The Consul at Jerusalem (Steger) to the Secretary of State
[Received October 3.]
Sir: I have the honor to report that, due to the increasingly threatening aspect of the European political situation, the two recent developments of greatest local political interest,—i. e. the Zionist Congress and the “observations” of the Permanent Mandates Commission on the British White Paper of May, 1939—have produced comparatively little reaction, and have, indeed, evoked very little comment of any kind. The general attitude, common to the British, Jews, and Arabs, has been that local issues pale into insignificance in comparison with the threat of war. Discussion, and even thought, of ordinary Palestinian problems, is therefore postponed until the larger problem is settled. Such reaction as could be observed, before the war cloud loomed so large as to obscure it, is summarized briefly below, as a matter of record.
With regard to the report of the Permanent Mandates Commission, gratification is generally expressed in Jewish quarters. The Palestine Post finds that “the verdict is much more definite than the anticipations made immediately after the session of the Mandates Commission…had led one to expect.” Haggeh, Labor organ issued temporarily as a substitute for the suspended Davar, finds that “the report contributes legal and moral support to the Jewish struggle”; and Haaretz, General Zionist daily, considers it a “moral victory”. While there appears in Jewish circles to be little hope that the Council of the League will condemn the White Paper, it is generally felt that the Jewish case is much strengthened, and those who still hope for a modification of the new policy are correspondingly encouraged.
Arab comment on the report was on the whole restrained. The generally unfavorable attitude of the Mandates Commission toward the White Paper had been evident from formerly published newspaper stories, and thus had been largely discounted. It was generally felt that Great Britain would be able with little difficulty to secure the approval of the Council; and even should this body refuse to accept the [Page 800] new policy, a revision of the Mandate would be demanded, which would have the same effect.
British officials, so far as they were interested, also considered that the attitude of the Mandates Commission was of little importance. The Council, they felt, would accept the White Paper. If not, it would cause some annoyance pending a revision of the Mandate; but in any event the Government was this time determined to follow the policy outlined.
The Twenty-first Zionist Congress, meeting at an extremely critical time in Jewish history, might under normal circumstances have been an important occasion. That it would condemn the British White Paper policy was in any event a foregone conclusion. In addition, there seemed reason to believe that definite measures for implementing the previously expressed opposition might be decided upon. Some even envisaged the possibility that extremist counsels might prevail, at least to the extent of modifying seriously the previous moderate attitude, and effecting a corresponding change in the personnel of the Executive.
The threat of war changed the situation almost overnight. After a few days of reports, some internal bickering regarding election procedure, and appeals from more moderate sources for a united front, the international situation became so threatening that all controversial questions were postponed by common consent. Early adjournment was decided upon, hurriedly prepared resolutions were approved, and the leadership was left unchanged.
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Palestine Jewish comment on the Congress is in general approving in tone. Even the less moderate elements feel that the present is not the time for changes in policy, or for extremist tendencies. While the Yishuv as a whole stand resolute against the White Paper, they are in general in accord with Ben-Gurion’s statement to the Congress that “the breach with Great Britain is not absolute, since it concerns only Palestine,” and that “the Jewish people will always remain on the side of Great Britain.” And as for the possibility of changes in leadership, the same feeling applies. As Mr. Isaac Ben-Zvi, Chairman of the National Council of Palestine Jews remarked, (with particular reference to Dr. Weizmann), in the course of a conversation I had with him shortly after his return: “Whom else could we elect; what other leaders have we?”
Arab and British reaction to the Congress may be said to be nonexistent. The Arab press confined itself almost entirely to sarcastic remarks regarding the stubbornness of the Jews in not accepting as final the British decision to put an end to immigration. British officials to whom I have mentioned the Congress have no remarks to [Page 801] make; frankly, they are not interested, having more urgent affairs to occupy their attention.
Which brings us to the past week, the climax of the “war of nerves.” Up to the last minute, when news came, on September 2, of actual hostilities between Poland and Germany, the majority of the local population maintained a feeling of optimism that this crisis, like others, might pass. This did not of course prevent the authorities from taking the necessary steps for the control of banking, food, and essential commodities (See p. 1 of Press Review for Fortnight Ended August 27, 193916). These emergency measures were carried out with a smoothness and coordination which bespoke much careful planning. Business appears to have experienced the minimum of dislocation, and—so far at least—the price structure has not been greatly disturbed. Despite some hoarding of food last week, there appears to be no scarcity; officials of the Government and of the Jewish Agency have made repeated announcements to the effect that adequate food supplies are assured; and there has been no panic.
British residents, although disappointed that their former optimism has proved unfounded, have accepted the fact of war calmly—even, since it appears that Italy will not participate, with calm satisfaction. Confidence is general that Germany can and will be defeated, thus ending the period of uncertainty which has prevailed during the past few years. The belief that Italy will remain neutral brings locally an especial feeling of relief, as this neutrality, if a fact, will remove any danger of actual hostilities in this area.
The Jewish community regards the beginning of another armed conflict with mixed feelings. Naturally, following the lead of the Zionist Congress, loyalty to Britain is automatic—not only on account of her past friendship to the Jews and the hope of benefits to come, but because the opponent is Germany, the arch-enemy of the Jewish race. As indicated in my current press review,16 responsible organizations have publicly affirmed the loyalty of the Yishuv and have offered their services. A copy of an official statement issued yesterday by the Executive of the Jewish Agency is enclosed.16
Mixed with horror at the catastrophe of a general European war, and especially with anxiety over the future of Central European Jewry, is a certain amount of satisfaction in the hope that loyal support in still another conflict may modify somewhat British policy toward the National Home—especially if the Arabs should show themselves lacking in loyalty. Mr. I. Ben Zvi, in a recent conversation, to which reference was made above, considers this a “silver lining” to the dark cloud of war. He also has a more immediate hope that, [Page 802] even if the White Paper policy is not finally modified, its application may be indefinitely postponed.
Another silver lining to the clouded future is the belief that the conflict will end with a victory for the democracies, and the downfall of Nazi Germany, which has in recent years been responsible for so much suffering on the part of the Jewish race.
Arab feeling, so far as I am able to judge, has not yet crystallized. So far as public utterance is concerned, the idea that loyalty to Britain is the best policy appears to be uppermost. Some British officials, however, consider it definitely possible that Arab nationalists may endeavor to fish in troubled waters, believing that a recrudescence of terrorist activity at this time would have more effect than under otherwise normal conditions. One usually well-informed Arab, Dr. Khalil Totah of the American Friends School at Ramallah, thinks that this attitude is fairly wide-spread, but that it presents comparatively little danger, because the Arab rebels have been fairly well dispersed and disarmed. The leaders of the National Defence (Nashashibi) Party have called on the High Commissioner to assure him of their loyalty and support; but the Arab Higher Committee have not yet made any pronouncement.
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