The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “PASSION AND POLITICS: The Turbulent World of the Arabs” by Sandra Mackey from Chapter 4 “Nation and Colony” on page 103 and I quote: “Zionism was born of the pogroms of eastern Europe. The earliest Zionists who stepped ashore in Palestine with a few pitiful possessions carried in cloth sacks or battered bags possessed neither money nor political influence. As Russians and Poles, they were outside the parameters of power exercised by western Europe in the age of imperialism. Thus for the Palestinians, the early Zionists stood apart from the grasping power of the industrialized West.
But in 1894, Zionism came to life in western Europe. France’s insidious anti-Semitism, laid bare in the scandalous Dreyfus Affair, led a young Jewish reporter named Theodor Herzl to articulate in Der Judenstaat the passionate vision of a Jewish state. In 1897, Hertzl convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, which drew up the new Zionist agenda—the colonization of Palestine by Jews for the purpose of creating a Jewish homeland. In 1903, the first contingent of Western Zionists landed in Palestine carrying their political agenda.
At first, Palestinian antagonisms toward the Zionists revolved around economics. For the merchants, the Zionists, commanding some skills in the economic practices of industrialized Europe, struck at an indigenous economy already wrecked by the cheaper products of Europe’s industrial revolution. For the fallahin, the peasants, the threat was greater. The Zionist demand for land threatened to separate families from fields they had cultivated for centuries. With many already living as tenant farmers of Arab moneylenders, the fallahin watched as the new Zionist colonies gobbled up property from these same moneylenders at prices the Palestinians could never pay.
But the brewing contest between Zionist and Palestinian involved, at its most basic level, a conflict of cultures. Coming from Europe, Zionism constituted another invasion of the Arab world by the West. Ignorant of Arab ways and insensitive to the local customs of Palestine, too many of the European Jewish newcomers enraged those they lived among. Although outsiders, the Zionists attempted to impose Western customs on an ancient and traditional society. Fencing off Zionist colonies, they blocked the customary pasture rights of the adjacent villages. And if Arab farmers defied the ban, the settlers often rounded up trespassing flocks and exacted fines from the peasants who owned them. Conflict over grazing rights appeared inconsequential to the Zionists, yet for the Palestinians the issue represented a form of foreign domination. Unlike the Jews who had always lived in Palestine or even the earlier Zionist immigrants, the Jews who were attached to political Zionism loomed as proponents of a culture and ideology that menaced Palestine’s Arab character. In 1914, the nonpolitical Zionists of Ahad Haam criticized the political Zionists for waxing “angry towards those who remind them that there is still another people in Eretz Israel that has been living there and does not intend at all to leave.” But within the Zionist movement, the political Zionists, those seeking a Jewish homeland in Palestine, buried those Zionists who had come to Palestine for purely religious reasons.
Strengthened by their organizations in western Europe, the Zionists used the war years of 1914 to 1917 to put in place the essential building blocks for the Jewish homeland in Palestine. From the bloody stalemate on the Western Front that drained away Britain’s youth and its resources, the Zionists drew the British government toward a public commitment to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Within the offices and country homes of Britain’s political elite, Zionists such as the imposing Lionel Walter Rothschild, scion of the British banking family, and the captivating Chaim Weizmann, leader of Europe’s Zionists, transmitted promises of international Jewish support for the British war effort in return for some commitment to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The wartime pressures of money, the alluring prospect of creating a fifth-column movement of Germany’s Jews, and the tantalizing possibility of a western-oriented Zionist state strategically placed near the all-important Suez Canal seduced Britain into issuing the now-famous Balfour Declaration, another watershed in the history of Palestine.
In a letter to Lord Rothschild dated November 2, 1917, Lord Balfour, the British foreign secretary, issued the notorious words that would torment Palestine for the next three decades. “His Majesty’s government views 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.” The great caveat followed: “. . . it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. . . .” With the flourish of a pen, Palestine became a thrice-promised land. Britain had already pledged Arab independence in the Hussein-McMahon documents. It then determined Palestine’s future as a British colony in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Now, in a statement with the profile of Janus, the British embraced the Zionist agenda. Even the British themselves were puzzled. At the time, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith observed, “Curiously enough the only other partisan of this proposal is Lloyd George, who, I need not say, does not care a damn for the Jews or their past or their future, but thinks it will be an outrage to let the Holy Places pass into the possession of . . ‘agnostic, aesthetic France.’”
The die was cast. However subtly it might be stated, the British government had anointed the concept of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Recognizing the import, the Zionists seized the Balfour Declaration as holy writ.
In 1919, the year of the Paris Peace Conference, Palestine’s population numbered 620,000—550,000 Muslims, 70,000 Arab Christians, and 50,000 Jews, many of whom looked on political Zionism as a blasphemous assault on prophecy. At most, the Zionists constituted 5 percent of the population. Yet in the summer of 1919, Lord Balfour announced that Britain, Palestine’s new overlord, was committed to Zionism. Furthermore, nothing bound His Majesty’s Government to consult the wishes of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine on this issue. Somehow the ugly fact that the ratio of Palestine on this issue. Somehow the ugly fact that the ratio of Palestinians to Jews ordained that the realization of the Zionist agenda would entail bloodshed and military repression never intruded into the realm of British policymaking.
As the decade of the 1920s opened, Arab Palestine resided in a thousand villages and a score of towns built of hard, buff-colored stone pulled out of the rockbound hills. Its society was agrarian, rigidly structured on a squat pyramid built on the mass of fallahin, layered with thin strata of workers, merchants, and professionals and capped with a cluster of landowning families.
The fallahin tilled the red-brown fields that checkered the fertile valleys and tended scattered flocks of fat, shaggy sheep on the steep hillocks. Generation after generation, the same families worked the same land, drawing out of its rocky soil and coastal plain plump red tomatoes, fat black green cucumbers; melons, grapes, and dates; tart lemons; and sweet Jaffa oranges harvested from orchards with histories as long as the families who tended them.
In towns like Jaffa, Nablus, and Hebron, craftsmen and artisans huddled within the narrow, arched stone passageways turning out the same products as their ancestors—rugs, intricate hand-painted pottery, fragrant soaps, and finely worked jewelry. Others plied the trades created by modernization—electrician, plumber, mechanic. In offices beyond the souks, the tiny middle class engaged in overseas trade or practiced the professions. In Jerusalem, the seat of most of Palestine’s major families, the great landowners lived on the incomes from their properties.
On rate occasions, glimpses can be caught of pre-1948 Palestine. Each in its own way paints a picture of traditional Palestinian society. In the early 1980s, I was driving at random along an asphalt road beyond East Jerusalem. Without warning I came upon a crude stone house tucked into a crevice of a hill. I stopped the car and got out for no purpose except simply to look into the past. The house faced out on a plot of golden grain. A few olive trees wound down toward the valley. Below them, a man in a khaffiyeh and baggy trousers, his hand wrapped around an old, worn staff, watched a half-dozen goats pull at the weeds that bordered his tiny field. He is probably gone now, consumed by Israeli expansion into the occupied territories. But for that moment, he stubbornly held to the life of Palestine’s fallahin.
The residue from the other end of traditional Palestinian society is more enduring, enshrined inside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. One evening just a few summers ago I was invited to dinner in a house once owned by one of the great landowning families of Palestine. I walked into the Old City through St. Stephen’s Gate, turned left, and carefully made my way down a narrow cobblestone street. Under an arch connecting one multistoried house to the one across the street, I found a narrow door. I sounded the heavy knocker and waited for my host and hostess to usher me in. We climbed up through what had once been the eighth-century level of the old house and continued up through the tenth and twelfth until we reached the sixteenth-century rooms at the top. The sitting room was thirty by thirty, its ceiling reaching up twenty feet or more toward the point of an onion-shaped dome. Beyond it was another huge room that had once served as a reception chamber where tenants and clients of the man who once lived here came to pay their rents or collect their patronage. When I returned to the sitting room from the roof garden, I saw a short, fat woman primly sitting on a straight-backed sofa, her ankles crossed over each other and her wrists meeting across a large plastic pocketbook resting against her expansive bosom. Her adolescent daughters, copious amounts of organza enveloping their stout frames, surrounded her. Their mother had once lived here as a young child. Too young to remember much, she told me the stories that had come down to her from her family. They were one of those who had sat at the top of the Palestinian social pyramid. Richer in status than money, they guarded the old order.
At the time of the mandate, as it had for centuries before, Palestinian society organized itself into family and place. A vast chasm separated the rural fallahin from the workers, merchants, and landowners of the towns and cities. Rural and urban, they lived separate lives, touching only as tenants and landowners, producers and consumers. Within this broad rural/urban split burrowed the most basic source of being in the Arab world—the family. A Palestinian’s identity began with his extended family, or hamuleh, reached his village, and finally to his region. The little political organization that existed followed vertical lines of family, locality, and sometimes faith. The horizontal lines of class functioned only as a by-product of the vertical forces.
Loyalty and allegiance fixed to personalities—the head of the family, the elder of the village. These local leaders in turn welded themselves and their followers to a more influential leader to form a clan. There were Muslim clans, Christian clans, and religiously mixed clans which in turn swore fealty to one of Palestine’s dozen or so major landowning families. And it was out of these landowning families, several steps removed from the peasant masses, that all Palestine’s political leadership emerged.
Palestinian society dwelled in its long traditions. While the Zionists immigrants purposefully left their established social structure and traditional culture behind to turn themselves into “new men” dedicated to the building of the Zionist state, the Palestinians carried with them into the mandate their “web of belonging”–the social and cultural characteristics that resided in Palestine. And while Zionist settler society assumed a relatively flat form, indigenous Palestinian society remained wedged in its pyramid. And this is how the Palestinians met the combined forces of the British and the Zionists.
From the moment they grasped the reality that independence would not come to the Arabs, the Palestinians locked British colonialism and Zionism together. Protest against one was protest against the other, for Britain held in its hands the future of Zionism in Palestine. Before Sir Herbert Samuel, the first British high commissioner, stepped onto the worn limestone of Jaffa’s old quay, Palestinians had already massed in the port’s narrow streets to protest the first official public reading in Palestine of the hated Balfour Declaration. On the July day of 1922 when the League of Nations officially bestowed the mandate of Palestine on Britain, the Palestinians went on strike. In 1925, angry, hostile Arabs boycotted Lord Balfour’s visit to Jerusalem to dedicate the Hebrew university. And every year on the anniversary of the detested Balfour Declaration, iron doors on Palestinian shops slammed shut, black flags of mourning hung from Palestinian owned buildings, and broad, sober black bands bordered the front pages of the Arabic-language newspapers. All were symbols of the Palestinians’ furious sense of being victimized by the West . On one level, the implacable foe of the Palestinians’ nationalist aspirations was Britain, the imperial power. On another level, it was Zionism, the colonizing force.
The challenge the Palestinians faced at the end of World War I was how a small, traditionally organized, and impoverished people could gain independence against the combined weight of the British empire and the determined Zionist movement. Many saw their only salvation in Arab unity. Consequently, desperate calls went forth to Syria, to Egypt, to Iraq, and to any other Arab area willing to listen. All came back with expressions of sympathy or suggestions that the Palestinians convene a conference of Arab nationalists or the Islamic ummah. But little else followed. Held captive to Western colonialism, the “Arab nation” in which the Palestinians sought their salvation was not there. Palestinians still remember with a combination of bitterness and regret.
The National Place Hotel wraps around a corner not far from the Damascus Gate. A wide veranda opening onto the activity of the street makes it one of the best places in East Jerusalem to sit. I had been at the hotel for maybe a week, occupying one of the comfortable molded white plastic chairs almost every afternoon. The grayed and stooped manager of a small nearby shop that sold olive-wood crucifixes and nativity scenes to tourists was a regular on the veranda. He was a quiet man who politely nodded but seldom spoke. This day he decided to talk. “I was just a small boy in 1923. I didn’t understand what was happening, who these Zionists were, but I knew my parents were worried. In the evening when the work was done, men from the neighborhood would come here to sit under the trees that grew on this property.” Pointing left to a stand of pines down the street, he said, “They would sit under trees like those and talk a lot and smoke many cigarettes. Over and over, they would say, ‘All Arabs are brothers. Our struggle is their struggle. They will come from Damascus and Aleppo and maybe even Alexandria and they will help us.’ Then someone would puff up and say, ‘The British and the Zionists will not be able to defy the whole Arab nation.’ But of course, they never came.”
For the first five years of the mandate, four separate but parallel governmental entities governed Palestine. The first, the British colonial administration, ruled over all as the bureaucracy inaugurated the second. The Vaad Leumi, a Jewish national council indirectly elected by the Jews living in Palestine, presided over the secular as well as the religious affairs of the Jewish community. Exempted were the Jews from Palestine’s indigenous Orthodox Jewish communities, who chose to remain outside the new Zionist institutions. The third was the most unique and most destructive to Arab claims in Palestine. Thirty organizations representing worldwide Zionism and headquartered in London constituted part of the mandatory government of Palestine. Between 1920 and 1929, a cadre of its officials operated in Palestine directing the spectrum of Zionist policy from immigration to industry. Although the governmental structure of the mandate designated the Vaad Leumi as the representative of the Zionists in Palestine, Zionism’s real power rested in London with the international Zionist organizations. Any British colonial official attempting to interfere with Zionist policy in Palestine came face to face with the well-financed, well-connected Zionists in London, who aggressively and effectively challenged within the halls of Westminster or inside 10 Downing Street any decision infringing on Zionist activity in Palestine.
Against this combined power of British imperialism, Palestine’s Zionist settlers, and world Jewry, the Palestinians could mobilize the Arab Executive, the Fourth and weakest of Palestine’s governmental entities. Although it attempted to duplicate the Vaad Leumi, the Arab Executive never approached in staff or resources its Jewish counterpart.”
(IN READING THIS SEGMENT, IT DEFINITELY WAS A BATTLE OF CULTURES AND THE ZIONISTS CAME IN AND DID VIRTUALLY TAKE OVER. ALL OF THIS BECAME POSSIBLY WHEN BRITAIN GAVE AWAY LAND IN 1948 THAT BELONGED TO THE PALESTINIANS, MAKING THE SITUATION THAT MUCH WORSE. IT WAS MADE WORSE WHEN THE ZIONISTS TRIED TO CAPTURE LAND IN LEBANON WHEN PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN WAS IN OFFICE.AND 241 MARINES WERE KILLED IN BERIUT, LEBANON IN 1983. IF THESE CRITICAL DECISIONS ARE EVER GOING TO GET IRONED OUT AND THEY MUST, IT IS GOING TO HAVE TO BE UP TO THE UNITED NATIONS TO MAKE A SETTLEMENT. EVERY NATIONALITY MUST HAVE THEIR OWN COUNTRY AND RESPECT ONE ANOTHER.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Independent, Overtaxed Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members