Bertrand Russell’s Last Message
By Bertrand Russell
This statement on the Middle East was dated 31st January, 1970, and
was read on 3rd February, the day after Bertrand Russell’s death, to an
International Conference of Parliamentarians meeting in Cairo.
The latest phase of the undeclared war in the Middle East is based upon a
profound miscalculation. The bombing raids deep into Egyptian territory will not
persuade the civilian population to surrender, but will stiffen their resolve to
resist. This is the lesson of all aerial bombardment.
The Vietnamese who have endured years of American heavy bombing have
responded not by capitulation but by shooting down more enemy aircraft. In 1940
my own fellow countrymen resisted Hitler’s bombing raids with unprecedented
unity and determination. For this reason, the present Israeli attacks will fail
in their essential purpose, but at the same time they must be condemned
vigorously throughout the world.
The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and
instructive. For over 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every
stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to “reason” and has suggested
“negotiations”. This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it
wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by
violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation
from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The
aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has
the right to annexe foreign territory, but because every expansion is an
experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.
The refugees who surround Palestine in their hundreds of thousands were
described recently by the Washington journalist I.F. Stone as “the moral
millstone around the neck of world Jewry.” Many of the refugees are now well
into the third decade of their precarious existence in temporary settlements.
The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a
foreign Power to another people for the creation of a new State. The result was
that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently
homeless. With every new conflict their number have increased. How much longer
is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is
abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which
they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing
conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse
from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept
a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of
the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine
settlement in the Middle East.
We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the
suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this
suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today
cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of
the present is gross hypocrisy. Not only does Israel condemn a vast number. of
refugees to misery; not only are many Arabs under occupation condemned to
military rule; but also Israel condemns the Arab nations only recently emerging
from colonial status, to continued impoverishment as military demands take
precedence over national development.
All who want to see an end to bloodshed in the Middle East must ensure that
any settlement does not contain the seeds of future conflict. Justice requires
that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all
the territories occupied in June, 1967. A new world campaign is needed to help
bring justice to the long-suffering people of the Middle East.