Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948
By Hillel Cohen
Translated by Haim Watzman
(University of California Press, 344 pp., $29.95)
The hills of the West Bank--Judea and Samaria--are dotted with well-ordered, red-roofed Jewish settlements. Clearly, they make the partition of the land of Israel/Palestine into two states more difficult, and as such they constitute an obstacle to peace. This is certainly the view in Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv, the bastion of center-left Israel. But for most Palestinians (who, incidentally, do not really want a two-state settlement--vide their support of Hamas in the elections in 2006), the settlements represent something far more sinister. They are highly visible agents and symbols of Israel's design to steal their land.
The plain fact is that the West Bank settlements were largely built by Palestinian Arab laborers, who continue to construct buildings, security walls, tunnels, and bypass roads that daily reinforce Israel's settlement enterprise and thus its grip on the territory. These workers--two generations of them since the summer of 1967, when the settlement venture was launched--reluctantly or eagerly took up their jobs in order to feed their families, putting personal need before collective interest. And the Palestinian political parties and armed factions, overcoming some initial unease, failed to interfere with and never tried to halt their work, even as these laborers were building the very "facts on the ground" that their national leadership--and, more generally, the Arab world and its supporters around the globe--were denouncing as evil. Over the same decades, dozens of Palestinians have been shot dead or maimed by fellow Arabs for selling or facilitating the sale of buildings and land to Jews--the very same land on which some of the settlements were later constructed. (Other settlements were constructed on state land.)
Encapsulated in this apparent illogic is an ambivalence that, throughout the history of the conflict, has marked Palestinian Arab attitudes toward cooperation, indeed collaboration, with the Zionists. On the one hand, there always were Arabs, in very large numbers, ready to sell their labor and land to the Jews, and to inform on Arab militants, and even to fight their fellow Arabs who were fighting the Jews (and the British, who were regarded as the Zionists' patrons). On the other hand, Arabs were willing to battle against land sales and cooperation with the Jews, and to kill Jews (and Britons) and collaborators. And sometimes it was the very same people, at one and the same time or within a short span of years, who hotly denounced Zionism and secretly helped the Jews. (The Nazi German consul in Jerusalem, Heinrich Wolff, in 1933 contemptuously cabled Berlin that these nationalists "in daylight were crying out against Jewish immigration and in the darkness of the night were selling land to the Jews.")
In his important book, Hillel Cohen, the author of fine studies of Israel's Arab minority, succeeds in presenting an objective view of "collaboration," ignoring for the purposes of analysis the bad name that the phenomenon received during and after World War II. Cohen is not interested here in the moral dimensions of collaboration, and indeed treason. His perspective--and this is one of his book's strengths--is neither pro-Palestinian nor anti-Palestinian, neither pro-Zionist nor anti-Zionist. Cohen argues--with Talleyrand, who famously quipped that "treason is a matter of dates"--that "treason is ultimately a social construct. Definitions vary with circumstances," and "collaboration" is "in the eye of the beholder." So Cohen leaves "the moral and political judgment" to his readers. He buttresses his argument with the observation that Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and the leader of the Palestine Arab national movement during the 1930s and 1940s, called "traitors" not only those who cooperated with the Jews and the British, but also those who stood aside and were neutral in the ArabZionist and Arab- British struggles, as well as those who opposed his and his party's dominance of the national movement. Husseini, a nasty piece of work by all Arab, Jewish, and British accounts, brandished the epithet "traitor" at the drop of a hat, and routinely ordered the assassination of his political opponents.
Already by the late 1920s, Cohen writes, "the definition of treason" had been so broadened as "to include all those who opposed the hegemonic nationalist al-Husseini faction." So in 1927 one anti-Husseini newspaper quipped: "Were we to enumerate the number of traitors in the country in accordance with some of the newspapers, more than half of the country's inhabitants would be traitors." Husseini, as Cohen implies, appears to have been driven by personal and familial interests, like many of the collaborators whom he lambasted; he often put his own position in Palestinian politics above what could objectively be called the "national" interest. This was glaringly apparent, even to some of his astonished supporters, in May 1939, when he rejected the British White Paper that reneged on the Balfour Declaration and in effect promised the Arabs majority rule and independence within a decade. For Husseini, the document was problematic because it did not place him at the helm of the future Palestinian state.
Already in the 1920s, Husseini began calling his opponents, primarily the notables of the rival Nashashibi clan, "traitors"--this at a time when there were no clear policy differences between them. (Both the Husseinis and the Nashashibis wanted all of Palestine for the Arabs, opposed all Jewish immigration, regarded the Zionists as aggressive usurpers, and so on.) Cohen argues that the Husseinis' routine use of the terms "traitor" and "collaborator" denuded them of all moral weight or political significance. And in the long perspective of history, who is to say whether the man who advocated the bloody, abortive rebellion against the British in 1936-1939, which resulted in the impoverishment of Palestine's Arabs and the weakening of their national movement, was more of a "nationalist" or less of a "traitor" to the Palestinian cause than he who, calculating more accurately, advocated an early cessation of violence and cooperation with the British authorities (and, temporarily, even with the Zionists) in the interests of Palestinian well-being?
The value of Cohen's erudite book lies in its meticulous recounting of the history of Arab-Zionist cooperation and collaboration, period by period, region by region, family by family. There are many eye-opening--and pathetic--tales, often well-told. Cohen has culled the relevant archives--the archives of the IDF and the main pre-state militia, the Haganah; the Central Zionist Archive; the Public Record Office in London (for some reason, perhaps to sow confusion, now named, like the American archive in Washington, the National Archive); and also Arab memoirs and newspapers. (There are no open Arab archives to speak of. ) The picture presented is thorough and fair and persuasive.
Cohen describes the various types and gradations of collaboration, ranging from socializing with Jewish co-workers and buying Jewish products to working Jewish fields to actively supporting the Zionist cause with intelligence, weaponry, and even combat against fellow Arabs during the years of British rule and in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. During that war, for example, the Druze communities of the Galilee and Mount Carmel eventually threw in their lot with the Israelis--a Druze unit fought alongside Israeli troops against Palestinian irregulars and the Arab Liberation Army, and the Arab al-Heib, a northern Bedouin tribe, formed a small unit under Jewish command that raided Arab villages and militia bases. Both were driven by a cold calculus of profit and loss.
A major area of cooperation or collaboration, dating from the start of the Zionist enterprise in the 1880s, was Arab land sales to the Zionist movement--a phenomenon that permanently blighted Palestinian Arab nationalism, sowing suspicion, confusion, and moral disarray. By the end of 1947, Zionist institutions and individual Jews had bought close to 7 percent of Palestine's land surface (which, in all, encompassed 10,000 square miles or 26,000 square kilometers). Almost all the purchases had been from Arabs. (A small quantity of land was bought from Europeans.) Most of the land was purchased from rich absentee Arab landowners, or effendi, who lived in big cities in Palestine or abroad, though many tracts, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, were sold to the Jews by smallholders. "Thousands of Palestinians sold land to Jews during the Mandate," asserts Cohen. He may be slightly exaggerating; but it was this land that made possible the grid of Jewish settlements that served as the core and the shield of the state that was established in 1948.
From the start, both the Arabs and the Zionists understood that legal possession of land "was a necessary condition for realizing [each of] their national idea[s]." Already in 1911, a Jerusalem mathematics teacher named Mustafa Effendi Tamr published an article denouncing Arab land-sellers: "You are selling the property of your fathers and grandfathers for a pittance to people who will have no pity on you, to those who will act to expel you and expunge your memory from your habitations and disperse you among the nations. This is a crime that will be recorded in your names in history, a black stain and disgrace that your descendants will bear, which will not be expunged even after years and eras have gone by." Cohen remarks that "opposition to land sales was one of the principal focal points around which the Arab national idea in Palestine coalesced. It was the place where the national idea adopted by the urban elite intersected with the villagers' fears that the Jews would buy up more land and dispossess them."
But not all Palestinian Arabs saw things this way. Some simply preferred to make a buck; and many were driven by debt. Some played both ends, selling land to Jews and helping the Zionists in other ways even as they were loudly propagating Arab nationalism, such as Tulkarem's mayor Abd al-Rahman al-Hajj Ibrahim and his family. Ali al-Qasem, al-Hajj Ibrahim's son-in-law, "vandalized Jewish citrus groves" but also helped track down the murderers of a Jewish couple in 1931. Later he speculated in land and was a major Haganah intelligence asset--while also serving as an Arab intelligence operative--until he was executed by the IDF Intelligence Service in December, 1948. His liquidation without legal sanction led to the trial and then the dismissal of Issar Beeri, the IDF's commander, by David Ben-Gurion.
What will rivet the attention of many readers are Cohen's penetrating, though sometimes speculative, portrayals of what drove various collaborators. Money, or other material benefit, "was not the only reason," he repeatedly stresses. Many Palestinian Arabs saw close relations with the Zionists as a way to gain favor with, or favors from, the British, whom Arabs universally saw in 1917 (when such a view was correct) and in 1947 (by which time it was absurd) as the patrons and the guardians of Zionism. For many collaborators, it was not a personal matter: they believed that cooperation with the Jews would gain "communal" benefits for their clan, village, and tribe. Others had "nationalist" motives: they believed, simply, that the Zionists were on a roll and that prudence demanded that, for the good of Palestine's Arabs, they side with the future victors. Some were repelled by the methods of the mainstream Husseini nationalists, which included substantial reliance upon intimidation and terrorism. Still others had Jewish friends or admired the Jews. Many collaborators acted out of some combination of all these reasons.
It is relatively easy to trace the spoor of those motivated by personal interest, especially pecuniary gain. Sheikh Taher al-Husseini, the nephew of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, contacted the Zionist officials Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi simply because he wanted Hajj Amin's job as mufti of Jerusalem. Later Taher's son, Zein al-Din al-Husseini, sold land to the Jews. But for many others, especially from the middle and upper classes, the motivating factor was a realistic assessment of the balance of forces. (Cohen projects this type of thinking onto the 1970s, when, he argues, Palestinian national interests required summud--attachment to, and staying put on, the land, even if this necessitated a certain amount of cooperation with the Israeli rulers. For this reason, the construction of Israeli settlements, which would help Palestinians feed themselves and stubbornly remain in their locations, could be seen as an alternative "nationalist" strategy and not as "collaboration.")
A few were driven by a sympathy for the Zionist cause and an appreciation of Zionist achievements, though almost none agreed to Zionist dominance or to Jewish statehood alongside a Palestinian state in a partition settlement. Hasan Shukri, the Arab mayor of Haifa during World War I and again in the years between 1927 and 1940, cabled the British government in 1921 denouncing those Arab nationalists who demanded that Britain renounce Zionism: "We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy.... We consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country. We are certain that without Jewish immigration and financial assistance there will be no future development of our country as may be judged from the fact that the towns inhabited in part by Jews such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and Tiberias are making steady progress while Nablus, Acre and Nazareth where no Jews reside are steadily declining." Another public figure, Muhammad Tawil of Acre, wrote: "I cannot recognize Hajj Amin al-Husseini as the leader of Palestine because his direction has brought no benefit to the country"--though he later became disaffected with the Zionists who had employed and then discarded him, pointing to a phenomenon that, sadly, would characterize Zionist- collaborator relations down the decades. (This ugly phenomenon survives in the abandonment of some South Lebanese Army veterans after the final IDF pullout from Lebanon in 2000.)
Some Palestinian collaborators were animated by personal friendship, empathy with Jews, or even ideological sympathy. Ezra Danin, one of the founders of the HIS (Haganah Intelligence Service), recalled in his memoirs an Arab who was employed as a guard in a Jewish-owned citrus grove and was involved in land sales on the side: "He believed in the return to Zion and wanted cooperation with the Jews.... I remember an instance in which I once said to him: 'You do it for the money, of course. [So] why do you get so angry if they tell you that you are a hired spy?' He said: 'I for money? I work only for the idea.'" The principle of good neighborliness, a time-honored Arab tradition, also played a part. Some Hebron Arabs, including Ahmad Rashid al-Hirbawi, the president of the town's chamber of commerce, supported--against Husseini's line--the return of Jews to the town after the massacre of 1929, when they had abandoned it.
A fair number were driven to collaborate with the Zionists--and the British-- by a desire for revenge against a particular leader (especially Hajj Amin al- Husseini), or an armed band or political party that had harmed them or their kin or deprived them of what they regarded as their due. Omar Sidqi al-Dajani became a significant HIS agent after his father, the Jerusalem notable Hassan Sidqi al-Dajani, was murdered by the mufti's operatives. Aptly, in HIS signals Omar was code-named "hayatom," the orphan. He was to be of major political assistance to the Jewish Agency, providing reports about the thinking and the activities of the Arab delegations during the proceedings at the United Nations leading up to the partition resolution of November 1947. Inter-Arab feuding between clans or villages and the need for outside assistance, in weapons or funds, also sometimes led to cooperation with the Zionists. And Cohen notes finally that several collaborators were motivated, once they had embarked on an anti-Husseini course, simply by the "drive to succeed."
Regarding Zionism, Cohen divides the Palestinians during the Mandate years--they numbered about one million in 1936 and 1.3 million in 1948--roughly into two camps: the Husseini-led "mainstream national movement," which fought Zionism to the bitter end, and those who "believed that the Zionists could not be defeated and that the common good of Palestinian Arabs demanded coexistence. " Put another way, there was a "discourse of justice" (all of Palestine should remain Arab) and a "discourse of the possible" (allowing for some form of co- existence). This was true in the period between 1917 and 1947 and during the 1948 war. Much of the Nashashibi-led opposition, which tried to win over the Palestinian masses and depose Husseini from the presidency of the Supreme Muslim Council (the British-established body that oversaw religious schools, mosques, cemeteries, and other Muslim trust assets), adhered to the second view, though they were by no means "Zionists" or supportive of the establishment of a Jewish state.
The Husseinis began to punish "traitors"--sellers of land, informers, those socializing with Jews--as early as the 1920s. The first murder of a public figure occurred in 1929, near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. Sheikh Musa Hadeib hailed from the village of Duwaimah, in the Hebron foothills, and he may have sold land to the Jews. But his chief sin was political: he spoke out in favor of the British Mandate, and he had once hosted the High Commissioner Herbert Samuel. He had also helped to found the Zionist-supported "Muslim National Associations" in the 1920s, as a counterweight to the Muslim-Christian associations that were hotbeds of anti-Zionist nationalist agitation; and he headed the Mount Hebron farmers' party, one of the rural associations set up with Zionist aid to counter the urban-based nationalists. His killers, according to Zionist intelligence, were three men dressed as women, from the Maraqa clan of Hebron. The killing occurred in October, less than two months after the wave of anti-Jewish pogroms that swept the country--"the 1929 Disturbances," as the British (and the Zionists) called them, though in the collective memory of the Arabs they are known as the first "Arab Revolt"--which were triggered by Arab fears, methodically stirred up by Hajj Amin al-Husseini, that the Jews intended to "take control of" the Temple Mount, or al-Haram al- Sharif, and destroy the two sacred mosques in the compound, Al Aksa and the Dome of the Rock.
By the mid-1930s, the Husseinis had discarded all inhibitions (such as the traditional fear that a murder would spark an open-ended blood feud with the victim's clan). The first murder of a land speculator, or simsar, was recorded in November 1934, with the shooting of Saleh Isa Hamdan, of Lifta, outside Jerusalem. The killers are "people extremely close to Hajj Amin," the police reported. During the rebellion of 1936-1939, when Husseini assassinations of political opponents and anyone suspected of any type of collaboration crested, about 1,000 Arabs were killed by fellow Arabs, about 500 of them in 1938 alone. (By comparison, about 1,100 Arab rebels were killed in 1938 by British, Zionist, and anti-rebel Arab forces.) By 1939, the Husseinis were paying 100 Palestine pounds to operatives for the killing of high-level "traitors" and 25 pounds for lower-level "traitors." Killers of Jews earned only 10 pounds. Perhaps this partly explains why "only" some 500 Jews were killed in the course of the revolt.
The Husseini murder campaign drove many in the opposition--who until mid- or late 1937 had supported the rebellion--into the arms of the British and, more hesitantly, the Zionists. The head of the Nashashibi clan, Ragheb Nashashibi, and his nephew, Fakhri al-Nashashibi, began to seek British and Zionist help, in money, arms, and intelligence, and in 1938 helped to establish the so-called rural "peace bands," armed bands that fought against rebel bands, sometimes alongside British troops. Often the peace bands and the opposition operatives supplied the British with information that led to the destruction of rebel bands; less often, they took money from the Jewish Agency to support their activities.
Cohen points out that very few Palestinians rallied to the colors in 1948 and actually fought against the Yishuv. This was one reason for their defeat. He attributes this to a lack of enthusiasm to fight, or at least to fight for a lost cause. The Zionists, many Palestinians felt, were unbeatable. But he fails to note that the failure and the cost of the 1936-1939 rebellion--in which the British crushed the Palestinian national movement, killed thousands of its activists, and eviscerated its leadership--had so thoroughly disheartened the Palestinians that when the test of battle came in 1947-1948, they were unwilling to join in.
To be sure, the Zionist institutions--the Arab Bureau, which ran the initial intelligence networks in the 1920s, the Jewish Agency Political Department's Arab Division, and the HIS--exploited inter-Arab divisions and feuds between Christians and Muslims, Bedouins and farmers, and neighboring villages and clans, as well as human weaknesses, to recruit agents and gather intelligence. Cohen relates the story of a middle-aged Arab shepherd and his recruitment by a shepherd from Kibbutz Givat Hayyim named Parneto Klein in 1936, at the start of the Arab Revolt. The Arab shepherd was unmarried because he could not afford to pay the bride's dowry. Klein made him a proposal: "You, a miserable beggar, will never be able to save enough money to buy a young woman like you want, and in the meantime, you, God forbid, commit the sin of bestiality.... But if you provide us with news about what goes on in al-Qawuqji's camp ... we will give you money and you can finally buy a woman." (Fawzi al-Qawuqji, a Lebanese- Syrian army officer, commanded a band of foreign fighters who fought the British in northern Samaria during the revolt.)
And so it was. Later, when the shepherd proved unable on the wedding night to consummate his marriage, Danin sent him a Jewish doctor "who gave him an injection to improve his performance and preserve his honor." This only reinforced the shepherd's loyalty to his Jewish controllers. The Zionist intelligence chiefs, like case officers the world over, often looked for and recruited lowlifes. As Danin put it in his autobiography: "Types generally exploitable for intelligence work are rebellious sons, thieves who have brought disgrace on their families, rapists who have acted on their passions and fled the avengers of tainted honor."
Another motive for Palestinian collaboration was noted by Sheikh Said Darwish of the village of al-Maliha, outside Jerusalem. He headed a clan that sold land. In explaining his actions, he once told a gathering of village elders: "You've groveled before the [urban] effendis long enough. Enough of flattering them.... Rise up and look at your situation in the rooms of the nation's house. Rise up and search for a single fellah [peasant] official on the Arab Executive.... Leave politics to the politicians, to those who have great fortunes and whose idleness drives them mad. We want nothing of either the Zionists or the Arab Executive.... Why don't we have governors and district officers of our own? Were we not created in the image of God? Do we lack men of wisdom and knowledge who can fill responsible positions in the service of the nation? ... The religious knowledge and wondrous sanctity [of our ulama-- religious wise men] is greater than that of Hajj Amin al-Husseini." The Darwishes had simply had enough of the urban notables' disdain, of being pushed around.
Initially, the Zionist institutions tried to buy off Palestinian nationalism. In March 1930, the Zionist Executive allocated 50 Palestinian pounds to delegates participating in a gathering of sheikhs, representing rural fellahin, at Ajjur; a further sum was allocated for organizing a second rural sheikhs' meeting in Jaffa two years later. Money was given to Arab journalists to write neutral articles, or ones explicitly favoring Zionism. (One such writer was Sheikh Asad al-Shuqayri, the father of Ahmad Shuqayri, who became the founding chairman of the PLO.) But by the end of the 1930s, the heads of the Jewish Agency understood that "bribery" was no way to neutralize Palestinian nationalism. Moshe Shertok (Sharret), the head of the Jewish Agency Political Department (and, from 1948, Israel's first foreign minister), pointed out the incongruity of the Zionist movement's efforts to "turn" the Arabs: the Zionist movement was based on ideas and ideology, not on materialist considerations, but here it was trying to persuade the Arabs that it was "bringing a blessing on the Arabs of the country ... a material blessing. We are enriching the land, we are enriching them, we are raising their standard of living ... and therefore there are no contradictions between our fundamental interests and their fundamental interests.... The unrealism of this conception was evident."
Shertok correctly grasped that you cannot buy off national movements. The Zionists were not taking account of "the factors of politics, the factors of national consciousness, the factors of ethnic instinct that are at work here," he wrote in 1940. The conclusion that Shertok--and Ben-Gurion--reached, on the basis of the Revolt of 1936-1939, was that that there was indeed an Arab national movement, and that it could not be dissuaded by material benefits. Instead the Zionist enterprise had to become so strong that the Arabs would regard it as undefeatable, and so agree to compromise.
But some Arabs, it seems, were won over by Zionist achievements rather than Zionist power. Consider a letter of invitation by a group of Bedouin sheikhs in the Beit Shean (Bisan) Valley to the British high commissioner Herbert Samuel in 1923: "We don't meddle in politics.... We are simple people who live in tents and deal with our own affairs only. We agree with everything the government does.... We have seen no evil from the Jews. We have sold the American [sic] Jewish Agency some of our lands, and with the help of the money we received we are developing and cultivating the large tracts that still remain ours. We are pleased with these Jews, and we are convinced that we will work together to improve our region and to pursue our common interests." This letter, says Cohen, may have been drafted by Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky, who simultaneously orchestrated outreach programs and ran the Arab Bureau's espionage network.
Cohen's learned book, especially its lengthy citations from Zionist intelligence reports and from Arab letters and memoranda, incidentally sheds light on a rarely illumined aspect of Palestinian nationalism (and one that indirectly "explains" at least some of the collaborators). From the first, the nationalism of Palestine's Arabs was blatantly religious. Almost all the "nationalist" statements Cohen quotes were couched in religious or semi- religious terms. We are dealing here with an Islamic nationalism. Indeed, when the Palestinian national struggle turned significantly violent, against the British in 1936-1939 and against the Zionists in 1947-1948, the struggle was defined by the movement's leaders as "a religious holy war," a jihad. And those rejecting Husseini's leadership, in peacetime as in wartime, were deemed heretics as well as traitors. The gang that murdered a collaborator in Balad al- Sheikh, a village near Haifa, hung a placard in the village square reading: "We hereby inform you that on 8 March 1939, Nimer the policeman was executed ... as he betrayed his religion and his homeland.... The supreme God revealed to those who preserve their religion and their homeland that he betrayed them, and they did to him what Muslim law commands. Because the supreme and holy God said: 'Fight the heretics and hypocrites; their dwelling-place is hell.'"
This Islamism colored the Palestinian national movement from its conception. When, in 1911, the Jaffa newspaper Filastin attacked land-sellers, it declared: "All land belongs to God, but the land on which we live belongs to the homeland [watan], at the command of God." "Islam does not forgive traitors," village mukhtars were told by urban nationalists in 1920. In 1925, the mufti of Gaza, Hajj Muhammad Said al-Husseini, issued a fatwa forbidding land sales to Jews. The Jews, he said, were no longer a protected people (as they had been in the Islamic world during the previous thirteen centuries). Muslims who helped them were to be treated as heretics, and Christians who aided them were to be deported.
A more comprehensive fatwa against land sales was issued by the ulama (the authorities on law and religion) of Palestine in January 1935. It declared that "the seller and speculator and agent in [the sale of] the land of Palestine to Jews" abetted the prevention of "the mention of Allah's name in mosques," and accepted "the Jews as rulers," and offended "Allah and his messenger and the faithful," and betrayed "Allah and his messenger and believers." These abettors were to be cast out of the community of the faithful, "even if they are parents or children or brothers or spouses." Hajj Amin alHusseini was the first signatory to this edict; and his name was followed by those of the muftis of Jenin, Beersheba, Nablus, Safed, and Tiberias. Cohen observes that this fatwa applied "the traditional [religious] concept of khiyana--betrayal--to traitors against the national cause."
A year later, the mufti and qadi (religious judge) of Nablus toured the neighboring villages and preached that anyone who killed a land-seller "would reside in paradise in the company of the righteous people of the world." Similarly, penitent collaborators made public professions of a clearly religious cast: "I call on Allah, may He be exalted, to bear witness ... I call on Allah and the angels and the prophets and the knights of Palestinian nationalism to bear witness that if I violate this oath, I will kill myself," declared Abd al-Fattah Darwish, of al-Maliha, in May 1936. The religious discourse prohibiting the sale of land to Jews was also adopted by the Christian Arab clergy of Palestine, no doubt under Muslim pressure. A congress of Christian clerics that same year ruled that "whoever sells or speculates in the sale of any portion of the homeland is considered the same as one who sells the place of Jesus' birth or his tomb and as such will be considered a heretic against the principles of Christianity and all believers are required to ban and interdict him." And finally, in 1947, Jamal al-Husseini, Hajj Amin's cousin and deputy, reportedly called for the murder of land-sellers: "Murder them, murder them. Our religion commands this and you must do as the religion commands."
The religious discourse underpinning Palestinian nationalism was not limited to the matter of land sales. The founding declaration of the Higher Arab Committee, the executive body chaired by Hajj Amin alHusseini that was to lead the Palestinians both in the 1936-1939 Revolt and in the 1947-1948 war against the Yishuv, referred to the Palestinian National movement as "the holy national jihad movement." The following year, in July 1937, those who supported the British Peel Commission recommendations--to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states--were denounced as heretics, whereas those destroying Jewish property would be declared saints.
Ideologically, it is only a short leap from these utterances to those of the Hamas, the Islamist movement which today dominates the Palestinian political arena and Palestinian nationalism. It would appear that the secularism of Fatah, the political party led by Yasir Arafat that dominated the Palestinian national movement from the 1960s until the turn of the century, was a cultural aberration, something of an illusion, an ideological patina in part adopted by Palestinian intellectuals and politicians to win over hearts and minds in the largely secular West. And yet, when looking at footage of Arafat on his knees in a mosque at prayer, five times a day, day in, day out, and of Fatah suicide bombers on their way to destroy a bus or restaurant in downtown Tel Aviv declaiming the certainty of meeting up with virgins in paradise, one may be permitted to conclude that the secular declarations of the 1980s and 1990s were mere window dressing, and did not really reflect the spirit of Palestinian politics. And no sooner had the grand old man of Palestinian politics departed the scene than Hamas won the first--and free--Palestinian general elections in which it participated.
Cohen indirectly establishes a particular connection between collaboration and the nature of Palestinian nationalism, though he does not explicitly dwell on the matter. The ardent nationalists of the Mandate years were in large measure driven by their Islamic faith and tenets--but the collaborators often exhibited, if not outright apostasy, then at least a measure of religious (as well as nationalist-political) backsliding. Cohen relates the story of Kamel and Sharif Shanti, a leading land-selling family in Qalqilya. Tellingly, they both married Jewish women. During Ramadan 1935, Sharif reportedly broke the fast and ate during daytime in public.
In 1929, Filastin reported that the Zionist Congress had allocated one million pounds for the purchase of land, and commented that some "twenty people--a portion of the nation that should not be discounted--will [now] have all their worries dispelled ... because the bars and dance clubs will now be wide open" to them. Another newspaper reported that "the [Jewish] city of Tel Aviv, its streets and its cafes, buzz each day with large groups of fellahin and samasirah [speculators] who humiliate themselves and sell the fertile lands of the foothills."
The leaders of the Bedouin Ghazawiyya tribe, the Zeinati clan, in the Beit Shean Valley sold land to the Jews and then spent their days in "endless trips to Haifa ... [in] fancy hotels [and] ... cafes, replacing horses with automobiles, installing a radio in their tents." All this "caused a revolution in their lives and, necessarily, their religion," a member of the neighboring Kibbutz Maoz Hayyim noted. There are reports that the Zionist land-purchasing agencies took sellers and speculators on binges in Haifa and Tel Aviv and provided them with women during the deal-making negotiations. And the ostentatious samasirah behavior triggered a vicious cycle in which they were eventually forced to sell more and more land, and help in the sale of others' lands, to maintain their new lifestyle. The outcome was predictable. The head of the Zeinati clan, Emir Muhammad, "was murdered in 1946 as he came out of a barbershop in Haifa."
So there appears to have been a correlation between irreligiosity and collaboration. Or, put another way, the more ardently religious a Palestinian Arab was, the less likely he was to collaborate with the Zionists. This was demonstrated in no uncertain terms in Israel's battle with Palestinian violence decades later: While the Israeli security services thoroughly penetrated the Fatah movement before, during, and after the First Intifada, they had great difficulty in recruiting Hamas operatives (and, incidentally, fundamentalist Hezbollah men in Lebanon).
Looking beyond the religious-secular divide, what is to be learned from the phenomenon of Palestinian collaboration? Without doubt--and Cohen is mindful of this--it reveals a basic hollowness at the heart of Palestinian nationalism. Some pointed to the widespread nature of collaborationism and deduced that "there was no Palestinian people" or Palestinian national movement. Others asserted that if there was a Palestinian national movement, it was far from enjoying mass support, and that many if not most Arabs in Palestine put personal and familial and tribal interests before national interests. Or, put another way, that the "nationalism" of many of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine was only skin deep: after all, many thousands assisted the Zionists in one way or another. Cohen is correct, I think, in asserting that the widespread phenomenon of collaboration was a "constant and sharp reminder that many Palestinian Arabs did not accept the nationalist ethos, at least not as it was formulated by the Husseinis."
In their book The Palestinian People: A History, Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal wrote that Palestinian nationalism can be traced back to 1834, when a group of peasants in the Nablus area rebelled against their then-Egyptian rulers. Most historians disagree, and locate the birth of Palestinian Arab nationalism in the 1920s (and the start of general Arab nationalism only a few years before). But for years thereafter, Palestinian Arab nationalism remained the purview of middle- and upper-class families. Most peasants, and perhaps many among the urban poor as well--together, some 80 percent of the Palestine Arabs--lacked political consciousness or a "national" ideology. The masses could be periodically stirred to action by religious rhetoric (Islam certainly touched them to the quick), but this failed to bind them in a protracted political engagement, especially when the price had to be paid in blood. Cohen writes, too hesitantly in my view, that "the conduct of Palestinian society [during 1917-1948] might lead to the conclusion that ... [its] national spirit was not sufficient to the task at hand."
But of course the Palestinians were to change. Indeed, the disaster and the dispersion that befell them in 1948 was itself a major milestone in the formation of a truly "national" consciousness; and the results of the war in 1967 certainly abetted this development. By the time of the intifadas, millions of Palestinians had rallied to the cause, and many thousands were prepared to engage in political action and combat, and to pay the price in blood and imprisonment. By then it was incontrovertible that there was a Palestinian people. Palestinian nationalism may not have been during the Mandate, and may not be today, quite the secular, democratic, and open nationalism of modern Western Europe; and it may still be defined in large measure by what it wishes to destroy rather than by what it hopes to build. It is intolerant, violent, and--above all--religious. But it is most certainly a variety of nationalism.
Benny Morris, professor of Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University, is the author of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War.
By Benny Morris