Ralph Schoenman – The Hidden History of Zionism

Chapter 1: The Four Myths

It is not accidental that when anyone attempts to examine the nature of Zionism – its origins, history and dynamics – they meet with people who terrorize or threaten them. Quite recently, after mentioning a meeting on the plight of the Palestinian people during an interview on KPFK, a Los Angeles radio station, the organizers of the public meeting were deluged with bomb threats from anonymous callers.

Nor is it easy in the United States or Western Europe to disseminate information about the nature of Zionism or to analyze the specific events which denote Zionism as a political movement. Even the announcement on university campuses of authorized forums or meetings on the subject invariably engenders a campaign designed to close off discussion. Posters are torn down as fast as they are put up. Meetings are packed by flying squads of Zionist youth who seek to break them up. Literature tables are vandalized and leaflets and articles appear accusing the speaker of anti-Semitism or, in the case of those of Jewish origin, of self-hatred.

Vindictiveness and slander are so universally meted out to anti-Zionists because the disparity between the official fiction about Zionism and the Israeli state, on the one hand, and the barbarous practice of this colonial ideology and coercive apparatus, on the other, is so vast. People are in shock when they have an opportunity to hear or read about the century of persecution suffered by the Palestinians, and, thus, the apologists for Zionism are relentless in seeking to prevent coherent, dispassionate examination of the virulent and chauvinist record of the Zionist movement and of the state which embodies its values.

The irony of this is that when we study what the Zionists have written and said – particularly when addressing themselves – no doubt remains about what they have done or of their place in the political spectrum, dating from the last quarter of the 19th century to the present day.

Four overriding myths have shaped the consciousness of most people in our society about Zionism.

The first is that of “A land without a people for a people without a land.” This myth was sedulously cultivated by early Zionists to promote the fiction that Palestine was a remote, desolate place ready for the taking. This claim was quickly followed by denial of Palestinian identity, nationhood or legitimate entitlement to the land in which the Palestinian people have lived throughout their recorded history.

The second is the myth of Israeli democracy. Innumerable newspaper stories or television references to the Israeli state are followed by the assertion that it is the only “real” democracy in the Middle East. In fact, Israel is as democratic as the apartheid state of South Africa. Civil liberty, due process and the most basic human rights are by law denied those who do not meet racial, religious criteria.

The third myth is that of “security” as the motor force of Israeli foreign policy. Zionists maintain that their state must be the fourth largest military power in the world because Israel has been forced to defend itself against imminent menace from primitive, hate-consumed Arab masses only recently dropped from the trees.

The fourth myth is that of Zionism as the moral legatee of the victims of the Holocaust. This is at once the most pervasive and insidious of the myths about Zionism. Ideologues for the Zionist movement have wrapped themselves in the collective shroud of the six million Jews who fell victim to Nazi mass murder. The bitter and cruel irony of this false claim is that the Zionist movement itself actively colluded with Nazism from its inception.

To most people it appears anomalous that the Zionist movement, which forever invokes the horror of the Holocaust, should have collaborated actively with the most vicious enemy ever faced by the Jews. The record, however, reveals not merely common interests but a deep ideological affinity rooted in the extreme chauvinism which they share.



Chapter 2: Zionist Objectives

The objective of Zionism has never been merely to colonize Palestine – as was the goal of classical colonial and imperial movements during the 19th and 20th centuries. The design of European colonialism in Africa and Asia was, essentially, to exploit indigenous peoples as cheap labor while extracting natural resources for exorbitant profit.

What distinguishes Zionism from other colonial movements is the relationship between the settlers and the people to be conquered. The avowed purpose of the Zionist movement was not merely to exploit the Palestinian people but to disperse and dispossess them. The intent was to replace the indigenous population with a new settler community, to eradicate the farmers, artisans and town-dwellers of Palestine and substitute an entirely new workforce composed of the settler population.

In denying the existence of the Palestinian people, Zionism sought to create the political climate for their removal, not only from their land but from history. When acknowledged at all, the Palestinians were re-invented as a semi-savage, nomadic remnant. Historical records were falsified – a procedure begun during the last quarter of the 19th century but continuing to this day in such pseudo-historical writings as Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial.

The Zionist movement would seek alternative imperial sponsors for this bloody enterprise; among them the Ottoman Empire, Imperial Germany, the British Raj, French colonialism and Czarist Russia. Zionist plans for the Palestinian people anticipated the Ottoman solution for the Armenians, who would be slaughtered in the first sustained genocide of the 20th century.

Zionist Plans for the Palestinian People

From its inception, the Zionist movement sought the “Armenianization” of the Palestinian people. Like the Native Americans, the Palestinians were regarded as “a people too many”. The logic was elimination; the record was to be one of genocide.

This was no less true of the Labor Zionist movement, which sought to provide a “socialist” patina for the colonial enterprise. One of the principal theorists of Labor Zionism, a founder of the Zionist party Ha’Poel Ha’Tzair (The Young Worker) and a supporter of Poale Zion (Workers of Zion), was Aaron David Gordon.

Walter Laqueur acknowledges in his History of Zionism that, “A. D. Gordon and his comrades wanted every tree and every bush to be planted by Jewish ’pioneers’.” [14]

Gordon coined the slogan “conquest of labor” [Kibbush avodah]. He called upon Jewish capitalists, and the Rothschild plantation managers, who had obtained land from absentee Turkish landlords over the heads of the Palestinian people, “to hire Jews and only Jews”. He organized boycotts of any Zionist enterprise which failed to employ Jews exclusively, and prepared strikes against the Rothschild colonists, who allowed Arab peasants to sharecrop or to work, even as cheap labor.

Thus, the “Labor Zionists” employed the methods of the workers’ movement to prevent the use of Arab labor; their objective was not exploitation but usurpation.

 Palestinian Society

There were over one thousand villages in Palestine at the turn of the 19th century. Jerusalem, Haifa, Gaza, Jaffa, Nablus, Acre, Jericho, Ramle, Hebron and Nazareth were flourishing towns. The hills were painstakingly terraced. Irrigation ditches crisscrossed the land. The citrus orchards, olive groves and grains of Palestine were known throughout the world. Trade, crafts, textiles, cottage industry and agricultural production abounded.

Eighteenth and 19th century travellers’ accounts are replete with the data, as were the scholarly quarterly reports published in the 19th century by the British Palestine Exploration Fund.

In fact, it was precisely the social cohesiveness and stability of Palestinian society which led Lord Palmerston, in 1840, when Britain had established a consulate in Jerusalem, to propose, presciently, the founding of a European Jewish settler colony to “preserve the larger interests of the British Empire”. [15]

Palestinian society, if suffering from the collaboration of feudal landowners [effendi] with the Ottoman Empire, was nevertheless productive and culturally diverse, with a peasantry quite conscious of its social role. The Palestinian peasants and urban dwellers had made a clear, strongly felt distinction between the Jews who lived amongst them and would-be colonists, dating from the 1820’s, when the 20,000 Jews of Jerusalem were wholly integrated and accepted in Palestinian society.

When the colonists at Petah Tikvah sought to push the peasants off the land, in 1886, they were met with organized resistance, but Jewish workers in neighboring villages and communities were wholly unaffected. When the Armenians escaping the Turkish genocide settled in Palestine they were welcomed. The genocide was ominously defended by Vladimir Jabotinsky and other Zionists in their attempts to obtain Turkish support.

In fact, until the Balfour Declaration [1917], the Palestinian response to Zionist settlements was unwisely tolerant. There was no organized Jew-hatred in Palestine, no massacres such as the Czar and Polish anti-Semites prepared, no racist counterpart in the Palestinian response to armed colonists (who used force wherever possible to drive Palestinians from the land). Not even spontaneous riots, expressing pent up Palestinian rage at the steady theft of their land, were directed at Jews as such.

Courting Imperial Favor

In 1896, Theodor Herzl set forth his plan for inducing the Ottoman Empire to grant Palestine to the Zionist movement:

Supposing his Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine; we could, in return, undertake to regulate the finances of Turkey. We should there form an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. [16]

By 1905, the Seventh World Zionist Congress had to acknowledge that the Palestinian people were organizing a political movement for national independence from the Ottoman Empire – a threat not merely to Turkish rule but to Zionist designs.

Speaking at this Congress, Max Nordau, a prominent Zionist leader, set forth Zionist concerns:

The movement which has taken hold of a great part of the Arab people may easily take a direction which may cause harm in Palestine. …The Turkish government may feel itself compelled to defend its reign in Palestine and Syria with armed force. …In these circumstances, Turkey can be convinced that it will be important for her to have in Palestine and Syria a strong and well-organized group which … will resist any attack on the authority of the Sultan and defend his authority with all its might. [17]

As the Kaiser undertook to forge an alliance with Turkey as part of his contest with Britain and France for control of the Middle East, the Zionist movement made similar overtures to Imperial Germany. The Kaiser took nearly ten years in his on-and-off dealings with the Zionist leadership to formulate a plan for a Jewish state under ottoman auspices which would have as its principal task the eradication of the Palestinian anti-colonial resistance and the securing of the interests of Imperial Germany in the region.

By 1914, however, the World Zionist Organization was already far advanced in its parallel bid to enlist the British Empire to undertake the break-up of the Ottoman Empire with Zionist assistance. Chaim Weizmann, who was to become president of the World Zionist Organization, made an important public announcement:

We can reasonably say that should Palestine fall within the British sphere of influence, and should Britain encourage Jewish settlement there, as a British dependency, we could have in twenty to thirty years a million Jews out there, perhaps more; they would develop the country, bring back civilization to it and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal. [18]

The Balfour Declaration

Weizmann secured from the British what the Zionist leaders had sought simultaneously from the Ottoman and German Imperial governments. On November 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued.

It stated, in part:

His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish People, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object [19]

The Zionists were cynical in the delineation of their claim to Palestine. One moment they would assert that Palestine was a wasteland visited by occasional nomads; in the next breath they proposed to subjugate the very Palestinian population they had attempted to render invisible. A. D. Gordon, himself, repeatedly declared that the Palestinians whom, he insisted did not exist, should be prevented, by force from cultivating the soil.

This translated into the total expulsion of non-Jews from the Jewish “fatherland”. A like description informed pronouncements by British and Zionist leaders in their plans for the Palestinian population. By the time of the Balfour Declaration, British imperial armies had occupied most of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, having enlisted Arab leaders to fight the Turks under British direction in exchange for British assurances of “self-determination”.

While the Zionists in their propaganda insisted that Palestine was unpopulated, in their dealings with their imperial sponsors they made clear that subjugation was the order of the day and offered themselves as the instrument.

The British responded in kind. The Balfour Declaration also contained a passage intended to lull Arab feudal leaders shocked by the treachery of the British Empire in handing over to the Zionists the very land in which Arab self-determination had been promised:

it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. [20]

The British had for years used the Zionist leadership to enlist support for its war against Imperial Germany from all the major Jewish capitalists and banking concerns in the United States and Great Britain. With Weizmann they prepared to use Zionist colonization of Palestine as the instrument for political control over the Palestinian population.

The land without a people for a people without a land was in fact a country in ferment against colonial subjugation. Former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, himself, was brutally explicit in memoranda for the eyes of officials, despite the lip service for public consumption about the “civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish [sic] communities in Palestine”.

Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad is rooted in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desires of the 700,000-plus Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. [21]

The South African Connection

There is a particular dimension to this secret consort between Balfour and the Zionist leadership to betray the aspirations of the Palestinian people. It was Weizmann’s close friend and future Prime Minister of South Africa, General Jan Smuts, who, as South African delegate to the British War Cabinet during World War I, helped push the British government to adopt the Balfour Declaration and to make a commitment to construct a Zionist colony under British direction.

The relationship between the Zionist movement and the South African settlers had evolved earlier, as had the friendship between General Smuts and Chaim Weizmann. By the turn of the century, a large Jewish population, primarily from Lithuania, had settled in South Africa. The Zionist movement regarded this population as particularly susceptible to Zionist ideas because of their already established settler status in South Africa. Zionist leaders travelled constantly to South Africa seeking political and financial support.

N. Kirschner, former chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, provides a vivid account of the intimate interaction between Zionist and South African leaders, the identification of Zionists like Weizmann and Herzl with the South African conception of a racially distinct colonizing populace, and the importance of a virtual pact between the two movements. [22]

In identifying Zionism with South African settler ideology, Chaim Weizmann was following the early admiration expressed by Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, for the quintessential colonial ideologue, Sir Cecil Rhodes. Herzl attempted to model his own political future on the achievements of Rhodes:

Naturally, there are big differences between Cecil Rhodes and my humble self, the personal ones very much in my disfavor; the objective ones are greatly in favor of the Zionist movement. [23]

Herzl advocated achieving Zionist dispersal of the Palestinians by using the methods pioneered by Rhodes, and he urged the formation of a Jewish counterpart to a colonial chartered company, an amalgam of colonial and entrepreneurial exploitation:

The Jewish Company is partly modelled on the lines of a great acquisition company. It might be called a Jewish Chartered Company, though it cannot exercise sovereign power, and has no other than purely colonial tasks. [24]

The poorest will go first to cultivate the soil. In accordance with a preconceived plan they will construct roads, bridges, railways and telegraph installations, regulate rivers and build their own habitations; their labor will create trade, trade will create markets, and markets will attract new settlers. [25]

By 1934, a major group of South African investors and large capitalists had established Africa-Israel Investments to purchase land in Palestine. The company still exists after 54 years with South Africans as joint stockholders, the assets held by Israel’s Bank Leumi. [26]

 The Iron Wall

The tension between the claim that the land was empty and the demand that the “non-existent” inhabitants be ruthlessly subjugated was less acute when Zionists discussed strategy among themselves. The reality of what was necessary to colonize Palestine took precedence over propaganda.

One of the ideological forbears of Zionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky, is known as the founder of “Revisionist Zionism”, the Zionist current which had little patience with the liberal and socialist facade employed by the “labor” Zionists. [Revisionist Zionism is represented today by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.]

In 1923 Jabotinsky wrote The Iron Wall, which could be called a benchmark essay for the entire Zionist movement. He set forth bluntly the essential premises of Zionism which had, indeed, been laid out before, if not as eloquently, by Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and others. Jabotinsky’s reasoning has been cited and reflected in subsequent Zionist advocacy – from nominal “left” to so-called “right”. He wrote as follows:

There can be no discussion of voluntary reconciliation between us and the Arabs, not now, and not in the foreseeable future. All well-meaning people, with the exception of those blind from birth, understood long ago the complete impossibility of arriving at a voluntary agreement with the Arabs of Palestine for the transformation of Palestine from an Arab country to a country with a Jewish majority. Each of you has some general understanding of the history of colonization. Try to find even one example when the colonization of a country took place with the agreement of the native population. Such an event has never occurred.

The natives will always struggle obstinately against the colonists – and it is all the same whether they are cultured or uncultured. The comrades in arms of [Hernan] Cortez or [Francisco] Pizarro conducted themselves like brigands. The Redskins fought with uncompromising fervor against both evil and good-hearted colonizers. The natives struggled because any kind of colonization anywhere at anytime is inadmissible to any native people.

Any native people view their country as their national home, of which they will be complete masters. They will never voluntarily allow a new master. So it is for the Arabs. Compromisers among us try to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked with hidden formulations of our basic goals. I flatly refuse to accept this view of the Palestinian Arabs.

They have the precise psychology that we have. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux upon his prairie. Each people will struggle against colonizers until the last spark of hope that they can avoid the dangers of conquest and colonization is extinguished. The Palestinians will struggle in this way until there is hardly a spark of hope.

It matters not what kind of words we use to explain our colonization. Colonization has its own integral and inescapable meaning understood by every Jew and by every Arab. Colonization has only one goal. This is in the nature of things. To change that nature is impossible. It has been necessary to carry on colonization against the will of the Palestinian Arabs and the same condition exists now.

Even an agreement with non-Palestinians represents the same kind of fantasy. In order for Arab nationalists of Baghdad and Mecca and Damascus to agree to pay so serious a price they would have to refuse to maintain the Arab character of Palestine.

We cannot give any compensation for Palestine, neither to the Palestinians nor to other Arabs. Therefore, a voluntary agreement is inconceivable. All colonization, even the most restricted, must continue in defiance of the will of the native population. Therefore, it can continue and develop only under the shield of force which comprises an Iron Wall through which the local population can never break through. This is our Arab policy. To formulate it any other way would be hypocrisy.

Whether through the Balfour Declaration or the Mandate, external force is a necessity for establishing in the country conditions of rule and defense through which the local population, regardless of what it wishes, will be deprived of the possibility of impeding our colonization, administratively or physically. Force must play its role – with strength and without indulgence. In this, there are no meaningful differences between our militarists and our vegetarians. One prefers an Iron Wall of Jewish bayonets; the other an Iron Wall of English bayonets.

To the hackneyed reproach that this point of view is unethical, I answer, ’absolutely untrue.’ This is our ethic. There is no other ethic. As long as there is the faintest spark of hope for the Arabs to impede us, they will not sell these hopes – not for any sweet words nor for any tasty morsel, because this is not a rabble but a people, a living people. And no people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions, except when there is no hope left, until we have removed every opening visible in the Iron Wall. [27]

The Metaphor of Iron

The theme and imagery of coercive iron and steel evoked by Vladimir Jabotinsky was to be taken up by the nascent national socialist movement in Germany, even as Jabotinsky had, in turn, been inspired by Benito Mussolini. The mystical invocation of iron will in the service of martial and chauvinist conquest united Zionist, colonial and fascist ideologues. It sought its legitimacy in legends of a conquering past.

Cecil B. de Mille’s Samson and Delilah was more than a Hollywood biblical romance about the perfidy of woman and the virtue of manly strength. It carried, as well, the authoritarian values of the novel from which it was adopted, Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Samson, which trumpeted the necessity of brute force if the Israelites were to conquer the Philistines.

“Shall I give our people a message from you?” Samson thought for a while, and then said slowly: “The first word is iron. They must get iron. They must give everything they have for iron – their silver and wheat, oil and wine and flocks, even their wives and daughters. All for iron! There is nothing in the world more valuable than iron.” [28]

Jabotinsky, the siren of “an iron wall through which the local population can not break through” and of “the iron law of every colonizing movement … armed force”, found his call echoed in major Zionist forays against victim peoples in the decades to come.

Israel’s current Minister of Defense, Yitzhak Rabin, launched the 1967 war as Chief of Staff with “Iron Will”. As Prime Minister in 1975 and 1976 he declared the policy of Hayad Barzel, the “Iron Hand”, in the West Bank. Over 300,000 Palestinians were to pass through Israeli prisons under conditions of sustained and institutionalized torture exposed by the Sunday Times of London and denounced by Amnesty International.

His successor as Chief of Staff, Raphael Eitan, imposed the “Iron Arm” – Zro’aa Barzel – on the West Bank, and assassination was added to the repressive arsenal. On July 17, 1982, the Israeli cabinet met to prepare what the London Sunday Times would term “this carefully pre-planned military operation to purge the camps, called Moah Barzel or ‘Iron Brain’”. The camps were Sabra and Shatila and the operation “was familiar to Sharon and Begin, part of Sharon’s larger plan discussed by the Israeli cabinet”. [29]

When Yitzhak Rabin, who had supported the Revisionist Likud in Lebanon during the war, became Shimon Peres’ Minister of Defense in the current “national unity” government, he launched in Lebanon and the West Bank the policy of Egrouf Barzel, the “Iron Fist”. It is the “Iron Fist” which Rabin again cited as the basis for his policy of allout repression and collective punishment during the 1987-1988 Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza.

It’s interesting to recall, as well, that Jabotinsky located his colonial impulse in the doctrine of the purity of blood. Jabotinsky spelled this out in his Letter on Autonomy:

It is impossible for a man to become assimilated with people whose blood is different than his own. In order to become assimilated, he must change his body, he must become one of them, in blood. There can be no assimilation. We shall never allow such things as mixed marriage because the preservation of national integrity is impossible except by means of racial purity and for that purpose we shall have this territory where our people will constitute the racially pure inhabitants.

This theme was further elaborated by Jabotinsky:

The source of national feeling … lies in a man’s blood …in his racio-physico type and in that alone. …A man’s spiritual outlook is primarily determined by his physical structure. For that reason we do not believe in spiritual assimilation. It is inconceivable, from the physical point of view, that a Jew born to a family of pure Jewish blood can become adapted to the spiritual outlook of a German or a Frenchman. He may be wholly imbued with that German fluid, but the nucleus of his spiritual structure will always remain Jewish. [30]

The adoption of chauvinist doctrines of racial purity and the logic of the blood were not confined to Jabotinsky or to the revisionists. The liberal philosopher, Martin Buber, located his Zionism equally within the framework of European racist doctrine:

The deepest layers of our being are determined by blood; our innermost thinking and our will are colored by it. [31]

How was this to be implemented?

Notes

14. Walter Laqueur, History of Zionism (London, 1972).

15. Joy Bonds et. al., Our Roots Are Still Alive – The Story of the Palestinian People (New York: Institute for Independent Social Journalism, Peoples Press, 1977), p.13.

16. Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (London: 1896).

17. Hyman Lumer, Zionism: Its Role in World Politics (New York: International Publishers, 1973).

18. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (New York: Harpers, 1949), p.149.

19. John Norton Moore, ed., The Arab-Israeli Conflict (Princeton, N.J.: The American Society of International Law, Princeton University Press, 1977), p.885.

20. Ibid.

21. Cited in Harry N. Howard, The King Commission: An American Inquiry in the Middle East (Beirut: 1963).

22. N. Kirschner, Zionism and the Union of South Africa: Fifty Years of Friendship and Understanding, Jewish Affairs, South Africa, May 1960.

23. Theodor Herzl, Diaries, Vol.II, p.793.

24. Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question, p.33. Cited in Uri Davis, Israel: An Apartheid State (London: Zed Books, Ltd., 1987), p.4.

25. Ibid., p.28.

26. For Love and Money, in Israel: A Survey, Financial Mail, Johannesburg, South Africa, May 11, 1984, p.41.

27. The Iron Wall – “O Zheleznoi Stene” – Rassvet, November 4, 1923.

28. Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism From Jabotinsky to Shamir (London: Zed Books, Ltd., 1984), p.79.

29. London Sunday Times, September 26, 1982.

30. Jabotinsky’s Letter on Autonomy, 1904. Cited in Brenner, The Iron Wall, p.29.

31. Brenner, The Iron Wall, p.31.

 

 

 



The Hidden History of Zionism – Chapter 3: Colonizing Palestine” />

Ralph Schoenman: The Hidden History of Zionism – Chapter 3: Colonizing Palestine

 

Ralph Schoenman

 

The Hidden History of Zionism

 

Chapter 3

Colonizing Palestine

2. Zionist Objectives   |   4. Tragic Consequences

 

In 1917, there were 56,000 Jews in Palestine and 644,000 Palestinian Arabs. In 1922, there were 83,794 Jews and 663,000 Arabs. In 1931, there were 174,616 Jews and 750,000 Arabs. [32]

 

Collaborating with British Colonialism

With the forging of a tacit alliance with the British, the Zionists now received support on the ground for their conquest of the land. The process was described by the Palestinian poet and Marxist analyst, Ghassan Kanafani:

Despite the fact that a large share of Jewish capital was allocated to rural areas, and despite the presence of British imperialist military forces and the immense pressure exerted by the administrative machine in favor of the Zionists, the latter achieved only minimal results with respect to the settlement of land.

They, nevertheless, seriously damaged the status of the Arab rural population. Ownership by Jewish groups of urban and rural land rose from 300,000 dunums in 1929 [67,000 acres] to 1,250,000 dunums in 1930 [280,000 acres]. The purchased land was insignificant from the point of view of mass colonization and of the settlement of the “Jewish problem”. But the expropriation of one million dunums – almost one third of the agricultural land – led to a severe impoverishment of Arab peasants and Bedouins.

By 1931, 20,000 peasant families had been evicted by the Zionists. Furthermore, agricultural life in the underdeveloped world, and the Arab world in particular, is not merely a mode of production, but equally a way of social, religious and ritual life. Thus, in addition to the loss of land, Arab rural society was being destroyed by the process of colonization. [33]

British imperialism promoted the economic destabilization of the indigenous Palestinian economy. The Mandatory Government granted a privileged status to Jewish capital, awarding it 90% of the concessions in Palestine. This enabled the Zionists to gain control of the economic infrastructure (road projects, Dead Sea minerals, electricity, ports, etc.).

By 1935, Zionists controlled 872 of a total of 1,212 industrial firms in Palestine. Imports related to Zionist industries were exempted from taxes. Discriminatory work laws were passed against the Arab workforce resulting in large scale unemployment and a substandard existence for those who were able to find employment.

 

The 1936 Uprising

Loss of land and repression heightened Palestinian awareness of the fate intended for them and fueled a great uprising which lasted from 1936 to 1939.

The revolt assumed the form of civil disobedience and armed insurrection. Peasants left their villages to join fighting units which were formed in the mountains. Arab nationalists from Syria and Jordan soon entered the struggle.

The decision to withhold taxes was taken May 7, 1936, at a conference attended by one hundred fifty delegates representing all sectors of the population and a general strike swept Palestine.

British reaction was immediate and harsh. Martial law was declared July 30, 1936 – approximately five months after the uprising had begun – and widespread repression was unleashed. Anyone suspected of organizing or sympathizing with the general strike or other resistance was detained. Houses were blown up throughout Palestine. A large section of the city of Jaffa was destroyed by the British on June 18, 1936, rendering 6,000 people homeless. Homes, as well, in the surrounding communities were demolished.

Britain sent large numbers of troops to Palestine to quell the revolt (estimated at 20,000). By the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, however, British forces were losing control to the armed popular revolt.

 

The Zionists as Police Enforcers

It was at this point that the British began to rely on the Zionists who provided them with a unique resource they had never tapped in any of their colonies: a local force which had made common cause with British colonialism and was highly mobilized against the indigenous population. If before this the Zionists had handled many of the tasks of reprisal, they now played a larger role in the escalated repression which was to include mass arrests, assassinations and executions. In 1938, 5,000 Palestinians were imprisoned, of whom 2,000 were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment; 148 people were executed by hanging and over 5,000 homes were demolished. [34]

Zionist forces were integrated with British intelligence and became the police enforcers of draconian British rule. A “quasi-police force” was established to provide cover for the armed Zionist presence encouraged by the British. There were 2,863 recruits to the quasi-police force, 12,000 men were organized in the Haganah, and 3,000 in Jabotinsky’s National Military Organization (Irgun). [35] In the summer of 1937 the quasi-police force was named the “Defense of the Jewish Colonies”, and later the “Colony Police”.

Ben Gurion called the quasi-police force an ideal “framework” for the training of the Haganah. Charles Orde Wingate, the British officer in charge, was, in essence, the founder of the Israeli army. He trained such figures as Moshe Dayan in terrorism and assassination.

By 1939, Zionist forces working with the British rose to 14,411 organized into ten well-armed groups of Colony Police, each commanded by a British officer, with an official of the Jewish Agency as second in command. By the spring of 1939, the Zionist force included sixty-three mechanized units, each consisting of eight to ten men.

 

The Peel Report

A Royal Commission was established in 1937, under the direction of Lord Peel, to determine the causes of the 1936 revolt. The Peel Commission concluded that the two primary factors were Palestinian desire for national independence and Palestinian fear of the establishment of a Zionist colony on their land. The Peel Report analyzed a series of other factors with uncommon candor. These were:

  1. The spread of the Arab nationalist spirit outside Palestine
  2. Increasing Jewish immigration after 1933
  3. The ability of the Zionists to dominate public opinion in Britain because of the tacit support of the government
  4. Lack of Arab confidence in the good intentions of the British government
  5. Palestinian fear of continued land purchases by Jews from absentee feudal landowners who sold off their landholdings and evicted the Palestinian peasants who had worked the land
  6. The evasiveness of the Mandatory government about its intentions regarding Palestinian sovereignty.

The national movement consisted of the urban bourgeoisie, feudal landowners, religious leaders and representatives of peasants and workers.

Its demands were:

  1. An immediate stop to Zionist immigration
  2. Cessation and prohibition of the transfer of the ownership of Arab lands to Zionist colonists
  3. The establishment of a democratic government in which Palestinians would have the controlling voice. [36]

 

Analysis of the Revolt

Ghassan Kanafani described the uprising:

The real cause of the revolt was the fact that the acute conflict involved in the transformation of Palestinian society from an Arab agricultural-feudal-clerical one into a Jewish (Western) industrial bourgeois one, had reached its climax … The process of establishing the roots of colonialism and transforming it from a British mandate into Zionist settler colonialism … reached its climax in the mid-thirties, and in fact the leadership of the Palestinian nationalist movement was obliged to adopt a certain form of armed struggle because it was no longer able to exercise its leadership at a time when the conflict had reached decisive proportions. [37]

The failure of the Mufti and other religious leaders, of feudal land owners and the nascent bourgeoisie to support the peasants and workers to the end, enabled the colonial regime and the Zionists to crush the rebellion after three years of heroic struggle. In this the British were aided decisively by the treachery of the traditional Arab regimes, who were dependent upon their colonial sponsors.

The Palestinian national struggle has been continuous since 1918 and has been accompanied by one or another form of organized armed resistance. It has also included civil disobedience, general strikes, nonpayment of taxes, refusal to carry identity cards, boycotts and demonstrations.

 

Notes

32. Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest (Delmar, N.Y.: The Caravan Books, 1979), pp.43-44.

33. Ghassan Kanafani, The 1936-1939 Revolt in Palestine (New York, Committee for a Democratic Palestine).

34. Ibid., p.96.

35. Ibid., p.39.

36. Ibid., p.31.

37. Ibid.

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Ralph Schoenman – The Hidden History of Zionism