Letter suggested

by Arnold Toynbee

I therefore suggest that the Israelis should be the party that makes the first move, and that they should make it in some such terms as these:

"Palestinian Arabs, we recognise and confess that we have done you an enormous injustice. We are now going to do our utmost - in consultation with you, if you will talk with us under the auspices of impartial mediators - to repair the injustice that you have suffered at our hands. First let us try to explain to you what has led us to commit this injustice at your expense. The original, and fundamental, reason is our conviction that Palestine has been given to us Jews by the god whom you Arabs, being Muslims and Christians, have adopted as your god too. We Jews believe that Palestine is 'the Land of Israel' (Eretz Israel) by God's fiat. But we recognise that we cannot demonstrate the truth of this conviction of ours in which we believe so wholeheartedly and so unshakably. If you, on your side, hold that this is merely a Jewish myth with no foundation in fact, we cannot disprove this counter-conviction of yours, and we recognise that, since you, on your side, do not believe in Israel's divine right to the possession of Palestine, the fact that we do believe in it does not in the least excuse, in your eyes, the injustice that, admittedly, we have done to you. However, our 'myth' is not the only reason why we have taken part of your country from you by force. There has also been a second reason - a practical and an urgent one that, unlike our 'myth' is a matter of indisputable contemporary fact. While the Nazis were dominant, first in Germany and then in the greater part of Continental Europe, the Nazis committed genocide against us Jews. The number of Continental European Jews whom the Nazis put to death in cold blood is reckoned by us to have been about six million. The Continental European Jews who escaped death were desperate, Britain and the United States could have given asylum to all of us if they had chosen; but they did not open their doors to us very wide; and we have to admit that, even if an asylum in the English-speaking countries had been accessible for all of us Jewish refugees from Continental Europe, we should, even so, have tried, in preference, to force open the doors of Palestine. This is what, in fact, we have done. We have chosen Palestine for our city of refuge because of our 'myth'. Experience, however, has now taught us that we shall find neither rest nor security in the country which, in our belief, is Eretz Israel so long as we are here at the price of an unredressed injustice committed by us against you Palestinian Arabs, whose homeland Palestine is, not in fantasy, but in fact. We beg you to explore with us all practicable ways and means by which we can repair the injustice that we have committed against you. We have one sole reservation to make. Acquiesce, we beg you, in our presence in Palestine side by side with you. Do not ask us to evacuate a land that you can justly claim as being rightfully yours. Our presence in Palestine is now an accomplished fact, and we have nowhere else to go." Can Israelis be induced to speak to the Arabs in some such terms as these? Perhaps, if they can get the better of their own unwarrantable arrogance and self-righteousness. Can the Arabs, on their side, be induced to respond to an Israeli overture on these lines if the Israelis bring themselves to make one? Perhaps, if the Arabs, for their part, can get the better of their own well justified indignation.

From: Arnold Toynbee: Reflections on the crisis, pages 193-204 in Reflections on the Middle East crisis. Edited by Herbert Mason, Mouton 1970.