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Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Psychological History of Palestinian Arabs, part 7

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

It is noteworthy that the leaders of the revolts of 1921, 1929 and 1936 were all Muslim religious figures. Since Islam does not distinguish between politics and religion, it is perhaps natural that Muslim Arabs would rally around religious leadership as their political leadership as well. At any rate, it does point out a religious dimension to the Arab nationalist movement that does not get mentioned often - usually, the rise of Islamism is thought to coincide with the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that started in the late 1920s in Egypt. There are some significant differences between the goals and methods of the Muslim Brotherhood and the early Palestinian Arab nationalists, but their religious credentials show that the Brotherhood did not arise in a vacuum: the ideas of pan-Islamic nationalism and Arab nationalism grew in parallel, and probably influenced each other. The Palestinian Christians evidently did not feel threatened by the Islamic components of these nationalist movements, and the Christian religious leaders seemed to embrace it, in what can only be considered a combination of institutionalized dhimmitude and pure anti-semitism.

By mid-1939, the Palestinian Arab revolt had petered out and the Palestinian Arabs themselves were left leaderless and aimless. While Palestinian Jews continued to build the land and fulfill the Zionist dream, the Arabs of the area suffered from the economic disengagement that the riots forced on the Jews.

At this time, the word "Palestinian" meant almost exclusively the Jews of Palestine. The 1939 World's Fair in New York had a remarkably successful Palestine pavillion, built entirely by Jews when Britain indicated no interest in sponsoring it. Jewish dignitaries from Palestine sent messages to the American attendees speaking of peace; the Chief Rabbi of Palestine spoke about the economic benefits that the Arabs enjoyed as a result of Jewish immigration and Chaim Weizmann spoke of the successes of the Zionist enterprise, even in the wake of the White Paper.
At the outset of World War II, the uneasy peace between the Arabs and Jews returned. They cooperated when necessary, including in the war effort. Friction did steadily increase, though, as Jewish underground organizations became more prominent and started accumulating more weapons. Many Jews felt that they did not want to repeat the comparatively mild response that the Haganah had given to the riots of the 1930s.

Nazi Germany saw the Arabs of Palestine as a natural ally against the Jews. They tried very hard to recruit Arabs to their cause, by shipping weapons to Arabs in Palestine before the war and by telling the Arab Muslim world that they had converted to Islam and were ready to wage "jihad" . There is some evidence that Nazi money helped finance the latter parts of the Arab revolt in 1938 after the Peel Commission report. Amin al-Husayni, the now ex-Mufti, was a large factor behind these moves as he became an enthusiastic Nazi himself, complicit in genocide. The effects of these Nazi efforts were limited, though - the Nazi goals had some sympathy among some Arab leaders but it never seemed to spread among the Palestinian Arabs themselves, except in isolated cases.

During the war, Jews and Palestinian Arabs warily worked together in the British war effort, in separate battalions in Palestine but they volunteered together early in the war in the European theater.

An interesting episode in 1944 illustrates the Palestinian Arab ambivalence towards the Nazis. Two sets of Nazi paratroopers arrived in Palestine, each with an Arab who had helped lead the 1936 riots and later fled to Germany. The first group, led by Zul Kifel Abdul Latif, tried to enlist local Arab leaders in hiding them but the leaders refused. He and his team were captured a week later.

The other paratroopers, led by Sheikh Hassan Salameh, were not captured and were presumed to have been successfully hidden by the local Arabs. He later re-appeared as a leader of a Jaffa gang in 1947.

Latif, meanwhile, was sentenced to prison, where he was sprung by Arabs in early 1948.

The impression one gets is that while the Arab people were not very pro-Nazi, they weren't very much anti-Nazi either. They were interested in whichever side would benefit them more and for the most part the Palestinian Arabs felt that the British cause was more valuable to them than the Nazi movement, which after all hated Arabs almost as much as it hated Jews from a racial perspective. As has been usually the case, ordinary Arabs seemed to have far more common-sense than their erstwhile leaders, many of whom did embrace Nazism.

In late 1945, attention again turned towards Palestine. As noted, Jewish enterprise and progress in Palestine never really stopped despite the obstacles created by the British and the Palestinian Arabs, and by the end of the war the Jews of Palestine had already carved out their own quasi-government, army and economy. The Arabs of Palestine, on the other hand, were more disorganized than ever.

The Palestinian Arab leadership vacuum was noted by Palestine's Arab neighbors, all of whom had gained independence by this time. The Arab League was created in March 1945 with representation from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria. While it recognized Palestine as a kind of honorary member, it was the League that selected the Palestinian delegate, not the Arabs from Palestine themselves.

The Arab League tried to fill the leadership void in Palestine, but as is usually the case, its members filtered their ideas of what would best serve the Palestinian Arab people through their own selfish prism.

In November, 1945, the League made two decisions about Palestine: it re-established the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine with its own hand-picked members, and it announced an Arab boycott of all Jewish goods to start January 1, 1946. Since Palestine was a member of sorts of the Arab League, the boycott was meant to apply to Palestinian Arabs as well as Arabs in other League-member countries.

Almost immediately, Palestinian Arabs complained about this boycott. They noted that a good amount of their clothing and food came from Jewish sources and that the boycott would be too onerous on those it was meant to help. They mentioned that Jews owned 80% of Palestinian industry, to no avail. They also worried that the Jews who had resumed buying Arab goods after the 1936 strike would once again refrain from buying Arab products and raw materials during this strike, leaving them in dire financial straits. Arabs started hoarding Jewish goods and a black market in Jewish products sprouted immediately in Palestine. Others simply ignored the Arab League directive altogether.

Rather than take note of the problems with the boycott, the Arab League extended it to include all Jewish services as well. As time went on, the Palestinian Arab adherence to the boycott kept going down, while the pro-boycott rhetoric among even their local mayors increased.

The other Arab League members did enforce the boycott at their borders, and the Jews immediately compensated by opening up new markets for their goods in Europe and elsewhere. During the first six months of 1946, Jewish exports actually increased over the same period the year before. The boycott, created by non-Palestinians for an Arab Palestine, was hurting the Palestinian Arabs it was meant to help and strengthening the Jews it was meant to hurt.

The Arab League leaders, not willing to admit that they were spectacularly wrongheaded in their boycott idea, decided in 1947 that the reason the boycott was failing was because of the traitorous Palestinian Arab businessmen who kept their Jewish business contacts and contracts. By August, a new set of terror attacks had started in Jerusalem and quickly spread throughout Palestine - "boycott bombs." Arabs would bomb Arab businesses who ignored the boycott.

Altogether, dozens of Arab businesses were damaged or destroyed in 1947 by Arabs who set boycott bombs. On at least one occasion, a reprisal bomb was set against an official of a boycott committee - an "anti-boycott bomb," establishing what would now be called a "cycle of violence."

Meanwhile, the Arab Higher Committee itself disbanded due to infighting, and its replacement was populated with the still-exiled leaders of pre-1936 Palestine, including Amin al-Husayni yet again.

This was the state of Palestinian Arab affairs going into November 1947 - no leadership to speak of, fractured by infighting, being eyed as convenient pawns to be used by other Arab leaders for their own selfish purposes, and the entire Arab world looking on impotently as the new United Nations was moving towards giving the hated Jews their own tiny state in a small part of historic Palestine.