Friday, April 25, 2008

Land, Nationalism of the Arabs of Eretz-Yisrael

Excerpts from Benny Morris' review, The Tangled Truth, of Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 by Hillel Cohen, who I have known for more than 30 years:-

The hills of the West Bank--Judea and Samaria--are dotted with well-ordered, red-roofed Jewish settlements. Clearly, they make the partition of the land of Israel/Palestine into two states more difficult, and as such they constitute an obstacle to peace. [or an impediment to an independent Arab state, "Palestine", that would prove an existential threat to Israel]. This is certainly the view in Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv, the bastion of center-left Israel. But for most Palestinians (who, incidentally, do not really want a two-state settlement--vide their support of Hamas in the elections in 2006), the settlements represent something far more sinister. They are highly visible agents and symbols of Israel's design to steal their land. [which they stole from the Jews]

...On the one hand, there always were Arabs, in very large numbers, ready to sell their labor and land to the Jews, and to inform on Arab militants, and even to fight their fellow Arabs who were fighting the Jews (and the British, who were regarded as the Zionists' patrons). On the other hand, Arabs were willing to battle against land sales and cooperation with the Jews, and to kill Jews (and Britons) and collaborators. And sometimes it was the very same people, at one and the same time or within a short span of years, who hotly denounced Zionism and secretly helped the Jews. (The Nazi German consul in Jerusalem, Heinrich Wolff, in 1933 contemptuously cabled Berlin that these nationalists "in daylight were crying out against Jewish immigration and in the darkness of the night were selling land to the Jews.")

In his important book, Hillel Cohen, the author of fine studies of Israel's Arab minority, succeeds in presenting an objective view of "collaboration," ignoring for the purposes of analysis the bad name that the phenomenon received during and after World War II.

...Already in the 1920s, Husseini began calling his opponents, primarily the notables of the rival Nashashibi clan, "traitors"--this at a time when there were no clear policy differences between them. (Both the Husseinis and the Nashashibis wanted all of Palestine for the Arabs, opposed all Jewish immigration, regarded the Zionists as aggressive usurpers, and so on.) Cohen argues that the Husseinis' routine use of the terms "traitor" and "collaborator" denuded them of all moral weight or political significance...The value of Cohen's erudite book lies in its meticulous recounting of the history of Arab-Zionist cooperation and collaboration, period by period, region by region, family by family. There are many eye-opening--and pathetic--tales, often well-told.

...A major area of cooperation or collaboration, dating from the start of the Zionist enterprise in the 1880s, was Arab land sales to the Zionist movement--a phenomenon that permanently blighted Palestinian Arab nationalism, sowing suspicion, confusion, and moral disarray. By the end of 1947, Zionist institutions and individual Jews had bought close to 7 percent of Palestine's land surface (which, in all, encompassed 10,000 square miles or 26,000 square kilometers). Almost all the purchases had been from Arabs. (A small quantity of land was bought from Europeans.) Most of the land was purchased from rich absentee Arab landowners, or effendi, who lived in big cities in Palestine or abroad, though many tracts, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, were sold to the Jews by smallholders. "Thousands of Palestinians sold land to Jews during the Mandate," asserts Cohen. He may be slightly exaggerating; but it was this land that made possible the grid of Jewish settlements that served as the core and the shield of the state that was established in 1948.

From the start, both the Arabs and the Zionists understood that legal possession of land "was a necessary condition for realizing [each of] their national idea[s]." Already in 1911, a Jerusalem mathematics teacher named Mustafa Effendi Tamr published an article denouncing Arab land-sellers: "You are selling the property of your fathers and grandfathers for a pittance to people who will have no pity on you, to those who will act to expel you and expunge your memory from your habitations and disperse you among the nations. This is a crime that will be recorded in your names in history, a black stain and disgrace that your descendants will bear, which will not be expunged even after years and eras have gone by."

...It is relatively easy to trace the spoor of those motivated by personal interest, especially pecuniary gain. Sheikh Taher al-Husseini, the nephew of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, contacted the Zionist officials Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi simply because he wanted Hajj Amin's job as mufti of Jerusalem. Later Taher's son, Zein al-Din al-Husseini, sold land to the Jews. But for many others, especially from the middle and upper classes, the motivating factor was a realistic assessment of the balance of forces...A few were driven by a sympathy for the Zionist cause and an appreciation of Zionist achievements, though almost none agreed to Zionist dominance or to Jewish statehood alongside a Palestinian state in a partition settlement. Hasan Shukri, the Arab mayor of Haifa during World War I and again in the years between 1927 and 1940, cabled the British government in 1921 denouncing those Arab nationalists who demanded that Britain renounce Zionism: "We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy.... We consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country. We are certain that without Jewish immigration and financial assistance there will be no future development of our country as may be judged from the fact that the towns inhabited in part by Jews such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and Tiberias are making steady progress while Nablus, Acre and Nazareth where no Jews reside are steadily declining." Another public figure, Muhammad Tawil of Acre, wrote: "I cannot recognize Hajj Amin al-Husseini as the leader of Palestine because his direction has brought no benefit to the country"--though he later became disaffected with the Zionists who had employed and then discarded him, pointing to a phenomenon that, sadly, would characterize Zionist- collaborator relations down the decades. (This ugly phenomenon survives in the abandonment of some South Lebanese Army veterans after the final IDF pullout from Lebanon in 2000.)

Some Palestinian collaborators were animated by personal friendship, empathy with Jews, or even ideological sympathy. Ezra Danin, one of the founders of the HIS (Haganah Intelligence Service), recalled in his memoirs an Arab who was employed as a guard in a Jewish-owned citrus grove and was involved in land sales on the side: "He believed in the return to Zion and wanted cooperation with the Jews.... I remember an instance in which I once said to him: 'You do it for the money, of course. [So] why do you get so angry if they tell you that you are a hired spy?' He said: 'I for money? I work only for the idea.'" The principle of good neighborliness, a time-honored Arab tradition, also played a part. Some Hebron Arabs, including Ahmad Rashid al-Hirbawi, the president of the town's chamber of commerce, supported--against Husseini's line--the return of Jews to the town after the massacre of 1929, when they had abandoned it.

...But some Arabs, it seems, were won over by Zionist achievements rather than Zionist power. Consider a letter of invitation by a group of Bedouin sheikhs in the Beit Shean (Bisan) Valley to the British high commissioner Herbert Samuel in 1923: "We don't meddle in politics.... We are simple people who live in tents and deal with our own affairs only. We agree with everything the government does.... We have seen no evil from the Jews. We have sold the American [sic] Jewish Agency some of our lands, and with the help of the money we received we are developing and cultivating the large tracts that still remain ours. We are pleased with these Jews, and we are convinced that we will work together to improve our region and to pursue our common interests." This letter, says Cohen, may have been drafted by Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky, who simultaneously orchestrated outreach programs and ran the Arab Bureau's espionage network.

...Cohen's learned book, especially its lengthy citations from Zionist intelligence reports and from Arab letters and memoranda, incidentally sheds light on a rarely illumined aspect of Palestinian nationalism (and one that indirectly "explains" at least some of the collaborators). From the first, the nationalism of Palestine's Arabs was blatantly religious. Almost all the "nationalist" statements Cohen quotes were couched in religious or semi- religious terms. We are dealing here with an Islamic nationalism. Indeed, when the Palestinian national struggle turned significantly violent, against the British in 1936-1939 and against the Zionists in 1947-1948, the struggle was defined by the movement's leaders as "a religious holy war," a jihad. And those rejecting Husseini's leadership, in peacetime as in wartime, were deemed heretics as well as traitors. The gang that murdered a collaborator in Balad al- Sheikh, a village near Haifa, hung a placard in the village square reading: "We hereby inform you that on 8 March 1939, Nimer the policeman was executed ... as he betrayed his religion and his homeland.... The supreme God revealed to those who preserve their religion and their homeland that he betrayed them, and they did to him what Muslim law commands. Because the supreme and holy God said: 'Fight the heretics and hypocrites; their dwelling-place is hell.'"

This Islamism colored the Palestinian national movement from its conception. When, in 1911, the Jaffa newspaper Filastin attacked land-sellers, it declared: "All land belongs to God, but the land on which we live belongs to the homeland [watan], at the command of God." "Islam does not forgive traitors," village mukhtars were told by urban nationalists in 1920. In 1925, the mufti of Gaza, Hajj Muhammad Said al-Husseini, issued a fatwa forbidding land sales to Jews. The Jews, he said, were no longer a protected people (as they had been in the Islamic world during the previous thirteen centuries). Muslims who helped them were to be treated as heretics, and Christians who aided them were to be deported.

...In their book The Palestinian People: A History, Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal wrote that Palestinian nationalism can be traced back to 1834, when a group of peasants in the Nablus area rebelled against their then-Egyptian rulers. Most historians disagree, and locate the birth of Palestinian Arab nationalism in the 1920s (and the start of general Arab nationalism only a few years before). But for years thereafter, Palestinian Arab nationalism remained the purview of middle- and upper-class families. Most peasants, and perhaps many among the urban poor as well--together, some 80 percent of the Palestine Arabs--lacked political consciousness or a "national" ideology. The masses could be periodically stirred to action by religious rhetoric (Islam certainly touched them to the quick), but this failed to bind them in a protracted political engagement, especially when the price had to be paid in blood. Cohen writes, too hesitantly in my view, that "the conduct of Palestinian society [during 1917-1948] might lead to the conclusion that ... [its] national spirit was not sufficient to the task at hand."

But of course the Palestinians were to change. Indeed, the disaster and the dispersion that befell them in 1948 was itself a major milestone in the formation of a truly "national" consciousness; and the results of the war in 1967 certainly abetted this development. By the time of the intifadas, millions of Palestinians had rallied to the cause, and many thousands were prepared to engage in political action and combat, and to pay the price in blood and imprisonment. By then it was incontrovertible that there was a Palestinian people. Palestinian nationalism may not have been during the Mandate, and may not be today, quite the secular, democratic, and open nationalism of modern Western Europe; and it may still be defined in large measure by what it wishes to destroy rather than by what it hopes to build. It is intolerant, violent, and--above all--religious. But it is most certainly a variety of nationalism.

And I found this comment there:-

Jacob Field

Stop calling them settlements. All that you are doing is helping to enable the redefinition of Israeli Jews as colonizers and foreign settlers with no legitimate right to the land, which is part of the Big Lie perpetrated by Muslims. Israel is a legitimate and sovereign nation voted imprimatur by the United Nations. The fact is that the Israelis living in the West Bank and Hebron do not pose either a moral or a pragmatic problem. Their communities are natural outcomes of Israel's control for almost forty years of areas that are integral to its current defensibility and/or historical heritage. And since the word "settler" is loaded with negative connotations of "intruder," it would be best to cease applying it to Israelis who live legitimately in parts of the Land of Israel that are part of the state of Israel, and whose ultimate disposition remains open. Please drop the immoral paradigm insinuating that Jews must be forced from their homes. Would that you would pay more attention to the illegal houses built by Arab squatters in Hebron who proudly display in a sign that they live on land stolen from Jews.

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