In Defense of Ben-Gurion's Legacy
by Gad Nahshon
In Part I of his book, Dr. Heller discussed the development of the idea for the Nov. 29, 1947 U.N.'s 'Division Plan.' Dr. Heller pointed out that Ben-Gurion was the one who, from 1939, changed the orientation from a British one to an American one. He left Weizmann, the pro-British leader, behind. Ben-Gurion had to fight with some pro-Soviet leaders, but he won the battle and the U.S. recognized Israel and also gave the new country a loan of $100 million from the American Export-Import Bank. Indeed it was not easy to win the U.S. for the Zionist idea.
During discussions about the borders of Israel (remember Bernadot's plan: Israel without the Negev), Ben-Gurion remarked: "...America did not lift a finger in our rescue, and also declared an embargo, and had we been annihilated we would not have been resuscitated...Will we ask for America's mercy to send us an army to defend us? America is enormous - we are a small people and helpless. We cannot stand up to American force, but our survival takes precedence over accepting its view."
In Part II, Dr. Heller discussed the issue of the Arabs in the eyes of the Zionists: The Arabs were assessed as one nation. He wrote: "This discussion of the Zionist attitude toward the Arab question refers primarily to the Arab states, less so to the Palestine Arabs. To begin with, the basic Zionist conception was that the Arabs were one nation. Second, since the Palestine Arabs had shown absolute opposition to Zionism they were written off as a partner. The Arab states, however, were thought to espouse a more moderate policy because of the Faisal-Weizmann agreement (1919), which had envisaged an independent Arab kingdom in Iraq and Syria and a vaguely defined Jewish Palestine. This was adopted by the Zionist leadership as a possible future scenario for Jewish-Arab coexistence. The development of Zionist policy toward the Arabs can be divided into three main periods. The first was the decade of illusion and naivet�, beginning in 1919, when the Faisal-Weizmann agreement created the delusion within the Zionist movement that the Palestine Arabs could be ignored and that the Arab world was a monolithic entity. The fundamental Zionist conception was that the Palestine Arabs must pay the price for the Jews' return to their homeland and must find compensation through the satisfaction of Arab national ambitions in neighboring countries. The second was the period of realpolitik (1929-37), in which Zionist decision makers came to realize that an armed conflict with the Arabs was probably unavoidable and that consequently, in the limited time available, it was essential to attain a maximum of power through land acquisition, immigration, economic growth, and self-defense. The third was the period of nation building in part of Palestine (1937-47) in order to achieve the agreement of the great powers and of the Hashemite dynasty in Transjordan to a Jewish state."
The idea of solving the Arab's issue by a transfer was on the agenda in 1944. It was not the first time. Israel Zangwill, the famous Zionist-territorialist leader, a famous Jewish writer-playwright, believed that a transfer is a must for the Zionists. And he was not the only one. The transfer meant also a transfer of Jews from Muslim countries to Palestine. Dr. Heller wrote that the leaders did not like the experts of Arab issues such as Eliahu Sasson who tried to achieve an Arab agreement for the establishment of a Jewish state in 1947-48. He was a pessimist as to the future of such a state in the Middle East. But Ben-Gurion was stubborn: he decided to launch his "pragmatic activism" which meant also the use of terrorism against the British Mandate. Weizmann objected to the use of terrorism. Ben-Gurion had to fight many leaders inside his own party, "Mapai" who were against the use of violence. He listened to the militant anti-British leaders such as Moshe Snea, the head of the 'Haganah', the major Yishuv's underground organization. Ben-Gurion, concluded Dr. Heller, believed in activism, pro-American policy, and the U.N.'s partition plan of Nov. 29, 1947.
As to those who challenged Ben-Gurion in the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine which was organized according to the British Mandate only as a religious entity. The British systematically, from 1921 to 1948, or May 15, 1948, when they left Palestine from Haifa's port, did everything to dismantle the idea of a national home which was the idea of the 'Balfur Declaration' of Nov. 1917), Dr. Heller discussed the following movements:
The Intellectuals: They believed in a bi-national state. They established an organization called "Ichud" (unity). Among the members: Yehuda Magnes, Martin Buber, Moshe Smilansky. Their goal was to establish an entity which would not be exclusively Jewish. They also fought against the Nov. 19, 1947 U.N. 'partition plan' which gave the Jewish a legitimate state according to the international law. The Arabs, in principle, fought against this plan and their diplomats declared in the U.N. that they will use power and a war to destroy it in the area. They even said that they will not be able to defend their Jewish minority in case of an anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish Middle Eastern war. Of course, today, only few are familiar with these historical open threats to the Jews in the Middle East or the Arab-Muslim countries;
Aliyah Hadassah: (Hebrew: New Aliyah) was a small party which preached non-violence as a sacred principle. Most of its members were Jewish-German olim such as Pinchas Rosen. In 1948 they established the progressive party; 3. The Radical Left: The great Kibbutz movement "Hashomer Hatsir" (Hebrew: Young Guard) was a Marxist, pro-Soviet political movement. In 1948 it became the "Mapam" (the united workers party). This movement preached for peace with the Arabs but could not find a true partner in the other side. They fought against the 'partition plan' and always fought for an Arab-Jewish unity and a bi-national state;
The Radical Right: Dr. Heller related to it as "A Zionist Sinn Fein?" Indeed Dr. Heller discussed the revisionist movement which was created since 1923 by the great Zionist leader, Zeev Jabotinsky or "Jabo" (1860-1940). Dr. Heller pointed out that Jabo and Ben-Gurion could cooperate. Jabo believed in the idea of a militant Zionism. Both fought against the policies of Weizmann. But Ben-Gurion attacked revisionism as a new Jewish fascism and as a military movement. He also hated the legendary leader Menachem Begin. But Ben-Gurion as a socialist viewed revisionism as a pro-capitalist and anti-worker movement. Sad to say, but Ben-Gurion used to refer to Jabo as "Vladimir (Zeev) Hitler." In his appendix, Dr. Heller discussed some of the aspects of the new historians, the revision historians, or the so-called 'post-Zionist historians.' He discussed a new fashion in Israel: to be 'in' you, as a historian or a sociologist, should be a post-Zionist. You should destroy at least one Zionist myth! Beware, these historians argue, of the fact that your parents and your teachers as well as your leaders told you lies about the past, about Jews and Arabs. They, the historians claimed, just washed your brain as a child or as a student. Do not believe the official stories.
Dr. Heller comes to defend the truth. He wrote that there was never a Jewish conspiracy "...to deprive the Palestinians of their assets." He discussed the issue of David and Goliath to say that Jews were a weak nation in 1948 fighting against Arab countries which attacked Israel. The Yishuv was weak. Its success had to do only with its motivation. The victory in 1948 was originated in quality and not in quantity. Dr. Heller, in principle, demonstrated to the reader that to say that 'Israel was born in sin' is just to smear the Yishuv and the Zionist movement. He argued that the post-Zionists are wrong to use their conspiracy theories against the Zionists. It is a fact that Ben-Gurion was just a pragmatic leader. He did not conspire against the Arabs. He simply followed his concept of security. That was the reason that he always refused to repatriate the Palestinian refugees. Why? He argued that they would be just a fifth column.
Ben-Gurion, as a Prime Minister of Israel, rejected any peace solution which included a re-patriation article of Palestinian refugees. It was his law of iron! The post-Zionists have targeted Ben-Gurion to be their Zionist 'bad guy.' In their eyes he is the one who committed the 'sin' against the poor Palestinians:
"In conclusion, what is needed to effect a balance in Zionist historiography is not proof of the centrality or marginality of the transfer idea in Zionism, or evidence of whether Abdullah and Ben-Gurion hatched a collusion. The need is for a comprehensive study of the tactics and strategy pursued by all parts of the Zionist movement, distinguishing between left and right, conservative right and radical right, social-democratic left and Marxist left. Such an approach will show the Zionist movement to be more pragmatic and less deliberate and planned in its development."
Dr. Heller, in his The Birth of Israel concluded that the key of understanding why Zionism in the years 1936-1949 or from 1945-1949 was successful is to be found in the effective leadership of David Ben-Gurion who based his policies on the following elements or outlines:
The right of Jews to re-patriate - Aliyah, legal or illegal one: the Jewish Law of Return! The British sin was the fact that they closed the gates of Palestine during the Holocaust era;
Integrated a guided control cooperation in the military struggle against the British mandate with the radical right (Irgun and Lehi, the Stern Group). It was only a temporary kind of cooperation;
Since 1946-1948, Ben-Gurion built a special struggle by mobilizing the Yishuv as an effective tool for illegal Aliyah or in Hebrew 'Haapala' (to reach the summit of the mountain - a symbolic term like Aliyah, to move up the moral ladder...). The entire Yishuv turned by Ben-Gurion to be one united front of fighting against the British anti-Jewish immigration policy. It was a 'demographic war', first of all;
The creating of a strong coalition. Ben-Gurion's ability to build his political supportive national consensus before 1948;
The creating of a positive military concept, a security philosophy. Ben-Gurion was always the military leader as well as the political one. He developed the concept of security which was alive and well until 1974. He was the 'commander of the commanders.' He loved to manage the military affairs in detail.
Dr. Joseph Heller demonstrated in this book the greatness of David Ben-Gurion. He taught us that the post-Zionists or the 'new historians' attempt to dismantle the legacy of David Ben-Gurion was only wishful thinking. The historical reality and evidence contradict their so called new history. Of course, there is, as Dr. Heller suggested, more room for more research assessing new dimensions of historiography and we know that no one is perfect but one cannot 'rape' history just to be a new historian. One cannot judge history when he approaches the facts with a subjective agenda of 'sin.'
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