The Great Humanitarian's Solution
By Bruce Brill
The Palestinians' situation is terrible. Three fourths
of their population live in poverty. The number of
poor has tripled since September 2000 and over half
the workforce is unemployed. Palestinians are more
dependent on food aid than ever before. Reports for
2003 from social welfare organizations note "pervasive
and deepening poverty," "worsening conditions and an
economy in a state of ruin," "conflict creating a
major humanitarian crisis," and "widespread
psychological trauma." Palestinian Prime Minister
Queri has understated: "Our people are suffering."
President George Bush and other world leaders have
lamented the sad plight of the Palestinians.
Something beyond talk is needed to alleviate
Palestinian suffering. "Tell Bush: Good Speech! Now
Take Action," suggested the Jewish Voice for Peace,
urging Bush "to back his words with action." Refugees
International has called on President Bush to "take
steps to give jobs, education, medical services, and
food." In describing the talking-versus-doing
syndrome, Herbert Hoover, President of the United
States from 1929-33, said in 1920: "Words without
actions are the assassins of idealism."
Hoover could never be accused of assassinating
idealism: he was responsible for the rescue, feeding,
clothing and resettlement of more victims of natural
disaster and war than just about anyone in history.
During World War I, he headed the Commission for
Relief in Belgium, which fed 10 million people and
carried out Belgian postwar reconstruction. In 1917,
Hoover served as US food administrator. After the war
President Woodrow Wilson sent Hoover to Europe to
direct the American Relief Administration. In 1927,
as Secretary of Commerce, he successfully resettled
325,000 Americans rendered homeless by the Mississippi
River's flooding. After World War II he brought
relief to millions as Coordinator of the European Food
As a Quaker, Hoover passionately believed in peace, was
appalled by the human costs of war, and devoted his
life to public service. Even with his most grandiose
projects, he kept the worth of the individual
paramount. His title, "The Great Humanitarian," was
well deserved. When war again broke out in Europe,
Hoover, now in his 70s, established the Polish Relief
Commission, which fed 300,000 children in occupied
He became chairman of the Famine Emergency
Commission and in 1945 President Harry S Truman asked
him to organize food relief for war-torn countries.
Nor did the plight of the Palestinian Arabs escape The
Great Humanitarian's attention: In December 1945, he
submitted his plan to the Anglo-American Committee of
Inquiry on Palestine. Hoover said it was "a process
by which both Jews and Arabs would benefit
materially," and could be instrumental in "settling
the Palestine question and providing ample Jewish
refuge." He insisted that it offered a "constructive
humanitarian solution" and the committee agreed that
the proposal merited careful study.
What Hoover proposed was "that Iraq be made the
scene of resettlement of the Arabs from Palestine" and
this for their immediate relief and long-term benefit.
Unlike current proposals for mass, forced transfer,
there was an implicit assumption that this one would
be totally voluntary.
By 1949, with the creation of half a million
Palestinian refugees, Hoover's plan took on special
urgency. He wrote the White House that "they are in a
deplorable condition," and they can be absorbed in
Iraq. "It would give permanent solution to the
problem of these unfortunate people," Hoover said. He
also said his plan "would strengthen the economy of
Could Hoover's vision work today? The population of
Iraq this past generation has been decimated. The
prolonged Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the internecine
fighting within Iraq, the 1991 Gulf War, the
subsequent U.N. sanctions, and the most recent
U.S.-led invasion and occupation have taken a toll of
millions of Iraqis. Resettling the downtrodden
Palestinian Arabs in Iraq would alleviate their
suffering and be a concomitant blessing to Iraq.
Palestinian Arabs excel in agriculture and
construction, the areas of war-torn Iraq's greatest
Jimmy Carter warned recently that "the lack of real
effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a primary
source of anti-American sentiment throughout the
Middle East and a major incentive for terrorist
activity." Hoover noted his program "would contribute
to a friendly gesture from the West to all Arab
The idea of Jordan as a Palestinian state is widely
supported on the Israeli right, even though it is
vigorously resisted by the Jordanian monarchy and
people. The notion of Egypt as a partial homeland is
strongly advocated by the leader of the National
Religious Party and others, even though it is firmly
rejected by the Egyptian authorities. However
unrealistic reviving Hoover's idea may appear at first
glance, it seems far more realistic than those
relatively widely endorsed approaches.
The main obstacle to implementing Hoover's plan has
been the presence of antagonistic regimes in Baghdad.
Today, American control of Iraq presents a unique
opportunity. Let's remember: "words without actions
are the assassins of idealism."
Bruce Brill is an independent journalist living in
Kfar Eldad which is in Northern Israel.
from the November 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine