WILL THE MIDDLE EAST GO WEST?
IN THE HOLY LAND
Undoubtedly President Nasser belongs to the species described by the French as “un animal tres mechant, quant on l’attaque, il se defend.”
But it is precisely because he defends himself when attacked that he has become a hero and a symbol to the Arab people who for so long were unable to defend themselves against aggression or to throw off the yoke of foreign conquerors.
As Nejla Izzeddin, the brilliant and eloquent Arab woman who wrote The Arab World, said to me in Beirut in December 1956:
Nasser symbolizes in himself the desire of the Arabs to be strong and free, as we used to be in the days when Arab civilization was a light to the world, and our military prowess was unparalleled. Our hopes can be fulfilled only if the Arabs, who constitute nearly a hundred million people, are reunited, and our social, political and economic life reformed and modernized.
Dr. Izzeddin belongs to the Druse sect, or religion, whose members are the only non-Jewish citizens of Israel who enjoy equal rights with the Jews. Our host and hostess the evening I spent with her in Beirut are Roman Catholics. Three of the other guests at the apartment of Robert and Georgette Kfoury, whose hospitality I enjoyed in Lebanon, were Moslems, and one of them was a cousin of the Lebanese Prime Minister. None of them considered that either their religion, or the artificial divisions of the Arab world imposed on them by the West, as of any significance as compared to the fact that they were all Arabs. Much as they, and others I met in Lebanon and Jordan, might disagree about Nasser; whether or not they considered that Egypt had taken the wrong path by securing Soviet Russian arms and political support; and whether or not they considered that Nuri Es-Said of Iraq is pursuing a more sophisticated and intelligent policy more likely to succeed than Egypt and Syria’s intemperate nationalism – they one and all agreed that the paramount fact in the Arab world today is the desire for strength through federation and reform.
All of them spoke French as fluently as Arabic. None of them were anti-American. But they all either failed to understand, or were mad at the injustice of the label “anti-Western” applied to all Arabs who oppose French colonial rule in Algeria and the Israeli threat to the Arabs.
As Dr. Isseddin said:
“Our aspirations are in line with the world trend toward integration.
The cause of Egypt after she was attacked was espoused by the U.S.
and the U.N. because of the world’s desire for justice and freedom.
Why then do you accuse us of being anti-Western because we seek
justice and equality for the Arab people?”
Nor did anyone disagree with the view that Nasser enjoys immense prestige and popularity in every Arab country. Even the Arabs who deplored it recognized the fact admitted by such anti-Nasser columnists as Joseph Alsop, who reported from Beirut that the Egyptian President “is still for good or ill the biggest figure in the Arab World.” The same columnist, after visiting Baghdad, also reported, in a column datelined May 22, 1957, that there is a lack of “true popular enthusiasm for the wise (oil financed) Iraqi development program,” whereas Arab leaders such as Nasser “win mass support” by what Joe Alsop describes as “venemous but powerful emotional appeal to ancient and justified hatreds.”
The key word is “justified,” as Mr. Alsop himself admitted when he further stated that such pro-Western Arabs as the rulers of Lebanon “fear Nasser despite their own strength” because “these hatreds have a solid base in the countless tragedies of Middle Eastern history.”
One needs to visit the Middle East, as well as study the historical record, in order to appreciate the tragic truth of these words, which are the more impressive because Joe Alsop is one of the many American columnists and commentators who harbor the most friendly sentiments toward Israel, France and England.
The wrongs of the Arabs are not only ancient, but a part of their present lives. “What we resent most,” said Nejla Issedin, who holds an American PhD. Degree, and who speaks as beautifully as she writes, “is the double standard you apply to us and the Jews. The latter are always being presented as ‘fighting for freedom,’ but our Arab struggle is called ‘fanatical nationalism.’”
A few days later I was driving from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in the evening, with another Lebanese, Dr. A.R. Labban, who runs a mental hospital for Arab refugees in this part of Jordan. We were stopped several times by uniformed Jordanian home guards, who work their farms or tend their flocks by day and guard them by night from Israeli attack. Two of them, after recognizing Dr. Labban and having been assured that I was neither Israeli nor British but American, asked us for a lift to the next check point. These and others we spoke to carried Russian tommy guns.
With Dr. Labban acting as my interpreter, I asked each of the dozen or more guards we met what they thought of Russia, Communism and Nasser. The answer was always more or less the same. “Russia? Communism?” they replied. “We don’t know anything much about either; but we now have guns for the first time to defend our lands and families against the Israelis who used to attack us with impunity; so Russia must be our friend.”
When I asked them how they felt about Nasser, or why they thought so much of him, their aquiline faces lighted up, and their dark eyes glowed as they replied, “He is straightforward and brave”; or “we believe in Nasser because he is straightforward.”
In the moonlight on this ancient road which skirts the Mount of Olives to the left as one travels to Bethlehem and then twists its way along the side of the hills south of the Holy City, these answers by simple men guarding their families by night told the story more eloquently than any book.
The reason why straightforwardness or trustworthiness was regarded as the primary virtue of President Nasser of Egypt by these Arab farmers and shepherds was apparent to me on that unforgettable night on the road to Bethlehem, because of what I had just learned in a long talk with Mrs. Vester in Jerusalem. This wonderfully understanding, compassionate, and courageous old lady hails from Chicago, but she has spent more than forty years of her life in Palestine, where her father founded the American Colony in Jerusalem in 188. Bertha Spafford Vester, whose husband died several years ago, has carried on their joint work and now presides over the Spafford Children’s Hospital situated above the Gate of Damascus and helped by the Ford Foundation. The larger general hospital owned by the American Colony was lost when the State of Israel, in defiance of the United Nations occupied the modern half of Jerusalem. Altogether, eight mission hospitals belonging to different Protestant and Catholic missions situated in Western Jerusalem are no longer available to the Arab population. Yet the latter are not allowed to make use of the Hadessah hospital in the demilitarised zone, which stands empty except for a guard.
“The Arabs,” Mrs. Vester said to me, “consider that the breaking of one’s pledged word is shameful. They used to respect the British as people who had the same sense of honor as themselves but have been bitterly disillusioned. When I first came to the Holy Land with my husband, an Arab who wished it to be believed that he was speaking the real truth and nothing but the truth would say ‘English truth.’ But today, when he says ‘English truth’ he means a lie.”
Several years ago Mrs. Vester wrote a book called Our Jerusalem about her life with her husband in the Hold Land, published by Doubleday Doran. Her final chapter, which gives an account of how the Arabs have been deceived and cheated by the West, as also of the crimes committed by Israeli terrorists against the Arabs, was deleted by her publishers from her book. She gave me a copy of this chapter, which she had printed in pamphlet form at her own expense. From her lips, for the first time, I heard the terrible story of the Israeli massacre of the inhabitants of the village of Deir Yaseen which caused thousands of Arabs to flee and become refugees in Jordan and the Gaza Strip.
With tears in her eyes even after so long a time, Mrs. Vester told me how the Irgun forces had rounded up the whole population of this Arab village, machine-gunned the men and also man women and children, and how, afterwards, loud speakers mounted on jeeps or armored cars had paraded western Jerusalem warning the inhabitants that, if they did not get out at once, they would suffer the same fate as the people of Deir Yaseen.
As she told me, and as she wrote in the expurgated chapter of her book:
“While I was registering these babies and listening to the horrible recital by the women of what they had been through, a small boy about four years old stood by me. Seeing that I was not an Arab, he gave one shriek and said “Is she one of them?” and fainted. I ran to get water to revise the child but when I returned with the water, I found that he was dead.”
Mrs. Vester’s graphic and heart-rending account of t he horrors she witnessed in 1948, when fifteen thousand casualties passed through the casualty clearing station of the American Colony in Jerusalem, one incidentally mentioned the dangers and hardships which she and her family and co-workers endured. The main house of the American Colony was demolished by a Jewish mortar bomb. They were in the direct line of fire between the Zionists and the Arab “ragtag and scalawags” who fought them. The British-commanded Arab Legion in Jordan delayed its advance so long that Zionist gangs were enabled to sack the Arab quarter of the city wherever they were not prevented by the desperate resistance of such of its inhabitants as could lay their hands on any kind of weapon. Some American missionaries were killed, or died of their wounds because no doctors were available to attend to them. But, Mrs. Vester said, the Arabs respected the Red Cross flag and, because the followers of Mahomet do not fire on woemn, she had been able to halt them from molestation of what remained of the American Colony’s buildings after the Israeli shelling.
The Deir Yaseen massacre was only just one of a series. In the years that followed, murder and pillage were committed by both sides in the bitter struggle between Israel and the Arabs. For instance, in October 1953, Israeli armed forces swooped down on the border village of Kibya, massacred sixty-six Jordanians, injured many others, and blew up scores of buildings. The Arabs meanwhile committed similar horrible crimes, but with much greater adverse publicity in the American press.
It is frequently said that the Arabs have only themselves to blame for the loss of yet more territory than was awarded to Israel by the United Nations, because they attacked the new State and were defeated. This assertion ignores the historical record. As Dr. William Ernest Hocking, Professor Emeritus of Harvard University, has written, the Irgun, the Stern gang, and the Haganah – forerunner of the Israeli Army – had started their terrorist activities long before the British evacuated Palestine, and came out from underground to attack Arab villages and towns, massacrering their inhabitants or driving them out, immediately following the November 1947 United Nations resolution. In Professor Hocking’s words:
“The documented facts leave no doubt that Israel was the aggressor . . . .
Before the British Mandate ended on May 14, 1948, and two months before
the State of Israel could legally be proclaimed . . . .the Zionist-Israeli armies
had already illegally occupied much of the territory reserved for the Arab
State . . . During this six month period of hostilities 300,000 Arabs were driven
out of their homes by terrorist tactics and became refugees – contrary to every
human decency. The impact of these sufferings extended in deep waves to the
entire Arab world. Sympathy and an outraged sense of justice became a
determined antipathy to Israel not to be cured by diplomatic placebos of
essentially uninformed statesmen.”
The world has supped so full on the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and Communists that we have become insensitive, or we condone crimes against humanity committed by our friends or by those who were formerly persecuted. But if ever the fatal cycle of cruelty and crime and retaliation is to be broken, we must realize that atrocities remain atrocities even when committed by our allies, or by those whom we pity because they themselves have been persecuted and victimized. Otherwise mankind will revert to barbarism, in spite of all its wonderful achievements in science.
Mrs. Vester’s compassion for the Arabs, whom she saw defending their homes with old blunderbusses and swords against Israeli forces equipped with Western weapons, had not caused her to become an “anti-Semite” – which is a meaningless term when applied to the conflict between Arab and Jew, who originally belonged to the same “race”; nor did she wish that the Arabs might have their revenge on the Jews. She realized that the Jews who committed the atrocities whe witnessed had been brutalized, or driven into evil courses, by their own treatment by the Nazis, or by the prosecution they had suffered elsewhere, and by their desperate situation in an Arab world rendered implacably hostile by the partition of Palestine. She told me that many Jews in Jerusalem were intimidated into supporting the terrorists among them who in their treatment of the Arabs were emulating the Nazis from whom they had escaped. One of her best nurses, a Jewish woman, had telephoned to her while the Jews and Arabs were fighting for possession of Jerusalem to say that she could no longer work in the American Colony hospital. Mrs. Vester assured her that the had nothing to fear from the Arabs, who trusted her completely after her thirty years of service to them in the hospital. But the Jewish nurse replied: “It is not the Arabs I fear but my own people.”
In 1954 President Eisenhower received Mrs. Vester while she was visiting Washington and had a long talk with her. It is not inconceivable that her account of the tragic Israeli-Arab dispute helped the President in his decision two years later to defy Zionist, British and French pressures during the election campaign in November 1956.
Mrs. Vester’s American-born son has become a naturalized British subject. Her daughter is married to a British Conservative M.P. In Jerusalem during our long talk she told me how worried she had been lest she become estranged from her family following Britain’s aggression against Egypt. But to her great joy her son-in-law was one of the Conservative Members of Parliament who opposed Eden’s policy.
I left Mrs. Vester after my three-hour talk with her in her home in Jerusalem, after arranging to visit her hospital at 6 a.m. the next morning. I had been invited to spend the night with Dr. Mahmoud Tahrer Dejani and his wife, also a doctor, their house adjoining the Arab National Hospital in Bethlehem, which is also the only modern equipped hospital in Bethlehem, which is also the only modern equipped hospital in Bethlehem, which is also the only modern equipped hospital available to the adult population of the old city of Jerusalem.
The Dejanis, whom I had met, thanks to my publisher, Henry Regnery, and to Dave Collier of the American Friends of the Middle East in Chicago, had formerly been wealthy residents of the modern, west side section of Jerusalem. After being driven out by the Israelis in 1948 with the loss of all their possessions, they had started their refugee hospital in Bethlehem with financial support from generous American friends in Chicago. One of their sons works for the United Nations, which provides the Arab refugees with the minimum of food to sustain life -–about 1700 calories – at a cost of 8 cents a day. Dr. Dejani’s hospital endeavors to provide medical services for these destitute people but finds it difficult to cope with the multitude of sick and undernourished Arab refugees. I was enabled to appreciate both the generosity of individual Americans, the gratitude of the Arabs towards them, and the selfless dedication of the educated Arabs who devote themselves to the service of their countrymen, by the day and night I spent with the Dejanis and their relatives and friends in Bethlehem.
It was also in Bethlehem that, through a personal experience, I learned that President Eisenhower’s stand on Suez had won goodwill for America among the Arab refugees living out their miserable, and almost hopeless, existence in caves and tents and mud huts within sight of their former homes in Israeli territory. As I entered one of the regugee camps on a hill on the outskirts of Bethlehem with Dr. Dejani’s young son, a group of Arabs glowered at me with such unmistakeable hostility that I felt ashamed. But half an hour later, as we came back to the main road after my inspection of the camp, I was greeted with smiles by the same group of Arabs. This I found was because the Arab driver of Dr. Dejani’s car, whom we had left behind, had assured them that I was not English, but American.
None of the refugees in this camp or elsewhere asked me for alms. In contrast to India, where you cannot part your car for a moment without being surrounded by beggars, these destitute Arabs retain their dignity and ask for nothing but justice.
As we sat wrapped in blankets before a small fire in his little stone house that night, Dr. Dejani said to me:
“We are with the West if you will treat us fairly – if not, come what may.
Russia has not spent a dollar in the Middle East but is gaining influence nonetheless.
America which is spending so much gets little thanks, because her dollar aid helps
only to make the rich richer, or is dissipated in futile projects. Take for instance,
your Point 4 Program. What has it done for the people of Jordan? It has provided
funds to build a palace in Aman and for the construction of a government research
laboratory, none of which visibly benefit the people. We need schools and colleges
and small scale industries, which can enable us to help ourselves instead of being
dependent on U.N. or U.S. charity. But your people seem to be more interested
in providing us with luxuries, or the latest, most modern scientific research
institutes. Here, I train practical nurses who will at least be capable of attending
to the wants of the sick. But the U.S. and the U.N. send us Western-trained
specialists and nurses whose high standards cannot be applied in a backward
country, and who, because they cannot speak Arabic, cannot even communicate
with our people.”
In 1949-50, while directing the medical services of Jordan Dr. Dejani had been producing vaccines locally and hoped to secure Point 4 aid for this purpose. Instead the United States had preferred to give $100,000 for building a research laboratory. Yet, obviously, as he said, in a country whose medical services are in their infancy the great need was not for research laboratories, but for hospitals, nurses and doctors whose standards are not too high to enable them to cope with the needs of a people on a low level of subsistence in need mainly of “district nurses” and general practitioners rather than specialists.
These may be minor matters as compared with the other mistakes or iniquities of American aid, but are nevertheless of interest and importance to Americans who wonder why all their generosity to foreign countries reaps so poor a reward. Dr. Dejani and his wife, sons and sons-in-law were f ar more emphatic on the subject of America’s backing of Israel against the Arabs, than in their criticism of the manner in which Point 4 aid is given in the Middle East. Like the Kfouris in Beirut and other Arabs I met who know America, they are our friends and are striving to keep their countries on our side. But they were outraged by the double standard applied by the American press to Arab and Jew, and deplored our support of French colonialism in North Africa.
In the privately printed last chapter to her book, deleted from the American edition by her American publishers, Mrs. Vester emphasizes the fact that there was no trouble between Arab and Jew in Palestine prior to the creation of the State of Israel – regarded as a threat to all Arabs, thanks to her expropriation and expulsion of 700,000 of them from Palestine, her aim to bring in millions more Jews, and her organization as a military state.
“It is strange [Mrs. Vester writes] that the very people who suffered most
from Hitler’s racist theory concerning the German people, should use a
similar theory to justify Zionism. Indeed just as there is no “pure German
race,” so there is no pure Jewish race . . . The people who profess the
Jewish faith are a mixture of many races…. The original Palestine
Semitic strain is but one of many. . . . To speak therefore of the “return”
of Jews of so many non-Palestinian strains to Palestine is absurd; they
never came from Palestine in the first place. . . . It is indeed curious that
liberals the world over who are loud in their condemnation of racist
theories should have lent their support to as unreal a racism as any yet
No doubt, my reaction to my experiences in Jordan is “emotional.” The same could be said of American reaction to the crimes and cruelties of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. As I see it, hatred of oppression, compassion for the wronged and unfortunate, and the desire for justice are the attributes which raise us above the brutes. We sink back into barbarism, however, when we demand an eye for an eye, or let our emotions run away with us and lead us to revenge wrongs by their repetition. We must beware of letting sympathy with the Arabs cause us to do injustice to the Israelis. This would be to fall into the same error as President Truman when his sympathy for the Jews caused him to use American influence in the United Nations to recompense Hitler’s victims at the expense of the Arabs.
As the British historian, Arnold Toynbee, writes in his Study of History:
“If the heinousness of sin is to be measured by the degree to which the sinner is sinning against the light that is vouchsafed to him, the Jews had even less excuse in 1948 A.D. for evicting Palestinian Arabs from their homes than Nebuchadnezzar and Titus and Hadrian and the Spanish and Portuguese inquisition had for uprooting, persecuting and exterminating Jews in Palestine and elsewhere at diverse times in the past. In A.D. 1948 the Jews knew, from personal experience, what they were doing: it was their supreme tragedy that the lesson learnt by them from the encounter with the Nazi German Gentiles should have been not to eschew, but to imitate some of the evils that the Nazis had committed against the Jews.”
Fortunately there are still many Arabs who are prepared to forgive and forget the wrongs done to them if only America will now adhere to the principles which have made her great and free and strong. Dr. Dejani and his family, like many other Arabs who have studied in the United States and had experience of American generosity and desire to aid the poor or undernourished or oppressed peoples of all countries, are pro, not anti-American. But they find themselves classified as “anti-Western” because they are pro-Arab. Nor were the Dejanis personally revengeful against “the Jews,” although they had been rich in Jerusalem before the Israeli Government confiscated all their possessions. Their main concern was to help the unending stream of sick and hungry Arab refugees who came to their hospital from the refugee camps or from Jerusalem, where the Arabs no longer benefited from the medical aid formerly provided by the Protestant and Catholic mission hospitals seized by Israel.
When I crept, shivering, into bed in the unheated Dejani house, and got up at 5 a.m. to wash in cold water prior to driving to Jerusalem, I was reminded of my austere youth in England following my family’s ruin brought about by the 1914 War.
The Holy Land is a lovely land, unspoiled as yet on the Jordan side by the hand of modern man. In the pre-dawn light which erases the centuries, the barren limestone hills thinly spattered with green looked the same, I suppose, as in the days when Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey along the same route. Nearly two thousand years later there were no automobiles to be seen except ours. Only a few donkeys led by Arabs bringing vegetables to market. One felt oneself back in the morning of the world. In my semi-somnolent condition, I reflected that the problems and challenge of our modern world are in essence the same as those of earlier ages, when first the Prophets of the Old Testament and subsequently Jesus Christ and Mohammed, called upon us to worship the same God and gave us the same basic principles of righteousness to obey, which have rarely been observed by either Jew, Christian or the followers of the Prophet.
After arriving at the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and passing the narrow road which led to Calvary, the car left me at the Gate of Damascus. I entered Jerusalem on foot (since no vehicles can pass through its narrow gates and streets) and climbed up to the American Colony’s Children’s Hospital above the wall between the Damascus and Herod gates, along a narrow stone alley and many steps. The first rays of the risen sun were gilding the stone battlements as I surveyed the whole town from the roof of the hospital. Beyond the Gate of Damascus a new wall separates Arab from Jew, and behind it there is only grass and some shattered houses on the hill. The old city, where for many centuries the Arabs have guarded the Holy Places of Christians, Moslems and Jews alike, is now part of Jordan; beyond to the west I could see the outskirts of Israeli Jerusalem which is the modern part of the city.
My guide through the Old City was an Armenian Catholic nurse from Mrs. Vester’s Children’s Hospital. As we walked along the narrow streets, passable only by donkeys and people, on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, she told me how she and her family had lost their large and beautiful house in Western Jerusalem when they were driven out by the Zionists in 1948. Until then I had not known that Christians as well as Moslems had been expropriated and expelled by the State of Israel, which seized half of Jerusalem in contravention of the United Nations resolution that it was to become an international enclave. Thus in my ignorance, shared by so many Americans, I exclaimed, “Surely your family was not hurt, since you are Christians.” ………………….
……..continued on PDF file http://fredautley.com/pdffiles/book04.pdf