PR: Chapter 6
"For in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants ... The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land." Lord Balfour, private memorandum to Lord Curzon, his successor (who initially opposed Zionism), 11 August 1919, Falastin, 19141
The energetic and charismatic Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann relocated to London in 1904 after failing to get Ottoman support. The Zionists had a slow start securing British backing, but a breakthrough came during the First World War. Germany had offered generous peace terms to an exhausted England and France as the war appeared to be approaching stalemate with a slight advantage to Germany. Precisely at this opportune time, the Zionist movement offered to get the US to join the allies in exchange for a public commitment of support on the part of France and England to a Jewish homeland in Palestine.2 The promise from France came via a letter sent from Jules Cambon, Secretary General of the French Foreign Ministry, to Nahum Sokolow, an official of the World Zionist Organisation:
You were kind enough to inform me of your project regarding the expansion of the Jewish colonisation of Palestine. You expressed to me that, if the circumstances were allowing for that, and if on another hand, the independency of the holy sites was guaranteed, it would then be a work of justice and retribution for the allied forces to help the renaissance of the Jewish nationality on the land from which the Jewish people was exiled so many centuries ago. The French Government, which entered this present war to defend a people wrongly attacked, and which continues the struggle to assure victory of right over might, cannot but feel sympathy for your cause, the triumph of which is bound up with that of the Allies. I am happy to give you herewith such assurance.3
Five months later, on 2 November 1917, the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, sent Lord Rothschild a similar declaration of sympathy for Zionist aspirations; this later became known as the Balfour Declaration. These promises to European Jews of a ‘national home’ were issued when Britain and France had no jurisdiction over the area, against the wishes of the inhabitants of the land and when the Allies were receiving significant support from the Arabs who had revolted against the Ottoman Turks. Three years earlier, Britain had promised the Arabs (in the McMahonHussein correspondence) independence and self-government.
Another complicating factor was that Emir (later King) Faisal of Hejaz had also corresponded with Weizmann and they agreed to support the Balfour Declaration in return for the Zionist movement helping establish independence for the Arab areas. Treacherous as it was, this agreement contained a clause stating that unless a unified Arab country were established throughout the area (present-day Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries), the whole agreement would be null and void.4 However, the FaisalWeizmann agreement established the precedent of Arab leaders making deals with the Zionists behind closed doors without consulting the native Palestinians who were directly impacted.
EARLY YEARS OF THE BRITISH OCCUPATION
Palestinians supported the Allies because they had been under Ottoman rule for so long. But those familiar with European colonial history were justifiably suspicious that the Europeans would prove to be far worse than the Ottomans. European colonisers traditionally ruled people by dividing them, while the Ottomans kept the Arab areas unified. The 1916 SykesPicot secret agreement to divide the area between Britain and France illustrated the future. T. E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) later explained how the British government betrayed Faisal despite earlier assurances. It is now believed that Faisal later lost his throne because of his refusal to part with Palestine, a lesson not lost on his brother Abdullah, who became King of Jordan. The subjugation of the Arab and Islamic world and its dismemberment via such deals were common.5
Strengthened by these machinations, Zionists made a huge practical leap forward one cold winter day, 9 December 1917, when British forces marched into Jerusalem. The Ottoman ruler decided to spare the city from British bombardment and surrendered it without a fight. Headed by General Allenby, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, the British entered two days later (11 December) to be received by Palestinian elites and religious leaders, including the mayor, Hussein Sakeem Al-Husseini. Allenby pledged support for religious freedom and protection of the communities and the holy places. But immediately, the doors to increased Jewish immigration from Europe opened in fulfilment of the Balfour Declaration.
The Zionist movement won concessions that would have been unimaginable under Ottoman rule (as we shall see). Jews in Palestine in 1917 represented less than 7 per cent of the population, most of them were not Zionists and they owned less than 2 per cent of the privately owned land. By the end of British rule, they represented nearly a third of the population and owned nearly 7 per cent of the land. The success must be credited not only to the Zionist movement but to the British elite’s interests. Many British officers were far more comfortable working with English-speaking European Jews than trying to understand and deal with the local inhabitants. Palestinians who first saw the British as allies against the Ottomans now began to see them as invaders. Tellingly, when Allenby delivered his first speech in Jerusalem, he mentioned completion of the cycle of the Crusades.
While Ottomans still had armies in northern Palestine, the first Jewish Zionist delegation from Europe after the British occupation arrived and met General Ronald Storrs, Governor of Jerusalem, on 27 April 1918. Immediately, voices of protest began to be heard. Palestinian-organised protests led to the founding of MuslimChristian societies which showed not only opposition to colonialism but also local solidarity and camaraderie. The symbol for each of these societies was a cross within a crescent. They operated efficiently and methodically to challenge British and Zionist attempts to create sectarian rifts based on religion. It is no surprise then that these societies made a point of distinguishing native Arab Jews from the Zionist Jewish colonisers.6 In the second half of May 1918, the Arab flag and the Arab national anthem of revolt were adopted by the Palestinian national movement despite objections by the British.7 This was followed in the first week of June by the establishment of a number of nationalist organisations, notably in Jaffa and Jerusalem.
In 1918, two youth organisations (Christian and Muslim mixed) were formed in Jerusalem representing clan alignments: Al-Nadi Al-Arabi (the Arab Club) and Al-Montana Al-Adabi (the Culture Forum). Founders of the former included members of the Al-Husseini family, and of the latter Fakhri Al-Nashashibi and Hassan Sudki Al-Dajani.8 This was the first hint of familiar sectarian division in politics of Palestine.
Arab mistrust and anger grew, especially when the Zionist movement held loud and boisterous commemorations on the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (2 November 1918). That same day, the Jaffa MuslimChristian Society sent a letter of protest to General Clayton. The increased activities of the Palestinian nationalist forces alarmed both the British rulers and leaders of the Zionist movement. Weizmann wrote reports and letters detailing and sometimes exaggerating the build-up of local native resistance, insisting that ‘Palestine is for the Palestinians’.9 An organisational leap forward was achieved when the local MuslimChristian societies collaborated to form a more centralised society with by-laws approved in Jerusalem in January 1919 calling for education of the youth and encouraging national development in different areas, while protecting individual and national rights. This paved the way for the first Palestinian Arab Congress held in Jerusalem, 27 January4 February, 1919 with 27 delegates attending from throughout Palestine.10
The British authorities allowed the conference to go ahead because they were hoping that the eleven delegates who were supportive of Britain would be able to sway the conference. Instead, on the first day, the conference decided to send a letter to the 1919 Peace Conference in Paris, which stated:
The people of Palestine … met and chose their delegate who attended and held a meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the form of government suitable for their country. They decided as a first priority to send your esteemed conference their strong complaint for what they have heard that the Zionists received a promise to make our country a national home for them and that they aim to migrate to this country and colonise it … We urge your esteemed conference not to take any decisions about this country until after you know what our desires and wishes are …11
A statement to the 1919 Peace Conference was also sent by prominent American Jews (including one congressman):
We raise our voices in warning and protest against the demand of the Zionists for the reorganisation of the Jews as a national unit, to whom, now or in the future, territorial sovereignty in Palestine shall be committed ... We ask that Palestine be constituted as a free and independent state, to be governed under a democratic form of government recognising no distinctions of creed or race or ethnic descent, and with adequate power to protect the country against oppression of any kind. We do not wish to see Palestine, either now or at any time in the future, organised as a Jewish state.12
Fifteen of the 27 delegates to the first Palestinian Arab Congress also attended the Syrian Congress in Damascus on 3 July 1919. The conference emphasised Arab unity. While the Zionists were at the Paris Conference rallying for implementation of the Balfour Declaration, the British forces prevented the departure of Palestinian leaders who merely wanted delegates to know the wishes of the locals. There was a symbolic act of resistance when Palestinians tried to sail from the port of Jaffa and were prevented by the British. Elite non-Palestinian Arab interests were represented, including the British-backed King Faisal.
The US administration was initially reluctant to support British policy in Palestine. President Wilson had stated as early as 1918:
The settlement of every question, whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangement, or political relationship, rests upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned, and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery. If that principle is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine’s population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine – nearly nine-tenths of the whole – are emphatically against the entire Zionist programme. The tables show that there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine more agreed upon than this. To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the People’s rights, though it is kept within the forms of law.13
Accordingly, Wilson’s delegates to the 1919 conference were instructed to propose self-determination for the Palestinians, but they were willing to compromise and make an exception by setting up a commission of inquiry formed of two delegates from each interested country ‘to study the situation’. Only the US proceeded to send its two delegates (Henry C. King and Charles R. Crane) on a fact-finding trip to Palestine. Two months before the KingCrane commission was to visit Palestine, the MuslimChristian Society held a meeting to plan to submit demands for the US administration to follow Wilson’s stated goal of Palestinian self-determination. They declared their opposition to Zionism, but affirmed their kinship with Jews: ‘Local Jews are nationals who will have what we have and endure what we endure.’14
The declaration was published and Palestinians who met the KingCrane Commission expressed the same opinion. The Commission concluded that local Palestinians (representing 90 per cent of the population) were unanimous in their desires and aspirations. So while they were initially sympathetic to Zionism, King and Crane showed their objectivity in explaining why the Balfour Declaration was wrong and contradicted the notion of self-determination. This Commission issued a lengthy report but this was suppressed and only excerpts of it were published in 1922, with the full report published only in 1947. The British proceeded with their plan to rule the areas based on the SykesPicot and the BalfourJules agreements.
In Egypt, a revolution between 1919 and 1922 showed that Arabs wanted independence. In 1919 several new publications appeared expressing this desire: Suryah al-Janubiyah (Southern Syria, edited by ’Aref Al-Aref and Amin Al-Husseini); Mir’at Al-Sharq (Mirror of the East, edited by Bulus Shihadah); and Bayt al-Maqdis (Jerusalem, edited by Bandali Mushahwar).15 When Faisal returned to Damascus from Paris in 1919, the atmosphere was revolutionary and delegates from Hizb Al-Istiqlal Al-Arabi proposed to elect a national assembly and declare Arab independence in a united Syria (i.e., including Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq and an autonomous Lebanon). Clashes occurred with French troops and this escalated after the General Syrian Congress proclaimed Faisal King of Greater Syria on 8 March 1920. Rowdy demonstrations in Jerusalem unsettled the Allies. This was followed by the Iraqi people crowning Faisal’s brother King of Iraq. The news prompted the Allies to convene a conference in San Remo on 25 April 1920 to confront these early signs of independence and reaffirm the commitment of France and Britain to the treacherous SykesPicot and BalfourJules deals.16
On 20 February 1920, British officials gathered notables in Jerusalem to tell them that Britain was seeking a mandate over Palestine which would include the Balfour Declaration; in other words, Palestinians should resign themselves to the reality. Seven days later, an official proclamation was issued to the same effect. That day, 27 February 1920, two events signalled what was to come in response. First, the second Palestine Arab Congress was held in Damascus and again emphasised the need for Arab unity, for resistance to the British occupation and the Balfour Declaration, and for self-determination; and secondly, a demonstration was held in Jerusalem demanding the same. The demonstrations spread on 11 March 1920 to all major Palestinian cities.17 In Haifa, thousands signed a petition against making Palestine a Jewish national homeland and was delivered to the military ruler there, Colonel Stanton.18 The 1920 Al-Quds uprising spread quickly, with mass resignations, protests, strikes and other forms of popular resistance.
In 4 April 1920 the annual religious festival known as Mawsam Al-Nabi Musa was transformed into a mass nationalist demonstration. The crowds heard from Aref Al-Aref, mayor of Jerusalem Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini and Amin Al-Husseini. Al-Husseini had served with the British and Sharif Faisal in recruiting support for the Allies to bring an end to Ottoman rule, but was then disliked by the British. Despite his vacillation, he emerged to become a strong and commanding leader of Palestinian Arab nationalism and a spiritual leader of the resistance.19 As the crowds entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate, they were harassed by Zionists led by Zeev Jabotinsky, who exploited conflicts to increase the ranks of his underground forces. They got what they asked for as communal violence erupted and five Jews and four Palestinians were killed. The British administration sentenced Aref Al-Aref and Amin Al-Husseini in absentia to ten years’ imprisonment each, but they had both fled to Syria. They also sentenced Jabotinsky to 15 years but released him within three months, making him instantly a known entity among the Zionists. Here it is worth noting that Aref Al-Aref was born in Jerusalem in 1891 and had studied in Turkey. He advocated aggressive but non-violent resistance. He spent three years in exile in Siberia, escaping after the Russian Revolution and then returning to Palestine. He edited the newspaper Surya Al-Janubiyya published in Jerusalem from 1919. He was an intellectual who didn’t live in an ivory tower, but with his people. He was just as comfortable having tea with West Jerusalem elite Palestinian families as with Bedouins in simple tents in the Negev. After a tumultuous career in British-occupied Palestine he became mayor of Jerusalem in 1950 and died on 30 July 1973 in Ramallah.
Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini resigned as mayor of Jerusalem rather than agreeing to implement occupation diktats. He was born 1853, spoke fluent Turkish and served as an Ottoman administrator before becoming mayor in 1918. He was elected representative of Jerusalem to the third (December 1920, Haifa), fifth (August 1922, Nablus), sixth (June 1923, Jaffa) and seventh (June 1928) Congress of the Arab Executive Committee and was its president from December 1920. He led a non-violent demonstration in Jaffa on 27 October 1933 protesting against Zionist mass immigration where he was injured, and this hastened his death on 27 March 1934. The British found a willing replacement in the form of the more compliant Ragheb Nashashibi. Al-Husseini’s removal from office in 1920 deepened an existing fissure between the two factions in Palestine led by the Nashashibis and the Al-Husseinis. On policy issues, the Nashashibi faction believed in khuth wataleb bilbaaki (take and then ask for what remains), a compromise position of give and take with the Mandate. The Al-Husseini faction believed in resistance and rejection.
THE SAMUEL ERA AND THE GROWTH OF RESISTANCE
The British authorities prevented another Palestinian congress taking place in May 1920 which had intended to discuss the San Remo Conference. But the authorities appointed a secret investigative committee whose findings were not declassified until 1946 due to Zionist pressure. They concluded that the cause of the 1920 disturbances was the aggressive nature of the Zionist leadership in pushing for the transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state. The report detailed the extent of the Zionist build-up of parallel institutions, including an intelligence service that knew more about secret British documents than the British knew about the Zionist movement.20 Ignoring the report, the British government replaced its military rule with a civil administration on 30 June 1920. The chosen face for this occupation was an ambitious man who liked to wear white suits. Herbert Louis Samuel was a prominent Jewish Zionist who proved his mettle by silencing critics of the Balfour Declaration and by being on the official Zionist delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Samuel states that he was appointed not only with known Zionist sympathies, but largely because of those sympathies.21
Samuel’s appointment was met with objection by British officers such as Lord Curzon, who warned of the ramification of choosing, as the first civil administrator in Palestine, a Zionist Jew. Upon his appointment, Samuel toured Palestine and visited ten Jewish colonial settlements. He then claimed that the British military has exaggerated Arab enmity and that things were far more hopeful for fulfilling the Balfour Declaration.22 His appointment sparked immediate protests and boycotts. Many Palestinians responded by mass resignation from government jobs (a notable example was Khalil Sakakini) strikes, protests, petitions and pleas for change. Letters of protests poured in from the MuslimChristian Society in Jaffa on 23 June 1920 and from women in north Palestine, among others.23 Despite a call to boycott him, many leaders attended a meeting with Samuel in Jerusalem on 7 July 1920, and in Haifa the next day. This emboldened him and the British government into believing they could isolate the people from the elite leaders of Palestine.24
Parallel with Samuel’s machinations, on 14 July 1920 France demanded that King Faisal in Damascus end conscription and surrender his garrisons to French troops. He was forced to concede against the wishes of his people, but the French still betrayed him and forced him out of Damascus. This blow to Arab independence had negative repercussions on Palestinians, who were left with little or no outside Arab support. The Allies then forced an agreement with defeated Turkey on 10 August 1920, which ensured Turkey had no claim over the ‘liberated’ Ottoman provinces. President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk initially rejected this agreement but was forced to accept an even stronger version in Lausanne on 28 September 1923. With the removal of this technical legal hurdle, the Zionist project could now advance rapidly.
The actions and policies that followed signalled the first hints of a nascent apartheid system. The Zionist viceroy Samuel had unprecedented executive, legislative and military authority, and at one point was likened to a new Jewish King of Palestine. He did not hesitate in segregating communities, in giving economic concessions to Zionists and in allowing the Yishuv (Jewish community) to establish an independent Jewish police force, Jewish schools, Jewish colonies, Jewish industries, and so on. Samuel also appointed a number of leading Jewish Zionists to sensitive government positions, including immigration, finance, and trade and industry. While Jews constituted less than 10 per cent of the population at the time, they filled 60 per cent of government positions. The few Arabs in government tended to be chosen for their loyalty and acquiescence. In September and October 1920, Samuel issued a series of regulations on landownership that made it far easier for the Zionist movement to acquire vast tracts of land, thereby making it difficult for locals to keep control of their land. He even appointed another Zionist, Norman Bentwitch, to administer land registration.25 He allowed the formation of the Hagannah (the forerunner of Israel’s army) as a ‘defence force’ for the expanding Zionist colonies. This added to local fears that Zionist Jews intended to take over Palestine, a fear validated by direct statements from the leaders of the Zionist movement and from the Zionist High Commissioner himself.26 Samuel accepted the Jewish Agency and the leadership of the Yishuv as self-designated leaders of the Jews in Palestine, but refused to accept that the Palestinian Arab Congress represented Palestinians.27
Increased Jewish immigration and unfair land laws instituted by Samuel squeezed the Palestinian peasants. For hundreds of years, most cultivated land in Palestine was amiriya, lands whose farmers paid a tax known as ’ushur. For all practical purposes these were lands traditionally owned communally by the villagers. Samuel used his wide authority to reassign such lands to the private ownership of Zionists or wealthy owners and people connected to the government, who in turn could sell it to the Zionist movement. When villagers were notified they could no longer use lands that their ancestors had farmed for hundreds of years, it came as a great shock. Samuel had also instituted laws that stated that absentee landowners could not profit from use of their lands, but could sell it. This prompted wealthy families like the Sarsaq to sell large tracts in Marj Ibn Amer and elsewhere to the Zionist leadership. Samuel also instituted laws that allowed the transfer of large tracts of ‘public lands’, though much of it was used by Palestinians, to the exclusive use of the Zionist movement, claiming that ‘public good’ resulted. Thousands of Palestinians were forcibly evicted. These unfair laws were thus instituted by an occupying power to benefit a foreign Zionist movement at the expense of the native Christians and Muslims who represented some 90 per cent of the population and without consulting them. It was predictable that resistance would increase.
The third Palestinian Arab Congress was held in Haifa on 14 December 1920 and repeated calls to repudiate the Balfour Declaration and promote self-determination. This placed Haifa on the map of cities of resistance and organisation.28 But this congress faced new challenges. The exile of Faisal from Syria and the events in Iraq showed that the British and French occupiers had succeeded in bringing an end to the idea of a pan-Arab state (or even a united Bilad Al-Sham). This set the stage for Palestinians to re-evaluate and refocus on a narrower form of Palestinian nationalism.29 The congress elected an executive committee headed by Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini. When Samuel showed no interest in responding to their demands, the executive committee travelled to Cairo to meet Winston Churchill, then British Colonial Secretary, but the latter merely agreed to hear their views when he visited Jerusalem. They met in Jerusalem on 8 March 1921, where their demands included: no national home for Jews in Palestine; the end of immigration and land transfers; a national government to represent all the people of Palestine; and no separation of Palestine from its neighbouring areas. Churchill rejected these demands and told those gathered that self-determination would only come after ‘our children’s children’ had died.30
While Churchill was delivering his insulting speech on 18 March 1921 in which he glorified the crusaders and the Maccabees, a day of general strikes and protests was called for throughout Palestine and one demonstration was met with a hail of British bullets killing several people (e.g., at the funerals of Edward Mansour and Mustafa Al-’Ajouz).31 In the demonstration in Tulkarem, thousands gathered and marched from the southern edge of town towards the government building. The march was led by students followed by religious leaders (Christian and Muslim), tribal and political leaders, merchants and ordinary people, all carrying black flags.32 In Haifa, a Christian child and a Muslim man were killed in a demonstration held in defiance of a ban.33
When the British ambassador was giving a speech 14 April 1921, a young Palestinian named Jibran Kazna got to his feet and demanded that the British government stop transforming Palestine into a Jewish homeland and implement Article 22 of the League of Nations on self-determination.34 On 29 April 1921, a British officer, Colonel Cox, arrived in the Galilee to put down the unrest. He questioned one of the accused ‘troublemakers’, Habib Wahbeh, charging him with fomenting mutiny, objecting to Zionism, joining the Arab Conference and being a member of a nationalist society. Wahbeh replied that all the allegations were true, except starting a mutiny: ‘As for being against the Zionist government, this is something I do not deny for I believe Zionism would destroy hopes and aspirations of all Palestinians.’35
As the non-violent demonstrations were met with violence, the situation deteriorated. Conservative estimates suggested that 48 Arabs and 47 Jews were killed in April 1921. More realistic estimates give over 100 Arabs killed, mostly on 5 April in Jaffa. At that time Jaffa was in the sights of the British authorities as the hub of resistance. Only after the April violence did the British government appoint yet another commission of inquiry.36
In early May 1921, a number of demonstrations were held to coincide with Churchill’s arrival in Palestine. Churchill had just made a deal with Emir Abdullah to let him rule Transjordan in exchange for acquiescence to British plans in mandated Palestine (including the Zionist ‘national home’). This was to be added to the WeizmannFaisal agreement as yet another Hashemite family concession to the Zionist movement. In Gaza 20,000 people flocked to meet Churchill’s train, and angry demonstrations took place in Beisan and Haifa (where 20 Palestinian casualties were reported after British troops opened fire). The authorities removed the Palestinian governor of Beisan after that demonstration called for ending the Balfour Declaration.37 In the same issue of Al-Karmel, a picture is reproduced of the telegram sent by the Islamic Society of Haifa, signed by its head, the Mufti of Haifa Muhammad Murad, to the British government and to the Sun and Morning Post newspapers in London all warning of things getting out of hand if the government tried to force through the Balfour Declaration against the wishes of the inhabitants.
Later that month, the fourth Palestinian Arab Congress was held in Jerusalem and elected a group led by Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini. They travelled to London in July 1921 to try to persuade the British government to reverse its policies of support for the Zionist movement.38 Al-Karmel published the decision by the Congress that objected to the government’s banning of peaceful demonstrations, which ‘led to the unfortunate incident in Haifa in which the blood of innocents was shed’.39 At the same time, the MuslimChristian Society in Nablus issued a statement denouncing the decision to arm the Jewish colonies.40
In September 1921 one group of Palestinians went to give testimony to the British government in London and another group travelled to attend the SyrianPalestinian conference in Geneva. Disagreement ensued when those attending the Geneva conference supported the call against the British Mandate while those in London merely wanted the British Mandate to abandon its support of the Balfour Declaration and allow self-governance.41
The British issued a White Paper in October 1921 which reiterated some of the conclusions of the military (to the chagrin of Samuel and the Zionist movement) stating the main cause of the disturbances was the fear of transforming Palestine into a Jewish homeland. The report emphasised that there was no problem with Jewish and non-Jewish relations in Palestine under Ottoman rule without Zionism. It added that the Zionist idea of Jewish empowerment in politics to rule over Palestine was the cause of the friction. To undermine the White Paper, Samuel moved briskly to increase the pace of transformation in Palestine. In December 1921, he revised the 1920 landownership law to remove limits on the number of sales and to allow sales by people living outside the country (enabling collaborators and other wealthy landowners ample latitude to sell to the Jewish Agency). He also imposed taxes on uncultivated lands to encourage their sale, as many Palestinians could not afford the taxes. Through unfair laws, the fertile lands of seven villages in the valley of Marj Ibn Amer were sold in 1921 by the wealthy Lebanese Sarsaq family to the Zionists. Even though they were promised that they would receive equivalent land and homes elsewhere, the villagers were given nothing and were forcibly expelled. In all, 400,000 dunums of land belonging to 22 villages of this fertile valley were taken between 1921 and 1925 and 1,764 families comprising 8,730 individuals were expelled.42 A similar expulsion of 1,500 villagers from Wadi Al-Hawareth was accomplished by force (killing some of the peasants in the process). The villagers’ anger led to the creation of acts of vigilante resistance in the area, the most famous of which are the two ‘Robin Hoods’ of Palestine: Ahmed Al-Mahmoud (‘Abu Jildah’) from Al-Tamoon and Saleh Ahmed Al-Mustafa (‘Al-Armeet’) from Beita. Their exploits became famous throughout Palestine in the early 1930s. The slogan echoed across the villages of northern Palestine: ‘Abu Jilda and Al-Armeet, yama kassaro batraneet’ (Abu Jildah and Al-Armeet, oh how they broke British helmets).43
In the years following Samuel’s new land laws and policies, hundreds of thousands of dunums were acquired by the Zionists at knock-down prices (averaging £3.6 per dunum), and in some cases land was granted free via government allocation. The people living and farming these lands for hundreds of years were expelled. In total in the five years of Samuel’s rule, the Zionists increased their landholdings by 64 per cent (from 650,000 to 1,095,740 dunums). Samuel moved briskly in the direction of empowering Jewish Zionists and disempowering native Palestinians. In desperation, Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini led a delegation to London bypassing Samuel to present their case directly to the House of Lords. The delegation’s meeting with Churchill on 15 August 1921 was unsuccessful; he simply asked them to meet Weizmann. Weizmann in turn merely intensified their fears by clarifying that indeed the aim was to transform Palestine into a Jewish state. They held a second meeting with Churchill on 22 August 1922. In the meantime, Arab collaborative members of the committee appointed by Samuel sent a telegram claiming that the elected executive committee of the Palestinian Arab Congress did not represent Palestinian interests.44 Division between collaborationists’ interests and true nationalists has been repeated in Palestinian politics since then.
Samuel’s biased administration had an impact on another British White Paper, issued on 3 June 1922, which reiterated the same failed and destructive policies. Churchill went further than the Balfour Declaration in asserting that Jewish immigrants would become Palestinian by right and not by privilege, even though he emphasised this did not mean a Jewish Palestine or a Jewish state in Palestine. The White Paper also rejected the idea of a democratic representative body in Palestine. The role of the Zionist movement, thanks to Samuel, in getting this unconditional support was spelled out in Weizmann’s autobiography.45
THE YEARS LEADING TO THE UPRISING OF AL-BURAQ
After the Zionist movement secured US backing in the form of a congressional vote on 30 June 1922, the League of Nations voted on 24 July 1922 to approve the British Mandate of Palestine. The resolution reiterated the language of Balfour. The rather lengthy resolution did not deal with the people of Palestine as an indigenous population with rights to their country, nor did it take into consideration that they were the majority in possession of political and national rights. They were simply residents in a country that was to be transformed into a national home for Jews from around the world. With this resolution and Samuel’s Zionist administration in Palestine, the Great Powers had given legitimacy to the project of separating Palestine from its native people.46 Much had already changed before 24 June 1922. At this point, most Palestinians came to realise that the Zionist project and the British Mandate were inseparable; resistance to one meant resistance to the other. Thus, the Arab Executive decided on 2327 June that, when the Mandate was finalised, people should engage in mass demonstrations and strikes and other forms of popular resistance against the occupation. Religious leaders discouraged adherents from selling land to Zionists or agents of the Jewish Agency. A general strike on 1314 July 1922 brought commerce across the country to a standstill. Nationalist Palestinian leaders travelled to Mecca to muster Muslim support. The British admitted in private correspondence that the Arab leadership was pushing for popular resistance and resisting calls for armed rebellion.47
A decree from the High Commissioner on 14 August 1922 called for a ‘legislative body’ that would have no authority to legislate anything that the High Commissioner did not approve. This was roundly rejected in the fifth Palestine Conference held in Nablus on 2225 August 1922. Palestinians refused to participate in the sham elections in 1923, which consequently failed.48 The High Commissioner decided to create a ‘consultancy committee’ in May 1923 but, less than a month later, seven Arab members of the committee resigned under public pressure even before the committee held its inaugural session.49 These seven members (Ismail Al-Husseini, Aref Al-Dajani, Ragheb Nashashibi, Mahmoud Abu Khadra, Sulaiman Tuqan, Abdel Fattah Al-Sa’di, Sulaiman Nasif, Habib Salem and Fraih Abu Mdein) were known to be supporters of the British government, but they found their position untenable in light of public fury.50
The failures of the British authorities between February 1922 and May 1923 caused them to return to the tried-and-tested colonial practice of divide and rule. Between 1921 and 1935, Amin Al-Husseini and members of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Arab Congress became prime targets. Unfortunately, Al-Husseini did not set up institutions of governance or a democratic structure, but kept the reins of power in his own hands. This cult of personality was to have a significant detrimental effect, not only during this period, for it set a precedent that infected Palestinian polity for years to come, finding its most vivid expression in the 40-year leadership of Yasser Arafat.51 Yet, it must be said that Al-Husseini and the leadership of the Executive Committee, insular as they were, did manage to isolate the collaborationist elements of Palestinian society, kept the cause alive and ensured that the cause was not isolated from its Arab and Islamic dimension.
The British supported opposition to the leadership of Al-Husseini and the patriotic forces from a group led by Asaad Shuqairi, Aref Dajani and Ragheb Nashashibi. With help from the British authorities, they set up the Arab National Party on 8 November 1923. This party included wealthy landowners, merchants and Western-educated intellectuals; prominent leaders included Suleiman Taji Farouqi and Ragherb Nashashibi. The Agriculture Party was also formed in 1923, with a similar agenda of division and support for British policies and in their case the hope to divide rural from urban Palestinians. There is now ample evidence of the BritishZionist connection to these groups. Eventually, those who bet on the British authorities moved on, some finally abandoned their collaborative efforts, while others actually strengthened their commitment to the British and, by extension, the Zionist agenda, thus undermining the Palestinian cause.52
On 5 June 1923, an agreement signed between the British government and the Hashemite family which ruled Hejaz and Trans-Jordan recognised the British Mandate. The head of the Arab Executive Committee, Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini, sent a letter of inquiry to King Abdullah and was told that the agreement was not yet completed. The Palestinian Arab Congress held in Jaffa on 16 June 1923 objected to any such agreement. When King Hussein of Hejaz rejected it under popular pressure, he received a letter of thanks from the Palestine Executive Committee. Unfortunately, he then lost British support which was transferred to the Saud family, which still rules the kingdom now called Saudi Arabia. The same month as this shameful deal was being worked out (June 1923), the Executive Committee met in Jaffa, with Khalil Sakakini as secretary. This giant of Palestinian literature represents an unbroken trend of patriots challenging Western machinations.
During the 1920s, new movements flourished in Palestine despite the obstacles. While ChristianMuslim cooperation was the norm, the Jewish community remained largely isolated, albeit with a few exceptions. Zionism was an anti-assimilation idea and it distanced itself from local Palestinians and emphasised ‘Jewish labour’, ‘redeeming Jewish land’, etc. Such attitudes became prevalent among the small community of Jews in Palestine as early as 1880s and accelerated after the establishment of the world Zionist programmes in the early 1900s. David Ben-Gurion managed to convince otherwise liberal socialists contemplating inclusion of Arab workers that it was better to set up separate unions because:
This would allow the Jewish workers in mixed workplaces to improve their position through cooperation with their Arab co-workers while preserving the exclusively Jewish character of the Histadrut and its trade unions, which would thus remain free to carry out their Zionist (‘national’) tasks, including the struggle for removal of the Arab workers by Hebrew labour.53
In response, the Palestine Communist Party was founded in 1923 and took on the task of organising Arab and Jewish workers.54 It was the first political party that admitted Zionists and native Palestinians. But the alliance was fragile and in 1943 the party broke up ito two spin-offs: the National Liberation League, which called for Palestinian independence, and the Educational Communist Union, which supported Zionism.
On 11 October 1923, the British authorities asked if the Arab Executive Committee was willing to form an ‘Arab Agency’, analogous to the Jewish Agency. The letter of rejection of 9 November 1923, signed by Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini, stated clearly that it would reduce the Arab natives to parity with Zionist outsiders, ‘trying to influence the government’; a more rational solution would be to fulfil the British obligation to grant self-determination, including the right to vote, to all residents of Palestine. The underlying assumption of the British scheme was acceptance of the illegal British occupation and the Balfour Declaration.55 In retrospect, while rejecting British attempts at creating a quisling leadership, the Palestinian Arab Congress could have taken proactive steps to have democratic representation for all sectors of the Palestinian society.
The British acted brutally to suppress the 192022 uprising, but it took them many years and two more uprisings (in 1929 and 1936) to set up yet another commission, this time headed by Lord Peel, to look into the causes of Palestinian unrest and how to quell it. The Peel Commission concluded in July 1937 that the events of 1920, as well as 1936, had taken place because the locals were disaffected at British refusal to honour the promise of independence, the Balfour Declaration and fears of transforming their homeland into a Jewish state.56 That is certainly closer to the truth than the usual Zionist myth that people like Amin Al-Husseini incitted and controlled Palestinian anger.57
When Balfour made his one and only trip to Palestine in March 1925 to help inaugurate the Hebrew University, he was met with black flags on shuttered windows, a strike, a period of mourning and noisy demonstrations. Only the discredited mayor Ragheb Nashashibi, three municipal employees and a handful of Arab sheikhs attended the event in defiance of the boycott. The protests forced the authorities to quickly transfer him to Damascus (then under French mandate), but there he was met by similar demonstrations which forced him to cut the trip short and head for Beirut, before returning to Paris.58 In 1925, there was a revolt in Syria against French rule. Palestinian Arabs established the Central Committee to Aid Syria’s Afflicted, which raised funds to support the resistance in Syria, an act of solidarity appreciated and reciprocated eleven years later during the Palestinian revolt of 1936.59
The period 192328 saw a significant retrenchment and weakening of the Palestinian national movement. The Executive Committee of the Arab Palestinian Congress scaled down its demands on the British and lowered its expectations. Instead of independence, it called now for representation. Instead of rejecting new European Jewish immigration, they called for proportional representation. The nadir of the Palestinian situation was evident in the seventh Palestinian Arab Congress, held in Jerusalem on 2027 June 1928. The 250 delegates represented family and clan interests, both nationalist and collaborationist forces, colonising resisters and those who were selling land. The Executive Committee was enlarged to 48 (36 Muslims, 12 Christians) in order to satisfy different regions, factions and trends. The leadership emerged fragmented and weakened.60 Demands no longer included the end of British occupation or rescinding the Balfour Declaration, but focused on more ‘moderate’ requests, including changing British rules to employ Palestinians and objections to the British granting concessions to Zionist companies.61 Participants in an economic conference in 1923 in Jerusalem also asked for lower taxes and aimed to support farmers.62 The weakness continued to be self-inflicted as Palestinian divisions were exploited by the British to support their own policies. It seemed even nature was antagonistic: Palestine was shaken by a powerful earthquake in 1927 in which 272 people were killed, 833 injured and thousands of homes and other buildings damaged.
The era of petitions, complaints, demonstrations and limited boycotts seemed to be reaching its limits. Prior to 1929, the few notable successes using these civil tactics were only able to inconvenience the implementation of the Zionist project. The machinations of power were such that the British government was able to frustrate resistance efforts, exacerbate divisions among the locals and push forward. The strong Zionist lobby in London and from right-wing conservatives ensured no rational solutions.63 Frustration mounted and the ground was ripe for another uprising. As before and later, the fuse was lit by the Zionists themselves.
1929: THE AL-BURAQ UPRISING
Controversy arose at a section of the Haram Al-Sharif (Temple Mount), called the Western Wall by Jews and Al-Buraq by Muslims. Some Jews believe it is part of an old temple, some Muslims believe it is where the Prophet Muhammad tethered his horse on his night journey to Jerusalem. Historians have shown it is not related to the Temple period. The wall and small area adjacent to it are part of the Muslim waqf but Muslims have allowed Jews to pray there by custom. Instigated by the Jewish Agency, some Jews violated both tradition and British policy by erecting a partition and a table at the site, suggesting a beginning of the establishment of a synagogue. This provocation occurred on 24 September 1928, a day that many Jews consider marks the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, adding fears of an attempt to ‘rebuild’ a temple at the Holy Islamic site. As the days passed and the Jews refused to take down the barrier despite agreements, Muslim anger mounted and moved on from letters and protests in November 1928. The British ruled on 15 August 1929 that Jews must remove any permanent structures at the wall and reiterated that the site belongs to the Islamic waqf, while Jews are permitted to pray there by tradition.
The Jewish Zionist leadership rejected the ruling and instead held a noisy rally that marched (surprisingly unmolested) through the Muslim quarter to the wall where they raised the Zionist flag and sang the Zionist anthem (Ha’ Tikva). Another Zionist demonstration demanding ownership and control of the Western Wall was held in Tel Aviv on 14 August 1929. Muslims marched to the wall in response on 16 August 1929, the day marking the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, and following the Friday prayers. They demanded implementation of the British ruling and respect for historical arrangements, and denounced the Zionist provocations. As the British could not or would not implement their own rulings, demonstrations and riots were held after the next Friday prayers (23 August 1929) in Jerusalem. The police opened fire on demonstrators, some of whom were carrying sticks, swords and even guns. Enraged Palestinians descended from other cities spreading information and rumours about a Jewish takeover of holy sites and the British killing of Palestinians.
A political conflict took on a religious character because the Zionists thought that it was the way to mobilise more Jewish support for their cause. Indeed, the wall dominated the World Zionist conference held in Zurich that year. Sigmund Freud captured the essence of it when he explained his refusal to sign a petition condemning Arab riots in Palestine and supporting the Zionist project:
I cannot do as you wish. I am unable to overcome my aversion to burdening the public with my name, and even the present critical time does not seem to me to warrant it. Whoever wants to influence the masses must give them something rousing and inflammatory and my sober judgement of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathise with its goals, am proud of our University in Jerusalem and am delighted with our settlement’s prosperity. But, on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land. But I know that such a rational viewpoint would never have gained the enthusiasm of the masses and the financial support of the wealthy. I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives. Now judge for yourself whether I, with such a critical point of view, am the right person to come forward as the solace of a people deluded by unjustified hope. (emphasis added)64
This uprising, both armed and non-violent, came to be known as Hibbet Al-Buraq. When things calmed down, it left in its wake 116 Arabs and 133 Jews dead. Over 1,000 were brought to trial.65 The original provocation to fan hatred and garner support for Zionism seemed to have worked, resulting in arming and militarising the Jewish colonies.66 The troubles were also fanned by British officers with Zionist leanings who wanted to see Arabs react violently; in Hebron, for example, two British officers fanned the flames of Arab hatred by spreading rumours that resulted in Arab attacks while other Arabs shielded and protected their Jewish neighbours.67 Hibbet Al-Buraq made it clear to Palestinians the extent of British bias in favour of the Zionist project. One Jewish police officer who had executed an Arab family was sentenced to death, but his sentence was reduced to seven years’ imprisonment. On the other hand, three leading Palestinians (Fuad Hijazi from Safad, Ata Alzeer and Mohammed Jamjoum from Hebron) charged with killing Jews were publicly hanged on 27 June 1930.68 The Arab High Commission held a meeting on 8 August 1930 objecting to the reduced sentence on the Jewish terrorist Joseph Mizrahi Elorufli while hanging three Palestinians on weak evidence.69 The busy market of Tulkarem sacrificed lucrative business days to join a national strike on 26 August 1930.70
Hibbet Al-Buraq inspired the grassroots popular resistance movement to mobilise the Arab streets, realising that change must come. Popular Palestinian mass struggle had always involved all sectors of the society.
It is always instructive to note that even in such a traditional and patriarchal society, women have held their own and pushed for representation and impact. This push was not just on issues concerning women’s rights, discrimination, forced marriages and family planning, but also on colonisation and occupation. Groups like the Arab Ladies Association pushed for independence and self-determination. The Arab Palestinian Women’s Union (Al-Ittihad Al-Nissai Al-Arabi Al-Filastini) was founded in Jerusalem in 1921. There were many others, including Zahr Al-Ukhuwan (The Lily Flower society), founded in Jaffa 1936, and the Women Solidarity Society, founded in 1942.
The first Arab Women’s Congress of Palestine was held on 26 October 1929 in Jerusalem and was attended by about 200 women. The demands were those of the Palestinian people against: the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of Jewish colonies, and for self-determination. They elected a 14-member executive committee headed by Matiel E. T. Mogannam.71 Mogannam later wrote a book titled The Arab Women and the Palestinian Problem, which detailed the activities of the movement.72 The women who participated were diverse. Some were fully veiled and some very liberal, some Christian and some Muslim. In their meeting with the British High Commissioner, the women ‘threw back their veils’ and presented their demands in strong language.73 The High Commissioner was impressed, but stated plainly that his ‘authority is limited and some things must be decided by the Ministry of Colonisation ... however, I am pleased with the progress of the women’s movement in Palestine ... and will do my best to help in the educational areas of the Palestinian woman so that she can reach her appropriate place in society’.74
Energised by this meeting, the Congress concluded with a 120-car motorcade through the old city of Jerusalem and sent a telegram to Queen Mary, which opened with these words:
Two hundred Palestine Arab Muslim and Christian women representatives met in twenty-sixth instant in Congress Jerusalem, unanimously decided demand and exert every effort to effect abolition Balfour Declaration and establish National Democratic Government deriving power from Parliament representing all Palestinian Communities in proportion to their numbers; we beseech assistance in our just demands.75
The group was active for many years, developing novel forms of Palestinian resistance such as silent protests, publishing letters in foreign newspapers, direct support of those suffering from the occupation and prisoner support groups. They ‘sent hundreds of letters to the British government, newspapers, and news media outlets, Arab leaders, and other women’s organisations’.76 It was not without an impact; for example, their persistent letters about political prisoners in British jails resulted in three prisoners being pardoned.77
On the other hand, a new guerrilla movement was created in the Galilee during the autumn of 1929 called Al-Kaf Al-Akhdar (the Green Palm), led by Ahmed Tafesh. Its military actions against the British occupation forces lasted only a short while before the movement was crushed and its participants killed or captured. The main form of resistance remained demonstrations, protests, civil disobedience and other forms of popular struggle. And there was, of course, still the same group of elites who thought the best way was to work within the system to get whatever the British and the Zionists would willingly give as this was the ‘pragmatic approach’. The gap between the different Palestinian streams widened during Hibbet Al-Buraq. The increased pressure forced the British and the Zionist movement to seek alternative solutions to mollify the growing Arab anger. Ben Gurion, for example, gave the green light to Judas Magnus, president of the Hebrew University and a bi-nationalist, to explore some form of accommodation. Magnus consulted many Palestinian Arab leaders and came up with an idea of shared representation in government with protection for minorities. But Ben Gurion rejected the idea outright and insisted that the goal remain a Jewish majority state. However, to appease critics, he offered the formation of a nine-member ministerial council, consisting of three British (Justice, Finance and Transportation), three Jewish (Settlement, Labour, Immigration) and three Arab (Education, Health and Commerce) members. This was a biased solution but was still rejected by the Zionist leadership.78
Separately, Palestinians travelled to Britain two months before the investigative committee under the leadership of Sir Walter Shaw issued its report. They pressed the authorities to recognise Arab rights, but stopped short of calling for an end to the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration. The response was still negative and the government insisted on its ‘obligations’ under the Mandate to the Jewish Agency without regard to the rights of the indigenous people. The Shaw Commission concluded about the events of 1929 that the Palestinians had a right to reject the changes at Al-Buraq and that Al-Husseini did not incite the violence, but that other elements, especially Jewish demonstrations at the Western Wall and prevailing political conditions, precipitated acts of resistance. The report also alluded to ‘problems’ that were created following such events as the removal of 15,500 villagers from Wadi Al-Hawareth after the transfer of ownership of 30,000 dunums.79 One of the recommendations of the Shaw Commission was implemented when the British government commissioned an expert to study landownership and use in Palestine. Sir John Hope Simpson, an internationally renowned expert, toured Palestine in July and August 1930 and concluded that, of the 6,544,000 dunums of cultivable land, Zionists already owned nearly one million, or 14 per cent, and that the remaining land was barely enough to sustain the local people. Thus increased Jewish immigration did not make sense.80
The British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald allayed the fears of the Zionist movement days after the release of the report in a letter to Weizmann stating that there would be no change in the commitments under the Mandate, including the Balfour Declaration. His letter of assurance became known as the black letter (as it was in response to the White Paper). What little hope there was among the native Palestinians thus quickly dissipated.81 Officials directed administrative authorities to help ‘rebuild’ Jewish economic power and interests. Jewish militias were authorised to arm themselves and ‘defend’ the colonial settlements. The Haganah (Jewish paramilitary organisation) was recognised and accepted and more Jews enrolled in British police forces to gain fighting skills.
Yet popular resistance continued. An Arab village conference was held in Jaffa on 56 November 1929. A letter sent from the conference asked for the removal of taxes like ushr and wirco and to replace them with simple customs taxes. Other suggestions included opening an agricultural credit union and measures that could reduce the increasing bankruptcy of farmers.82 A student conference was held in Akka in 1930 and, in early 1931, a national fund (Sandook Al-Umma) was established relying mostly on donations from Palestinians and other Arabs in and outside Palestine. Its aim was to help farmers threatened with loss of their land to the Zionist project. The British authorities had closed the bank that lent to the farmers in March 1920 and refused repeated requests to reopen it. The national meeting in Nablus on 18 September 1931 endorsed the fund project officially and 16 June 1932 was agreed as a national day of fundraising to protect threatened lands. However, with very limited funds it made little impact during its eight years of operation, saving only some lands in Beit Hannoun and Jules. This was no match for the magnitude of the BritishZionist conspiracy to strip farmers of their lands.83
THE UPRISING DIES AND THE ECONOMIC DEPRESSION GATHERS PACE
Small projects, petitions and protests were all far too little to stem the ZionistBritish onslaught that was overwhelming Palestine in a period of international economic depression. The Zionist movement had grown strong and aggressive and started making more demands from their British benefactors. The High Commissioner was replaced in November 1931 under pressure and direction from Weizmann. Local Palestinian leadership became even more disillusioned about the effectiveness of using only popular resistance. Anger and calls for violent resistance grew. In a meeting in July 1931 in Nablus, delegates called for armed resistance against the British and Zionists and even set up a committee to procure weapons, but the committee did nothing. Though few practical steps were taken in that direction, the meeting modelled the rhetoric for a Palestinian armed revolt. It would take time to change from 50 years of popular resistance to a mixed form of resistance. Amin Al-Husseini and his supporters kept to the diplomatic track. They organised a general Islamic conference on 717 December 1931, attended by 145 key Islamic scholars and leaders from 22 countries. The proposals presented at the conference included setting up an Islamic university (the Hebrew University) in Jerusalem and an agricultural company to help Palestinians struggling in the depressed economy to stay on their lands. The conference was largely symbolic and while strengthening the personal status of Amin Al-Husseini, no practical steps to help Palestine materialised.84 But leaders of the previous organisation Al-Arabiya Al-Fatat and supporters of independence were mobilised, 50 of whom met on 13 December 1931 in the home of Awni Abd Hadi and drafted an Arab nationalist covenant. This document re-emphasised the regional Arab context for the struggle for Palestine as a joint effort against imperialism and evolved later to form Hizb Al-Istiqlal in 1933. The Arab nationalists’ split from pan-Islamic nationalists would become a feature of the Palestinian struggle to the present day. The problems for pan-Arab nationalists, then as now, were interference from outside and quarrels between Arab leaders (e.g. the HashemiteSaud family rivalry). The strength was in the principled demands that people like Amin Al-Husseini were unwilling to adopt because of their close connection to the British authorities at the time.85
Awni Abdel Hadi founded Hizb Al-Istiqlal in 1932 as a successor to the earlier nationalist party by the same name founded under Ottoman rule. The party demanded changes in the Arab Executive Committee to recruit new and younger generations of leaders who would support Arab unity and independence.86 In assemblies on 24 February 1933 and 26 March 1933 attended by over 500 delegates, plans and ideas were explored for ending any cooperation and using non-violence and non-cooperation to achieve the goals of independence.
In 1929, the number of Jewish immigrants was about 5,000; by 1933 this had risen to over 30,000 annually.87 Palestinians expressed their feelings against dumping Europe’s problems on them in mass demonstrations. An Arab Women’s march to demand an end to the Zionist programme on 15 April 1933 heard speeches delivered by such notable Arab feminists as Tarab Abdul Hadi. A large demonstration on 13 September 1933 in Jerusalem led by Palestinian religious and civic leaders spilled over to other cities.88
On 13 October 1933, 7,000 angry demonstrators filled the streets of Jaffa. The British forces opened fire, killing twelve and wounding 78 Palestinians. One policeman was also killed. Two weeks later, on 27 October 1933 in Jaffa, 24 peaceful demonstrators were killed and 204 injured. The indiscriminate and brutal attack on unarmed civilians incensed an already seething population. Musa Kadhem Alhusseini was in the demonstration and was beaten; later, he and the Arab High Committee met the British High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Wauchope, and the old Palestinian broke down, explaining that civilised troops do not fire on unarmed civilians.89
Petitions and objections from natives halted plans for further Zionist expansion, but that was when protests were directed at Arabs. For example, local Hizb Al-Istiqlal people wrote to Syrians about plans to sell land near Al-Hula and objected successfully to King Abdullah’s agreement to grant a 99-year lease on land in the Jordan valley to the Zionists in early 1933.90 The demonstrations and protests against the British continued. Musa Kadhem Al-Husseini, aged 83, headed a large, ‘unauthorised’ protest in Jerusalem on 13 October 1933. The success of this demonstration led to another one in Jaffa on 27 October which representatives from as far away as Syria and Jordan attended. That demonstration was met with a hail of British bullets which killed 26 and injured 60.91
The High Commissioner’s sudden decision to hold municipal election in 1934 was probably due to his hope that the divisions in the Arab leadership and increasing Jewish numbers could change the make-up of the municipal councils in ways that would serve his interests. But nationalist forces won and in some towns, the High Commissioner appointed mayors from the opposition even though the elected majority were nationalists.92 In that same year, on 12 May, a conference was held on the tax situation in Palestine to try to get the government to reduce the unfair tax burden at a time when increased Jewish migration had bankrupted many Palestinians and forced large numbers of farmers off their lands.93
The government ignored the unrest and continued with its policies of encouraging Jewish immigration and land purchases, supporting the Yishuv as a state-in-the-making and simultaneously pulling the rug from under the feet of the Palestinian farmers. Sami Al-Sarraj, writing in Al-Difa’ on 15 January 1935, praised the escalation:
Come oh Arabs let us disobey the laws one time. Come ye writers let us disobey the laws without worry about what the legal system will do to us ... and ye Arab, there is nothing that forces you to buy products of foreigners and certainly not products of your enemies ...94
A conference of Islamic scholars and judges was held on 25 January 1935 under the leadership of Amin Al-Husseini and issued statements banning the sale of land to immigrant Jews.95
The High Commissioner proposed a legislative council in 1935 to include 25 members: five government officials, eight Muslims, seven Jews, three Christians and two representing commercial interests. The Arab High Committee accepted after some deliberations but the Zionist movement rejected it. The British retracted the scheme following debates in the House of Commons where the Zionists had a strong lobby.96 That failure set the stage for more instability. By the beginning of 1936, the political scene in Palestine was ripe for revolt and had a number of political parties that could indeed lead it. 97
This began on the sidelines of the Islamic conference of 1931 and represented an Arab nationalist strand that rejected imperialism and Zionism. It called for the end of both the British Mandate and the Balfour Declaration. Prominent leaders included Awni Abel-Hadi, Subhi Al-Khadhra, Akram Zueiter, Salim Salameh and Fahmi Al-Aboushi.
It called for general nationalist trend, but avoided calling for Arab unity. Its leaders believed more in negotiations, compromise and working out arrangements between them and the British and Zionist leaders. They also had a close relationship with King Abdullah of Jordan. Prominent figures included Ragheb Al-Nashashibi, Fakhri Al-Nashashibi, Sheikh Asaad Al-Shuqairi, Sulaiman Toukqan, Adel Al-Shawa and others.
Founded in 1935 by Jamal Alhusseini to call for independence of Palestinian and Arab unity. Essentially a successor to Hizb Al-Istiqlal, this party gained broad popularity and drew significant support from highly respected leaders, including Sheikh Hasan Abu Als’ood, Farid Al-Anabtawi, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Khatib, Yosef Sahyoun, Dhaher Farhan, Aldellah Samara, Kamel Dajani nad Yosef Al-Alami among others
Originally established as a youth movement in Jaffa in 1932, it later transformed essentially into a political party with all ages represented. It developed practical popular resistance methods, including a fund to aid in development, a group of lookouts along the coast to prevent the entry of illegal Zionist immigrants and established the scout movement in Palestine. Its second general conference in May 1935 had 1,000 delegates. Its most prominent leader was Yacoub Al-Ghosein.
Formed on 18 June 1935, this party had similar principles and in many ways was a successor to Al-Hizb Al-Arabi. It had no president but three co-equal secretaries: Husain Fakhri Al-Khalidi (elected mayor of Jerusalem in the 1934 elections), Mahmoud Abu Khadra and Shibli Al-Jamal.
Hizb Al-Kutal Al-Wataniya
Formed in Nablus on 4 October 1935 it staked a position between Hizb Aldifa’ and Al-Hizb Al-Arabi and called for unity among the various parties.
Hizb Al-Shuyuii Al-Falastini
The Communist Party of Palestine traces its roots to 1919 in partnership with Jewish communists (who believed in Zionism). In 1923, it moved away from Zionism and more towards a true communist (Marxist) agenda.
Jamiyyet Al-’Omal Al-Arab
Starting in 1923, Arab labourers began organising as unions under the Arab Railway Workers’ Club, but their efforts were met viciously by the Histadrut (Jewish Labour Federation) and the British authorities. The latter allowed Jewish workers to organise but not Arab workers. They finally applied to set up a society for Arab workers. The most recognised labour leader of the period was Michel Mitri, who led a number of actions to challenge the hegemony of the Histadrut and was assassinated in December 1936 for his popular resistance activities.
These parties were all represented in the Arab Higher Committee and wrote to the British authorities asking for democratic government representation according to the Charter of the League of Nations and to section 2 of the Mandate declaration. The response came on 12 January 1936 and reiterated British rejection of those demands.98 The failure of British efforts in 1935 to form a legislative council that included Arabs and Jews added to the natives’ frustration. The combination of factors led to massive pressure on the natives and it was in this period of civil engagement and civilian resistance met by stonewalling and rejection and after over 15 years of British occupation that the first major organised violence occurred.
These trends were coupled with the failure of early attempts in 193134 to develop economic self-sufficiency. This failure was due to lack of capital as compared to vast sums available to the Zionists, the British propensity to give economic interests and franchises to Zionists, and the lack of knowledge of modern economic structures. The economic and political empowerment of the Zionist movement was thus accompanied by an erosion of economic and political power, creating even more resentment and setting the stage for further resistance.