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36. So It Begins

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The violence we associate with the Arab-Israeli conflict began on March 1, 1920, in a tiny Jewish settlement called Tel Hai, just a few miles south of today’s border with Lebanon.THE PLOTThe Jewish settlement of Tel Hai sat in the border region between British-controlled Palestine and French-controlled Lebanon. The Arabs were fighting the French and frequently came into Tel Hai to search for French military activity. On March 1, 1920, several hundred Arabs came down from Lebanon, though it remains unclear whether they were looking for the French or were, instead, intent on raiding Tel Hai. A Jewish farmer signaled for help from the nearby village of Kfar Giladi and Joseph Trumpeldor led a group of HaShomer, the Watchman, to respond. A firefight broke out over what both sides later described as a misunderstanding, but Trumpeldor, five other Jews, and five Arabs were killed. The Arabs burned down Tel Hai.A month later a riot broke out in Jerusalem’s Old City after Arab officials, crying “Death to the Jews!” during a protest, called for Arabs to attack the Jews. The riot resulted in the death of five Jews, four Arabs, and swath of destruction across the city, made worse by the British military’s decision to evacuate its troops from the Old City — what they later admitted was a mistake.The Arabs were protesting two grievances. They were angry about the failure to obtain an independent Arab empire which had been promised them by the British during World War One. And they were angry about the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the possibility that the majority Arab population would have to live under a minority Jewish rule. They worried that Balfour would lead to massive Jewish immigration to PalestineAmin al-Husseini, scion of one of the most prominent local Arab families, emerged as the first major leader of the Palestinian Arabs of Palestine. His inflammatory speeches incited violence against the Jews and the British, and he refused to compromise on any point that would, in his view, be favorable to the Jews. In an attempt to improve their management of Palestine, under the direction of the League of Nations the British switched from a military regime to a civilian-run administration. It was organized under the High Commissioner, a kind of colonial governor, with Herbert Samuel, a Jew, serving as the first one. He had a mixed record of supporting Zionism but also bending over backwards to appease the Arabs, creating a muddled policy of lasting confusion and conflict. In May, 1921, riots broke out in Jaffa, a mixed city of Arabs and Jews. The violence soon spread to other cities. Forty-seven Jews and forty-eight Arabs were killed in a sign that the conflict had spread far beyond the confines of Jerusalem. Herbert Samuel mostly blamed the Jews, temporarily suspending immigration to Palestine to appease the Arabs. The British issued the Churchill White Paper in 1922, which limited the Jewish homeland to lands west of the Jordan River and restricted Jewish immigration to the “economic capacity” of Palestine to absorb them. Though it also reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to the spirit of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Zionists, though disappointed by the White Paper, opted to accept the terms. The Arabs rejected it. Finally. Herbert Samuel appointed Amin al-Husseini as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who thus became both the religious leader and political head of the Muslim community in Palestine. His elevation to the leadership of the Arab community guaranteed lasting, bitter, and violent conflict between Arabs and Jews for the next thirty years and beyond.FUN FACTSJoseph Trumpeldor, by the age of 39, had been the most decorated Jew in Russian military history, a prisoner of war of the Japanese, and a farmer at Israel’s first kibbutz, Degania.Trumpeldor’s last words are said to have been, “En davar, tov lamut be'ad artzenu”. “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.”The largest city in Israel’s north, Kiryat Shmona, or the Town of

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