Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Psychological History of Palestinian Arabs, part 10

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

In many ways, the story of Palestinian Arabs is a story of the selfishness of Arab leaders at the expense of the people they were pretending to care about. Almost without exception, these Arab leaders were not of Palestinian origin themselves.

The Arab League was created for the purposes of Arab unity but it found itself divided over every major decision, and invariably each member would act in ways that would be good for his nation (or his leader) and at the expense of the unity that they swore to uphold. The Palestinian issue was no exception.

Amin al-Husayni, the ex-Mufti and the League representative for Palestine who was born in Syria, remained ready to sacrifice all of the Palestinian Arab lives necessary to help his own sense of honor and to rid the land of Jews. His fanaticism andsingleminded Jew-hatred can be seen in his memoirs:

"Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: 'The Jews are yours.'”

Yet the biggest conflicts in the Arab League came between King Abdullah of Jordan and everyone else, not only Husayni. Abdullah came from the Hashemite family that had traditionally controlled Mecca and Medina; his brother was installed by the British as King of Iraq at the same time he was designated Emir ofTransjordan. Abdullah enjoyed good relations with the British and he never hid his ambitions of becoming ruler of Greater Syria, which would include Transjordan , Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Both his Western friends and his territorial ambitions troubled his Arab neighbors, especially Syria, greatly.

Abdullah's biggest bargaining chip was the Arab Legion, the British-trained Transjordanian army that was by far the most effective Arab fighting force. The other Arab nations knew that they were unlikely to win the battle for Palestine without his army, but they were skeptical about his pro-British and pro-Western outlook.

The desires of the Palestinian Arab people themselves never entered the equation. While their erstwhile leaders would pontificate about the will of the people, everyone knew that the Palestinian Arabs were pawns in this entire exercise.

The combined Arab armies did not have their heart in the fight. With the exception of Transjordan's Arab Legion, they were filled with soldiers who did not care about their mission and had no battle experience. The last two Palestinian Arab army commanders were AbdulKader Husseini, who was killed in April of 1948, and Hasan Salameh , who fled Palestine in disgrace after a disagreement with his superiors in the same month. The rest of the 1948 war was led by Iraqis, Egyptians, and Jordanians - but no Palestinian Arabs.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Arab refugees were causing great alarm in the neighboring Arab states. These nations for the most part were not that stable to begin with; the influx of refugees was regarded as a real threat to these regimes. This was one of the reasons that Egypt, Syria and Lebanon showed no interest in integrating their "brothers" into their borders. Beyond that, Egypt would take the fleeing male refugees and force them to turn around and fight the Jews. One can only imagine how little thesepeoplewanted to fight, while their families huddled in the refugee camps with little food and no political support at all.

The tug of war between Abdullah and Husayni continued as 1948 wore on, as Husayni wanted to build a provisional Palestinian Arab government. He had the backing of most of the Arab League, butTransjordan's ruler threatened to use his army against any such government. As a result Husayni decided to create it in Gaza in September, 1948.

It was a fiasco. The "government" unsurprisingly chose Amin al-Husayni himself to be their first President, as he arrived in Palestine for the first time since the British expelled him in 1937. There were immediate protests, not only in Amman but in other Arab capitals as well. One of the objections to this pseudo-state was that by declaring a government, the Palestinian Arabs had effectively accepted the hated partition formula.

The protests against this quasi-independence didn't only come from other Arab countries but from the West Bank itself, with protests in East Jerusalem,Nablus and Ramallah. Even in 1948, the differences between the Egypt-oriented Gazans and the Jordanian-oriented West Bankers were apparent.

Husayni kept his "government" going despite the opposition, and even received recognition from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq (formerly allied withTransjordan .) This was the only time in history that Palestinian Arabs sort of had a state that was recognized by other countries. Knowing his personality, it should come as no surprise that one of his first acts was to give himself absolute power.Abdullah acidly pointed out that Husayni needed Egyptian troop protection to move about his own Gaza "state."

In an interesting concurrent episode, Transjordan seized truckloads of supplies sent by Iraq for refugee relief as punishment for Iraq's support of Husayni. Even though Abdullah also claimed to be doing things for the sake of Palestinian Arabs, his actions showed otherwise.

This was only one of the hardships endured by the refugees. The Nablus mayor accused the Arab nations of extorting money from the Palestinian Arabs. The richer refugees that reached Lebanon were denied the right to drive while the poorer ones suffered from severe food shortages. There was no consensus on how to deal with the new refugee problem: in August, the Arab Higher Committee as well as Iraq and Syria opposed their return to Palestine whileAbdullah wanted their return to be a pre-condition to peace talks with Israel.

While the Zionists didn't actively work to push the Arabs out of Israel, they showed little interest in letting them back. Some were aghast at the site of their Arab friends and neighbors actively fighting them and the women ululating their support of the Arab armies trying to destroy the Jews.

By November there were an estimated 500,000 Arab refugees with the majority in Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and the non-Jewish Palestinian areas. Only a few thousand were in Egypt. (There were also about 7000 Jewish refugees as a result of the war, as well.)

This left many of the Palestinian Arabs in limbo. They left Palestine with the expectation of either coming back with the victorious Arab armies, or of resettling in those same countries that preached so much about Arab unity. But now, the majority were homeless. And, in 1948, most of them blamed the Arab nations for their predicament (and some blamed the British for allowing outside Arab armies to roam freely in the months before they quit Palestine.) The West, however, looked to the Jewish state to solve the problem.

By and large, Palestinian Arabs were more ambitious, more educated and more pragmatic than their Arab brethren. Many had moved to Palestine in only the previous generation or two in order to find a better life for their families. While they had more than their share of anti-semitism, the majority was able to live peacefully with the Jews. It is indeed ironic that these people, who should have been in the vanguard of an Arab nation, ended up being used by opportunistic and selfish so-called "leaders" who led them to disaster. It is doubly ironic that the very people who felt they could move easily within the Arab world - who trusted the Arab nation to always be there for them, no matter what - were the ones who have become pariahs in that same world.

By December, a large rally and conference in Jericho showed that the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank seemed to favor the idea of being ruled by Transjordan's Abdullah as opposed to the discredited and much despised ex-Mufti. The idea of Palestinian Arab self-governance had been extinguished.