We begin with an excerpt from the short book The Middle East Crisis: A Personal Interpretation by Glubb Pasha, published late in 1967. If you have any interest in the current contretemps in the Middle East, this is necessary and mandatory reading. If you are in a hurry, skip to the bottom, below the fold.
Glubb Pasha was Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb, Christian and veteran of both World Wars, and famed commander of the Arab League, a de facto division of the British Army. Glubb is now less well known than Lawrence, who was flashier and more idealistic, but Glubb was more effective.
Among other books, he wrote a highly recommended biography of Muhammad, an informative history of the Arab empires, and is now perhaps best known for his work
The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival, which is widely available.
Crisis is long out of print, though bootleg copies can be found. This book was a comment on the crisis of the 1967 war. But to get to and give background to that, Glubb wrote a chapter entitled, “A Brief History of the Palestine Grievance”. Glubb was present and participated in the events in question from before World War II until well after, including the 1948 war, as he outlined in his book A Soldier with the Arabs, which should be consulted for many fascinating details (I can’t find any bootleg copies; maybe a reader can).
To save long quotes, everything between the horizontal lines is from Crisis. I have picked out the most relevant quotations, and did not include other important ones, which you should read if you have a chance. There are amplifying quotations from other works after the main excerpt.
A million natives of Palestine in 1948 were driven from their homes and nineteen years later most of them are still in refuge camps. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this state of affairs, the point I wish to make is that these people were convinced that they had a grievance…
The Balfour Declaration
…The second part of that declaration [after allowing a nationalist home for Jews] contained a promise to Arabs of Palestine. “…[ellipsis here original] it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
The Jews who were in Palestine in 1917 were living peaceably with the Arabs. They represented seven per cent of the population, the Arabs providing ninety-three per cent…
The Allied Pledges
[The Allies pledged that] the peoples previously governed by the Turks should have the right to choose their own form of government…The people of Palestine alone were an exception. They were never allowed to choose their own government.
Intervention of Other Arab States
…Fighting broke out immediately after the end of the British Mandate in May, 1948, and Israel gained a sweeping military victory, and was allowed to enjoy the fruits of her armed success. Thus the rights and wrongs of the case were never stated by the Palestinians. Armed force was the means used for settlement.
The justification usually urged for this procedure was that the Egyptians were the aggressors, because they invaded the area allotted to Israel by the United Nations. The argument is of somewhat doubtful validity.
Firstly, the admission of hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants into Palestine under the protection of the British army during the the mandatory period, against the bitter opposition of ninety-three per cent, of the people of the country, is rightly or wrongly regarded by the Palestinians as military aggression…
Thirdly, as we shall see below, the Egyptians are an entirely different race from the Palestinians. If, let us suppose, the Egyptians commit a breach of international law, there is no apparent reason why the Palestinians should be driven from their homes.
It is not my object to say that these arguments, or any others, are valid or not. The point which I wish to make is that the Palestinians genuinely believed that they had a grievance, which, they felt, had never received an impartial hearing…
The Palestine Refugees
In 1948, about a million Palestinians were driven from their homes by force. It has been alleged that some or all of them left their homes voluntarily on the instructions of their leaders. No one has ever said what leader gave this order, on what occasion, or by what means…
Let us agree that the people of Palestine left their homes on orders from their leaders, who told them that they would subsequently be able to return. (“Their leaders”, incidentally, were self-appointed politicians, not elected or representative.) In fleeing from their homes, they abandoned their shops, their houses, their businesses, their farms and their livelihood.
In 1940, great numbers of French people left their homes before the advancing German armies and fled in the clothes they stood up in. Nobody has ever suggested that they thereby forfeited their right to return to their homes when the war was over. The million odd Palestinians who fled in 1948 have never been allowed to return. Most of them are still living in sordid camps, where they have been for nineteen years.
It is quite essential vividly to grasp the unique conditions of the struggle in Palestine. We have witnessed many wars in this century, in which one country seeks to impose its power on others. But in no war, I think, for many centuries past, has the objective been to remove a nation from its country and to introduce another and entirely different race to occupy its lands, houses and cities and live there. This peculiarity lends to the Palestine struggle a desperate quality which bears no resemblance to any other war in modern history…
…the refugees did not want to leave their country. In that part of Palestine which has been in Jordan since 1948, the refugees felt themselves still in their own country and within a few miles of their old homes. The well educated refugees did indeed find employment in other countries, some of them in Saudi Arabia. Many of the others could not have been made to leave what they considered to be their native country. Sometimes it has even been said that the miseries of the refugees are not Israel’s fault but that of the other Arab countries which did not accommodate them.
If the landlord were to evict the tenants from a house and leave them shivering in the gutter, a court of law would scarcely accept the plea that the fault lay with the neighbours, who should have taken them in, not with the landlord who turned them out. The case of the Palestine Arabs, however, was far stronger for they were the owners of the houses from which they had been evicted…
A Minority in Israel
In the course of the present crisis, the Israeli army has occupied all Palestine down to the Jordan. In so doing, they have overtaken most of the refugees who left their homes in 1948 and who have been living for nineteen years in the Gaza Strip or in the Jordan part of Palestine. There are also a million other Palestinians, who are still living in their own homes in the Arab part of Palestine, which has now been occupied by the Israeli army.
It would, therefore, appear that there must now be a million and a half or a million and three quarters Palestine Arabs, in territory controlled by the Israeli army. The number of Israelis in Israel is two and a half million. What is to become of a million and a half or more Palestine Arabs, whose ancestors have been living in their homes in the country for centuries, perhaps for millennia?…
The alternative suggested is that [the Palestinians surrounded in 1967] remain as a minority in Israel, perhaps even with local semi-autonomy in certain areas. The Israelis, it is alleged, are a democratic community, the Arabs would receive the right to vote and would become happy Israeli citizens. Is this a possible solution?
A glance at the world of today is sufficient to prove that some of the world’s most intractable problems are caused by mixed races living in one country. The coloured population in the United States, the Turks and the Greeks in Cyprus, the British in Rhodesia and the Indians and Pakistanis in Kashmir are a few examples. In none of these cases were the two races at bitter enmity, yet their inclusion in one state leads to endless problems, often giving rise to international complications.
The Palestine problem is immensely worse. The Israelis and the Arabs are divided by intense hatred. The neighbours of Palestine have all been involved in the struggle. It is perfectly obvious that so large a minority (one and a half millions out of a total of four millions) would be looked upon by the Israelis as a dangerous security risk. They would certainly be closely watched, disarmed, controlled and suppressed—a hated and despised subject race.
But are not all our modern idealisms directed precisely at preventing the subjection of one race to another? How could the British government object so strongly to white rule in Rhodesia and yet connive at Israeli rule over more than a million and a half Arabs in Palestine? When two races are inflamed with such bitter hatred against one another, is it possible to place a million and a half of one such race under the rule of another?…
The Efficiency Argument
But the Israelis are enterprising and efficient. They would develop the Arab areas and the Arabs themselves would have a higher standard of living. The same arguments were used in 1936 when Italy invaded Abyssinia. The country was poor and backward, the Italians would develop it, establish industries, and make good roads. The Abyssinians themselves would be the chief beneficiaries. But the world at large rejected these arguments with vehemence.
Jews Also Have a Right to Live
Of course they have. The same right as Christians, Muslims and Hindus. The wildness of Egyptian and Syrian demagogy, their neglect of facts and their empty threats have done the Palestinians more harm than good. Silly boasts about pushing Israel into the sea have been the best Israeli propaganda.
Once again, however, we must remember that “the Arabs” are a linguistic and cultural group of many different races. It is unjust to reduce the Palestinians to subjection or to drive them from their homes because the Egyptians are carried away by their own verbosity.
In any case, Israel has amply proved that she is in no danger of being pushed into the sea. She is more likely to push the Arabs into the sea or the desert. Anyone with any knowledge of the area has known this for the last nineteen years.
Glubb ended the chapter with a list of recommendations and commentary on what would or would not bring peace, such as “A bi-national state of Israelis and Arabs could not succeed. Therefore Israel must give back that part of Palestine which formerly was united to Jordan, for the Arabs to live in.”
He ended with this thought:
The dangerous thing about the Palestine grievance is that they have a case which they have never been able to state. The voice of the Palestinians has been drowned by propaganda, or their defence conducted by other Arab states with their own axes to grind, or they have been driven out by military action.
In his autobiography (which I quoted before) The Changing Scenes of Life: An Autobiography he discusses the purge of Palestinians in 1947 and 1948:
Whole villages were bulldozed down and then ploughed over [by the nascent Israelis], so that the refugees would have no homes to which to return. After the armistice, some of these refugees attempted to return to their homes at night to see if they could retrieve any of their possessions. All such persons caught by Israeli patrols were shot dead on the spot, without arrest or trial.
As a result, the infiltrators began to carry weapons and a little sub-guerrilla war developed, which need never have happened…
The second principle on which their action was based was that of ten-fold reprisals. If one Jew were killed by a refugee infiltrator, ten Arabs must be killed in revenge. For this purpose, a platoon of Israeli soldiers would be sent across the line to kill ten Arabs in a border village.
I wrote this comment on that passage before, which I see no reason to change:
Glubb, perhaps surprisingly, does not outright condemn the Jews for these actions. He instead argued that the Israelis learnt this method of suppression from the Germans, who (of course) used it with murderously great success. The Jews, “bullied” by Germans and Russians, became themselves “bullies.” They knew nothing else. And if the Palestinians eventually fell into the habit of terrorism-by-bomb, they learnt that from the Jews in Palestine, who successfully terrorized, murdered, and bombed the British out of that territory before it was ceded to them by the United Nations. There are no real good guys to this story.
It is worth quoting Glubb’s 1946 prediction to a committee of British and American authorities of what the forced partition of Palestine would bring, from the Benny Morris book The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews (p 75; ellipses original):
In precisely the same manner today, Zionism in Palestine is forcing Arab unity and is creating Arab fanaticism … The Zionists may win this round and the next and the next. They may win for 88 years as did the Crusaders. But there will be 88 years of war, hatred and malice and misery. And in the opinion of the present writer, the Arabs will in the end get the upper hand, even if it be in 200 years, and will push the Jews into the sea again.
Glubb concluded that the decision of the committee should not
be limited to a solution of the immediate problem of displaced persons. We must also take into consideration the generations and the centuries to come. An error today may create … one more race problem, which will terminate only, perhaps centuries hence, in the final liquidation of the Jewish bridgehead, after a pogrom of dimensions hitherto unequalled in Jewish history.
Eighty-eight years brings us to 2036.
Glubb argued the coming partition plan (p 105; ellipses original) “was unjustly biased in favour of the Jews. It gave sixty per cent of the area of Palestine … to one-third of the inhabitants” and “The greatest injustice in the UNO partition plan had been the award of the Neqeb [Negev]…to the Jews. In this area the population was still preponderantly Arab; the Neqeb had always been Arab in history”.
Morris tells us that at the start of the 1947-1948 war (p. 124), “Dozens of Arab villages were razed and hundreds of thousands of villagers and townspeople fled or were driven from their homes into (still-) Arab parts of Palestine or out of the country altogether, into exile.” An interesting irony.
In April 1948, this happened (p 127):
But the crucial event, without doubt, was the conquest, by IZL and LHI irregulars (assisted by a small number of Haganah men) [Jewish forces], of the Arab village of Deir Yassin on the western outskirts of Jerusalem on 9 April, part of the Haganah’s ‘Operation Nahshon,’ geared to clearing the length of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road. The conquest was accompanied, and possibly followed, by the killing, mutilation and rape of dozens of unarmed civilians; altogether, about 110 villagers – most of them women, children and elderly persons – died. Subsequently, British, Jewish and Arab reports of the incident, stressing its gruesomeness, contributed to the precipitation of Palestinian flight from neighbouring and distant villages and towns and sparked feelings of anti-Zionist militancy and vengefulness in the masses and in the political elites in the Arab states.
This may sound familiar.
This also only brings us to early 1948, with many years of history to come. If there is interest, there is much more material from Glubb we can cover. Please let me know in the comments.
For a succinct discussion of the current situation, watch this interview with John Mearsheimer (beginning at 8:30).
Subscribe or donate to support this site and its wholly independent host using credit card click here. Or use the paid subscription at Substack. Cash App: $WilliamMBriggs. For Zelle, use my email: firstname.lastname@example.org, and please include yours so I know who to thank.