the Black Sea, Turkey and Syria, and eventually Palestine. Another group of German chalutzim managed to escape from Germany into England in the nick of time just before war broke out. They were interned in England as enemy aliens. Some of them were sent to the other end of the world to Australia, into internment camps. In Australia they were freed, as others like them were eventually freed in England; and from Australia finally they came back via India and Egypt to Palestine.
Not all those who set out to reach Palestine actually reached it. Bulgarian Jews were drowned on the "Salvador" in the Sea of Marmora. German Jews were drowned on the "Patria" in the port of Haifa. Czech and Austrian Jews were forcibly sent away from Palestine to Mauritius. Roumanian Jews were drowned on the "'Struma" in the Black Sea. Yet from all the ghettos, concentration camps and slaughter chambers there is but one cry: Palestine. A letter was received a few months ago from a boy in Warsaw. He writes: "My days are numbered. I know I am doomed. Tell my bride, Eretz Israel, that I will love her to the last and be faithful to her and that I will die with her name on my lips."
Think how all this affects the Palestine Jews. They are the keepers of the home. Theirs is the direct responsibility. They have been helped to save themselves in time - it is their duty to save others. They live a compactly, intensely Jewish life. Children at school, worshippers in synagogue, workers in field and factory, housewives in grocery shops, soldiers in camp - all have but one anxiety, what is going to happen to our people?
"If I Forget Thee, O Galuth"
A group of high-school pupils, 250 boys and girls. went during the Hanukah holiday on an excursion to .Masada. You know what Masada is. Masada was the last Judaean fortress that was captured by the Romans. It was a fortress which held out for two years after the taking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple. The fortress is still there today. It is on a high hill which rises sheer from the Dead Sea on its western shore. The climb is very dangerous and very steep. The Romans could not take the fortress. They besieged it. The food supply gave out. Rather than die of hunger and thirst, the Judaean warriors decided to kill each other; they killed each other and the last man fell on his sword. And when the Romans felt that there was silence in the fortress, they risked the climb and eventually they penetrated in to the fortress and found the yard littered with the bodies of the defenders. Today Masada has become a place of pilgrimage for Jewish youth organizations in Palestine, and when this body of 250 boys and girls went up there, they built a monument of stone in the center of the Masada fortress. In that monument they placed a memorial tablet and on that tablet they inscribed the words, "If I forget thee, Oh Galuth."
A transport of 830 Jewish orphans from Poland who had been years in Russia and months in Teheran have just arrived in Palestine. At the Suez Canal they were met by a Jewish military unit which camped in the vicinity - with flowers and sweets and the blue and white flags. The whole Yishuv was electrified by their arrival. Again groups of children from Bulgaria and Hungary have recently arrived. There seems to be hope of bringing over many thousands more children from the Balkan countries. This will mean a very large expenditure, an enormous burden to carry. America will have to shoulder the major part of that burden.
But the problem is bigger than this. The problem is vast in numbers. It is most far-reaching in its implications. Jews are deeply appreciative of compassion and sympathy. But they have had pity enough and to spare. It is about time, that some effective measure of rescue should be attempted. The half-heartedness and procrastination which characterize the way with which the problem is being met is tragic. After months of study and examination a conference for study and examination is now being suggested and even this seems to be still in the air.
Meanwhile every week thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Jews are being put to death. It is no answer to say that members of other races besides Jews are being killed. Jews are the only people in Europe which is being exterminated as a whole. Are they expected to die in silence and be content with the world's pity? At the very least the neutral states should be asked to take in as many refugees as can reach them, subject of course to assistance being rendered by the great powers. At the same time Palestine should be opened to receive tens of thousands of adults in addition to tens of thousands of children.
Is that child of appeasement, the White Paper of 1939 to stand in the way of saving Hitler's victims at the time when Munich is dead and forgotten and the war on Hitler is carried on with grim and ruthless determination?
But it is not only a question of immediate rescue. When a house is on fire the first thing is to save its inmates. But when the fire has subsided the next step is to inquire: why the fire? So the question must be asked: why this tragedy? What is the lesson to be learned from it? England and America and Soviet Russia must conduct this inquiry together with us. Why could this happen to Jews and to Jews alone ? We believe that the inquiry has been held long ago--for the house has been on fire so many times – and that history has passed its verdict. This could only happen because the Jews are a countryless, stateless people – a humiliating object of pity. The conclusion to be drawn from the European Jewish catastrophe can only be one: Give the Jews back their country; restore their statehood in it.
Two questions arise: is this solution feasible? Is it just?
Palestine Can Solve Jewish Problem
Skepticism about the capacity of Palestine to hold a much larger population has been very considerably dispelled by practical achievement. In 1931 a British Cabinet Minister, talking to the President of the World Zionist Organization, said: "In Palestine, there is no room to swing a cat." At that time Palestinian Jews numbered 175,000. Since that year the number has gone up by 375,000 and the number of Arabs has very much increased. There were experts who predicted failure. The facts have come to belie their prophecy. Experts have learned something from actual experience. There are experts today who on the basis of established facts, without any prompting on our part, have reached most promising conclusions with regard to the capacity of Palestine to hold people. Today few people familiar with the problem will doubt that given a proper chance the Jews could settle in Palestine in very large numbers so large that the problem of the survivors of the European slaughter will be very considerably solved thereby.
The practical difficulty is the Arabs and this raises the question of justice. Assuming that there is a conflict which must be resolved, the question is: in which case will a greater injustice be done - if the Arabs are asked to give up their political domination over Palestine after they have achieved independence and security in vast territories; or if the Jews are to find the only country where they can work out their salvation, closed in their face?
To this question the conscience of the civilized world must provide a clear answer which must be translated into terms of practical statesmanship. But it should not be beyond the creative powers of world statesmanship to evolve a constructive synthesis between Jewish and Arab aspirations which, in time to come, will resolve the conflict. Arab independence will not be worth its name if it remains an empty political shell devoid of social and economic content.
The Jewish struggle for emancipation started with the reclamation of the soil, creation of industries, building up of health and education services, organization of a large and creative labor movement. The Arab struggle has so far been bent on one thing: conquest of power. The Jews have got to the stage where they cannot make further real progress in practical work without political power, but the Arabs have to work hard if they are to maintain the power they have obtained. A backward people ruling a half-empty country cannot in the long run remain independent. A vacuum invites aggression. Real independence pre-supposes economic development and social progress. A population cannot be free in a real sense unless it is fed, housed, educated, medically cared for. Work has to be provided, agriculture improved, industry developed. All these call for help and guidance. A great deal of such help and guidance Jews can supply, by example and by special effort, provided they are firmly established in Palestine and given full scope for their own progress.
There are Arabs who are beginning to understand this. You can meet them in all capitals of the Arab speaking world. But to encourage this understanding and pave the way for a constructive solution a lead must be given by the Great Powers – those whose victory in the last war freed the Arabs from former oppression and whose victory in the present war will have saved them from a relapse into bondage.
Few peoples in the world stand to achieve 100% of their aspirations. Even if the Arabs give up their claim to dominate Palestine, they will be left with much more than many other races will get. What the Arabs are to gain from this war and what the Jews have lost; what the Arabs have so far made of their independence and what the Jews have made of their limited chances in Palestine; also what has happened during the war in the Middle East and the need to provide for similar contingencies in the future - all these are considerations relevant to the issue.
Constructive Solution of Arab Problem
This is then the constructive solution: throw Palestine open to the Jews; give them powers to conduct immigration and settlement on a large scale and enable them to achieve statehood, it being understood that the Jews will guarantee full equality of rights and full chances of progress to the Palestinian Arabs; deal with widest generosity with the Arab countries and open the way for collaboration between Jewish Palestine and Arab peoples throughout the Middle East; back the solution by all your determination as you would the solution of any problem created or aggravated by the present war; make clear that only those who accept it will be helped and protected.
This is the Zionist objective. This is the Zionist reading of the Atlantic Charter which has promised all peoples, including the Jews, freedom from want and from fear. To achieve this all Zionist resources must be enlisted for a major political offensive. A determined and united appeal must be made to the great powers to redress once and for all the historic wrong. The conscience of the democratic world is uneasy on the Jewish question. It is uneasy on the Palestine policy. There is a great deal of heart searching in England about the European Jewish tragedy and the future of Palestine in connection with it. The impact of the tragedy drives people irresistibly to Palestine. It is increasingly realized that the White Paper of 1939 must be relegated to the limbo of Munich to which it belongs and that a new dispensation, a new deal with regard to Palestine is necessary.
Many thinking people in England are looking to Anglo-American collaboration for the solution of the problem as one of the whole complex of world problems. In America the same processes are operating in many people's minds. But in the meantime the White Paper of 1939 is being further nailed down in Palestine and Arabs are encouraged to believe in its immutability. Thus encouraged, why should they compromise with the Jews?
On the other hand one hears again and again of some new freak territory about to be offered to the Jews in an attempt to cover up what is nothing but retreat from responsibility and to dupe the Jews into wasting time and effort in futile experimentation. We know what our answer to the offer of such a solution will be. To maintain the White Paper policy is to sacrifice justice to force. It is to proclaim in Palestine the postwar triumph of Munich. It means to doom the last Jewish hope. It is to paralyze Jewish progress and sterilize Arab development. It will simply not work. Appeasement will not lead to peace. Jewish immigration will not stop after X thousands of Jews have entered Palestine during Y years from the date Z.
Jews will not go cap in hand to Arabs to ask permission to enter. Keenly as they are interested to have peace with the Arabs, they will never admit their mastery over Palestine. The blighting, sterile policy will break down under the dire pressure of the Jewish need.
Palestine as Jewish Homeland Decreed By History
To offer the Jews some other territory - yesterday British Guiana or San Domingo, today Madagascar or Eritrea - is tantamount to asking children to forget their mother when they know she is alive and longing for them. I don't know whether there is anything serious in this rumor about Eritrea but just to be on the safe side, let the following be said: You cannot dump Jews into a country not of their choice and expect them to accept responsibility for the success of its colonization. The real secret of our success in Palestine is not because we are a superior people and it is not because Palestine is such an advantageous proposition but because every Jew feels that this is his country. There is no retreat from it. There was no retreat from it even when Titus stood at the gates of Alexandria. He has got to make good in Palestine or go under. He cannot blame anyone in the world for his being in Palestine. He can blame only the Jewish God. That is the secret of the capacity of people to squeeze the last ounce of energy out of themselves in order to make good, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to scratch the soil with their nails, to wash every square yard of soil, as our boys are doing in the Jordan Valley next to the Dead Sea. To wash it, and wash it and wash it, to press down that soil, 7 times, 14 times, 21 times, to send samples to the experiment station in Rehovot and if need be, to wash it again and again. On the northern frontier they blast rocks and crush them into stone and clear them away and uncover soil which was never uncovered before. They create it because it is theirs and they have nowhere else to go – and they have got to make good. The choice of the country for the Jews was made by history once and for all. It cannot be undone.
Dangers may arise. We would then be thrown on the defensive. It will mean a very hard struggle. We must be ready for it. One great advantage will be on our side. It is not a matter of life and death to Great Britain or to any power to dominate Palestine. Nor is it a matter of life and death to the Arab race to dominate Palestine. Once we are there, we shall be accepted. But it is a matter of life and death to the Jews. Jewry has set its heart on Palestine and it will not let go. A generation has arisen in Jewry for whom life is meaningless without