Palestine at the Crossroads
New York, G.P. Putman's Sons, 1937
From the chapter "The Captains of Zionism"
Based on an interview from 1936 or 1937
Moshe Shertok received me in a small, plainly furnished office. I went to him to see what reply he would make to the interview given me by the Mufti — in other words, to hear the other side. But this other side was a different world. There was nothing of the romantic, mystic atmosphere around him such as I had found around the Mufti. In his eyes I sought in vain — for after all he stands at the head of a passionate movement — for the fanatical fire which I thought I saw in the eyes of the Mufti. For me the Mufti was the rebel leader; Shertok however — his opponent in the same struggle — was the painstaking official.
If this be a defect he does his best to atone for it by an almost superhuman industry. He works twenty hours a day and he said to me: “If the Palestinian day had a hundred hours I would still complain that I could not get everything done.”
Of the Chief Jewish Directorate, he is the only one that has remained in Palestine. Weizmann and Ben Gurion travelled to London after the outbreak of the riots, to carry on the struggle from there, as if from headquarters behind the lines. Shertok leads his soldiers here in the field. Besides carrying out directions, he negotiates, comes and goes; his life knows no rest. If I myself had not seen it, I would never have believed what he is capable of performing. At six-thirty in the morning he travelled to Tel Aviv, took part in a memorial service for Arlosoroff, had discussions with labor leaders, telephoned with London for thirty minutes, flew to Haifa, more negotiations, received the High Commissioner, accompanied him to Mishmar Haemek to show him the burnt plantations, again telephoned to London, flew to Cairo, had discussions — and next morning at six-thirty he was again sitting at his desk in Jerusalem. And the day and the speed began all over again.
Even whilst I was interviewing him, the telephone rang continually; he argued in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Polish, Russian and German. And in the meantime he told me about his career: “My parents came to Palestine from Russian Poland when I was two years old. They settled in an Arab village and I grew up in Arab surroundings. Then I became an officer in the Turkish army, and finally a professional Zionist in the labor movement, editor of the labor paper Davar, and secretary to Arlosoroff. After his death I succeeded him.”
His childhood is still fresh in his memory and he maintains excellent relations with the Arabs in his village. “They often come to me to discuss their private affairs.” The Emir Abdullah also thinks highly of Shertok and likes conversing with him in the unusually beautiful, literary Arabic which they both speak.
The events of recent days have not been able to shake Shertok from his calm. He regards the development of things with a profound sadness, but does not allow himself to be carried away with passion.
“What do you think,” I asked him, “lies behind the Arab movement?”
“I think,” answered Shertok, “that the movement is aimed neither against the English nor against us. It aims merely at the creation of an independent Palestine. But of that there can be now no talk. We acknowledge the justice of the view that we cannot speak of Palestine as of a Jewish state, but in the same way Palestine is no longer a pure Arab state. It is not true that we wish to drive out the Arabs. The Jewish immigration with its introduction of prosperity has resulted in the Arabs’ increasing by 70 per cent — without immigration — due to the birth rate and improved conditions. Today there are over 800,000 Arabs living in the country, whilst their number in 1918 was under 500,000.”
“But the Arabs,” I said, “oppose Jewish immigration only partly for economic reasons. They lay more stress on the political motives.”
“Politically, our rights are based upon the Balfour Declaration,” answered Shertok, “and Jewish immigration can be determined only by the absorptive capacity of the country and not by the will of the Arab politicians. The possibility of the creation of an inde