I've just finished a truly intriguing book. It is called Army of
Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 and
is the product of what is clearly a daring mind, that is the mind of
Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The book bears
two blurbs: one from Zachary Lockman, director of the Center for Near
Eastern Studies at N.Y.U., who last appeared in the news as a signatory
to the international petition calling on universities and colleges to
boycott Israeli academics. The second blurb was by Tom Segev, an
Israeli version of Alexander Cockburn: "all that the home country
has ever done is evil." So be assured, Cohen's study is not a
Zionist tract. It reads as a scrupulous account of a searing
collective experience of the Arabs of Palestine up to Israeli
The facts as mustered by Cohen show that what he calls "collaboration" was a widespread phenomenon across classes and political groupings. Some individuals, even many, were motivated by monetary emoluments from the Jews. But this did not seem to be the underpinning of Arab opposition to their own ultra-nationalist -under the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Husseini, actually fascist- leadership which specialized in assassinations but could not mount much more than marauding expeditions. Neither was active sympathy with the Zionists a disproportionate allegiance of the Christian Arabs of Palestine. What we learn about the three decades after General Allenby conquered Jerusalem from the Ottomans was that the nationalist impulse among the local Arabs was not one impulse at all, but fissured and, in any case, intrinsically weak. The elites of the Arab Higher Commission sold their lands to the Zionists; many Arab professionals worked with the Zionists; many ordinary Arabs found deeper sympathy among the Jews than among their own effendi. So they did not much view their routine cooperation with Jews and Jewish associations as disloyal. Palestine Arab nationalism was a minority sentiment. It did not cohere and its cement, such as it was, was fear. Perhaps seeing how weak Husseini faction was and how powerful the Zionists seemed, those Arabs who opposed the "resistance" by selling land or sharing intelligence felt their actions were more realistic than the hard-liners. Who now can say that they were not? The "collaborators," called by others the "traitors," Cohen insists, "viewed themselves as loyal Palestinian Arabs, more loyal than the national leaders."
There is even today, sixty years after Jewish statehood and forty years since the occupation of the West Bank, an enormous network of Arab collaboration with Israel. But the fact is that I don't know much about it, and I went pretend too much. Still, I will hazard this: the failure of the idea of the Palestinian nation to congeal, the persistence of smaller and more local loyalties among the Arabs of Palestine, the doggedness of more primitive attachments, the corruption and brutality of the various leaderships retards the idea of Palestine and prevents its realization practically.
Palestine needs more than money to come into being. All the aid in the world will not crystallize the dream into a fact.