Jabotinsky: The Iron Wall (1923)

In 1923, Jabotinsky contemplated how to achieve Zionist aims of a Jewish majority. He understood that to do so Jews had to be protected by an “iron wall” so to speak, maintained by the British, behind which Jews would be free to immigrate subject to absorptive capacity. He disabused his fellow Zionists of any possibility of reaching a voluntary agreement with the Arabs so long as they had any hope of preventing it. The reason being that “there has never been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has ever accepted the settlement of others in his country.” (Except I must note, Europe today.)

And he knew that the Arabs would not be bought off with offers of of material betterment. In fact he rejected “endless talks” to get an agreement, which no amount of concessions could achieve, and called such talks “a snare and a delusion”. Sound familiar. He wrote “We would destroy our cause if we proclaimed the necessity of an agreement.” His message to us today is end the peace process and colonize the land. Ted Belman

By Ze’ev Jabotinsky

Contrary to the excellent rule of getting to the point immediately, I must begin this article with a personal introduction. The author of these lines is considered to be an enemy of the Arabs, a proponent of their expulsion, etc. This is not true. My emotional relationship to the Arabs is the same as it is to all other peoples – polite indifference. My political relationship is characterized by two principles. First: the expulsion of the Arabs from Palestine is absolutely impossible in any form. There will always be two nations in Palestine – which is good enough for me, provided the Jews become the majority. Second: I am proud to have been a member of that group which formulated the Helsingfors Program. We formulated it, not only for Jews, but for all peoples, and its basis is the equality of all nations. I am prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will never destroy this equality and we will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs. Our credo, as the reader can see, is completely peaceful. But it is absolutely another matter if it will be possible to achieve our peaceful aims through peaceful means. This depends, not on our relationship with the Arabs, but exclusively on the Arabs’ relationship to Zionism.

After this introduction I can now get to the point. That the Arabs of the Land of Israel should willingly come to an agreement with us is beyond all hopes and dreams at present, and in the foreseeable future. This inner conviction of mine I express so categorically not because of any wish to dismay the moderate faction in the Zionist camp but, on the contrary, because I wish to save them from such dismay. Apart from those who have been virtually “blind” since childhood, all the other moderate Zionists have long since understood that there is not even the slightest hope of ever obtaining the agreement of the Arabs of the Land of Israel to “Palestine” becoming a country with a Jewish majority.

Every reader has some idea of the early history of other countries which have been settled. I suggest that he recall all known instances. If he should attempt to seek but one instance of a country settled with the consent of those born there he will not succeed. The inhabitants (no matter whether they are civilized or savages) have always put up a stubborn fight. Furthermore, how the settler acted had no effect whatsoever. The Spaniards who conquered Mexico and Peru, or our own ancestors in the days of Joshua ben Nun behaved, one might say, like plunderers. But those “great explorers,” the English, Scots and Dutch who were the first real pioneers of North America were people possessed of a very high ethical standard; people who not only wished to leave the redskins at peace but could also pity a fly; people who in all sincerity and innocence believed that in those virgin forests and vast plains ample space was available for both the white and red man. But the native resisted both barbarian and civilized settler with the same degree of cruelty.

Another point which had no effect at all was whether or not there existed a suspicion that the settler wished to remove the inhabitant from his land. The vast areas of the U.S. never contained more than one or two million Indians. The inhabitants fought the white settlers not out of fear that they might be expropriated, but simply because there has never been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has ever accepted the settlement of others in his country. Any native people – its all the same whether they are civilized or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. 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. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” 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.

This view is absolutely groundless. Individual Arabs may perhaps be bought off but this hardly means that all the Arabs in Eretz Israel are willing to sell a patriotism that not even Papuans will trade. Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement.

That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of “Palestine” into the “Land of Israel”.

Some of us imagined that a misunderstanding had occurred, that because the Arabs did not understand our intentions, they opposed us, but, if we were to make clear to them how modest and limited our aspirations are, they would then stretch out their arms in peace. This too is a fallacy that has been proved so time and again. I need recall only one incident. Three years ago, during a visit here, Sokolow delivered a great speech about this very “misunderstanding,” employing trenchant language to prove how grossly mistaken the Arabs were in supposing that we intended to take away their property or expel them from the country, or to suppress them. This was definitely not so. Nor did we even want a Jewish state. All we wanted was a regime representative of the League of Nations. A reply to this speech was published in the Arab paper Al Carmel in an article whose content I give here from memory, but I am sure it is a faithful account.

Our Zionist grandees are unnecessarily perturbed, its author wrote. There is no misunderstanding. What Sokolow claims on behalf of Zionism is true. But the Arabs already know this. Obviously, Zionists today cannot dream of expelling or suppressing the Arabs, or even of setting up a Jewish state. Clearly, in this period they are interested in only one thing – that the Arabs not interfere with Jewish immigration. Further, the Zionists have pledged to control immigration in accordance with the country’s absorptive economic capacity. But the Arabs have no illusions, since no other conditions permit the possibility of immigration.

The editor of the paper is even willing to believe that the absorptive capacity of Eretz Israel is very great, and that it is possible to settle many Jews without affecting one Arab. “Just that is what the Zionists want, and what the Arabs do not want. In this way the Jews will, little by little, become a majority and, ipso facto, a Jewish state will be formed and the fate of the Arab minority will depend on the goodwill of the Jews. But was it not the Jews themselves who told us how ‘ pleasant’ being a minority was? No misunderstanding exists. Zionists desire one thing – freedom of immigration – and it is Jewish immigration that we do not want.”

The logic employed by this editor is so simple and clear that it should be learned by heart and be an essential part of our notion of the Arab question. It is of no importance whether we quote Herzl or Herbert Samuel to justify our activities. Colonization itself has its own explanation, integral and inescapable, and understood by every Arab and every Jew with his wits about him. Colonization can have only one goal. For the Palestinian Arabs this goal is inadmissible. This is in the nature of things. To change that nature is impossible.

A plan that seems to attract many Zionists goes like this: If it is impossible to get an endorsement of Zionism by Palestine’s Arabs, then it must be obtained from the Arabs of Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and perhaps of Egypt. Even if this were possible, it would not change the basic situation. It would not change the attitude of the Arabs in the Land of Israel towards us. Seventy years ago, the unification of Italy was achieved, with the retention by Austria of Trent and Trieste. However, the inhabitants of those towns not only refused to accept the situation, but they struggled against Austria with redoubled vigor. If it were possible (and I doubt this) to discuss Palestine with the Arabs of Baghdad and Mecca as if it were some kind of small, immaterial borderland, then Palestine would still remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence. Therefore it would be necessary to carry on colonization against the will of the Palestinian Arabs, which is the same condition that exists now.

But an agreement with Arabs outside the Land of Israel is also a delusion. For nationalists in Baghdad, Mecca and Damascus to agree to such an expensive contribution (agreeing to forego preservation of the Arab character of a country located in the center of their future “federation”) we would have to offer them something just as valuable. We can offer only two things: either money or political assistance or both. But we can offer neither. Concerning money, it is ludicrous to think we could finance the development of Iraq or Saudi Arabia, when we do not have enough for the Land of Israel. Ten times more illusionary is political assistance for Arab political aspirations. Arab nationalism sets itself the same aims as those set by Italian nationalism before 1870 and Polish nationalism before 1918: unity and independence. These aspirations mean the eradication of every trace of British influence in Egypt and Iraq, the expulsion of the Italians from Libya, the removal of French domination from Syria, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco. For us to support such a movement would be suicide and treachery. If we disregard the fact that the Balfour Declaration was signed by Britain, we cannot forget that France and Italy also signed it. We cannot intrigue about removing Britain from the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf and the elimination of French and Italian colonial rule over Arab territory. Such a double game cannot be considered on any account.

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

Not only must this be so, it is so whether we admit it or not. What does the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate mean for us? It is the fact that a disinterested power committed itself to create such security conditions that the local population would be deterred from interfering with our efforts.

All of us, without exception, are constantly demanding that this power strictly fulfill its obligations. In this sense, there are no meaningful differences between our “militarists” and our “vegetarians.” One prefers an iron wall of Jewish bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets, the third proposes an agreement with Baghdad, and appears to be satisfied with Baghdad’s bayonets – a strange and somewhat risky taste’ but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall. We would destroy our cause if we proclaimed the necessity of an agreement, and fill the minds of the Mandatory with the belief that we do not need an iron wall, but rather endless talks. Such a proclamation can only harm us. Therefore it is our sacred duty to expose such talk and prove that it is a snare and a delusion.

Two brief remarks: In the first place, if anyone objects that this point of view is immoral, I answer: It is not true; either Zionism is moral and just or it is immoral and unjust. But that is a question that we should have settled before we became Zionists. Actually we have settled that question, and in the affirmative.

We hold that Zionism is moral and just. And since it is moral and just, justice must be done, no matter whether Joseph or Simon or Ivan or Achmet agree with it or not.

There is no other morality.

All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions. And only then will moderates offer suggestions for compromise on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or equality and national autonomy.

I am optimistic that they will indeed be granted satisfactory assurances and that both peoples, like good neighbors, can then live in peace. But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now.

May 22, 2012 | 60 Comments »

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  1. @ Felix Quigley:

    I think you read what you want to. Trotsky was not a Zionist as you claimed and was a Marxist to the end believing that the Zionist project was doomed and the Jewish problem could only be resolved with the framework of Intl. Socialism.

    Jabotinsky and Stern saw the dangers of Hitler and worked to not only inform the Jews of Europe but to st up resistance and organizations in Palestine and Europe to get weapons and smuggle them into Palestine, each in their own ways acted to both prepare for the hoped for Jewish State. they fought to see it’s fruition. Trotsky did nothing to either warn Jews, Help Jews in any way to either save themselves or in the attainment of a Jewish State in Palestine or anywhere else for that matter.

  2. @ Felix Quigley:

    Not just the left hated him but The heads of the Irgun hated him as well and probably ratted him out to the British who murdered him as opposed to killing him. Unlike the Irgun (Etzel) except for one instance (Shamir had Giladi assassinated) they (Stern Gang later Lechi) never killed other Jews.

  3. @ dweller:

    “But these ‘Principles of Revival’ lacked the realistic plans and tactical guidelines necessary for a political underground movement. When I questioned Stern about these omissions — when I asked what he wanted me to DO tomorrow morning after reading the ‘Principles of Revival’ and where was the plan of action — he had no reply. He admitted that there was still no program.

    Principles precede movements. First remove the British who were the main obstacle standing in the way of Jewish sovereignty and the saving of Jews they all knew were to be exterminated. Those Jews were also considered necessary for any future Jewish State. Re: The Nazis. in 1940 before America entered the war the Germans seemed a good bet as the winning side. Even after America entered the conflict had Hitler not invaded Russia who knows what the final outcome could have been.

    It’s clear that Stern was not above using the midrashic literature to buttress his own pathology — there’s demagoguerie in that

    — and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

    It never occurred to you that he believed in what he preached. Begin was a demagogue as was Jabotynsky but stern I believe meant every word he preached and lived by it until in all probability Lankin or one of his pals had him murdered by the Brits.

    “Stern was more of a dreamer, poet, idealist, and patriot than a man of action. He had a sensitive soul and a keen mind, but he did not excel in the skills of leadership and organization. He was not a good revolutionary commander.

    I can’t find a single source who agrees with lankin. I think he was jealous of Stern. Not everyone in the Stern Gang agreed with Stern’s ideology but they they did agree on fighting the British and that’s what kept them together.

    In hindsight stern was right and lankin and the ETZEL were wrong. From the standpoint of establishing a Jewish State the British were the main enemy.

  4. @ Felix Quigley:

    “Can we not hope and dream!”

    Of course. I think Lankin’s point, though, was that Stern’s dreaming was in place of reasoned action

    — rather than in accompaniment to it.

    I must say too that the nature of some of his dreams was questionable as well.

    But he seems to have had no internal rudder to keep him from going off the deep end.

  5. Sometimes you have to take fols by the hand and gently guide them…tp seethe significance of what they have quoted!!!

    yamit quotes Trotsky:

    “During my youth I rather leaned toward the prognosis that the Jews of different countries would be assimilated and that the Jewish question would thus disappear in a quasi-automatic fashion. The historical development of the last quarter of a century has not confirmed this perspective. Decaying capitalism has everywhere swung over to an exacerbated nationalism, one part of which is anti-semitism. The Jewish question has loomed largest in the most highly developed capitalist country of Europe, in Germany.

    On the other hand the Jews of different countries have created their press and developed the Yiddish language as an instrument adapted to modern-culture. One must therefore reckon with the fact that the Jewish nation will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come. Now the nation cannot normally exist without a common territory. Zionism springs from this very idea. But the facts of every passing day demonstrate to us that Zionism is incapable of resolving the Jewish question. The conflict between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine acquires a more and more tragic and more and more menacing character. I do not at all believe that the Jewish question can be resolved within the framework of rotting capitalism and under the control of British imperialism.”

    nation cannot normally exist without a common territory. Zionism springs from this very idea.

    That seems to me to sum it all up. This was the view of Trotsky in the 1930s. It was not his view as a young man.

    Note that there is another area of Zionism which Trotsky wrongly leaves out. The above is a secular understanding of Zionism. But this nationalism of the Jews is necessarily transmitted through Judaism, the religion of the Jews.

    Jews need to create this real material state because they have been given an instruction by their Supernatural Being to be a guide unto the nations of the world, and to be that, you need a base in the material world to operate from, and you need to defend yourself from the all too material savages which humanity also has produced.

    This is history. You do not fight history, rather you have to understand it.

    But note…even the most fervent of Jew, still has to get up in the morning, put on the kettle and shave. Even the fervent do not escape the laws of physics, although in their head they may think they do.

    Thus the Jewish Homeland is a Homeland for the Jews and Judaism is the central part of that history.

    trotsky also talks about the Jews having a place on earth where they can practice UNMOLESTED their ancient culture (and Judaism is central in that culture. I notice even my most atheistic friends are into their Jewish culture big time. And why not. I also am lost in the mystical landscapes of Ireland which Yeats often writes about.

    Word of warning…those who call themselves followers of trotsky today on every evidence are indeed the very opposite.

  6. @ yamit82:

    Eliahu Lankin [Irgun Commander in the Galut, beginning in 1946] on Avraham Stern:

    “Almost a year after the separation, Stern formulated the ideological foundation of his organization in the ’13 Principles of Revival,’ a brilliant lyrical creation. In it, he spoke of the ‘Kingdom of Israel,’ of the ‘Jewish sovereign power of the highest order in the East and the Mediterranean,’ and ‘the sword and the book which descended together from heaven,’ and so on — poetic words, expressions of yearning, a prayer for the realization of the sublime dream of a Jewish patriot.

    “But these ‘Principles of Revival’ lacked the realistic plans and tactical guidelines necessary for a political underground movement. When I questioned Stern about these omissions — when I asked what he wanted me to DO tomorrow morning after reading the ‘Principles of Revival’ and where was the plan of action — he had no reply. He admitted that there was still no program.

    “In the early days following the estrangement [between Stern & David Raziel], I did not take sides. I was unhappy with what was happening within the Irgun and found no place for myself there. Stern repelled me with his political strategy of making contact with the Axis. He believed that it was possible to persuade Hitler to concentrate all the Jews in Eretz Israel instead of in Madagascar, a country mentioned in Nazi propaganda at the beginning of the war, before the Germans embarked upon their course of genocide…”

    Actually, in the spring of 1940, Stern (along with much of the world) believed that the Axis were going to win the war.

    He wanted Palestine to be on the “winning side.”

    Of course WHAT the Palestine Jews would have ‘won’ — with the Reich holding the Land — is another matter. . . .

    More from Lankin:

    ” …Besides, I could not accept Stern’s poetic formulation of ideological principles of a revolutionary body as a substitute for a formal political framework. And some of those principles of revival did not appeal to me. For instance, I could not accept the premise that the sword and the book descended from heaven together, nor can I accept it today.

    “A book from heaven? Yes, indeed. But the sword is a curse upon the brotherhood of man… “

    It’s clear that Stern was not above using the midrashic literature to buttress his own pathology — there’s demagoguerie in that

    — and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

    More Lankin:

    “Stern was more of a dreamer, poet, idealist, and patriot than a man of action. He had a sensitive soul and a keen mind, but he did not excel in the skills of leadership and organization. He was not a good revolutionary commander.

    “On the other hand, Raziel was a natural leader with extraordinary organizational qualities. Working together, they had complemented each other’s talents and made a well-balanced pair. They did not succeed separately.”

    [Excerpts: Eliahu Lankin, To Win the Promised Land: Story of a Freedom Fighter, Trans. from the Hebrew, Artziah Hershberg (Benmir Books, Walnut Creek, CA), pp 44-46]

  7. Yamit

    Very good extracts. Thanks for the effort.

    I cannot answer now but this:

    In all of my thinking and writing I have been insistent on seeing this man (Trotsky) in transition.

    Also I am also interested in finding the content of an issue or situation, and not just the appearance.

    I cannot put my finger on it right now but i have read that Trotsky advised or insisted that the Jews get themselves out of Europe, and make their way to Palestine, to set up their state there, the latter is explicit in your extracts above.

    I think he also misread the power of Zionism because he had not studied it properly.

    However capitalist Zionism will betray. (HE IS RIGHT ON THAT) For example I see Netanyahu hitting Iran and thus saving the Jews, but giving up J and S and thus cutting its throat again.

    Capitalist or bourgeois Zionism is an unstable force as far as the Jewish fight is concerned.

    I represent a different trend. For example I disagree with many Jews because I hold out for Jews to win Sinai, and also Jordan, because I refuse to give up on the San remo Treaty.

    Nothing will be won without massive struggle anyway.

  8. @ yamit82:

    “Compare… The LEHI with either jabo’s stated aims and ideology and that of stern who wrote the LEHI statement of principles.”

    Yair was a poet; he had good language skills (possibly rivaling those of Jabo) — but not-so-good leadership skills. And for all his emphasis on violence (and contempt for politics & diplomacy), he was a dreamer more than a man of action.

    Eliahu Lankin (commander of the Altalena on the fateful day of its sinking by Palmach) — who sided with Stern in some matters — regarded him as a poor revolutionary commander. [See my next post.] As for Stern’s ideas:

    “[Stern] and his associates had been proponents of the concept of unlimited force even before they split from IZL and set up Lehi. In the first years of the war this organization made a semantic distinction between “enemy” and “oppressor.” Hitler was classfiied as an oppressor, while the British were enemies. They saw Hitler as [merely] one link in a long chain of persecutors of the Jewish people throughout the generations. In their view, a victory over Hitler would not solve the dcentral problem of the Jewish people, a “lack of political status”:

    “…’For that reason, we are not prepared to lose our forces on that nondecisive front of battle.’

    “In contrast, the British stood directly in the path of the Jewish people leading to sovereignty in their own land. It followed that the principal means of struggle had to be directed against the British in order to dislodge them from Palestine. Stern, Eldad-Scheib, Friedman (Yelin-Mor) and their associates carried the reasoning of Ahimeir, who saw the British as ‘alien occupier.’ to its logical conclusion… They held that it was of no importance to participate in the war against Hitler. Moreover, in line with the principle, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” there was an additional avenue worth exploring: One could try to gain assistance from the Nazis against the true enemy, the British.

    “That position led directly to attempts by Lehi to forge contacts with the German authorities at the end of 1941. This aspect of their approach was obviously in total opposition to the conception of Ahimeir & Uri Zvi Greenberg, whose commitment to the Jewish people was never in question. The atempt by Lehi to court the Germans proved abortive and led to nothing, but casts revealing light on the psychological makeup of that group’s leadership, and contortions of morality they were drawn into as a consequence of their conception of power, in which the ideas of both Darwin and Nietzsche intermingled…” [Anita Shapira, Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948 (Stanford U. Press, 1992), p. 346]