These articles by Robert F. Kennedy were published in the Boston Post after his March 1948 visit to the Middle East. He departed Palestine prior to Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14 and Ben-Gurion’s announcement of the name of the new country. RFK, therefore, does not refer to “Israel” or to “Israelis.”
We believe this is the only Internet and digital posting of the Kennedy articles, therefore we present them in full. The Kennedy Library at Harvard University cites the articles on its webpage, but has not posted them. Presumably scholars can view them there. The Boston Post ceased operation in 1956.
British Hated by Both Sides
Robert Kennedy, Special Writer for Post, Struck by Antipathy Shown by ‘Arabs and Jews’
By Robert Kennedy, June 3, 1948
RFK on Jerusalem street near King
ï»¿ Certainly if Arthur Balfour, Britain’s foreign minister during the first World War, had realized the conflicting interpretations which were to be placed on his famous “declaration” calling for a homeland for the Jews, he probably would have drawn it with its meaning clearer and saved the world the bloodshed that its double promises have caused. In his attempt to conciliate both Jews and Arabs in a time of distress for the British empire, conciliated neither.
No great thought was given to it at the time, for Palestine was then a relatively unimportant country. There were then not the great numbers of homeless Jews that we have now and no one believed then that the permission granted for Jewish immigration would lead 30 years later to world turmoil on whether a national home should mean an autonomous national state.
First let us consider the viewpoint of the Arabs in regard to the national homeland promised to the Jews in the Balfour Declaration.
The Arabs by word and deed leave no question in anyone’s mind how they feel. They argue that the Balfour Declaration supports their point that no national state was promised, pointing to the clauses in the declaration that says the national home shall be set up subject to the civil rights of the people living in Palestine at this time. In recent years they have pointed to the United Nations charger and the Article dealing with the self-determination of nations. Let us adhere to that, the Arabs say, and let the people, that is the Arabs who are involved, decide the question by the democratic processes. If this policy of participation was truly adhered to they say, then why couldn’t there be a partition with the “the” partition set aside for the Arab minorities?
The Arabs are most concerned about the great increase in the Jews in Palestine: 80,000 in 1948. The Arabs have always feared this encroachment and maintain that the Jews will never be satisfied with just their section of Palestine, but will gradually move to overpower the rest of the country and will eventually move onto the enormously wealthy oil lands. They are determined that the Jews will never get the toehold that would be necessary for the fulfillment of that policy.
Always Will Attack
With a pretend sling-shot in hand
ï»¿ ï»¿ They are willing to let the Jews remain as peaceful citizens subject to the rule of the Arab majority just as the Arabs are doing in such great number in Egypt and the Levant states, but they are determined that a separate Jewish state will be attacked and attacked until it is finally cut out like an unhealthy abscess.
The Arabs believe they contributed greatly to making the Allied victory possible in the first World War. At the Paris peace conference they felt that they received nothing comparable to what they were promised for their fight under Lawrence against the Turks. Rather, due to power politics, British and French domination replaced that of the Ottoman empire. The Arab leaders attribute their country’s backwardness to these 400 uninterrupted years as subservience to the Ottoman empire.
The Jewish people on the other hand believe that if it were not for the wars and invasions that racked Palestine and which sent them scattered and persecuted throughout the world, Palestine would today be theirs.
It would be theirs just as when Moses led them from Egypt into the Palestinian plains which they point out were unoccupied except for a few Bedouin tribes.
Set Up Laboratories
Under the supposition that, at the finish of the mandate, this was to be their national state, they went to work. They set up laboratories where world-famous scientists could study and analyze soils and crops. The combination of arduous labor and almost unlimited funds from the United States changed what was once arid desert into flourishing orange groves.
Soils had to be washed of salt, day after day, year after year, before crops could be planted. One can see this work going on in lesser or more advanced stages wherever there are Jewish settlements in Palestine.
From a small village of a few thousand inhabitants, Tel Aviv has grown into a most impressive modern metropolis of over 200,000. They have truly done much with what all agree was very little.
The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state. This is the only country in the Near and Middle East where an Arab middle class is in existence.
The Jews point out that they have always taken a passive part in the frequent revolutions that have racked the country, because of the understanding that they would eventually be set free from British mandateship. They wished to do nothing to impair this expected action.
During the second World War they sent numerous volunteer Jewish brigades which fought commendably with the British in Italy. In addition to that, many Palestinian Jews fought as volunteers with Allied troops throughout the world and still others were dropped by parachute into German-held territory as espionage agents. They were perhaps doing no more than their duty, but they did their duty well.
The Jews feel that promise after promise to them has been broken. They can quote freely, for example, from speech after speech of Labor Party leaders in the election campaign prior to the victory of the Labor Party in England, to attest to the fact that one need not even refer back to the controversial Balfour declaration to learn Britain’s attitude and promises toward a Jews state was to be one of the first acts of the Labor government if it were put into power. The Jews, remembering this, have rather bitterly named the black bombed out [area] in the Ben Yehuda disaster, “Bevin square.” [An Arab car bomb in Jerusalem in February 1948 killed some 50 people.]
It is an unfortunate fact that because there are such well founded arguments on either side each grows more and more bitter toward the other. Confidence in their right increases in proportion to the hatred and mistrust for the other side for not acknowledging it.
When I landed at Lydda Airport [see picture] I became immediately aware of it. I carried letters of introduction to both Arabs and Jews and at the airport where both sides intermingle it was explained to me by first one and then the other that I was taking a great risk. The Jew said it was all right for me to carry Arab papers in Jewish territory for I wouldn’t be molested, but when I entered Arab territory I had better be rid of all letters to Jews for I would immediately be searched and, if they found anything, would be quickly shot. The Arab said exactly the opposite and I found both to be half right, in that I was never searched by either side.
Another fact I became immediately aware of was a basic violent hatred of the British by both sides. I talked to a British army sergeant who had been in Palestine for two years, and he placed the blame with the Palestine Colonial Police. Later I found many to be in agreement. He called them the “underpaid uneducated dregs of society.” They were evidently the most corrupt group of police in the world, firstly because they were so underpaid and, secondly, because when colonial police were sent to their posts the worst of the lot were invariably sent to Palestine.
The Arab bitterness and also fear toward the British had as its starting point the 1936-1938 revolution, which was crushed most ruthlessly by the British.
Leading Arabs in the higher committee speak in all sincerity of the Indian brought by the British into the country because of the great skill and knowledge that he possessed in being able to torture with fire while leaving no scar tissue. Many claim to have suffered by having their nails pulled out from their fingers and toes and others of having burning matches thrust beneath their nails. I found little evidence that these stories were true.
The Jewish attitude toward the British has been one of increasing bitterness. The Jews have looked upon the British civil administration, which some years ago took over from the army, as most unfriendly and uncooperative and which has therefore led to much mutual distrust. Jews received virtually no financial help for building schools and hospitals in Jewish settlements and the post office which was set up to serve Tel Aviv wasn’t suitable for a village of several thousand inhabitants. I was forced to wait well over an hour in line in order to purchase stamps.
When told if they wanted a port they would have to build it themselves, the result was the port of Tel Aviv, which was constructed entirely through Jewish capital and labor. Nevertheless, it is taxed as high as the Arab port of Jaffa, which was built and maintained by funds raised by taxing both Arabs and Jews. These arguments are infinitesimal compared with the larger issues that have swept both sides during the last year, but they are mentioned to show that the hate that exists now is not something newly born and has a substantial background.
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Jews Have a Fine Fighting Force
Make Up for Lack of Arms with Undying Spirit,
Unparalleld Courage — Impress the World
By Robert Kennedy, June 4, 1948
The Jewish people in Palestine who believe in and have been working toward this national state have become an immensely proud and determined people. It is already a truly great modern example of the birth of a nation with the primary ingredients of dignity and self-respect.
Malca and her family to me are the personification of that determination. She is a young girl of the age of 23 and her husband and four brothers are members of the Haganah. She herself is with the intelligence corps and worked on the average of 15 hours a day, which evidently was not unusual. She had seen and felt much horror and told me the story of a case she had just handled.
A Jewish girl in her teens was picked up by some members of the Haganah on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and, as she was injured, she was taken to the Hebrew Hospital in Jerusalem. They believed that she had somehow been separated from a Jewish convoy which had just gone through and which had had a scrap with the Arabs.
She was particularly noticed because of the strange people who were her visitors and by the fact that she insisted on being moved to the English hospital. Malca was sent to question her. She was turned away gruffly by the girl after the girl admitted that she had in reality been in a British tank with a boy friend and wanted nothing to do with the Jews.
The Jewish Agency offered to send the girl out on a farm in order to let her regain her health and give her a new start, but she just demanded her release which they were forced to give her. She continued consorting with the British police despite warnings from the Stern gang.
Brother Shoots Sister
One night the Stern gang followed the tactics of the underground forces in the last war. They shaved all the hair off the girl’s head. Two days after Malca told me the story the sequel took place. The girl’s brother returned for leave from duty with the Haganah up in Galilee and, finding her in such a state, shot her.
His mother and father wait up every night until midnight for him and his older brother, 15, to return home. The other two brothers, both younger than Malca, give full time duty with combat troops.
An understanding of the institutions it contains, and of the persons that run these institutions, is most important if one would make up one’s mind as to the worth of this “de facto” Jewish state.
I visited and inspected a community farm through the kindness of a Jew who 40 years ago was in Boston making speeches for my grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, when he was a candidate for congress. A third of the agricultural population live in such community farms which were set up originally to help newly-arrived refugees who had no money or prospects.
They are in reality self-sustaining States with a State and all the people in common undergo arduous toll and labor and make great sacrifices in order that their children might become heir to a home. An example of this is that when a child is one year old he is placed in a common nursery, with the result that all but the sick and infirm are able to devote their talents to the common cause. They get paid nothing for they need no money. Everything is financed by a group of elected overseers who get their money by selling what the farms produce. In our country we shrink from such tactics but in that country their very lives depend upon them.
The whole thing is done on a volunteer bases and one may leave the farm with this proportionate share of wealth at any time he chooses.
The one we visited was a Givat Brenner and, although no one paid attention to the firing going on in the plain below, one could see all around preparations being undertaken for the coming fight.
I talked to members of the underground organization Irgun. They were responsible for the King David Hotel disaster and told me proudly that they were responsible for blowing up the Cairo Haifa train which had just taken place with the loss of 50 British soldiers.
They believed the time had long since passed for the Jewish people to expect anything but treachery and broken promises from the outside world. If they wanted an independent state they would have to fight for it, and before they could even do that, they had to rid the country of foreign troops. They believe unquestionably that if it weren’t for their so-called terrorist activities the British would have remained on in their country. Bevin’s recent speeches in the House of Commons, they argue, have been ample proof of that. The question, though, in other Jews’ minds is whether this compensated for what they have lost in good will by such tactics.
I went to the training camp at Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, where for three weeks and with very little equipment, Jewish youths, trained mostly by former British officers, were attempting to learn the basic tenants of army life. We watch a first-week group attempt an obstacle course, and while maybe the flesh was weak, it emphasized all the more what can be accomplished when the spirit is willing. We watched a graduation class make its final round and they gave the appearance that they might well be whipped into a fighting force before much time has passed.
The security forces and Haganah are far more experienced. After landing at Lydda Airport (pictured), I was immediately taken to be questioned and my credentials examined by the Haganah. After being released and going to my hotel in Tel Aviv, I went for a walk around this city of 200,000 inhabitants. I wasn’t out for 10 minutes before I was recognized as a foreigner and picked up by the Haganah, blindfolded and once again brought to headquarters for questioning.
I talked to a Haganah soldier who fled from Prague as the Germans were taking over the city and he and his brother, who was killed, fought with the British throughout the war. He received news that his mother and two sisters who he had left in Prague were killed by the Germans and that his home had been completely destroyed.
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British Position Hit in Palestine
Kennedy Says They Seek to Crush Jewish Cause Because They Are Not in Accord with It
By Robert Kennedy, June 5, 1948
The convoys that didn’t make it
I was in Palestine over Easter week and even then people knew there was absolutely no chance to preserve peace. They just wanted the British out, so that a decision could be reached either way. An early departure of the British has been far more important strategically to the Jews than to the Arabs.
The City of Jerusalem has more Jews than Arabs but the immediate surrounding territory is predominately Arab. Through part of that hilly territory winds the narrow road that leads from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It is by this road that the Jewish population within Jerusalem must be supplied, but it is fantastically easy for the Arabs to ambush a convoy as it crawls along the difficult pass. On my trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem I saw grim realities of the fact and while in Jerusalem the failure and destruction of another Jewish convoy made meat non-existent and lengthened food queues for other items.
Jews lining up for water and rations
The Arabs living in the old city of Jerusalem have kept the age-old habit of procuring their water from the individual cisterns that exist in almost every home. The Jews being more “educated” (an Arab told me that this was their trouble and now the Jews were going to really pay for it) had a central water system installed with pipes bringing fresh hot and cold water. Unfortunately for them, the reservoir is situated in the mountains and it and the whole pipe line are controlled by the Arabs. The British would not let them cut the water off until after May 15th but an Arab told me they would not even do it then. First they would poison it.
Within the Old City of Jerusalem there exists a small community of orthodox Jews. They wanted no part of this fight but just wanted to be left alone with their wailing wall. Unfortunately for them, the Arabs are unkindly disposed toward any kind of Jew and their annihilation would now undoubtedly have been a fact had it not been that at the beginning of hostilities the Haganah moved several hundred well-equipped men into their quarter.
This inability to make any long range military maneuvers because of the presence of the British has been a great and almost disastrous handicap to the Jews. If the brief but victorious military engagement on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road had not taken place, the Jewish cause would have suffered such a setback as to be virtually lost. If the Haganah had waited for May 15th and the withdrawal of British troops, there would be few alive in Jerusalem today. Strong units of that body had moved into the hills on either side of that strategic road and repelled Arab counterattacks long enough for several hundred truckloads to make the 40-mile trip into the city, and then, only after threats from the British commander to use force against them, had withdrawn from their positions. As a Jew said to me at the time, “This is our battle of the Atlantic.” The maneuvers had to take place and took place despite the British.
The same basic difficulty that exists in relation to the water exists with regard to electric and power supply. Fortunately, an immediate danger is not yet present, but the Arabs have had months of preparations for a maneuver they know their opponents must eventually make.
The Jewish ghetto in the old city of Jerusalem would not have been in such an untenable position if it could have been periodically relieved, or if with a Jewish victory in that area it could have been connected with the main Jewish section in the new city.
The Jews have small settlements or community farms such as Givat Brenner in completely hostile territory. They take pride that, despite the great difficulties, they have not evacuated any of them. From the very tip of Galilee right down to the arid Negev these communities exist with such Jewish names as Zan, Safed, Yehsem, Mishmar Haemak, Ben Sheba, Laza. All have their supply problems. But no great military operation can be undertaken into Arab territory to relieve the increasing Arab pressure.
Need True Facts
In addition to these handicaps that the Jews suffered through the presence of the British, there are many more far-reaching aspects of British administration which unfortunately concern or, rather involve us in the United States.
Having been out of the United States for more than two months at this time of writing, I notice myself more and more conscious of the great heritage and birthright to which we as United States citizens are heirs and which we have the duty to preserve. A force motivating my writing this paper is that I believe we have failed in this duty or are in great jeopardy of doing so. The failure is due chiefly to our inability to get the true facts of the policy in which we are partners in Palestine.
The British government, in its attitude towards the Jewish population in Palestine, has given ample credence to the suspicion that they are firmly against the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The bombing of the Jewish Agency
When I was in Cairo shortly after the blowing up of the Jewish Agency [March 11, 1948] I talked to a man who held a high position in the Arab League. He had just returned from Palestine where he had, among other things, interviewed and arranged transportation to Trans-Jordan for the Arab responsible for that Jewish disaster. This Arab told him that after the explosion, upon reaching the British post which separated the Jewish section from a small neutral zone set up in the middle of Jerusalem, he was questioned by the British officers in charge. He quite freely admitted what he had done and was given immediate passage with the remark “Nice going.”
Just before I arrived in Palestine there was the notorious story of the foundry outside of Tel Aviv. It was situated in a highly contested area and the British accused the Jews of using it as a sniper post for the Jaffa-Jerusalem road. One day the British moved in, stripping the Jews of all arms and ordered them to clear out within 10 minutes. The British had scarcely departed when a group of armed Arabs moved in, killing or wounding all the occupants. The British government was most abject in its apologies.
British checkpoint in Jerusalem
I came in contact personally, however, with evidence that demonstrated clearly the British bitterness toward the Jews. I have ridden in Jewish armored car convoys which the British have stopped to inspect for arms. As always, there were members of the Haganah aboard and they quickly broke down their small arms, passing the pieces among the occupants to conceal them so as to prevent confiscation. Satisfied that none existed, the convoy supposedly unarmed was allowed to pass into Arab territory. If the arms had been found and confiscated and the Arabs had attacked, there would have been but a remote chance of survival for any of the occupants. There have been many not as fortunate as we.
When I was in Tel Aviv the Jews informed the British government that 600 Iraqi troops were going to cross into Palestine from Trans-Jordan by the Allenby Bridge on a certain date and requested the British to take appropriate action to prevent this passage. The troops crossed unmolested. It is impossible for the British to patrol the whole Palestinian border to prevent illegal crossings but such flagrant violations should certainly have led to some sort of action.
Five weeks ago I saw several thousand non-Palestinian Arab troops in Palestine, including many of the famed British-trained and equipped Arab legionnaires of King Abdullah [of Trans-Jordan]. There were also soldiers from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and they were all proudly pointed out to me by a spokesman of the Arab higher committee. He warned me against walking too extensively through Arab districts as most of the inhabitants there were now foreign troops. Every Arab to whom I talked spoke of thousands of soldiers massed in the “terrible triangle of Nablus-Tulkarem-Jenin” and of hundreds that were pouring in daily.
When I was in Lebanon and asked a dean at the American University at Beirut if many students were leaving for the fight in Palestine he shrugged and said, “Not now – the quota has been oversubscribed.” When journeying by car from Jerusalem to Amman I passed many truckloads of armed Arabs and even then Jericho was alive with Arab troops. There is no question that it was taken over by the Arabs for an armed camp long before May 15.
Our government first decided that justice was on the Jewish side in their desire for a homeland, and then it reversed its decision temporarily. [Editor’s note: In March 1948 the State Department reversed its support for partition and called for a UN trusteeship.]
Because of this action I believe we have burdened ourselves with a great responsibility in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world. We fail to live up to that responsibility if we knowingly support the British government who behind the skirts of their official position attempt to crush a cause with which they are not in accord. If the American people knew the true facts, I am certain a more honest and forthright policy would be substituted for the benefit of all.
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Communism Not to Get a Foothold
Jews Guard against Red Agents in Guise of Refugees – Want No Part of Russian Tyrant
By Robert Kennedy, June 6, 1948
The die has long since been cast; the fight will take place. The Jews with their backs to the sea, fighting for their very homes, with 101 percent morale, will accept no compromise. On the other hand, the Arabs say:
“We shall bring Moslem brigades from Pakistan, we shall lead a religious crusade for all loyal followers of Mohammed, we shall crush forever the invader. Whether it takes three months, three years, or 30, we will carry on the fight. Palestine will be Arab. We shall accept no compromise.”
The United Nations is scoffed at by both sides and the United States will never be able to regain the position of ascendancy she previously enjoyed with the Arab world. She lost the love of the Arabs when she supported partition. She lost their respect when she reversed that decision. [Editor’s note: In March 1948 the State Department reversed its support for partition and called for a UN trusteeship.] She lost it irreparably. For days on end Arab commentators drummed into their people that finally the power of the Arab world had been realized.
The Jews are bitter in disappointment. As one Jew said, “Britain let us down for 25 years but you bettered them in a week.” The feeling stops at disappointment and there is none of the hatred that exists for the British. They can understand us not wishing to send troops and so become entangled in a war that does not immediately concern us, but they plead only for the right to make this fight themselves. They want arms and frankly admit that if they cannot get them from us they will turn to the East. “What else can we do?” They are fighting for their very lives and must act accordingly.
Won’t Accept Communism
That the people might accept communism or that communism could exist in Palestine is fantastically absurd. Communism thrives on static discontent as sin thrives on idleness. With the type of issues and people involved, that state of affairs is nonexistent. I am as certain of that as of my name.
When I was in Tel Aviv, a group of refugees was landed and amongst them the Jewish Agency’s “FBI” immediately picked up one of these agents. He was loaded down with money and papers, and all agreed that he must have been sent with the intention that he be captured to mislead the security forces into thinking that all the Russian agents would be as inept as this one and equally easy to capture. Lethargy would set in and it would be then that they would smuggle in their Mata Hari.
Communism demands allegiance to the mother country, Russia, and it is impossible to believe that people would undergo such untold sufferings to replace one tyrant with another. Robert Emmet, the Irish patriot, on trial for his life before a British tribunal stated the principle. When accused of attempting to bring French forces into Ireland to help wrest it from the British, he said why he, who loved and had been fighting for his homeland, deem it to his country’s interests to replace a known tyrant by an unknown one. These people want a homeland of their own.
That to them is the sole issue.
“Take that Goliath!” Pretend slingshot
Vehemence and hatred between the Jews and Arabs increase daily. But in many cases Jews and Arabs work side by side in the fields and orange groves outside of Tel Aviv. Perhaps these Jews and Arabs are making a greater contribution to the future peace in Palestine than are those who carry guns on both sides.
The Arabs in command believe that eventually victory must be theirs. It is against all law and nature that this Jewish state should exist. They trace expectantly its long boundary and promise that if it does become a reality it will never have as neighbors anything but hostile countries, which will continue the fight militarily and economically until victory is achieved.
The Jews on the other hand believe that in a few more years, if a Jewish state is formed, it will be the only stabilizing factor remaining in the Near and Middle East. The Arab world is made up of many disgruntled factions which would have been at each other’s throats long ago if it had not been for the common war against Zionism. The United States and Great Britain before too long a time might well be looking to a Jewish state to preserve a toehold in that part of the world.
Both sides still hate the British far more deeply than they hate one another. There was a British high commissioner who when attending the opera used to have his car parked directly in front of the main door, a place usually reserved for discharging passengers. An even more unpopular practice was the regulation that at the end of the opera everyone had to remain in their seats until the British high commissioner was out of the opera house and in his car.
But the British have left – and now the issue is to be resolved in a bitter war between Jew and Arab. I do not think the freedom-loving nations of the world can stand by and see “the sweet water of the River Jordan stained red with the blood of Jews and Arabs.” The United States through the United Nations must take the lead in bringing about peace in the Holy Land