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Friday, June 08, 2007

A Psychological History of Palestinian Arabs - part 4

As the 1920s went on, the Arabs of Palestine underwent some changes.

While the majority stayed the same, not caring about the political issues of the day as long as they got their pay, the Mufti's power grew. He was able to use his political and financial influence, as well as his ability to manipulate Arab masses with a well-placed rumor.

At the same time, there was an explosion in illegal Arab immigration. A drought in Hauran started in 1927 and as a result over 35,000 Hauranites moved from Syria to Palestine over the next few years, many sending money back to families they left behind. They were not alone - despite an economic recession in Palestine that started in 1926, things were still better there than in the Arab countries, and tens of thousands of immigrants, mostly illegal, streamed in from Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and the Hejaz area of Arabia, and even as far as Yemen. In all, one demographer estimated 100,000 illegal Arab immigrants into Palestine from 1922-1931, and possibly another 100,000 between 1931 and 1933.

This influx increased Arab unemployment and crime in Palestine. It brought more uncertainty and less security to the existing Arab residents. There were complaints about foreign Arabs willing to work for less than the already settled Arabs. These newly unemployed and disgruntled Arabs were more receptive to the Mufti's racist ideology, as well as to be on his side as he fought his own political battles.

Inevitably, contact between Jews and Arabs increased as Jews continued to immigrate to Palestine as well. The Arab leaders feared the possibility of persecuted Jews moving to Palestine by the millions and raised this issue as their single biggest concern to the British, constantly hammering away at that theme.

The Arab senses of honor and community started combining in a way that reverberates today. Not only is one's individual honor fantastically important in Arab culture, but also the honor of the Arab people as well. Just as personal disgrace is to be avoided at all costs, so is disgrace to the larger Arab community.

When these two factors are put together, it means that Arabs will almost never accept the blame for anything they do - to accept blame is to bring disgrace on the community. If there is someone else to blame for any problems, no matter how far-fetched, the natural Arab tendency will be to grab onto any possible tenuous thread that supports the ability to blame the Others and escape responsibility.

In this early example, the illegal Arab immigration that caused the economic problems was swept under the rug, and a new scapegoat had to be found. Jews were the obvious first choice for that role. Even Arabs who were happily employed as a direct result of Jewish capital would side with their brethren in any conflict - to break ranks was unthinkable. Arab projection meant that rather than blame their own immigration for their problems, Arabs would blame Jewish immigration, even though all data showed that Jewish immigration improved the economy and Arab immigration degraded it.

Arab leaders know how much the people abhor breaking ranks with the larger Arab world, and they take advantage of it. As long as their selfish actions can be construed as being for the Arab community, any public disagreements or dissent is self-censored. In private, Arab individuals can and do argue and criticize their leaders, but their ability to organize any real opposition is hampered by this fear of disgracing the community at large and embarrassing the Arab world in view of the West.

In 1920 there were no real Palestinian Arab leaders so ordinary Arabs could criticize that year's riots without fear of either retribution or of disgracing the Arab nation. But by the end of the decade the Mufti had enough power, partially conferred by the British, that he knew that he could use the Arab population as yet another tool in his power base without fear of serious dissension from the masses.

His main target was the Jewish population of Jerusalem.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3