Is this the way?

Leaders should take a cue from man who called for dialogue with Arabs instead of with Western powers.

walter zander 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
walter zander 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Why would a pamphlet published 60 years ago be of any interest today? This was the question I asked myself, when it arrived on my computer recently, in response to a public discussion in which I had participated in London. Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, noted academic and peace activist Tony Klug and I had debated "Two-states for two peoples: solution or illusion?" At the end of the evening, Prof. Michael Zander approached me about his late father, Walter Zander, and subsequently e-mailed me his Web site ( I was fascinated by both the books and essays, but particularly struck by a 45-page pamphlet he wrote in 1947. "Is This the Way?" was published early in 1948 by Victor Gollancz, price one shilling. While much of the material relates very much to its own time, I was astounded at how relevant its insights are to our situation today. The German-born Zander was the secretary of the Friends of the Hebrew University in Britain for almost three decades. A lawyer by training, he was a prolific author, writing about everything from economics and legal matters to Soviet Jewry and the holy sites in this country. "Is This the Way?" was composed in the dramatic period between the United Nations vote partitioning Palestine in November 1947 and the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948. Very much in defiance of the triumphal mood in the Jewish community at that time, Zander criticizes the Zionist policy toward the Arabs. IN ITSELF, this is not remarkable. There were several critics of the Zionist movement's policy - or rather lack of policy - toward the Arabs. What makes Zander's essay special is his insistence that, with a Jewish state on the way, we Jews should stop blaming everybody else for our problems and take responsibility ourselves. In the shadow of the Holocaust and with the nascent Jewish state fighting for its life, it must have required great courage to stake out such a position. "For many years it has been our custom to put the blame for every new difficulty and every new setback to our cause on the shoulders of others. As long as our political fate was mainly determined by other peoples, it was understandable that we were inclined to see the cause for our situation in the actions of others. But since we have taken again the shaping of our political history into our own hands, full responsibility now rests upon us, and this will require the greatest moral courage. We must ask fearlessly to what extent we ourselves have contributed to the present situation." Quoting Ahad Ha'am to the effect that "since the beginning of Palestinian colonization, we have always considered the Arab people as non-existent," Zander asserts (writing in 1947) that he sees no fundamental change in this attitude. "Rather than concentrating on the people who have been living in the country for more than a thousand years," he notes, "we put our trust in those who happened to be their rulers for one generation." The Zionist movement, he points out, has focused its efforts on London, rather than on Jerusalem. Underestimating Arab opposition to Zionism, "we omitted to give adequate consideration to the question of how the two peoples could live together within the Jewish commonwealth." How similar to the present, when, instead of seriously engaging our own Arab citizens and the neighboring Palestinians, we focus almost all our attention on enlisting the support of the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe. Washington may have replaced London as the center of our universe, but the mentality is fundamentally the same as it was then. Even 60 years of sovereignty have not changed us. WHILE ACKNOWLEDGING that the Jewish conquest of Palestine was driven by great need, Zander argues that "we never admitted that our return requires from the Arab a sacrifice of the first order." Deploring the fact that the Jews have refused to accept any guilt, he writes: "We have blamed everybody but ourselves; and very few of us have indeed accepted the full share of responsibility for what has been done." He continues in a passage that could have been written yesterday: "The main task, as in all periods of the whole movement, remains the solution of the Jewish-Arab problem. It is obvious that ultimately peace with our neighbors is required if the Jewish state is to survive. At present we are trying to achieve this peace by force and to build up in feverish haste the military strength which is to guarantee our security. But under no conditions can force be enough." Reading and listening to the daily comments by Israeli political leaders and commentators, one cannot help but admit that reliance on force remains a central pillar of our policy and general approach. Against this prevailing attitude, let us consider the wise and courageous words written 60 years ago by Walter Zander, a thoughtful attorney, living in Gerards Cross near London: "It is obvious that this situation creates a particular responsibility and obligation on our side. The spirit of mutual retaliation and vengeance - aiming at subduing the opponent by fear - is not only utterly senseless, but, as far as we Jews are concerned, fundamentally wrong. We Jews should have a deeper insight and should be able to see both sides of the problem. It is we who aim at a change of the existing conditions, and it is therefore our duty to find a solution. The initiative for this task must remain with us." The writer's most recent book is Holy Land Mosaic, published in the US by Rowman & Littlefield.