By April 16, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Open Letter from Martin Buber to Ghandi, 1939.

Returning and Redemption
We could not and cannot renounce the Jewish claim; something even higher than the life of our people is bound up with this land, namely its work, its divine mission. But we have been and still are convinced that it must be possible to find some compromise between this claim and the other….In order to carry out a task of such extreme difficulty …we have been in need of the support of well-meaning persons of all nations, and have hoped to receive it. But now you come and settle the whole existential dilemmas with the simple formula- “Palestine belongs to the Arabs.”

What do you mean by saying a land belongs to a population? Evidently you do not intend only to describe a state of affairs by your formula, but to declare a certain right. You obviously mean to say that a people, being settled on the land, has so absolute a claim to that land that whoever settled on it without the permission of this people has committed a robbery. But by what means did the Arabs attain the right of ownership in Palestine? Surely by conquest, and in fact a conquest with intent to settle. You therefore admit that as a result their settlement gives them exclusive right of possession; whereas the subsequent conquest of the Mamelukes and the Turks, which were conquests with a view to domination, not to settlement, do not constitute such a right in your opinion, but leave the earlier conquerors in rightful ownership. Thus settlement by conquest justifies for you the right of ownership of Palestine; whereas a settlement such as the Jewish – the methods of which, it is true, though not always doing full justice to Arab ways of life, were even in the most objectionable cases far removed from those of conquest – does not justify in your opinion any participation in this right of possession. These are the consequences which result from you axiomatic statement that a land belongs to its population. In an epoch when nations are migrating you would first support the right of ownership of the nation that is threatened with dispossession or extermination; but were this once achieved, you would be compelled, not at once, but after a suitable number of generations had elapsed, to admit that the land “belongs” to the usurper…

It seems to me that God does not give any one portion of the earth away, so that the owner may say as God says in the Bible- “For all the earth is mine.” (Exodus 19-5). The conquered land is, in my opinion, only lent even to the conqueror who has settled in it – and God waits to see what he will make of it.

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