PALESTINE IN RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
AN ADDRESS BY MR. ALVAH L. MILLER
Chairman: The President, J. P. Pratt, Esq., K.C.
Tuesday, November 22, 1938
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club: Through the courtesy of the Toronto Young Men's Christian Association we are to have this opportunity of hearing an address by Mr. Alvah L. Miller, General Secretary of the Association in Palestine. As a matter of fact, Mr. Miller started his work in the United States and from there he went to India where he was stationed at Lahore, Delhi and Calcutta. He was transferred'- to Jerusalem in 1935 and has been in close touch with the various groups concerned with the present problem in Palestine, toward the solution of which the Government of Great Britain is devoting its best efforts today. I am sure that his views upon the situation will be of great interest. I have much pleasure in introducing Mr. Alvah L. Miller, whose subject will be "Palestine in Retrospect and Prospect." Mr. Miller. (Applause)
MR. ALVAH L. MILLER: Mr. President, Gentlemen of The Empire Club and Guests: It gives me very great pleasure to be back in Toronto after an absence of seven years. I have always enjoyed very much being in Toronto, and it is splendid to be back to meet old friends and make new ones. The last time I was here I had the privilege of speaking a few times regarding the situation in India and I think these days when we are so much concerned with serious problems around the world it is encouraging to note that one of the forward steps made in government during the last few years is in India. It has been splendid to note the way in which the people there have developed in their co-operation with the British people and of the much more satisfactory relationships existing today in that great land.
This afternoon I am going to invite your attention to another section of the world. Palestine is small in size and perhaps when we consider the great issues that are on in, Europe and in the Far East, Palestine may seem to pale into insignificance. Yet, on the other hand, small as it is, almost insignificant in size, it is quite true that Palestine today is of intense interest to many people around the world, and I therefore make no apology in attempting to interpret something of the situation there.
In order to understand Palestine it seems to me we must go back in history. I know of no modern problem that has its roots so deeply embedded in history as does Palestine. Therefore, I invite you to think for a few moments of the history that leads up to our modern problem. Go back about 4,000 years to the second millennium, B.C., and you remember some tribes from the hinterland in Arabia moved west in search of pasture. We read in the Old Testament of one tribe or group of tribes, under the leadership of Abram, found their way across the desert to the interesting city of Damascus, supposedly the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world; then down the length of Syria to Palestine. We read that they pitched their tents under the oaks at Hebron. Then, several hundred years later we find the people now called Israelites, going across to Egypt, once again in search of food and for four hundred years they lived most of the time in bondage to the Pharaohs. Then a great leader, by the name of Moses arose. I sometimes feel that historians have never done justice to Moses, a man of great leadership, ability, character and certainly of great faith. We find him leading these discouraged, despondent, enslaved people out of bondage, over into Sinai where for forty years they lived in the desert, in preparation, I believe, for their return to their promised land. You have read the beautiful phrase in the Old Testament, as Moses stood in the mountain overlooking the Dead Sea anal across to Palestine "he was gathered to his fathers."
Then Joshua stepped into the leadership, piloting them across the Jordan River and back into Palestine. It is important for us to notice, in passing, that immediately upon crossing the Jordan River and arriving at the little village of Jericho, they met opposition, and as they pushed their way further up the hills and across the plains to the Mediterranean, we find that opposition continuing.
Comparatively soon we find that Saul laid the foundation for the Empire upon which David built more firmly and which was more widely extended by his son, Solomon. That reign or rather that empire continued from about 1010 B.C. to 930 B.C., a period of some 80 years when the Israelites ruled and controlled the whole section of the country, not only modern Palestine and Syria, but the territory extended toward Egypt on the south, and out toward Babylon on the northeast. Then, we find following Solomon's death, a period of decline and for 200 years there was chaos throughout the country. This was an important period, however, for during these years the major prophets were giving to the world their great writings. In 721 B.C. the Assyrian Empire swept across that section of the world in its attempt to reach Egypt. The northern kingdom, with its headquarters in Samaria, was completely destroyed. The southern kingdom, with its headquarters in Jerusalem entered into treaty relationship with the invaders and for 200 years they maintained a semi-independent status. There Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in 585 conquered the Assyrians. He overran Palestine and this time Jerusalem was not spared. The city was destroyed and some 400,000 of the people of Jerusalem were taken in bondage back to Babylon. There, for some eighty years they were enslaved. Then Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, gained control of that section of the world and one of his first acts was an act of clemency. He announced that those in bondage, the Jews as well as other peoples, might return to their respective places. Again, according to tradition, some 40,000 Jews made the long trek back to Jerusalem, once again to rebuild the walls and re-establish their ethical and cultural home.
Then, for two centuries we find the Persians ruling the country. Later Alexander, on his way out to India, established his rule and left his Greek generals in charge. Several centuries later the Roman legions are on the march. In 63 B.C., we find them entering Palestine, capturing the old city of Jerusalem and it was under the rule of the Romans that our Lord lived in Palestine.
In 70 A.D. Titus, the Roman general, completely destroyed the old city of Jerusalem, tore down the temple, destroyed the walls, and, according to Josephus, the historian of the day, "ploughed up the streets of Jerusalem."
Now, it is important to note, before we leave this point, that far back in those days Jerusalem was looked upon by the Jewish people as the centre of their cultural and religious hope. We remember reading in the Old Testament how the captives sat by the waters of Babylon and wept and how one of the great singers said, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning." It is important to remember that that same spirit has animated the Jewish people around the world from that day on to the present. Jerusalem is their sacred city, their cultural and their ethical home.
Now, I have given in a very brief space an outline of one of the great chapters of human history; a chapter that I think you will agree ranks right up in importance with the chapters of Rome and the chapters of Greece. The Jewish people living in Palestine and that section of the world made two great contributions. One was their conception of God, developed from a very crude beginning into that great idea, summed up in those words, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one." That was a tremendous step forward, a conception of one God-monotheism. Not only so but a God of ethical characteristics.
Now, it was my privilege to study something of Hinduism in India, and there are many fine, ethical conceptions in Hinduism. Their ideas were developing at the same time as those of the Jews in Palestine. But there is this difference: the Hindus were worshipping many gods. The Jews gave to the world that first great concept of one God, an ethical God, interested in us as individuals. The second great contribution, of course, was the inculcation of those ideas, those concepts, in the immortal prose and poetry, as we have it in the Old Testament today.
Now, let us look at the picture from another point of view for a moment, because like most of our problems in the world today, this picture in Palestine has two sides. Let us pick up another thread of history, this time of the Arab peoples. We read in Holy Writ that Seth, son of Noah, lived 600 years, and begat sons and daughters. Seth is called the first Semite. One of Seth's descendants was Abram, whom I mentioned a few moments ago. We find Abram had two sons, one called Ishmael, the son of Hagar, the Egyptian handmaiden; the other, Isaac, the son of Abraham's wife, Sarai, and 900,000 Arabs in Palestine today trace their lineage back to Ishmael.
Now, coming down to more recent history. In the 6th century A.D. a very important event occurred. Out in Arabia, in a little town called Mecca, some 350 miles from Jerusalem, a boy was born who was named Mahomed. He was destined to change the pages of history. This boy at an early age, we read, joined the caravans that in those days travelled back and forth between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. On the trips the little Arab boy must have learned something of the Jewish religion and the Christian religion, because in the Koran, the Bible of the Moslems, that he gave to the world later, he refers in appreciative terms to the Jewish religion, and of the founder of Christianity. Later, Mahomed, married a wealthy widow and so had time for thought and meditation. We find him sitting in Arabia, as so many Hebrews had sat in that section of the world, and he too felt called upon to deliver a new message. The scattered Arabians had not thought in terms of one God. Now we find Mahomed arriving at the conclusion, along with that of the Jews, that there is but one God, and his conception may be summed up in the phrase, "There is no God but God, and Mahomed is his prophet."
Now, something about Mahomed, his character, his leadership and ability, and certainly his message that he gave to the scattered Arab tribes, enabled him in a very few years to weld together the tribes in a new Arab nation. We see them sweeping across the Persian border, modern Iran, Irak, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, the whole of the north African coast and all Spain and Portugal. For 300 years the Arabs ruled and governed that entire section of the world, not only economically and politically, but culturally. Students from Europe came to sit at the feet of learned Arab scholars during the Dark Ages. The Arabs made a real contribution, especially in the realm of medicine, astronomy and mathematics.
Now, it is important to keep that in mind as we think of the Arab peoples today, because they are very proud of their past. They are very proud of their history, and certainly they have a right to be.
Then, coming down to more recent history, in 1517, we find the old Turkish Empire sweeping across that section of the world and for 400 years to the month, prior to Lord Allenby's entering Jerusalem, the Turks ruled and governed that section of the world.
Now, I suppose if you would look for an illustration of mal-administration, you would find your perfect example in that section of the world under the pre-war Ottoman Turks. The Arab people, we are told by people who lived there through the later years, had little opportunity for developing either economically or educationally. Had it not been for the Christian missions in this part of the world and Europe sending teachers and doctors over to that country, there would have been little in the way of development. They were held down economically. We are told if they bought a few extra sheep or a few extra goats or put a little more land in cultivation, they were taxed to an extra extent. So, we find considerable dissatisfaction with the Turkish rule, even though the Turks were Moslem, and a great majority of the Arabs were Moslem.
But coming to more recent events. In 1915, we find the Turks and the Germans pressing across that section of the world in an effort to get to the Suez Canal, that very important body of water that reaches out to Australia, India, and the Far East, and so particularly important to Britain. So we find Sir Henry MacMahon, the High Commissioner for Egypt, was asked by the Colonial Office to get in touch with the Sheerif of Mecca, later King Hussein of the Hedjas, to see if there was a possibility of stirring up a revolt among the Arab people against the Turks. You remember the story of T. E. Lawrence and "The Revolt of the Desert," how the Arabs did revolt, how they were promised, if they revolted against the Turks, after the war was over they would be given an independent national state. You remember how T. E. Lawrence led the revolt over that section of the world and led the Arabs into Damascus, as the Turks and Germans fled on to the northward.
I would say in passing that there has been some claim since, I think even Sir Henry MacMahon has said that they did not intend to include Palestine in the area promised for an Arab state. Be that as it may, the Arabs understood that it was, and that must be taken into consideration to get an accurate picture of the situation in Palestine today. We also know that T. E. Lawrence, because of his feeling that the British had not quite played fair with the Arabs, resigned from the British army.
Then in 1917 another promise was made, this time to the Jews. Dr. John Chaim Weizman, a Russian Jew, was teaching chemistry in Manchester University. He developed a new method of making an ingredient used in the manufacture of T.N.T., a high explosive. It was something very much needed by the Allies at that time, especially by Britain. He was asked, "What do you want in return for your new discovery?" Dr. Weizman, in magnanimous terms, said, "I want nothing for myself, but the Jews are interested in re-establishing in Palestine a cultural home, a religious home, and we would be glad to have the support of the Allies, particularly the British, in our ambition."
So we find a few weeks later, Lord Balfour stating what is called the Balfour Declaration, in which he said, "The British will look with favour upon the establishment .in Palestine of a home for the Jews, it being understood nothing will be done which will prejudice the civil and religious rights of the already existing inhabitants." That was in 1917 and I suppose as we look back we can say that those two statements, the promise to the Arabs and the promise to the Jews, both made in good faith and both accepted in good faith, is the basis of our difficulties in Palestine today.
Shall we follow it through a bit more closely? At the end of the war there were probably in Palestine about 40,000 to 50,000 Jews. Some of them whom we speak of as Oriental Jews have been there for a great many years. Others have come in more recently, with the hope of re-establishing this cultural home in Palestine.
It is difficult to say how many Arabs there were probably 700,000, both Christian and non-Christian. There are about 80,000 Christian Arabs in Palestine today. As the British took over the mandate in 1921, they attempted under a very able High Commissioner, Lord Samuel, to implement the conditions of the mandate; that is to establish in Palestine a home for the Jews, but at the same time to protect the interests of already existing inhabitants.
We find as we read the record that from the very beginning the Arabs objected. They said, "You have promised us an independent national state. Our country is small." It is about the size of Wales, or if you are familiar with the State of Vermont, slightly larger than Vermont. They said, "We are limited in resources, and we have not enough land as it is to go around. We object. We are afraid if the Jews come in large numbers, not only will we suffer economically but we will probably lose our country."
They may have been right; they may have been wrong. I am simply trying to give their point of view. Steadily, year by year, the Jewish immigration into Palestine arose, so that along in 1929 we had a serious outbreak, when a number of people were killed. Two Commissions came from England. One was the Shaw Commission, I think about 1928-I am not sure of the date-and the other, the Sir John Hope Simpson Commission, which carne in 1930 or 1931. Both studied the situation and proceeded back to Parliament, by and large, approving of the contention of the Arabs that the country was too small for so large an immigration.
Sir John Hope Simpson, for instance, a very able man, made a study of the amount of available land, of good land and poor land in the hills, which your farmers in this land would scoff at for farming and they estimated how many acres it would take to support a family. Then they said, as they divided the acreage by the number of families already in Palestine, "There isn't room for a large immigration," but in 1933, in spite of that report, we find 35,000 people coming into the country. In 1934 we find 48,000; in 1935, there were 62,000 legal immigrants, and according to the High Commissioner, possibly another 20,000 came illegally over the borders and along the Mediterranean Coast. As we look back I suppose the reaction of the Arabs is just what we might expect. They were dominated by fear as they saw the great mass of people coming into their small country, and they said, "If this keeps up for another eight years we will be in the minority. When we are in the minority we will lose our homeland." They may have been right, they may have been wrong. That was the argument they presented.
So we find in April, 1936, the riots broke out. A rebellion started and it has been going from bad to worse ever since.
I should like to digress to say one or two words about the result of the immigration into Palestine. There have been, approximately 400,000 Jews that have come in in the last seventeen years. As you visit some of their colonies--I think I visited the great majority of them--as you visit their hospitals and schools, as you come to understand those splendid arrangements which the labour group has made for looking after sick people or men who need hospitalization, you see what a tremendous advance they have made in comparison to the other sections of the country. They have money, they have organization, they have intelligence, and they have leadership, and one is impressed with the fine work that has been done. But as one looks back one cannot help but feel, I think, that the tragedy of the present situation is that years ago leaders--particularly, I think, the Jewish people, because after all in comparison to Arab leadership it is so much better organized--they didn't insist on gathering people together and sitting down and talking things over anal coming to an understanding as to what was going to happen in the country. Otherwise, how would it be possible to bring so many people into the country in such a comparatively short time and expect everything to go along happily and in a successful, a satisfactory manner. It could not be done in any other country so why should we expect it to work happily in Palestine.
Well, it is easy to criticize as one looks back. Our hindsight is always better than our foresight.
When the troubles continued seriously into 1937 the British sent out this time a Royal Commission, and I think, Gentlemen, I have never had the privilege of meeting a group of men so able, so efficient and so anxious to understand a situation as Lord Peel and his associates. Lord Peel was a remarkable man, and their report is indeed a masterpiece. If you haven't read it, may I recommend that you read it. It is a fine history of Palestine and well worth your study. Anyway, the Lord Peel Commission said in effect in its report back to the King, that the mandate has failed. We may as well admit, as a mandatory power, we have failed. We have attempted an impossible thing. There are two things we can do. We can hand the mandate and our trust back to the League of Nations, from which we have got it, and say we have failed and admit it, or we can attempt something else.
As you know the British way is to attempt something else. So they recommended that the country be divided into an Arab state, a Jewish state and a British sphere of influence. Well, most people, I think, that knew the situation felt that was an impracticable, an impossible solution, and so another Commission was appointed to go out to Palestine, and it has just reported back to Parliament, as you have seen, stating that the partition scheme is impractical. So we are back where we were before, with this difference, that they have recommended now what we all wish might have happened some years ago, the calling together of Jewish leaders and Arab leaders to sit down in London, with English officials, and try to work out some solution.
May I read just a few sentences from the opinion of a great Jewish leader in Palestine, one of the greatest men I think I have ever met--Dr. Magnus--and this is from a speech that he gave last year in August. He says: "It is incumbent upon the Jews to endeavour to come to terms with the Arabs." Later on he says: "The resolution that we propose today is that before any other step of whatever nature be taken, we charge our Committee with the task, if I may use the term, the sacred task of endeavouring to persuade all factors to sit down together to reason with one another and try to bring out a peaceful settlement in accordance with which Palestine, an undivided Palestine, shall not be an Arab state, a Jewish state, but an Arab-Jewish state, and shall expect to find itself in the course of the years under the tutelage of the greatest educating force, Great Britain."
I am perfectly sure Dr. Magnus is right. He went on in another address to say, "If the Jewish national home is always to be dependent on British bayonets it will never be a home worth living in." How perfectly sensible, and how obviously true! How regrettable that the leaders some years ago didn't see the importance of coming to some understanding, and thus allay the fears of the Arabs. There is no other solution, I am perfectly sure. There are 450,000 Jews in Palestine, there are 900,000 Arabs. But we must not forget that on three sides of Palestine, there are 30,000,000 Arabic speaking people, deeply concerned in the outcome. How to build in Palestine today a home that will be of any satisfaction to anyone unless some understanding is arrived at is simply beyond one's imagination. Thus the first essential for a home in Palestine for the Jewish people in my opinion is for some understanding to be arrived at with the Arab people. I believe myself that that is possible, though I will say we are some years too late. I should add that after two and a half years of turmoil and strife, Palestine is in a terrible economic situation. There is great poverty and large unemployment. Even more serious is the great chasm of hatred-hatred, the like of which I have never before experienced, that separates the two peoples in Palestine today. There is no dealing, one with the other, and the spirit of revenge and of hatred is so deep that at times one almost despairs of seeing the chasm bridged.
May I, in a few concluding moments, get on a more cheering subject. I haven't been very optimistic, but I have tried to give an accurate interpretation of the situation in Palestine.
We have in Jerusalem a modern Y.M.C.A. The money was provided by a Christian businessman in New Jersey, who saw in 1921 the hope of establishing there an institution where Christian and Moslem, Arabs and Jews, as well as people coming from all over the world might meet on a basis of goodwill and cooperation.
I wish, Gentlemen, remembering what I have said about the difficulties in Palestine, you might step into our building tonight. It is one of the most beautiful buildings, I suppose, so far as the Y.M.C.A. is concerned, in the world, and there you will find thirty-three nationalities. There is no other Y.M.C.A., I believe, that can equal this claim--thirty-three nationalities. And I am proud to say that all during the difficult days when out on the streets there was riot, bloodshed, arson, murder and strife, in the dormitories and in the swimming pool and in the gymnasium, in the night classes, in the concerts and in the orchestras, there have been Jews and Arab Christians and Moslems working together and playing together and at times, if I may say so, praying together.
An American journalist in Palestine last year spent about three weeks visiting Arab villages and Jewish colonies and in one of the articles that he wrote in the New York Sun upon his return, he said that the only place he had found in the whole of Palestine where the Jews and Arabs were meeting in a friendly spirit was in the Young Men's Christian Association.
I would not for a moment press that too far. I would not claim that we are solving the problem in Palestine. We aren't. It is simply a drop in the bucket.
I told a story last night over in one of the Branches and one of the businessmen suggested that I tell you the same story, and I think perhaps I will. It illustrates what I am trying to say, perhaps as well as anything I can say would do.
We have that famous old British Regiment in Jerusalem, the Black Watch. Some of you are familiar with the Black Watch Regiment. I was over in Ticonderoga and saw a monument erected to the officers and the men of the Black Watch, some of whom fell during the Revolutionary War. I think I have never met a finer group of officers than those of the Black Watch Regiment. Last autumn the finals of the British army football tournament were being played on our field. The game between the Black Watch and the Air Force. The Black Watch won and the Colonel of the Regiment, as we were having tea afterward, was obviously and rightly proud of his team. I said, "Colonel, how would you like to play the Y.M.C.A.?" The Colonel agreed and the match was arranged. On the day of the game there were in the bleachers about 4,000 people, representing the various nationalities and groups, particularly the Jews and the Moslems and the Christian Arabs. Before the game the Black Watch band paraded up and down the field. It was quite a gala occasion. The High Commissioner was there to give away the prize.
When the Y.M.C.A. team came on the field, who were they? There were three Jews, two Moslem Arabs, three Christian Arabs, one Englishman, one Australian and one Yankee, and I might say to you that the two outstanding men on the field that afternoon were, first, a German Jew, a splendid, upstanding fellow who lived in our hostel, and the other, an Arab Moslem. Those two men, playing soccer, gave a demonstration of perfect team work as they passed the ball back and forth, from head to head and from foot to foot. We scored three goals and the Black Watch didn't score any.
But the significant thing was this, that even during that time of tension and stress it was possible for us to give a demonstration of some co-operation and friendship. I believe that is the only solution and I believe it is possible, if our leaders, and I believe, Gentlemen, particularly our Jewish leaders in this part of the world would take the initiative in insisting, first of all that, as Dr. Magnus says, we must come to an understanding, thus laying a basis for peace anal goodwill.
I often think of the words of the poet, of whom the Empire can well be proud, and whose works I so much liked to read when in India--Rudyard Kipling. He was born in India and he lived in Lahore where I lived for a good many years. I used to sit at one of his desks. Although I never discovered that I was able to write poetry, I did learn to appreciate his writings, and I often recall his lines:
East is east, and west is west,
And never the twain shall meet.
I don't think anybody in Canada takes that attitude, but I know there are some nations that say it is better to build a wall around themselves and live unto themselves! "East is east, and west is west." England is England, Germany is Germany, China is China, and they will never meet. But Kipling didn't say that. He knew the East too well, he knew the West too well, and he knew the human heart too well. "O east is east, And west is west, And never the twain shall meet, Till earth and sky stand presently, At God's great judgment seat, But there is neither east nor west, Border, nor breed, nor birth, When two strong men stand face to face, Though they come from the ends of the earth."
Gentlemen of The Empire Club, I believe the challenge comes to this Club, I believe the challenge comes to the Y.M.C.A., I believe the challenge comes to bring men of the east and men of the west, men of different backgrounds and cultures together on some platform where they can understand each other and understand each other's point of view, and overlooking some of each other's idiosyncrasies in some way add their little weight in building around the world a bond of friendship which will make these hatreds, lack of confidences and mistrusts impossible.
High in the tower of our building at the very top are these words: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. Gentlemen, I make no apology whatever today in asking you, regardless of what faith you may have, to follow that wise injunction. I believe that Jerusalem and Palestine, particularly in these days of stress and strain, need our prayers that peace may be established there. Wouldn't it be fine if we could make Palestine, sacred alike to the Christians, the Jews and the Moslems, the three great monotheistic religions of the world, one place where the spirit of our Lord was actually being put into practice and where men were living in peace and goodwill?
I appreciate very much the opportunity of meeting with you today. I hope I have been fair in my treatment of the issues involved and that I have been able to give some little insight into the problems that men of goodwill out there, in England and in other countries, as well, are facing, as they attempt to find a solution for this problem that I believe is as perplexing and difficult as any problem that any group of statesmen are facing today. I thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Miller, we indeed are fortunate in having been able to prevail upon you to give us this very, very keen inside story of conditions as they are, and may I say, notwithstanding your modesty, that any man who can field a football team with so many races and defeat the team of a regiment--a Scottish Regiment--is bound to play an important part in the solution of the troubles in Jerusalem. Thank you very much. (Applause)