Articles

THE PROMISED LAND

Where their Old Testament forefathers found milk and honey, today’s Jews find rock and rubble, a freedom they fought for, and a chance to build a new paradise in the wilderness

GEORGE W. HERALD June 1 1949
Articles

THE PROMISED LAND

Where their Old Testament forefathers found milk and honey, today’s Jews find rock and rubble, a freedom they fought for, and a chance to build a new paradise in the wilderness

GEORGE W. HERALD June 1 1949

THE PROMISED LAND

Articles

Where their Old Testament forefathers found milk and honey, today’s Jews find rock and rubble, a freedom they fought for, and a chance to build a new paradise in the wilderness

By GEORGE W. HERALD

TEL AVIV—When old little Mr. Alperson, after years of restless wandering, stepped out of our plane at Lydda airport, he wanted to kneel down and kiss the holy soil of Israel. My wife had her camera ready for that solemn moment. But the moment never came.

Alperson and his 34 fellow immigrants were at once taken over by young Israeli soldiers in yellow shirts and khaki shorts who gave them brief instructions in Hebrew, Yiddish and German. We were escorted with shouldered arms to the control building.

At the entrance we noticed a poster showing a gloomy-looking man sealing his mouth with his forefingers. A Hebrew caption under the picture said: “Don’t talk! The enemy is listening!”

Although the Jewish war of independence was successfully over this was the spirit in which we were received in Lydda. Everything stood under the sign of military security. The immigrants, whose status was clear, were processed with comparative speed and felt perhaps for the first time in their lives as guests of honor. But my wife and I were two foreign visitors who had suddenly dropped out of the clear sky.

Seven different officials questioned us about the purpose of our visit for over an hour. And with that we were lucky we were Americans and not Britons—one of the officers told us that the procedure would have lasted much longer in the latter case.

An elegant Buick taxi took us to Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean. The driver was a veteran with a leg injury who had just been released from hospital. He had come from Vienna 10 years ago.

“When I arrived here l was no Zionist,” he told us, “but today I wouldn’t want to change this place for any country in the world.”

We only had to look around to understand his

choice. The sun shone warmly from a sky as improbably azure-blue as in a Botticelli painting. We were driving through a landscape of well-tended fields and gold-green orange groves. From time to time we crossed an empty Arab village whose clay huts had crumbled under shellfire.

When we wanted to stop behind one of those hamlets to pluck some oranges our driver said: “Oh, these fruits are of third quality. We don’t even bother to harvest them. We just haven’t got the manpower.”

He told us that each of the 150,000 immigrants who arrived here in 1948 found work immediately, and that many more men were needed to step up product ion and bring down prices.

We passed by Sarona, a former German colony full of oak trees and gingerbread houses. During the uprisings of 1936-1939 the Arabs had their secret headquarters here. It is an irony of history that the settlement now serves as Israel’s government seat. The Jews leased it from the enemy property custodian and gave it the name of Hakyria. When they moved in they found Hitler pictures on many walls. Today, every villa contains a ministry: the office of President Chaim Weizman is located in the former residence of a Lutheran pastor from Bavaria.

The lights went on when we arrived on Allenby Road, the business avenue of Tel Aviv. Our first impression of this 40-year-old city of 250,000 was of a medium-size town in California. Dozens of new American cars were driving past. Almost all shop windows carried red or green neon signs. The palm trees and the flat-roofed buildings could have just as well stood in Hollywood. The only major difference was that there were no drugstores and churches here but, instead, Viennese cafés, Czech bakeries, Russian bookstores and Hungarian restaurants.

A dense crowd was moving along the avenue. Most passers-by—men and women—wore military clothes left over by half a dozen World War II

armies. When Israel was attacked it had no time to devise uniforms and asked its soldiers to bring along their own outfits. They came in British khaki shirts and shorts, battle dresses, Rommel caps, French Foreign Legion khaki, British A.T.S. pullovers and American fliers’ jackets. Some even turned up in kilts.

The members of this checkered army looked just as different as their clothes. Most striking was the contrast between the scholar and merchant types from abroad and the 40% who were born here. The native sons resembled American farmers. They were tall, broad-shouldered, muscular, with often primitive peasant faces—the products of a total regeneration.

People called them “sabras,” the Hebrew word for the cacti which grow along the roads here, and, in their thinking and behavior, they were indeed as prickly as cacti. You only had to talk with them about the war with the Arab States to realize why they won it. Their brutal will of selfpreservation combined with the stored-up defiance of the newcomers from Europe were resources the Arabs couldn’t match.

20 Miles Away—the Arabs

AFTER dinner a colleague showed us the night XV life of the city. There was only one bar operating, with a jazz band which Polish postwar immigrants started a year ago. This place is patronized by elegant, idlers whose fathers have made fortunes as planters or manufacturers. This smart set is the object of much gossip among Tel Avivers and is frowned upon by the city council. Most of the current councilors were brought up in the rigid tradition of Eastern European Jews and have firmly refused to allow any more of the wartime night clubs to operate.

Tel Aviv is probably the most virtuous port of the Mediterranean. You simple don’t see any prostitutes, and, if there were any, they would

probably find no~iients.. Embracing in the street is prohibited, rs who take their girls out behave as if r for good-conduct ribbons. We `~ was intoxicated, nor do they use im soldiers do in all other armies. Our t the worst oath you can throw at a is: "That your name be obliteratt. All this doesn't mean enjoy themselves. It was of the Jewish Sabbath, and ants were crowded. Many peo e queuing in front of the city's main pict house, and hundreds of couples were dancing and drinking light Palestine wines on gaily illuminated terraces by the sea. What impressed us most was the cheerfulness on nearly all those faces. You could see that these people were happy and content. The Arab border was only 20 miles away from Tel Aviv, but that didn't seem to bother them in the least. Somewhere on the beach an accordion started to play the I-Iatikvah, Israel's beautiful national anthem. The young soldiers took up the melody in chorus and the waves of the Mediterranean beat time to it. My colleague, ordinarily no dreamer, asked all of a sudden: "Don't you have the feeling that unexplainable miracles still happen on this soil?" The next morning we met in front of the Ritz. In other cities, the word Ritz stands for some swanky palace. In Tel Aviv it was just a villa on the beach where the Press section of the Israel Army was located. The section chief, Lieut.-Col. Moshe Perlman, who had served as a British captain during the war, had got us permission to visit the military zone in the Negeb, the southern region along the Egyptian border. Lieut. Lionel Feitelberg, a South African, was our escort. The landscape began to change behind Rehovoth,

President Weizman's lovely garden town. Trees turned into shrub, shrub into grass. grass into weeds, weeds into rubble. Rubble, grey sand, bare rocks as far as we could see. We had arrived in the foreflelds of the Negeb, the promised land of the Bible and the future. Lieut. Feitelberg observed that more than two thirds of the new State of Israel consisted of this type of ground. We shook our heads and asked him what. could be done with those 12,000 square mihs of barren land. Wasn't it preposterous to found a new state on the mere hope that two thirds of its territory might be reclaimed one day? Farouk Met his Match T HIS is actually good earth," the lieutenant explained. "Hundreds of samples have been chemically tested in Dr. Weizman's Institute in Rehovoth. It; absorbs water slowly but holds it perfectly and can be used for intensive farming." "But how are you going to irrigate this immense area?" we asked. "We are covering the whole Negeb with a net of water pipe lines," Feitelberg replied. "Two of these lines are already working. One runs from Gvar-Am to Beersheeba; the other serves settle ments between Niram and Gvuloth, which were founded in 1943. Today we grow peaches, olives, almonds, wine, wheat and vegetables there. "These colonies are, of course, artificial oases, but let us have peace and you will soon see how fast the green surface will spread on the map." After a two-hour drive southward we arrived at Negba, the key to the Negeb. Judging by photo graphs this settlement had been a real Garden of Eden before the war. Now there was no building left intact; even the steel frame of the water tower

was twisted. However, dozens ef su'i-tanned men and girls in uprolled shorts were busy ckarin:~ he ground between 1-he shell holes and the irn leb ills. They joyously welcomed us and asked us to share their frugal lunch-cabbage soup, water and a couple of tangerines. When King Farouk's motorized columns passed by Negba in May, 191~, the colonists threw gasoline bottles at the armored cars. The sett;le ment was situated right on the supply route be tween the south and Tel Aviv. The Egyptian commander figured out how many shells were required to make 30() men, women and children surrender. Then he gave orders to lire double that number. What he didn't know was that many Negba pioneers were former inmates of Nazi concentration camps. They had arrived only a few weeks earlier and had no plans to change their address once Continued on page 35

Continued from page 13

again. There were neither white flags nor any other signs of life when the smoke clouds lifted over Negba. Apparently everybody in the place was dead.

That was the moment to attack. The Arab troops were ordered to approach the colony under the cover of heavy tanks. They moved through the fields unchallenged until they were only 20 yards from the first buildings. Then suddenly all hell broke loose.

“We had played dead,” one of the survivors of Negba told me, “because our only ant itank gun had such a short range that we couldn’t use it until the vehicles were almost above our heads. Then we destroyed two of them and killed their crews. At the same time our machine guns put the infantry to flight. The Egyptians didn’t know how to take cover and we shot them off like clay pigeons.”

Many new attacks followed, but the settlers refused to give in. They were kept in high spirits by Israel Barzalai, a rugged man who looked like a wrestling champion and is today his country’s minister in Warsaw.

Another hero of Negba was a British Army major, Bernard Francis, a Gentile who had stayed in Negba because he liked it there and who is now a liaison officer of the Israel Government with the United Nations Commission in Tel Aviv.

Under the guidance of these men the settlers dug themselves in and held out until the siege was lifted by the general offensive in October 1948.

Negba’s resistance decided the war in the south. Its name today has the same ring throughout Israel as Valley Forge in the United States or Coventry in England.

We got an even better idea of the strength of this new state of 800.000 people at the solemn opening of the new road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two days later. Thousands of citizens from all over the country had flocked to the parade ground halfway between the coast and the city to watch the ceremony.

It was a radiant morning. The contours of the Judean mountains stood sharply against the horizon. On a distant hill we could see Latrun, the Arab fortress that blocked the old supply route. The fields around us were cluttered with hundreds of private cars and military vehicles. Along the road a dozen refreshment tents had been set up. Messerschmidt planes were tail spinning over the area. The crowd was full of jokes and good cheer. Israel’s new flag—a blue Star of David between two blue stripes on white ground—fluttered in the wind from 50 giant poles.

Through the Arch of Triumph

Surely this landscape hadn’t seen such a festival for several thousand years. It was the climax of the Jewish war of independence and at the same time the first opportunity for Israel’s new army to parade in full strength. Foreign diplomats and U. N. observers had come to size up this new military force. They wanted to have a close look at the men who had successfully defended their country on five fronts.

We were seated right among the Israeli staff officers. They didn’t look like men to fool around with. Some of them, with their tough faces and stocky figures, seemed to be baked out of earth. Many were very young natives, others were of Russian descent, a few had come from Germany. All conversed in Hebrew.

A relay sprinter came running up the hill to the platform where Prime Minister Ben Gurion stood. Tlx* runner saluted, handed a parchment scroll to the premier and announced in a loud voice: “We have run along the road. The road is open!”

A brass band swung into the Hatikvah. Ben Gurion went to a makeshift arch of triumph at the foot of the hill and declared the road opened.

Then the parade started. All units that had helped construct the new highway marched past with their faces stiffly turned toward Ben Gurion: the Palmach commandos, the infantry, the radio divisions, the military police, the women’s auxiliary troops and the old greybeards who had actually buiL the road with their hoes and spades. They were followed by tanks, armored cars and overland buses marked with bullet holes.

We had expected to witness a somewhat amateurish show, as the Jews don’t like playing soldiers any more than the British or Americans do. We were surprised to see with what ease and precision they moved across the ground. There was no denying it, tlies • were seasoned troops who could stand any comparison. The officers around us beamed, the foreign observers glanced at each other and the crowd cheered.

The only person who remained mute and grave was David Ben Gurion. Opening the road, he said, “The battla for the road to Jerusalem was the most, tragic and the most magnificent chapter in our struggle for home and independence.” Only he and a few others knew how many young men had given their lives so that this festiva could take place.

Prophet From Brooklyn

In the afternoon we drove along the new road to Jerusalem. The Holy City didn’t look nearly as damaged as we had thought it would. Many houses showed traces of shelling, hu', there were no ruins of the kind that can he seen in Europe.

In the Army Press Office we met a young orthodox Jew with side locks and a blond heard. He wore medieval rabbinic clothes, hut when he started speaking we didn’t trust our ears. He talked with the purest Brooklyn accent and confided to us that he came from an entirely unreligious New York family. Up to three years ago he had worn modern clothes, gone to the movies and flirted with the girls like all his friends. Then, suddenly, he had come under the influence of an orthodox rabbi, and soon afterward he; had reverted to the customs of his ancestors Hi.s father was so grief-stricken that he had turned him out. When the boy had been called up by his draft hoard the doctors had rejected him for feeblemindedness.

On the way hack to Tel Aviv this young man advised us that the Messiah was about to show up any time now. Probably he was already living somewhere with his wife and children, in Brooklyn, London or Jerusalem, never mind the place. He would lx1 an orthodox rabbi possessing the virtues of David. As soon as he would reveal himself the entire world would recognize him without any further ado. As his arrival was imminent, the young man concluded, it was better to observe all Jewish laws so as to have a good record when he comes.

All this may sound foolish to unaccustomed ears, hut the ideas of this young man are shared by many people in Israel. There is a religious party here that gathered almost 20% of all votes in the last elections. This party wants the state to prosecute all violators of the orthodox code: it wants

to punish the import of pork by jail and to stop all transportation on Saturday.

Most Israeli leaders were brought up religiously, and even Socialists such as Ben Gurion and Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett acknowledge that the new state is rooted in the Old Testament. But the broad masses detest all fanaticism. They see religion as a private affair that must not hamper Israel’s development as a modern state.

Oranges and Diamonds

The country’s foremost source of wealth will be its oil refineries. One night, at the Hotel Zion in Haifa, we dined with Director of Customs Mendelssohn, one of the nation’s top economists.

“You want to know why the Arabs must make peace with us?” he asked. “Simply because they would soon go bankrupt otherwise. They have already lost millions of dollars in the last 12 months.”

Mendelssohn explained that Iraq used to have all its oil processed by Consolidated Refineries Ltd., in Haifa. Every year two milkion gallons were pumped from Mosul to Haifa through an underground pipeline. A new and bigger line which could move four million gallons more per year to Haifa was almost completed. But in the spring of 1948 the British engineers closed the refineries because of the street fighting in the city.

We asked our host what the Israel Government was going to do with those plants. He assured us that it didn’t intend to nationalize them. The works, he declared, still belonged to the Iraq Petroleum Company, and it was up to its shareholders to reopen them.

“But hasn’t the situation changed a bit?” we enquired. “Won’t Israel have its say in the matter too now?”

“Our conditions are reasonable,” Mendelssohn replied. “We want the Iraq Petroleum Company to guarantee our oil consumption at a fair price and to employ Israeli workers in the refineries. We also want to have a share of the foreign currency income.”

When we asked if he wasn’t afraid of competition elsewhere he took us out into the street. “Do you notice how this city is climbing up the Mount Carmel?” he asked. “The hill is so steep that it is very difficult for bombers to pint-point a target here. The pilots would almost certainly crash into the rocks. The British know this and prefer the Haifa refineries to all others.”

Undoubtedly these oil plants are among Israel’s most valuable assets, but almost of equal importance is the export of the citrus crop. We visited Petah Tiqva, the “Gate of Hope,” a 70-year-old settlement with 25,000 inhabitants. The town is surrounded by orange groves and exports one million cases per year—a seventh of the country’s production.

We asked one of the planters who was the main buyer of Israel oranges this year. “England, naturally,” he said with a grin. “The United Kingdom has ordered 3.8 million cases at 30 shillings ($6) per box.”

We could hardly believe our ears as we had heard only bitter words and complaints about the British in the previous few days. But we found the same phenomenon in the diamond industry, the country’s third-biggest source of income.

Antwerp diamond cutters who fled here from the Nazis in 1940 have installed a series of plants at Nathanya a small seaside resort. The London Diamond Syndicate provides them with raw stones, and their output has leaped from $100,000 in 1940 to $4 millions in 1948.

Looking For a Long Peace

Few people realize how closely Jews and Arabs co-operate already in many towns in Israel. In Haifa, for instance, there are a number of Arab business leaders who give full-hearted support to the regime. The most prominent of them are exporters Victor and Fuad Kajad, shipowner Abu Said, and Hadja Karaman, a member of the Israeli Parliament and the most influential Arab politician in the country.

When President Weizman recently attended a state banquet in Haifa, Karaman toasted him and declared that the Arab population had full confidence in his integrity and generosity.

Answering, Weizman said: “In 1917 I traveled from Haifa to Amman via Egypt to meet King Feisal and Colonel Lawrence. The journey lasted three weeks, but it was worth while. We came to an agreement and, with some good tvill, we can come to an agreement again today.”

These words expressed the sincere hope of the Israeli. Victory hasn’t gone to their heads. They are looking for a lasting peace with all their neighbors. They need it to build their new country, and more and more Arabs feel that they, too, will profit from Israel’s efforts. ★