War Guilt in the Middle East

Email Print



This originally appeared in Left
and Right
, Spring-Autumn 1967.

The trouble with sectarians, whether they be libertarians, Marxists,
or world-governmentalists, is that they tend to rest content with
the root cause of any problem and never bother themselves with the
more detailed or proximate causes. The best, and almost ludicrous,
example of blind, unintelligent sectarianism is the Socialist Labor
Party, a venerable party with no impact whatsoever on American life.
To any problem that the state of the world might pose – unemployment,
automation, Vietnam, nuclear testing, or whatever – the SLP
simply repeats, parrot-like: "Adopt socialism." Since
capitalism is allegedly the root cause of all these and other problems,
only socialism will whisk them away, period. In this way the sectarian,
even if his spotting of the ultimate root cause should be correct,
isolates himself from all problems of the real world and, in further
irony, keeps himself from having any impact toward the ultimate
goal he cherishes.

On the question of war guilt, whatever the war, sectarianism raises
its ugly, uninformed head far beyond the stagnant reaches of the
Socialist Labor Party. Libertarians, Marxists, world-governmentalists,
each from their different perspective, have a built-in tendency
to avoid bothering about the detailed pros and cons of any given
conflict. Each of them knows that the root cause of war is the nation-state
system; given the existence of this system, wars will always occur,
and all states will share in that guilt. The libertarian, in particular,
knows that states, without exception, aggress against their citizens,
and knows also that in all wars each state aggresses against innocent
civilians "belonging" to the other state.

Now this kind of insight into the root cause of war and aggression,
and into the nature of the state itself, is all well and good, and
vitally necessary for insight into the world condition. But the
trouble is that the libertarian tends to stop there, and evading
the responsibility of knowing what is going on in any specific war
or international conflict, he tends to leap unjustifiably to the
conclusion that, in any war, all states are equally guilty, and
then to go about his business without giving the matter a second
thought. In short, the libertarian (and the Marxist, and the world-government
partisan) tends to dig himself into a comfortable "Third Camp"
position, putting equal blame on all sides to any conflict, and
letting it go at that. This is a comfortable position to take because
it doesn’t really alienate the partisans of either side. Both sides
in any war will write this man off as a hopelessly "idealistic"
and out-of-it sectarian, a man who is even rather lovable because
he simply parrots his "pure" position without informing
himself or taking sides on whatever war is raging in the world.
In short, both sides will tolerate the sectarian precisely because
he is irrelevant, and because his irrelevancy guarantees that he
makes no impact on the course of events or on public opinion about
these events.

No: Libertarians must come to realize that parroting ultimate principles
is not enough for coping with the real world. Just because all sides
share in the ultimate state-guilt does not mean that all sides are
equally guilty. On the contrary, in virtually every war, one side
is far more guilty than the other, and on one side must be pinned
the basic responsibility for aggression, for a drive for conquest,
etc. But in order to find out which side to any war is the more
guilty, we have to inform ourselves in depth about the history of
that conflict, and that takes time and thought – and it also
takes the ultimate willingness to become relevant by taking sides
through pinning a greater degree of guilt on one side or the other.

So let us become relevant; and, with that in mind, let us examine
the root historical causes of the chronic as well as the current
acute crisis in the Middle East; and let us do this with a view
to discovering and assessing the guilty.

The chronic Middle East crisis goes back – as do many crises
– to World War I. The British, in return for mobilizing the
Arab peoples against their oppressors of imperial Turkey, promised
the Arabs their independence when the war was over. But, at the
same time, the British government, with characteristic double-dealing,
was promising Arab Palestine as a "National Home" for
organized Zionism. These promises were not on the same moral plane:
for in the former case, the Arabs were being promised their own
land freed from Turkish domination; and in the latter, world Zionism
was being promised a land most emphatically not its own. When World
War I was over, the British unhesitatingly chose to keep the wrong
promise, the one to world Zionism. Its choice was not difficult;
if it had kept its promise to the Arabs, Great Britain would have
had to pull gracefully out of the Middle East and turn that land
over to its inhabitants; but, to fulfill its promise to Zionism,
Britain had to remain as a conquering, imperial power ruling over
Arab Palestine. That it chose the imperial course is hardly surprising.

We must, then, go back still further in history: for what was world
Zionism? Before the French Revolution, the Jews of Europe had been
largely encased in ghettoes, and there emerged from ghetto life
a distinct Jewish cultural and ethnic (as well as religious) identity,
with Yiddish as the common language (Hebrew being only the ancient
language of religious ritual). After the French Revolution, the
Jews of Western Europe were emancipated from ghetto life, and they
then faced a choice of where to go from there. One group, the heirs
of the Enlightenment, chose and advocated the choice of casting
off narrow, parochial ghetto culture on behalf of assimilation into
the culture and the environment of the Western world. While assimilationism
was clearly the rational course in America and Western Europe, this
route could not easily be followed in Eastern Europe, where the
ghetto walls still held. In Eastern Europe, therefore, the Jews
turned toward various movements for preservation of the Jewish ethnic
and cultural identity. Most prevalent was Bundism, the viewpoint
of the Jewish Bund, which advocated Jewish national self-determination,
up to and including a Jewish state in the predominantly Jewish areas
of Eastern Europe. (Thus, according to Bundism, the city of Vilna,
in Eastern Europe, with a majority population of Jews, would be
part of a newly-formed Jewish state.) Another, less powerful, group
of Jews, the Territorialist Movement, despairing of the future of
Jews in Eastern Europe, advocated preserving the Yiddish Jewish
identity by forming Jewish colonies and communities (not states)
in various unpopulated, virgin areas of the world.

Given the conditions of European Jewry in the late 19th and turn
of the 20th centuries, all of these movements had a rational groundwork.
The one Jewish movement that made no sense was Zionism, a movement
which began blended with Jewish Territorialism. But while the Territorialists
simply wanted to preserve Jewish-Yiddish identity in a newly developed
land of their own, Zionism began to insist on a Jewish land in Palestine
alone. The fact that Palestine was not a virgin land, but already
occupied by an Arab peasantry, meant nothing to the ideologues of
Zionism. Furthermore, the Zionists, far from hoping to preserve
ghetto Yiddish culture, wished to bury it and to substitute a new
culture and a new language based on an artificial secular expansion
of ancient religious Hebrew.

In 1903, the British offered territory in Uganda for Jewish colonization,
and the rejection of this offer by the Zionists polarized the Zionist
and Territorialist movements, which previously had been fused together.
From then on, the Zionists would be committed to the blood-and-soil
mystique of Palestine, and Palestine alone, while the Territorialists
would seek virgin land elsewhere in the world.

Because of the Arabs resident in Palestine, Zionism had to become
in practice an ideology of conquest. After World War I, Great Britain
seized control of Palestine and used its sovereign power to promote,
encourage, and abet the expropriation of Arab lands for Zionist
use and for Zionist immigration. Often old Turkish land titles would
be dredged up and purchased cheaply, thus expropriating the Arab
peasantry on behalf of European Zionist immigration. Into the heart
of the peasant and nomadic Arab world of the Middle East there thus
came as colonists, and on the backs and on the bayonets of British
imperialism, a largely European colonizing people.

While Zionism was now committed to Palestine as a Jewish National
Home, it was not yet committed to the aggrandizement of an independent
Jewish state in Palestine. Indeed, only a minority of Zionists favored
a Jewish state, and many of these had broken off from official Zionism,
under the influence of Vladimir Jabotinsky, to form the Zionist-Revisionist
movement to agitate for a Jewish state to rule historic ancient
Palestine on both sides of the Jordan River. It is not surprising
that Jabotinsky expressed great admiration for the militarism and
the social philosophy of Mussolini’s fascism.

At the other wing of Zionism were the cultural Zionists, who opposed
the idea of a political Jewish state. In particular, the Ihud (Unity)
movement, centered around Martin Buber and a group of distinguished
Jewish intellectuals from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, advocated,
when the British should leave, a binational Jewish-Arab state in
Palestine, with neither religious group to dominate the other, but
both to work in peace and harmony to build the land of Palestine.

But the inner logic of Zionism was not to be brooked. In the tumultuous
World Zionist convention at New York’s Hotel Biltmore in 1942, Zionism,
for the first time, adopted the goal of a Jewish state in Palestine,
and nothing less. The extremists had won out. From then on, there
was to be permanent crisis in the Middle East.

Pressured from opposite sides by Zionists anxious for a Jewish
state and by Arabs seeking an independent Palestine, the British
finally decided to pull out after World War II and to turn the problem
over to the United Nations. As the drive for a Jewish state intensified,
the revered Dr. Judah Magnes, president of the Hebrew University
of Jerusalem and head of the Ihud movement, bitterly denounced "Zionist
Totalitarianism," which, he charged, is trying to bring "the
entire Jewish people under its influence by force and violence.
I have not yet seen the Zionist terrorists called by their rightful
names: Killers – brutalized men and women. … All Jews
in America share in the guilt, even those not in accord with the
activities of this new pagan leadership, but who sit at ease with
folded hands…." Shortly afterward, Dr. Magnes felt it
necessary to exile himself from Palestine and emigrate to the United

unbelievably intense pressure from the United States, the UN –
including an enthusiastic U.S. and USSR – reluctantly approved
a Palestine partition plan in November 1947, a plan that formed
the basis of the British pullout and the Israel declaration of existence
on May 15 of the following year. The partition plan granted the
Jews, who had a negligible fraction of Palestine’s land, almost
half the land area of the country. Zionism had succeeded in carving
out a European Jewish state over Arab territory in the Middle East.
But this is by no means all. The UN agreement had provided (a) that
Jerusalem be internationalized under UN rule, and (b) that there
be an economic union between the new Jewish and Arab Palestine states.
These were the basic conditions under which the UN approved partition.
Both were promptly and brusquely disregarded by Israel – thus
launching an escalating series of aggressions against the Arabs
of the Middle East.

While the British were still in Palestine, the Zionist paramilitary
forces began to crush the Palestinian Arab armed forces in a series
of civil war clashes. But, more fatefully, on April 9, 1948, the
fanatical Zionist-Revisionist terrorists grouped in the organization
Irgun Zvai Leumi massacred a hundred women and children in the Arab
village of Deir Yassin. By the advent of Israel’s independence on
May 15 the Palestinian Arabs, demoralized, were fleeing in panic
from their homes and from the threat of massacre. The neighboring
Arab states then sent in their troops. Historians are wont to describe
the ensuing war as an invasion of Israel by the Arab states, heroically
rebuffed by Israel, but since all of the fighting took place on
Arab territory, this interpretation is clearly incorrect. What happened,
in fact, is that Israel managed to seize large chunks of territory
assigned to the Palestinian Arabs by the partition agreement, including
the Arab areas of Western Galilee, Arab west-central Palestine as
"corridor" to Jerusalem, and the Arab cities of Jaffa
and Beersheba. The bulk of Jerusalem – the New City –
was also seized by Israel and the UN internationalization plan discarded.
The Arab armies were hampered by their own inefficiency and disunity
and by a series of UN-imposed truces broken only long enough for
Israel to occupy more Arab territory.

By the time of the permanent armistice agreement of Feb. 24, 1949,
then, 600,000 Jews had created a state which had originally housed
850,000 Arabs (out of a total Palestinian Arab population of 1.2
million). Of these Arabs, three-quarters of a million had been driven
out from their lands and homes, and the remaining remnant was subject
to a harsh military rule which, two decades later, is still in force.
The homes, lands, and bank accounts of the fleeing Arab refugees
were promptly confiscated by Israel and handed over to Jewish immigrants.
Israel has long claimed that the three-quarters of a million Arabs
were not driven out by force but rather by their own unjustified
panic induced by Arab leaders – but the key point is that everyone
recognizes Israel’s adamant refusal to let these refugees return
and reclaim the property taken from them. From that day to this,
for two decades, these hapless Arab refugees, their ranks now swollen
by natural increase to 1.3 million, have continued to live in utter
destitution in refugee camps around the Israeli borders, barely
kept alive by meager UN funds and CARE packages, living only for
the day when they will return to their rightful homes.

In the areas of Palestine originally assigned to the Arabs, no
Palestinian Arab government remained. The acknowledged leader of
the Palestinian Arabs, their Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, was
summarily deposed by the longtime British tool, King Abdullah of
Trans-Jordan, who simply confiscated the Arab regions of east-central
Palestine, as well as the Old City of Jerusalem. (King Abdullah’s
Arab Legion had been built, armed, staffed, and even headed by such
colonialist British officers as Glubb Pasha.)

On the Arab refugees, Israel takes the attitude that the taxpayers
of the world (i.e., largely the taxpayers of the United States)
should kick in to finance a vast scheme to resettle the Palestinian
refugees somewhere in the Middle East – i.e., somewhere far
from Israel. The refugees, however, understandably have no interest
in being resettled; they want their own homes and properties back,

The armistice agreement of 1949 was supposed to be policed by
a series of Mixed Armistice Commissions, composed of Israel and
her Arab neighbors. Very soon, however, Israel dissolved the Mixed
Armistice Commissions and began to encroach upon more and more Arab
territory. Thus, the officially demilitarized zone of El Auja was
summarily seized by Israel.

Since the Middle East was still technically in a state of war
(there was an armistice but no treaty of peace), Egypt, from 1949
on, continued to block the Strait of Tiran – the entrance to
the Gulf of Aqaba – to all Israeli shipping and to all trade
with Israel. In view of the importance of the blocking of the Gulf
of Aqaba in the 1967 war, it is important to remember that nobody
griped at this Egyptian action: nobody said that Egypt was violating
international law by closing this "peaceful international waterway."
(Making any waterway open to all nations, according to international
law, requires two conditions: (a) consent by the powers abutting
on the waterway, and (b) no state of war existing between any powers
on the waterway. Neither of these conditions obtained for the Gulf
of Aqaba: Egypt has never consented to such an agreement, and Israel
has been in a state of war with Egypt since 1949, so that Egypt
blocked the Gulf to Israeli shipping unchallenged from 1949 on.)

Israel’s history of continuing aggression had only begun. Seven
years later, in 1956, Israel, conjoined to British and French imperialist
armies, jointly invaded Egypt. And oh how proudly Israel consciously
imitated Nazi blitzkrieg and sneak-attack tactics! And oh how ironic
that the very same American Establishment that had for years denounced
Nazi blitzkriegs and sneak-attacks was suddenly lost in admiration
for the very same tactics employed by Israel! But in this case,
the United States, momentarily abandoning its intense and continued
devotion to the Israeli cause, joined with Russia in forcing the
combined aggressors back from Egyptian soil. But Israel did not
agree to pull its forces out of the Sinai Peninsula until Egypt
agreed to allow a special UN Emergency Force to administer the Sharm-el
Sheikh fortress commanding the Strait of Tiran. Characteristically,
Israel scornfully refused the UNEF permission to patrol its side
of the border. Only Egypt agreed to allow access to the UN forces,
and it was because of this that the Gulf of Aqaba was opened to
Israeli shipping from 1956 on.

The 1967 crisis emerged from the fact that, over the last few
years, the Palestinian Arab refugees have begun to shift from their
previous bleak and passive despair and begun to form guerrilla movements
which have infiltrated the Israeli borders to carry their fight
into the region of their lost homes. Since last year, Syria has
been under the control of the most militantly anti-imperialist government
that the Middle East has seen in years. Syria’s encouragement to
the Palestinian guerrilla forces led Israel’s frenetic leaders to
threaten war upon Syria and the conquest of Damascus – threats
punctuated by severe reprisal raids against Syrian and Jordanian
villages. At this point Egypt’s premier, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who
had been an anti-Israel blowhard for years, but had concentrated
instead on demagogic, statist measures that wrecked Egypt’s domestic
economy, was challenged by the Syrians to do something concrete
to help: in particular, to end UNEF control – and hence continuing
Israeli shipping – in the Gulf of Aqaba. Hence, Nasser’s request
for the UNEF to leave. Pro-Israeli griping at U Thant’s swift compliance
is grotesque, when we consider that the UN forces were there only
at Egyptian request, and that Israel has always adamantly refused
to have the UN forces on its side of the border. It was at that
point, with the closing of the Strait of Tiran, that Israel evidently
began to set the stage for its next blitzkrieg war.


you like this site, please help keep it going and growing.


While giving lip-service to peaceful negotiation, the Israeli government
finally knuckled under to "hawk" pressure within the country,
and the appointment of the notoriously warmongering Gen. Moshe Dayan
as minister of defense was obviously the signal for the Israeli
blitz attack that came a few days later. The incredibly swift Israeli
victories; the press glorification of Israeli tactics and strategy;
the patent unreadiness of the Arab forces despite the hoopla; all
this indicates to all but the most nave the fact that Israel launched
the war of 1967 – a fact that Israel scarcely bothers to deny.

One of the most repellent aspects of the 1967 slaughter is the
outspoken admiration for the Israeli conquest by almost all Americans,
Jew and non-Jew alike. There seems to be a sickness deep in the
American soul that causes it to identify with aggression and mass
murder – the swifter and more brutal the better. In all the
spate of admiration for the Israeli march, how many people were
there to mourn the thousands of innocent Arab civilians murdered
by the Israeli use of napalm? As for Jewish chauvinism among so-called
"antiwar" people on the Left, there is no more sickening
demonstration of a total lack of humanity than that displayed by
Margot Hentoff in the left-liberal Village Voice:

"Is there any war you DO like? If so, are you Jewish? Lucky.
What a time to be Jewish. Have you ever known any Jewish pacifists?
Did you know any last week? … Besides, this was a different
war – an old kind of war, a kind of war in which death was
life-giving and Arab deaths didn’t count. What a pleasure to be,
once again, in favor of a war. What a good clean wholesome feeling
to cheer those jeeps careening across the television screen filled
with tough, lean, hard-faced, gun-bearing, JEWISH soldiers.

"’Look at them go! WOW! ZAP! Nothing’s gonna stop them now!’
said an old time radical pacifist. ‘This is an army of Jews!’

"Another (whose major contribution to Judaism until now
has been to write articles disowning Israel and announcing that
Judaism is dead and deserves to be) spent the week confusing his
nationality. ‘How are we doing?’ he kept asking. ‘How far have
we gotten now?’"

What a "clean wholesome feeling” indeed when "Arab
deaths don’t count!" Is there any difference at all between
this kind of attitude and that of the Nazi persecutors of the Jews
whom our press has been attacking, day in and day out, for well
over twenty years?

When this war began, the Israeli leaders proclaimed that they
were not interested in "one inch" of territory; their
fighting was purely defensive. But now that Israel sits upon its
conquests, after repeated violations of UN cease-fires, it sings
a very different tune. Its forces still occupy all of the Sinai
Peninsula; all of Palestinian Jordan has been seized, sending another
nearly 200,000 hapless Arab refugees to join their hundreds of thousands
of forlorn comrades; it has seized a goodly chunk of Syria; and
Israel arrogantly proclaims that it will never, never return the
Old City of Jerusalem or internationalize it; Israeli seizure of
all of Jerusalem is simply "not negotiable."

If Israel has been the aggressor in the Middle East, the role
of the United States in all this has been even more unlovely. The
hypocrisy of the U.S. position is almost unbelievable – or
would be if we were not familiar with U.S. foreign policy over the
decades. When the war first began , and it looked for a moment as
if Israel were in danger, the U.S. rushed in to avow its dedication
to the "territorial integrity of the Middle East" –
as if the borders of 1949–67 were somehow embalmed in Holy
Writ and had to be preserved at all costs. But – as soon as
it was clear that Israel had won and conquered once again, America
swiftly shed its supposed cherished "principles." Now
there is no more talk of the "territorial integrity of the
Middle East"; now it is all "realism" and the absurdity
of going back to obsolete status quo borders and the necessity for
the Arabs to accept a general settlement in the Middle East, etc.
How much more evidence do we need that an approving United States
has always stayed in the wings, ready to come to the aid of Israel
if necessary? How much more evidence do we need that Israel is now
the ally and satellite of the U.S., which in the Middle East as
in so many other areas of the world has assumed the mantle once
worn by British imperialism?

The one thing that Americans must not be lured into believing is
that Israel is a "little" "underdog" against
its mighty Arab neighbors. Israel is a European nation with a European
technological standard battling a primitive and undeveloped foe;
furthermore, Israel has behind it, feeding it, and financing it
the massed might of countless Americans and West Europeans, as well
as the Leviathan governments of the United States and its numerous
allies and client states. Israel is no more a "gallant underdog"
because of numerical inferiority than British imperialism was a
"gallant underdog" when it conquered far more populous
lands in India, Africa, and Asia.

And so, Israel now sits, occupying its swollen territory, pulverizing
houses and villages containing snipers, outlawing strikes of Arabs,
killing Arab youths in the name of checking terrorism. But this
very occupation, this very elephantiasis of Israel, provides the
Arabs with a powerful long-range opportunity. In the first place,
as the militant anti-imperialist regimes of Syria and Algeria now
see, the Arabs can shift their strategic emphasis from hopeless
conventional war with a far better armed foe to a protracted mass
people’s guerrilla war. Armed with light weapons, the Arab people
could carry out another "Vietnam," another "Algeria"
– another people’s guerrilla war against a heavily armed occupying
army. Of course, this is a long-run threat only, because to carry
it out the Arabs would have to overthrow all of their stagnant,
reactionary monarchies and form a united pan-Arab nation –
for the splits into nation-states in the Arab world are the consequence
of the artificial machinations and depredations of British and French
imperialism. But for the long run, the threat is very real.

Israel, therefore, faces a long-run dilemma which she must someday
meet. Either to continue on her present course and, after years
of mutual hostility and conflict be overthrown by Arab people’s
guerrilla war. Or – to change direction drastically, to cut
herself loose completely from Western imperial ties, and become
simply Jewish citizens of the Middle East. If she did that, then
peace and harmony and justice would at last reign in that tortured
region. There is ample precedent for this peaceful coexistence.
For in the centuries before 19th- and 20th-century Western imperialism,
Jew and Arab had always lived well and peacefully together in the
Middle East. There is no inherent enmity or conflict between Arab
and Jew. In the great centuries of Arab civilization in North Africa
and Spain, Jews took a happy and prominent part – in contrast
to their ongoing persecution by the fanatics of the Christian West.
Shorn of Western influence and Western imperialism, that harmony
can reign once more.

This originally
appeared on Mises.org.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic
vice president of the Mises
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell —
of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor.

Best of Murray Rothbard

Email Print