Terrorism Without "Occupation": Lessons From Arab Pogroms

Palestinian terrorism and atrocities against Jews began not only long before Israel "occupied" the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but even long before Israel was created.

Prof. Steven Plaut

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The Bash-Israel media and the amen choruses of the Arab terrorists have been repeating for so many years that Palestinian terrorism and barbarism are caused by Israeli "occupation" that few are still capable of examining that "theory" critically. The simple fact of the matter is that Palestinian terrorism and atrocities against Jews began not only long before Israel "occupied" the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but even long before Israel was created. Examining those early waves of violence can shed enormous light on the Middle East conflict even today, and help us understand its true nature.

There were waves of attacks against Jews in "Palestine" throughout the 1920s and the entire Jewish population of Hebron was destroyed by Arab terrorists in 1929. Palestine at the time was part of the British Mandate, becoming so after the Allies had driven the Ottomans out of the land in World War I. While a few hundred thousand Arabs lived in "Palestine" in the 1930s, it had never been an Arab Palestinian state, and had not even been under any form of Arab rule since the Dark Ages.

The worst anti-Jewish atrocities in "Palestine" were part of a wave of Arab pogroms lasting from 1936 to 1939, dubbed the "Arab Revolt" by apologists for the terrorism. They were designed to stop immigration to the Land of Israel by Jewish refugees trying to escape a Europe under the growing shadow of Adolf Hitler. During the "Revolt", between 415 and 463 Jews (depending on source) were murdered by the pogromchiki. Given the size of the Jewish population at that time, that was far more than in the current intifada.

The pogroms were aimed at Jewish civilians and sometimes at British colonial forces. They escalated in September 1937, after the British Royal "Peel Commission" made its recommendations. That Commission called for a tiny Jewish mini-state and a large Arab state, both to be carved out of Western "Palestine". It also called for severe restrictions on further immigration to Palestine by Jewish refugees from Europe. But because it did not rule out Jewish sovereignty and Jewish immigration altogether, which were the minimal demands of the terrorists, the pogrom leaders ordered escalated violence.

At the time, "Palestinian Arabs" were led by the "Arab High Command", headed by the infamous Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Al-Husseini. The mufti served as chief clergyman in Jerusalem, with British approval, even though he had fought against the British in World War I. Al-Husseini later went on to become Hitler's ally and point man, assisting Hitler in recruiting Muslims for the German side in World War II.

On May 10, 1941, the mufti broadcast a fatwa (religious ruling) calling for a holy war against the British. It claimed that the British had profaned the Al-Aqsa mosque and were out to destroy Islam, a claim reinvented by more recent Palestinian fascist leaders. In 1943, the mufti was sent to Yugoslavia, where he organized the 13th Waffen SS division, known as the Hanjar ("Saber") division. It was responsible for the murder of about 90% of Bosnia's Jews and also destroyed numerous Serbian churches and villages. In his memoirs, the mufti thanked Adolf Eichmann and praised him as "gallant and noble."

Throughout this period, the Jews did not "occupy" anything except their own personal property, exercising no sovereignty at all in the Land of Israel. The campaigns of Palestinian terrorism had nothing to do with occupation, because there was no Jewish "occupation".

Apologists for the terrorists, like anti-Zionist extremist professor and pro-Palestinian propagandist Baruch Kimmerling, from the Hebrew University, argue that the violence proves that a "Palestinian nationalism" was emerging in the late 1930s. In fact, the term "Palestinian" referred at the time to Jews, not Arabs. Palestinian Arab leaders did not begin to demand the right to "self-determination" and statehood at all until after 1967. When the West Bank and Gaza were "occupied" by Egypt and Jordan, the Palestinian leadership had no complaint about any "alien occupation" and expressed no desire for self-determination.

Understanding the Middle East in One Quick Lesson

Were there no voices of moderation and tolerance among Palestinian Arabs at the time? As a matter of fact, there were. And the story of what became of one of them can help us understand the entire Middle East conflict.

A few days ago, a fascinating story related to that era was published for the first time by the dovish Israeli journalist (and film-maker) Yehuda Litani, in Yediot Ahronot, Israel's leading daily, on May 4, 2006. Litani is well known for his film about the conflict in Ireland, as well as films sympathetic to the mundane problems of "Palestinian" Arabs.

Back when Mufti Al-Husseini was beating the war drums and organizing mass murders of Jews, it seems that an article was published by a young Palestinian Arab intellectual, Araf Al-Asli, aged 27, denouncing the mufti, the pogroms and the violence. The article appeared in both Hebrew and Arabic leaflets. It was entitled "The History of the Jews and the Arabs". Its theme was that Jews and Arabs had cooperated and supported one another in the past, especially during the era of cultural flowering in Muslim Spain before 1492 and in other Muslim regimes. That cooperation had turned Muslim Spain into the most advanced civilization of its age, surpassing the rest of Europe in science, literature and architecture. Indeed, it produced the most tolerant regime in all of medieval Europe.

Al-Asli went on to denounce those "Palestinian" leaders trying to organize violent assaults against Jews and trying to recruit support for the untrustworthy dictators of the Arab states among "Palestinian" Arabs. He called for cooperation and solidarity with the Jews. He warned the Arabs that if they chose the path of armed conflict with the Jews, rejecting the outstretched hand of the Zionists, then the Arabs would lose. In the midst of the anti-Jewish pogroms, al-Asli proposed an immediate ceasefire, followed by an alliance with the Zionists, which would produce prosperity for Jews and Arabs.

Soon after the publication of the essay, terrorists commanded by the mufti kidnapped the dissident, interrogated him and eventually walled him up inside a cave on Mount Scopus. Meanwhile, Al-Asli's father, who was a civil servant in Jordan, arrived and managed to persuade the mufti to let his son out of the cave. Afraid of antagonizing the Jordanian regime, the mufti allowed the battered son out, but banished him to Lebanon. There, Al-Asli found work as a waiter and also teaching Hebrew to students at the American University of Beirut.

The story was buried for many years until relatives of Al-Asli told it to Litani and he published it. The incident shows clearly why so few voices of moderation have ever been heard among the "Palestinians". The mufti died in 1974, but the Al-Husseini family continued to play a central role in Palestinian terrorism and extremism, down to today.

For those who think that Middle Eastern terrorism is because of Jews "mistreating" and "occupying" Palestinians, nothing can better remove the blinders than studying the 1936-39 period.