Jabotinsky’s first impulse, upon resigning from the WZO, was to retire from active politics and to confine himself to journalistic commentary on the sad state of the Zionist movement. He was an isolated figure; even his closest supporters, fellow Russian exiles, completely disagreed with his abandoning the WZO. But, in spite of this not unimportant difference, by July 1923 the Russians announced that Jabotinsky had been appointed to the editorial board of their organ, the magazine Rasswyet (Dawn). A Russian language journal in Western Europe, dealing solely with Jewish and Zionist questions, and these from an extreme viewpoint, could never possibly pay for itself, and in autumn 1923 he had to turn to the new Randstaaten (as he called them), Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, looking for funds. It was the Hasmonaea (Maccabees), the student Zionists in Riga, who pushed him back into party life: “And what now?” they asked. “You have no right to preach such views and to stir up young people if you don’t intend to call them to action. You either keep quiet, or organize a party.” That night he promised to do just that.
In December 1923, the first office of the new movement was set up in Berlin, and by spring 1924 their programme was sent out under the letterhead of the tentatively-named League for the Revision of Zionist Policies, Provisional Organization. By December the name had stuck, and by 25 April 1925 they were able to have the public “Foundation Conference” of the League of Zionist Revisionists in Paris. Aside from the initial nucleus of émigrés, the new tendency had little success in recruiting veteran Zionists. Its first growth came within the ranks of the Jewish students in the Central European universities. Despite some wild talk about the Zionist masses rushing into their arms, the organization advanced very slowly. They had only four delegates to the 14th World Zionist Congress in 1925 (out of approximately 400) and ten in 1927. The twenties were primarily the period when Revisionism, meaning Jabotinsky, laid down its theoretical assumptions as to the nature of Zionism, and its attitude towards the Arabs and the British.
Although Herzl consciously thought of himself as the Jewish Cecil Rhodes, most early members of the WZO were not motivated by imperialist ideology. They either saw Zionism as an extension of the Jewish religion or, alternatively, as a modern substitute for the antiquated synagogue. Few early Zionists envisioned themselves in Palestine. In the West, Zionism scarcely ever elevated itself above the level of a charity. It was, as the wags had it, “one Jew asking a second Jew for money to send a third Jew to Palestine”. The average Zionist neyer thought twice about the presence of Arabs in Palestine. To the members of the WZO, Zionism was for the Jews but it was not anti-Arab. The link with British imperialism basically did nothing to change the WZO’s self-image. After all, Britain as Palestine’s overlord was, to their thinking, a considerable improvement over Turkey. Britain meant law and order and, better still, modern education. While Britain shouldered the white man’s burden, the Zionists saw themselves as doing their part for their “Semitic cousins” in “making the desert bloom”. Surely, they reasoned, the Arabs would come to see that Zionism was going to be a boon to Palestine.
Jabotinsky never harboured such illusions, and once he was out of the Executive he felt free to develop his conceptions of the realities of Zionism. On 4 November 1923, Rasswyet ran an article, “The Iron Wall (We and the Arabs)”, considered, by friend and foe alike, to be his political classic. Perhaps because it is so blunt in its colonialist assumptions, his followers have not thought to make it readily available to the English-speaking public, though naturally it is well known in Israel. It is necessary to quote from it at length, but this is more than justified by its intrinsic importance.
He started out by insisting that he was not anti-Arab:
The author of these lines is considered to be an enemy of the Arabs, a proponent of their expulsion, etc. This is not true. My emotional relationship to the Arabs is the same as it is to all other peoples – polite indifference. My political relationship is characterized by two principles. First: the expulsion of the Arabs from Palestine is absolutely impossible in any form. There will always be two peoples in Palestine. Second: I am proud to have been a member of that group which formulated the Helsingfors Program. We formulated it, not only for Jews, but for all peoples, and its basis is the equality of all nations. I am prepared to swear, for us and for our descendants, that we will never destroy this equality and we will never attempt to expel or oppress the Arabs. Our credo, as the reader can see, is completely peaceful. But it is absolutely another matter if it will be possible to achieve our peaceful aims through peaceful means. This depends, not on our relationship with the Arabs, but exclusively on the Arabs’ relationship to Zionism.
He went on to ridicule those who thought that all that had to be done was to convince the Palestinians of the material advantages that would come their way as a result of Zionism:
Any native people – it’s all the same whether they are civilized or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences ... They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervour that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie ... This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.
It did not matter what words they used:
Colonization itself has its own explanation, integral and inescapable, and understood by every Jew and Arab with his wits about him. Colonization can have only one goal. For the Palestinian Arabs this goal is inadmissible. This is in the nature of things. To change that nature is impossible.
Some Zionists naively looked to Faisal, whom the British had installed as their puppet in Baghdad, to make another deal with them. He would then, they calculated, use Arab bayonets to impose Zionism on the local population:
If it were possible (and I doubt this) to discuss Palestine with the Arabs of Baghdad and Mecca as if it were only some kind of small, immaterial borderland, then Palestine would still remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence. Therefore it would be necessary to carry on colonization against the will of the Palestinian Arabs, which is the same condition that exists now.
What then? Those who held that an agreement with the natives was an essential condition for Zionism “can now say ‘no’ and depart from Zionism”. He drew the full implications of their position:
Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot breakthrough. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.
He emphasized that all Zionists believed in an iron wall:
In this sense, there are no meaningful differences between our “militarists” and our “vegetarians”. One prefers an iron wall of Jewish bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets, the third proposes an agreement with Baghdad, and appears to be satisfied with Baghdad’s bayonets – a strange and somewhat risky taste – but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall.
If the wall of bayonets – Jewish bayonets were naturally his preference – grew strong enough, eventually the Palestinians would come to terms:
All this does not mean that any kind of agreement is impossible, only a voluntary agreement is impossible. As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their sway, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions ... on practical questions like a guarantee against expulsion, or equality and national autonomy ... But the only path to such an agreement is the iron wall, that is to say the strengthening in Palestine of a government without any kind of Arab influence, that is to say one against which the Arabs will fight. In other words, for us the only path to an agreement in the future is an absolute refusal of any attempts at an agreement now. 
Jabotinsky recognized that the tiny Zionist settlement could never hold its own against the numerically superior Arabs without the presence of the British. And he knew, from first-hand experience, that with rare exceptions the politicians in London were not concerned with the genuine interests of the Jews of the world, all they cared about was their own interests. His writings aimed at a British audience were thus always couched in the most blatant pro-imperialist terms. As far back as 1917, in his Turkey and the War, he had already demonstrated his eagerness to lay down the law to any mutinous Arabs, who had to understand that the
unshakable resolve to keep the whole Mediterranean in European hands forms the firm ground on which any Arab claim must be discussed lest the discussion be useless and fruitless ...
“Piedmont” is a political term which hardly needs explanation. We have only to add that the sympathy one generally pays to the role of Piedmont in the Italian Risorgimento does not necessarily imply that the world ought to hail the idea of an Arab Piedmont with the same enthusiasm. The Italian revival held beautiful promises which we miss, so far, in the case of PanArabia.. . it would only – and certainly – succeed in forming a permanent nest of agitation, intrigue and trouble ... These considerations force us to think that the Arab claims can only have some chance of success at this moment if they are formulated with the utmost moderation. The independence of Syria, for instance, is clearly and hopelessly out of the question ... it would ... be understood by France, Italy and Britain alike as a most fateful attempt against the security of their colonial empires. 
While on the Executive, Jabotinsky slightly muted his anti-Arab feelings, his colleagues were still seeking the will-o’-the-wisp Arab monarch who would usher them into the seat of power. But once on his own he could give free vent to his total antagonism to Arab aspirations:
In England and also among the civilized nations of the Mediterranean basin, the consciousness is growing that Europe has not fulfilled her task on the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, that the European peoples must make a decisive end to all efforts to dislodge them from the coast. A people which declares itself our enemy and seeks our ruin finds itself in open and concealed enmity to Europe, that is, to a hitherto unconquerable foe ... We can never support the Arab movement which is at present opposed to us, and we are heartily pleased at every mishap to this movement, not only in neighbouring Transjordan and Syria but also in Morocco. 
From the beginning, the new faction never stopped stressing that Zion could be a mighty bastion of empire. Their ambition was described by Col. Henry Patterson, the former CO of the Legion, and from thence forward a Gentile mouthpiece for Revisionism, in an introduction to a second edition of Jabotinsky’s Story of the Jewish Legion, (originally published in 1928). To the Irish Protestant, as devoted to King George as he was to the King James Bible, his former lieutenant was another Judah Maccabee, the reviver of the martial glories of the Jews of old. Not only would Britain be carrying out the revealed word of the Lord in restoring the Jews to their ancient seat, but Jewish nationalism would also have distinctly earthly compensations as well: “A Jewish Palestine would have provided England with another Gibraltar – faithful to her unto death – at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.” 
In 1928, yet another Colonel, Josiah Wedgewood, a Labour MP, put out a book, The Seventh Dominion, calling for Palestine to become a Jewish Dominion. The Gentile Zionist’s proposition was eagerly seized upon by the Revisionists and Jabotinsky became the chairman of the Jerusalem branch of the League for the Seventh Dominion. That these imperialists should have such benign thoughts towards their charges in the Holy Land is mildly amusing; there was always an element in Britain that thought the spread of the Empire was divinely ordained, and with the Balfour Declaration this peculiar breed came into its own. The Pattersons and Wedgewoods were playing at being latter-day Cyruses. But for Jews, as with Jabotinsky and his friends, only just out of Tsarist Russia, to turn themselves into soldiers for the British Empire was simply ludicrous. Abba Achimeir, in 1930 the outstanding figure of Palestinian Revisionism, wrote that:
In every East-West conflict, we will always be on the side of the West, for the West has represented a more superior culture than the East over the last thousand years, after the destruction of the Baghdad Caliphate by the Mongols ... and we today are the most prominent and loyal bearers of the culture ... our interest lies in expanding the British Empire even further than intended by the British themselves. 
Predictably, Jabotinsky’s penchant for carrying things to extremes expressed itself even in his desire to convert himself into a tool of the British Empire. One would have thought he was addressing the Anti- Socialist and Anti-Communist Union in a London club rather than speaking in Yiddish in Warsaw on 28 December 1931, when he started bemoaning the decline of the Empire:
England is no longer inspired by her old lust for building and leading. And what we ask of the English is, indeed, this lust and resolution, the capacity for more courageous, more creative action ... England is becoming continental! Not long ago the prestige of the English ruler of the “colored” colonies stood very high. Hindus, Arabs, Malays were conscious of his superiority and obeyed, not unprotestingly, yet completely. The whole scheme of training of the future rulers was built on the principle “carry yourself so that the inferior will feel your unobtainable superiority in every motion”. But a decline of imperialist instinct is felt in Englishmen ... This lessening of the taste for imperialist scope is revealed in various ways – in the indifference with which the emancipation of Egypt was received, in the lack of concern at the prospect of the loss of India and Ireland. This does not mean that all is lost. In five or ten years all this may change. England may still reeducate her proconsuls. The imperial appetite may flame up anew, because this is a very powerful and gifted people. 
But why should Britain, whose Empire girded the globe, require the services of the tiny Zionist colony in Palestine? Plainly, everyone could see that it was the Zionists who were in need of protection, and not the other way around. But Jabotinsky had a ready answer: today was today; tomorrow would bring Britain new problems:
I needn’t dwell on the well-known truism of Palestine’s importance from the viewpoint of British imperial interests; I have only to add that its validity absolutely depends on one paramount condition: namely that Palestine should cease being an Arab country ... Should Palestine remain Arab, Palestine will follow the orbit of Arab destinies – secession, Federation of Arab countries, and elimination of all traces of European influence. But a Palestine predominantly Jewish, surrounded on all sides by Arab countries, will in the interests of its own preservation always tend to lean upon some powerful Empire, non-Arab and non-Mahommedan. This is an almost providential basis for a permanent alliance between England and a Jewish (but only a Jewish) Palestine. 
Given his grasp of the fact that a Zionist state could never be peacefully attained, and that as long as it was militarily weak, Zionism was always going to be seen by the British as a burden, it was logical that Jabotinsky should tell a January 1927 Berlin audience that “the letter ‘L’ (for legion) is the most important character in the Zionist alphabet; anti-Legionism is an abnegation of Zionism”.  Again and again he went back to his fundamental theme, proclaiming the
iron law of every colonizing movement, a law which knows of no exceptions, a law which existed in all times and under all circumstances. If you wish to colonize a land in which people are already living, you must provide a garrison on your behalf. Or else – or else, give up your colonization, for without an armed force which will render physically impossible any attempts to destroy or prevent this colonization, colonization is impossible, not “difficult”, not “dangerous” but IMPOSSIBLE! ... Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot – or else I am through with playing at colonialization. 
From 1923 until well after the creation of the state of Israel, the central focus of Revisionism was its military aspect. In the first years, the key sector of the organization were the brownshirts of its youth movement, the Betar, short for Brit Yosef Trumpeldor, who had been slain in 1920 while defending the little Galilee community of Tel Hai against nonpolitical tribal bandits. It was always militarized both in structure and ideology. At its first world conference, in Warsaw in January 1929, it debated whether to democratically elect its officials or to establish itself on a strictly hierarchic military basis, and decided for a military structure.  Although the Haganah had the support of the entire Zionist movement in Palestine, nowhere in the Diaspora were there mainline Zionist equivalents of the para-military Betar or Brit HaChayal, the Revisionists’ ex-servicemen’s league. Because the WZO would not grant immigrant certificates to youths who had not gone through vocational training courses, they had to set up farm camps in the Diaspora. But this was largely pro forma. “Defence sports”, and wherever possible military instruction, were always the chief attraction Revisionism dangled before the Jewish youth. The formal ideological baggage of Betar, as well as for the adult movement, was de minimis. The entirety of its programme was summed up for them by Jabotinsky in what he called their “Heptalogue”:
He campaigned against mixing Zionism with socialism, religion or any other ideal. It will be seen, below, that this was ultimately honoured in the breach, both by the ranks and Jabotinsky himself, but his injunction had the effect of stultifying the movement intellectually with discussion of general social questions being reduced to the barest minimum beyond a few right-wing formulations and some distinctly eccentric social formulations by Jabotinsky. Anyone desiring social equality simply looked elsewhere.
The 1920s were literarily prolific for Jabotinsky: in addition to translating some of Dante, Poe, Rostand, d’Annunzio and parts of FitzGerald’s Omar Khayyám, he edited a student almanac, writing, among other things, the chapter on table manners, and co-edited the first Hebrew atlas. But by far his most important work was his 1926 novel, Samson, originally published in serial form in Rasswyet: “All our generation was brought up on that book,” says his most famous disciple.  In 1950 Cecil B. DeMille made it into Samson and Delilah, starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr, but the original was much more than the Hollywood version.
Jabotinsky’s hero bore little relation to the Biblical figure. Samson is a political, not a religious character. Two “kingly peoples”, Israel from the desert and the Philistines from the sea, have conquered Canaan and are grinding the natives under their heels. But the Philistines are really the princely ones as the Israelites are weakened by their division into 12 squabbling tribes. The central theme of the book is Samson’s acquisition of the secrets of the Philistines’ success but these notions take time to develop. What first comes through is the ingrained colonialism and racism of the author. Over and over again we get a totally unsympathetic picture of the Canaanites:
The rabble of the town-laborers, artisans and beggars – was composed exclusively of the fragments of indigenous tribes, ground past recognition between the two conquering peoples ... The homeless dogs of the whole neighborhood ... all looked alike, lacking the characteristics of any known breed, and in this they resembled the human inhabitants of the district. 
– among the Danite women were a number of Canaanite faces belonging to second and third wives, concubines, mothers-in-law, and sisters-in-law – forerunners of the process now beginning by which the heedless native stock was absorbed in the sharp strong blood of the sullen colonizers. 
– Both proved to be well-built, powerful men, and there was in their eyes nothing of that dull look common to the natives. Possibly they had a tinge of Philistine blood. 
– Samson said to him:... “if men come to know each other, there is no enmity between them.” “I know little of men,” replied Nehushtan, after a short silence. “I am a shepherd and know about animals. With animals it is different.” “In what way different?” “A black dog and a brown dog never fight while each is with his own herd, but put them together and the hair begins to fly.” 
Later, when his followers quarrel with their Philistine hosts, “Samson walked on alone for some time, thinking of the shepherd’s wisdom of Nehushtan. A black dog and a brown dog... Perhaps.”  Soon enough, Samson, the thorough worldling, comes to accept the philosophy of the yokel sage, telling his hosts:
The second thing I have learned in the last few days is the wisdom of having boundary-stones... Neighbors can agree so long as each remains home, but trouble comes as soon as they begin to pay each other visits. The gods have made men different and commanded them to respect the ditch in the fields. It is a sin for men to mix what the Gods have separated. 
Samson as an exponent of racial separation did not go over too well with the Philistines, who naturally were well aware of his amorous predilection for shiksas, but the man of might had a come-back to their jibes:
“Near the temple of Baal-Zebub in Ekron, there is a field full of bees,” he answered. “None of the priests dare go there to pray, except those who were born with bitter blood, for such men are proof against the sting of bees, wasps and hornets. But there are not many of them, and for the rest to enter the field of bees means death.” 
Jabotinsky wanted no more race mixing but he was not about to exclude converts or part Jews or those already married to gentiles from the Jewish people. So, when a prophet tries to get an Israelite to remember the injunction against marrying Canaanites, Samson, acting as a judge, rebukes him. But even here it is the racial strength of the Jews, their “sharp strong blood”, that is decisive:
“We are not the water,” replied Samson; “we are the salt. The others are the water ... throw a handful of salt in a cask of water and it will not be lost, for all the water in the cask will be made salty.” 
Although Jabotinsky opposed race mixing, he constantly stressed that his followers had to learn from gentiles. Samson is more than a mere opponent of the Philistines; he is their best student, and through him Jabotinsky tried to impart some gentile lessons to his young followers. In one of the most dramatic scenes in the book, Jabotinsky gave them the explanation for the power of the Five Cities of the Caphtorim – and of power in the modern world:
One day, he was present at a festival at the temple of Gaza. Outside in the square a multitude of young men and girls were gathered for the festive dances ... A beardless priest led the dances. He stood on the topmost step of the temple, holding an ivory baton in his hand. When the music began the vast concourse stood immobile ... The beardless priest turned pale and seemed to submerge his eyes in those of the dancers, which were fixed responsively on his. He grew paler and paler; all the repressed fervor of the crowd seemed to concentrate within his breast till it threatened to choke him. Samson felt the blood stream to his heart; he himself would have choked if the suspense had lasted a few moments longer. Suddenly, with a rapid, almost inconspicuous movement, the priest raised his baton, and all the white figures in the square sank down on the left knee and threw the right arm towards heaven – a single movement, a single, abrupt, murmurous harmony. The tens of thousands of onlookers gave utterance to a moaning sigh. Samson staggered; there was blood on his lips, so tightly had he pressed them together ... Samson left the place profoundly thoughtful. He could not have given words to his thought, but he had a feeling that here, in this spectacle of thousands obeying a single will, he had caught a glimpse of the great secret of politically minded peoples. 
As in scripture, the blinded Israelite ultimately brings down their temple on the heads of his uncircumcised tormentors, but not before delivering himself of a political homily, as applicable to the roaring twenties as to the second millennium before the common era:
“Shall I give our people a message from you?”
Samson thought for a while, and then said slowly:
“Tell them two things in my name – two words. The first word is iron. They must get iron. They must give everything they have for iron – their silver and wheat, oil and wine and flocks, even their wives and daughters. All for iron! There is nothing in the world more valuable than iron. Will you tell them that?”
“I will. They will understand that.”
“The second word they will not understand yet, but they must learn to understand it, and that soon. The second word is this: a king! Say it to Dan, Benjamin, Judah, Ephraim: a king! A man who will give them a signal and of a sudden thousands will lift up their hands. So it is with the Philistines, and therefore the Philistines are lords of Canaan.” 
Classic Revisionism laid down the rules by which modern Revisionism still operates. Samson-Jabotinsky’s followers still believe that only an iron wall can suppress their latter-day Canaanites, the Palestinians. Samson admired the Philistines, Jabotinsky the British, the modern Revisionists orient toward the Americans although, just as Jabotinsky came to feel that Britain was losing its imperialist lust, so the modern Revisionists always see weakness in America’s stance towards the Arabs. Since its strength in the 1920s was not enough for Zionism alone to defeat the Palestinians, it needed a British alliance. Today Revisionism knows it must face the permanent hostility of the broad masses of the Arab world, not merely the Palestinians alone, therefore it must have the continuing patronage of an outside empire which seeks to weaken the Arab nation. But, though the iron wall rises ever higher, the Israeli state is not politically secure. Samson-Jabotinsky failed to understand von Clausewitz’s dictum of a century previous: war is only a continuation of politics by other means. Samson-Jabotinsky thought that iron and a king was politics, but it is only an extension of politics. No amount of force can crush the national feelings of the Arab nation, and as it grows politically more mature, the “Arab tribes”, too, will unite, will enter the fray behind a “king”, that is, will become a serious disciplined force. At such a point it will be the vast Arab nation against a mighty but beleaguered Ulster-Gibraltar-Israel that has forfeited world sympathy by its repressive policy of the iron wall. In the 1920s Samson-Jabotinsky’s mighty walls and kings seemed like Realpolitiker wisdom. It never was, and in today’s world it is the guarantee of inevitable defeat be it political or military.
1. Vladimir Jabotinsky, O Zheleznoi Stene, Rasswyet, 4 November 1923, pp.2-4.
2. Jabotinsky, Turkey and the War, pp.225-7.
3. Herbert Solow, The Realities of Zionism, Menorah Journal, November
4. Jabotinsky, Story of the Jewish Legion, p.19.
5. Shavit, p.102.
6. Bowyer Bell, Terror Out Of Zion, p.25 and Syrkin, p.70.
7. Jabotinsky, State Zionism, Hadassah Newsletter, October 1934, p.9.
8. Yehuda Benari and Joseph Schechtman, The History of the Revisionist Movement, vol.I, p.41.
9. Jabotinsky, The Iron Law, Selected Writings (South Africa), p.26.
10. Benari and Schechtman, op.cit., p.338.
11. Stephen Rosenfeld, Straight to the Heart of Menachem Begin, Present Tense, Summer 1980, p.7.
12. Jabotinsky, Samson (American edition titled Prelude to Delilah), p.13.
13. Ibid., p.52.
14. Ibid., p.148.
15. Ibid., p.118.
16. Ibid., p.125.
17. Ibid., p.131.
18. Ibid., p.132.
19. Ibid., p.147.
20. Ibid., pp.200-1.
21. Ibid., pp.330-1.
Last updated on 4.8.2001