Thursday, July 23, 2009

Borders - 1919


1919. With the war over, and as preparations for the Paris peace talks began at Versailles in early 1919, border requirements were again refined by each side, as follows.

Zionist position

The Zionists began to formulate their desired boundaries for the "national home," to be determined by three criteria - historic, strategic, and economic considerations (Zionist publications cited in Ra'anan 1955, 86).

Historic concerns coincided roughly with British allusions to the biblical "Dan to Beersheba." These were considered to be minimum requirements, which had to be supplemented with territory that would allow military and economic security. Military security required desert areas to the south and east as well as the Beka'a Valley, a gateway in the north between the Lebanon Mountains and Mount Hermon.

Economic security was defined by water resources. The entire Zionist programme of immigration and settlement required water for large-scale irrigation and, in a land with no fossil fuels, for hydropower. The plans were "completely dependent" on the acquisition of "the headwaters of the Jordan, the Litani River, the snows of Hermon, the Yarmuk and its tributaries, and the Jabbok" (Ra'anan 1955, 87).

In a flurry of communication between world Zionist leaders, the aspects of historic, strategic, and economic security became increasingly linked with the Jordan headwaters. These leaders of diverse backgrounds (including Chaim Weizmann, a British chemist whose wartime contribution of the gunpowder-refining process to the Allies granted him a certain status among British decision makers; Aaron Aaronsohn, a Palestine-born agriculturalist who had undertaken intelligence operations on Turkish troop movements for the British; and Louis Brandeis, a US Supreme Court Justice) each became demographer, cartographer, hydrologist, and strategist, in preparation for the Peace Conference.

The guiding force in refining the thinking on the necessary boundaries was Aaron Aaronsohn. He was in charge of an agricultural experimental station at Atlit on the Mediterranean coast, where his research focused on weather-resistant crops and dry-farming techniques. Convinced that the modern agricultural practices that would fuel Jewish immigration were incompatible with "the slothful, brutish Ottoman regime" (Sachar 1979,103), he concluded that Zionist settlement objectives required alliance with the incoming Allied Forces. Aaronsohn initiated contact with the British to establish a Jewish spy network in Palestine, which would report on Turkish positions and troop movements. Perhaps because of his training both in agriculture and in security matters, he became the first to delineate boundary requirements specifically with regard to future water needs. Aaronsohn's "The Boundaries of Palestine" (27 January 1919, unpublished, Zionist Archives), drafted in less than a day, argued that

In Palestine, like in any other country of arid and semi-arid character, animal and plant life and, therefore, the whole economic life directly depends on the available water supply. It is, therefore, of vital importance not only to secure all water resources already feeding the country, but also to insure the possession of whatever can conserve and increase these water - and eventually power - resources. The main water resources of Palestine come from the North, from the two mighty mountain-masses - the Lebanon range, and the Hermon ...

The boundary of Palestine in the North and in the North East is thus dictated by the extension of the Hermon range and its water basins. The only scientific and economic correct lines of delineation are the water-sheds.

Aaronsohn then described the proposed boundaries in detail, as delineated by the local watersheds. He acknowledged that, with the exception of the Litani, the Lebanon range sends no important water source towards Palestine and "cannot, therefore, be claimed to be a 'Spring of Life' to the country." It is the Hermon, he argued, that is "the real 'Father of Waters' and cannot be severed from it without striking at the very root of its economic life."

Returning to the Litani, however, Aaronsohn suggested that

[it] is of vital importance to northern Palestine both as a supply of water and of power. Unfortunately its springs lie in the Lebanon. Some kind of international agreement is essential in order that the Litani may be fully utilised for the development of North Palestine and the Lebanon.

Aaronsohn's rationale and boundary proposals were adopted by the official Zionist delegation to the Peace Conference, led by Chaim Weizmann. The "Boundaries" section of the "Statement of the Zionist Organization Regarding Palestine," which paraphrased Aaronson's proposals, read, in part (see appendix II for the complete text):

The economic life of Palestine, like that of every other semi-arid country depends on the available water supply. It is therefore, of vital importance not only to secure all water resources already feeding the country, but also to be able to conserve and control them at their sources.

The Hermon is Palestine's real "Father of Waters" and cannot be severed from it without striking at the very root of its economic life ... Some international arrangement must be made whereby the riparian rights of the people dwelling south of the Litani River may be fully protected. Properly cared for these head waters can be made to serve in the development of the Lebanon as well as of Palestine. (Proposals dated 3 February 1919, Weizmann Letters 1968, appendix II)

Interestingly, Aaronsohn thought his ideas had been badly mangled in the Proposals, perhaps because he was not included in the final drafting. In an angry letter to Weizmann, he complained that the draft was "a disgrace and a calamity" (emphasis Aaronsohn's), and expressed shock that, for one of the delegates, "a 'watershed' is the same as a 'thalweg.' Incredible, but true" (unpublished fetter, 16 February 1919, Weizmann Archives).

In June 1919 Aaronsohn died in a plane crash (at the time deemed by the Zionists "mysterious") on his way to the Peace Conference and the Zionist proposals were submitted without revision. Nevertheless, the importance of the region's water resources remained embedded in the thinking of the Zionist establishment. "So far as the northern boundary is concerned," wrote Chaim Weizmann later that year, "the guiding consideration with us has been economic, and 'economic' in this connection means 'water supply"' (18 September 1919, Weizmann Letters, 1968).

1 comment:

site said...

In my view everyone have to glance at it.