A refuge or a colonial project Pt.2 Israeli historian Tom Segev
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re joined again now by Tom Segev. He’s a renowned Israeli historian, contributor to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, and he’s the author of 1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East. Thanks for joining us again. We left off in the last segment, we were going to go up to 1935. But let’s go back again and explain a little more of what would have motivated Britain, England to support the Zionist project.
TOM SEGEV, AUTHOR AND HISTORIAN: In 1917, the British government was headed by people who felt very strongly about the Bible. A prime minister, David Lloyd George, British prime minister, wrote in his memoirs that he had known the names of hills and rivers and kings of Palestine long before he ever knew any hills or mountains or even kings in Great Britain. So they felt very strongly about the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland. They were just Christian Zionists. At the same time, they would like to get rid of the Jews. They also despised Jews. They feared Jews. They felt that it’s better to have them as allies than as enemies. And they supported them also because Zionist movement promised to create a European stronghold in the Middle East. Zionist movement understood itself as a European movement. So this was a combination of interests and mostly sentiments, really, that led to it, in contrast to what the army had recommended, the British army had recommended. They said, Palestine means trouble, stay out of Palestine. And eventually, within maybe 15 years, the British realized that it was a mistake. This is indeed a country, a conflict that cannot be managed, especially if you are coming from the outside. Jews and Arabs started to kill each other, and the British didn’t really know how to manage the situation. And I think that they were ready to leave Palestine as early as 1939, that is to say, 10 years before they actually did; only by that time World War II was breaking out, so this was no time to take that kind of big decisions—nothing the British hated more than taking historical decisions. And so they stayed on, although they knew that their time in Palestine was really up. And by 1948, colonialism was actually—the days of colonialism were over. The British were giving up India, so why keep Palestine? So this is an answer to your question that Israel was created by the colonialists, or the colonial project. In a way it was, but it was also created as a result of a very, very hard struggle against colonial Britain. I grew up to believe that this country was created out of a heroic struggle against foreign colonial country called Great Britain. So, as you will probably see, and as we go on talking, that things are much more complicated in this country than, you know, headlines and mythology.
JAY: When your parents arrived in 1935, what did they find, and how were they treated?
SEGEV: They came here unwillingly, as I said. They came from Germany. Both of them had been students, art students, both of them had been communists, and so they would have much rather liked to remain in Germany, and it was impossible. When they came here, they found a country that was already quite developed, a Jewish community that was already developing the economy, the politics, the culture, the military defense of a future independent state. So—.
JAY: And these were people that had come primarily in the ’30s. And to what extent were they all really part of the Zionist project when they came?
SEGEV: They were part of the Zionist project because the Zionist project needed them. And they were also a product of the Zionist prognosis of what would happen, because this is what Zionism said. Zionism always said: there is no room for you in Europe. And even those people who refused to accept Zionism, as my parents and many, many others—as I said, most Jews who ever settled in this country would have rather stayed in their own countries, at home. So they came as refugees, just as my parents, but they had to realize, yes, this is what the Zionist ideology predicted; you have no future anywhere else and in your own country. So these are the years where Zionism history proves Zionism right. And then, of course, the Holocaust was considered even today as the ultimate proof for the correctness of the Zionist prognosis, unfortunately. But it’s not as if all the people who have come to Israel and all those who live in Israel have suddenly discovered dislike of the Zionist ideology and decided to leave their countries and [inaudible] Some did. Some were pioneers. Some were idealists. But most people who came to this country came as refugees.
JAY: And how did they get treated? And how did they get along with Palestinians, Arabs who were here?
SEGEV: Coming from Germany was not easy, but I think that all immigrant groups were not treated well by those groups who had come before. So this is a part of our own history. Every group of immigrants hates the next group of immigrants. And so people who came from Germany were not treated very well by the people who had come before, mostly from Poland, also on the background of the rise of Nazi Germany in Europe. But they usually brought with them professional skills and some money, and were unique among immigrants in the sense that they had brought with them a sense of superior culture. So they looked down at what they found here. Palestine, to them, was a primitive country. I remember that my mother would start almost every sentence with “In Europe we used to do it this way or that way,” looking down. And my mother, for example, would never learn Hebrew properly, she could never read what I write, because she continued to live and feel and think and dream in German. And I actually grew up speaking German at home, much like the immigrant experience in other countries. Jews in Palestine had very little contact with the Arab population. These were two communities who lived side by side. They did not live together, which is also one reason why the idea of, instead of partition, instead of creating two states in Palestine, there was the idea, why not create a binational state and live together happily? They didn’t want to. Arabs didn’t want to and Jews didn’t want to. And they don’t want to do that today. So that’s a very big difficulty. And there was very, very little intermarriage, hardly none at all. So these are two communities. They have separate religions; they have separate cultures; they have separate mentalities. And you also have to remember that the Jewish community at that time is very, very diverse. People can hardly talk to each other. The only way they can talk to is Hebrew, but many of them did not speak Hebrew. So that’s the only common language they had—and English, of course. So they had a very hard time forming their own identity. So that was complicated enough.
JAY: By the end of the ’30s, what are the numbers in terms of the size of the Jewish communities compared to the Palestinians living here?
SEGEV: The Jewish community was a minority in Palestine. About maybe 60,000 [inaudible]
JAY: So in the next segment of our interview let’s talk about 1948.
JAY: So please join us again with Tom Segev on The Real News Network.
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