The "Whole Land of Israel" movement

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Feb 19 16:04:11 MST 2001

[Opening pages of chapter one in the newly published "Imperial Israel and
the Palestinians" (Pluto Press) by Nur Masalha]

1. Labour Zionism's ‘Activists’: New Territorial Maximalism and the Whole
Land of Israel Movement, 1967-77

In the wake of Israel’s 1967 conquests, the deep-rooted perception of
Eretz-Yisrael as a whole was not only found in the traditional Zionist
maximalism of the Revisionist Herut (later Likud) camp, but increasingly
gained ground in all the main political parties, including the
traditionally pragmatic Labour Party. This maximalist concept of state
frontiers was based on a Zionist political and military strategy (backed by
a very powerful army equipped with nuclear weapons) which served as a means
to essentially imperialist ends: the creation of a Middle East more
favourable to a greatly enlarged and regionally dominant Jewish state. This
territorially expansionist and imperialist approach found its first
manifestation in the Whole Land of Israel Movement (Hatnu’ah Lema’an
Eretz-Yisrael Hashlemah) (WLIM), a secular elite organisation and an
influential ideological movement of territorial maximalism which was
founded promptly after the war with the aim of annexing and settling with
Jews the newly ‘liberated’ territories. In addition to Begin’s Herut, the
WLIM was one of the most significant organised efforts to push Israel
towards the permanent incorporation of the occupied territories. Devoted to
the ‘whole Land of Israel’ as the highest operational imperative, the
highly publicised, founding Manifesto of the WLIM of 1967 was almost
entirely supported by prominent members of the Labour establishment. Full
of historical imagery, the Manifesto laid the foundations of the project of
imperial Israel in straightforward terms:

"Zahal’s [the Israeli Defence Force] victory in the Six-Day War placed the
people and the state within a new and fateful period. The whole of Eretz
Israel is now in the hand of the Jewish people, and just as we are not
allowed to give up the State of Israel, so we are ordered to keep what we
received there from Eretz Yisrael We are bound to be loyal to the entirety
of the country ... and no government in Israel is entitled to give up this
entirety, which represents the inherent and inalienable right to our people
from the beginning of its history."

The occupation of Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza — their
combined territories four times bigger than Israel proper — and the
destruction of the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan thrilled most
Israelis and encouraged many of them to develop an imperial outlook and to
embrace an imperialist project based on a conviction that their state was
the strongest military force in the Middle East. The same expansionist
instincts helped to sanctify the Zionist principle that ‘never again should
Eretz-Yisrael be divided.’ As Professor Ehud Sprinzak explains, since 1967
this principle has become ‘a most energetic and influential tenet in modern
Zionism’. Against the intoxicating backdrop of the new Israeli empire, the
official founding conference of the WLIM was held on 31 October 1967.

The new movement of territorial expansion and imperial domination cut
across all party lines in Israel and brought together diverse Zionist
schools of thought, from Labour activists to Jabotinsky’s Revisionists to
smaller groups and individuals. By and large, however, the movement was set
up and dominated by Labour intellectuals, poets, politicians, generals and
kibbutz leaders, and other personalities prominent in the pre-1948 Zionist
struggle. It drew its inspiration from the pre-state ‘activist’ and
militant tradition of Labour Zionism, which attempted to reconcile romantic
Jewish socialism with colonial expansionism, and focused on the ‘whole Land
of Israel’. Within Labour Zionism, the activist approach was characterised
by militant commitment to territorial expansion, tough policies towards the
Arabs, and maximum extension of Jewish settlement and sovereignty. Its
advocates were committed to the idea of creating settlements as a means of
determining future political borders. The speeches and writings of one of
its most influential ideologues, Yitzhak Tabenkin (1887-1971), were imbued
with imagery of East European romantic and organic nationalism. Although
explicitly secular, his message and that of other activist leaders, often
featured references to the Bible and biblical Israelites. The militant
ethos of the activist movement of Labour Zionism also contained mystical
overtones of communion between Jewish workers and fighters, and the ‘soil
of the Land of Israel’. These ideas were most prominent within the Ahdut
Ha’avodah political party (and its affiliated settlement movement,
Hakibbutz Hameuhad), whose concepts of state frontiers and Jewish
territorial space also included parts of the Sinai Desert.

Another significant group within the WLIM was made up of people who had
followed former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion when he left Mapai in 1965
to form the Labour parliamentary faction of Rafii The list of the WLIM
signatories included leading Labour figures such as Rahel Yanait, a
prominent Mapai leader and the widow of Israel’s second President Yitzhak
Ben-Tzvi, Yitzhak Tabenkin, a prominent ideologue of the Hakibbutz Hameuhad
movement, who had supported the ‘transfer’ solution in the early 1940s,8
Haim Yahiel, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Isser Hard,
Israel’s first head of the Mossad, ‘Uzi Feinerman, the secretary-general of
the Moshav movement, Beni Marshak, Eli’ezer Livneh, the nation poet Natan
Alterman, the novelist Yehuda Burla and Tzvi Shiloah, a writer and an
old-timer of the Mapai party. These representatives of Israel’s political
elite were joined by a gallery of reserve generals: Major General Ya’acov
Don, the army Chief of Staff during the 1948 war, and the Generals Dan
Talkovsky, Eliyahu Ben- Hur, Avraham Yoffe and Meir Zore’a. The writer
Shmuel ‘Agnon, recipient of the 1966 Nobel Prize for Literature was also
present at the founding conference as were many other authors, poets and
university professors. Members of the new movement were neither an
opposition group nor an extremist protest movement; many of them were very
close to the Israeli Labour government and taken together, Ehud Sprinzak
writes, the 72 signatories of the manifesto of the movement were ‘probably
the most distinguished group of names ever to have joined a public cause in

Despite the presence of two rabbis among the scores of its manifesto’s
signatories, the WLIM was a manifestation of secular ultra-nationalist
(mainly) Labour Zionism. It aspired to be neither a mass movement nor a
political party, but a respected pressure group whose main objective was to
influence government policy through newspaper articles, books and personal
contacts with Labour government ministers)’ A glance at the political
background and public career of five co-founders and leading members of the
WLIM, Eli’ezer Livneh, Yehuda Burla, Rahel Yanait, Dr Hairn Yahiel Tzvi
Shiloah and Natan Alterman, is most instructive: they were all veterans and
prominent members of Mapai, Israel’s ruling party (later to become the
Labour Party).

Eli’ezer Livneh (1902-75) was a typical elder statesman of the new
movement, with an impressive Labour Zionist record. After emigrating to
Palestine in 1920 and joining Kibbutz ‘Fin Harod, Livneh rose from day
labourer to Labour leader. He held many public offices, including a
political job for the Zionist movement in pre-war Nazi Germany. Between
1940 and 1942, he headed the political section of the Haganah (Defence),
the para-military organisation of the Yishuv’s leadership, and edited the
magazine Ma’arakhot, which subsequently became the main organ of the
Israeli Army. From 1942 to 1947, he was editor of Eshnav, the Haganah’s
underground weekly. Meanwhile in 1942, he also became editor of Beterem, a
political fortnightly, which opened its pages in the 1950s to Avraham
Schwadron (Sharon) and his campaign for the total ‘transfer’ of the Arab
citizens of Israel (see below). A prominent member of Mapai, Livneh was a
Knesset member from 1949 to 1955 and served on the influential Knesset
Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee between 1951 and 1955. He was also an
editor of Hador, an influential Mapai newspaper. In the 1960s and early
1970s, Livneh was a distinguished columnist for Israel’s most influential
newspapers and magazines. In the summer of 1967 Livneh put forward a plan
for the transfer of 600,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories (see

Yehuda Burla (1886-1969) was a director of the Department for Arab Affairs
of the Histadrut before 1948. After the establishment of the State of
Israel, he served as a director of the Department for Culture, Press and
Information in the Ministry of Minorities. He received the Bialik and
Ussishkin Prizes for literature in 1942 and 1949 respectively.

Rahel Yanait (1866-1979), the widow of Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, the second
President of Israel, was a founder of the Po’alei Tzion labour movement
together with David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Tabenkin. In 1908, she emigrated
to Palestine and later was a founder of the Hashomer Zionist defence
organisation. After the First World War, she helped found the Ahdut
Ha’avodah movement, from which the Mapai Party originated and the
Histadrut. She served as a delegate to Zionist Congresses and as a member
of Asefat Hanivharim, the pre- 1948 Yishuv Assembly. After the
establishment of Israel, she was one of the editors of the Labour weekly
Haahdut. And in late 1956, after the Israeli Army overran the Gaza Strip
and Sinai, she appealed to Ben-Gurion to ‘transfer’ the Gaza refugee camps’
residents to Sinai.

Haim Yahiel (1905-74) first arrived in Palestine in 1929 and there he
joined Kibbutz Giva’at Hayim for a short time before returning to Europe.
Returning to Palestine in 1939, he became a Histadrut official, serving
first (1939-42) as director of its Education Department in Haifa and then
(1942-45) as a member of the Executive Committee. From 1945 to 1948, Yahiel
served as repre- sentative of the Jewish Agency in Munich, Germany, and was
then (1948-49) Israeli Consul in the same city. Between 1949 and 1951, he
was director of the Jewish Agency’s Department of Absorption in Jerusalem.
>From 1951 to 1953, he served as head of the Information Department of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from 1956 to 1959, he was appointed first
as Minister to the Scandinavian countries and later became Ambassador to
Sweden and Minister to Norway and Iceland. From 1960 to 1964 he served as
director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from 1965 to 1972
he served as chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Yahiel was a
delegate to numerous Zionist congresses and for several years also served
as head of the Centre for the Diaspora of the Jewish Agency. Even after
becoming a leader of the Whole Land of Israel Movement and until his death
in 1974, Yahiel still served the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in various
capacities, including as Chairman of the Editorial Board of its major
publication, Israel’s Foreign Relations, Selected Documents. The first two
volumes of these official documents, published in 1976, were dedicated to
the memory of Haim Yahiel.

Natan Alterman (1910-70), the central figure of the Whole Land of Israel
Movement, served on the editorial board of the daily newspaper Haaretz from
1934 to 1943, when he joined the Histadrut daily Davar, virtually the
mouthpiece of the Mapai Party. In an article in the mass-circulation
Ma’ariv shortly after the 1967 conquests, Alterman wrote that the transfer
solution ‘is only possible in an ideal peace situation between us and Arab
states, which will agree to cooperate with us in a great project of
population transfer’)’

It is also worth noting that in justification of his views on Arab
‘transfer’, Alterman cited the statements made by Ben Katznelson
(1887-1944), the hero of Labour Zionism, and one of the most important
leaders of the Yishuv period and the founder and editor of Davar (the
Histadrut newspaper). In 1943 the year Alterman joined Davar he wrote:

"Our contemporary history has known a number of transfers ... [for
instance] the USSR arranged the transfer of one million Germans living in
the Volga region and transferred them to very distant places ... one could
assume that this transfer was done against the will of the transferees ...
there could be possible situations that would make [Arab] population
transfer desirable for both sides who is the socialist who is interested in
rejecting the very idea before hand and stigmatising it as something
unfair? Has Merhavyah not been built on transfer? Were it not for many of
these transfers Hashomer Hatza’ir [which later in 1948 founded the Mapam
Party] would not be residing today in Merhavyah, or Mishmar Ha’emek or
other places ... and if what has been done for a settlement of Hashomer
Hatza’ir is a fair deed, why would it not be fair when it would be done on
a much larger and greater scale, not just for Hashomer Hatza’ir but for the
whole of Israel?"

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list