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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Psychological History of Palestinian Arabs, part 6

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


While al-Husayni built his power base strictly based on Muslim unity, the Christian Arabs in Palestine seemed to lay low. They kept doing their jobs and ran as blocs in municipal elections but it seemed that they stayed out of the Muslim violence against Jews (except as the occasional innocent victims.) Even so, Arab Christians were generally very anti-Zionist and many of them supported the Husayni's goals (George Antonius was an adviser to the Mufti, Ya'coub Farraj and Alfred Roch were members of the Husayni-led Arab Higher Committee.) In general, the Christians in the 1930s were seen as more moderate and pragmatic than their Arab neighbors. The Arab Christians identified strongly with the Arab nation against Zionism and Husayni's Islamic supremacist rhetoric does not seem to have bothered them too much.

The Mufti continued to increase and consolidate his power, and he started organizing demonstrations against Jewish immigration and the sale of Arab lands to Jews. In 1933 the illegal Jaffa demonstration turned fatal as the Arabs shot at the British police and the British tried to restore order. The riots quickly spread to Haifa, Nablus and Jerusalem, leaving a total of some 14 Arabs dead. The major grievance was stated as "Jewish immigrants have so much money that poor Arab farmers are tempted and sell out to them. Unless something is done the Jews will slowly buy up all of Palestine."

Interestingly, at this time no one was talking about Jews forcing Arabs out, and in fact there was still plenty of illegal Arab immigration besides the, then legal, Jewish immigration.

An underground movement led by Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam advocating Arab revolt was growing in the early 1930s. At the time the British and Jews considered him nothing but a gang leader and murderer, and he was shot and killed by the British during a gun battle in November 1935 that claimed a British constable's life. al-Qassam had apparently been planning a deadly revolt at the time. The size of his funeral the next day showed that he had secretly already built a significant following, based on his philosophy of violence and murdering Jews. The Arab press uniformly referred to him as a martyr and al-Qassam's violent exploits were considered heroic by the Arab masses. This was one of the sparks that led to the twin mass violent strikes of 1936 and 1937-39.

Obviously, ordinary Arabs were enchanted with the leadership of people like al-Qassam and al-Husayni. Their preaching of racism and violence struck a chord with Palestinian Arabs, and their incitement against Jews seeped into their collective minds. While a decade earlier they might have been considered somewhat embarrassing hotheads, now they were heroes. How did this transformation take place?

Centuries of being dominated by outsiders take an inevitable toll on people, especially people as proud and wedded to honor as Arabs are. The peak of Arab civilization occurred between the 9th and 12th centuries and their dominance in the sciences, architecture and art have steadily declined since then. Islam as well had been in steady decline for many centuries, and the West had come to effectively rule the world economically and militarily.

The Ottoman Empire had been destroyed less than two decades before this, so even the illusion of Islamic dominance had been only recently dashed. This was a tremendous blow to the Arab psyche, and living under British rule chafed at the Palestinian Arabs.

Any leader who uncompromisingly promised to restore Arab unity and pride, using the time-honored tradition of the Arabic sword, held an irresistible sway among even the more practical Arabs who grew up with the idea of a dormant but inevitable Arab supremacy.

After so many years of being dominated, the definition of "victory" becomes diluted. An Arab victory is no longer the ability to win against a much stronger foe, but the ability to be noticed by that foe. Riots, random murders and terror attacks are a means to restore lost honor, as it proves that the enemy has some level of weakness - and Arab strength is measured by how weak it can make an enemy appear. The idea of a "zero-sum game" is basic to Arab thought: when the enemy loses, you must be winning.

With this mindset being spread throughout Palestine, Amin al-Husayni was able to come to an agreement with his rivals the
Nashashibis. He also kept the British under the impression that he was a moderating influence on the Arab masses, even as he kept the incitement against the Jews and Arabs going strong. By 1936, Husayni was the head of the new Arab Higher Committee and confident enough of his political strength as to begin to take on the British themselves.

He formed a paramilitary youth group called al-Futuwwah in February and compared them, admiringly, with the first Nazis. This group was largely responsible for the events that followed but they afforded Husayni with plausible deniability.


In April of 1936, the same month the the Arab Higher Committee was formed, Arab leaders announced a general strike and a boycott of Jewish goods. They again rioted in Jaffa, killing 17 Jews the first day. Their terror activities escalated against the British as well, forcing a crackdown against them in August. By October, 80 Jews
had been murdered. The Jews of Hebron who had returned after the 1929 riots were forced out yet again.

These riots seemed to have the full support and admiration of even "moderate" Palestinian Arabs. Khalil Sakakini, an Arab Christian educator and poet, wrote
, "They throw bombs, shoot, burn fields, destroy Jewish citrus groves in Jaffa, blow up bridges, cut telephone cables, topple electric poles. Every day they block roads and every day Arabs display a heroism that the government never conceived of. "

The Arab Higher Commission called off the strike in October, telling its members to wait until the British Peel Commission would make its recommendations in the hope that their rioting will achieve their political goals of stopping Jewish immigration and land ownership:

Honored Brethren! Heroes!... Our poor tongues cannot express the strength of our love and admiration and the exaltation concealed in our hearts for your self-sacrifice and your devoted war for religion, fatherland and all things Arab. Rest assured that your struggle is engraved in letters of flame in the chronicles of the nation. And now...we...urge you to stop activity until needed. Save the bullets and take care of them. We stand now in a period of hope and expectation. If the Royal Commission comes and judges equitably and gives us all our rights, well and good. If not, the field of battle lies before us...We request...self-control and armistice until a new notice.

In July 1937, the Peel Commission recommended that Palestine be partitioned with the Jews getting a tiny sliver of land in the northwest of Palestine. The Mufti and Arab leaders heatedly rejected any plan that would give Jews any sovereignty at all.

The British slowly started realizing that the protege that they installed as Grand Mufti in 1922 was not the moderate leader he claimed to be. They attempted to arrest him in July 1937 for his part in the riots but he was tipped off and escaped.
In September, the British High Commissioner of the Galilee was murdered, reportedly by the remaining followers of al-Qassam.

Arab terrorism and violent strikes resumed later in 1937. al-Husayni's followers resumed murdering with relish, and there were many massacres of Jews, including 19 in Tiberias (11 children in a nursery burned to death.) In addition, the intra-Arab rivalries between the Husaynis andthe
Nashashibis resumed, and al-Husayni directed a reign of terror from exile against his old enemies as well as against any Arabs who opposed the resumption of the rioting. Many more moderate Arab leaders were cut down.

By the end of the revolt the Arabs were killing more Arabs than Jews, and the British were merciless in their collective punishment of the instigators. Over 5000 Palestinian Arabs were killed in the years 1936-39, mostly by the British. 400 Jews were martyred, many horrifically
. For a short while the terrorists managed to expel all the Jews from Jerusalem.

Arabs who had the means fled Palestine in droves
during the terror, so that more Arabs left Palestine in 1938 than arrived.

Economically, the Arab boycott that accompanied the strike did not hurt the Jews at all.
The revolt resulted in the Jewish economy of Palestine disengaging from the Arab economy. The Arab economy was always more dependent on the Jews than vice versa, but the riots meant that Jews created an entirely independent economy of their own. It was during this time period that the Jews opened up a port in Tel Aviv instead of using the Arab seaport at Jaffa.

There are two yardsticks that can be used to measure the effectiveness of the Arab riots of 1936-39.

From the Western perspective, assuming that the Palestinian Arabs were acting out of nationalistic interest, the riots were an unmitigated disaster. They didn't hurt the Jewish economy but they did hurt their own; their moderate leaders fled to neighboring countries and they no longer had even radical unifying leadership. Thousands of Arabs were dead. The British support for Arab nationalism was hurt badly. Their infighting made them look like barbarians to the world at large as well as the rest of the Arab world.

Yet Palestinian Arab histories regard this as "The Great Revolt." Sympathetic Westerners
have romantic notions of this uprising. It is regarded as a source of pride by most Palestinian Arabs today. How can this be?

The answer is that the Western yardstick is not the only measure of success. Remember that there were two major goals of the revolt - to stop legal Jewish land purchases in Palestine and to stop Jewish immigration. In the aftermath of the riots, the British issued their notorious White Paper of 1939 that indeed largely rewarded the Arab terror with those exact wished - severely limiting immigration and the ability of Jews to buy land. Because of the White Paper, hundreds of thousands of European Jews who could have been saved were burned in Hitler's ovens.

The Palestinian Arabs at the time had little real interest in nationalism. They didn't expend effort to build a state, to build an economy, to build a culture. The goals of the "Great Revolt" was simply to stop a Jewish state from being born, not to build an Arab state. The organizers of the riots intended to drive the Jews out of the area. From that perspective, the "Great Revolt" was largely successful - caused the spineless British to cave in to terror and give in to the initial demands of al-Husayni and his henchmen.

The entire Arab-Jewish conflict can be looked at from the prism of Arab nationalism or from the perspective of Arab anti-semitism. Only one of these categories fits in with the known facts.