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The Palestinian Saga Seething With Rage

The Palestinian Saga Part One

by N.D. Jayaprakash

While there is constant harping about micro-violence (suicide bombings) and castigation of the Palestinians for the same, the world at large has practically turned a blind eye to the gross macro-violence (State terror) being perpetrated on them by Israel with the unstinting support of the United States of America. That Israel has been a crypto-fascist state has not been widely recognized as yet despite the fact that there is no shortage of information on this count. Umpteen UN reports have brought to light the nightmarish existence of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Aren’t such reports ample proof of the fascistic nature of the occupying forces? All those who refrain from acknowledging this startling truth only become accomplices to the ongoing crime. The need of the hour is to take action to end the fascistic terror being perpetrated by the Israelis. The unrelenting struggle that the Palestinians are waging against Israeli occupation and for national liberation deserves far more moral and material support from the rest of the world than what has been forthcoming.

Of course there have been many concerned people across the globe who have spoken up forthrightly for the cause of the Palestinians. None other than Mahatma Gandhi was one of the foremost amongst them. Others who were not initially opposed to the creation of Israel soon realized their folly and began to alert the world to the growing fascist tendencies there. The noted scientist and humanist, Albert Einstein, tried to do precisely that. Isn’t it time the world listened to the appeals of Gandhi and Einstein?

Crux of the Problem

It may not take too much time and effort to understand that it is the call for a Jewish national home in Palestine, the subsequent immigration of Jews into that territory and the resulting coercive displacement of the Palestinian population from their land that has resulted in the Palestinian-Israeli imbroglio. In this context it would be appropriate to recall what Mahatma Gandhi had to say regarding the matter. In an article in his journal, the Harijan, on 26.11.1938 he wrote:

"The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me…. Why should they not, like other people of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?

"Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct…. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home. " [1]

Gandhi’s observations, that (a) "It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs" and (b) "What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct", are as relevant and valid today as when they were first made 64 years ago. In other words, it is the forcible occupation of Palestine by Jews emigrating from other parts of the world and the resistance offered by the dispossessed native Palestinians against the humiliating treatment meted out to them in the process that is the crux of the problem.

In the latest phase of its history most of Palestine has been under the occupation of the Zionists since their unilateral proclamation of the "State of Israel" on 14th May 1948, which coincided with the decision of Britain to terminate its mandate over the territory. This precipitate action needlessly aborted the move for a peaceful transition of power as envisaged in the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, which the UN General Assembly had adopted on 29 November 1947. It is true, as will be explained below, that the Palestinians were aghast by the idea of Partition. They were even more outraged when they got to know the terms of the Partition Plan. The terms were such that they favoured the Zionists in a manner that was far disproportionate to their relative size in Palestine at that time.

While Britain could have played the role of a mediator to evolve a just and amicable solution to the controversial Partition Plan, it did not do so. Instead it suddenly decided to terminate its "mandate" and leave Palestine to its fate, which was to the advantage of the well-armed Zionists who were now free to impose their will with impunity. The seizure of power by the Zionists and the forcible eviction of the Arab population from their lands lead to outbreak of war with the neighbouring Arab countries, which came to the defense of the Palestinian people who were at the mercy of the marauding Zionist gangs. A UN report later recounted the developments as follows:

"One of the two States envisaged in the partition plan proclaimed its independence as Israel and in the 1948 war expanded to occupy 77 per cent of the territory of Palestine. Israel also occupied the larger part of Jerusalem. Over half the indigenous Palestinian population fled or were expelled. Jordan and Egypt occupied the other parts of the territory assigned by the partition resolution to the Palestinian Arab State which did not come into being. In the 1967 war, Israel occupied the remaining territory of Palestine, until then under Jordanian and Egyptian control (the West Bank and Gaza Strip). This included the remaining part of Jerusalem, which was subsequently annexed by Israel. The war brought about a second exodus of Palestinians, estimated at half a million". [2]

Imperialist Conspiracy

It may be recalled that Palestine was placed under the British Mandate in 1922 by application of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Mandate resolution had entrusted Britain with the task of leading the indigenous people of Palestine to full independence. Britain had occupied Palestine on 9 December 1917, thereby ending Turkish rule over the territory since 1517. The occupation came about as a result of the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France in 1916, which was part of a policy to divide and rule the Arab world. (The secret plan was drawn out between Sir Marks Sykes representing Britain and George Picot his French counterpart in consultation with Italy and Czarist Russia for partitioning the Turkish Empire after World War I. The plan came to light when, following the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the new Bolshevik regime published the secret imperialist treaties.)

Even before gaining control of the territory, Britain promised a national home for Jews in Palestine through its infamous Balfour Declaration issued on 2 November 1917. It thus planted the seeds of an endless conflict in that land. The Declaration was in the form of a letter written by Arthur James Balfour, the then Foreign Secretary of Britain, to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, one of the leaders of British Jewry. As one commentator put it: "By this strange instrument, one country, acting without legal or moral right, decided the fate of another without even consulting it and gave it away to some people scattered across the world" [3]. The ulterior motive of the British in issuing the Declaration was to win the support of the Zionist Jews across Europe and America for the ongoing war (WW-I). Moreover, it was a convenient way to stem the flow of Jews into Britain from other parts of Europe while at the same time carving out a safe haven for a potential ally in West Asia.

The ravages of World War I and the economic disaster that followed threw up social and political crises in Europe once again. Anti-Semitism was one of the tactics adopted for diverting people’s anger and for disrupting their unity in the struggle against those forces that caused these crises. Many such devious means were used to cover up the real motives for unleashing yet another world war: the desperate struggle between imperialist powers to corner markets and to grab new colonies. During World War II (1939-45), Hitler and his Nazi regime in Germany carried out a systematic campaign to destroy among others the Jewish communities of Europe, in the course of which some six million Jews alone, including some 1.5 million children were exterminated. (It is one of those great ironies of history that today the malevolent Zionists are perpetrating on the Palestinians almost the same type of atrocities, which the Nazis had perpetrated on Jews and others in Europe!) But was a separate homeland in Palestine for Jews a solution for the anti-Semitic attitude?

During 1870-1896 several societies had sprung up in various cities across Europe for propagating the idea of Zionism, i.e., the political movement for a separate homeland in Palestine for the Jews. The bizarre idea was staunchly opposed by many well-known intellectuals of Jewish origin of that time and since then. (Of course there was one streak of Zionism, which was of the non-malignant kind. Known as Kibbutzim – based on collective farming – it originated in 1909 with the genuine desire to seek social justice for the Jewish people. But today it is a movement that has been sidelined within Israel. There is also a sect of native Jews in Palestine – known as Natvri Karta – who are anti-Zionists.) Modern Zionism effectively began with the holding of the First Zionist Congress on 29 August 1897 AD at the initiative of Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jew, in Basle, Switzerland. The Zionist Organization emerged out of this Congress. Central to Zionist thought is the concept of the Land of Israel (Palestine) as the birthplace of the Jewish people (a mythical claim invoking the Old Testament) and the belief that Jewish life elsewhere is a life of exile. It is true that the Jews as a community were formally expelled from Palestine in 135 AD – a process that began from as early as 70 AD. But by no stretch of imagination can the Palestinians be blamed for the forced exodus; the decision to expel the Jews was that of the Romans. It was a form of reprisal for revolts by the Jews against the Romans, who had conquered Palestine in 63 BC and made it a province of the Roman Empire. The devotion of Jews to their religion and special forms of worship was used as a pretext for political discrimination against them, and the pent-up anger had led to the revolts.

It may be pointed out that the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, the founder of Judaism – the religion of the Jews, was not an original inhabitant of Palestine. According to legend, he is said to have emigrated from Ur in Babylonia (what is now Iraq) some 3700 years ago. On his way to Cannan – or what later came to be called Palestine – he along with his people had to trudge on to Egypt to escape a famine. While he returned to Cannan, his people sojourned in Egypt for 400 years and slaved under the Pharaohs. It was Prophet Moses, the next important figure after Abraham, who led the Hebrew people out of Egyptian bondage around 1300 BC. Moses tried to lead them into Cannan but they were repeatedly turned back by the Cannanites, i.e., Palestinians, until around 1260 BC when finally, under the leadership of Joshua, the Jews succeeded in conquering Cannan. Joshua was followed by a succession of leaders prominent among whom are David and Solomon, whose combined rule lasted for 78 years until 922 BC. It was nearly eight centuries later that the Maccabees, a Jewish family, established themselves as the rulers of Palestine. Their rule lasted from 142 BC to 63 BC, until the Romans took over power.

The right of return to Palestine after a long gap may have had some semblance of justness if all the Jews of today were the direct descendants of those who were forced to emigrate from there over 1900 years ago. But that is surely not the case. Of the total Jewish population the world over, direct descendants of the expelled Jews would constitute but a tiny fraction. A slightly larger fraction would be of mixed decent, while the overwhelming majority would consist of those who are Jews by religion but having anthropologically no connection whatsoever with the Jews expelled from Palestine. This is because there have been conversions to Judaism of large numbers whose earliest forefathers were nowhere near Palestine. After their dispersal from Palestine the thing common to all Jews was only their religion. If religion should be the yardstick for deciding nationality, all Christians across the globe should also have the right to make Palestine their home as Christianity too originated there! Mahatma Gandhi saw through the fallacy of this tenuous claim of the Zionists and was of the opinion that:

"The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. The Jews born in France are French in precisely the same sense that Christians born in France are French. If Jews have no home but Palestine, will they relish the idea of being forced to leave the other parts of the world in which they are settled? Or do they want a double home where they can remain at will? This cry for the national home affords a colourable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews." [4]

Occupation by Force

By no stretch of imagination could a separate homeland in Palestine for Jews have been a solution for anti-Semitism. But that was the solution the Zionists prescribed and they went about seeking that goal in a very organised manner. The first large-scale immigration of Jews into Palestine (mainly from Russia and Rumania, all of whom were converts and not descendents of the expelled Jews) took place during 1882 -1903. Still in the early 1880s, there were only about 24,000 Jews in Palestine, consisting less than 4% of the total population there and a mere 0.3 % of the world’s total population of Jews at that time. [5]

After the First Zionist Congress, the Zionist movement organised itself as a worldwide organisation with permanent institutions. The primary tasks of the Zionist Organisation were to purchase land in Palestine, reclaim unproductive land and to settle immigrating Jews in newly created rural settlements and townships. For these purposes, it established two central agencies. The first was the Jewish National Fund (JNF) founded in 1901, whose charter specified land purchase in Palestine as the organisation’s sole pursuit. The second agency that was founded was the Palestine Land Development Company (PLDC) established in 1908. Subsequently an overseas fundraising mechanism known as Keren Hayesod was founded in London in 1920 (its headquarters were moved to Jerusalem in 1926). The net result was that, according to the Zionists’ own admission: "By May 1948, when the [British] Mandate expired and Israel was about to proclaim its statehood, land redemption had placed nearly one-tenth of the country under Jewish ownership, the rest being owned by the government or by Arabs" [6]. While the Jews admit owning only 10 % of land in Palestine, after usurping power in 1948 they forcibly seized over 77 % of the land [7] although even under the UN Partition Plan they were to get only 56% of it as its share!

The Zionists were able to impose their will over the Palestinians only because of their military superiority. Such superiority was achieved through long-tem planning. To advance their interests, the Zionists methodically went about arming and training their members in large numbers soon after they started immigrating to Palestine in an organized manner. They began by setting up so-called "security organizations", the first of which was founded in 1909 and was called Hashomer. Subsequently, in 1920 an underground organization called Haganah was formed as a "grassroots" armed force (which gradually became the full-fledged military wing of the Zionists) to unleash terror on the Palestinians and to remove all obstacles in their path including those placed by the British.

In 1931 a group of Haganah members seceded from the organization and founded the Irgun Tzevai Leumi (National Military Organization) also know by its acronym, Etzel. Etzel advocated a much harsher line of action against the Palestinians and protested the policy of relative restraint adopted by the Haganah. Etzel split in 1940 when a section within it demanded that the military struggle against the British should be continued irrespective of the war against Nazi Germany. The new group which called itself Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Fighters for Freedom of Israel) or Lehi for short, was also opposed to enlisting in the British army. Haganah, Etzel and Lehi eventually joined together in November 1945 to form the Hebrew Resistance Movement.

Interestingly, during the Palestinian uprising of 1936-39, strategic interests persuaded Britain to allow a certain degree of military co-operation between the British army and police and the Haganah. This co-operation gave the Haganah a measure of legality and manifested in the "Supernumerary Police" venture (enlistment of over 20,000 members of the Haganah into the British police force in Palestine) that lasted until 1948. Of course the most important factor that contributed to the development of Zionist armed forces in Palestine were the more than 30,000 Zionists who enlisted in the British army in the course of World War II, which led to the establishment of the Jewish Brigade Group. This helped them learn a broad range of military subjects – combat, administration, technology and logistics – and after the war they were able to transfer this knowledge along with the trained men to the Zionist armed forces in Palestine. [8]

It is suspected that the Zionists managed to procure vast quantities of arms from the residue of the US and British military campaigns in the Middle East after World War II. The military co-operation with the British stood them in good stead when British forces departing from Palestine in 1948 reportedly sold arms and ammunition, even tanks and other heavy weapons to the Zionists. The steady flow of military hardware from Czechoslovakia after World War II was what finally helped them a great deal in consolidating their military might. Thus, at the time of forcibly establishing the State of Israel in 1948, the Zionist had a well-trained and well-armed force, which were at least 65,000 strong. There was little doubt that the number of armed Zionists in the field in 1948 was far greater than the combined strength of the ill-trained, in-disciplined and poorly armed Arab armies from the neighbouring countries that eventually confronted them.

Palestinian Resistance

The Palestinian peoples’ resistance against the disastrous immigration policy, including major revolts in 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936-39, was put down only through intimidation and brute force. While the Zionists immigrated to Palestine in a very organized manner, the Palestinian resistance against it was most disorganized. There were several reasons for it. The prospect of a strong, united and committed leadership emerging from amongst the Palestinians was constrained by the social setup of their society. Big land-holding families (many of them non-Palestinian Arabs) had largely controlled Palestine. In the 1930s, while about 30 % of the Palestinian rural families were land-less, 250 families owned the same amount of land as cultivated by 60,000 peasants [9]. Family-based political factions, their self-interests and their rivalries frustrated any hope of building a sustained struggle against foreign incursion. The two most important families – the Husseinis and the Nashashibis – fought for primacy and could never get over their rivalry even for the sake of presenting a solid front against British imperialism and Zionism.

There were three distinct strands within the nationalist movement in Palestine. The notables, who were disturbed by popular agitation and sought accommodation with the Zionists, ‘performed the role of diplomats, the educated middle-class that of articulation of public opinion and the peasants that of the actual fighters in the battle against the Zionist presence’ [10]. While the traditional leadership ‘refused to commit themselves to any platform which would imply the acceptance of the Balfour Declaration, they also refused to promote or condone any revolutionary course against the Anglo-Zionist convergence’ [11]. The latter stand could be attributed to the belief that revolution would inevitably be detrimental to their own interests. Their failure to adhere to a revolutionary platform prevented the emergence of a revolutionary leadership from among the middle-class militant nationalists. Thus, the ‘lower strata’ of the Palestinian society, which was potentially willing to revolt, was left leaderless.

The First Palestinian National Congress (PNC), which was organized in March 1919 in Jerusalem, sent two memoranda to the Paris Peace Conference (following World War I): one rejecting the Balfour Declaration and the other demanding independence. At the Third PNC, convened in Haifa in December 1920, an Executive Committee was elected that continued to stir the Palestinian movement till about mid-1930s. At the Arab National Conference held on 13 December 1931 in Jerusalem a ‘national charter’ was chalked out and a new level of activity became evident leading to the founding of the Arab Independence (Istiqlal) Party in 1932. This was the first serious attempt by the rationally thinking Palestinians to pool their anti-British and anti-Zionist zeal on a national plane without constraints of tie-up with the Husseinis or the Nashashibis. ‘In their first manifesto the Istiqlalists attributed the lamentable disarray in the ranks of the national movement to the egocentric and self-interested political notables who were subservient to the imperialist rulers. The party founders vowed to struggle against imperialism face to face and fight against Jewish immigration and land sales and to endeavour to achieve a parliamentary Arab government and work for the attainment of complete Arab unity’ [12]. The decision of the British to hold an electoral sideshow on the local municipal level, instead of establishing a national self-governing institution, led to the formation of four more political parties.

One of the most influential leaders of the Palestinians was Haj Amin al Husseini who became the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (traditional leader of the Palestinian Muslims) in 1921. ‘The Istiqlal Party had ceased to be an effective organised force in the latter part of 1933, partly owing to Haj Amin’s efforts to sabotage their reputation and position within the national movement’ [13]. ‘It was a remarkable feat on Haj Amin’s part to achieve ascendancy within the national movement in Palestine while maintaining friendly relations with the High Commissioner and a conciliatory attitude towards the British at a time when the contradiction between the two forces was becoming increasingly sharp’. [14]

Palestine was an excellent ground in the 1920s and 1930s for a peasant led revolution. Large numbers of absentee landlords (mainly from Lebanon and Syria) were ready to surrender to the temptations of selling their estates at generous prices offered by the Jews. The Jewish campaign of dispossessing the natives in favour of immigrants inevitably created an acute sense of economic outrage and helped politicise the Arab peasantry. The British occupation of Palestine also kindled the passion for national liberation. As a result, the entire objective conditions for a successful peasant revolution existed except one: radical leadership [15]. Istiqlal was an organization that was capable of throwing up such a leadership but the traditional overlords had quickly stepped in to stifle its growth. Nevertheless, Sheikh Izzeddin al Qassam, one of those who joined the Istiqlal in 1932, rose to become a national hero in Palestine.

Sheikh Izzeddin, a man of immense religious learning, was a Syrian born Arab who came to Palestine in 1921 after the failure of the Syrian revolt against French occupation of which he was a prominent leader. As an ardent patriot and a fiery orator, he stood up against Zionism and British rule and preached about the necessity of armed revolt against subservience. He succeeded in setting up secret cells among the growing number of land-less peasants, but in a pre-mature encounter with the British forces he and his closest associates attained martyrdom on 19 November 1935. Less than a month after the killing of Sheikh Izzeddin, hostility towards the British government spread to the villages of Palestine where the Sheikh and his followers were held in high esteem. In the major towns radical youth groups began to emerge to replace the discredited older political leadership. The Great Arab Revolt (1936-39) was in effect triggered off by the killing of Sheikh Izzeddin. The overall losses suffered by the Palestinians during 1936-39 – both in terms of lives and property – was quite substantial [16]. Thus, the Zionist were able to ride roughshod over the Palestinians in the 1940s because most of the revolutionary Palestinian cadres were wiped out by then and there was no effective force within Palestine to counter the organized Zionist offensive.

The sustained protests by the Palestinians against the wave of Jewish immigration did force the British to set up several commissions of inquiry between 1929 and 1939. As a result of the ambivalent policy of the British Government, report of one commission tended to contradict the report of the one that followed. The net result was that none of them could propose a satisfactory solution to the problem. Meanwhile, the rapidity with which immigration was taking place was quite staggering. According to scholars, between 1882 and 1948 about 600,000 Jews had immigrated to Palestine. Thus, during the period of British occupation, there was an eleven-fold rise in the Jewish population, by 1948 Jews constituted around 33% of a total population of about 2,000,000 in Palestine [17]. This was due to the British administrative and land laws, which facilitated huge wave of Jewish immigration. Almost all the new immigrants were from Europe. The outbreak of World War II and the subsequent decline of Britain as the premier imperial power opened the way for the United States of America to take over Britain’s role.

Click here for Part Two of The Palestinian Saga.

N.D.Jayaprakash is a member of the Delhi Science Forum/Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace in New Delhi, India. He can be reached at:jpdsf@hotmail.com

References/Notes

1. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi, 1977, Vol.68, p.137

2. Overview, UN Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL) at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/ngo/history.html

3. Punyapriya Dasgupta (member of the 1985 UN sponsored international team of journalists on a mission of fact-finding about the Palestinians), Cheated by the World -The Palestinian Experience, Orient Longman Limited, New Delhi, 1988, p. 45

4. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, op cit., p. 138

5. Prakash C Jain (School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University), ‘Population and Society in Israel’, Encounter (New Delhi), Vol. 2, No. 3, May/June 1999, pp. 57-58

6. http://www.israel.org/mfa/go.asp?MFAH00uq0 (Official web site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Israel)

7. See endnote 2 above

8. Information on Haganah, Etzel and Lehi are primarily from the official web-site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Israel at: http://www.israel.org/mfa/go.asp?MFAH00uo0 and http://www.israel.org/mfa/go.asp?MFAH27z0

9. Don Perez, ‘The Historical Background of Arab Nationalism in Palestine’, in Richard Ward, Don Peretz and Even M. Wilson (eds.), The Palestinian State: A Rational Approach, New York, 1977, quoted in Dasgupta, op. cit., p.131

10. A.W. Kayyali, Palestine – A Modern History, Croom Helm, London, 1978, p. 41

11. Ibid., pp.123-124

12. ibid., p. 167

13. Ibid., p.176

14. Ibid., p. 175

15. Dasgupta, op. cit., pp.133-134

16. Palestinian casualties were 5,032 killed and 14,760 wounded (Kayyali, op cit., p.231) About 460 Jews and 101 Britons were killed during the same period (Dasgupta, op cit., p.138) Unaccounted Palestinian casualties may have much more.

17. Amnon Kapeliouk, The Changing Pattern of Israeli Immigration, Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1997, http://mondediplo.com/1997/11/israel, p.1