The Myth of Palestinian Nationalism
Over the decades, as the nineteenth-century
Palestinian Jews were reinforced by successive waves of Jewish refugees,
anti-Jewish violence erupted spasmodically in the Holy Land. Observers
labeled these outbreaks as "European anti-Semitism," "Ottomanism," and
British officials attributed the violence-so-called
"disturbances" -- to the manifestation of "Arab nationalism." The British,
however, were never able to discover any manifestation of such nationalism
on the part of the Arabs in Palestine. They did not try to set up
a government or any other nationalistic institutions. Even when the
notorious Nazi, the Grand Mufti returned from Berlin after WWII in 1948
to briefly set up a "Palestine Government" in Gaza, it was ignored.* The
only mode of expression of nationialism before 1948 was the oppression
and intolerance shown toward Jews.
This narrowly based "nationalism" of violence
continued to grow as the Jews continued to struggle out of dhimmi (subservient)
status toward freedom and equality. British investigators were eventually
forced to concede, and officially to note, that "Arab nationalism in Palestine
has been artificially puffed up.... Only a little firmness is needed to
deflate it."1 Unlike the "insurgent nationalip
in Palestine Arab nationalism
is inextricably interwovern with antagonism to the Jews.2
Yet by so perverse a rationale was a movement
of enmity dignified and the legend of Palestinian nationalism initiated.
For example, in 1848 about four thousand
armed peasants and "numerous Bedouin allies acted as gangs for "two great
chiefs," and lawlessness spread. Hebron's local governor was overthrown
by an oppressive chief whose brutal tactics earned him the admiration of
Jerusalem Is Pasha and the award of the "robe of honour." In Hebron, one
of the holy Jewish cities, Jews were still "helpless" and "plundered" and
the new ruler managed to confiscate booty of those trying to flee by sending
agents to rob travellers on the road."3
In the following few decades (1848-1878)
scores of incidents involving anti-Jewish violence, persecution, and extortions
filled page after page of documented reports from the British Consulate
in Jerusalem. A chronology would be over-whelming, but perhaps a few extracts
from those complaints will show the pattern of terror that continued right
into the period of the major Jewish immigration beginning about 1878.
May, 1848. I have the honor
to report that after the disturbance in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Easter Eve, in beating the Jew who had imprudently entered there -- The
Prussian Acting Consul here, informed me that he had been told by the Pasha,
and also by the Greek Patriarch, that a Firman exists, which allows Christians
to beat Jews if found within that Church, or even if passing along the
street in front of it -- and which declares that in case of a Jew being
killed under such an infliction, the price of blood should be rated at
only ten paras -- value about three farthings.4
The tradition of contemptuous "fraternity"
continued -- a tradition that illuminates what measure of credibility may
be gifen to modern promises concerning a "Palestinian Arab state," which
would "value people, independent of race and religion."20
March, 1849: Reporting the complaint
of a Jew ... of being assaulted and stabbed by a soldier, while his house
was searched and his females beaten .... 5
September, 1850. Last month I visited
Hebron to do what I could for the protection of the Jews.... Abderahhman
[a "brigand chief"] vexes them with irregular extortions, but in return
he keeps them in security from other oppressors, however He has had himself
enrolled on the books of the Jewish Treasury, as a pensioner for 100 piastres
a month, and always sends for his pension two days before the day of due.
During my last visit there I had a Moslem
summarily bastinadoed in the open street, for pulling a Jew's beard --
the Mutesellim in his eagerness to satisfy me, inflicted the punishment
with his own hands, to my great astonishment. Abderrahhman was absent at
Dura but one of his sons was present at the scene. This. forms a strange
contrast to the fact of the Austrian Jewish Agent being frequently beaten
in the streets there... 6
July, 1851: It is my duty to report
to Your Excellency that the Jews in Hebron have been greatly alarmed by
threats of the Moslems there at the commencement of Ramadan -- For several
days my Cancelliere staid there with two Kawasses and obtained from the
Governor Abderrahhman the punishment of some offenders: but others were
released from prison on the self-same night of their condemnation.
The Cancelliere reports that the old feuds
between the partisans of Abderrahhman and his brothers still exist -- that
the partisans of the latter steal cattle by force of arms during the night
from Hebron itself, and that they did so close to his tent -- also that
in one day the vines were cut down from twenty feddans of vineyard -- but
that such proceedings are sure to cease instantly on every approach of
Abderrahhman himself, which however is not frequent.
The Jews having complained that a freed
slave named Saad Allah was more obnoxious to them than any other person
in Hebron, -- and that Abderrahhman had released him almost immediately
after sentencing him to imprisonment....
... the enormous avarice of Abderrahhman
is peculiarly oppressive to them."7
December, 1851: ... the murder of
a Jew named Gershon ben Abraham, under English Protection, in Jerusalem....
... the victim was extricated from the
well ... he was found to be stabbed in the throat, heart and ribs, besides
injured in a horrible manner for the mere purpose of torture....
A Moslem (he whose house I had examined
in the morning) named Mohammed Damiatti, was immediately arrested on suspicion
of having perpetrated the murder....
The distress of the bereaved family is
very great -- it is not too much to expect that Moslems will prefer claims
and swear falsely in matters of debt and credit, as the poor man carried
his ledger about with him, and this has not been found -- and it is remarkable
that his father was some years ago murdered in a Moslem house in Saloniki,
and his only brother killed in Jerusalem two years ago by a fall from a
December, 1851: the Samaritans of
Nablus ... consist of about thirty-five taxable men, with a synagogue and
sacred books ....
They have probably for many generations,
and especially within the last century, been exposed to cruel persecutions
from the dominant Moslems-and Nablus is always noted as an especially fanatic
They generally contrive to have the cleverest
man belonging to them employed as government Secretary for the district,
by which means they have warded off much of fiscal oppression, just as
Jews do in other countries, and Copts in Egypt -- but even this has not
been able to protect them from violence, murder and spoliation in their
houses or streets in past times....
I am informed by a Christian in Nablus
that there is too much reason to fear evil consequences from the loss of
their Secretary, as the Moslems are reviling them in the streets with menaces
for the future.9
May, 1852. I proceeded to Hebron
and lodged there in a Jewish house. The Jews were all so alarmed ... that
they would tell me nothing of news: they protested that Abderrahhman had
done no harm to any one, no houses had been rifled &c. and one of the
leading Rabbis implored me not to inform Abderrahhman if he should visit
me, that I had come to protect the Jews, as he would inevitably punish
them the more for it after my departure....
As for the accusations preferred by Abderrahhman
against the Effendis here - I cannot tell how true they are - but
I know that these personages are constantly taking bribes in other cases,
the sums however which are laid against each seem incredibly large. I should
rather imagine that much of the bribery money was spent in Damascus and
November, 1852. - Having learned
that the peasantry levy of 4000 men from the Nablus district had committed
excesses in the houses of British protected Jews in Tiberias I repaired
thither, to induce the commander to keep better order.
... Remonstrance was made against petty
thefts "and of their having brought their horses and asses during the rain
into the Jewish Synagogues."11
July, 1853. . . . The Christians
and Jews of Jerusalem were in a state of absolute terror, and especially
on the preceeding day had been announcing to each other house to house
that the Moslems were to massacre them after the prayers at noon. Persons
shut themselves up in their houses, and shops were closed, and some persons
are still ill in bed from the effect of that day's fear.12
October, 1853. The Jews in their
Quarter of the city have had to suffer many insults of late from town's
people of which I only hear some time after their occurence, as the subjects
of the violence are afraid to acquaint me with the circumstances, lest
they should draw upon themselves greater injuries by way of revenge after
the Consul has obtained redress.13
December, 1853: [Regarding] the
Algerine Jews of Caiffa [Haifa] ... I beg to represent to Your Lordship
that the blessing of British Protection is a boon of inestimable valul,
-- to these people. It would be a blessing to be exempted from Turkish
oppression at any time, and peculiarly so at the present period, when fanaticism
is liable at any minute to break out into violence and when the local governors
are endevouring to extort money by every possible means. And these people
fear that if left to Turkish rule they will be required to pay arrears
of taxes for all the past years of their residence in this country....
A similar renunciation of Algerine Jews
has been made in Safed, Tiberias and Shefa Amer as shown in Enclosure No.
A peculiarity of the French Consulates
as far as they have come within my observation, is that they always show
a strong desire to get rid of Jewish Subjects. I have had frequent evidences
of this in Jerusalem, where that desire has been often expressed to me
-- and in Caiffa I regret to add that the Jews have complained of direct
persecution from the French and Turkish authorities combined.14
July, 1858: I have the honour to
report that in consequence of a series of disgusting insults offered to
Jews and Jewesses in Hebron, I obtained such Orders as I could from the
Pasha's Agent in this city, during His Excellency's absence -- which I
sent by my Dragoman Rosenthal and a Kawass....
The streets of the town were paraded by
fanatic Durweeshes -- and during my stay there a Jewish house was forcibly
entered by night, iron bars of the window broken, and heavy stones thrown
from invisible hands at every person approaching the place to afford help.
One of the Members of the Council affirmed
that they were not obliged to obey Orders from the Pasha's Deputy -- and
declared his right derived from time immemorial in hisfamily, to enterJewish
houses, and take toll or contributions at any time without giving account.
When others present in the Council exclaimed
against this he said -- "Well then I will forbear from taking it
myself, but things will happen which will compel the Jews to come and kiss
my feet to induce me to take their money."15
November, 1858: . . . although the
thief had previously confessed to the robbery in presence of Jews, the
Kadi would not proceed without the testimony of two Moslems -- when the
Jewish witnesses were offered, he refused to accept their testimony --
and the offensive term adopted towards Jews in former times (more offensive
than Giaour for Christians) was used by the Kadi's servants.
I have no doubt of being able to set all
this to rights (except perhaps the matter of Jewish testimony in that Court)
but such circumstances exhibit the working of the present Turkish government
May, 1863: . .. Galilee, comprising
the modern towns of Nazareth, Safed and Tiberias, in which two latter places
there are living upwards of 600 Jews in the enjoyment of British protection.
The existence of so many protected subjects in these retired spots, residing
as they do in the midst of a Moslem population, naturally gives rise to
numerous questions with the local Governors who are prone to oppress
them unless their interests are constantly cared for. My predecessor
was required to make an Annual tour to those towns, in order that his appearance
from time to time amongst our protected subjects there might keep within
proper bounds the ill-concealed aversion which their presence never
fails to excite amongst their Moslem neighbors...17
March, 1864: . . . the circumstances
attending the death of the British subject Peter Meshullam, and to try
Abdalla Abu Kakoora, the individual charged with his murder.... they declare,
as the result of their enquiry, that P. Meshullam died in consequence of
the fall from his mare, and, consequently that Abdalla is innocent of charges
preferred against him.
I confess I was hardly prepared for such
a finding and verdict.... I addressed to His Excellency a reply
conveying my entire dissent from the decision of the Commission ... 18
June, 1864: . .. Her Majesty's Gobernment
have little doubt that Mr. MashulIan's death was caused by violence and
not by a fall from his horse... 19
* During the years that Jordan
occupied the West Bank, from 1948-1967, the cause of "Palestinian Nationalism"
was unheralded. Until 1970s, the PLO only focused on Pan-Arab issues.
Royal Commission Report, p. 144.
Ottoman Reform, p. 120, quoting Consul James Finn; F.O. 78/705, Finn to
Palmerston, No. 7, Jerusalem, 5 February 1847; F.O. 78/755, Finn to Palmerston,
No. 22, Jerusalem, 17 July 1848.
Finn to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, 2 May 1848, F.O. 78/755 (No. 19),
Consulate, 1, p. 106.
Finn to Sir Stratford Canning, Jerusalem, I March 1849, F.O. 78/803 (No.
8), abstract, ibid., 1, p. 110.
Finn to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, 27 September 1850, F.O. 78/839
(No. 20), abstract, ibid., 1, 168-169. Hyamson adds: "Abdeffahhman el Amer,
a chief of the neighbouring village of Dura, for many years terrorized
the inhabitants of Hebron, Jews as well as others, of which town he was
for periods de facto ruler at times, despite the Government. He first appeared
there on the expulsion of the Egyptians in 1840 when, murdering the local
Egyptian governor in the street, he proclaimed the Sultan of Turkey, and
appointed himself governor of the town." Also see James Finn, Stirring
Times, 1, pp. 236 et seq., 250 et seq., and 392 et seq.; and Vol. 2, pp.
33 et seq.
Finn to Sir Stratford Canning, Jerusalem, 15 July 185 1, F.O. 78/874 (No.
10), ibid., 1, pp. 171-172.
Finn to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, 29 December 1851, F.O. 78/874 (Consular
No. 21), ibid., 1, pp. 183-184.
Finn to Viscount Palmerston, Jerusalem, 29 December 1851, F.O. 78/874 (Political
No. 10), ibid., 1, p. 185.
Finn to the Earl of Malmesbury, Jerusalem, 29 May 1852, F.O. 195/369 (Political
No. 2), ibid., 1, p. 198-202.
Finn to the Earl of Malmesbury, Jerusalem, 18 November 1852, F.O. 78/913
Political No. 13), abstract, ibid., 1, p. 211.
Finn to the Earl of Clarendon, Jerusalem, 19 July 1853, F.O. 78/962 (No.
9), ibid., 1, p. 215.
Finn to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, Jerusalem, 13 October 1853, F.O. 195/369
(No. 32), ibid., 1, p. 216.
Finn to the Earl of Clarendon, 28 December 1853, F.O. 78/963 (Political
No. 33), ibid., 1, pp. 218-219.
Finn to the Earl of Malmesbury, Jerusalem, 8 July 1858, F.O. 78/1383 (Political
No. 12), ibid., 1, p. 260.
Finn to the Earl of Malmesbury, Jerusalem, I I November 1858, F.O. 78/1393
(Political No. 34), ibid., 1, p. 261.
B. Sandwith, Vice Consul, Caiffa, to Noel Temple Moore, Caiffa, 20 May
1863, F.O. 78/1775 (No. 18), ibid., 2, pp. 311-312.
Temple Moore to the Honorable E.M. Erskine, Jerusalem, 3 March 1864, F.O.
195/808 (No. 6), ibid., 2, pp. 330-331.
Russell to Noel Temple Moore, Foreign Office, I I June 1864, F.O. 78/1816
(No. 1), ibid., 2, p. 332.
Abu Lughod, address at Palestine Human Rights Committee Meeting, November
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