Clash of Nationalisms

Arabs in Zionist thought.

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Zev Jabotinsky

Zev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism--which supported the creation of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River--championed a radically different position. 

Jabotinsky held that Arab opposition could not be bought off with promises of the benefits that Jewish immigration and settlement would bring to the region. He criticized Buber and the Zionist labor movement, among others, as being political amateurs who underestimated the necessity of military force in compelling a reluctant Arab acquiescence to Zionism. Arab opposition to Zionism was of a national character, he believed, and it was self-defeating to expect that the Arabs would consent to Jewish plans for mass immigration, organized Jewish settlement, and eventual statehood. 

In a pivotal article published in 1924, Jabotinsky called for the establishment of an "Iron Wall"--a military force that would force the Arabs into accepting the objective strength and permanence of the Zionist enterprise. Arab acquiescence, he believed, could be achieved through military deterrence, active British cooperation with the Yishuv, and clear public articulation by the Zionist movement of its goal to establish a Jewish state. 

Although Jabotinsky rejected the possibility that Jews and Arabs could both satisfy their national aspirations within the British Mandate, he advocated that within the context of a Jewish state the religious and civil rights of Arab citizens had to be honored and protected.

David Ben Gurion

David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, rejected the notion that the Arab residents of the Land of Israel possessed a national claim to the land equal to that of the Jewish people. Ben Gurion recognized the emergence of Arab nationalism throughout the Middle East, but rejected the idea that the Arabs of Palestine represented a separate national group with a competing claim to Zionism.

As a socialist, Ben Gurion sought to reconcile Arab human, civil, and political rights with the project of constructing a Jewish state. As a Zionist, Ben Gurion's primary commitment, especially in the wake of the Holocaust, was to ensuring the development of a Jewish national home as the historic successor to the British Mandate. With the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, questions of ideology faced the brunt of pragmatic implementation with the invasion of Israel by the Arab armies.

Continuing Conflict

In the decades since, as much has changed as has remained the same in the complex relations between the state of Israel and the Palestinian national movement. At the root of the conflict lies a clash between two claims, two rights, and a shared tragedy. Looking back, the Israeli novelist Amos Oz adds:

"Well, my definition of a tragedy is a clash between right and right. And in this respect, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a tragedy, a clash between one very powerful, very convincing, very painful claim over this land and another no less powerful, no less convincing claim.

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Scott Copeland

Scott Copeland is an Israeli educator and travel guide. He serves as the program coordinator for the Jerusalem Fellows at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem.