Articles

BLAIR FRASER... REPORTS FROM ISRAEL...

Beginning an extended tour of the crisis centres of the Middle East and Europe, Canada’s best-known political reporter records his on-the-spot impressions from the seething caldron of Israel

January 5 1957
Articles

BLAIR FRASER... REPORTS FROM ISRAEL...

Beginning an extended tour of the crisis centres of the Middle East and Europe, Canada’s best-known political reporter records his on-the-spot impressions from the seething caldron of Israel

January 5 1957

BLAIR FRASER... REPORTS FROM ISRAEL...

Beginning an extended tour of the crisis centres of the Middle East and Europe, Canada’s best-known political reporter records his on-the-spot impressions from the seething caldron of Israel

JERUSALEM—Whatever misgiving others feel about the operations against Egypt no doubts rack Israel. With astonishing unanimity the people here believe their own attack was necessary and that, however the United Nations may wither the fruits of victory, it was nevertheless successful and a net gain for Israel. Everyone from the taximan and shopkeeper to the highest officials at the Foreign Office echoes this conviction. At all levels the most common reason given is the simplest: we can sleep at night now. The visitor to smiling, bustling and seemingly prosperous Israel tends not to realize how pervasive is the background of danger. Even before the citizen soldiers came home from the week of war in the Sinai, life in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was back to normal. Merchants advertising Hanukkah gifts, crowds filling the movie theatres, farmers harvesting oranges and planting winter crops all give the picture of business as usual. The visitor has to be reminded that in this region danger has been usual too. Israel reckons that in the eight years since the armistice with the Arab nations she lost 450 killed and a thousand wounded along the six-hundred-mile border. A senior official of the Defense Department in Tel Aviv said: “My wife was afraid to answer the doorbell at night. Our house is a few miles from the centre of the city but the Fedayeen (the socalled commandos trained by the Egyptian Army for murder) have killed people almost that far from the border. Now she feels safe.” She has, of course, little reason to feel safe. Actually there is no solid ground for the belief that the Sinai campaign has quieted the border. It has often been quiet for longer than the brief tense interval after the Sinai fighting stopped. Even in November, while the Israelis still held all the territory they had won, and while Gaza was still under strict mili-

tary rule, Fedayeen from Jordan blew up the railway near Beersheba in the heart of southern Israel. The popular feeling of relief and security is merely an emotional expression of triumph and pride at the Israeli victory. But the realists who know this still claim the war brought Israel certain permanent benefits: 1. It forestalled an Egyptian attack which, whether imminent or not, the Israeli believed was certain to come. The huge quantity of material they captured bears out this belief. 2. It exposed Nasser’s pretensions as captain of the Arab resurgence and showed Egyptian military strength to be as contemptible as ever. The Israeli hope they've thus shattered the combination of their Arab neighbors which was their worst nigh☺tmare. continued over page Fraser watched Prime Minister Ben-Gurion swallow his words:

“We shall not humble ourselves before the powerful forces of the world when justice is not on their side.”

“Was it the warning from Britain that deterred Israel from attacking Jordan? Or were the Israeli moves a masterpiece of military deception?”

“To Israeli leaders it’s crystal clear that Col. Nasser is just a Soviet stooge and they believe the free world should back Israel to the hilt.”

3. It broke the Egyptian blockade of the southern port of Eilat, of which many Westerners arc only half aware but which the Israeli consider more important than Suez. This gain was still held at the time of writing and if they can maintain it in the long run it may be the greatest benefit of all. On the Arab side of Jerusalem, not surprisingly, precisely opposite opinions are held with equal confidence and equal evidence of good faith. Nasser emerges in almost any conversation there, not as a swashbuckling poltroon but as a hero. The accepted version not merely among the illiterate masses but among educated people is that the Egyptians fought well and were preparing a riposte against an Israeli sneak attack when they were stabbed in the back by the British and French. Once a hundred million people entered the fight against them Nasser had no chance and his military defeat involved no shame. On the contrary the resistance that Egypt offered and its enlistment of the sympathy of the overwhelming majority of the United Nations make the Arab cause seem stronger than ever just across the line of demarcation. For its part the only doubt Israel feels is not IN THE CANAL ZONE YOUNG ISRAELIS REJOICE.

“One senior official told me that Britain and France had minded their own business then Israel would now hold the Suez Canal from end to end.”

about the ultimate result. There is some disappointment for at first, of course, Israel had hoped for a quick and conclusive victory. It hoped this would fulfill the dream of a stable peace with the Arabs and recognition of Israel’s existence. It was a moment of national exultation when Prime Minister Ben-Gurion—Mr. Israel as never before—proclaimed in the Knesset (parliament) that the armistice lines no longer had validity and that foreign force would not be tolerated in any area occupied by Israel. The summit of Israel’s national pride was voiced in BenGurion's peroration: "We shall not humble ourselves before the powerful forces of the world when justice is not on their side.” Within thirty-six hours the old lion ate his proud words. Under pressure from those “powerful forces” he disavowed Israel’s intent to hold on to the Sinai and agreed to withdraw his forces from Egypt. The nation’s disappointment was as bitter as Ben-Gurion’s own—but no more so. In a matter of days the people accepted the diplomatic defeat on top of the military victory and trusted Ben-Gurion to give away as little as possible for as much as possible. I sat in the press gallery of the Knesset when

Ben-Gurion closed the debate on a censure motion by the Herut party, an extremist group stemming from the Irgun Zvai Leumi terrorist assassins of the days of the British mandate. I didn’t need to understand Hebrew to realize that the old man was neither dismayed nor apologetic. Speaking softly' and gently, his bushy white hair like a halo around his gleaming bald head and calm brow, he brushed aside the Herut motion without effort and without heat. He summed up for the detense with a quotation from Spinoza: “Courage is the knowledge when to fear and when not to fear.” The Knesset knew what Israel had to fear. Russia had threatened air attack and the United States had warned that no help would be forthcoming. Even more effective was the American threat to cut the economic umbilical cord and produce immediate bankruptcy. Israel earns only one third of its imports; the remainder are bought partly from German reparations ending soon, and partly from American aid both public and private. The donations would be easily throttled if the United States declared them non-deductible from income tax. Between them two great powers had Israel by the throat. Ben-Gurion had already explained this at a

secret session attended by all parties except the Communists. Apparently only the Herut members were unconvinced. No other party backed the motion of censure for the Sinai withdrawal and the debate was a triumph for the BenGurion government. Indeed, even the Herut opposition seemed rather halfhearted. Menachem Beigin, the Herut leader, looks like a small-town lawyer, which he is. and not at all like the former chief of an underground movement dedicated to political murder, which he also is. I called on him one Sabbath evening in his modest I el Aviv fiat which was swarming with neighborly guests of all ages. We withdrew to his study for our continued on page 36

“Captured Soviet arms prove Red penetration of the Middle East.”

continued from page 9

interview but were constantly interrupted by a small boy charging in to grab a handful of pretzels and charging out again. Beigin scolded him mildly but the small boy obviously knew Daddy wouldn't hurt a fly.

In an hour’s talk Beigin spent eighty percent of the time sympathetically explaining the government action in invading the Sinai and only twenty percent of the time criticizing Ben-Gurion for agreeing to withdraw. He also thought Israel could and should have knocked off Jordan at the same time and advanced the eastern frontier to the west bank of the River Jordan. Actually many think Israel intended to do just that but was deterred by the British warning that Britain’s mutual-assistance treaty with Jordan would be honored.

Altogether, 1 got the strong impression that Beigin felt Ben-Gurion was on the right track and saw his own party's, role as one of counselor, guide and prod. Indeed his most heartfelt criticism seemed to be based on Ben-Gurion s refusal to admit how similar their aims were.

“Wouldn’t it have been more dignified to admit or at least not deny our intentions,” Beigin asked, “rather than make speeches that we'd never wage a preventive war and a fortnight later do just that?” Others wondered the same thing.

Officially the Israeli decision to invade the Sinai was prompted by the election of a pro-Nasser government in Jordan and the conclusion of the tripartite treaty unifying the command of Syria and Jordan under Egypt. This, following the resumption of Fedayeen activity from Gaza, was said to be the last straw. But these developments came in the last week of October, only days before the mobilization which astounded observers by its smoothness, speed and efficiency. All bespoke careful planning for much longer than a few days.

The onlooker’s judgment of the ArabIsraeli dispute is usually determined and betrayed by the date at which he begins. The Israeli case is strongest if you begin in 1948. Three things cannot be denied: the Arabs started the war against Israel; the Arabs were ignominiously defeated and put to flight by an army they vastly outnumbered; the Arabs nevertheless refused to make peace and ever since have claimed the protection of the armistice plus belligerent rights. For instance, Egypt blockaded the Israeli port of Eilat

by seizing the empty sandbar island of Tiran at the mouth of the Gu!f of Aqaba on the Red Sea—Egypt doesn’t own the island but justified its blockade of international shipping as a "belligerent right.” Other Arab countries were too weak for such overt acts but unceasingly shouted threats to drive the Jews into the sea.

In practice, though, there have been ups and downs, periods of quiet followed by periods of hostility approaching open war. The Sinai invasion was the climax of one such warlike interval which began nearly two years ago.

The Israeli often say it started in June 1955 when Nasser made his deal for Soviet arms. United Nations observers place it earlier than that. They start with the Israeli attack on a Gaza police post on Feb. 28, 1955. By now, so much blood has been spilt on both sides that any raid in either direction can plausibly be called retaliatory. However, UN observers say the 1955 Israeli assault on Gaza was far beyond the ordinary. It followed hard upon the return of Ben-Gurion as defense minister, the long-time advocate of a reprisal policy, and greatly exceeded the scale of previous attacks in the Gaza district. Besides attacking the police post, the Israeli set ambushes on the roads leading to Gaza and waited for reinforcements to arrive. A truckload of Egyptian soldiers ran into an ambush and all thirty-four of them were shot dead. Altogether, about forty Egyptians and Arabs were killed that night.

Nasser said later that it was the Gaza raid that prompted him to negotiate his arms deal with the Soviets. Nasser’s word is not regarded as being worth much at the moment but UN observers are inclined to believe him on this point. It is also true that until the Gaza affair the raids into Israel from the Arab side were more like individual banditry than organized military operations. Thereafter the situation changed. As well as concluding the arms deal, Nasser organized the Fedayeen as a recognized branch of the Egyptian Army. He proclaimed them as the start of a Palestine brigade, and paraded them in Cairo with the regular army. They were trained for sabotage and other so-called commando duties. The Fedayeen record is actually most inglorious. They do best at either blowing up irrigation pipes and powerlines when nobody is around or at murdering unarmed men, women and chil-

dren. But, unlike the previous infiltrations, these were admitted incursions by military force—in short, acts of war and so proclaimed by officers who lauded the “heroic exploits of our furtive hit-andrun troops.”

Of course, the Israeli reprisals, equally deliberate and far better planned and executed, might be called acts of war too. The difference was that whereas Israel steadfastly maintained her sole objective was peace, the Arabs grew ever more shrill and bloodthirsty, vowing war until the Jews were exterminated.

Apparently Israel came more and more to believe they meant it. Since early 1956 Israeli behavior along the border has been consistently challenging. They adopted the policy the UN calls “agressive patrolling.” An Israeli patrol would charge directly at the border opposite an Egyptian post. At the very edge, the armored vehicles would stop and young men would jump out, fall flat on their bellies, mount machine guns and aim with their rifles at the Egyptian sentries, and then stop. This was well calculated to terrify an Egyptian sentry. Sometimes he would panic and fire a shot or two— then the Israeli patrol would “retaliate” and clobber the Egyptian post.

By early April a tense situation had been built up. Along its southern borders Israel has established Kibbutzim—

communal farms — of a rather special character. They’re peopled not by ordinary farm families but by young men and women who haven’t yet completed their military service. They’re given the option of serving their final year in the army or going instead to a border Kibbutz. The result is that the border Kibbutzim are really military strongpoints as well as farms. After exchanges of fire during two days in April, Egyptians fired mortars into one such border farm.

The Israeli response was to shell the open city of Gaza.

I heard about the shelling of Gaza from an American artilleryman who was there. “The whole thing only lasted about twenty minutes,” he said, “including the pause in the middle.”

What did he mean, the pause in the middle?

“It’s an old trick,” the American said in a level voice, “but it works with green troops and it works with civilians. If you’re ordered to fire ten rounds and you have green troops against you you fire five rounds and then stop They’ll come out of their foxholes nd look around to see what damage you’ve done. You wait until they’re out and then you fire the other five rounds.

“The Israeli used that trick on Gaza.” When the shelling finally stopped there were sixty-two dead and about two hundred wounded. In November when Gaza was in Israeli hands an American doctor asked an Israeli major, “What did you do it for?”

The major, a big round-faced blond with a merry grin, laughed and said. “That was an invitation to war that the Egyptians were too yellow to accept.” But if Gaza didn't bring war, it didn’t bring peace either. Some of the most horrible Fedayeen raids followed the shelling of Gaza, including the worst of all—the cold-blooded murder by machinegun fire of schoolchildren at prayer. It was a tense summer. In August alone 105 complaints were laid with the UN Mixed Armistice Commission. Israel laid forty complaints and suffered two killed and twelve wounded; Egypt laid sixty-five complaints and suffered twentytwo killed and five wounded.

Then, in September, the emphasis suddenly shifted to the Jordan border. There were various incidents—buses ambushed, all the dreary routine of terror and the equally dreary routine of reprisal. But

Who is it?

After doing a star turn for years on the road, he may stay home to run the whole show. Turn to page 42 to see who this boy grew up to be.

"The Arabs vowed war untill the Jews were exterminated. The "Jews believedther

one incident was a somewhat disturbing departure from the routine.

One Sabbath, a party of archaeologists was inspecting the ancient ruins at Ramat Rahcl. just inside Israel and not far from Jerusalem. Suddenly a burst of gunfire came from Jordan. Six of the scholarly party were killed.

The UN Armistice Commission heard of it immediately. The Jordan district commander telephoned and said. "Something terrible has happened. One of outsoldiers went mad and fired into a party of civilians on the Israeli side. I don’t know any details but I fear some were killed. We have the killer in custody. Please come at once.”

The UN observers came at once and found eyewitnesses who bore out the Jordan story. They got a complete account from a Franciscan priest who was with the party and others confirmed his version—all the shots appeared to come from one gun. Observers asked both sides if the evidence was complete and both said yes.

Hours later the UN received a call from Israel saying we have more witnesses and want to reopen the case. The new witnesses all said the fire came from more than one direction and indicated a deliberate attack.

When the UN still believed the original eyewitnesses and disregarded the afterthought evidence Israel walked out of the Armistice Commission.

The UN observers were not surprised when a few nights later they got a call to "a retaliatory raid” on the Jordan village of Husan. near Jerusalem. Thirty people had been killed.

Thereafter no complaints came from the Israeli side, since she had withdrawn from the commission, but UN observers speculated where the next retaliatory raid would be. Studying the map they guessed it would be the police post at Kalkilych, not far from Tel Aviv on the edge of the coastal plain. Sure enough the press soon reported the shooting of a farmer in an orange grove in that neighborhood and shortly thereafter came a retaliatory raid.

This time, though, the Jordan army had apparently done the same map study as the UN officers. It was present in considerable strength and, though at least forty-two Jordanians were killed, the Israeli themselves lost eighteen dead and more wounded. Kalkilyeh was the last major incident before the Sinai war. It was one reason why many thought the Israeli mobilization was directed against Jordan, especially since Jordan had just elected a pro-Nasser government and signed the treaty for joint command with Egypt. Whether it was the actual intention frustrated by the British warning, or a masterpiece of military deception we probably will never know, but probably the latter since Nasser was obviously the major enemy.

In Israeli eyes Nasser is the enemy not only of Israel but of the whole free world. They call him Agent No. I in the Soviet penetration of the Middle East and cite their capture of Egyptian arms in the Sinai to prove it. Of one hundred tanks and self-propelled guns captured, about thirty were Russian. Of nine Egyptian planes shot down, five were Russian. The Israeli tell of overhearing short-wave radio conversations in Russian in the Sinai desert before the invasion.

They reject as preposterous the notion that their Gaza raid of two years ago drove Nasser into Russian arms. He was an opportunist who would have found his way there anyway, and rather sooner than later, they say. They did the world a service by bringing him down

a peg and believe that if they’d been let alone they could have brought him down utterly and forever.

Among Israeli civilians there is fierce resentment over the intervention by Britain and France, which they think tarnished and frustrated Israel’s victory. Not even in London did I hear such scathing remarks about Eden as in Jerusalem.

One senior official told me quite seriously that had Britain and France minded their own business, Israel would now hold the Suez Canal from end to end When I asked whether Egypt might not have flattened Tel Aviv if the RAF hadn't destroyed its air force, he replied. "II the Egyptians had dared bomb our cities we would have gone on to Cairo. If wt had been let alone w'e might be in Cairo today with the peace signed.”

Israeli soldiers know this fantasy is unfair. They admit the British and French air attack was extremely useful. They also admit they counted on it in making their own plans.

General Moshe Dayan, the burly oneeyed rough diamond who is Israel’s chief of staff, was asked if he knew British and French help was coming. He laughed. “If I did, would I say 'yes’ to you here? I will say this—we took all possibilities into account. We had intelligence reports on the build-up of AngloFrench forces in Cyprus. We took them into consideration in making our decisions.”

The West wants Arab friendship

That’s the nearest any official source has come to admitting collusion among Britain. France and Israel. As any divorce lawyer knows, collusion is a difficult thing either to prove or disprove, but the vehement denials by the three governments are borne out by the result. If they did attempt to co-ordinate their activities they certainly did it very badly. The lack of any co-ordination seems the chief cause of the impasse in Suez which, in turn, causes Israeli indignation.

But if Israel is exasperated by the British and French, she is even more so by the Americans. To the Israeli it seems crystal clear that the thing for the free world to do now is to recognize Nasser as a Russian stooge and the other Arab nations as willing imitators, and back Israel to the hilt. That, they feel, would solve all Middle Eastern problems in the quickest possible manner.

The Arabs believe equally strongly that the war proved their contention that Israel is the real threat to peace in the Middle East and the Communist threat is a mere bogey. They think the rest of the world is now convinced they are right and may well be encouraged to give them stronger physical support.

The most important fact to keep always in mind out here is this: there

are no right answers in the Middle East. There is an infinite variety of wrong answers and some are wronger than others, but the time is long gone when any can possibly be right.

The Israeli solution takes for granted, as do most Jews throughout the world, that the interests of Israel and other free nations are virtually identical. This unfortunately is not so. From a strictly material viewpoint the Western alliance has far more interest in preserving the friendship of the Arab world, which is increasingly incompatible with supporting Israel.

Morally, of course, the commitment to uphold Israel is inescapable. Britain created the Jewish national home in the first place and whether that decision was right or wrong the British cannot go back on it now.

This support is almost instinctive. Israel is the twentieth century’s bridgehead in a petrified forest of the Middle Ages. She is the only stable and competent democracy in the whole region. To let the Arabs have their way and destroy Israel would be not only dishonorable but unthinkable.

But it is equally unthinkable to permit the Arab nations to become hopelessly and permanently alienated. The Arab nations own and control assets that are absolutely essential to the West. Without Middle Eastern oil. neither European armies nor European industries can operate for long, at least not without great expense and difficulty, as the Suez crisis is now demonstrating.

This is no mere matter of pounds, shillings and pence. It might well become a matter of survival. That’s why last autumn’s events have placed the Western world in such a desperate dilemma.

The few glimmers of light visible at all are faint indeed, and only for the long future. Eor instance, one thing that could eventually become a benefit for the West, as well as for Israel, is the smashing of the Egyptian blockade of Port Eilat.

Egypt had no right to be there in the first place. The blockade was itself in defiance of previous United Nations resolutions. Israel has promised to withdraw from Egyptian territory, but neither Tiran Island nor the Gaza Strip were ever Egyptian. The Gaza Strip did lie outside the armistice line, so Israel may be compelled to vacate Gaza (which would relieve her of the refugee headache anyway), but the armistice says nothing about Tiran, from which the Egyptian blockade operated. Israel, having ousted the Egyptian garrison, will fight long and hard before letting it get back.

Eilat, as well as Suez, gives Israel access to export markets in East Africa and the Far East. It is possible, as Israel hopes, that these markets might enable it to become self-sufficient rather than dependent on Western help for two thirds of its imports. If Israel does be-

come self-sufficient, a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East will be removed.

The Arab refusal to recognize Israel's existence sounds hysterical but has a rational basis. The Arabs simply do not believe Israel can survive. Educated Arabs remember the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem, which also depended on Western help prompted by religious fervor — Christian Zionism. Eventually Christian Zionism went out of fashion and the kingdom of Jerusalem disappeared. but not until it had lasted one hundred and nineteen years. The Arabs doubt Israel will last that long.

If they’re convinced Israel is able to stand on its own feet economically, then the rational basis for non-recognition will disappear. The way might become clear for a general settlement between Israel and its neighbors, without which no stability is possible in the Middle East.

But that’s a matter for the very far future, if ever. The immediate outlook is almost completely black.

Far from keeping the friendship of the Arab world. Europeans cannot even walk the streets in safety. Damascus hotels which once catered to foreign tourists are now virtually closed, thenwindows shuttered against the stones of the mob. The thirty-six Europeans and North Americans left in Damascus stay close to home and walk about as little as possible. Even the United Nations white jeep and blue arm band are no longer protection from black looks and threatening words. In Old Jerusalem, foreigners don’t dare enter the old walled city even by daylight. All hotels but one have closed and United Nations personnel have been ordered to live together in that one. no longer in the comfortable flats they once enjoyed.

All this I learn by hearsay in Israel's half of Jerusalem which, of course, is cut off from all contact with the Arab nations except through radio.

Tomorrow I take off again to see what more 1 can of the Arab world. ★