Psychological History of Palestinian Arabs (1880-1965)

(EoZ) Understanding history is difficult unless one understands the psyches of the major players in history. This applies not only to individuals but to groups as well. Members of relatively homogeneous groups tend to think similarly and knowing how they think is a critical piece of the puzzle in understanding how they act.

Unfortunately, historians generally do not put primary emphasis on the state of mind of the subjects of their histories. Events are listed and discussed but not the psychology of the people involved. There are a number of reasons for this: historians are trained to deal with facts and to discount conjecture, and there is no greater conjecture than to guess how someone thinks. The reluctance to look at history through this prism is perhaps also due to an understandable reluctance to place entire groups of people into a single bucket, as this seems to be too close to racism. Paradoxically, today’s Western mindset where the disgust of racism is paramount may be hurting the understanding of the mindsets of other cultures and historical periods.

In starting this series of posts, I am engaging in some hubris. I am not a historian, nor a psychologist, nor a demographer, nor a sociologist, and I’m not even a professional writer. To make matters worse, I do have biases that I freely admit. Even with these shortcomings, I hope that I can contribute in a small way to the understanding of today’s issues revolving around the Arab-Israeli conflict. Especially in this case, there is really no dividing line between history and current events, and too much history glibly assumes that all people think the same way – an error that has great ramifications in our time as well.

In the wake of the 1948 birth of the state of Israel came the creation of a wholly new people, known today as “Palestinians.” They became a people as a result of a confluence of events that, in the end, brought them together and gave them a shared identity. This essay will attempt to show how these Arabs who originally came from all over the Middle East ended up perceiving themselves as a separate people, how their Arab mindset became the specifically Palestinian Arab mindset, and ultimately how the Palestinian Arabs became who they are today.

One other note: leaders of societies do not necessarily reflect the thinking of their people, and the Palestinian Arabs have had many leaders who acted in ways that were counterproductive to their people as a whole. This essay is not as concerned with the psychology of the leaders nearly as much as with the Palestinian Arabs themselves, as a group.

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The Arab psyche in the early days of the Zionist movement

The psychology of the Arabs of Palestine in the decades before Israel’s founding is indistinguishable from that of all Arabs. This is because, to the Arabs, Palestine was just another Arab district in the larger Arab world, usually associated with southern Syria. While the Arab world was hardly unified, from the average Arab man’s viewpoint there was little difference between one area and another, except for some minor cultural differences.

We can divide the major components of the Arab psyche into three major groups, each of which include some corollaries and subgroups. The major groups are Honor/ShameCommunity and Unity, and Islam.

Honor/Shame
The most important and overriding component of the Arab psyche is that of honor, and its flip-side of shame. Although there is some controversy about this, I posit that there is nothing inherently better or worse in an honor/shame culture versus the “guilt” culture that typifies the Western psyche. The emotions of shame or guilt can be constructive or destructive depending on how the individual deals with it. And outside circumstances can accentuate and amplify these attributes. People in the Far East exhibit the same honor/shame viewpoint although they exhibit it somewhat differently than Arabs do.

In brief, in an honor/shame society, more emphasis is placed on how the individual is perceived by others rather than how he views himself. The appearance of wrongdoing is far more upsetting than actual wrongdoing, and the respect of others is more prized than self-respect.

Honor/shame can be divided into two complementary components: seeking honor and avoiding shame.

The idea of honor as a positive incentive is critically important. The Arab man in the early 20th century, as with the Arab men in previous centuries, aspired as individuals to be honorable, and in a part of the world where there was little chance for real social or political advancement, this desire would be concentrated on the idea of raising a family honorably. The basic requirement of supporting a family is to make money.

The disincentive of shame is spoken about much more nowadays than in the past, as the phenomena of so-called “honor killings” get some measure of publicity. The fear of being shamed predates Islam and has always been a very powerful concept.

Almost every other major feature of the Arab mindset in general, and the Palestinian Arab mindset in particular, can be traced back to understanding the overwhelming importance the Arab people ascribe to honor and shame. But there are others that need to be understood.

Community and unity
Like other peoples, Arabs build and take pride in their communities. But through the first half of the twentieth century, they did not feel as much allegiance to their individual countries as they did towards the Arab “nation” as a whole. This is understandable as national boundaries were somewhat arbitrarily decided by the West and were ignored when possible.

The commonality that Arabs throughout the region had dwarfed any possible differences. Most shared the same religion, all spoke the same language, almost all shared a distrust of outsiders and particularly Westerners. Not that there weren’t conflicts within the Arab world but on a personal level the differences were quite small.

Ties to a particular region were somewhat tenuous. When the need arose, Arabs were not reluctant to move elsewhere. Perhaps it was the influence of the Bedouins but the Arabs have been historically much more nomadic within the sphere of Arabia than most other peoples. In those times, Arabism was a much stronger tie between people than Islam was.

Islam
While there were many Christian and Jewish Arabs, the vast majority have been Muslim, and the relationship between Islam and the Arab world has been a two-way street. Islam itself has been very influenced by Arab customs (such as women covering their faces, which is mentioned as an Arab habit in the Talmud that predates Islam) but Arab culture and thinking have likewise been influenced by Islam. It is difficult to know which influences the other more. Examples of Arab cultural habits that probably at least partly a result of Islam would include charity, misogyny and a level of supremacy.

Each of the three main categories include other aspects of personality and mindsets.

The Honor/Shame mentality spawns an entire host of feelings and potential actions. One of the corollaries to Arab pride and sense of honor is the importance of manliness. Masculinity is functionally equivalent to honor in the Arab world, as honor is all about how one appears and not so much about how one thinks. The man is the breadwinner of his household, the defender of his people, the public face of his family and the leader of his community. Aggressiveness is an attribute of masculinity but it is not a necessity to prove oneself through aggression. It can be exhibited through macho posturing but this is by no means a necessity. Quietly supporting one’s family is also an attribute of manliness. Unfortunately, misogyny is often a result of this attribute as well.

Conversely, the fear of being emasculated is a strong component of the Arab psyche.

Another possible outcome of the honor/shame mentality is dishonesty. In cases where telling the truth can cause disgrace, it is preferable to lie. The incentive to lie increases with how high a position one occupies because any mistake he makes could cause a commensurate amount of disgrace.

Another aspect of the Palestinian Arab personality that can be ascribed to honor is itinerancy. Arabs tended to wander from place to place within the Arab nation. The purpose would usually be financial, and quite justified – to be able to make enough money to raise a family in an honorable fashion. For most of the history of the Middle East one can find Arabs migrating from place to place, and even after the Western world imposed semi-arbitrary borders they would be ignored.

One of the famous Arab attributes that come from their sense of community and unity is that of hospitality. Within the Arabian sphere, all likely guests were, in a sense, family. Any Arab traveling to any other village or area could rightfully expect to be treated as an honored guest. This attribute would be extended to strangers as well, and while the Arab world on a political level was highly sensitive about Western influence, individual travelers from the West seem to have been treated generally well.

Arab Anti-semitism has many possible sources, but for now we will assume the influence of Islam. Arab anti-semitism has historically been of a fundamentally different type than Christian Jew-hatred. Notwithstanding the Damascus blood libel of 1840, for the most part Muslims and Arabs are correct when they say that Jews lived in relative peace under Arab rule. However, living in peace is not the same as living as equals. The tolerance of Jews in Arab nations was salted with contempt. Even so, overt anti-semitism was relatively rare before the 20th century, and some argue that the influence of Christians in Arab lands accelerated these ideas.

In Islam, dhimmis (Christians and Jews) are second-class citizens, forced to pay allegiance and taxes to their Muslim masters. Islam looks upon itself as building upon and improving Christianity and Judaism. Dhimmis may live in Muslim lands but they may not display conspicuous religious symbols; they may not use church bells or blow shofars in public, or even to build or expand churches or synagogues in many circumstances. The punishment for murder of a dhimmi was rarely equivalent to that of a Muslim, and dhimmis could be executed for blasphemy.

So while there was not the same overt hatred towards Jews than Christian Europe exhibited too many times, the clear mindset of Muslim Arabs as the 20th century dawned was that Jews and Christians were beneath them.

Islamic supremacy was a difficult position to maintain in the early 1900s. The Western world had dominated the Islamic world militarily, culturally and scientifically since the Muslim defeat in 1683 at Vienna. Colonialism had already been encroaching on the edges of the Arab world since the 18th century and Europe was dividing up the Islamic world after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. The Islamic idea of a global ‘Ummah had steadily deteriorated from the heights of the 15th and 16th centuries to a mere dream after World War I. So while the Muslims may have privately felt that Christians were just as low as Jews, in fact they maintained a healthy fear and respect for Christians who had beaten them. And their sense of being shamed by the Westerners so thoroughly translated into a hate that could not be acted upon without losing even more control.

But there were still Jews who seemed to still accept their dhimmi status in the Islamic world, and the fact that the Christian “ummah” seemed to hate them even more than the Arabs did made the Arabs think that at least they are not on the very bottom of the international food chain.

There are two other layers of the Arab psyche that need to be understood. They are hardly unique to Arabs but, in combination with the other characteristics we described, they are important to understand.

The first is projection. Everyone tends to think that others think as they do, and the West is at least as guilty of this mistake as anyone else. In this case, we are dealing with the Arabs assuming that the West is similar to them – in unity, in cohesiveness, in religiosity, and in hate. We see this today, with Arab (and other) Islamists referring to the entire Western world as “crusaders” and their conviction that everyone is working in concert against them.

The second is lack of sophistication. Although the American-run universities in the Arab world since the 19th century made a dent in how the Arab intelligentsia thought, the vast majority of Arabs were not well educated and especially not aware of other ways of thinking. As a result, any event or rumor could set off a mob mentality (the “Arab street”) that would be impossible to control with logic.

Given this background, we can now begin to understand the Arab reaction to Zionism from its founding until the birth of Israel.

Although Jewish immigration to Palestine predates Zionism by centuries, the first major waves occurred in the late 1800s. Accurate demographic information about the Arab population of Palestine in the same time period is impossible to find, but it is apparent that the Arab population increased in concert with the Jewish population. An Ottoman population report for the Jerusalem district, which may not be accurate but is still instructive, shows the total population of the Jerusalem district (2/3 of Palestine) to increase dramatically between 1885 and 1910:
Year:
1885
1890
1900
1910
Population in Thousands:
233.2
336.1
341.6
382.1
While many claim “natural increase” to explain the Arab population growth, I have yet to see anyone explain why such natural growth should have only started in that time period. A regression analysis of the numbers above would indicate an absurdly tiny population in Palestine in the 18th century but by all indications it remained fairly steady at least since Christian pilgrims started writing about their travels there.

The most obvious explanation for the increase in Palestine’s population is that many Arabs moved there. Jewish immigration brought in new capital, Jewish effort increased the amount of agriculture and industry, and Arabs naturally migrated to where they could honorably take care of their families. The entire Middle East was under the administration of the Ottoman Empire and there were no borders to stop Arab migration.

Arabs have, to this day, been naturally itinerant. Recent studies show that 70% of the residents of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are immigrants and that “the world’s highest share of migrant population is to be found in the Middle East.” The incomplete data we have coupled with the Arab history of migration and the Arab male’s desire to support his family, together with the undeniable increase in the standard of living as the economy improved, all indicate a concurrent explosion of two immigrant populations in Palestine, Jews and Arabs, under the late days of the Ottoman Empire.

Interactions between the two groups seem to have been cordial although not as direct as one might think. Jews tended to employ Jews in the early decades of the Zionist movement and the Arab economic boom seems to have been more indirect from the infusion of new capital in the area rather than from direct employment.

It would be a mistake to confuse cordiality with respect, though – both the Arabs that moved to the area and the native Palestinian Arabs had a visceral hate for Jews as a people. A Christian travelogue published in 1874 noted the “Men in Palestine call their fellows ‘Jew,’ as the very lowest of all possible words of abuse.” when explaining an insult of “Dogs, brutes, pigs, Jews!” So while practicalities and honor allowed Arabs to move to the area, and the Arab hospitality allowed them to interact relatively pleasantly, their innate hatred of Jews as a people far precedes Zionism.

The superficially cordial relations may have been the rule, but there were exceptions. The first Arab attack on a Jewish settlement occurred in 1886 when hundreds of Arabs descended on Petah Tikva in an attempt to destroy it. Around 1898 the Ottoman Empire outlawed Jewish ownership of land in Palestine but it reversed itself under European pressure in 1901. Arabs attacked Jews in Tiberias in 1901 and 1904, and in 1911 Arabs strongly protested the legal Jewish purchase of a large tract of land from the Sursuq absentee landlords of Beirut (the al-Fula incident.)

All of these incidents had one thing in common: Arabs protesting Jewish ownership of land in Palestine. No matter how legally the land was acquired, the very idea of Jews in control of land has historically caused reflexive Arab protest. Even in this early time period the Arab leaders would try to find legal arguments against Jewish land ownership.

History is almost necessarily weighted towards documents, and when historians talk about “Arabs” in this context it appears to refer to the Arab intelligentsia – the leaders, the writers, and those who are most likely to leave a record of their thoughts. Ordinary Arabs who moved to Palestine to work did not leave such a historical record, and their opinions of the Jews are left up to conjecture. While anti-semitism is a given in the Arab world at large, by the end of World War I they were starting to work directly for Jews. Clearly their antipathy for Jews did not outweigh their practical desire for jobs. In fact, there is some evidence that the most pronounced anti-semitism in the early 1900s came from Arab Christians, not Muslims.

In short, the average Arab in Palestine in this timeframe was more interested in his economic well-being than with politics or hating Jews. But that didn’t mean that they could not be easily used by the press and by self-proclaimed leaders. The lack of sophistication among the average Arab, along with his sense of communal unity and his pre-existing biases, made him uniquely susceptible to manipulation by others. The entire concept of the “Arab street” has been a myth perpetuated by Arab leaders to strike fear into Westerners, and there was never a shortage of Arabs who could be easily manipulated into rioting or other violence.

These “leaders” had their own agenda. Arab nationalism emerged from a number of factors – the planting of nationalistic ideas from American missionary/teachers in the Middle East, the the decline of the Ottoman empire and early hopes for a pan-Arab state that would result, exposure to Zionist ideas and fear of Zionist plans being realized. In large part, Palestinian Arab nationalism seems to have been fueled more by their disgust at the possibility of Jews controlling any “Arab” land rather than any real desire to build their own country. The well-being of the Arab people themselves was never a part of the equation.

The best proof of Palestinian Arab “leaders” who had no interest in their followers except as pawns comes from the life of the infamous Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem. At first, Husayni advocated independence for “Greater Syria” which comprised today’s Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. In fact, he wrote for a Palestinian newspaper named “Suriyya al-Janubiyya”, or “Southern Syria” in English. This is not surprising as from the Arab perspective, Palestine had historically been considered “southern Syria” – an Arab map from 952 CE shows Jerusalem as part of Syria and Palestine is not listed as one of the 17 Islamic nations at that time.

But after the Sykes-Picot agreement dividing the Middle East between Britain and France, Husayni’s dream of pan-Arabism was modified to pure anti-semitism disguised as Palestinian Arab nationalism. He instigated riots (with British help ) against the Jews during Passover in 1920, killing 5 Jews as Arabs ransacked the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.

Husayni’s role in the riots bought him a ten-year prison sentence in absentia (he fled to Syria to avoid jail,) but he was granted amnesty and the new British civil administration appointed him Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. As such he built his power base, getting elected as leader of the Supreme Muslim Council, controllingWaqf funds, the shari’a courts and many jobs. As he cemented his leadership role, his concerns for his Palestinian Arab brethren diminished.

For their part, the Palestinian Arab masses were not happy about this pogrom. 82 Arab villages who claimed to represent 70% of the Palestinian population and 90% of the peasant landowners condemned the riots and said that they prefer a Jewish settlement under British mandate to being at the mercy of the Arab effendi and money-lenders. These were not Husayni’s concerns.

Three weeks after he reassured the British High Commissioner that he was a peaceful man dedicated to tranquility, Husayni discreetly instigated another set of riots, these much deadlier, in Jaffa and later to a few other areas. 43 Jews were killed.

In the wake of these riots, the Haycraft Commission placed the blame almost entirely on Arabs, and noted that they were encouraged by their leaders. While the 1921 riots do not appear to have been pre-planned (they were sparked by an altercation between Bolshevik and Communist Jews during a May Day march) they were fanned by unfounded rumors of Jews killing Arabs, showing again how easily a spark can turn into a conflagration when you combine Arab ignorance, latent anti-semitism and naivete. Nevertheless, Haycraft even-handedly mentioned that Arab fears and antipathy towards Jewish immigration and Zionism was a cause of the rioting.

This motif, where Arab violence would be blamed partially on Jews, helped set the stage for British restrictions on Jewish land ownership and immigration in the decades to follow. Not surprisingly, leaders like Husayni would see that instigating Arab riots would bring immediate political results, and even threats of violence could be used as an effective political tool.

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.

Al-Husayni, as the head of religious affairs in Jerusalem, used his position to increase his influence not only among Muslims in Palestine but throughout the Arab world. One way he accomplished this was by fundraising for the Al-Aqsa Mosque built on the Temple Mount.

Despite the often mentioned phrase that “Jerusalem is the third-holiest city in Islam,” Islam has never treated Jerusalem as anything other than a slum before modern Zionism. Pictures of the Al-Aqsa mosque from before 1922 show an empty ruin, strewn with weeds and with visible damage.


As photos and history show, Jerusalem was never a place of pilgrimage in Islam. The politically astute Husayni had ample reason to increase Muslim awareness of Jerusalem and increase his own power. He went on a fundraising tour of the Arab world, saying that he was defending the Al Aqsa Mosque from being destroyed by the Jews.

By the late 1920s he had raised enough money to repair and renovate the Dome, he had increased his influence in the Arab world at large as a real Arab leader, and his prestige among Palestinian Muslims skyrocketed. Not incidentally, he also managed to marginalize his family’s major Jerusalem rivals, the Nashashibi family. To a large extent, the myth of the extent of Jerusalem’s holiness to Muslims is a direct result of the Mufti’s activities in the 1920s.

Palestine’s Muslims, thirsting for Arab leadership, mostly accepted Husayni in that role. Together with his control of ever-increasing amounts of money his influence continued to grow. And his unbridled hatred for Jews colored every move he made.

Incensed at the Jews who continuously flocked to the Western Wall, Husayni created a story that Mohammed tethered his winged horse to the Wall during his mythical “Night Journey” and therefore the Wall itself was a holy Muslim place as well. Palestine’s Muslims were more than willing to believe this new claim, and the Mufti knew his audience well enough to be able to incite them to any violence whenever he wanted.

An interesting aspect of “honor” is that, in the context of conflict, it is something that can be defended but not something that can be initiated. Throwing the first punch is not honorable. Defending one’s family, people and religion, however, is praiseworthy.

An Arab leader who seeks the honor that comes from being a great warrior, therefore, needs to find a pretext for attacking – a reason to make his attack look defensive. The flimsiest excuse will do, and the Arab mentality provides the ability to interpret anything at all as a gross insult to the Arab people or to Islam. Here’s why:

The guilt culture of the West is based, at least nominally, on reality – facts and results and accomplishments are the building blocks of the Western mindset..

The shame culture of the East, on the other hand, is based on perception, on how one is viewed rather than what he has actually done.

The importance of perception gives rise to the importance of symbolism in Arab culture. A symbol is, after all, only a representation. Symbols do not have any tangible value., but they have huge perceptional value – and perception is everything to Arabs.

The supreme importance of symbols in the Arab world leads to a number of corollaries.

Arab projection will assume that the West places the same importance on symbolism that Arabs do. As a result, during wartime, Arabs choose targets based on symbolic value more often that their strategic value. 9-11 is only one example.

Projection will also assume that the enemy places the same importance on symbolism, and as a result even innocuous actions by the enemy are perceived as huge (symbolic) insults to Arabs – because that is their entire frame of reference. A torn Koran, a damaged mosque, an offhand comment can all take on gigantic importance.

al-Husayni and his fellow religious leaders had already identified his enemy – the Jews. He had already identified his battleground – the Western Wall. Now all he had to do was wait for an event that he could spin as a gross offense that would provide cover for his retaliation, and that he could use to whip up the emotions of the Arabs that accepted him as their leader.

His chance occurred on September 23, 1928, on the afternoon before Yom Kippur. The Jews had erected a temporary, cloth screen to separate men and women during the holy day, and the Arabs sheikhs complained to the British that it must be taken down immediately or else “they would not be responsible for what happened.” Such temporary mechitzot had been placed at the Kotel in years and decades past, but coupled with the Mufti’s claims of the Jews wanting to take over the Temple Mount, any physical alteration of the site was taken to be an intense provocation and proof of Jewish designs on the entire area.

The British wanted to avoid antagonizing the Arabs, and even when they suggested that perhaps the screen can stay up until the end of the fast day, the Arabs continued to threaten violence. So the British dismantled the screen on Yom Kippur morning, and Husayni won the first round for control of the Western Wall with only threats of violence. But he got his supposed Jewish provocation that he could use an an excuse for violence. He then proceeded to distribute leaflets accusing the Jews of planning to take over the mosque.

In early 1929, the Arabs started their own prayer service opposite the Wall at precisely the same times as the Jewish prayer services. They started herding mules through the area. They “accidentally” dropped bricks from new construction on the mosque above onto the Jewish worshippers. They also applied for, and received, permission from the British for the building adjacent to the Kotel to be converted to a mosque. The British continued to prove to be cowed by threats of Arab violence.

On August 15, 1929, on Tisha B’Av, members of the Betar youth movement held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Wall. The Arabs then started a rumor that Betar attacked Muslims and cursed Mohammed. The very next day, the Supreme Muslim Council marched on the Wall and burned prayer books and notes in the Wall. The day after that, on the Jewish Sabbath, riots continued an an Arab mob killed a Jew in Jerusalem. The “disturbances” of 1929 had started.

Everyone knew that the riots would spread throughout Palestine. The British were warned but did nothing, and some reports had them standing by during actual murders. The Haganah organized and repulsed attacks against some areas, but others – particularly old Jewish communities who had lived in relative harmony with their Arab neighbors for centuries – refused help. Hebron bore the brunt of the Arab gangs, who not only killed all the Jews they could find but also raped and mutilated women and children. (Many of the Hebron victims were American yeshiva students.) In the end, over a hundred Jews had been murdered by the murderous Arab mobs.

It is notable that the victims were, by and large, not Zionist and not new immigrants – Hebron, Safed and Jerusalem each hosted ancient Jewish communities. The attacks, instigated by the Mufti and his cronies, were the purest manifestation of anti-semitism imaginable.

It is unclear who actually participated in the riots. Accounts of the Hebron massacre do not mention any of the victims knowing the Arabs who were attacking. Many in Hebron were in fact saved by their Arab neighbors. It can be guessed that the mobs were most likely comprised of young, unemployed men who were loyal to the Mufti, and this loyalty came both from his charisma and his power. But in the aftermath of these pogroms we find none of the self-criticism that followed the 1921 riots – al-Husayni was now an unchallenged leader and the Arabs who had no problem with the Jews were not going to stand up to him.

The British did their part in the Mufti’s playbook as well, recommending in the wake of the Arab riots that they were a reaction to Zionist immigration and recommending to limit the number of Jews that could move to Palestine. The Shaw Commission exonerated the Mufti for his part of the riots, although a later commission in 1937 found that he was far more involved than the British were at first willing to admit. In addition, the British declared that the Wall was owned by the Muslims but allowed certain, specific kinds of worship by Jews there. (The Jews did not claim to own the Wall, saying that it belonged to God.) The British also agreed that the Wall was al-Buraq and holy to Muslims, even while they admitted that the claim that al-Buraq coincided with the Western Wall was relatively new.

The pogrom instigated by the Mufti ended up giving him more power than ever, and the Jews wound up being punished by the British desire to not upset the Arabs. Violence against Jews, proven to be effective twice, was now the preferredmodus operandi of the Palestinian Arab leaders for political gain.

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 protégé 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 wishes – 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.

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.

On November 29, 1947, the UN voted to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. This was immediately followed by the Arab Higher Executive calling for a three-day strike and Arabs throughout the land began a series of deadly riots, with all Jews as targets.

The Arab League worked against the establishment of a Jewish state in any part of Palestine, and dark warnings were given about how the Arab street would end up targeting Jews in Arab lands if the state would be born. They started organizing volunteers from neighboring Arab countries to fight the Jews.

The Jewish community in Palestine found itself being attacked from literally all directions. Jews were slaughtered in Haifa, in Jerusalem, and in the Negev. Jews were also targeted in Arab countries, with synagogues burned in Aleppo and scores murdered in Yemen. Jews were attacked wantonly, and virtually the entire Palestinian Arab community wholeheartedly backed the violence against the Jews. Many Jewish communities were cut off from supplies as Arab bands ambushed Jewish convoys and supply trucks on the roads.

The massacres continued into the new year, with dozens of unarmed Jewish orange growers murdered in January. Also in January, the Arab League started to send its new army into battle to capture Jewish settlements. By February, the British admitted that some 1400 Arab fighters had infiltrated from Syria and Jordan into Samaria, and were being hidden by the local Arab population.

There is no evidence of any Palestinian Arab calls for peace during this time period. While the Chief Rabbi of Israel appealed for calm, while the Haganah and the Jewish Agency emphasized that they wanted to live in peace with the Arabs, no reciprocal calls were made from the Arab side. It appears that the Palestinian Arab community was unified in its desire to do everything necessary to stop Jews from controlling any part of Palestine.

This is not to mean that the Arabs were unified in other areas. Arabs who ignored the strike in December were killed, and the Arab Legion could not agree on strategy. Power struggles broke out between the Arab League-backed Husayni militant faction and the Nejada faction, which ended up fleeing the country. Jordan’s King Abdullah, long a friend of the Nashabishis, backed a more representative Palestinian Arab leadership while the rest of the Arab League-backed Amin Husayni.

The Haganah, for the most part, stayed on the defensive and only shot back at the attackers during the first few months after the partition vote. The IZL and the Stern gang were not so circumspect and they would attack both the British and the Arabs without regard to civilian casualties. They were roundly criticized by the mainstream Jewish Agency but their reprisals got bloodier.

Even as these events were happening, the first wave of Arabs started leaving Palestine. Upper- and middle-class Arabs started leaving Jewish-majority areas as early as the first week of December, 1947, and by the end of March over 100,000 Arabs had left their homes, either to other Arab towns that were slated to be in the Arab Palestinian nation or to other Arab countries altogether. For the most part, these moves were voluntary. Almost certainly, this first wave of Arabs fleeing Palestine included many of the same people who left during the 1936-39 riots and then returned – people who had the means and the opportunity to escape what was sure to turn into a war zone.

By the beginning of April, 1948, the Haganah had to re-evaluate its defense policy. Almost every major road between Jewish towns and settlements was dominated by Arab villages and virtually all Arab villages were hostile towards the Jews, strangling the Jewish supply routes. The war against local Arab terror and foreign Arab irregulars needed to be won before the anticipated May 15 withdrawal of all British forces and the expected invasion from the surrounding Arab armies. Politically, things looked bad as well, as the US State Department started making noises that it was not supporting the May partition. The Haganah needed to act to gain the upper hand as soon as the Zionist state was to come into being.

This meant that the Arab villages that were responsible for the convoy attacks, especially within the Jewish partition, would need to be neutralized as a threat. The status quo could not be allowed to go on.

The name of the new Haganah offensive plan was Tochnit Dalet, Plan D. This plan allowed for the military disarmament and, if necessary, destruction of any Arab villages that were considered strategically critical for a contiguous Jewish hold on its areas. While the plan itself could have been theoretically used for “ethnic cleansing” of the Arabs, in reality most of the village populations evacuated ahead of the Zionist offensive in April and May, 1948. There is no indication of a deliberate, planned Jewish policy of “transfer” of Arabs out of the Jewish state. (The entire concept of “transfer” was not considered as distasteful then as it is now; it was almost a given that there would be a transfer of Jews from the Arab state to the Jewish state after partition.)

On the contrary, in Haifa after the Haganah had already won the battle for the city in late April, the Jewish leadership assured the Arab citizens’ safety – and the Arabs decided to flee anyway, even though the fighting was over. It appears that they were threatened, explicitly or implicitly, by the Arab Higher Executive not to stay under Jewish protection.

Another instructive episode happened in Tiberias. The Jews and Arabs of Tiberias enjoyed pretty good relations, but outside Arab fighters came to Tiberias and forced the evacuation of the local population in order to be able to fight the Jews there.

The Jews were not entirely blameless in the flight of the Arabs. There were some massacres, including Deir Yassin by the Irgun, but the number of Arabs that fled massacres directly were relatively small. Many, and probably most, of the Arab refugees fled because of wildly inflated rumors of Jewish massacres in neighboring areas. Later in the war the Arabs of Ramle and Lydda were encouraged to leave by the Jews after their towns were captured in July, but those areas had been war zones: the Arab Legion had declared an offensive based out of Lydda towards Tel Aviv after a four-week truce expired, with many Arab soldiers were surrounded and captured during the offensive. Significantly, when the mayor of Lydda offered to surrender, he was shot dead – by the Arabs.

The standard Zionist histories of the war usually say that Arabs were urged to flee by their leaders. While there is little contemporaneous evidence of this happening, reports about such urgings surfaced from a variety of sources, many of which were Arab or pro-Arab. It seems clear that this did in fact happen on a number of occasions, including times where women and children were told to abandon villages (temporarily) so that the men can fight more effectively. It would not exaplin the great majority of Arab flight, however.

In the end, there were many cumulative factors that caused the bulk of Palestinian Arabs to decide to flee: fear of rumored massacres, the loss of their most prominent citizens in the initial flight in 1947, the desire not to live under Jewish sovereignty, the mob mentality that (mostly illiterate) Arabs had where a trickle can quickly turn into a torrent, the sudden loss of jobs in Jewish enterprises, and inter-Arab fighting. Historians have listed these factors in explaining the mass exodus of some 600,000 people. Above all, the major factor that all agree on can be broadly categorized as “fear.”

But there is another critical part of the analysis that has not been spoken about, to my knowledge.

In 1948, the Arabs who lived in Palestine still did not consider themselves “Palestinians.” They were, above all, Arabs. The nationalism that was pushed by Husayni and their other self-proclaimed “leaders” never really took hold on them, and a large percentage of them were either born in neighboring Arab countries themselves or their parents were. The reason that many of them were in Palestine to begin with was not because of a deep attachment to the land or even because their ancestors lived there – they were there for purely practical reasons, for jobs and money and a good place to raise their families.

The hostilities that started in 1947 changed the calculus in their minds of where they should live. Itinerancy was in their blood, and the idea of moving to another Arab country was not so forbidding – the borders between Arab nations were a fairly arbitrary Western invention and the typical Arab did not recognize them. Arabs had moved freely within the Middle East for centuries and they would continue to do so for centuries more as necessary, and Arabs are famously generous to their guests.

In other words, Arabs were not only calculating the costs/benefits of leaving Palestine, but they were also calculating the costs and benefits of moving elsewhere, where they can start life anew yet again, in honor and dignity.

To understand better why the Arabs left Palestine, it is instructive to ask another question: why didn’t the Jews leave Palestine? They were being massacred, they were facing war, they had an uncertain future at best. They had no less fear than the Arabs who were abandoning their homes by the hundreds of thousands.

But there were two major differences between the Palestinian Jews and the Palestinian Arabs.

While the Arabs moved to Palestine for mostly practical, economic reasons, the Jews moved there for ideological and religious reasons. Simply put, the Jews had a deep love of the land, and the Palestinian Arabs at the time had very little.

Even more important, though, is the differences in the incentives to leave. The Arabs didn’t think that there was much of a downside to leaving – they would either live with their neighbors for a short time while the Arabs destroy the Jewish state and then they would return, or at worst they would be able to start over in another Arab area. The Jews, on the other hand, simply had no other place to go.

It wasn’t until the end of 1948 that the Arabs of Palestine started realizing that their calculus was terribly wrong. Instead of being welcomed by their Arab brethren, they were dumped into refugee camps; instead of this being a temporary situation where they would be able to move to their homes in Palestine, the Jews had no interest in welcoming back people who effectively supported their annihilation.

This was only the beginning of their problems. It is truly ironic that the beginning of real Palestinian Arab peoplehood came as a result of them losing their chance at nationhood.

The village of Abu Ghosh was established in the 1500s on top of a Biblical site known as Kiryat Ye’arim. Within the town are some extremely important historical finds, including a Crusader church and evidence of the Roman Tenth Legion camping there during the siege of Jerusalem in the first century. It is named after the family that lived there, which for a while levied a toll on pilgrims coming on the road to Jerusalem. The original Abu Ghosh was regarded with some fear as a robber by the Christian visitors to Jerusalem in the 19th century.

Unlike most Arab villages in Palestine, Abu Ghosh enjoyed excellent relations with the Jews. They sold land willingly to Zionists in 1912, that was to become Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim. During the 1920 riots they assured their kibbutz neighbors that they would defend them, if necessary. There were no attacks on Jews from Abu Ghosh in 1921, nor 1929, nor the years of Arab terror from 1936-39. They emphatically did not support the al-Husayni family from Jerusalem, a mere ten miles away, and generally were more supportive of Husayni’s rivals the Nashashibis. Husayni rewarded their impertinence with at least one attack on their leaders in 1946.

Of the 36 Arab villages in the hills around Jerusalem during the 1948 war, only Abu Ghosh (which was a crucial village in keeping the road to Jerusalem open) remained somewhat friendly to the Jews. (One of the clan, Yousef Abu-Ghosh, was even a member of the Jewish militant Stern Gang.) But after the first cease-fire in 1948, the residents of Abu Ghosh were told by the Arab Legion to get behind the Arab lines and abandon their village. They, along with hundreds of thousands of other Arabs, became refugees. Some of the Abu Ghosh refugees were treated with exceptional cruelty by the Transjordanians as being too friendly to the Jews.

Most of the abandoned Arab villages in crucial areas around Jerusalem were destroyed by Israel in 1948 and 1949, as the Jews feared being at the mercy of the Arabs in traveling the roads in their own state. One exception was Abu Ghosh, which was left untouched. The few families who managed to stay there remained as Israeli citizens.

Many of Abu Ghosh’s former citizens infiltrated into Israel to move back to their old village in 1949 and 1950. In general, Israel treated them as they treated other Arabs who tried to sneak back into Israel – fearful of an Arab fifth column, and largely unaware of the previous friendship between Abu Ghosh’s citizens and the Jews, they would deport them back to Transjordan.

Finally, after one such roundup of Abu Ghosh infiltrators in early 1950, the town publicly appealed directly to the Knesset to allow them to stay. Public pressure from Israeli Jews mounted immediately to the defense of Abu Ghosh’s Arabs, and almost every single family came back to their homes.

Abu Ghosh shows how the events of 1948 could have turned out had the Arabs treated the Jews as equals. While some of what Israel did to the residents of the village may be regrettable, it also shows that Israel had no policy of ethnic cleansing Arab villages and that her wartime decisions were based on real life and death circumstances.

Abu Ghosh was not unique. There were other Arab villages that were, effectively, Zionist during the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, these were the exceptions, and many Arabs whom the Jews considered friends ended up supporting the bigoted ideologies of the Mufti al-Husayni and Sheikh Qassam and cheered the death of every Zionist.

Today, Abu Ghosh remains a sterling example of Arab-Jewish cooperation. Prominent resident Jawdat Ibrahim, who won $20 million in an Illinois state lottery, invested some of his winnings in a scholarship program that benefits Jews as well as Arabs. A joint Arab-Jewish soccer team was created with the Arab members being from Abu Ghosh. A major music festival brings in Jewish as well as Arab fans.

The residents of Abu Ghosh are proud citizens of the State of Israel and the Jews are proud to have them as neighbors. The shortsightedness and bigotry of most of the Palestinian Arabs, however, keep them on the outside looking in. From there, they can see how the people they decry as “collaborators” are living with the hated Jews, and they can compare this to their own miserable existence at the hands of their so-called “brethren.”

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 and singleminded 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 Abdul Kader 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 these people wanted 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, but Transjordan’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 with Transjordan .) 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 were 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.

December, 1948 was notable for one other event: the passing of UN General Assembly Resolution 194. The non-binding resolution has been cited innumerable times by Arabs as the source for Israel’s obligation to accept all Palestinian Arab refugees. It says nothing of the sort.

The resolution included a number of parts, none of which has ever been implemented:

·                     Protection of all holy sites in the area and allowing free access,
·                     Placing Jerusalem under UN control,
·                     Allowing free access to all parts of Jerusalem by everybody,
·                     And, most famously: “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
This paragraph does not only apply to Arab refugees but to Jews as well.

Throughout the succeeding decade, Israel steadfastly emphasized the section saying “refugees wishing to…live at peace with their neighbors” and the Arab world equally steadfastly ignored that phrase. Israel’s position was that the Arabs who fled, by and large, were not willing to live in peace with a ruling Jewish government, and it felt that this provision could only be implemented in the context of a full and comprehensive peace plan with all neighboring Arab states. Not surprisingly, the Arabs rejected that interpretation.

Meanwhile, most of the Palestinian Arab refugees suffered at the hands of their respective host countries.

In 1949, the UN appointed an Economic Survey Mission to the area, headed by Gordon Clapp, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Its findings suggested that the UN create a set of development and public works projects meant to employ Arab refugees, increase their standard of living, improve the economies of the host Arab countries and thereby increase the chances for peace. As a result, the UN created in December, 1950 the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, to implement these recommendations as well as to continue to provide direct aid to (Arab) refugees that had been done by other interim UN agencies.

In April, 1949, King Abdullah officially changed the name of his country to The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, clearly planning to annex the West Bank and to implement his initial plans for a Greater Syria. Sure enough, a year later Jordan did annex the West Bank and offered citizenship to all the Palestinian Arab refugees in Jordan, making it the only Arab nation ever to offer citizenship to Palestinian Arabs.

Back in 1947, right before the UN partition vote, King Abdullah secretly met with Golda Meir and they agreed to a peace treaty and probably agreed to divide up the Arab partition of Palestine between them. This agreement was effectively abrogated when the Arab Legion attacked the new state of Israel as soon as it announced independence. Now, King Abdullah was unilaterally implementing his own annexation of part of Western Palestine, although almost no nations recognized this as legal.

It is not clear how ordinary Palestinian Arabs felt about being in the middle of all this political activity. Time magazine in 1949 stated that most Arab refugees had an “aversion” to returning to their homes similar to Jewish attitudes to returning to Europe. But by the early 1950s, the UNRWA reported that most Palestinian Arabs did want to return to their homes. Both accounts may be right.

From the Arab perspective, the UN Resolution 194 gave them a huge incentive to make Palestinian Arab lives miserable. The language states “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” This meant that the refugees who didn’t want to return to their homes would have to settle in other Arab countries, something that the Arab leaders did not want. (Again, Jordan was the exception, willing to take in the West Bank Palestinians as long as it gained land as part of the deal.) The Arab leaders therefore dragged their feet in implementing any of the UNRWA suggestions on building up large public works projects, as the only possible result would be that the refugees would get more comfortable in their new lands and want to stay.

Even though they signed agreements with the UNRWA on development and employment programs for the Palestinians, the Arab states continuously opposed those same programs as being a back door through which Palestinians would be resettled in their lands. For its part, the UNRWA intended exactly that, as it deemed the chances of Israel allowing all the refugees back to be exceedingly low.

Palestinian Arab refugees who had wanted to move and start new lives in other Arab lands were forced to stay in near-starvation conditions in refugee camps – and were told by their Arab hosts that Israel had the sole responsibility for their well-being, and that they can only move back to Israel. Given such circumstances, it is no wonder that most Palestinian Arabs would choose to move to Israel rather than stay in refugee camps indefinitely.

The Arab states continued to use the Palestinian refugees as pawns in their attempts to destroy Israel. Even after Jordan offered citizenship to 500,000 refugees and their children, the Arab nations continued to lobby for Israel to repatriate them to Israel. The Arabs would also tell the UN, year after year, that Jewish immigration to Israel needed to be stopped, under the pretense of refugee welfare.

The UNRWA continued to try to build its public works program through the early 1950s but it met with little success as the Arab nations continued to stonewall. It had other formidable obstacles as well – many Palestinian Arabs would lie to census takers and “borrow” children from friends to increase their ration cards, and the UN had a very difficult time determining the number of refugees truly in need. UNRWA recognized in 1951 the efforts of organized “troublemakers” to try to indoctrinate the refugees, at that time with only limited success. There was also a concerted anti-UN campaign in the Arab world designed to hurt UNRWA, both in the press and from a series of bombings, which the UN believed to be centrally managed. The bulk of its budget came from the United States.

The Arab opposition to an economic solution to the Palestinian refugee problem meant that the UNRWA morphed from its original goal of using economic means to eliminate the refugee problem into an almost-purely aid organization. To facilitate its mandate to provide relief to the refugees, the UNRWA was forced to create a working definition of “refugee” that is totally at odds with any legal definition. While no official document defined them this way, the UNRWA working definition is “Palestine refugees are persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. UNRWA’s services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. UNRWA’s definition of a refugee also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948.”
When the UNRWA initially included children of refugees as being refugees themselves, it was no doubt for practical reasons as it ensured that they could continue their relief efforts. Over time, though, as no other definition surfaced, the UNRWA’s working definition has taken on its own life and paradoxically it has ensured that the Palestinian “refugee” problem would only increase over time, as opposed to every other refugee problem in history.
The agency continued to try to provide jobs to Palestinian Arabs, and not surprisingly, the UNRWA hired many Arabs itself. This had the effect over time of turning the UNRWA from its original purpose of helping solve the refugee problem to one that more recently only helps perpetuate it, and the early warnings that it gave about the dangers of an entire people at the mercy of welfare has come true under its own watch. The Palestinian Arabs throughout the 1950s changed from a proud, independent people who wanted more than anything else to honorably raise their families into a defeated and despised people who were utterly dependent on outside, Western help just to eat.
Israel showed far more flexibility on the refugees than it is given credit for nowadays. Its first proposal, in mid-1949, was to act like Jordan intended – to annex Gaza and take responsibility for all 200,000 Gaza refugees, making them all citizens of Israel. This was rejected outright by the Arab nations.

Israel then proposed, in August 1949, to accept 100,000 Arab refugees (increasing its Arab population to 250,000) as long as this acceptance was part of a comprehensive solution to the refugee plight, including Arab resettlement of the remainder. This was also considered unacceptable to the Arabs. All Arab counterproposals involved either Israel accepting practically all refugees or Israel compensating the Arab nations with land in exchange for some responsibility for refugees.

There was a stark contrast between how Israel handled refugees from 1948 within its borders and how Arab nations handled their refugees. Israel ended up with some 48,000 refugees under UNRWA care within Israel’s borders after the 1948 war (17,000 Jews and 31,000 displaced Arabs) by 1952 Israel agreed with UNRWA that its services would no longer be needed and the remaining refugees would be taken care of by Israel alone. The UN described Israel’s feelings of taking handouts for its citizens, Jewish and Arab, as “repugnant.”

Beyond that, Israel also allowed some 30,000 additional Arabs to come into Israel and become citizens as well, mostly in the interests of family unification. These 30,000 also became citizens and integrated into Israeli society. Israeli officials pointed out that if the Arab world would have accepted the same proportion of Arab refugees to their own population, there would have been no refugee problem at all.

Unfortunately for the Palestinian Arabs, such a solution was not forthcoming. Even many of the Jordanian refugees were kept in camps. Not only that, but continuous Arab incitement against Israel started raising up a rootless population indoctrinated in hate for the Jewish state, far beyond any antipathy the Palestinian Arabs felt towards Zionists before 1948.

Palestinian Arabs started terror attacks against Israel from neighboring states shortly after the war ended. The “Fedayeen” were actively supported by Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, although primarily trained by Egypt. Effectively, these Palestinian Arabs were encouraged to engage in a crime and terror campaign against Israel – the first raids were more aimed at stealing equipment than at murder, but by 1952 it had morphed into a full-blown terror campaign. More than 400 Israelis were killed and 900 injured during these terror operations from 1949-1956. The Egyptians did not deny their involvement behind these attacks, they even boasted about it in their media although the raids were in clear violation of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

The Palestinian Arab psyche underwent tremendous changes in the years after the 1948 war. In some ways, the Palestinian Arabs were more fragmented than ever before – certainly physically – but in some very important ways, for the first time in their history, they were turning into a people.

It is difficult to overemphasize the amount of shame that the 1948 war inflicted on both the Arab nations and the Palestinian Arabs themselves. This unprecedented disgrace informs most of the actions taken by the Arabs during the 1950s and 1960s, and nothing took priority over erasing this shame from their collective minds.

In the early years after 1948, the refugees tended to blame the Arab countries for their fate. For their part, the Arab nations looked at Palestinian Arabs as embarrassing reminders of their impotence in 1948, and this is one of the reasons that there was so little interest shown by the Arab nations in helping out Palestinian refugees at all, let alone allowing them to resettle in their countries (again, with the exception of Jordan, who used them to help expand their own boundaries.)

As has always been the case, there were extremists and pragmatists among the Palestinian Arab populations. The influence of Amin Husayni was still felt as it was a Palestinian Arab who assassinated King Abdullah of Jordan in the Dome of the Rock in 1951, and his co-conspirators had ties to the ex-Mufti. In the following years, communism made ideological inroads into the refugee camps as well. The philosophy that made the greatest and broadest inroads in the Palestinian Arab consciousness, however, was that of pure hatred towards Israel.

Hate is not too strong a word to describe the feelings that Arabs, both Palestinian and at-large, felt about the Zionists and, by extension, all Jews. Loathing towards the Jews poured out of the Arab media. The disgrace of 1948 could not have elicited any other reaction to a people who are as proud as Arabs are. They seethed, they detested, they were disgusted by Jews. In the aftermath of the 1948 war the Jews of Arab countries were accused of being spies, many were tortured and ultimately most were expelled and their possessions confiscated.

The Arab nations’ propaganda against Jews and Israel, and their pretense of caring about the refugees, seeped into the Palestinian Arab viewpoint. Although the Arab nations as a whole were using the Palestinians as pawns, often in conflicting ways, the cognitive dissonance of believing that their brethren were not interested in their well-being was too much for Palestinian Arabs to handle. It was much easier to blame Israel and the West for all their troubles than to see how they were being used for selfish, political gain.

No matter what their disposition – Christian or Arab, religious or secular, in camps or in houses in Israel – Palestinian Arabs created their own fictional accounts of the war in 1948 to mitigate some of their feelings of shame at having been in the forefront of their ignominious defeat. They made up stories of massacres by Jews (although practically none of them knew anyone who had been killed,) they claimed that the US and/or Britain had conspired against them, they claimed that the Arab nations swooped into Palestine in 1948 to defend them from the Jews, they claimed that they all had palatial homes in Palestine and huge tracts of land they owned that were stolen by the Jews. They kept inflating their fantasies and they taught them to their children, the next generation to carry on their tradition of hate.

As the UNRWA tried to employ them and fix the refugee problem by building the economy of the Middle East itself, the Palestinian Arabs had no qualms about taking every advantage of the system. They never reported any deaths in order to get more ration cards, and a black market in food rationing cards flourished in the camps. They started businesses in the camps but didn’t put up signs for fear of losing their benefits. They happily took in all the free perks of refugeehood – by the early 1960s they were better fed, better educated and better equipped to work than their non-refugee neighbors. While their situation in 1950 was desperate, by 1960 the Palestinian refugees under UNRWA were doing better than most Arabs.

But if the UNRWA expected to see appreciation and thanks from the Palestinian Arabs, they were sorely mistaken. The Palestinians attacked the agency both verbally and physically. To the Palestinian Arabs, all the free schooling and aid – more than most refugees worldwide have ever received – only symbolized their dependence on Western charity. Their pride wasn’t strong enough to say no to the benefits, but it was quite strong enough to despise the people who were providing them.

This was one manifestation of the defining characteristic of Palestinian Arabs that started in the 1950s: that of selfishness.

Even though they had supported a war that they lost, even though they had for the most part chosen to flee their homes in the expectation of a quick victory, even though they were to a large extent responsible for their own troubles, the Palestinian Arabs of the era had little capacity for self-examination nor for self-criticism. All the bad things that happened were the fault of others, and anything that could compensate for these bad things were their inherent right.

Another example of this selfishness was their utter inability to empathize with anyone besides themselves. Had the tables been turned, they would have happily cheered their Arab brethren dumping all the Jews into the sea, and the very idea of compromise with Jews when they were in the superior position was unthinkable. Now, in defeat, they clung to the 1947 UN Partition plan as their right – they wanted the victors to share the spoils with them, even though they would have laughed had someone asked them to do the same.

This selfishness stems from a number of factors: Arab supremacism, the desire to reinstate the Arab empire of the early part of the millennium, and Arab pride -where it is easier to deny history than to submit to the shame that accompanies defeat, especially defeat at the hands of a seemingly weak foe. Mostly, though, the selfishness comes from the “us vs. them” mentality that Arabs have had for their entire history, pre-dating Islam. The Arab nation is the only important fact; any other nation can be used if they are needed but the are effectively irrelevant. The fact that Arabs routinely accuse Jews of this very behavior, despite the thousands of counterexamples where Jews over-empathize with their oppressors to the point of self-annihilation, is but one outstanding example of Arab projection of their own attitudes on their enemies.

This selfishness is all the more notable since the 1950s was the lowest point in Palestinian Arab history. One would expect a people who are hated by those who profess to love them, and who hate those who were doing the most for them, to have some ability to step back and see where their problems may have started so as not to repeat them. But in fact the 1950s Palestinians were buffeted by competing Arab leaders trying to use them against each other. In the few cases where Arab leaders tried to help resettle the Palestinians, the criticism was so withering that the plans were abandoned. In 1952, Syrian “strongman” Colonel Adib Shishekly worked with UNRWA to create a plan where the agency would provide $30 million to irrigate undeveloped northern Syria with the intent of resettling 80,000 refugees there; he became president in 1953 but was overthrown in 1954. A 1953 plan of resettlement and job creation, close to being agreed by Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Israel, was shot down in 1955 by the Arab League. Even plans to plant trees or build permanent housing in refugee camps were criticized as diluting the desire for Palestinian Arabs to want to return to their homes.

There is of course an irony here – just as the Arab leaders in the 1940s claimed to be doing things for the good of the Palestinian Arabs that ended up hurting them the most, so were the 1950s leaders prepared to do the same. In reality, it was pride that forced them to act this way, because if the Palestinian refugee problem would be solved by the Arabs, it would be an indirect belated admission of defeat in 1948. As long as the refugee issue could be kept alive, the Arabs could pretend that they still had a chance to destroy Israel without firing a shot.

The Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdul Nasser, said this explicitly in 1961: “If the refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.” Year after year the Arabs would lobby the UN for Palestinian Arab return, and their goals were hardly altruistic for their suffering brethren.

The only people who were truly working to solve the problem of Palestinian Arab misery were Westerners. Saudi Arabia contributed no money to UNRWA, but Israel did.

For their part, the refugees would say themselves that they would never return to any part of Palestine that is controlled by Jews. Even Israeli Arabs, enjoying benefits undreamed of before the war, still claimed that they were in worse shape and would prefer Arab rule, at least when talking to Westerners. Privately, some admitted that it may be possible to compromise. It is difficult to discern how many Palestinian Arabs were pragmatic and how many were truly hardline in their beliefs, but in an atmosphere where moderation could be construed as weakness and collaboration with the hated West, it makes little difference.

For a while, Gamal Abdel Nasser used radio broadcasts effectively to incite Palestinian Arabs against Jordan. To the refugees, Nasser was a true Arab leader that they thirsted for. Nasser, along with his rhetoric supporting the refugees, became a hero. In 1956, Egyptian incitement caused Palestinian Arabs in Jordan to riot and, in one case, the young King Hussein’s troops had to quell a riot in a refugee camp, killing 100.

Nasser’s fortunes with Jordanian Palestinians dipped, however, after the 1956 Sinai campaign where he very quickly lost the Sinai militarily (although he gained it back diplomatically.) Even so, his major incentive remained to right the perceived wrongs of 1948 and to become a pan-Arab leader, and even his survival after the 1956 war was considered a victory by many other Arabs. Hussein’s rule over Palestinian Arabs in his country was far from absolute; terror attacks against Jordan included the bombing of an Amman office buildingin 1958.

The Palestinian terrorism of the 1950s, whether the fedayeen attacks against Israel or the attacks on Western interests of Jordan, were still planned and funded by the Arab states. Only in the end of the decade were the first stirrings of a new independent Palestinian Arab initiative starting – but rather than trying to unify Palestinian Arabs for peaceful purposes, this initiative was also centered on terror and violence.

The Fatah movement was started by a few Palestinian Arabs who had managed to move out of the refugee camps, into college in Cairo and then to jobs in the Persian Gulf. Even though they would have been considered the success stories of the West – people who managed to get off the UNRWA dole and find jobs – they would be the vanguard of the most destructive period of Palestinian Arab history, a period that is synonymous with terror and yet which made them heroes to the entire Arab world.

The stateless Palestinian Arabs became more and more fragmented as the 1960s dawned. As their numbers increased, so did their value to the ever-growing number of Arab leaders who wanted to act as their leaders.

The Arab world at this time was far from unified. By 1960, there were at least three major players bidding for leadership of the Arab world: Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and Abd al-Karim Qasim of Iraq. Each of them tried to out-do the others in claiming to be the leader of the hapless Palestinian Arabs, now numbering over a million.

Qasim opposed Nasser’s plan for a pan-Arab state with himself as leader, pushing instead for a looser confederation of Arab states. He proposed a Palestinian Arab republic in the West Bank and Gaza, directly challenging Nasser’s non-stop rhetoric claiming to help the Palestinians as well as Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank.

Nasser, who was now head of the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria, responded by setting up a “Voice of Palestine” radio station and a newspaper called “Akhbar Filastin.” In addition, Nasser set up a pseudo “Palestinian army” in Gaza and formed a quasi-government in Gaza that recalled the ill-fated Gaza government of 1949. Qasim responded by setting up his own “Palestinian Liberation regiment” in Iraq.

King Hussein, for his part, offered citizenship to any Palestinian Arab, not just the ones in Jordan, as he wanted to equate Jordan and Palestine and was against all attempts to establish an independent Palestinian Arab state.

Meanwhile, the clashes within the Arab world were not only confined to the Palestinian Arab problem. Coups and assassinations happened often – Jordan and Iraq were allied until the 1958 coup and assassination of King Faisal that brought Qasim to power, and Qasim was overthrown and killed himself in 1963 from a Baathist coup (in which 5000 were killed over two days.) There were many assassination attempts against King Hussein. Egypt became embroiled in a civil war in Yemen in 1962.

It is no wonder that these leaders tried to use the Palestinian issue to their advantage. Claiming to support Palestinian Arabs against Israel was an easy way to score political points, as the one thing that all Arabs could agree on was the need to destroy the Zionist state.

The Palestinian Arabs themselves were fragmenting into four major groups:

The Gazans were in many ways in the worst shape of all Palestinian Arabs. Completely dependent on UNRWA handouts and completely immersed in Egyptian Nasserite propaganda, they tended to support Nasser wholeheartedly even as he would use them purely for political points.

The fatalists were the ones who stayed in refugee camps, even more than a decade past their leaving Palestine and with little intention of leaving. They were happy to be living on the UNRWA dole, getting free education, medical care and food. They tended to support Nasser as well, and his vision of a pan-Arab nation in which they would become equal citizens again with their Arab brethren took strong hold of their imagination.

The pragmatists were the ones who left the camps and settled their families in Jordan, taking jobs and living in honor. They tended to be more supportive of the King and they didn’t agitate nearly as much for a return to Palestine.

Finally, there were the ambitious Palestinian Arabs. This group tended to move further away from old Palestine and make their own way in life. In many ways, these were the spiritual and sometimes literal descendants of the hundreds of thousands who moved to Palestine in the first half of the century for purely economic reasons. Most of them moved to the Gulf states that were beginning to reap the benefits of the oil boom, although a significant number moved to Central and South America.

By the tens of thousands they moved to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Dubai, taking jobs. The Kuwaiti economy and infrastructure was built to a large degree by Palestinian Arabs. They tended to be more educated, more highly-skilled and harder-working than their other Arab counterparts. Even so, they were not allowed become citizens of these nations that they were helping so much.

Starting in the late 1950s, some of these former residents of Palestine and their supporters started forming small groups dedicated to defeating Israel by force. Fatah was founded by Khaled Yashruti (born in Acre) and Yasir Arafat (born in Cairo) in this time period, and as early as 1959 it was publishing manifestos relying heavily on Arab concepts of honor and shame as their motivation:

The youth of the catastrophe (shibab al-nakba) are dispersed… Life in the tent has become as miserable as death… [T]o die for our beloved Fatherland is better and more honorable than life, which forces us to eat our daily bread under humiliations or to receive it as charity at the cost of our honour… We, the sons of the catastrophe, are no longer willing to live this dirty, despicable life, this life which has destroyed our cultural, moral and political existence and destroyed our human dignity.
The members of Fatah were mostly living in the Gulf states, as well as Algeria, and were not living in the camps that they so eloquently describe. They and the other nascent Palestinian Arab leaders were just as willing to use the Palestinian Arab masses as pawns for their own purposes as the Arab national leaders were.

In addition, in 1960, something called the “Palestine Liberation Army” that was based in the UNRWA camps engaged in terror acts against Israel, although it is unclear whether it was a home-grown Palestinian Arab group or one that was sponsored by an Arab country. (This is different than the Palestinian Liberation Army, created a few years later as a military wing of the PLO.)

Although Fatah styled itself early on as a “liberation movement” it did not start off with any aspirations to create a new independent Palestine, rather, its initial goal was simply the destruction of Israel for pan-Arab purposes. It initially intended to be completely independent of Arab governments that it mistrusted in the wake of 1948 and the refugees, however by 1964 it was effectively taken over by Syria in exchange for military training and weapons.

Meanwhile, other terror attacks against Israel continued. Most of these were also state-sponsored, usually from Egypt or Syria although often from Jordan as well. At this point the fedayeen trained by the Arab nations were much more deadly and brutal than Fatah – even as early as 1954 Jordanian terrorists shot each passenger in an Israeli bus point-blank, killing eleven of them. No matter what the methods or effectiveness, the goals were always the same: the eradication of Israel (and not necessarily the establishment of an Arab state in its place.)

The Palestine Liberation Organization was launched in 1964. Ostensibly, it was formed as a result of a meeting of the “Palestinian National Council” that held its first meeting only a few days beforehand, but in fact it was created by the Arab League in its Cairo meeting in June of that year. The PNC itself is a more subtle example of Arabs using Palestinian Arabs as pawns in their plans – the vast majority of delegates to the PNC are from the Palestinian “disapora,” not from those who are actually suffering in camps.

The first leader of the PLO was Ahmad Shukairy, who was born in Lebanon. He drafted the “Palestinian National Charter” in 1964 with an eye towards Nasser-style pan-Arabism, not an independent Palestinian Arab state. The original charter itself denies the legality of the UN partition plan and indeed any British or international declaration that gave any land at all to Jews anywhere in the world, and it denies as well any Jewish connection to Israel:

Article 18: The Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate System, and all that has been based on them are considered null and void.The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history or with the true basis of sound statehood. Judaism, because it is a divine religion, is not a nationality with independent existence. Furthermore, the Jews are not one people with an independent personality because they are citizens to their states.
The Charter also betrays the thinking of the Arab leadership on exactly what being a “Palestinian” means. It strongly implies that identifying people as “Palestinian” is not a statement of fact, but rather one of convenience in the efforts to rid the Middle East of a Jewish state, as can be seen in the following sections:
Article 5: The Palestinian personality is a permanent and genuine characteristic that does not disappear. It is transferred from fathers to sons.
Article 6: The Palestinians are those Arab citizens who were living normally in Palestine up to 1947, whether they remained or were expelled. Every child who was born to a Palestinian Arab father after this date, whether in Palestine or outside, is a Palestinian.
Article 11: The Palestinian people firmly believe in Arab unity, and in order to play its role in realizing this goal, it must, at this stage of its struggle, preserve its Palestinian personality and all its constituents. It must strengthen the consciousness of its existence and stance and stand against any attempt or plan that may weaken or disintegrate its personality.
Article 12: Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine are two complementary goals; each prepares for the attainment of the other. Arab unity leads to the liberation of Palestine, and the liberation of Palestine leads to Arab unity. Working for both must go side by side.
Articles 5 and 6 attempt to arrive at a definition of “Palestinian” that is independent of self-identification. A people who truly have strong cultural and communal ties would not require such a definition, and its effect is to keep the Palestinian issue alive. By defining a Palestinian personality separate from the more general definition of Arab, the effect of the charter is to do everything possible to avoid Palestinian re-integration into Arab society.

Those two articles are effectively contradictory with Articles 11 and 12, where Arab unity is stressed right after Palestinian separateness.

Most telling is the section in Article 11 where the charter comes close to admitting that preserving what can only be described as precarious Palestinian “personality” is only important “at this stage of its struggle.” This strongly implies that once Palestine is “liberated” from the grips of the Jews, the national aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs would disappear and become subsumed into a more general unified Arab state.

Putting these paragraphs together, the original purpose of the PLO and the PNC becomes clear: to keep the Palestinian Arabs from ever assimilating into the Arab world as long as they can remain useful to pressure Israel internationally. Once this usefulness disappears, so would the Palestinian people. It was not an organization that was interested in the welfare of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in need, rather it was fixated on how to use them to destroy Israel.

Another interesting paragraph in the charter seems at odds with the original Fatah viewpoint regarding the dignity of Palestinian Arabs. While Fatah decried Western aid to Palestinian refugees as an affront to Arab honor and dignity, the PLO regarded it as a right:

Article 19: Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist in its configurations, and fascist in its means and aims. Israel, in its capacity as the spearhead of this destructive movement and as the pillar of colonialism, is a permanent source of tension and turmoil in the Middle East, in particular, and to the international community in general. Because of this, the people of Palestine are worthy of the support and sustenance of the community of nations.
This also shows that the PLO was not at all interested in Palestinian Arabs themselves and that its platform was more aligned with the Arab League than with the people it was claiming to be defending. The Arab League showed no more interest in alleviating Palestinian Arab suffering in 1964 than it did when it announced its first disastrous boycott of Jewish goods and services in 1945. And although Ahmad Shukairy’s father was Palestinian, his career up to this point was being a diplomat for both Syria and Saudi Arabia as well as working for the Arab League itself.

Yet another article shows even more clearly how national aspirations were entirely absent from a “National Charter:”

Article 24: This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or in the Himmah Area. Its activities will be on the national popular level in the liberational, organizational, political and financial fields.

The British borders of Palestine were occupied by four countries (the Himmah area is a section of Mandatory Palestine that was seized by Syria in 1948) and yet the founding national charter of the PLO was only concerned with one of them.

The second Arab summit, held in Alexandria in September 1964, endorsed the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and quickly acted to establish a Palestinian Liberation Army as a military wing to the PLO.

Fatah, not yet a part of the PLO, established its own military wing called al-Asifa in 1965. Fatah’s first attack against Israel occurred that year, as they tried to bomb Israel’s National Water Carrier. This was followed by a number of other (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to attack Israel’s infrastructure.

 

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