The Iron Wall – a definitive new translation

Designed by Mitchell Loeb (1889-1968) 1921. Image: The Palestinian Poster Projects Archive

JVL Introduction

We are delighted to republish Vladimir Jabotinsky’s seminal Zionist text, The Iron Wall, with an introduction by its translator Moshé Machover.

Jabotinsky, head of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist, left the mainstream Zionist movement in 1923 after clashes with its chair, Chaim Weizmann.

Attempts at reconciliation with Ben Gurion in the 1930s came to nothing. Indeed, Ben Gurion referred to Jabotinsky after that as Vladimir Hitler. And Jabotinsky was founder of the terrorist organisation, the Irgun, which played an important role in the conflicts of the 1940s.

Jabotinsky’s “crime” was his refusal to cover up what he believed Zionism was, had to be and couldn’t but be: a settler colonial movement designed to overwhelm the Palestinians by force of numbers and military strength – with an Iron Wall – before it would be able to come to an accommodation with them but only after it had become an invincible majority.

Today it is almost “antisemitic” to refer to Zionists as colonisers. Jabotinsky was not so squeamish.


Translator’s Introduction to The Iron Wall

Why a new translation? All available English versions are deficient. They render the Russian  kolonizatsia, kolonizator etc. as settlement, settler etc. And/or they omit important passages. Here is a complete and accurate version.

Vladimir Jabotinsky’s article ‘The Iron Wall’ is a seminal text of Zionism. The eminent Israeli-British historian Avi Shlaim goes so far as to say:

“My central thesis is that the iron wall was a national strategy to which the rival [Zionist] political camps subscribed in both the pre-independence and post-independence periods.”

(‘The Iron Wall Revisited’, Journal of Palestinian Studies, Winter 2012. Download here)

Here Shlaim refers to the eponymous strategy advocated in the article: use of force against the Palestinian Arabs, so as to break their all-too-natural resistance to Zionist colonisation. Like all colonised peoples – as Jabotinsky recognized all too well – the Palestinians will continue to resist so long as they have a spark of hope of not being relegated to a minority in their homeland. And therefore, it was self-evident to Jabotinsky, the Zionist project must subdue their resistance by force of arms.

This aggressive strategy has indeed been followed with a vengeance by all mainstream Zionist camps.

But in his article Jabotinsky also advocated more ‘benign’ policies than his successors have implemented. First, there should not be any ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs. Second, once their resistance to Zionism was broken, they should be granted full citizenship and equal individual rights in the Land of Israel.

His vision was an undivided Land of Israel – in which he, a vehement opponent of partition,  included also the East Bank, the present Kingdom of Jordan! – where the Jews are a stable majority, and the Palestinian Arabs, not ethnically cleansed, remain as equal citizens.

Jabotinsky’s ‘benign’ policies were never implemented, and could never be put to the test, because his overall strategy was based on a highly unrealistic premise. He assumed that Zionist colonisation could achieve a Jewish majority in Palestine  by massive Jewish immigration, without ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians. But Jewish immigration was never sufficient for this to happen. A Jewish majority was achieved in Israel from 1948 to 1967 only due to the massive ethnic cleansing of the nakbah.

Following 1967, there is no longer a demographically secure Jewish majority in what all mainstream Zionist camps now regard as the legitimate arena of  Zionist colonisation.

The aggressive strategy of the iron wall continues to operate. Another major ethnic cleansing of Palestinians remains on the cards.

PS: A revised and expanded edition of Avi Shlaim’s hugely acclaimed study, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, was published by Penguin Books in 2014


The Iron Wall

(We and the Arabs)

Vladimir Jabotinsky

First published in Russian under the title ‘O Zheleznoi Stene’ in Rassvyet, # 42/43, November 1923

Contrary to the excellent rule of getting straight to the point, I must begin this article with a personal introduction. The present author is said to be an enemy of the Arabs, a proponent of their expulsion, etc.  This is not true.  My emotional attitude to the Arabs is the same as to all other peoples – polite indifference.  My political attitude is characterised by two principles.  First: expulsion of the Arabs from Palestine is absolutely impossible in any form.  There will always be two peoples in Palestine.  Second: I am proud to have been a member of the group that formulated the Helsingfors Program.  We formulated it not only for Jews, but for all peoples, and its basis is the equality of all nations.  I am prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will never violate this equality and we will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs.  This credo, as the reader can see, is completely peaceful.  But it is fundamentally another matter whether it is possible to achieve the peaceful aims by peaceful means.  This depends, not on our attitude to the Arabs, but entirely on the Arabs’ attitude to Zionism.

After this introduction I can now get to the point.

I

Voluntary conciliation between the Palestinian Arabs and us is out of the question: now and in the foreseeable future. I express this conviction in such a harsh form, not because I like to upset good people, but simply because they will not be upset: all these good people, with the exception of those congenitally blind, have long understood the complete impossibility of obtaining the voluntary consent of the Arabs of Palestine to transform this same Palestine from an Arab country to a country with a Jewish majority.

Every reader has some general understanding of the history of colonisation of other countries. I invite him to recall all known examples; and let him, after going through the entire list, try to find even one case where colonisation took place with the consent of the natives. There has not been such a case. The natives, be they civilised or uncivilised, always fought stubbornly against the colonisers, be they civilised or uncivilised. At the same time, the colonisers’ mode of action did not in the least affect the attitude of the native towards them. The companions of Cortés and Pizarro, or, for example, our ancestors in the days of Joshua behaved like robbers; but the English and Scottish Pilgrim Fathers, the first true pioneers of North America, were people of high morality, who did not wish to offend not only the Redskins but even flies, and sincerely believed that there was enough room on the prairie for both them and the Redskins. But the natives fought with the same ferocity against both evil and good colonisers. The question of whether there was a lot of free land in that country did not play any role. In 1921, there were 340,000 Redskins in the United States; but even at the best of times there were no more than 3/4 million in the entire colossal space from Labrador to the Rio Grande. At that time there was no man in the world with such a strong imagination as to seriously foresee the danger of a real ‘displacement’ of the natives by aliens. The natives fought not because they were consciously and definitely afraid of being displaced, but simply because no colonisation anywhere could ever be acceptable to any native.

Every indigenous people, no matter whether civilized or savage, regards its country as its national home, where it wants to be and to remain the total master forever; it will not voluntarily admit not only new proprietors, but even new co-owners or partners.

This also applies to the Arabs. The conciliators among us are trying to persuade us that the Arabs are either fools who can be deceived by a ‘softened’ formulation of our true goals, or a corrupt tribe that will cede to us its primacy in Palestine for cultural and economic benefits. I refuse flatly to accept this view of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they have neither our endurance nor our willpower; but this exhausts all the inner difference between us. They are as subtle psychologists as we are, and just like us, they were brought up on centuries of ingenious casuistry: no matter what we tell them, they can see through us just as we can see through them. And they treat Palestine with at least the same instinctive love and organic fervour with which the Aztecs treated their Mexico or the Sioux their prairie. Imagining that they will voluntarily agree to the implementation of Zionism in exchange for cultural or material conveniences that the Jewish colonisers will bring them – this childish fantasy arises in our ‘Arabophiles’ from some kind of prejudiced contempt for the Arab people, from some sweeping idea of ​​this race as a bribable rabble, ready to give up their homeland for a good railway network. This view is baseless. It is said that individual Arabs are often corrupt, but it does not follow that the Palestinian Arab community as a whole is going to sell its fervid patriotism, which even the Papuans did not sell. Every nation fights against colonisers as long as there is even a spark of hope of getting rid of the danger of colonisation. This is what the Palestinian Arabs are doing and will do as long as there is even a spark of hope.

II

Many among us still naively think that there has been some misunderstanding – the Arabs have not understood us, and only because of this they are against us; but if our modest intentions could be explained to them, they would extend their hand to us. This is a mistake that has already been exposed several times. Let me remind you of one case out of many. Three years ago, Mr. Sokolov, while in Palestine, gave a big speech there about this very misunderstanding. He clearly argued that Arabs are cruelly mistaken if they think we want to take their property from them, or evict them, or oppress them; we don’t even want a Jewish government, we only want a government that represents the League of Nations. The Arab newspaper Carmel then responded to this speech with an editorial, the gist of which I convey from memory, but exactly. The Zionists worry in vain: there is no misunderstanding. Mr. Sokolov speaks the truth, but the Arabs understand it perfectly well without him. Of course, the Zionists do not at present dream of evicting the Arabs, or oppressing the Arabs, or of Jewish government; of course, at the moment they want only one thing – that the Arabs should not impede their immigration. The Zionists avow that they will only immigrate in such numbers as the economic capacity of Palestine allows. But the Arabs never doubted this: after all, this is a truism, otherwise immigration is unthinkable. The Arab editor is even willing to admit that the potential capacity of Palestine is very large, i.e. that you can settle as many Jews as you like in the country without displacing a single Arab. This is what the Zionists want – and this is what the Arabs do not want. Because then the Jews will become the majority, and then a Jewish government will automatically emerge, and then the fate of the Arab minority will depend on the goodwill of the Jews; and that it is inconvenient to be a minority, the Jews themselves assert very eloquently. Therefore, there is no misunderstanding. The Jews want the maximum development of immigration, and the Arabs do not want Jewish immigration.

This reasoning of the Arab editor is so simple and clear that it should have been memorised and used as the basis for all our further reflections on the Arab question. The point is not at all which words – Herzl’s or [Sir Herbert] Samuel’s – we will use to explain our colonising endeavours. Colonisation itself carries its own explanation, the only, unalterable meaning, understandable to every ordinary Jew and every ordinary Arab. Colonisation can only have one goal; to the Palestinian Arabs this goal is unacceptable; all this is in the nature of things, and this nature cannot be changed.

 

III

The following plan seems very tempting to many: to obtain consent to Zionism not from the Palestinian Arabs, since this is impossible, but from the rest of the Arab world, including Syria, Mesopotamia, Hejaz and possibly Egypt. Even if this were conceivable, then it would not change the basic position: in Palestine itself, the mood of the Arabs towards us would remain the same. The unification of Italy was at one time bought at a price – that, among other things, Trento and Trieste remained under Austrian rule. But the Italian inhabitants of Trento and Trieste not only did not reconcile themselves to this, but, on the contrary, they continued to fight against Austria with redoubled energy. Even if it were possible (which I doubt) to persuade the Arabs of Baghdad and Mecca that for them Palestine is only a small, insignificant peripheral area, for the Palestinian Arabs Palestine would remain not a borderland, but their only homeland, centre and ground of their own national existence.  Therefore, even then, colonisation would have to be carried out against the consent of the Palestinian Arabs, i.e. under the same conditions as now.

But an agreement with non-Palestinian Arabs is also an unrealizable fantasy. In order for the Arab nationalists of Baghdad, Mecca, Damascus to agree to pay us such a high price, which would be for them to repudiate preserving the Arab character of Palestine – i.e. the country that lies in the very centre of the ‘federation’ and bisects it – we would have to offer them an extremely large equivalent. It is clear that there are only two conceivable forms of such an equivalent: either money, or political assistance, or both. But we cannot offer them either one or the other. As far as money is concerned, it’s ridiculous to even think that we can finance Mesopotamia or Hejaz when we do not have enough even for Palestine. It is clear even to a child that these countries, with their cheap labour, will find capital simply on the market, and they will find it much more easily than we will find it for Palestine. Any suggestion of this sort about material support is either childish self-deception, or unscrupulous frivolity. And it would be completely unscrupulous on our part to speak seriously about political support for Arab nationalism. Arab nationalism strives for what, say, the Italians aspired to before 1870: unification and state independence. Translated into simple language, this means the expulsion of England from Mesopotamia and Egypt, the expulsion of France from Syria, and then, perhaps, also from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. On our part, even remotely helping this would be both suicide and betrayal. We rely on the English mandate; France signed the Balfour Declaration in San Remo. We cannot participate in a political intrigue, whose aim is to drive England away from the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf, and to completely destroy France as a colonial power. Such a double game is not only impossible to play: it is unthinkable. We will be crushed – and be deservedly disgraced – before we can move in that direction.

Conclusion: we cannot offer any compensation for Palestine either to the Palestinian or to other Arabs. Therefore, a voluntary agreement is unthinkable. Therefore, people who consider such an agreement a conditio sine qua non of Zionism can now say non and renounce Zionism. Our colonisation must either stop or continue against the will of the native population. And therefore, it can continue and develop only under the protection of a force that does not depend on the local population – an iron wall that the local population is unable to break through.

This is the essence of our entire Arab policy: not only should it be thus, but it actually is, no matter how hypocritical we may be. What is the Balfour Declaration for? What is the [British] Mandate for? Their meaning for us is that an external force has taken upon itself the obligation to create in the country such conditions of government and protection, under which the local population, irrespective of its wishes, would be deprived of the opportunity to interfere with our colonisation administratively or physically. And all of us, all without exception, urge every day this external force to fulfil this role firmly and uncompromisingly. In this respect, there is no significant difference between our ‘militarists’ and our ‘vegetarians’. Some prefer a wall of Jewish bayonets, others Irish: still others, supporters of an agreement with Baghdad, are ready to be satisfied with Baghdad bayonets (this taste is strange and risky); but we all work day and night for an iron wall. But at the same time, we ourselves, for some reason, damage our case with talk of an agreement, instilling in the Mandatory authority the notion that the matter is not about an iron wall, but about more and more talks., This position ruins our cause; therefore, to discredit it, to show that it is both fantastic and insincere,  is not only a pleasure, but also a duty.

IV

The question is not exhausted; I will return to some of its aspects in a subsequent article. But I consider it necessary to make two more remarks here.

First: to the hackneyed reproach that the above point of view is unethical, I answer: not true. Either or: either Zionism is moral, or it is not moral. We had to resolve this issue for ourselves before we took the first shekel, and decided positively. And if Zionism is moral, i.e. is fair, then justice must be enforced, regardless of anyone’s consent or disagreement. And if A, B or C want to interfere with the implementation of justice by force, because they find it unprofitable for themselves, then they need to be prevented from doing this, again by force. This is ethics; there is no other ethics.

Second, none of this means that agreement with the Palestinian Arabs is unthinkable. Only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as the Arabs have even a spark of hope of getting rid of us, they will not sell this hope for any sweet words or for any nutritious sandwiches, precisely because they are not rabble, but a people, albeit backward, but living. A living people makes concessions on such huge, fateful issues only when there is no hope left, when no more loopholes are visible in the iron wall. Only then do the extreme groups, whose slogan is “No Way!” lose their charm, and influence passes to the moderate groups. Only then will these moderates come to us with an offer of mutual concessions; only then will they honestly bargain with us on practical issues, as a guarantee against displacement, or equality, or national identity. And I believe and hope that then we will be able to give them such guarantees that will calm them down, and both peoples will be able to live side by side peacefully and decently. But the only way to such an agreement is the iron wall, i.e. strengthening of power in Palestine, inaccessible to any Arab influences, i.e. exactly what the Arabs are fighting against. In other words, the only way for us to reach agreement in the future is to completely abandon all attempts at agreement in the present.

Comments (13)

  • Jack says:

    No mention of the indigenous Palestinian Jews and Christians who also had to be removed if they objected to the Zionist’s aims. Zionism is virtually a synonym for dispossession, because that was the goal of the original Zionists but opposed by the Bund. No matter how much Zionism is dressed up by some, it’s ultimate goal was theft of 100% of the Holy Land using force if necessary. This is borne out by the recorded quotes from early Zionists and the actions of Israel today.

  • Anti-fascist says:

    What on earth is this? What will be next? An extract from the writings of Adolf Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg or Houston Stewart Chamberlain to highlight their utter vileness and “educate” us all on the genocidal character of their racism and antisemitism?

    We know what Jabotinsky was – a right-wing extremist and ultra-nationalist who flirted with fascism – and don’t need his colonialist ideology being paraded on the JVL’s website. It is a grotesque embarrassment and of no help whatsoever to those fighting for justice for the Palestinians.

    This text, that you are “delighted” to publish totally unnecessarily, has walked the JVL into the arms of its detractors and opponents.

    Publishing it – all due respect to Moshe Machover – is a disgrace and will prompt many JVL supporters to consider their position. This material should be removed and an apology afforded to the JVL’s supporters.

  • Hilary wise says:

    Is this already on sale? Can we just order via book shop?

    [JVL web: Is what on sale? Avi Shlaim’s book The Iron Wall has been long published and is available to order. Jabotinsky’s essay is published above.]

  • rc says:

    Has Jack (above) actually read the piece published above ? (I assume that it is the entire text, as doubted by Hilary Wise (well spoken at Conference, Hilary; you were right to point to the ‘territory'(aka truth) so detested by Rhea Wolfson!)
    The piece is ALL about the Palestinians whose will Jabotinsky, Blair and Trump hope/d to break. Jabotinsky is honest; he denies that “the Arabs are either fools who can be deceived by a ‘softened’ formulation of our true goals, or a corrupt tribe that will cede to us its primacy in Palestine for cultural and economic benefits” These Arabs ARE the Palestinians Jack is referring to!
    As for ‘antifascist’; s/he is a funny sort of antifascist who regards the (naturally, critical) study of fascist ideology and strategy as worthless. Even before Begin and Shamir (and Netanyahu) rose to head Israeli governments, understanding revisionist Zionism was an important task – since then, a vital one. ‘AF”s comments are so insane that one must ask: what other sordid secrets of Zionist history and politics does AF wish to conceal?

  • Les Hartop says:

    I think it was an excellent decision to publish this.

    It lifts the mask on the Zionist project, and the original intentions of its founders.

  • Svetlana Robson says:

    I am puzzled if you are delighted. republish Jabotinsky. Read your introduction 3 times, and still don’t understand the reason of joy. Why Jabotinsky and what for. And whom for. If auditorium doesn’t know what is Zionism, no point for such to read Jabotinsky out of context. Then I read hon. Moshé Machover’s introduction. No answer to the same question. I would start from Herzl, for example, or AD Gordon with all historical context, if wanted to start an educated polemics with zionists or Zionism. Or to educate us, audience. Then compared the original Russian text with the above translation. My god, the translation is brilliant!(I am a professional translator, from/to Russian, inter alia). And became very sad. Why to waste precious time and intellectual recourses to bring it to attention of the audience that Jabotinsky never called colonisation settlement, but used a word colonisation. I absolutely agree with Antifascist: let’s start retranslating and republishing other classics of right wing stuff. As if they are unknown, unclear, or as if the implementation of their ideology is unclear or unknown. As for the argument that we shouldn’t be hiding truth: no need to pay a penny if you want to read opuses of zionists: full internet, and for free. Another thing: following comment policy, let’s attack argument, not a person, calling them funny. Argumentum ad hominem is a sign of weakness and is not to be used here.

  • Moshé Machover says:

    Thank you for the compliment re the quality my translation. The reason I was impelled to make this new translation and ask for it to be posted is that it makes crystal clear something absolutely fundamental that is still widely ignored, and sometimes flatly denied (eg Jewish history goes missing in university courses on Zionism): that the Zionist project is a project of colonisation inseparable from and protected by Western imperialism. Jabotinsky’s article is essential reading because it is unique in making this fundamental insight brutally clear. The long-term importance of this article has been make eloquently by the historian Avi Shlaim. And note that Jabotinsky is the ideological father of 5 Israeli prime ministers: Begin, Shamir, Olmert, Sharon and Netanyahu.

  • rc says:

    So for SR (and AF) “know your enemy/opponent” – and understand their arguments – is anathema ! a waste of time! A professional linguist (sorry for the ad feminam argument) should know that even before imperialism came under serious attack, the resonance of colonialism/anticolonialism has been wholly different from ‘settlement’. ‘Settlement’ does not highlight the oppression, murder, ethnic cleansing and thorough racism inherent in colonialism; and this is what SR and AF are trying to hide or disguise.

    ‘Left’ Zionists and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs spend millions of money and person-hours in giving ‘progressive’/’liberal’/’civil(izing)’ cover to the settler-colonialist (all right with that, SR?) oppression inherent in Zionism. Making it ‘unclear’ and ‘unknown’ IS the goal of hasbara propaganda (‘Through deceit we will conquer’ – Mossad).

    For FUNNY reasons, it appears, AF and SR are helping this cover-up. Their personages are irrelevant – their reasoning (?) and its effects are public property. So JVL will, I trust, continue reminding one and all of Herzl’s admiration and support for antisemites and of the lineage of Netanyahu, Shamir and Begin. Jabotinsky’s honesty is most useful to this vital enterprise.

  • Svetlana Robson says:

    Thank you hon. Moshé Machover for demonstration how to conduct the argument. Not that I agree that right wing material should be republished in a left wing press without proper context. Find it unsavoury, that’s my opinion. It would be sufficient to point out one core mistake of previous translators: he did openly call for colonisation, not hiding under a nice word ”поселение» (settlement). Another thing is rather sad: some people here instead of putting across their argumentation chose to resort to personal insults, and to do this anonymously. Once again: no need to republish right wingers. Fascists. It’s simply impossible to hide them! Don’t join, that’s it. Full internet for free. Try to find an original socialist text written in 1924. Difficult. Try Jabotinsky: one click of a button. Why RC (I would give my real name) said that my “personage” is irrelevant? Puzzled. I am not a personage. I am relevant. I thought for socialism and justice all my life. I came from anti Zionist Jewish family, and proud of it. Stalin said a Person was irrelevant, and look what happened.

  • Anti-fascist says:

    rc persists in disrespectfully attributing to me things I did not say and flinging abuse and false accusations – incidentally, in violation of the JVL’s rules for Commenting.

    To make it clear: in the UK, the No Platform policy is a fundamental and long held principle of the anti-fascist movement. So is the rejection of any notion of “free speech” or freedom of public assembly for fascists.

    Some of us, very proudly, have considerable experience in giving practical expression to that principle both politically and, physically, on the streets.

    Also, part of No Platform is not giving any space to the literary output of fascists and those who tout hate prejudices. We are in business to combat these people and their hate, not promote them.

    It is NOT about “knowing your enemy” etc. In fact, I have a rather too large archive of turgid fascist literature in the English, French, German and Scandinavian languages…all of which I have read as part of vital intelligence gathering and assessment of the threat. It IS, however, about not publishing fascist or right-wing extremist material or articles on left-wing or progressive websites or in our own publications.

    The JVL’s publication of the Jabotinsky piece shocked me because it is unprecedented in my time as an anti-fascist activist and marks a break with No Platform as would publication of articles or from other fascists like Evola and, much more recently, Tyndall, Webster, Pierce, Irving or Griffin.

    There is no way that any responsible anti-fascist publications or organisations in the UK or internationationally would ever have given space to a colonialist right-wing extremist like Jabotinsky or even contemplated doing so.

    JVL could have simply mentioned the valuable new translation of Jabotinsky’s text and emphasised the vital clarification involved. That would have sufficed and no lines would have been crossed or principles violated.

  • Harry Law says:

    Anti-fascist ” I have a rather too large archive of turgid fascist literature in the English, French, German and Scandinavian languages…all of which I have read as part of vital intelligence gathering and assessment of the threat”.
    So you are allowed to assess the threat, but followers of JVL are not allowed to do so, that threat is no less today than when Jabotinsky wrote the ‘Iron wall’ since many Israeli Prime Ministers have followed his teaching, for instance Netanyahu soaked up his father’s admiration for Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his doctrine, and the strong hatred for the Israeli education establishment” https://www.haaretz.com/1.5218191

  • Philip Horowitz says:

    Anti-fascist, which sub-classes of contemporary Zionists would you class as Fascists and no-platform then?

  • rc says:

    HL and PW hit the nail on the head. AF – and SR? – think the – purely tactical – device of no platforming entitles them to decide which reactionary – or any (they decide that, too!) political writings we – hoi polloi – and the rest of the people at large are entitled to see, let alone analyse or criticise.
    MM’s excellent introduction provides all the necessary context – and refutation.
    Sympathisers with AF and SR’s positions were terrified of Nick Griffin being allowed on to BBC’s Question Time. (No doubt they thought the working class were too feeble or reactionary to see a political argument). Even the effete liberals of the BBC took a more courageous view – and that exposure and criticism destroyed Griffin and the BNP almost totally. That was a great victory that a hundred, nay a thousand no-platformings could never have achieved.

Comments are now closed.