I've just finished a truly intriguing book. It is called Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 and is the product of what is clearly a daring mind, that is the mind of Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The book bears two blurbs: one from Zachary Lockman, director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies at N.Y.U., who last appeared in the news as a signatory to the international petition calling on universities and colleges to boycott Israeli academics. The second blurb was by Tom Segev, an Israeli version of Alexander Cockburn: "all that the home country has ever done is evil." So be assured, Cohen's study is not a Zionist tract. It reads as a scrupulous account of a searing collective experience of the Arabs of Palestine up to Israeli independence.I just ordered this book. My own research seems to support this thesis, that a significant number of Palestinian Arabs supported the Zionists and despised the Mufti and his henchmen, and that many did not want to be dragged into a war in 1948.
The facts as mustered by Cohen show that what he calls "collaboration" was a widespread phenomenon across classes and political groupings. Some individuals, even many, were motivated by monetary emoluments from the Jews. But this did not seem to be the underpinning of Arab opposition to their own ultra-nationalist -under the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Husseini, actually fascist- leadership which specialized in assassinations but could not mount much more than marauding expeditions. Neither was active sympathy with the Zionists a disproportionate allegiance of the Christian Arabs of Palestine. What we learn about the three decades after General Allenby conquered Jerusalem from the Ottomans was that the nationalist impulse among the local Arabs was not one impulse at all, but fissured and, in any case, intrinsically weak. The elites of the Arab Higher Commission sold their lands to the Zionists; many Arab professionals worked with the Zionists; many ordinary Arabs found deeper sympathy among the Jews than among their own effendi. So they did not much view their routine cooperation with Jews and Jewish associations as disloyal. Palestine Arab nationalism was a minority sentiment. It did not cohere and its cement, such as it was, was fear. Perhaps seeing how weak Husseini faction was and how powerful the Zionists seemed, those Arabs who opposed the "resistance" by selling land or sharing intelligence felt their actions were more realistic than the hard-liners. Who now can say that they were not? The "collaborators," called by others the "traitors," Cohen insists, "viewed themselves as loyal Palestinian Arabs, more loyal than the national leaders."
It is interesting that the same fear that Palestinian Arabs had in the 1930s against publicly opposing the Mufti exists today in a more institutionalized form: the death penalty for selling land to Jews, the threats against anyone wanting to co-exist with Israel, and the underlying fear that stops would-be critics from saying anything out loud, even extending to journalists who work in the territories.