Population Transfer as a Tool

*This article is part of a series*

"If a country, or two countries, or an international body is faced with a minority problem which manifestly cannot be solved within the existing territorial framework and which, if perpetuated, will obviously lead to international complications and possibly to war, recourse should be taken at once to the preventive device of transfer."1

       The expulsion of Palestinian Arabs by Israel is today portrayed as some sort of especially wicked and unique evil in history. One gets the impression that Israel, in making the decision during the war to expel Palestinian Arabs, crossed a line that nations should never cross. But when analyzing the expulsions in their historic setting rather than superimposing onto them present-day norms, it becomes immediately apparent that Israel was taking their lead for solving ethnic conflict from the rest of the world. Population transfers and expulsions had been taking place for decades all over the globe before Israel resorted to the same tactic as a last resort in war.

       Population transfers were widely seen as a valid and effective technique to end lingering tensions and violence between differing ethnic groups. It would be beneficial to provide at least a high level survey of population transfer as a tactic in resolving ethnic conflicts around the world before returning to the circumstances facing Israel:

       There were population transfers between the Soviets and Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, Poland and the Soviets, Italy and Germany, Yugoslavia and Hungary, Denmark and Germany, Greece and Bulgaria, Bulgaria and Romania, etc. The list just goes on and on. Some were voluntary (albeit with state pressure to leave) and some were forced. Most were done in hopes of settling ethnic tensions that had historically led to security problems.

"Today, the transfer plan is being advocated by many responsible statesmen, scholars, and writers. Among those who see in the exchange of populations a solution for some of Europe's most acute problems are former President Herbert Hoover, and former Ambassadors Hugh Gibson and William C. Bullitt. Leopold C. Klausner, onetime director of the Pan-European Union, is convinced that population transfer must be considered the best solution for minority problems in danger zones. Harold Butler and Nicolas Politis, former Greek Ambassador to France and an authority on international law, strongly advocate employment of the transfer method. Imre Ferenczi, former population expert of the International Labour Office, is explicit in his support of the transfer plan. And Warren S. Thompson, one of the leading demographers in the United States, declared ... 'As for myself, I have gradually come to feel that the resettlement of considerable populations in Europe is indispensible to the establishment of a peace which will have a chance to last for more than a few years.'"6

       In Joseph B. Schechtman's exhaustive studies (European Population Transfers, 1939-19457, Postwar Population Transfers in Europe 1945-19558, and Population Transfers in Asia9) he provides a wide sampling of statesmen, academics, and population experts who approved of and endorsed population transfers, voluntary and compulsory. A portion of these people include:

       Returning to the issue of population transfer in Palestine, Dr. Chaim Simons put together an impressive survey of both Jews and Gentiles that agreed such a thing would be the best and only effective solution for ending the conflict. From his study A Historical Survey of Proposals to Transfer Arabs from Palestine, 1895 - 1947:

"... because it is patently impossible for any peace settlement to create a European order in which all states are nationally homogeneous, the opinion is gaining momentum that in several danger zones the answer to the territorial and minorities problems must be sought in an ethnic shifting of the minorities. It is felt that these persons should be resettled where they can become a part of larger ethnic groups whose language they speak, to whose customs they have the least antagonism, and to whom, spiritually, they owe allegiance."10

       As far back as 1922 the British whom the League of Nations set in charge of Palestine declared, "It is necessary also to ensure that persons who are politically undesirable be excluded from Palestine, and every precaution has been and will be taken by the Administration to that end."11 The Palestine Royal Commission went on to publish a report in 1937 (popularly known as the Peel Commission Report) with recommendations to ultimately solve the racial animosity. The crux of reaching a permanent, lasting peace was partitioning the land along with a population transfer to compliment the new frontier:

       The British Labour Party also went on record in their support of population transfer in their 1943-1944 report: “Here too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed.” The British Common Wealth party passed a similar resolution a year later.12

"... senior British officials and Arab leaders, including Emir ‘Abdullah and Nuri Sa’id, Iraq’s premier politician ... shared this view [of transfer]. All understood that for a partition settlement to work and last, the emergent Jewish state would have to be ridded of its large and potentially or actively hostile Arab minority. As ‘Abdullah’s prime minister, Ibrahim Pasha Hashim, put it in 1946: 'The only just and permanent solution lay in absolute partition with an exchange of populations; to leave Jews in an Arab state or Arabs in a Jewish state would lead inevitably to further trouble between the two peoples.' ‘Abdullah, according to Britain’s representative in Amman, Alec Kirkbride, concurred."13

       Benny Morris took a lot of heat for his controversial opinion that if David Ben-Gurion "was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job. I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types. But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country - the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion - rather than a partial one - he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations."14

       But it's the same logic espoused by Arab novelist Anton Shammas when he states in an argument with a fellow Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua, "I always said that the Zionist state’s most serious mistake in 1948 was that it kept the 156,000 Arabs who did not run away and were not expelled. If you really wanted to establish a Jewish state, you should have kicked me out of Fasuta, too."17 It also echoes conventional wisdom shared by demographic experts and international lawyers:

"The purpose of a population transfer is not to remove a high percentage of a minority group from the country of its residence, but to remove a minority problem, to eliminate a threat to the future. There are only two alternatives. In countries where there is reasonable hope for a peaceable life for minority groups within the state-nation and where a transfer is not absolutely essential, maximum security and rights must be guaranteed to the minorities. But if population transfer is deemed unavoidable, there must be no trace of the collective minority existence left, no stuff for the resurgence of the minority problem. There is no third solution."15

"... it should be noted that forced population transfers, if they are not complete and permanent, only postpone and aggravate inter-ethnic conflict, they rarely terminate it. ... However, if evictions are complete and permanent, then they may in fact be the precursors to peace."16

       As we can see, population transfer was not a scheme hatched in a Zionist bunker. Transfer as a solution to Palestine's ethnic problem was proposed in the open for over 10 years before Israel declared statehood. It was agreed upon as the most effective solution by non-Jewish members of the international community from all backgrounds. These facts make a mockery of the accusation that "the Jews" or "the Zionists" were biding their time before ethnically cleansing their territory at an opportune moment. Of course, a more important question than who it was that first proposed this solution or how many agreed with it remains ...

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Navigate this series:

Part 1 - Expulsions and Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Arabs
Part 2 - Population Transfer in International Affairs
Part 3 - Were the Expulsions of Palestinian Arabs Necessary?
Part 4 - Terrorism as a Response to Expulsion

1  Schechtman, Joseph B. Population Transfers in Asia. New York: Hallsby Press, 1949. 84
2  "European Population Transfers, 1939-1945" by Joseph B. Schechtman, Pg. 12
3  "European Population Transfers, 1939-1945" by Joseph B. Schechtman, Pg. 13
4  "European Population Transfers, 1939-1945" by Joseph B. Schechtman, Pp. 17-18
5  Palestine Royal Commission, Chapter XXII, Pgph. 10
6  "European Population Transfers, 1939-1945" by Joseph B. Schechtman, Pp. 455-456
7  Schechtman, Joseph B. European Population Transfers, 1939-1945. Studies of the Institute of World Affairs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1946.
8  Schechtman, Joseph B. Postwar Population Transfers in Europe 1945-1955. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963.
9  Schechtman, Joseph B. Population Transfers in Asia. New York: Hallsby Press, 1949.
10  European Population Transfers, 1939-1945" by Joseph B. Schechtman, Pg. 454
11  British White Paper of June 1922
12  European Population Transfers, 1939-1945" by Joseph B. Schechtman, Pg. 457
13  Morris, Benny. 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2008. 18-19
14  Haaretz Jan. 2004, "Survival of the Fittest" by Ari Shavt - http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=380986&contrassID=2#top (Internet Archive confirms quote as of Jan 15, 2008)
15  Schechtman, Joseph B. European Population Transfers, 1939-1945. Studies of the Institute of World Affairs. New York: Oxford University Press, 1946. 478
16  Bookman, Milica Zarkovic. The Demographic Struggle for Power: The Political Economy of Demographic Engineering in the Modern World. London: Frank Cass, 1997. 141-142
17  Kimmerling, Baruch. Clash of Identities: Explorations in Israeli and Palestinian Societies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. 224