[Editor's Note: The article below by the renowned Jewish writer Arthur Koestler was first published in 1949. The piece in question is part 1 of the opening chapter to the book and astonishingly encapsulates what is today, in essence, the bare-bones argumentation found in all the rhetoric surrounding the on-going problems in the Middle East Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a legacy which centers around this Ã¢â‚¬Å“freakÃ¢â‚¬Â occurrence that took place back in 1948. It is a perspective which distils the verbiage down to a central question that demands thorough review by all serious students of history and governmental departments. Please pass this article on.]
From Promise and Fulfulment: Palestine 1917 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 1949
by Arthur Koestler
ROMANTICS AND ROUTINE
ISRAEL, then, is a freak of history. When writing about the events, past and present, which led to the resurrection of the Jewish State, adjectives like Ã¢â‚¬Å“uniqueÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“unprecedentedÃ¢â‚¬Â are difficult to avoid. But Ã¢â‚¬Å“uniqueÃ¢â‚¬Â is a tiresome adjective, probably because it refers to an experience which can be fitted into no general theme and has no claim to general validity. On the other hand, freak phenomena are merely the extreme extensions of normality. Thus the peculiarities of the Jewish character, that apparently unique blend of pride and humbleness, spirituality and cupidity, inferiority complex and over-compensation, calculated cunning and dripping sentimentality, could probably be induced by a team of determined psychiatrists in any community kept for no more than a couple of generations under hot-house conditions approximating those of the Polish ghettoes.
The Jewish neurosis is an extreme response to an extreme Ã¢â‚¬Å“stimulus of penalizationsÃ¢â‚¬Â to use Professor ToynbeeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s expression; like symptoms can be found in the Parsees of in India, the Armenians in Turkey and in any orphanage or institution for problem children.1 Similarly, the mystical attachment of the Jews to their ancient country must be regarded as an extreme case of homesickness of expatriate communities, mixed with mankindÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s archaic yearning for a lost paradise, for a mythological Golden Age, which is at the root of all utopias Ã¢â‚¬â€œ from SpartacusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Sun State to HerzlÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Zionism. And finally, anti-semitism is merely a specific form of xenophobia determined by religious, social and economic factors. Thus analyzed down into its prime factors, the Jewish fate seems no longer unique. It is nevertheless unique in the sense that it displays certain human tendencies in an unprecedented concentration, and carries human destiny to unheard-of extremes. For, after all, there is no other example in history of a community which has been chased round the globe quite as much, which has survived its own death as a nation by two thousand years, and which, in between autos-da-fe and gas chambers, kept praying at the proper season for rain to fall in a country on which they have never set eyes, and drinking toasts to Ã¢â‚¬Å“Next year in JerusalemÃ¢â‚¬Â during the same astronomical stretch of time, with the same untiring trust in the super-natural.
To put it in a different way: we know that at some point quantity changes into quality, and the Ã¢â‚¬Å“very rareÃ¢â‚¬Â into the Ã¢â‚¬Å“uniqueÃ¢â‚¬Â. According to the teachings of the quantum theory, if a golf ball were suddenly to start off toward the hole without being hit, this would not constitute a miracle but merely what is called a Ã¢â‚¬Å“statistically highly improbable eventÃ¢â‚¬Â. In the same way the rebirth of Israel is not a miracle, but it is, there is no getting around it, a Ã¢â‚¬Å“statistically highly improbable eventÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Now an improbable event is bound to lead to further improbable events, until the area of the disturbance gradually returns to normality. The ball which started rolling towards the hole on its own upsets the routine of the whole tournament. The appearance of the freak-movement of Zionism on the political scene was bound to produce a series of freak-reactions. It culminated in the famous Balfour Declaration, one of the most improbable political documents of all time. In this document one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.
No second thoughts can diminish the originality of this procedure. It is true that the Arabs in Palestine lived under Turkish overlordship; but they had been living there for centuries, and the country was no doubt Ã¢â‚¬Å“theirsÃ¢â‚¬Â in the generally accepted sense of the word. It is true that the Arabs had vast underpopulated territories at their disposal and the Jews had none; that the Arabs were a backward, the Jews a forward, people; and that the latter claimed to have received the country three thousand years earlier from God himself who had only temporarily withdrawn it from them. But arguments of this nature had never before in history induced an act of State of a comparable kind.
The Balfour Declaration was in due time endorsed by the League of Nations, which charged Great Britain to carry out her promise by acting as a Mandatory Power under international supervision. In plain language this meant that the League requisitioned Palestine from its owners to provide the Jews with a permanent abode, and appointed Britain to act as billeting officer.
It is of particular importance to bear in mind the freak-character of this whole series of events, for it is the key to the understanding of all that followed. It was unprecedented that a race should lose its country, and hence its physical nationhood, and yet preserve its identity through two millenniums. It was unprecedented that the Ã¢â‚¬Å“fossilized societyÃ¢â‚¬Â (to borrow another of Professor ToynbeeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s terms) of Jews, immured in a hostile environment, should reawaken to national consciousness and produce a modern political movement, like green shoots breaking from a petrified forest. It was unprecedented that fifty-two nations should agree to create for a fifty-third a Ã¢â‚¬Å“National HomeÃ¢â‚¬Â. And lastly, the term Ã¢â‚¬Å“National HomeÃ¢â‚¬Â itself was a complete novelty, a term with a curiously sentimental ring, undefined by international law and yet the object of an international treaty of far-reaching importance.
Any departmental head in any foreign ministry in the world could have foretold that to embark on such an entirely unorthodox and romantic experiment meant asking for no end of trouble. And to crown the amateurishness of the whole thing, the Mandate contained two obviously contradictory promises made in one breath: the establishment of a National Home for Jews in an Arab country, but without prejudice to the rights of the Arabs.
1Cf. The oriental proverb about one Greek being worse than ten Jews, and one Armenian worse than ten Greeks.