Thursday, March 5, 2015


                                                   THE BRITISH MANDATE, 1919-1948

So, having done a bit about the early origins of Zionism and Arab nationalism, we now have to go through how those two ideologies first came into direct conflict with each other, and how this lead to the first violent Arab-Jewish conflicts in the region, which actually predated the creation of Israel by several decades.  There was a major third party in all this, which was the British Empire, because Palestine, having been taken from the Turks on the final break-up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, was administered, from 1919 to 1947, by the British Colonial Office acting under a Mandate from the League of Nations, it was garrisoned by the British Army and the RAF, and was policed by a mainly British police force which also contained large minorities from both the Jewish and Arab communities.  The major dominating political dispute during the Mandate Period, as it is known to historians, arose from the Jews and the Arabs both believing that the British, during the First World War, had promised Palestine to them, and there were extremely violent guerrilla and terrorist insurgencies against the British from both groups, culminating in the great Arab uprising of 1936-1939, in which Palestine was, to all intents and purposes, in a state of open civil war, with Arab nationalists, and a small number of Islamic fundamentalists, on one side, and the British, the Jews and moderate Arabs on the other.  After this, from 1939 right through to 1948, the British were on the receiving end of a Zionist insurgency making extensive use of terrorism directed against the British – including assassinating British military personnel in London – and the Arabs.  Now, the British themselves, it has to be said, were in a pretty impossible position: they were stuck between two utterly uncompromising ethno-religious nationalisms, each of which saw any attempt at even-handedness or conciliation as betrayal.  So, another thing we need to assess is the British role in the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and how far they might be culpable: interestingly enough, this was taken as a given not only by David Ben-Gurion, but also still is by most of the Palestinian elite, so this issue still exercises people today.

Now then, before proceeding, some recap is necessary about how this situation arose.  Sir Henry MacMahon, the British Consul-General in Egypt, and Hussein, the Grand Sherif of Mecca, began corresponding in 1917.  Hussein was an important figure, as he was head of the Hashemite clan, descended directly from the Prophet, and was also the guardian of the two Holy Cities, and therefore had some right to speak for all Muslim Arabs.  MacMahon’s aim was to get him to join the Allied side in the First World War and rise up against the Ottoman Empire.  This was a success, as it led to a major uprising in the Hejaz region of western Arabia, led by Hussein’s son, Faisal, with his other son, Abdullah, also playing a prominent part.  The Arabs believed that MacMahon had promised them independence apart from ‘portions of Syria laying to the west of Damascus’, when, it emerges from documents at the time, the British had little intention of handing over control of so vast an area to such a new force.  It would appear in retrospect that the wording of MacMahon’s letters was actually rather vague and lost in translation from English, which tends to be a very precise language, to Arabic, which tends often to be highly poetic and allusional, and can take an indirect approach to its objective.  What is interesting is that Hussein knew that the Allies had already drawn up plans for carving up the Middle East the year before.  In May 1916, Britain, France and Russia had secretly signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, named for Sir Mark Sykes of the British Foreign and Colonial Office and Francois Picot of the French Foreign Ministry, who had largely drawn it up.  Under this agreement, France would get direct control of much of Syria, and would have a zone of influence comprising Damascus, Aleppo and Mosul, while Britain would rule lower Iraq directly and would ‘advise’ an Arab government laying between Egypt and eastern Arabia, which would, therefore, be a British protectorate as the Gulf States had been for over a hundred years.  Hussein had been informed about this by Turkish agents trying to persuade him to stay neutral, but he also felt that Alliance with the British was the best means of getting rid of the Ottomans – it was a start, if you like.  This is in stark contrast with the absolutely uncompromising, all-or-nothing approach adopted by many other Arab leaders since and which, in some cases, can be show to have hindered the Palestinian cause on a number of identifiable occasions.

As we know, the British had made a third promise.  Now, the road to the creation of Israel is traced to 1917, and the declaration by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to British Zionists that Britain would ‘use their best endeavours' to assist the creation of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, a majority Arab region. The Declaration was made in pursuit of Allied war aims, and was shaped more by common suppositions about the power of Jews worldwide than the reality of the situation in Palestine, where they made up just 10% of the population in 1917.  There was a widespread belief in the early 20th century that Jews around the world constituted a single, well-organised international community, and that the leaders of this community - ‘International Jewry' - Jewish bankers, financiers and businessmen - manipulated the global economy and through it, global politics.  Now, as of 1914, the myth of ‘International Jewry’ was taken for granted by most of the world’s leaders, and it was actually being encouraged and used by a number of prominent Zionists to exert pressure and influence upon them, on a basis of ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, then join ‘em.’  When war broke out, both sides thought that the support of ‘International Jewry’ would be essential if they were to win.  As of 1914, the two main centres of the international Zionist movement were Berlin and Vienna, and most politically active Jews lived in the Central Powers, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.  Now, these powers were engaged in a war against the Russian Empire, which had been pursuing openly anti-Semitic social and religious policies of generations and was the very power which had carried out the pogroms from which the families of many Western European and American Jews had fled and which had also provoked the first waves of Jewish emigration to Palestine.  We have records that Rabbis in London told their congregations to remember that they were in England, not Russia, and that they should support the British war effort against Germany, and up to 1917, indications from the American press indicated that most American Jews were sympathetic to Germany, who were not only fighting the Russians, incidentally, but also had the best-integrated Jewish community in Europe, its Minister for Armaments, Walther Rathenau, for instance, being Jewish.  Now, it so happens that the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, also wanted the support of ‘International Jewry’ (and he had also previously proclaimed himself ‘the Protector of Islam’), but could not become a Zionist due to his military alliance with the Ottomans. 

From the British point of view, supporting Zionism made sense.  The Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was a Christian religious Zionist, and so was open to persuasion to begin with.  The leading British Zionist was a scientist, Dr Chaim Weizmann, President and spokesman of the World Zionist Organisation, who became a very important figure early in the war when he developed a means of synthesising acetone, a chemical used in making explosives and for which Britain had relied previously on imports from Germany.  Weizmann became something of a hero in the British press because of this and through this, was able to meet with members of the Cabinet, including Lloyd George and Balfour.  Weizmann, it must be said, was a brilliant ‘operator’: he was distinguished, highly charismatic and charming, and had a gift for knowing what made the people he was talking to tick.  For instance, he did nothing to dispel the myth of the influence of ‘International Jewry', and used it tactically as late as 1929, after which the apparently unstoppable rise of the Jews' arch enemy, Adolf Hitler, made it implausible.  It was largely through Weizmann’s lobbying of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary that the Declaration was made.

The Declaration included the proviso that the ‘civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities' - the Arabs who made up 90% of Palestine's population in 1917 - would not be prejudiced by any Jewish presence.  It did not say that Palestine would be turned into a Jewish state, just a homeland, nor did it, at any point lay out what the borders of this homeland would be – after all, they had yet to secure Palestine from the Turks.  Nor, most importantly, did it say exactly how the inevitable tensions between the Jews and the Arabs would be resolved – that would be decided after the First World War was over.  All it committed itself to was supporting the principle of a Jewish homeland.

Now, this principle soon had to be adapted to conditions on the ground.  In November 1918, Palestine was occupied jointly by a British Expeditionary Force, under General Sir Edmund Allenby, and a large force of Bedouin under Faisal, the son of Hussein of Mecca.  The British set up a military provisional government, and, in 1922, the newly formed League of Nations gave Britain an official Mandate to administer Palestine, which specifically charged them with implementing the Balfour Declaration – so, the British were obliged under international law to encourage Jews to immigrate to Palestine and settle there en route to setting up a Jewish national homeland there; they were also required to set up a Jewish Agency in Palestine to allow the Jews to administer part of this process themselves, and this Jewish Agency was to become the unofficial ‘government’ of Palestine’s Jews up to 1947.  Now, at the same time, the League seems largely to have gone along with Sykes-Picot: France was given League Mandates to administer Syria and Lebanon, and Britain another Mandate for Iraq.  There was a difference between these Mandates and Sykes Picot and with the Mandate given the British in Palestine, in that the League specifically laid out that it was the job of Britain and France to prepare these countries for independence, which was to be declared within three years, and, indeed, in 1921 the British set up Iraq as an independent Hashemite kingdom with Faisal as its king.  The Palestine Mandate did not mention any kind of state entity, nor did it have any deadlines.   The stance of the Americans over this was ambiguous; President Wilson was a naive idealist whose aim of ending all wars once and for all by giving all the peoples of the world ‘national self determination’ rapidly came unstuck when faced with the complication and messiness of real life – attempts to apply this in Europe were to be a contributing factor in the path to World War Two; as of 1917, he supported both the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and the creation of Arab states; between 1918 and 1922, some moderate Arab leaders hoped that the USA would be given the Palestine Mandate, but this was dashed when the US Senate rejected American membership of the League of Nations.

Some British politicians were aware of the implications of the post war settlement.  One of these was the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, who happened to be a Zionist, who disliked Arabs, and a friend of Weizmann’s.  Nevertheless, he was a hard-nosed realist, and in 1922, he issued a White Paper denying Weizmann’s objective ‘of making Palestine as Jewish as England is English’, and which committed Britain to restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine’s ‘absorptive capacity’, which was not too serious, given that Jewish immigration was minuscule at the time, and, indeed, the British managed to attract 50,000 Arab immigrants to Palestine in the 1950s.  Another thing which apparently violated the terms of the Mandate was the creation of Transjordan.  Transjordan, which consisted of the two-thirds of Palestine to the east of the River Jordan and, technically, incorporated into the Mandate, was formed into a separate Hashemite Arab Emirate, not subject to the Balfour Declaration and ruled by Hussein’s son and Faisal’s brother, Abdullah, and Abdullah soon set up a separate government with its capital city in Amman, with a mainly British bureaucracy and a British-commanded army, the Arab Legion.  Consequently, even the Zionists came to recognise that Transjordan could not form part of any Jewish homeland, despite previously being part of Palestine.

Subsequently, Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq took on vital strategic importance for the Empire, as a buffer zone protecting Egypt and the Suez Canal, and as an aerial artery between Britain and India.  Although aware of this, the first British High Commissioner of Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, a prominent British Jew, a member of the Cabinet producing the Balfour Declaration, and a keen but moderate Zionist, inadvertently set the policy agenda leading to the uprisings of 1936-39.  In 1920, he passed an Immigration Ordinance removing all restriction upon Jewish immigration to Palestine, and created the tripartite system by which Palestine was to be governed, with the Zionist Executive (later the Jewish Agency) and the Supreme Muslim Council representing their communities to the High Commissioner.  Samuel's Ordinance resulted in Arab rioting, and to pacify Arab opinion, Samuel temporarily suspended it and allowed the riots' principal agitator, the Muslim cleric, Haj Amin al-Husseini, to be elected Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 and President of the Supreme Muslim Council a year later, making him both spiritual and secular leader of Palestine's.  Haj Amin was just 28 years old when he was elected as Mufti.  He was born in 1893 to a middle-class Jerusalem Arab family and was educated mainly in Cairo, and he served as an officer in the Ottoman Empire in World War One.  As such, he seems to have come to Arab nationalism relatively late, although he proclaimed that he had always supported the aim of a Palestinian Arab state.  As Mufti, he was the main judge and administrator of Sharia among Palestine’s Muslim community, and also appointed Imams, and he used these powers to heavily politicise the Islamic clergy in Palestine.  The Mufti consequently developed the strategy of using threats of disorder to pressure the British into curtailing the Jewish ‘incursion' into Palestine, while always remaining careful to cover any direct links with troublemakers and to assure the British of his goodwill.

At the same time, Samuel encouraged the Jewish community to form their own permanent institutions.  With European organisation and European education, they did this with great efficiency.  The Jewish Agency was set up as a semi-official governing body, representing the Jews to the High Commissioner.  They set up the Histadrut, a kind of economic planning body, based on socialist principles, which set up factories, food processing plants and a construction company, Solel Boneh, which did regular construction work for the British Army throughout the Mandate period.  It is often stated that the British built railways and modern roads in Palestine, along with water pipelines, sewage plants and an electricity grid; much of the work was done by Jewish contractors who used a combination of Arab and Jewish workers.  Probably the most important and controversial body was the Jewish underground militia, the Haganah.  The Haganah was a part-time force which had been formed in 1920, and in which all Jewish men of military age were expected to serve; its existence was highly illegal and its units trained in secret, although its existence was tolerated, conditionally by Samuel and all the British High Commissioners who followed him and, indeed, a number of senior British officers wanted it legalised and placed under British command and training, particularly as the Arab community apparently became more restive in the 1930s.  By 1938, it had fully 50,000 men under arms, commanded by Jewish men who had served in the Russian, German, Austrian and Ottoman armies, financed by the International Zionist Organisation and with a complete military staff with offices dealing with strategy, training and intelligence: the head of the intelligence branch, Reuven Shiloah, was later to found Mossad.  It was also very well armed: most of its weapons were smuggled in, and there was some attempt at creating underground weapons factories where such smuggled in weapons could be reverse-engineered.  By 1939, it had 6,000 rifles, 600 machine guns and 24,000 grenades.  So, by the end of the inter-war period, the Jews in Palestine had set up most of the institutions of an embryonic state – a government, an economic infrastructure, an army, even something of an intelligence agency.

Now, compare this with the Arabs.  The Arabs were divided throughout this period by tribal differences, by religious differences and perhaps above all, by the highly divisive figure of the Mufti, who was, to use a cliché, loved and hated in equal measure.  His authority was severely weakened by a long-standing feud between his clan, the al-Husseinis, and the powerful an-Nashashibi family, who, although anti-Zionist, were more openly pro-British. Indeed, the Palestinians, throughout their history, I think, have been desperately unfortunate in their political leaders, something we will be looking at in some detail in some of the following sessions.  The Arabs did not develop governing institutions in Palestine, nor did they ever have a united nationalist organisation.  Instead, they were divided sharply, almost on black and white lines, between those who pursued a completely obstructionist and oppositional policy towards both the Jews and the British, which cost them a lot of support abroad, and those who believed in peaceful co-existence with the British and in some kind of peaceful settlement with the Jews, such as the an-Nashashibis.  Indeed, the Mufti probably threw away his best chance at major peaceful political influence early: in 1923 the British offered to set up a Palestine Legislative Council with 22 seats, ten Arab, ten British and two Jewish.  The Arabs, or, more specifically, the Mufti, turned down this offer on the basis that the Jews and the British were over-represented in terms of their numbers in Palestine: this was perfectly true, but agreeing to the Legislative Committee might, at least, have given the Arabs an official voice, a working compromise, if you like.  Along with this, there was little chance of any effective support from the rest of the Arab world.  Remember, this is at least twenty years before serious amounts of oil began to flow out of the region: the Gulf Arab states were, at the time, among the poorest and most backward in the world; Egypt was firmly under the iron hand of a pro-British king, and Abdullah of Transjordan was not only a sworn enemy of the Mufti, who had encouraged his flock to assassinate him in a number of sermons, but, as Avi Shlaim has shown in his research, was, from the 1920s onwards, engaged in secret negotiations with the Jewish Agency over the borders of a future Jewish state.

Now, it has to be said that all this was rather academic, as of the early to mid 1920s.  The Jewish population of Palestine remained at around 10% of the total and, indeed, over one two-year period, 1926 to 1928, it actually shrank.  So, there was relative peace until 1929, mainly because the Jews remained such a minority in Palestine, and a Jewish national homeland, let alone a Jewish state, seemed an unlikely prospect at any time.  However, the mid 1920s saw Europe begin its greatest spasm of anti-Semitism, beginning in Poland in 1925 and moving to an unprecedented level with the rise of the Nazis.  The USA had restricted immigration in 1924, so Palestine now took on the role Theodor Herzl had envisaged for it, a Jewish national sanctuary: Jewish immigration to Palestine, encouraged initially by the Nazis as the best means of getting the Jews out of Europe, rose from 4,000 arrivals per year in 1931 to over 61,000 in 1935, plus perhaps 5-6000 illegal immigrants smuggled in per year, and the Jewish population of Jerusalem and Haifa doubled within five years.

The perceived existential threat to the Palestinian Arabs posed by the sudden rapid upsurge in Jewish immigration produced a violent Arab nationalist response sharpened by militant Islam.  The first clash came in 1929, with the so-called Wailing Wall Incident.  The Wailing Wall, or what the Jews call the Western Wall, is all that remains of the Second Jewish Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans after the second Jewish uprising of 135 AD.  To religious Jews, it is of enormous significance, as it symbolises the hope that one day the Temple might be rebuilt and Zion, in its religious sense, restored.  It so happens that the Western Wall forms part of an area also of enormous importance to Muslims the world over – the Dome of the Rock, from which the Prophet ascended into Heaven one night, a point marked by the al-Aqsa Mosque and which to Muslims is the third holy place after Mecca and Medina, and a focus for pilgrimage.  Now, until 1928, Jewish and Muslim pilgrims generally left each other alone, although there was the occasional minor scuffle between extremists.  However, the Jews then put up a screen at the Western Wall to separate male from female worshipers; this blocked the path to the al-Aqsa Mosque, which was also a major thoroughfare used by the local Arab community.  It also violated an unwritten agreement that each community would not interfere with the religious observances of the other.  The Arabs complained to the British, and the police removed the screens, which provoked a number of violent Jewish protests in Jerusalem, which turned into mass brawls between Jews and Arabs in which 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed, most of them by armed British police.  Some Arabs turned to terrorism, leading to the first major terrorist atrocity in Palestine, the extermination of most of the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron.  The British did what they usually did, which was set up a Commission of Enquiry, which produced a report recognising Arab grievances; after this, the Colonial Secretary, Lord Passfield, issued a White Paper blaming the Jewish Agency for the 1929 disturbances, which, of course, might not have happened had they been more sensitive to Islamic religious observances.  This had provided a golden opportunity for the Mufti, who had orchestrated the 1929 rioting with inflammatory sermons on the threat to the holy places of Islam, and he returned to this theme repeatedly in the 1930s, while all the time assuring the British of his peaceful intentions.

From then on, religion combined with nationalism to sharpen the conflict.  Now, strip away the veneer and the Mufti emerges, like so many other so-called ‘Holy Men’ in the Middle East, as an opportunist politician who used Islam to build a power base for himself and his family and to head off accusations of corruption, but from the early 1930s, he was pressured by the emergence of genuine religious militants.  The most notable of these was Sheikh Muhammad Izz al-Din al-Qassam, a Syrian Shi'ite cleric who had been recruiting for anti-colonial jihads since 1911, and whose followers made their first attacks on Jewish settlements in mid 1935; al-Qassam was killed in battle by the British in November 1935, and remained an iconic figure for Palestinian nationalists into the 1970s.  Reacting to Qassam's ‘martyrdom', from early 1936, Muslim clerics began to demand resistance to any Jewish takeover of Palestine, the Mufti exploiting this, rather than steering it.  The Islamic nature of the great revolt of 1936-1939 was stressed in its own literature, one training pamphlet prepared possibly by its first military leader, Fawzi al Quwuqji, opening with ‘a religious exhortation to the Mohammedan to encourage him to fight and die for the cause of God' and going on to state ‘The warrior fighting for God and his country must be merciful, just and lenient with the people' an exhortation Arab rebels almost universally ignored.  Islam was more of a factor in shaping British attitudes: the notion that Palestine may become a source of tension between the Islamic world and the British Empire, with implications for British interests in the Middle East and India which the Axis could exploit, shaped the policy of the Colonial Office and the High Commission in dealing with Palestine in the 1930s, they advocating compromise and conciliation in opposition to the British Army's repeated calls for vigorous repression against Arab insurgents. 

There were two other aggravating factors which became a lot stronger in the 1930s, land and the British predicament in the Eastern Mediterranean in the late 1930s.  When it comes to land, Arab landlords were often keen to sell to Jews, who paid generously, but Arab tenants were not consulted, and were often evicted forcibly from land their families had occupied for generations.  This was aggravated by the Zionist politico-military strategy of ‘establishing facts'.  What this meant was that, being aware that any eventual political settlement in Palestine would depend upon demographics, the Zionists attempted to establish a Jewish presence in every part of Palestine by purchasing land in majority Arab areas, preferably near Palestine's borders, in the disputed area of Galilee in particular.  Once land was purchased, there followed a set of drills devised by the Haganah.  Haganah volunteers moved in immediately and erected pre-fabricated quasi-military outposts aimed at preventing Arab farmers from returning; 55 such settlements were established in 1936-39.  Although these were invariably cloaked as ordinary kibbutzim, the British were fully aware of what was happening: in April 1938, the High Commissioner, Sir Harold MacMichael, reported to London that ‘establishing facts' stemmed from:
The desire to press on with the establishment of a National Home all over Palestine and to show the world, in particular the Arab world, that violence and danger would not be a deterrent....(and) The desire to extend settlements in...Galilee in general so that the Jewish "claim" to this district will be more easily established.
      The Zionists were greatly encouraged by the Peel Report of July 1937 (see below) which recommended that Eretz Israel should include as many of the Jewish Settlements and as much Jewish owned land as possible.  After this, the strategy was escalated, supported by the ‘Redemption of Galilee' charity which raised funds in Britain and the USA to support the settlements  ‘Establishing facts' was soon seen as a major nuisance by the British Colonial Office, which was desperate to pacify Arab opinion; in November 1938, the District Commissioner for Galilee reported to MacMichael that ‘Dr Weizmann's fait accompli policy' had resulted in three new settlements being established in this highly disturbed area, ‘one disguised as a labour camp', and that his queries met with a ‘conspiracy of silence'; MacMichael - generally sympathetic towards the Jews - was so disturbed by the level of army and police resources redirected to defending the new settlements that, at his request, an Order in (the Privy) Council was passed in early 1938 granting him the authority to ban new settlements unless specifically permitted by himself.  This led to further moral and legal complications, as Lieutenant General Sir Robert Haining, the British General Officer Commanding (GOC) - later a “’bete noir“’ for Wingate - confided to Major General Bernard Montgomery, commanding 8th Division, in northern Palestine, in April 1939: æ°[The] Point really is, it is [the] Jews' land, and in law and under the Mandate, they are “’entitled“’ to occupy [it].  Therefore any attempt to dispossess them if they bounce us, is fraught with difficulty, and far reaching effects.’  To Palestinian Arabs, the settlements were provocative for more mundane reasons; not only were they resentful over their landlords selling their land to outsiders, but also of Jewish success in cultivating that land, which had often been unproductive for generations. 

What do we know about Jewish attitudes to all this?
Despite Weizmann's aim, stated in 1919, ‘To make Palestine as Jewish as England is English', the Zionist leadership aimed at reaching this goal in organic manner, via immigration and settlement under British protection.  This affected the initial Jewish reaction to anti-Zionist violence.  Weizmann and Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency and accepted head of Palestine's Jewish community, at first advocated Havlagah, or restraint, agreeing that maintenance of the moral high ground would guarantee the support of the world community.  Yet, by 1939, having had several peace overtures rejected, Ben-Gurion was expressing in public the view he had long held in private, that Islam was a ‘violent doctrine', that Arabs were instinctively intolerant and any peaceful settlement was impossible; ‘We both want Palestine.  And that is the fundamental conflict’  This was already the stance of the most uncompromising Zionist leader of all  - Vladimir Jabotinsky, President of the New Zionist Organisation and originator of the philosophy of the ‘Iron Wall'.   This was first enunciated in an article published in Russia in 1923 in which Jabotinsky argued that, like all peoples, the Arabs had a strong sense of national identity, and the natural tendency of people to resist incursion by another nation meant that Jews and Arabs, two nations competing for the same territory, could never co-exist peacefully.  Arab resistance was entirely natural, as ‘Every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement.'  Moreover, the Arab desire for a pan-Arab federation, including Palestine, meant peaceful agreement with the wider Arab world would remain ‘a delusion.'  The Arab world therefore had to be coerced to recognise an Israel in its biblical borders:
Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in        defiance of the will of the native population.  This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population - an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. 
      If Zionism was ‘moral and just', justice had to prevail, leaving Zionists and their supporters with no choice but to use overwhelming military force to induce more moderate voices in the Arab world to prevail and a peaceful settlement to be reached.  Jabotinsky knew that this was already becoming Zionist policy, factions being divided only on who would build the wall: One prefers an iron wall of Jewish bayonets, the other proposes an iron wall of British bayonets, the third proposes an agreement with Baghdad, and appears to be satisfied with Baghdad's bayonets...but we all applaud, day and night, the iron wall.'
      Jabotinsky was an Anglophile, had served in the British army in the First World War, and his aim apparently was to create the ‘Iron Wall' as an Anglo-Jewish project, a theme taken up in a memorandum sent to the Colonial Office in early 1937, wherein he argued for the Haganah to be legalised and placed under British command and training, and for the British to raise a Jewish Legion consisting of three infantry battalions from Palestine and volunteers from the Diaspora.  Ben-Gurion recalled Jabotinsky arguing consistently that Jewish units in Palestine should be under British command, in contradiction of the policy of Ben-Gurion's own Labour (“’Mapai“’) movement.  Yet, Jabotinsky remained uncompromising towards the Arabs, a Jewish state ‘on both banks of the Jordan (ie. incorporating Transjordan)' being a stated aim of his Revisionist Party and New Zionist Organisation, and he regarded any attempt at partition as ‘treason'.  Moreover, from 1936, the Revisionists maintained their own militia, Irgun Bet, a splinter group from the Haganah which slowly drifted out of even Jabotinsky's control and became the most violent Jewish group of all under its new name, Irgun Zvai Leumi and through the influence of one of its most prominent operators, Menachem Begin.  

Now, as I have said, the Mufti often let the situation slip out of his control, and was then forced to take action to get it back.  In 1936, the Arabs finally began to organise themselves similarly to the Jews, although they had a lot of catching up to do.  In 1936, he was elected chairman of the Arab Higher Committee, which was a new body intended to represent all of Palestine’s Arabs, Christian as well as Muslim, to the British.  Now, as I have mentioned, in 1935, Qassam’s followers began attacks on Jewish settlements in Galilee.  In April 1936, the Supreme Muslim Council and the Arab Higher Committee called a general strike of Arab workers, which lasted six months and was accompanied by rioting, targeting Jewish businesses and residential areas in the big towns, the murder of British officials and Jewish civilians, and, in the summer, the forming of large guerrilla units in the countryside.

Now, this was the beginning of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, which was, put simply, the first Arab-Jewish War.  I say this for a couple of reasons: to begin with, the British noticed that these guerrilla units, which called themselves Mujahideen, consisted largely of volunteers from Iraq and Syria, many of them apparently with regular army training, and reinforced by local Palestinian Arabs, who seemed to be a lot less aggressive.  Indeed, one phenomenon of the Revolt was that most of the rural Arab population, the ones with actually the most to lose from the creation of a Jewish state, remained indifferent to the guerrillas and had to be coerced or even terrorised into supporting them; indeed, many of them cooperated actively with the British, up to and including, later on, forming counter-guerrilla units which cooperated with the British Army.  Moreover, the military direction of the guerrillas was in the hands of a former Colonel in the Iraqi Army, Fawzi al Quwuqji, who had been enlisted by the Arab Higher Committee, i.e. the Mufti, to give the guerrillas some direction and command; this he did, producing a manual for guerrilla warfare a copy of which you can see in the Public Records Office at Kew.  Iraq itself spoke internationally on behalf of the Arab Higher Committee and attempted coercive pressure on the British with vague threats of escalating the crisis in the whole region.  So, what we see is not so much an insurgency as an invasion, using guerrilla methods, in support of an elite of urban agitators led by the Mufti.

Now, the British had just a single weak brigade in Palestine, about 6,000 men, not all of them fighting troops, so they could not take the offensive to deal with the guerrillas.  The major British response was to announce, in August 1936 that they were going to send a Royal Commission, under Lord Peel, to Palestine, to investigate whether the Mandate was actually working to the satisfaction of all the communities.  However, before it could do so, law and order had to be restored in Palestine, and so they sent two infantry divisions, some 80,000 men, supported by four squadrons of RAF bombers to Palestine, under Lieutenant General John Dill, with orders to crush the guerrillas.  This they did, with some considerable ruthlessness, backed up by some severe measures from the civilian administration: the death penalty was introduced for saboteurs and those hiding firearms, and the British, at one point, were hanging between thirty and fifty Arabs a month; corporal punishment, the birch or Rotan, was introduced for juveniles supporting the rebellion and collective punishment of Arab communities supporting the guerrillas was also authorised, consisting of collective fines, demolition of suspects’ houses, and the enforcement of curfews.

The Arab Higher Committee called off the strike in October, thanks to a combination of the British Army’s crushing of the guerrilla bands in the countryside and fear that the citrus crop, which needed to be tended from October to March and on which most of the rural Arab economy depended, would suffer if the fighting continued.  So, on 10 October, the Mufti issued a joint statement with King Abdullah of Transjordan, Faisal of Iraq and Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia calling off the revolt, citing the Peel Commission as reason.

However, the Mufti again proceeded to shoot himself in the foot by ordering the Arab Higher Committee to boycott the Peel Commission until just before it left in January 1937, which meant that the Zionists almost completely dominated proceedings.  When the Peel Commission published its report, later on in 1937, it recommended partition, the first of several such official reports to do so.  Basically, the Jews would get north and central Palestine in which to form their own state; this would not have been as much as they wanted, but it would be a working start, and would allow them to rescue many more European Jews from the Nazis.  The rest of Palestine would to Abdullah; now, to the Arab Higher Committee, not only would this mean they would actually lose Palestine, but the Mufti had publicly called for Abdullah to be killed and so would be in a very sticky situation indeed were he to suddenly become one of his subjects.

In September 1937, the rebellion was resumed.  Now, a major pertinent issue from the following two years was the growth in military cooperation between the British Army and the Haganah.
Now, I touch on this because a lot of myths have grown up about this in both Britain and Israel.  Many authors have argued that British soldiers such as TE Lawrence, Harry St John Philby and John Bagott Glubb established a tradition of romantic pro‑Arabism in the British Army or, more accurately ‘pro‑Bedouinism’, based upon a sentimentalisation of the nomadic Bedu, who had fought with Lawrence.  The Bedu were seen as a ‘martial race’, brave, honourable and courteous, uncorrupted by urban living, correctly deferential to white sahibs, and possessing qualities to which those sahibs aspired.148   This is supported by the contemporary testimony of a number of British soldiers: Arabs tended to treat British soldiers with courtesy, hospitality and at least an impression of helpfulness.149   Conversely, British soldiers serving in Palestine often found orthodox Jews alien beyond comprehension and the Ashkenazim, the European Jews making up the majority of the new immigrants, superior and aloof.150         
Yet, reviewing contemporary military documents reveals a more complex.  Not only did General Sir John Dill and his successors as General Officer Commanding Palestine take the Army Council's initial instruction to ‘crush’ the rebellion very seriously, and argue consistently for a tougher line against Arab nationalism, but were prepared to enlist Jewish support. Their principal opponents in this were the High Commission and the Colonial Office in London, who wished to enlist the support of the Arab kings to win over the Arab Higher Committee, and therefore opposed the courting of overt Jewish support, and use of Jewish military units as unnecessarily provocative. Measures adopted subsequently, such as military control and the use of unrestricted armed force to smash the Arab gangs, indicate that the British authorities were now following the Army’s line of argument rather than that of the FO and Colonial Office. 

However, another issue now emerged ‑ arming the Jews.  As of 1936, Jews formed part of the Palestine Police and all of the irregular Supernumerary Police (Notrim in Hebrew), which enlisted 3,000 volunteers between April and October 1936.163  It is unsurprising that the Haganah pressed its members to join the JSP in order to receive weapons training, courtesy of the British, and the JSP allowed the Haganah to make use of weapons stored for its use in Jewish settlements: when Yitzhak Sadeh formed his elite Haganah strike force, FOSH, most of its members had been trained in the JSP. Nor did the British Army seem to mind: the Notrim’s role was confined initially to protecting Jewish settlements and a section of railway running through majority Jewish areas but it is evident that Dill not only wanted to expand their numbers, but use them offensively against the gangs.

      From March 1937, Notrim were authorised to carry out ‘hot pursuits’ of fleeing gangs, and in summer that year they were embodied formally as the uniformed Jewish Settlement Police (JSP) under British Army command and training.    Ben‑Gurion recalled that by then, both the Yishuv and the British Army accepted the Notrim/JSP as ‘legal Haganah’ and the best available source of military training for young Jewish men ‑ ‘Jewish bayonets’, courtesy of the British army. 
      By March 1938, the British Army had, effectively, destroyed all the large guerrilla gangs in Palestine once and for all, and this prompted a change in insurgent strategy.  The insurgents switched away from waging guerrilla warfare against the British Army and the Palestine Police and towards carrying out terror attacks directed at civilian targets: this involved murdering or kidnapping British officials and Jewish and Arab civilians, sabotage of British facilities and night-time attacks on Jewish settlements in the countryside.  This was financed by drug smuggling and gun-running, and by a protection racket extorting money and concealment from Arab businesses and villages.  Because of the diffuse and unpredictable nature of these activities, by the autumn of 1938 British forces were badly overstretched, single platoons were often defending villages against attacks from far larger insurgent forces(35), and the GOC, General Sir Robert Haining, was communicating to London that he had cancelled all offensive operations, and that the authorities had, effectively, lost control of large parts of the country.  The Arab population was starting to fall in behind the insurgents, and, most ominously of all, this included much of the Palestine Police, there being numerous reported cases of Arab police assisting the theft of weapons from police stations.

It was at this point that perhaps the best know, and certainly the most controversial Christian Zionist of them all began to make his mark.  This, of course, was Captain Orde Charles Wingate of the Royal Artillery.  Now, Wingate is usually only mentioned in passing in most histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I think this is unfair, because if you look at what he actually did, his influence on the subsequent development of the Arab-Israeli conflicts has been immense.  In particular, he provided them with a military doctrine by which the ‘Iron Wall’ philosophy could be put into practice, which centred upon aggressively carrying the war into enemy territory in order to maximise the pain and terror for them, and he also gave them the confidence in their own military ability to make them put this philosophy into practice.
Now, it was because of the deteriorating situation that Haining supported the proposal made to his predecessor, General Sir Archibald Wavell, by Wingate, who was then a captain working in the intelligence cell of his HQ, to form special counter-insurgent units to hunt down gangs operating by night in rural areas.  What Wingate was proposing was ‘counter-gang’ operations, referring explicitly to ‘government gangs’ hunting terrorist gangs on their own territory and using their own methods against them.  In his view, the best way to deal with infiltrating insurgent gangs was to deploy what he called ‘moving ambushes’, specially trained patrol units, sweeping known infiltration routes or, preferably, directed towards incoming gangs, and drilled to deliver an immediate and effective attack if one was encountered.  Wingate had used this method against shifta bandits while serving with the Sudan Defence Force ten years earlier. and the deployment of such forces has been common practice in British Army counter-insurgent operations for the last 100 years, we have seen it practiced by the SAS in such operations all over the world over the past fifty years.
Wingate was firm that Notrim/JSP should participate: units could either be British, with Notrim and other Jewish supernumeraries acting as guides and interpreters, or British‑trained Notrim, ‘ideal for this task, as possessing expert local language both of area, and character and language of Arabs.  There is ample evidence of their courage and they are intensely keen and eager to learn’; the one group that should be excluded were Arab police, ‘Arab police are useless, being both sympathetic towards, and in awe of, the gangs....Trust will become appropriate after, and not before, the Government has scotched the terror.’193   As noted previously, the loyalty of Arab policemen had been patchy since 1936, and their collapse was a key factor in the crisis that befell the British in autumn 1938, so Wingate’s view was probably shared by many. 
Notrim tactics in defending settlements from night attacks were, for the period 1936‑38, as desultory as those of the British, consisting mainly of directing rifle fire from behind the settlement’s static defences at where the shooting from outside was coming from, while taking steps to summon British troops to the area.   It was as much as they were allowed to do under British policy.  While the digest praised the determination of the Notrim, it was also felt that their poor level of training made them something of a liability, their indiscriminate shooting making them a threat to British troops in the area, and their lack of formal organisation made cooperation with them difficult.
With Haining’s backing, Wingate formed his first squads in order to patrol a prime target for terrorist attacks, the oil pipeline running across northern Galilee from Iraq to Haifa which, by spring 1938, was being blown up several times a night.  In early June, the SNS carried out their first operations, ambushing three Arab gangs on the pipeline, after which attacks ceased for several months.  However, the insurgents then switched to carrying out large numbers of simultaneous sabotage attacks by small parties – what the Jews called ‘pellets’.  Wingate’s response was twofold: firstly, he acquired some machine guns from his senior commander and switched to using large numbers of small, static ambushes, which killed enough insurgents for attacks on the line to cease altogether: secondly, he instigated nightly patrols of Arab villages in the area in order to impress on the local Arab population that the British were in the area and they were watching them.  By late June, again with the backing of his superiors, Wingate escalated from this to carrying out pre-emptive raids on Arab villages known to be harbouring terrorists.  The first of these, on the village of Jurdieh, involved Wingate leading three patrols across the Lebanon border to hit the village from behind, killing fifteen known insurgents; the headman of Jurdieh asked Hanita for a truce, which was upheld.  In July, Wingate carried out a larger and more ambitious operation, involving a force of nearly 100 men attacking the village of Dabburiya, killing twelve known insurgents and for which Wingate was awarded his first DSO.

Jewish police participated initially as guides, scouts and interpreters: however, as operations continued, they took a more prominent role and eventually Jewish police sergeants were to command patrols.   Yigal Allon ‑ who did not serve with the SNS, but saw action with Sadeh and FOSH ‑ recalled that Wingate ‘regarded himself, in practice, as a member of the Haganah, and that was how we all saw him ‑ as the comrade and, as we called him, "the Friend" [Hayedid]’ and that Wingate and the Haganah viewed the SNS as another means of securing training from the British army.

Wingate was a truculent Zionist, who not only disagreed with the British government policy of negotiated partition but often said so in public, albeit in Hebrew, perhaps so his British colleagues could not understand him.    Moreover, the Haganah’s strategic agenda was different from the British: to them, the SNS role was to secure territory around Jewish settlements in Galilee, a disputed area, thereby ‘establishing facts’ with military force.    To them, the SNS was a means of obtaining military training and continuing the inter-communal struggle under the aegis of the British Army and, indeed, they saw the SNS as a Haganah unit, Plugot Ha’esh, the Company of Fire.

Now, the final, and most controversial stage of the SNS campaign involved reprisal attacks.  The largest and most controversial such action followed a particularly nasty Arab atrocity at the town of Tiberias, on the Dead Sea.  In October, a large Arab gang, most of them apparently high on hashish, entered the town and murdered 19 Jewish children in a nursery, who had their throats slit before being set alight.  Hearing about this, Wingate redeployed two squads from another operation and hit the gang on its way out of Tiberias, killing forty of them.  The next day, he tracked down the rest of the gang to its lair on Mount Tabor, launching an assault, supported by RAF bombing, in which another 14 were killed.  A few days later, the village of Hitin was raided and three Arabs were ‘shot while trying to escape’, a common phrase in reports of the SNS in action.  Later that month, Wingate returned to London, and was subsequently removed from command of the SNS, although it continued in existence until the end of the rebellion in 1939.

So, before Wingate, the Jewish military organisations were largely defensive in nature, and, indeed, Haganah, in Hebrew, means ‘defence’.  After Wingate, we see a new confidence, and Israeli operations have been characterised by the sort of things that he advocated – aggression at all levels of war, carrying the war deep into the enemy’s territory, trying to break him both emotionally and intellectually.  It is also worth noting that among the young Jewish men he trained and commanded were Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon, both of whom wrote of him with awe in their memoirs, and, apparently, little ten-year old Ariel Sharon followed the exploits of the SNS avidly in the Jewish press, and Wingate also became a hero to him.

Now, while they were crushing the rebellion, the British sought a political solution to the dispute, which they needed desperately, particularly as, after the Munich Conference in 1938, it was clear that war with Hitler was now imminent, and Britain needed Arab support, or, at least, for the Arab states not to join the Axis.  Indeed, by now, the Mufti had fled to Lebanon and then to Iraq, from where he was quite openly doing the bidding of the German Foreign Ministry.  A conference was called in London in early 1939 but such was the acrimony between the Arab and Jewish leadership by this stage that each side said they would boycott the conference if the other attended.  The British then tried to force the situation with the White Paper that was presented to the Commons by the Colonial Secretary, Malcolm Mac Donald, in mid 1939: the MacDonald White Paper announced that the Mandate would end by 1949, after which Palestine would become fully independent; Jewish immigration would be restricted to 15,000 per year up to 1944, after which it would only continue with Arab consent; the sale of Arab land to Jews was largely banned.  The nature of the Nazi regime was all too apparent by now, and Europe’s Jews needed a sanctuary, yet the immigration policies of most of the western powers confined them to going to Palestine; it now seemed that door was closing rapidly as well, thanks to Arab pressure on the British.  Yet, the Arabs also rejected the White Paper on the grounds that it did not stop Jewish immigration altogether and immediately.

Yet, when World War Two did break out, in September 1939, the bulk of both the Jewish and Arab communities agreed to support the British in the war against Germany.  250,000 British troops were stationed in Palestine throughout the war, and 27,000 Jews and 25,000 Arabs joined the British Army; the Jewish industrial and business sector flourished, due to the absolute torrent of contracts to do work for the British garrison.  The exceptions to this were the extremists: the Mufti chose the wrong side to back, eventually travelling to Germany where he had several meetings with both Hitler and Himmler, and played his part in recruiting Muslim Albanian and Central Asian volunteers into the Waffen-SS; after the war, he had to settle in Egypt.  On the other side, the Irgun also opened secret contacts with the Nazis – their ideology was, effectively a form of Jewish fascism, and their aim was to offer the Nazis with an opportunity to get all of the Jews out the Reich in return for the Irgun waging guerrilla war against the British.  This they did, at one point carrying out the assassination of a British minister in Cairo.

Another impact of the war was the growth of American interest in the Middle East.  Like Britain, the USA badly needed Gulf oil to support its war effort and President Roosevelt adopted a strongly pro-Arab policy, being particularly keen in winning the lasting friendship of Ibn Saud and pouring money into Saudi Arabia to keep it stable; in 1947, Harry Truman became the first serving US President to visit the Middle East, meeting with Ibn Saud on a US battleship in the Gulf.  This ran contrary to public opinion in the US, which has traditionally tended to be pro-Jewish.  Because of this, Ben Gurion visited the USA in 1944, after which Congress, Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate in the 1944 Presidential election, all endorsed the Biltmore Programme, which offered the USA’s broad support to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  This was strengthened considerably by the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the revelation of the full horror of the Holocaust.  President Roosevelt, then President Truman, began to pressure Britain to lift restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The immediate post war period also saw some major changes in the Arab world.  In 1945, Egypt organised the Arab League, which included Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.  The League’s main purpose was to promote cultural, social and economic links between the Arab peoples, and it stayed away from politics, particularly Pan-Arab nationalist politics, due to the weakness of its members: only Egypt and Yemen were independent, and Yemen was one of the poorest countries on the planet, Saudi Arabia and Transjordan were completely reliant upon American and British funds respectively, and Lebanon, Syria and Iraq had been occupied by the British during the war.  However, the League did establish a Higher Committee to lobby western governments against Zionism.

It was a combination of the widespread global sympathy for the Jews, following the revelation of the Holocaust, and the wartime crippling of the British economy, which led to the British withdrawal from Palestine and the creation of Israel.  From 1948 to 1947, British forces in Palestine were subjected to a major terrorist campaign by the Irgun and the even more extremist Stern Gang, the worst incident of which was the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, organised by Begin and carried out by Irgun operators dressed as Arabs, in which 91 people, mainly British civilians, were killed.  At the same time, up to 40,000 people were entering Palestine illegally per month, and the British were detaining those they caught in camps in Cyprus; images of Jewish refugees from post-Nazi Europe being confined in British ‘concentration camps’ were a gift for Zionist propaganda, and Ben Gurion made sure that images of this were shown in cinemas all over the USA.  Britain’s Labour government was not only opposed to colonialism on ideological grounds, but also wanted to get rid of a major strategic, economic and political burden, while maintaining enough troops and bases in the region to protect the Suez Canal.

After trying to come to a joint solution with the USA, they eventually surrendered the problem to the newly formed UN.  The UN formed UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which eventually reincarnated the Peel Report, recommending that Palestine should be divided into separate Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem under the control of a UN Mandate.  The Jewish state would be called ‘Israel’.  UNSCOP’s proposal was passed by the UN General Assembly at the end of 1947, with Britain and all the Muslim countries voting against.  Nevertheless, Britain announced it would end the Mandate on 14 May 1948.

UNSCOM was the blueprint for the first Arab-Israeli War, but we will talk about that next time.

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