Tuesday, October 28, 2008

6. Appeasement of Palestinian Arabs

The White Paper stated that only 75,000 Jews were to be allowed entrance in Palestine until April 1944. Both the Arab revolt and the danger of war in Europe had led to this decision. The British Government’s motive was their fear of upsetting the Arabs.[1] In accordance with the White Paper the authorities were very strict in checking illegal immigration, as the White Paper threatened that
…the number of any Jewish illegal immigrants who, despite these measures, may succeed in coming into the country and cannot be deported will be deducted from the yearly quotas.[2]
Also in accordance with the White Paper was the publication on 28 February 1940 of the Land Transfers Regulations.[3] In order to prevent the creation of a landless Arab population the land was divided into three zones. In Zone A, 63 percent of the total area of Palestine, Jews were not allowed to buy land anymore. In Zone C Jews could freely buy land. This zone comprised only 5 percent of Palestine, of which Jews already possessed 51 percent. In Zone B, 32 percent of the total area of Palestine, land could only be sold to Jews after written approval of the High Commissioner.[4] Britain did not implement the constitutional clauses of the White Paper, however, in order not to ‘pour even more salt’ in the Zionist wound.[5]

What role did the White Paper and its partial implementation play in bringing to an end the Arab Revolt? Although formally the leaders of the Revolt rejected the White Paper as insufficient, because they demanded immediate independence for an Arab Palestine, they did in fact accept it, as most of their demands were met.[6] Most moderates were satisfied with the prospect of independence after ten years.[7] It would, however, be one-sided to ascribe the appeasement of the Palestine Arabs to the White Paper only. The fact that after 1939 most Palestinian Arabs were pacified had other, more pressing reasons.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that in 1939 the Palestinian Arab leadership was hopelessly divided. Whereas the revolt began in 1936 as a struggle against the Jews, in 1937 it became also an internal Arab struggle. Political differences were completely interwoven with personal and family grudges. Because the Husayni-family under the guidance of Mufti al-Haj Amin al-Husayni, led the revolt and was anti-British, most members of the Nashashibi-clan were slightly pro-British and against continuing the revolt. They even organized so-called ‘Peace Bands’ to fight the revolting bands. These revolting bands had inflicted much suffering, especially on the small Arab farmers, of whom they demanded refuge and food.[8]

Because Britain sent strong reinforcements to the army, the backbone of the guerrilla was already broken in 1939. Especially after the Anglo-French declaration of war to Germany on 3 September 1939, when wartime measures for public security were enforced and large military forces were concentrated in Palestine, terrorism subsided.[9]

Although after the beginning of the war in 1939 the economy of Palestine was depressed, as exports from Palestine decreased, very quickly a war-boom made the country enjoy an unparalleled prosperity. The many small Arab farmers of Palestine, because of the high food prices, shared in this boom.[10] For reasons of defense, Britain had to extend its military garrisons and the infrastructure of Palestine, which created the need of a vast labor force. In 1942 the number of Arab workers for non-seasonal work in the British Army was about 28,000, while at certain moments not less than 80,000 Arabs were employed by the War Department for seasonal and non-seasonal work together. Between 1939 and 1942 the number of Arab industries more than quadrupled. An even better proof for the Arab prosperity was the rise of deposits in the two Arab banks: from $982,000 in 1940 to $5,300,000 in 1942. The standard of living rose remarkably during those war years. The rise in wages far exceeded the rise in the cost of living.[11] According to Hurewitz,
…with money to burn for the first time in their lives, the Arab masses lost interest in politics. Even many of the pro-Mufti politicians temporarily became more absorbed in economic gain than in political intrigue.[12]
The division of the Arab leaders and the fact that in the revolt Arab fought against Arab, the strength of the British Army and the economic boom were enough reason to be willing to stop the Revolt, while the White Paper provided the formal reason to do so. Would the Arabs not have been appeased without the White Paper? It seems not unreasonable to suppose that the Arabs would have been appeased anyway.

When Britain entered the war the leaders of the Palestine Arabs were nearly all abroad, so when Britain came into war with Germany and Italy, there was no official reaction of them. Some of the local Palestinian notables, however, did react: groups of them issued statements declaring their readiness to assist Britain. This is no wonder, as the disintegration of the Mufti’s activities and the cessation of terrorism had brought great relief to the Arab rural districts.[13] Kirk writes that the Arab press spontaneously called on the community to support Britain, while all acts of terrorism were condemned.[14] Hurewitz is not very sure about the spontaneity of the reaction of the press because
…from September 4 on, the Palestine press was at the Government’s mercy, with respect not only to content but, as the paper shortage became acute, to the allocation of newsprint…It was alleged that the editors of the Arab newspapers received regular monthly wages…from the Public Information Office.[15]
Still, those who advised to collaborate with the Germans and Italians had the upper hand during the first three years of the war, when the threat of Axis occupation hung over the Middle East. The Arab nationalists hope to get rid of France and Britain after and German-Italian victory. Especially the Mufti, residing in Baghdad, propagated choosing for the Axis. This advice was considerably influenced by the fact that Germany supplied him money for keeping intact a small force of three hundred supporters from Palestine.[16]

Germany exploited this situation very well. In the Middle East a network of Axis agents was set up. Press and literature were subsidized, while many intellectuals were on Hitler’s or Mussolini’s payroll. Much money was spent on radio broadcasts in the native languages of each country. Hitler was being depicted as the protector of Islam, beside being the arch-enemy of Britain and the Jews. Many anti-Semitic stories were being transmitted. Ever day radio promised the day of liberation to be at hand, so Muslims should rise and help the German liberators.[17]

On 3 April 1941, a coup d’etat brought an anti-British regime to power in Iraq. Germany came to help with a few airplanes, but not with as many as were needed, so after five or six weeks of fighting the British army gained control again. Those who had been instrumental in the coup had to flee the country. The Mufti of Jerusalem, who was one of them, escaped to Berlin via Iran.[18]

As soon as those Palestine Arabs who supported the Mufti heard of the putsch and the German help that was given, they tried to create trouble in Palestine too. The German offensive in North Africa since March 1941 was a further reason for their willingness to revolt. The Mufti’s radio broadcast to take up arms in Palestine for jihad against Britain, however, were in vain.[19] The population as a whole did not want to begin a rebellion again. When the Mufti fled to Germany his prestige in Palestine was impaired. Of course this did not mean the Palestine Arabs became any more reconciled to the Jews, but they were wise enough to understand that with the strong British presence in Palestine there was not any chance of a successful revolt. They preferred the policy of ‘wait and see.’[20]

When Rommel’s Afrika Korps drove the British back into Egypt and German troops at the same time approached the Caucasus on the Soviet front, in the summer of 1942, the victory of Germany in the Middle East seemed at hand.[21] The Mufti was assured, in a private talk with Hitler, that Germany only wanted to destroy the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power. In that hour of liberation the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world.[22] Particularly during this summer Axis propaganda was at its height. The radio broadcasts of the Axis were devotedly listened to. Speaking in the name of God and His Prophet, the Mufti urged Muslims everywhere to rise up against the Allies.[23] An expectant mood prevailed, the pro-Axis fever rose, but hardly anything was practically being done. The Arabs preferred to wait for the Axis to finish their victory. Despite the strength of propaganda in this period the Palestinian Arabs did not respond to the Mufti’s incessant fomentation to resume the Revolt.[24]

When the Germans were being driven back after their devastating losses at the battle of al-Alamein at the end of October 1942, and the possibility of invasion receded, the Mufti’s power waned even more than after his fleeing to Berlin. It became clear the Germans had not won the war yet, and with the Americans and the Soviet Union fighting with the allied since 1941 the chances for a final Allied victory had considerably grown.[25]

As it was clear that those who had contributed most to the war effort would receive most at the final settlement, the Arabs gradually began to understand the advantage of shifting their allegiance from the Germans to the Allied. Although the Palestinian Arabs did not abandon their hostility towards Zionism and still demanded immediate independence and the implementation of all constitutional clauses in the White Paper, they understood much was to be gained by helping the probable winners of the war.[26] The fact the Britain openly favored Pan-Arabism will surely have helped the Arabs to justify this policy change.[27]

[1] Arthur Koestler, Promise and Fulfillment: Palestine 1917-1949 (London, 1983), p. 57.
See Laqueur, Reader, p. 74.
[2] Kirk, George, Survey of International Affairs, 1939-1946, The Middle East in the War (London, 1952), p. 233.
[3] Ibid., p. 233-5.
[4] Michael Cohen, Palestine: Retreat, p. 95. Cohen describes how the fate of SS Patria, being blown up in the harbor of Haifa, cause such a tide of emotions, that implementing the constitutional clauses was being delayed and postponed.
[5] Nathaniel Katzburg, ‘The British and Zionist Perspectives 1939-1945’, in Almog Shmuel, (ed.), Zionism and the Arabs (Jerusalem, 1983), p. 203.
[6] Kirk, Survey, p. 228.
[7] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 107; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 280. [8] The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was the highest religious judge in Palestine, having the rights to create laws concerning religious questions, the so-called fatwa’s.
[9] Kirk, Survey, p. 228; Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1009.
[10] Many of these small farmers were able now to pay their debts to large landholders, so they became less dependent on their former leaders. Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1057-8.
[11] Joel S. Migdal, Palestinian Society and Poletics (Princeton, Guildford, 1980), p. 27-9; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 120-1; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 281.
[12] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 121.
[13] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1009.
[14] Kirk, Survey, pp. 229-30.
[15] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 118.
[16] Ibid., p. 150; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 281.
[17] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 962.
[18] Ibid., pp. 978-9.
[19] Kirk, Survey, p. 248; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, pp. 151-2.
[20] Maxime Rodinson, Israel and the Arabs (New York, 1982), p. 32; Kirk, Survey, pp. 248-9; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 281-2; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 114.
[21] Joll, Europe since 1870, p. 404; Sachar, History of Israel, p. 229.
[22] Records of the Conversation between the Fuhrer and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on November 28, 1941, in the Presence of Reich Foreign Minister and Minister Grobba in Berlin’, in Laqueur, Reader, pp. 80-4.
[23] Sachar, History of Israel, p. 229; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 120.
[24] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 120.
[25] Esco, Palestine Vol. II, p. 1008.
[26] Ibid.; Kirk, Survey, p. 249.
[27] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, pp. 117-8.

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