Recent Issues

November 2003 Contents

Cover / In This Issue

Society News

Russell on the Palestinian Conflict

Frege’s Letters to Wittgenstein

Logicism and Philosophy of Language

Russell on Modality: A Reply

Russell in the News

Traveler’s Diary

russell on the israeli-palestinian conflict [*]

Introduction by Ray Perkins, Jr.

What follows is a letter to the editor of the Tel Aviv New Outlook by Bertrand Russell, published there in March 1963. At the time of Russell's writing, the Arabs and the Israelis were between wars – between the 1956 Arab-Israeli war and the six day war of 1967 by which Israel underwent significant de facto territorial expansion. Israel's population was growing fast during this period, and the Arab territorial "conviction", referred to by Russell, would prove true in the wake of the '67 war. Russell identifies the (Palestinian) resettlement problem as central to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and he recommends a remedy which, as he says, would require a "magnanimous gesture" on the part of Israel. Of course, Israel has long been sensitive about the "demographics problem", and it's no surprise that Russell's proposal would fall on deaf ears. But some, like this editor, might say that had the sort of suggestion made by Russell been accepted by Israel in 1963, the coming war – and all the problems of the "occupied territories" which that war has engendered – could have been avoided.

Russell's writings on Palestine and the Middle East are relatively thin compared to his main points of public focus in the 50s and 60s, viz. nuclear weapons and the war in Vietnam. But his basic position was clear. Regarding the creation of the State of Israel he wrote on June 15, 1960: "I think it was a mistake to establish a Jewish State in Palestine, but it would be a still greater mistake to try to get rid of it now that it exists." [1] On the 1956 Suez War, he wrote in the same letter: "I thought the Suez War a blunder and a crime, and said so publicly at the time." [2] His views on the 1967 war and its aftermath are recorded in his last public document written a month before his death.[3] In it he agrees with I.F. Stone's description of the Palestinian refugee issue as "the moral millstone around the neck of world Jewry." And he concludes that "Justice requires that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June, 1967." RP


4th February, 1963
The editors,
"New Outlook"
Karl Netter 8
Tel Aviv

Dear Sirs,

I am very grateful to you for your kind cable and I am greatly encouraged by the efforts you make to bring about friendship between Israel and the Arab World.

I consider the main difficulties to consist of the disposition of the refugees and of the Arab conviction that Israel cannot absorb its expanding population without expanding its boundaries. It seems to me that if Israel were to make a magnanimous gesture, which might take the shape of agreeing to accept the return of all Arabs who have left Israel and to finance the re-settlement of all those refugees who did not wish to return – then it might be possible to have serious talks with Arab Governments, which could lead to the normalisation of relationships. A further point would be a non-aggression pact, guaranteeing that Israel accepts her present boundaries to be final.

I am writing in this way, because I believe that the Arabs feel themselves to have been fundamentally wronged and are, therefore, not able to take the initiative. It is in Israel's fundamental interest quickly to settle her dispute with the Arab world. It is, therefore, for Israel to make several generous steps which would remove the major source of grievance without endangering the basic Israeli requirement of acceptance.

I accept the honour you do me in identifying yourselves with my remarks in your recent Symposium. Please keep me informed of your efforts.

With good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Bertrand Russell

[*] Reprinted by kind permission of The Bertrand Russell Archives, McMaster University.
[1] B. Feinberg and R. Kasils, eds. Dear Bertrand Russell... (Houghton-Mifflin, 1969), p. 48
[2] Ibid. See also Russell's public letters at the time in my Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell (Open Court, 2002), pp. 248-51
[3] See Yours Faithfully, pp. 411-12.