Hal Draper

To Break the Vicious Spiral in Palestine





This is an extract from chapter XV of Hal Draper, Zionism, Israel & the Arabs. The author presents a series of points that would break the vicious spiral of violence. This can be done, first and foremost, by treating the Palestinians inside Israel (the much smaller territory that formed the state of Israel) with decency and respect. In other words, the Jews should a play a role “not over the Arab peoples but as a partner with them, as one Middle Eastern people among others”.



In discussing the crisis in the Middle East, we are dealing with one of the most difficult problems in a torn world. There are no very easy or ready-made solutions. As someone has said, it is “a conflict of rights”—it is not a simple matter of right on one side and wrong on the other. By the same token,it is a conflict of wrongs too. […]

The question is how to break out of a vicious circle.

One of the poles of the situation is the threat by the surrounding governments to wipe out Israel as a state. As I tried to stress at a recent symposium on the subject, on which this article is based, this discussion is within the framework of the question of how to defend Israel—against this threat.

“How to Defend Israel” in this sense is also the question we addressed ourselves to in the Palestine war of 1948. At that time we supported Israel in the war against the invasion of the Arab states; but we predicted that if the war were carried through as a war against the Arab people, rather than as a revolutionary war of defense appealing to the Arab people against their own rulers, only grief would come of it. And we were indubitably right, as events have shown. […]

But we have always stressed that we expect more from the Israeli working-class movement, precisely because of its relatively more advanced social and political character. This is why we have addressed ourselves in the first place to a program for Israel— how to break out of the vicious circle.

What is at stake is the survival of Israeli Jewry, and also all of its considerable accomplishments in many fields, all of the many sacrifices that were made by or exacted from so large a part of its population since the exodus from Nazism.

We fear that what is happening may be a new act in the tragedy of the Jewish people. Yesterday it was played out in Europe; now it has been shifted to the Palestine arena, which according to the Zionist ideology was supposed to be the scene of the final solution of the Jewish question. […]

In 1953 when Foreign Minister Sharett reported to his Knesset on world reaction against the Kibya massacre, he said: “It is ... false to assume that Israel cannot survive without peace. We exist and can continue to exist indefinitely without it.”

Exist? Perhaps. But how?
As a state ghetto in the Middle East?
As a fear-palled fortress?
As a militarized garrison?
As a satellite of Washington?
Even before this present alarm of war, two years ago, two leaders of  the Ichud of Israel regretfully put a spotlight on the following fact, which speaks volumes: “The State of Israel ... is today almost the only country in the world where the life of Jews is in danger—now, and even more so in the future.”

Think of it!

If the outcome of the “Zionist fulfillment” is not to be simply another act of Jewish tragedy, then some way of breaking out of the vicious circle must be found.

In fact, it is not a vicious circle but a vicious spiral, a spiral down. The present situation is not some entirely unforeseen result of unpredictable factors. From the beginning of Zionism, the opponents of Jewish chauvinism insistently pointed to the fatal results that would flow from trying to displace a people from their land by colonization under the aegis of an imperialist power. The Zionists always underestimated the “Arab question,” though usually giving it lip service. Reactionary Arab leaders utilized the justified resentment of their people, against the interlopers who came under the protection of the imperialist’s flag, and turned it into fuel for their own dynastic and feudal power-politics. So reaction on both sides has jacked up mutual antagonism first on one side and then on the other.

This jacking-up process has been especially virulent in the last few years. It has even been systematized with the adoption by the Israeli authorities, under Ben-Gurion’s inspiration, of the policy of “massive retaliation” (as against Kibya, Gaza, and Syria) in response to Arab attacks; which in turn were exacerbated by Israeli injustices to its refugees; which in turn took place on the background of the Arab states’ aggressive assault on the sovereignty of the new State of Israel in 1948; which in turn of Zionist transgressions in the Jewish-Arab relations in this land which they were infiltrating with the hope of taking it away from its inhabitants ...

This vicious spiral is still moving down. The program proposed below aims to break it from the Israeli side.

There are four guiding principles on which any such program has to be based, in our opinion. These are four things to realize about the position of Israel. Or four ways of looking at it.

(1) First and foremost, Israel must be looked on as a Middle East state.
Not as the “fulfillment” of the Bible or Theodor Herzl. Not as a ghetto (a very large ghetto with national boundaries) in the midst of an Arab world. Not as a regional beachhead for NATO or American imperialism.
Israel will either accept its being as a Middle East state, as against any of the other concepts, or it will remain an alien splinter-state festering in the body of this region where three continents meet.

(2) Israel must be a state of two peoples, Jews and Arabs—a bi- national state in this sense, even though the Jewish majority will inevitably be the dominant element. [The author makes reference to the territories under the jurisdiction of the State of Israel in the year 1956, before the vast expansion as result of the wars of 1967 and 1973]


(3) The problem of breaking out of the vicious spiral is not how to appease the Arab rulers, not how to tickle them under the chin with concessions.

Even when and where the Israeli leaders have thought to make concessions, it has been with this false perspective.

The aim is how to appeal to the mass of Arab people against these rulers, how to mobilize them against their own government cliques.

In this sense, it is a revolutionary approach, and the very opposite of appeasement.

The question of concessions to the Arab population, or a new approach in Arab-Jewish relations, takes on an entirely different coloration from the standpoint of this objective.

In contrast, Israeli policy has lurched between appeasement on the one hand and provocation on the other, always with the eye fixed on the Arab tops. The way out of the vicious spiral is: from below.

(4) The Arab countries, it must be recognized, are not simply backward and zombie-like societies, with passive but bloodthirsty Arab hordes firmly in the grip of feudal devils. This is a chauvinist caricature.
The Arab countries today are rent through and through with revolutionary ferment. They are filled with anti-government and anti- status-quo dissent—more so than Israel. Their masses are stirring.

There is no paradox in the following statement: The same hatred of the Arab regimes by its people which today even takes the form of anti- Israel extremism could, given a revolutionized Israeli policy, be channelized in a progressive direction—to blow up from within the dictators and feudal powers who are today the joint enemies of both their own people and the Israeli Jews.

There’s the direction to look! Certainly not to the Big Brothers in the imperialist camps; not to cynical manipulators like Dulles and his colleagues in Washington, who are ready to sell out the so-called “bastion of democracy” at the drop of an oil barrel. Not to the totalitarians in Moscow.

A “security pact” with the U.S., which the Israelis and Zionists are demanding, would afford Israel no security in making this little country the local branch office of the Atlantic Pact in a hostile environment.

An Israel which is “guaranteed” by U.S. armed “police action,” as is demanded, is more likely to make Israel a Korea than to integrate it into the Middle East where it exists.

When the Israeli regime faces in this direction, it is of course in response to immediate dangers from its threatening neighbors; but to face this way is to ensure disaster. There is no safety in becoming the satellite, satrapy or stooge of the imperialists.

So Israel must about-face. It has to go in the other direction, to integrate with the peoples of the Middle East as a force for political freedom in friendship and peace.

What these “four principles” add up to, we admit, is a revolutionary transformation in the Zionist policy-basis of the state—no slight change.

The question is whether the realities of life in the Middle East will batter this into the Zionist-stuffed heads of the political people of the country before the last act of tragedy is played out.

But in any case it is a change in direction that is vital, not an overnight transmogrification. The direction would have to be toward winning the support and friendship of the Arab masses, away from and against the reactionary rulers of the Arab states—instead of the present policy which pushes them together.
This program begins at home for Israel.

In Israel the Arab question is first of all internal, not external.
Israel can show the world how to make peace with the Arab people without waiting on the power-politics or whims of neighboring kings or colonels.

Israel will never achieve real peace with the surrounding Arab world, even after a settlement with the Nassers, as long as it is at war with its own Arab minority.
This is the first place to start, to reach the Arab people.
This is precisely the opposite of the prevailing Israeli line—prevailing since 1949 at least. It early became the government practice and the Zionist norm to treat all Israeli Arabs as if they were enemies as long as the neighboring states breathed war clouds.
Spoliation of Israeli Arabs has been excused on the ground that they are fifth-columnists, potential or otherwise. Discrimination against Arabs at home has been condoned and officially fostered in vital economic fields—even Arabs who were never hostile to the state; even Arabs who fought with the Israeli Jews against the Arab armies.
For seven years, with zigs and zags, Israeli policy has pushed itself into the pattern of making bitter enemies out of even friendly Arabs, in spite of sectors (like health and education) where real benefits were bestowed.
Arabs were juridically turned into second-class citizens by a Law of Nationality which discriminated racially and put obstacles to citizenship in the path of Arab families whose ancestors had lived in the land for a thousand years.

It was this Law of Nationality which caused Norman Thomas to write that “An Arab, without too much exaggeration, could complain that the Jews were practicing Hitlerism in reverse ...” If the comparison seems shockingly extreme, it is an index to Thomas’s sense of shock.

The overwhelming majority of Israel’s Arabs are confined to areas under military rule as if they were a conquered people under occupation by an enemy. To all intents and purposes the military commanders over them are dictators with wide powers over their lives. They cannot even travel out of their areas without military permits, whether to look for a job or to sell their produce on the market or to visit a doctor outside.

The barbarous system of collective punishments (of a village, for example, for an individual’s offense) stems from the colonialist code of the British, but has become an anti-Arab weapon of the Israeli government. It has been applied even to a village that fought on the side of the Jews in 1948.

The system is justified as a security measure. Is it wise security which seeks to turn every Arab into an enemy even if he was not an enemy to begin with?

Is it a security measure that Arabs from the border zones are not allowed to move away from the border, so that presumably their ethnic sympathies will not be so dangerous?
Is it entirely for security reasons that Jewish citizens (by state definition, “racially” loyal) are not allowed into Arab zones?

Is it entirely for security reasons that an Arab cannot leave one of these military areas and come to Tel-Aviv without a military permit?

Nor is it in the interests of security that the Arab population (including some who never moved from their villages during the war) have been systematically robbed of land, by a series of laws.

The large majority of the Arabs who remained in Israel territory during the war were peasants—people who, uprooted from their land, were uprooted in life.

From 1948 to a culmination in 1953 a systematic land-grab went on—”legally.” By an Absentee Properties Law of 1950, Arabs who fled from their village to a neighboring village, to get out of the way of the bullets, or some even because they were ousted by Israeli troops, were declared technical”absentees” even though they were in the country, not to speak of those who were caught on the other side of borders as refu- gees. The government took away their land.

By another set of laws, the government stripped Arabs of land by declaring an area a “security zone,” then making it Araberrein, ousting all Arabs, taking over the land and handling it over to Jewish settlement.
By the Land Acquisition Law of 1953, even land-grabs that had been perfectly illegal up to then were sanctioned ex-post-facto, and Israeli Arabs were despoil of land which was added to Jewish settlements.
Aside from the inadequacy and trickiness of the government’s compensation provisions, no money compensation could keep these Arabs’ lives together.

It is little justification for these gross acts when pro-Zionist apologists, in extenuation, point to the U.S. crime against Japanese-Americans who were stripped of their property and herded behind barbed wire for the duration of the war.
These are the two main grievances which work to turn Israel’s Arabs into “security risks” against their own will: military rule and the land-grab.

To this, add the problem of the Arab refugees from Palestine who were caught on the other side of the truce lines at the end of the war, after a mass flight from the war-torn land which was caused by three pressure working in close harmony: the threats of the Arab military forces; fear of the Israeli forces especially after the atrocious Deir Yassin massacre, and ejection from villages even by the regular Israeli troops; and evacuation by the British forces when they left Palestine.

The refugees too have been turned, unnecessarily, into a festering pool of hatred and hostility—incidentally, not only against the Israelis but also against the Arab leaders, and almost anyone else.

Insistently, the Israeli government and Zionist parties have taken the position that they can do nothing to change the lot of these Arab masses until the Arab war lords become willing to make a peace settlement.

They keep their eyes fixed on the tops.

They were willing to think in terms of a deal with Abdullah of Jordan, till he was assassinated. They are willing to think in terms of a peace deal with Nasser, if he will change his tune.
But they have shown no capacity to think in terms of a “deal” with the discontented masses, that is, of a revolutionary approach to them—from below.

They too look on the Arab people as pawns of their leaders, doomed to be somebody’s victims—victims of oppression by an Israeli overlord or an Arab overlord.

If this is true, then Israel is probably doomed as a free and independent state and a decent home for its people.

The conditions that have been sketched point to another way. This road leads from unity with the Arab population at home to the implementation of a bi-national approach to drive a class wedge inside the encircling Arab states.

It is a road that can turn the socialist and democratic currents of Arab life from enemies of Israel’s existence to friends of a revolutionary Israel which fights for two peoples.
It is a program which starts with proposals that are demanded by elementary feelings of justice, to remedy political sins which today lie heavy on the conscience of every decent man in Israel.

(1) An end to the land-grab from the Arabs of Israel. Repeal of the discriminatory laws. Rent from occupied land and possessions to go to the Arab owners immediately. Return of a maximum of such land and real property to Arab owners. Compensation at full current value in all other cases.

(2) Full and equal citizenship rights for Arabs.

(3) Abolition of the segregation system, restrictions, permits, etc., in Arab zones, and turning over of a maximum of functions to civilian self- government.

(4) Abolition of military rule over Arab areas.

(5) Extension of the right to all members of an Arab family to rejoin parents in Israel.

(6) Encouragement—not just toleration, but encouragement—to Arabs to enter into every field of life and work on a plane of complete equality. Extension to Arab workers of the right to vote in the Histadrut elections.

The above six proposals give examples of the type of change that involve the present Arab minority in the country.

(7) The Israel government should return to the proposal it made once before, albeit grudgingly under U.S. pressure: admission of 100,000 of the refugees.

(8) Acceptance of the principle of repatriation or compensation for other legitimate refugees—not conditioned on a prior peace agreement with the kings and colonels but as part of an Israeli political offensive. Few observers expect an overwhelming number to insist on repatriation.

(9) The Jewish fund-raising network in the United States and elsewhere has raised millions of dollars a year for Israel. Let the American Jewish fund-raisers announce a campaign to raise such millions to resettle the Arab refugees, and the whole world would be electrified!

(10) The abandonment of the theory and practice of Israel as a “Jewish State,” as explained above.

(11) Border changes to straighten out the frontier so as to reunite Arab villages with their own land where the truce lines ran through them: one of the biggest single contributions possible to stopping “infiltration” and border incidents.

(12) And lastly, on the basis of such a deep revolutionary transformation of Israeli policy, which ranges the Jewish people of Israel with the Arab people: launching of a massive initiative and political offensive inside the whole Arab world to rally support for the new Israel and against any and all of the provocateurs and fanatics and dynasts who want war.

It is in such a context that an enormous initiative could be taken to do, within such a transformed framework, what Nahum Goldmann of the Jewish Agency proposed the other week: a program of Israeli-Jewish economic development and investment for the whole Middle East.

This idea, with all of its huge potential, was suggested in a speech by Goldmann, who was speaking as a top leader in the World Zionist movement, but he did it in the traditional Zionist way: as a dangled piece of bait to reward some “good” Arab leader who would accede to Israel’s demands.

But the idea itself, in the framework of our own program, is dynamite. Not as a reward for capitulation, but as the spearhead of a political offensive. Propose it now. Of course, the Arab states are busy pretending that Israel does not even exist, or at least refusing to recognize its exis- tence—except to implement their economic boycott against this non- existent state. Let them reject such an economic offensive, on the basis of a transformed Israel policy ...

Instead of hedging in Arab students at Hebrew University with restrictions and red tape and suspicion, let Israel make efforts to bring Arab students there, and press for cultural exchanges of all sorts.

Above all, and this applies to the program as a whole, it is meaningless to act along these lines in a half-hearted fashion; or (as the Israeli government has typically done) suggest that one is willing to make a couple of concessions along these lines only provided the other side (meaning the kings and colonels and feudals) reciprocate.

The whole point of such a program is its sweep. A policy of half- hearted appeasement, alternating with sporadic retaliation and provocation, is a combination of sure poisons, bringing together everything that is self-defeating.

What unites and inspire such a revolutionary program is its aim: the eventual integration of Israel into a Federation of the Middle East to unite the region for development and independence from outside pressures and imperialism. This may be a more or less distant aim: that is not the point. Every step in the direction of Arab-Jewish unity is a step in its direction.

This is not only the road of survival for Israel’s Jewry; it is more. It means the end of the state’s ghetto existence. It means the liberation of its none-too-plentiful resources from the crushing burden of armaments. It means the normalization of its economy, which can make sense not by indefinite dependence on international charity but by correlation with the complementary economies of its Arab neighbors. It means the end of its process of satellization by the American dollar—both the dollar of charity and the dollar of imperialism.

And still more: it means that for the first time, Israel can really play the role it deserves where the superior cultural and technical resources of much of its population can legitimately give it the position of a beneficent leader and guide in Middle Eastern development, as a part of a whole.

Today its boast of being the “bastion of democracy” and progress in its part of the world is only a boast. Tomorrow it could really play that role—not over the Arab peoples but as a partner with them, as one Middle Eastern people among others.

Labor Action, March 5, 1956


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