1920s >> 1929 >> no-304-october-1929

Potash and Palestine :Dead Sea Fruit

The fighting between Arabs and Jews, which broke out in Palestine in the middle of August with heavy loss of life and the usual stories of “atrocities” on both sides, has drawn renewed attention to the Zionist Movement and to the whole question of racial and religious strife in the modern world.

The Zionist Movement was founded by a Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, who in 1895 was sent to Paris by a Vienna newspaper to report on the famous Dreyfus case. In his pamphlet, “The Jewish State,” he argued that the relationship between Jews and non-Jews would never cease to be a problem until an independent Jewish national state had been set up, preferably in Palestine. His scheme was received at first with hostility or indifference, but from 1897, when the inaugural congress was held, the movement grew continually stronger and wealthier, being helped considerably by the gifts of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. There seemed to be little prospect of settlement on a large scale in Palestine, then part of the Turkish Empire, until the British Government, on the capture of Jerusalem, issued a declaration in 1917 committing themselves to the idea of establishing a Jewish national home in that country. Since 1919 the Jewish population has increased from 57,000 to 162,000, but they still represent a small minority in comparison with the 650,000 Arabs. The Christians number about 75,000.

It has been too readily assumed that the conflict is wholly or mainly due to racial of religious differences, a view which has been seemingly supported by the fact that the actual incident which precipitated the outburst was connected with the “Wailing Wall,” a spot sacred to the adherents of the Jewish religion but the property of Moslems. It is not necessary to look far below the surface to see that this kind of explanation is inadequate. The differences exist, but while they add bitterness to the dispute they are not the underlying cause of it. For a thousand years until after the war Arabs and Jews lived side-by-side in Palestine without ill-will. The Jews in Baghdad have issued a manifesto condemning Zionism and associating the local Jews with the protests of the Moslems. (See report in Times, 31st, August.) Many Jews in Palestine are indifferent to the Jewish religion. It is interesting to notice, also, that whereas British and American Christians in Jerusalem helped to defend the Jews against the Arabs, the native Christians sided with the Moslems. The Arab Christians are reported to have expressed the opinion not long after the British Government’s Zionist Declaration that they would prefer to be back under the Turks. (See Morning Post, September 13th.) Moreover, many Jews in Europe and America and elsewhere are still in complete hostility to the objects and principles of the Zionist Movement.

The British Prime Minister has stated his view that the conflict is not one of race or religion, but merely the outburst of disorderly persons—an explanation which again fails to explain. Then the Communists inform us, in a resolution passed at the last Congress of the League against Imperialism (one of the numerous aliases of the Communist International), that Zionism is one of the “instruments of Imperialism” for the “oppression of the Arab peoples.” (See Sunday Worker, September 1st.) They call on the British and Jewish workers “to stand side by side with the fight of the Arabs for independence.” (Sunday Worker, September 8th.)

Let us now consider the chief interested parties and what exactly their interests in Palestine and Zionism are. And, first of all, let us consider the position of the British Government.

The story is that Mr. Lloyd George was led to support Zionism out of gratitude to Dr. Weizmann, who in addition to being the head of the Zionist organisation was the chemist who made good Britain’s shortage of explosives during the war. But it is well to remember certain other facts. One is that Palestine occupies a commanding position in relation to the protection of the Suez Canal route to India and beyond. It is an essential link in the Imperial Airway to India, and there is talk of an oil pipeline from Persia to the Palestine coast. Haifa has been described as the finest naval harbour on the Mediterranean, and the only harbour except Malta in which the British fleet could anchor for its protection. In the House of Commons, on April 30th of this year (see Hansard of that date). Mr. Amery, Colonial Secretary, said that Haifa will become “one of the main ports of the Middle East.” In short, it is obvious that the British ruling class have some very powerful “Reasons of State” for remaining in Palestine, whether their proteges, the Zionists, are in trouble with the Arabs or not.

Next, let us consider the Zionist movement. On July 28th of this year the 16th Congress of the Zionists opened at Zurich, and resulted in some very important changes in the constitution of the governing body. Hitherto the “Jewish Agency,” the body which has officially represented the Jewish settlement in Palestine, has been entirely composed of Zionists. The 16th Congress marked the success of Dr. Weizmann’s plan to create an “extended Agency” representing Jewish circles quite outside and indifferent to the old Zionist movement. The correspondent of the New Statesman (August 31st) says that the old movement was democratic in organisation and “represented chiefly the lower Jewish middle-class, which in Eastern Europe was even poorer than the proletariat.” The new Agency is frankly non-democratic and “represents on the whole higher Jewish finance and big business …. the practical, hard-boiled American business man.” At its first meeting on the llth August there were present, among others, Sir Herbert Samuel and Lord Melchett (Mond). (See Industrial and Labour Information, Geneva, September 16th.) We may observe in passing that the correspondent of the New Statesman says that many of these hard-boiled business men are interested very much in the philanthropic side of the venture, and Mr. Amery, too, thought that the American interest was “no doubt largely sentimental.” (Hansard, April 30th.) But, then, there are other things also. Lord Melchett and his business associates have interests in Palestine in connection with water power concessions for the production of electricity, but what is, at hast potentially, of most importance to them, as chemical producers, is the concession for the extraction of potash and other valuable salts from the Dead Sea. At present a German cartel practically monopolises potash and its allied chemicals, and it is hoped by the Anglo-American interests who take this philanthropic interest in Palestine that the Dead Sea may make them independent of the German producers. Colonel Howard-Bury, M.P., has said (see Hansard, 30th November, 1927) that the potash deposits alone are estimated to be worth £14,000 million at current prices ; although it is true that Mr. Amery (Hansard, 12th March, 1928) would not commit himself to this figure, and Sir Herbert Samuel has estimated it at a mere £800 million. Mr. Amery, has, however, stated that the Dead Sea is estimated to contain 2,000 million metric tons of potassium chloride and 980 million metric tons of magnesium chloride, and the financial interest behind the concessionaires believe that it can be profitably extracted. (Hansard, 12th March.) In the light of this information those words “philanthropic” and “sentimental” make us smile.

It is true that big business men, especially the hard-boiled ones, are notoriously sentimental, and they can afford to be philanthropic; but we too could afford to be philanthropic and sentimental if we were in their shoes, more especially if there was a chance that the philanthropic sprat might hook a Dead Sea mackerel worth £800 million.

In face of this it is not surprising that Mr. Felix M. Warburg, the American Chairman of the new Jewish Agency, should be very angry with the British authorities for having allowed his fellow Jews to organise provocative demonstrations at the Wailing Wall, and thus disturb the “prosperity” of Palestine. (See Times, 6th September.) Riots are bad for business as well as being a source of grief for the hard-boiled but tender-hearted captains of industry.

And what of the Arabs, on whose behalf the simple Communists want British and Jewish workers to fight for independence? Arab workers have been incited against Jewish immigrant landowners, but forget that Arab property owners sold them the land. The Mufti, in an interview with the Palestine High Commissioner on September 6th (see Daily Telegraph, September 7th), demanded :

“on behalf of the Arab community equal economic rights with the Jews, the abrogation of Jewish monopolies for hydro-electric and other concessions, and the regranting of all concessions by and through a Federal Government on the basis of open competition.”

Translated into actual facts, this means that the wealthy Arabs resent seeing all the loot pocketed by their Jewish rivals. Many of these Arabs made vast sums of money out of land speculations owing to the rise in prices following the increased demand for land on the part of the Jews. But what is the value to the propertyless Arab worker of the “right” to tender in “open competition” for Dead Sea concessions? It is worth precisely the same as the British worker’s “right” to become a shareholder in Melchett’s Chemical Combine, or the existing concession companies—nothing whatever. The whole struggle is one between rival Jewish, Arab, American and British capitalists for the valuable privilege of exploiting Jew and Arab, Christian and Atheist, and any other kind of worker. Jewish as well as Arab working-class organisations arc suppressed in the employers’ interest. Religion and race, national independence and patriotism, are now, from the worker’s point of view, just so many ruling-class devices useful for the purpose, among others, of stirring up hatred when and where they may want it. Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Iraq have no more interest at stake in the independence of the states in which, and by which, their exploitation is carried on, than had British and German workers in 1914. Socialism alone is worth struggling for. That is the message of the Socialist to all the working-class dupes of the closely-allied superstitions of religious, racial and patriotic rivalries. Jewish workers and Arab workers both suffer, but not because they are Jew or Arab, or because they happen both to be in Palestine, but because they are workers and therefore exploited by those who own and control their means of life. The Jewish workers cannot solve their problems by transferring their misery from New York or Berlin to Jerusalem. The world will be fit for Jewish workers and Arab workers to live in when, and only when, the working-class, as a whole, have gained political control for the establishment of Socialism.


(Socialist Standard, October 1929)

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