Review-article on the notion of a "Palestinian people," specifically referring to the book published in English and Hebrew editions: Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal, The Palestinians: Making of a People (New York: Free Press, 1993). Barukh Kimmerling & Yoel Shmuel Migdal, HaPalestinim: `Am b'Hivatsruto (Yerushalayim: Keter, 1999).
It is curious that so often those who purport to scorn old myths go on to make up and promote new myths. Referring to Israeli national traditions, Barukh Kimmerling not long ago wrote (Cathedra no. 80, 1996 [Hebrew]): "Every society needs a past of some sort. This past is interpreted, and sometimes partly invented, in accord with the current needs of the society and of building its collective identity." In his book on the so-called "Palestinian people," Kimmerling and his associate Joel Migdal seek to provide a suitable, useful past for the "Palestinians." In line with Kimmerling's own words, they promote the relatively new myth of a Palestinian people --which never existed in history. The book covers sociological and historical aspects of the so-called Palestinians, while neglecting the conceptual problem of a "Palestinian people" almost totally.
The history presented in the book is rather superficial and often wrong, while the questions of when the notion of a "Palestinian people" first emerged and who conceived it and who promoted it and why and how it developed are neglected. This is curious since the sub-title of the book, Making of a People, would lead the reader to think that these questions would be answered in the book. After all, the formation of a people has to do with, among other things, when (and if!) it became aware of itself as in some way a people, a distinct people, different from others, and when (and if) others came to think of it as a distinct, separate people, and whom do the "Palestinians" see as being part of their collectivity and who is left out. The authors do not prove that a "Palestinian people" exists, rather they assume it, consistently using the term. At the same time they neglect the political impact of the new notion, the new label, in contrast with the earlier notion of "Palestinian Arabs" or possible alternative notions, such as "Arab Muslims of Palestine," etc. The usefulness of a separate "Palestinian" identity as a weapon of psychological warfare against Israel does not seem to occur to them.
The sociology in the book, an account of the society and social changes among the Arabs in the Land of Israel since the 1830s, may be the only mainly helpful part of it, although most of the sociological material seems to have been published elsewhere earlier.
However, the historical presentation is often wrong or misleading, superficial and simplistic, such as the silly notions that the British opposed the Arab struggle against Zionism (or were neutral), that the British were hostile to the main Arab leader, the Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, or that the British gave up the mandate out of fear of a renewed Arab revolt (in the English edition). Hence, our review will discuss some of the historical misconceptions of the book. We will also try to shed some light on the conceptual problem of a "Palestinian people" which the authors neglect. Nevertheless, the book is not pure Arab-PLO propaganda. There are various points on which the authors reject the standard Arab argument. For example, they show, albeit reluctantly it seems, that the Arab side began the war of 1947-49, and that it began with attacks on Jewish civilians and neighborhoods. At the same time, they strive for a certain moral equivalence between the Arab and Jewish forces at the time.
The book begins with a narrative of the Arab revolt of 1834. The whole prior history of the country is neglected, in particular the Jewish history of the Land, and the repeated Jewish revolts against Rome. The chronology at the back of the book supplies some additional information, yet it begins only with the year 635, which is presented in this manner: "635-637 The Arab tribes conquer Jerusalem from the Byzantines." Actually, the Arab invasion of the country began in 634 and was not completed until 640 with the fall of Caesarea (The taking of Jerusalem is usually dated to 638). In other words, it took the Arabs six years to conquer the country. One can imagine the destruction that took place in six years of warfare. According to Moshe Gil, Christians likely outnumbered Arab Muslims in the Land before the Crusader conquest (1099). In any case, Jerusalem had a Christian majority through the whole Early Period of Muslim rule (638-1099), despite some monumental building in the city by the Muslim rulers. Hence, it was only after the Crusades that the majority of the country's population was clearly Muslim. The Crusaders had massacred much of the country's Jewish population.
Now if the authors meant to use the revolt of 1834 to prove or suggest the onset of formation of a new people, "Palestinians," then there are a few more problems. The rebels did not see themselves as "Palestinians" and probably did not even know the name "Palestine" for the country which Arab Muslims traditionally saw as an undifferentiated part of Bilad al-Sham (usually translated as Syria or Greater Syria) which comprised the Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan of today, roughly speaking. Administrative divisions (vilayets, sanjaqs) were mainly unrelated to today's borders. At the time, Palestine only existed in the vocabulary of the West and in the Western historical memory. The rebellion broke out against the regime of Muhammad Ali of Egypt (himself a Balkan native) who had conquered Bilad al-Sham from his Ottoman suzerains in 1831. The motive for revolt was opposition to Muhammad Ali's policy of drafting the sons of ordinary Muslims into his army, whereas traditionally soldiers were loot-seekers, mercenaries, slaves or members of a military caste. Conscription of ordinary subjects was an innovation, and Muhammad Ali was himself a usurper. The revolt took place among the Arab-Muslims of the Judea-Samaria mountain ridge, not throughout the country. The rebels also attacked and looted the Jews --and then the Christians-- in Jerusalem (which the authors admit to their credit) and elsewhere. Similar revolts took place with the same motive around the same time in other parts of Muhammad Ali's holdings in Bilad al-Sham. However, in Lebanon, by way of contrast, various ethnic-religious communities, such as Maronites, Shiites, Greek Orthodox and Druze, joined together in revolt with a common program drawn up in writing (Antelias, 1840). Some of the population of the Galilee joined the Lebanese rebels (to be sure, the communal harmony in Lebanon did not last long). Now what made the revolt on the Judea-Samaria ridge specifically "Palestinian" or "national"? It did not embrace the whole country which the West then and the Arabs now call Palestine (the Arabs are following recent Western usage, since the West most often called the country the Holy Land through the nineteenth century). The revolt did not embrace the whole population or all communities of the population in the area where it did take place, since it involved attacks on the Christians and Jews. The motive was not national but social (the end of the new policy of conscription). And the conduct of the revolt displayed the traditional sense of Muslim superiority and the recurrent Muslim urge to despoil the dhimmis, the non-Muslims. Nor is it clear how much has changed since then when we see how on Easter Sunday, 1999, Muslims in Nazareth attacked their Christian neighbors, supposedly Arabs like themselves, on their way home from church. Just 40 years earlier (1794) in America, the Whiskey Rebellion had broken out in Pennsylvania because farmers did not want to pay a federal tax on whiskey making. They too were put down by state armed force. Did that rebellion initiate "Pennsylvanian nationalism"?
After taking the country back from Muhammad Ali, the authors then show us, the Ottoman Empire was able to effectively integrate the Arab notables into the state's governing structure. But they do not show just how far that went. Perhaps their moderation in presenting this topic is meant not to disturb too much the picture of a "Palestinian people" in formation. Kimmerling and Migdal write that Arabs got official positions in their own areas. For instance, they describe Jerusalem notables as getting posts in the Jerusalem sanjaq (district). They later write about Musa Kazem Husseini (Faisal Husseini's grandfather) that he "nurtured his career in the Ottoman bureaucracy" (p82). This statement is general and not specific. One might infer from it that he was a middle-level clerk working in Jerusalem. The authors do not tell us that Husseini attended the Ottoman School of Administration and served as governor of various districts in the empire, including in Anatolia, far from his home in Jerusalem. Another Jerusalem Arab notable (not mentioned in the book) who served in a highly responsible post on behalf of the Empire was a member of the Jerusalem Khalidi family who served as Ottoman consul in Vienna. Now the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with its capital at Vienna, bordered the Ottoman Empire and coveted Ottoman territories in Europe. Relations between the two empires were correct but tense, based on long-standing hostility. Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi must have been well trusted and highly regarded in Constantinople to have obtained not only this sensitive post, but the prestigious post of speaker of the Ottoman parliament as well. In other words, Husseinis and Khalidis formed part of the governing class of the Empire. How does this fit in with their belonging to an incipient "Palestinian people"?
Furthermore, the Ottoman Empire was known to be oppressive, especially to the Christian subject peoples, although by the end of the nineteenth century much had been done to make non-Muslims legally equal to Muslims. Yet the new laws were not always carried out and many Muslims resented the legal equality given to dhimmis. So Khalidi and Husseini were officials in an oppressive state where legally or in practice Muslims enjoyed a status far superior to non-Muslims, like the status of Whites in the United States before the 1960s (although US Blacks did not suffer anything like the Armenian or Bulgarian massacres after Emancipation from slavery in 1865), a status that made a poor Muslim in important ways superior to even a wealthy dhimmi. This status allowed Muslim notables to be positively rapacious toward the dhimmi communities. To take an example from Jerusalem before 1800, the notables habitually extorted from the local Jewish community all sorts of irregular taxes, levies, fines, and bribes. These were in addition to the standard taxes, jizya and kharaj, imposed on non-Muslims (dhimmis) throughout the Islamic domain. This picture emerges from a study by Jacob Barnai of account ledgers of the Jewish community in Jerusalem from the second half of the eighteenth century. This kind of extra-legal exploitation (that is, beyond the prescription of Islamic law) seems to have ended by the late nineteenth century, yet descendants of some of the same Jerusalem notable families are still active in the leadership of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Of course the Muslim peasants were exploited too, but so were Russian peasants at that time. Did that make Russian peasants a separate nation from the Russian land-owners? Or make Russia less oppressive to minorities, such as Jews? And who exploited the Muslim-Arab fallahin if not their own notables? As to a separate Arab nationalism (let alone "Palestinian" nationalism) before the First World War, the scholars Zeine Zeine, an Arab, and Ziya Gokalp, a Turk, agree that the Ottoman Empire was a joint enterprise of Turks and Arabs. Zeine wrote, "The Arabs as Muslims were proud of Turkish power and prestige. The Ottoman Empire was their Empire as much as it was the Turks'... the Arabs did not consider the Turkish rule as 'foreign' rule..." Gokalp wrote, "the Ottoman state might even be called a Turkish-Arab state." Thus it is not surprising that Jerusalem notables held senior positions in the imperial government. However, presenting certain "Palestinians" as imperialists would not befit the useful past that our authors intend to bestow on "the Palestinian people."
Kimmerling and Migdal do show that, although there was some Arab anti-Zionism before the First World War, there was little sense of "Palestine" as a separate country or of a "Palestinian people." And that little was mainly Christian, and thus was hardly representative. Further, the authors show that after the war, with the Ottoman Empire defeated, politically aware and active Palestinian Arabs took part in the general Arab nationalist movement. In particular, many supported Faisal, the British-sponsored king of Syria, and expected the Land of Israel to be part of a Syrian kingdom. One of these was Muhammad Amin el-Husseini, who later became Mufti of Jerusalem, courtesy of British appointment. It was after Faisal's kingdom had been overthrown by the French (July 1920) that the Arab leadership in the country saw the expedient need to focus on the newly created "Palestine" entity (juridically constituted at the San Remo Conference in April 1920), since there was no Greater Syria to be part of. At the Third Arab Congress held at Haifa in December 1920, five months after Faisal's overthrow, Musa Kazem Husseini supplied a pragmatic reason for focussing on Eretz-Israel (no longer "Southern Syria" but "Palestine" in his words). "Now, after the recent events in Damascus, we have to effect a complete change in our plans here. Southern Syria no longer exists. We must defend Palestine" (Kimmerling and Migdal, p81). (In fact, a less important notable had proposed Arab autonomy in the country under British aegis in January 1919, before Faisal's downfall made the proposal seem necessary to most of the notables).
Yet recognition of the need to focus on Eretz-Israel did not lead the local Arabs to see themselves as a "Palestinian people." Kimmerling and Migdal show that one of their major slogans in the 1930s was "Palestine for the Arabs," which was printed on decorative stamps sold for propaganda and fund raising purposes. The discourse of Amin Husseini, appointed Mufti of Jerusalem by the British after he had incited a murderous pogrom against Jews in April 1920, was marked by pan-Arab and pan-Islamic thinking. This was true of other leaders as well. Further, the belief that the Land of Israel was a part of Syria was expressed as late as 1946 by spokesmen representing the Palestinian Arabs before the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry on Palestine. These representatives told the Commission that "Palestine" did not exist in history and that the country was simply part of "Syria." This testimony does not find its way into the book. Zuheir Muhsen's testimony is missing too. Muhsen stressed the mere expediency of stressing a "Palestinian" identity as late as 1977, in an interview with the US weekly Seven Days (also published in Dutch translation in Trouw, 31 March 1977). Muhsen led one of the component organizations of the PLO, so perhaps he understood what the PLO's intentions were. Now, if any institution or body were to conceive of a separate, distinct "Palestinian people," one would think that it would be the PLO. However, the PLO Charter is a clearly pan-Arabist document and makes clear that the "Palestinian people" is a mere geographically defined section of the "Arab nation" and that only Arabs can be "Palestinians." Article I of the Charter states: "Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people and an integral part of the great Arab homeland and the people of Palestine is a part of the Arab nation." Later PLO documents such as the 1988 "Declaration of a State" say the same thing in other words, and it has been expressed over and over by PLO leaders. Anyone who doubted that the "Palestinians" were Arab nationalists should have been brought back to reality by the outburst of pan-Arab enthusiasm among Arabs on both sides of the green line when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. Member of Knesset Darawsha described the occupation as "a positive step toward uniting the Arab world." Nader al-Tamimi, described as the PLO's mufti, said: "It is forbidden for this nation [the Arabs] to have boundaries between its lands. It should be one state with one ruler." Since then, mass demonstrations of pan-Arab solidarity have repeatedly broken out in the Palestinian Authority zones when Iraq was threatened or bombed by the United States. Hence, there was no "Palestinian people" in history and the "Palestinian identity" or consciousness among the Eretz-Israel Arabs now is an extension of their Arab identity. But the notion of a distinct "Palestinian people" provides certain advantages in international politics, while supplying an alibi to the Christian West for continued Judeophobia after the Holocaust.
At this point let us return to the book under study. As with many writings, it is not only the explicit falsehoods that make an article or book of slight value, it is also the omissions. Let us take a simple factual omission, there is the fact of Arab collaboration in the Holocaust, and particularly that of Amin el-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem and chief leader of the Palestinian Arabs both before and after the Second World War. On this the Hebrew edition of this book is an improvement over the earlier English edition (1993). That edition mentioned the Mufti's Nazi collaboration but not his Holocaust role. But the subject got only one short paragraph there (plus a lengthy, evasive footnote). The Hebrew edition acknowledges a slight Holocaust role for Husseini, but that only in Bosnia. This extreme minimizing of Husseini's role in sending Jews to the gas chambers and in general working for the mass murder of Jews may be simply the result of ignorance but it may also stem from the book's tendentiousness, its role as an advocate of Arab claims against Israel. Can this minimizing be other than deliberate since, as the authors say, the issue had a central importance in Zionist-Jewish claims against the Arabs? That was apparently why Israeli Arab politician and "progessive intellectual," `Azmi Bishara, claimed at least five times in a recent article that the Arabs had nothing to do with the Holocaust. But he is an Arab propagandist. One would hope that the authors of this book were more objective than Bishara. Were they ignorant of Husseini's Holocaust role because it was something that they did not want to learn about? The subject has been treated at length in documented studies by Lukasz Hirszowicz, Daniel Carpi, Elias Cooper, Joseph Schechtman, Jenny Lebel and Bernard Lewis, among others. Many of these studies have appeared in Hebrew. So perusing them should not have been too difficult. For the record, Husseini spent most of the war years in the Nazi-fascist domain in Europe. He was not alone but was surrounded by a large entourage of fellow Palestinian Arabs and associated in Berlin with Pan-Arab nationalists from other countries. He was generously funded by the Germans and worked energetically to recruit Arabs and European and Soviet Muslims to the Nazi cause (some of these served in the Einsatzgruppen) and to propagate hatred of Jews, not only among Muslims. He regularly broadcast Nazi propaganda to the Arab lands, such as "Kill Jews wherever you find them." Most significantly, he used his considerable influence in Berlin and other Axis capitals to urge that Jews be prevented from leaving the Axis domain, in cases where Axis satellite states were contemplating doing this towards the end of the war. He urged that Jewish children be sent to Poland where, in his words, they would be "under active supervision." Now Husseini was well informed about what was happening to Jewish children in Poland. He knew about the death camps through his close association with Himmler of the SS and through some of his entourage who visited death camps, if he did not himself. The mufti "made his own not insignificant contribution to the destruction of European Jewry" (Bernard Lewis). He also helped to have Jews murdered in Arab countries through his incitement, in particular in Baghdad where 600 Jews were murdered in a pogrom, called the farhud (1941), which is attributed in great measure to his preaching there. But his plans for Jews in the Arab lands, fortunately unrealized, were more sinister than this. He and some fellow Arab leaders petitioned the Germans, in the name of the Arab nation, to recognize the Arab right to "solve the question of the Jewish elements in Palestine and in the other Arab countries... in the same way as the Jewish question in the Axis lands is being solved" (The document went through several versions quoted and discussed by Bernard Lewis, Majid Khadduri, Hirszowicz, etc.). In his meeting with Hitler, he was gratified that Hitler promised to destroy the Jews in "the Arab sphere." These facts prove his participation in the Holocaust and his intention to spread it. But they do not find a place in Kimmerling and Migdal's book. The omission represents either an attempt to whitewash the Mufti or willful ignorance.
Whereas the authors are guilty of omission concerning Husseini's Holocaust role, they repeatedly assert that the British supported Zionism while opposing the Mufti and his anti-Zionism, etc. Here they are repeatedly wrong. Of course, it is unlikely that the Zionists could have built up the Jewish National Home without the political framework provided by the Mandate, which was an international obligation accepted by Britain to foster the National Home. Nevertheless, various high British officials worked consistently over the years to undermine the National Home, to limit and hobble its development, and --both overtly and surreptitiously-- to encourage Arab opposition to the Jewish National Home, including hatred of and assaults on Jews. Even before the Jewish National Home and the Mandate were formally established, a British officer, Col. Waters-Taylor, was encouraging Amin Husseini to foment anti-Jewish pogroms in order to demonstrate to the British administration Arab opposition to the Zionist program. This was reported by Col. Meinertzhagen, a British intelligence officer. The Nebi Musa riot broke out in Jerusalem (1920) not long afterwards. It left five Jews dead in the Old City. Jabotinsky, who had tried to defend the Jews, received a 15 year sentence from a British court. Amin Husseini, a leading inciter of the pogrom, somehow escaped over the Jordan to territory which was also under British authority. He was sentenced in absentia to only ten years. The next year Husseini was amnestied by the British High Commissioner and appointed Mufti by him, despite his relatively meager knowledge of Muslim law compared to other candidates, his having received fewer votes from the electoral panel of Islamic clerics than other candidates, and his role in inciting the riot the year before. Another case where British officials apparently encouraged extreme Arab positions was represented by a memorandum that Musa Kazem Husseini, leading the Arab Executive Committee in 1921, presented to Churchill, then secretary of state for the colonies. The memorandum first claims that "the fact that a Jew is a Jew has never prejudiced the Arab against him." It then goes on to present a thorough, Judeophobic argument of the kind fashionable at that time, inspired by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (here called by the alternate title, The Jewish Peril) and anti-Bolshevik hysteria. "Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of destruction in many lands... the disintegration of Russia was wholly or in part brought about by the Jews and a large proportion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put at their door... a book entitled The Jewish Peril... should be read by everyone... the pernicious motives of the Jews..." Bernard Lewis points out that the tenor of this passage is Western. First there is the appeal to Western liberal notions of equality and fairness. Then come themes from the Protocols and the literature that had grown up around them after the First World War, particularly fear of the Bolshevik revolution, and the proto-Nazi theme that Jews had stabbed Germany in the back. Given the help by certain British officers for founding Muslim-Christian Associations (obviously excluding Jews) throughout the country and the encouragement by such officials as Ronald Storrs for the newly formed groups to demonstrate against Zionism, can we not assume that British hands helped to write this memorandum, also in view of the circulation of the Protocols among British officers at the time? British complicity with Arab pogromists was seen by non-Jewish observers in the 1929 Pogroms. The journalists Pierre van Paassen and Albert Londres saw this in Hebron, Jerusalem, and Safed. In Hebron British police did not intervene to stop the massacre and later removed the whole surviving Jewish population from the town. Van Paassen published a somewhat incriminating interview with Harry Luke, acting high commissioner at the time. Likewise, the Arab Revolt of 1936-38 was seen by a contemporary observer as a "Revolt by Leave" in the title of a book of the time (by Horace Samuel). During the period of the revolt, one George Antonius worked in the high echelon of the revolt's political leadership. Antonius' career may more graphically illustrate Arab-British collaboration than any other set of facts from the Mandate years. Kimmerling and Migdal incorrectly present Antonius as a "Palestinian." In fact, he was born in Lebanon and taken to Egypt as a child where he received a British education; later he graduated Cambridge in England. Returning to Egypt, he served Britain in a sensitive post as Deputy Press Censor in Alexandria during the First World War. In letters he wrote in that period he identified himself as British, not Arab. In 1921, he was invited to join the British administration in mandatory Eretz-Israel. While still with the mandatory government, he was sent on detached service to help the British negotiate with Ibn Saud and on another occasion with the Egyptian government. These diplomatic missions won him the British honorary title, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). While a high official of the mandatory government, he formed close ties with Amin Husseini and lived in a house rented from him, called Karm al-Mufti (the Mufti's Vineyard). Here his wife established her famous salon which was a focus of social life for both British officials and Arab notables and intellectuals in Jerusalem. He left the Mandatory administration in 1930 and became the Middle East representative of the New York-based Institute of Current World Affairs which was funded and run by a wealthy American and fanatic Judeophobe named Charles Crane who had been appointed to the King-Crane Commission in 1919 by President Wilson. Crane was an admirer of Hitler. He dreamed of setting up a worldwide Christian-Muslim anti-Jewish front. And for this purpose he had Antonius arrange at least one meeting for him with the Mufti Husseini. While receiving his salary from Crane, Antonius worked in the framework of the Arab Executive and its successor, the Arab Higher Committee. The Higher Committee was of course the political leadership of the Arab Revolt of the 1930s. Nevertheless, Antonius' close personal friendships continued with high officials of the British administration and they continued to frequent his wife's salon. Antonius continued to regard himself as loyal to Britain and was seen that way by British friends. After he died in 1942, obituaries in two prestigious British publications emphasized that he had received the CBE. Although most facts about Antonius' British connections have been fairly well known, Kimmerling and Migdal simplistically (and in part incorrectly) describe him as: "the most famous Palestinian historian and an active nationalist" (p80). Antonius' career in itself serves to refute the authors' repeated claim of British support for Zionism. We may also point to other facts in this vein. The British always appointed Arab mayors for Jerusalem, although Jews had been the majority in the city since 1870. More significant of course, was the 1939 White Paper which meant nullification of the Jewish National Home. At first, the new policy severely limited Jewish aliyah (immigration) and later limited Jewish rights to buy real estate in most of the country. And this on the eve of the Holocaust. The determination by the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission that the White Paper was illegal was not much help to Jewish refugees. Antonius was a great admirer of Haj Amin el-Husseini which did not prevent him from retaining his many friends among high British officials, both inside and outside the country. Yet, the authors would have us believe that Britain was opposed to Husseini. Perhaps they can supply a convincing reason for why, after the war, Britain and its allies, France and the United States, refused to put the Mufti on trial for war crimes at Nuremberg, despite his part in the Holocaust and calls uttered in the three countries (including in their parliaments) to try him. In fact, the Yugoslav government did put him on a UN list of war criminals for his role in organizing and inspiring a Bosnian Muslim SS division. Nevertheless, Britain and its allies allowed the Mufti to return to the Middle East in 1946 (a year after the end of World War 2) and resume leadership of the