Sectarian conflict in Mandatory Palestine

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Sectarian conflict in Mandatory Palestine refers to political and armed struggle between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Yishuv from the conquest of the region by the British to the Partition Plan and the 1948 Palestine War.

Background[edit]

During Ottoman times[edit]

Zionist leaders and advocates followed conditions in the land of Israel closely and travelled there regularly. Their concern, however, was entirely with the future of Jewish settlement. The future of the land's Arab inhabitants concerned them as little as the welfare of the Jews concerned Arab leaders. During the movement's formative stages, Zionist negotiators with stronger political powers (such as the British) corresponded enthusiastically while remaining silent about the inhabitants of Palestine, who numbered just under half a million during the late nineteenth century.[1]

According to Anita Shapira, among nineteenth and early twentieth century Zionists, 'The Arabs in Palestine were viewed as one more of the many misfortunes present in Palestine, like the Ottoman authorities, the climate, difficulties of adjustment, [...] [T]he Zionist organization did not discuss this issue during that period and did not formulate a political line on it. Yet at that particular juncture in the movement such deliberations [...] had about the same importance as the learned disputations customarily held in the courtyards of Hassidic rebbes regarding what would happen after the coming of the messiah.'[2]

What thought Zionists did give to Arab national rights was perhaps typified by this passage by Israel Zangwill, written just after the first World War: 'The Arabs should recognize that the road of renewed national glory lies through Baghdad, Damascus and Mecca, and all the vast territories freed for them from the Turks and be content. [...] The powers that freed them have surely the right to ask them not to grudge the petty strip (Israel) necessary for the renaissance of a still more down-trodden people.'[3] Thus from the beginning Zionists saw the Arab residents of Palestine as part of a larger Arab nation.[4]

Ussishkin and Borochov, Zionist leaders in the Diaspora and according to Anita Shapira unfamiliar with true Arab attitudes, expressed their belief that the Palestinian Arabs would be assimilated by the Jews. Since the Jews were further developed they would take the lead in the development of the country and the Arabs would subject themselves to Jewish cultural influence and assimilate. Borochov also said that the Arabs were a "people akin to us in blood and spirit", and embraced the concept of the brotherhood between all the descendants of Shem as the basis of his outlook. According to Shapira this approach was part of a campaign of self-persuasion that the Arabs would not threaten the realisation of Zionist aims.[5]

According to Frankel the immigrants of the Second Aliyah had a strong secular and nationalist ethos. The attitude towards the Arabs took many forms however. On one pole there were those like Yitshak Epstein and Rabi Binyamin who held that Zionism should not antagonise the Arabs. Epstein advocated settlement only in areas unworked by the Arabs. Rabi Binyamin held that modern education, full equality and modernisation would bring the Arabs to accept massive Jewish immigration. On the other pole there were those who assumed that in order to reach their goal the Zionists would have to defeat violent Arab resistance. Brenner wrote "There is now, there is bound to be, hatred between [Jews and Arabs], and it will exist in the future too.". "Blood and soil" mythology was often a theme for them. For instance K.L. Silman wrote:

We shed our blood and we live here. Our life is the continuation of the past and so too is the spilt blood. A nation does not build its life except on the foundations of its past and blood is joined to blood

According to Zerubavel to advocate relaxation and do concessions towards the Arabs was to follow the Galut (exile) mentality. According to Frankel this kind of mythology was an important part of the Second aliyah's political legacy.[6]

The Arab response to Zionism[edit]

Under the Ottomans, Palestine's Arab population mostly saw themselves as Ottoman subjects or as Moslems and, when they concerned themselves with Zionists, they generally assumed the movement (whose objectives they feared) would fail. After the Young Turk revolution in 1908, Arab Nationalism grew rapidly in the area and most Arab Nationalists regarded Zionism as a threat, although a minority perceived Zionism as providing a path to modernity.[7]

In 1856 the Ottomans issued the Hatt-i Humayun, guaranteeing equal rights for all Ottoman subjects. Despite this, Muslims kept viewing Jews as dhimmi's: people protected by, but subordinate to Muslims. This changed when, due to Jewish immigration and land purchase, they realised that Zionism wanted to make a Jewish homeland in at least part of Palestine. Both Christians and Muslims were worried.[8]

In 1897 an Arab commission was formed in Jerusalem, headed by the mufti, to investigate land sales to Jews. Its protests led to the cessation of these sales for a number of years. Arab peasants usually protested if Jewish landowners ousted them from their homes, and violence and armed resistance did occur. However Jewish landownership was accepted if the peasants were permitted to stay.[9]

Yusuf al-Khalidi, a prominent Jerusalemite, wrote to the chief rabbi of France that the implementation of Zionism would require "brute force". Rashid Rida stated in 1902 that Zionism did not simply seek a safe haven for the Jews, but aimed at national sovereignty. Naguib Azoury, a Maronite Christian from Beirut, predicted violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.[10]

After 1908 the opposition increased. According to C. D. Smith this was due to the emergence of Labor Zionism, which openly opposed Jewish employment of Arabs, condemned leaving Arab peasants on land held by Jews, and aimed at a separate Jewish entity in Palestine. Since these issues were discussed in the Jewish press, they also became known to Palestinian Arabs, especially after a Palestinian Arab press had appeared. The two most anti-Zionist newspapers Al-Karmil, founded in 1908 in Haifa, and Filastin, founded in 1911 in Jaffa, were run by orthodox Christians. In the Ottoman parliament in Istanbul, Palestinian representatives called for greater Ottoman vigilance against Zionism.[10]

Yosef Gorny investigated the ideological characteristics of Zionism in the Jewish-Arab confrontation in his book Zionism and the Arabs, 1882–1948. He says two ideological questions were important. The first was whether the Palestinian Arabs were part of a greater Arab nation or constituted a separate Palestinian national entity. The second was to what extent Zionism could base its demands on historical rights. Zionism's aim "to construct in Palestine a distinct Jewish national society" meant that it also honoured certain principles that affected its attitude towards the Arabs. Gorny distinguishes the "desire for territorial concentration of the Jewish people in Palestine", the "desire to create a Jewish majority in Palestine", the "belief that exclusive employment of Jewish labour was the precondition for an independent Jewish society", and the "renaissance of Hebrew culture [as] a pre-condition for the rebirth of the nation".[11]

Demographics in Palestine[12]
year Jews Arabs
1800 6,700 268,000
1880 24,000 525,000
1915 87,500 590,000
1931 174,000 837,000
1947 630,000 1,310,000

Gorny also distinguishes several important developments that had their bearing on the confrontation and the Zionists' attitude. Up to 1917 Zionism was tolerated as a national movement in the Ottoman Empire. After 1917 Palestine became a Mandate administrated by the British, and the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland in Palestine was recognised by the British and the League of Nations. In 1948 the state of Israel was established. Simultaneously the Palestine problem became an ever more important subject for Jews, Arabs and the international community. During this period the demographic balance changed from 1 Jew in every 23 inhabitants in 1880 to 1 Jew in every 3 inhabitants in 1947 (see table). Finally Gorny says the uneven pace of Westernization gave the Jewish society a technological and organizational advantage. Jewish society was mainly urban, Arab society mainly rural.[13]

In his book Zionism and the Palestinians Flapan distinguishes six basic concepts of Zionism's policy toward the Arabs: '(1) gradual build-up of an economic and military potential as the basis for achievement of political aims, (2) alliance with a great power external to the Middle East; (3) non-recognition of the existence of a Palestine national entity; (4) Zionism's civilising mission in an undeveloped area; (5) economic, social and cultural segregation as prerequisites for the renaissance of Jewish national life; (6) the concept of 'peace form strength'.'[14]

Finkelstein says the 'strategic consensus [in the Zionist movement] on the Arab Question was remarkable'. This consensus was informed by three premises: (1) 'the Zionist movement should neither expect, nor seek the acquiescence of the Palestinain Arabs'; (2) 'the success of the Zionist enterprise was dependent on the support of one (or more) Great Power(s)'; (3) the Palestine conflict should be resolved within the framework of a regional alliance subordinate to the interests of the Great Power(s)'.[15]

In line with earlier promises[citation needed] by Ben-Gurion Israel's Declaration of Independence states that '[Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.'[16]

The right to the land[edit]

Zionism's claims[edit]

Israel's Declaration of Independence states 'In [1897] the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.' and further on 'we, [the signatories] by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel.' This illustrates Zionism's claim of a historic right as a people to the Land of Israel.[17]

All three tendencies within Zionism's consensus, political, labour and cultural Zionism, demanded a Jewish majority. Adherents of political Zionism argued that national bonds were the most important bonds linking individuals. They argued that "Jews constituted an 'alien' presence amidst states 'belonging' to other, numerically preponderant, nationalities." They proposed to remedy this by forming a state with a Jewish majority.[18] According to Finkelstein labour Zionism added to this that a Jewish state was the only way to amend the deficit of Jewish laborers in the Diaspora and to create a healthy class structure among Jews. Cultural Zionism wanted to counter the danger of assimilation and loss of Jewish culture. To them a Jewish majority would ensure a spiritual center for the 'unbridled spiritual renaissance of the Jewish people'.[19]

According to Finkelstein "the mainstream Zionist movement never doubted its 'historical right' to impose a Jewish state through the 'Right of Return' on the indigenous Arab population of Palestine", and in fact claimed for the Jewish people a prevalent right to Israel, their historical homeland, and acceded the Arabs only rights as incidental residents.[20] Zionism justified this with two 'facts': the bond of the Jewish nation with Palestine, as derived from its history, was unique, while the Arabs of Palestine were part of the Arab nation and therefore had no special bond with Palestine. Therefore the Jews had a preemptive right to Palestine.[21] For example Aaron David Gordon, whose teachings formed the main intellectual inspiration of the labor leaders, wrote in 1921:

'For Eretz Israel, we have a charter that has been valid until now and that will always be valid, and that is the Bible [... including the Gospels and the New Testament ...] It all came from us; it was created among us. [...] And what did the Arabs produce in all the years they lived in the country? Such creations, or even the creation of the Bible alone, give us a perpetual right over the land in which we were so creative, especially since the people that came after us did not create such works in this country, or did not create anything at all.'[22]

According to Sternhell 'The founders accepted this point of view. This was the ultimate Zionist argument'.

Gorny says leaders from various branches of Zionism claimed such a prevalent right:

  • The cultural Zionist Ahad Ha'am 'saw the historical rights of the Jews as outweighing the Arabs' residential rights in Palestine'.[23]
  • Herzl's companion Max Nordau, a political Zionist, declared that Palestine was the 'legal and historical inheritance' of the Jewish nation, and that the Palestinian Arabs had only 'possession rights'.[24]
  • David Ben-Gurion, labour Zionism's most important leader, held that the Jewish people had a superior right to Palestine,[25] that Palestine was important to the Jews as a nation and to the Arabs as individuals, and hence the right of the Jewish people to concentrate in Palestine, a right which was not due to the Arabs.[26]
  • Zeev Jabotinsky, leader of the more radical revisionist Zionists, held that since Palestine was only a very small part of the Land held by the Arab nation, "requisition of an area of land from a nation with large stretches of territory, in order to make a home for a wandering people is an act of justice, and if the land-owning nation does not wish to cede it (and this is completely natural) it must be compelled".[27]

The dissident Zionists in Brit Shalom and Ihud thought differently. Hugo Bergmann wrote in 1929: "our opponents [in mainstream Zionism] hold different views. When they speak of Palestine, of our country, they mean 'our country', that is to say 'not their country' [... this belief is based on the concept that in a State] one people, among the people residing there, should be granted the majority right.",[28] and Ernst Simon held that the historical right "is binding on us rather than on the Arabs" and therefore an agreement with the Arabs is necessary.[29]

According to Anita Shapira in the early 1940s young Jews came to believe that "[t]he land was theirs, theirs alone. This feeling was accompanied by a fierce sense of possessiveness, of joyous anticipation of the fight for it".[30]

Non-recognition of the existence of a Palestinian national entity[edit]

According to Flapan, a basic concept of Zionist political thinking was the non-recognition of the existence of a Palestinian national entity. He says that Golda Meir's widely published pronouncement that "There was no such thing as Palestinians", was the cornerstone of Zionist policy, initiated by Weizmann and faithfully carried out by Ben-Gurion and his successors.[31][32] However, Gorny[33] has documented a range of attitudes held by Zionists towards the Palestinian Arabs, a phenomenon which implies recognition, even if only by way of opposition, of a Palestinian national entity.

This argument supported the Zionist claim of the 'historical right': the Jews could claim Palestine as the homeland of their nation. while the Palestinian Arabs could not.

Territory longed for by Zionism[edit]

The land longed for by the Zionist movement was "Eretz Israel". Anita Shapira says this term was "a holy term, vague as far as the exact boundaries of the territories are concerned but clearly defining ownership".[34] According to Finkelstein the longed for land incorporated Palestine, Transjordan, the Golan height and the southern part of Lebanon.[35] Ben-Gurion said he wanted to "concentrate the masses of our people in this country and its environs."[36] When he proposed accepting the Peel proposals in 1937, which included a Jewish state in part of Palestine, Ben–Gurion told the twentieth Zionist Congress:

The Jewish state now being offered to us is not the Zionist objective. [...] But it can serve as a decisive stage along the path to greater Zionist implementation. It will consolidate in Palestine, within the shortest possible time, the real Jewish force, which will lead us to our historic goal.[37]

In a discussion in the Jewish Agency he said that he wanted a Jewish–Arab agreement "on the assumption that after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine."[38] In a letter to his son Amos he wrote in 1937 that a Jewish state in part of Palestine was "not the end, but only the beginning." It would give a "powerful boost to our historic efforts to redeem the country in its entirety". He wrote that he had "no doubt that our army will be among the world's outstanding—and so I am certain that we won't be constrained from settling in the rest of the country, either by nutual agreement and understanding with our Arab neighbours, or by some other way."[39]

At the Biltmore Conference in 1942 Ben-Gurion formulated the Zionists' demand 'not as a Jewish state in Palestine but as Palestine as a Jewish state'.[40] The Biltmore Program, adopted at that conference by various Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish organizations, called for "Palestine [to] be established as a Jewish Commonwealth".

Palestinian Arab claims[edit]

The Palestinian Arab leadership based their requests to the British for national and political rights like representative government on several arguments:[41]

  • Together with Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Palestine was a Class A Mandate of the League of Nations. Class A mandates were areas deemed, according to Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to "...have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory." By 1932 Iraq was independent, and Syria, Lebanon and Transjordan had national parliaments, Arab government officials up to the rank of minister, and substantial power in Arabs hands.[42]
  • British promises during World War I. The McMahon–Hussein Correspondence had promised Arab self-determination in purely Arab areas. However McMahon had kept it deliberately vague whether Palestine was part of these areas.[43]

Social and economic separation[edit]

In 1932 Ben-Gurion wrote:

We who came here over the past fifty years could not be absorbed in the economy existing, but were obliged to create new sources of livelihood. We did not settle in Arab villages or in the occupied towns, but founded new settlements and build new urban quarters and suburbs. We did not look for work in Arab vineyards and groves, nor in Arab shops and factories; we planted and erected our own. We came not as immigrants but as settlers, not to ancient Palestine, but to a new land we made ourselves.[44]

Zionism's 'Conquest of Labour'[edit]

See also: Hebrew labor

The struggle for 'Jewish labour', for Jews to employ only Jews, signified the victory of Jewish labour in creating a new society.[45] This struggle was constantly pushed by the leaders of the second Aliyah (1904–1914), who founded labour Zionism and in the 1930s became the leaders of the Zionist movement.[46][47] Shortly after his arrival in Palestine in 1906 Ben-Gurion noted that a moshava, a private Jewish agricultural settlement, employed Arabs as guards. He asked himself: "Was it conceivable that here too we should be deep in Galuth (exile), hiring strangers to guard our property and protect our lives?".[48] Soon Ben-Gurion and his companions managed to amend this situation. According to Teveth in these early years Ben-Gurion developed the concept of 'Avodah Ivrit', or 'Jewish labour'.[49]

The leaders of the second Aliyah agreed that Jewish labour was vital for the national revival process as they were convinced that Jews should 'redeem' themselves by building with their own hands a new type of Jewish society. They also thought the use of Arab labour could create a typical colonial society, exploiting cheap, unorganised indigenous labour, and would hamper further Jewish immigration. Finally they considered manual labour a good therapy for Jews as individuals and as a people. In Ben-Gurion's opinion Jewish labour was "not a means but a sublime end", the Jew had to be transformed and made creative.[50][51][52]

In 1907 Ben-Gurion called for Jewish labour on lands owned by the Jewish National Fund.[53] There were difficulties here, because Arabs were prepared to work long hours for very low wages, and most Jewish immigrants preferred to settle in the cities. In this context occurred the development of the concept of the Kibbutz, 'the co-operative settlement based on self-labour and motivated by Zionist ideals'.[54] In a summary made in 1956 Ben-Gurion said the Kibuutz movement was not started because of some socialist theory, but as an effective way to "guarantee Jewish labour".[55]

Around 1920 Ben-Gurion began to call for Jewish labour in the entire economy, and labour Zionism started striving for an absolute segregation of the Jewish and Arab national communities. In this way 'Jews and Arabs [...] would live in separate settlements and work in separate economies'.[56] Ben-Gurion used the 1929 riots and the 1936 general strike as opportunities to further enforce his drive for Jewish labour.[57][58] In 1930 the Hope Simpson Report blamed the Jewish labour policy for the grave unemployment in the Arab sector.[59] According to Flapan in 1933 the Histadrut launched its first campaign to remove Arab workers form the cities. In many cases the removal of Arab workers 'took the form of ugly scenes of violence'. Reports of this in the Jewish and Arab press 'created an atmosphere of unprecedented tension'.[60] According to Flapan this forceful eviction of Arab workers and the 'acrimonious propaganda' which accompanied the operation amplified Arab hostility and ultimately precipitated the outbreak of the Arab revolt in 1936.[61]

In 1947 the UN Special Commission on Palestine summarised the situation:

The economic life presents the complex phenomenon of two distinctive economies—one Jewish and one Arab, closely involved with one another and yet in essential features separate. [...] Apart from a small number of experts, no Jewish workers are employed in Arab undertakings and apart from citrus groves, very few Arabs are employed in Jewish enterprises [...] Government service, the Potash company and the oil refinery are almost the only places where Arab and Jews meet as co-workers in the same organization. [...] There are considerable differences between the rates of wage for Arab and Jewish workers in similar occupations.[62]


During the early British Mandate (1917–1936)[edit]

From the Zionist point of view the Arabs would naturally object to Zionism, but that was a problem for the British to solve, and not for the Jews. As the terms of the mandate required, the British should keep the Arabs from becoming a political or even a military threat to Zionist goals. Therefore, for the Zionists British policy was more important than Arab policy.[63]

Arab opposition was of course known to the Zionists. Ben-Gurion said in 1918: "We as a nation want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs". Resistance was to be expected. Jabotinsky said in 1921: "I don't know of a single example in history where a country was colonised with the courteous consent of the population".[64]

According to Flapan, one of the basic concepts of mainstream Zionism with regard to the Arab Palestinians was economic, social and cultural segregation as a means to create a Jewish national life. Especially the struggle for "100 per cent of Jewish labour" in the Jewish sector of the economy occupied the energies of the labour movement for most of the Mandatory years and contributed more than any other factor to the territorial, economic and social separation between Jews and Arabs.'[65] According to C. D. Smith the Zionists did not intend to create a joint society with the Arabs, no matter how difficult this might be.[66]

Although the establishment of a Jewish majority or a Jewish state in Palestine was fundamentally at odds with the aspirations of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, Zionists did not doubt their right to establish a Jewish majority in Palestine. Zionists justified this by referring to the 'unique' historical bond of the Jewish nation with Palestine, while the Arabs of Palestine were part of the Arab nation and therefore had no special bond with Palestine. Many Zionists claimed a 'preemptive right' to Palestine, the Jews had a right as a Nation, the Arabs only as individuals.[21][67]

Weizmann[edit]

In Chaim Weizmann's view Palestine was a Jewish and not an Arab country,[68] however Weizmann believed that the state had to be based on justice and on an accommodation with the Arabs.

In 1918, Weizmann toured Palestine as head of the Zionist Commission and met with Arab and Palestinian–Arab leaders, including the future mufti al-Husseini. He preferred to negotiate a political solution primarily with the British, and sometimes with non-Palestinian Arabs, but he opposed negotiating with the Palestinians themselves.[69] According to Reinharz, he focused his efforts on the Pan-Arab leadership of the Hussein family because they were (initially) willing to reach an accommodation in return for Zionist support while he failed to reach any understanding with Palestinian Arab leaders.[70]

Weizmann rejected the idea that population transfer of Palestinians to other Arab countries was immoral (Under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turks and Greeks had agreed a mutual transfer arrangement). According to Flapan this idea was in the back of his mind, although he didn't say this in public. In 1930 he did however urge the British to consider transfer of Palestinians to Transjordan.[69]

According to Flapan, Weizmann preferred to negotiate a political solution primarily with the British, and sometimes with non-Palestinian Arabs, but he opposed negotiating a solution with the Palestinians themselves. In the early 1920s he came out vehemently against the attempts of Dr. Judah L. Magnes to mediate with the Arabs. Magnes' proposal included a Palestinian state to be established with proportional voting. Wiezmann was vehemently opposed to the setting up of representative institutions in Palestine.[69] According to Gorny Weizmann "did not regard the Palestinian Arabs as partners in negotiations on the future of Palestine".[71]

According to Arthur Ruppin, formerly in charge of the Jewish Agency, Weizmann and other Zionist leaders failed to grasp the nature and importance of the Arab question. Ruppin told the Agency in May 1936: "Dr Weizmann once told me how he received the Balfour Declaration. And when I asked him, 'And what did you think then in reality on the Arab question?' he replied, 'The English told us that [there are] some hundred of thousands [of] blacks there, and this has no importance.' This shows me that at that time our leaders didn't have a clue regarding the Arab question, and even much later they relegated this question to the margins."[72]

Ben-Gurion[edit]

During the pre-statehood period in Palestine, Ben-Gurion represented the mainstream Jewish establishment and was known as a moderate. He was strongly opposed to the Revisionist Zionist movement led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and his successor Menachem Begin.

In public, Ben-Gurion upheld the official position of his party that denied the necessity of force in achieving Zionist goals. Unlike Weizmann, Ben-Gurion did have a realistic view of the strong attachment of Arab Palestinians to the Palestinian soil. In 1938 he said: 'In our political argument abroad we minimize Arab opposition to us. But let us not ignore the truth among ourselves. [...] A people which fights against [what it conceives as] the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily.'[73] According to Flapan Ben-Gurion's assessment of Arab feelings led him to an even more militant line on the need to build up Jewish military strength: 'I believe in our power, in our power which will grow, and if it will grow agreement will come...'.[74]

In the epilogue of Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs Shabtai Teveth evaluates Ben-Gurion's policy towards the Arabs up to 1936 as follows:

A careful comparison of Ben-Gurion's public and private positions leads inexorably to the conclusion that this twenty-year denial of the conflict was a calculated tactic, born of pragmatism rather than profundity of conviction. The idea that Jews and Arabs could reconcile their differences through class solidarity, a notion he championed between 1919 and 1929, was a delaying tactic. Once the Yishuv had gained strength, Ben-Gurion abandoned it. The belief in a compromise solution, which Ben-Gurion professed for the seven years between 1929 and 1936, was also a tactic, designed to win continued British support for Zionism. The only genuine convictions that underlay Ben-Gurion's approach to the Arab question were two: that the support of the power that rules Palestine was more important to Zionism than any agreement with the Arabs, and that the Arabs would reconcile themselves to the Jewish presence only after they conceded their inability to destroy it.[75]

For Ben-Gurion any agreement with the Palestinian Arabs should be based on Arab acquiescence to Zionist hegemony. That would result from Arab recognition of Zionist power and Arab weakness. In talks with Arabs in the 1930s Ben-Gurion tried to impress Jewish strength on them, e.g. by calling for a Jewish state including Transjordan.[66]

The right to the Land according to Ben-Gurion[edit]

Ben-Gurion rarely invoked the 'historical right' of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel, but preferred to emphasize the right derived from the Jewish need for a homeland and the universal right to settle and develop uncultivated land.[76]

According to Teveth during many years Ben-Gurion's principal claim was the Jewish right to work the land, especially the eighty percent of Palestine which was uncultivated, and to win it through Jewish labor. "We have the right to build and be built in Palestine". The right to possess a land derived from the continued willingness to work and develop it, and in that respect Jews and Arabs had equal rights.[77] However Ben-Gurion expressed the belief that the Arabs would fare well by the Jews' renewal of the country, because it also meant the renewal of its Arab population. According tp Teveth "the Arabs, themselves incapable of developing the country, had no right to stand in the way of the Jews. In 1918 [Ben-Gurion] determined that rights did not spring from the past but from the future, and in 1924 he declared: 'We do not recognize the right of Arabs to rule the country, since Palestine is undeveloped and still awaits its builders.'" Ben-Gurion said that the Arabs "have a right only to that which they have created and to their own homes".[78]

Jabotinsky[edit]

Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the leader of the Revisionist Zionists, thought the Arabs were completely irrelevant to the question of Zionism except as enemies. In his view the conflict with the Arabs was natural and inevitable and could not be solved until the Zionists could face the Arabs with an 'iron wall' of Jewish power.[79]

Bi-national support[edit]

A minority of Zionists, including the Socialist Zionist movement Hashomer Hatzair, sought to create a bi-national state. However, this approach was unpopular with both Arabs and Jews.[citation needed]

Zionist para-military organizations[edit]

In response to Arab attacks under the Turks, the Zionists in Palestine established Hashomer (the Guardian), a self-defence organization. After the Jaffa Riots, an organization of Jewish Legion veterans was created, Haganah (Defence) to defend Jewish communities against rioters. In 1931, following the Revisionist Zionist departure from the Zionist Movement, a group of revisionists left Haganah and founded the Irgun Tzvai Leumi (National Military Organization), also known as Etzel.

Palestinian Arab attitudes[edit]

1917–1920[edit]

Various factors increased Arab fears after World War I. Among these were the creation of Palestine in 1918 and the Balfour Declaration. The British also granted Zionist requests that Hebrew become a language with an equal status to Arab in official proclamations, that Jewish government employees earn more than Arab and that the Zionists were permitted to fly their flag, whereas Arabs were not. Many Jews in Palestine acted as if the achievement of a Jewish state was imminent. Furthermore in 1919 some Jewish papers called for forced emigration of Palestinian Arabs.[80]

For a while the Muslim–Christian Association, founded in November 1918 and made up of leading notables, became the leading Palestinian nationalist forum. Younger Palestinian Arabs saw the inclusion of Palestine in a pan-Arab state as the best means to foil Zionist goals. Among them was the future mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini. They wanted to join Palestine with Syria, ruled by Faisal. They were suspicious of Faisal though, because of his apparent collaboration with Weizmann, and identified more with the Syrian National Congress. After the British had left Syria for the French, in July 1920 Faisal's rule in Syria collapsed and pan-Arab hopes in Palestine were dashed.[81]

1920–1921[edit]

In April 1920, Amin al-Husseini and other Arab leaders organised the 1920 Jerusalem riots where 10 people were killed and 250 others wounded. Several women were raped and two synagogues fired. Jews were particularly shocked by these events and viewed the events as a pogrom.[82] Next year, on April 1921, Arabs of Jaffa attacked Jews in the city, particularly around the Red House whose inhabitants were massacred. 95 people were killed and 219 injured. As a consequence of the events, thousands of Jewish residents fled from Jaffa to Tel Aviv. A climate of mutual suspicious and hatred aroused and grew. The decision to create the Haganah, the Jewish self-defense movement that will become the root of the Israeli army was also taken just after these events[83]

In 1920, the pro-Zionist Muslim National Associations was established by the mayor of Haifa, Hassan Bey Shukri and Sheikh Musa Hadeib, head of the farmers' party of Mt. Hebron.[84][85][86] In July 1921, Shukri sent a telegram to the British government, declaring support for the Balfour Declaration and Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine:

We strongly protest against the attitude of the said delegation concerning the Zionist question. We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy whose wish is to crush us. On the contrary. We consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country.[84]

As'ad Shukeiri, a pro-Zionist Muslim scholar (‘alim) of the Acre area widely known for his opposition to the Palestinian Arab national movement, followed the same tendency. He met routinely with Zionist officials and had a part in pro-Zionist Arab organizations, publicly rejecting Haj Amin al-Husseini's use of Islam against Zionism.[87][88]

1921–1936[edit]

In 1922 the British offered the Arabs to be represented in an official council. This council would exist of the High Commissioner and ten government officials, eight Muslims, two Jews and two Christians. The latter twelve would be elected by the population. However both Muslim and Christian Arabs decided to boycott the elections because the council was specifically denied the right to discuss matters pertaining to Jewish immigration.[89] In 1923 and later Herbert Samuel proposed councils with equal compositions but with their members appointed by the High Commissioner. The Arabs refused again. According to C. D. Smith, for Arabs to accept would have meant a recognition of the Balfour Declaration, the mandate, which included the Balfour Declaration, and consequently a Jewish right to immigration, which would undermine their claim of self-determination.[90]

Religious tension over Western Wall, an international economic crisis and nationalist tension over Jewish immigration led to the 1929 Palestine riots. In these religious-nationalist riots Jews were massacred in Hebron and the survivors were expelled from the town. Devastation also took place in Safed and Jerusalem. This violence was directed against the non-Zionist orthodox communities; Zionist communities were able to defend themselves and had established defence organizations. As a result the orthodox community in Palestine was increasingly dependent on Zionist support.

According to C. D. Smith the British adherence to the terms of the mandate meant that there was no political way for the Palestinian Arabs to counter the loss of their country. "Eventually violence became the only recourse."[91]

During and after the 'Great Arab Revolt' (1936–1949)[edit]

The 1942 Zionist conference could not be held because of the war. Instead 600 Jewish leaders (not just Zionists) met in a hotel in the Biltmore Hotel in New York and adopted a statement known as the Biltmore Program [1]. They agreed that when the war ended all Jewish organizations would fight to ensure free Jewish migration into Palestine.

The Biltmore Program called for "Palestine [to] be established as a Jewish Commonwealth". David Ben-Gurion, who dominated the conference, formulated the Zionists' demand 'not as a Jewish state in Palestine but as Palestine as a Jewish state'.[40] It was significant in that all US Jewish organizations were now united in agreement on the need for a Jewish state in Palestine.

From the beginning of the forties the Zionist movement stopped paying attention to the 'Arab question'. The reason is that it was expected that any solution, whether a Jewish state in all of Palestine, partition, or an international protectorate, would have to be imposed on the Palestinian Arabs by force, because of their refusal to compromise.[92] According to Teveth a war was 'made inevitable after the Biltmore Plan of 1942 declared Zionism's explicit aim to be a Jewish state, which the Arabs were determined to oppose by force.'[93]

Ben-Gurion[edit]

Ben-Gurion had a realistic view of the strong attachment of Arab Palestinians to the Palestinian soil. In 1938 he said: 'In our political argument abroad we minimize Arab opposition to us. But let us not ignore the truth among ourselves. [...] A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily.'[73] According to Flapan Ben-Gurion's assessment of Arab feelings led him to an even more militant line on the need to build up Jewish military strength: 'I believe in our power, in our power which will grow, and if it will grow agreement will come...'.[74]

According to Teveth one can trace in Ben-Gurion's thought an "evolution, away from a vision of Zionism as a movement for absolute justice bearing a universal message, a movement of peace and constructive labor. His revised view of Zionism, [...] was a movement of relative justice with the Jews its sole concern, a movement prepared to wage war and to take the country, by force, if necessary."[94]

The British 1939 White paper stipulated that Jewish immigration to Palestine was to be limited to 15,000 a year for the first five years, and would subsequently be contingent on Arab consent. After this Ben-Gurion changed his policy towards the British, stating: "Peace in Palestine is not the best situation for thwarting the policy of the white Paper".[95] Ben-Gurion believed a peaceful solution with the Arabs had no chance and soon began preparing the Yishuv for war. According the Teveth 'through his campaign to mobilize the Yishuv in support of the British war effort, he strove to build the nucleus of a "Hebrew army", and his success in this endeavor later brought victory to Zionism in the struggle to establish a Jewish state.'[93]

The "Transfer Idea"[edit]

The "transfer idea" refers to Zionist thinking about the possibility of transfer of Palestinian Arabs out of Palestine or a future Jewish part of Palestine for the benefit of the goals of Zionism. Zionist organisations discussed it plenary in relation to the 1937 Peel recommendations. In the historical debate since the 1980s it has been discussed a lot in relation to the 1948 Palestinian exodus. Proponents of this theory say that the driving force of the 1948 Palestinian exodus was the Zionist leaders' belief that a Jewish state could not survive with a strong Arab population and that a population transfer would be most beneficial.

Origins of the "Transfer Idea"[edit]

According to Israeli historian Benny Morris "many if not most of Zionism's mainstream leaders expressed at least passing support for the idea of transfer during the movement's first decades. True, as the subject was sensitive they did not often or usually state this in public."[96] Israeli historian and former diplomat Shlomo Ben-Ami wrote: "The philosophy of transfer was not a marginal, esoteric article in the mindset and thinking of the main leaders of the Yishuv."[97]

According to Gorny in the traditional view of most Zionists a mass exodus of Palestinian Arabs was a desirable solution of the "Arab Question".[98]

Norman Finkelstein argues that transferist thinking is close to the core of Zionist thinking. He says the Zionist claim of a prevalent right to all of Palestine, combined with its desire to establish a society that 'belonged' to the Jews resulted in "a radically exclusivist ideology, which renders non-Jews at best a redundant presence and easily lends itself to schemes favoring population transfer—and expulsion." Thus, "Zionism's claim to the whole of Palestine [...] called into question any Arab presence in Palestine."[99]

Theodor Herzl supported the transfer idea. Land in Palestine was to be gently expropriated from the Palestinian Arabs and they were to be worked across the border "unbemerkt" (surreptitiously), e.g. by refusing them employment.[100] Herzl's draft of a charter for a Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC) gave the JOLC the right to obtain land in Palestine by giving its owners comparable land elsewhere in the Ottoman empire. According to Walid Khalidi this indicates Herzl's "bland assumption of the transfer of the Palestinian to make way for the immigrant colonist."[101]

The Peel Commission's plan and the Yishuv's reaction[edit]

In 1937, in a reaction to a half year strike by Palestinian Arabs, the British Peel Commission proposed partition as a solution of the problems. The commission recommended that the Jews should get about twenty percent of Palestine, and that the 250,000 Palestinian Arabs living in this part should be transferred. According to the plan "in the last resort" the transfer of Arabs from the Jewish part would be compulsory.[102] According to Masalha the transfer part of the plan had been suggested to the Peel commission by a Zionist lobby.[103]

The Zionist leadership was inclined to accept the partition part of the plan under the condition of the transfer part.[104] David Ben-Gurion accepted it 'on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state, we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel'[105]

At the twentieth Zionist Congress, held in Zurich in August 1937, the plan was discussed and rejected on the ground that a larger part of Palestine should be assigned to them. The 'in the last resort' compulsory transfer was accepted as morally just by a majority although many doubted its feasibility.[106] Partition however was not acceptable for many.

The immediately succeeding Woodhead Commission, called to "examine the Peel Commission plan in detail and to recommend an actual partition plan" effectively removed the idea of transfer from the options under consideration by the British, and the 1939 White Paper proposed a complete end to immigration.

Transfer committee[edit]

According to Masalha 'the defeat of the partition plan in no way diminished the determination of the Ben-Gurion camp […] to continue working for the removal of the native population'[107] In November 1937 a Population Transfer Committee was appointed to investigate the practicalities of transfer. It discussed details of the costs, specific places for relocation of the Palestinians, and the order in which they should be transferred. In view of the need for land it concluded that the rural population should be transferred before the townspeople, and that a village by village manner would be best.[108] In June 1938 Ben-Gurion summed up the mood in the JAE: 'I support compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it'. Regarding the unwillingness of the British to implement it, land expropriation was seen as a major mechanism to precipitate a Palestinian exodus. Also the remaining Palestinians should not be left with substantial landholdings.[109]

The "Transfer Idea" and the 1948 Palestinian exodus[edit]

See also: Causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus ("Transfer idea" section)

The role of the "Transfer Idea" in the 1948 Palestinian exodus is controversial. Although it is nowadays widely acknowledged by historians that Jewish military attacks were the main cause of the exodus, it is still debated whether or not there was an unofficial policy to this end. The "transfer thinking" in the Yishuv prior to 1948 may have played a role during the military planning process and also in the attitude of military leaders and soldiers towards Palestinians during the war.

Aftermath[edit]

Land in the lighter shade represents territory within the borders of Israel at the conclusion of the 1948 war. This land is internationally recognized as belonging to Israel.

References[edit]

  1. ^ McCarthy, Justin (1990). The Population of Palestine: Population History and Statistics of the Late Ottoman Period and the Mandate. Columbia University. p. 26. 
  2. ^ Anita Shapira, Land and Power; The Zionist Recourse to Force, 1881–1948, Oxfore U. Press, N.Y., 1992. p. 51
  3. ^ Zangwill, Israel, The Voice of Jerusalem, (New York, Macmillan and Company, 1921) p. 110.
  4. ^ Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, 1979, ISBN 0-85664-499-4, p. 11
  5. ^ Anita Shapira, Land and Power; The Zionist Recourse to Force, 1881–1948, Oxfore U. Press, N.Y., 1992. pp. 47–51
  6. ^ J. Frankel, "The Yizkor book of 1911", in Essential Papers on Zionism, ed. By Reinharz & Shapira, 1996, ISBN 0-8147-7449-0, pp. 422–448
  7. ^ Mohammed Muslih, The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism, New York 1988, chapter 3, See also Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian–Arab National Movement 1918–1929, introduction.
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  12. ^ Y. Gorny, 1987, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882–1948, p. 5 (italics from original)
  13. ^ Y. Gorny, 1987, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882–1948, pp. 1–7
  14. ^ Flapan, 1979, Zionism and the Palestinians, p. 11
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  28. ^ Y. Gorny, 1987, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882–1948, p. 123
  29. ^ Y. Gorny, 1987, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882–1948, p. 197
  30. ^ A. Shapira, 1992, Land and Power ..., p. 275
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  32. ^ Barbara M. Parmenter, Giving Voice to Stones: Place and Identity in Palestinian Literature, 1994, p.21
  33. ^ Gorny, op.cit.
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  38. ^ Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, 1979, ISBN 0-85664-499-4, p. 265
  39. ^ S. Teveth, 1985, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, p. 188
  40. ^ a b Ben-Gurion cited by Simha Flapan, The birth of the Israel ..., 1987, pp. 23–24
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  47. ^ Flapan, 1979, Zionism and the Palestinians, p. 199
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  54. ^ Flapan, 1979, Zionism and the Palestinians, p. 200
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  93. ^ a b S. Teveth, 1985, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, p. 200
  94. ^ S. Teveth, 1985, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, p. viii
  95. ^ S. Teveth, 1985, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, p. 199
  96. ^ Morris, 2001, p. 41; see Masalha, 1992 for a comprehensive discussion
  97. ^ Ben-Ami, Shlomo. Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli–Arab Tragedy. 2005, Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-84883-6).
  98. ^ Y. Gorny, 1987, Zionism and the Arabs 1882–1948, ISBN 0-19-822721-3, pp. 303–304
  99. ^ N. Finkelstein, 2003, Image and Reality of the Israel–Palestine Conflict, 2nd ed., ISBN 1-85984-442-1, pp. 15, 16
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  102. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, p. 61
  103. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, pp. 52–60
  104. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, pp. 60–67
  105. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, p. 107
  106. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, pp. 67–80
  107. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, p. 80
  108. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, pp. 93–106
  109. ^ Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, ISBN 0-88728-235-0, p. 117

Bibliography[edit]

See also[edit]

Works related to Zionism at Wikisource