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Zionism, Orientalism, and the Palestinians Author(s): Haim Gerber Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol.

33, No. 1 (Fall 2003), pp. 23-41 Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine Studies Stable URL: . Accessed: 11/02/2012 18:36
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The self-critical approach applied by Israels New Historians to the 1948 war needs to be extended to the study of Palestinian history as a whole. Harking back to earlier periods and other sources, the author exposes the Orientalist bias of the traditional Israeli historiography of Palestine by focusing on three of its common contentions: that there was no distinct Palestinian nationalism, that Palestinian society was primitive and backward, and that the speed of the Palestinian collapse in 1948 was a function of inherent aws in the society. SEVERAL WRITERS ON Israel and its neighbors have suggested in recent years ways to apply Edward Saids fascinating thesis on the connection between Orientalism as a profession and deep-seated anti-Islamic attitudes in the West in general. Aziza Khazum has shown how the history of the Jewish people in modern times can fruitfully be described as a continuous series of Orientalizations, that is, an elite trying to block the advance of an upcoming minority group by dubbing it oriental, meaning devoid of real culture and hence not worthy of equal treatment.1 Ella Shohat has applied the same idea to the history of early Zionist lms, where the Arab is depicted as a brutal and cultureless creature whose objection to Zionism lacks rational grounding.2 Said himself rst analyzed Orientalism as a cultural outgrowth of the West3 and then started to apply that idea to the Zionist venture itself.4 This study follows in the footsteps of these scholars by holding Zionist representations of Palestinian history up for comparison with the historical reality on the ground. It was written within the context of the Israeli New History that emerged in the 1980s and is based on the assumption that the new critical mode of thinking and research is valid not merely for the 1948 war, to which it has usually been limited, but to the entire length of Palestinian history. My starting point is not anti-Zionist or even post-Zionist; rather, it is a self-critical stance adopted as part of the realization that the process of reconciliation between the two peoples living in the Holy Land will require a thorough and painful revision of ones own past and the past of the other.5 It is my conviction that using the Orientalist paradigm to reexamine representations of Palestinian history is not arbitrary, but rather is called for by the

HAIM GERBER is professor of Islamic History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author, among other books, of The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East. An earlier version of this article appeared in the Hebrew periodical Hamizrah Hehadas [The New East], Jerusalem.
Journal of Palestine Studies XXXIII, no. 1 (Fall 2003), pages 2341. ISSN: 0377-919X; online ISSN: 1533-8614. C 2003 by the Institute for Palestine Studies. All rights reserved. Send requests for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, Journals Division, 2000 Center St., Ste. 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223.



often simplistic and shallow approach that prevails in the literature. This approach equally applies to (most) Israeli scholars who have dealt with the Palestinians. Thus, the real starting point of this study is Benny Morriss analysis of the reasons for the Palestinian disaster of 1948.6 This discourse is replete with terms evoking primitiveness and social retardation, which are thrown out in all directions. No group in the society is spared, though the notables take much of the blame for their divisiveness, regionalism, and narrow self-interest. The peasants, too, are blamed. Thus, the rural majority and its agricultural economy remained largely primitive and inefcient, though under British and Jewish inuences there were beginnings of innovation and modernization.7 Similarly, Palestinian rural society was largely apolitical and uninvolved in national affairs.8 What Morris calls the fatal weakness of Palestinian Arab society is attributed to the societys lack of governing institutions, norms and traditions.9 In Morriss view, there could be no Palestinian cohesiveness for the simple reason that there was no Palestinian nation: [O]n the whole, save for the numerically small circle of the elite, the Palestinians were unready for the national message or for the demands that the national idea was to make upon the community.10 He continues: Commitment and readiness to pay the price for national selffulllment presumed a clear concept of the nation and of national belonging, which Palestines Arabs, still caught up in the village-centered (or at best a regional) political outlook, by and large completely lacked. Most Palestine Arabs had no sense of separate national or cultural identity to distinguish them from, say, the Arabs of Syria, Lebanon or Egypt.11 Morriss views on the Palestinians during the formative Mandatory period are a continuation of earlier Israeli historians. Yaacov Shimonis book on the Arabs of Palestine, for example, is largely a rehearsal of Zionist ideas on the Palestinians during the British Mandate. Unable to conceive of the possibility that the indigenous population could have feelings of genuine nationalism, Shimoni sees every opposition to Zionism as extremism or a result of incitement.12 Left to themselves, the Arab masses would have embraced Zionism and recognized its total benecence to them. Characteristically, there is no hint of what this benecence would consist ofgiven that the Zionists demanded the whole of Palestine. But in Shimonis version, what prevented the Arab masses from seeing the light was that British ofcials in Palestine poisoned their minds.13 Nor is a left-wing researcher like Y. Vaschitz much different. In his account, the fellah is not an individual but a sociological type, cunning, prone to cheating, stubbornall traits developed over generations of crushing oppression. Neither the characteristics nor their causes are empirically veried. Furthermore, Vaschitz knows for a fact that there is no Palestinian nation and no



objective difference between Palestinians and Syrians. As a Marxist, Vaschitz had at his disposal a ready-made intellectual tool to explain away Palestinian self-perception: The landowners were afraid of the rise in the standard of living, businessmen were afraid of competition, and the masses were incited by their leaders.14 To revert to Morris, one aspect of his Orientalism is that he feels no need to demonstrate, however cursorily, the origins of the societal characteristics he describes. For him they are givens, the natural characteristics of a primitive society, just as the high degree of development in Jewish society was entirely natural in his eyes, in need of no historicizing whatsoever. But the point of this study is precisely that all these givens need historicizing, that is, they must be explained in context rather than seen as part of the natural order of things. Such an approach will reveal that some of the seemingly natural characteristics of Palestinian society under the Mandate were not natural at all, but imposed on them by the nature of the Mandate; others are simple Orientalizations. This study will attempt to expose some of these fallacies by focusing on three common contentions: that there was no distinct Palestinian nationalism, that Palestinian society was primitive and backward, and that the speed of the Palestinian collapse in 1948 was a function of inherent aws in the society.


It is fashionable today to claim that nationalism is a purely modern invention, an ex post facto attempt to endow the nation with glory and legitimacy. This new fashion is mainly a reaction against a former generation of scholars (today pejoratively called primordialists), who held that nations and their collective identities are ancient. In contrast, the newer approach in various versions claims that modern nations were invented by the print revolution of the sixteenth century,15 or by the industrial revolution which destroyed the old village communities and imperial identities, creating the need for new ones.16 While there is much to be said for these arguments (especially insofar as they challenge clearly outmoded and unconvincing orthodoxies), they tend to greatly overstate their case. I agree much more with Anthony Smith, who suggested that while nations in the full sense are modern, most of them stand on historical shoulders that existed long before the age of nationalism. The newness of nationalism is claimed with particular vehemence in the context of the Arab Middle East.17 A recent rehearsal of the modernist view went so far as to claim that Middle Eastern nationalism was created by the modern state that came into being after the onset of the colonial phase in the wake of World War I,18 thereby overlooking the rise of Arab nationalism in the late Ottoman period and the existence of a mature Syrian local nationalism before the coming of the French.19 Certainly, there is no denying that the shifting balance between pan-Arabism and local nationalisms in the twentieth century were related to contingent factors, such as the rise and fall



of charismatic leaders like Egypts Nasir. The problem is that the modernists in a Middle Eastern context join forces with Orientalists, who castigate Islam for not having created a European-type society, and with Zionist historians, who claim that the Palestinians, if left to themselves, never would have dreamed of a Palestinian identity. Following Anthony Smith, it seems to me that history is as relevant to Arab Middle Eastern nationalism as it is to European nationalism,20 and I will endeavor to demonstrate its relevance to the Palestinians as well, by looking into the historical documentation, a simple requirement that the modernists have not fullled.


It certainly is not true that the concept of Palestine (Filastin) appeared only after the emergence of Zionism and as a reaction to it. Though medieval Palestine was administratively subsumed under the province of Greater Syria, it also stood apart and was known as Jund Filastin, or the district of Palestine. By extension, its inhabitants also used the name to describe the country (ard or bilad) they were living in. This situation continued until 1250, when the Mamluk state ceased using the term administratively. In this they were followed by the Ottomans after 1517.21 While the old assumption was that the ancient term fell into oblivion, a growing body of evidence shows that it was not forgotten. An early example is the late fteenth-century book by the Jerusalemite Mujir al-Din al-Ulaymi,22 who uses the term Filastin as a matter of course to describe his place of residence; the other name he uses, and quite as often, is the Holy Land (al-Ard al-Muqaddasa). Though written in 1490, the book is a partial compilation of materials from past periods and should of course be used with great caution. Still, there is no doubt that these two names were actual names of the country in Mujir al-Dins time. The clearest context in which he discusses the term Filastin is as part of a geographic dictionary, though this is hidden away under the entry for al-Ramla, called in medieval times Ramlat Filastin.23 The term is derived from the Philistines of the Bible, though the boundaries of the land are those of Jund Filastin.24 In any event, there are enough indications that this was the actual name in 1490. One example is when Mujir al-Din, while recounting the biography of the medieval saint Ali b. Alil, notes that he is buried near the village of Arsuf north of Jaffa in the land of Palestine (ard Filastin).25 As mentioned above, Mujir al-Din also uses the term the Holy Land to describe the country. In the Islamic tradition this probably goes back to the verse in Surat al-Isra where Moses tells his people: Ya qawm, udkhulu al-ard al-muqaddasa [O people, enter the Holy Land]. Mujir al-Din piles up historical materials where the term is used anachronistically. Thus, the Israelite forefathers are said to have lived in the Holy Land;26 the crusaders conquered the Holy Land from the Muslims;27 and contemporary Nablus is a town in the Holy Land.28 Indeed, it could be claimed that the concept of Holy Land is even more important than the geographical term Palestine, since



it must have given the inhabitants a certain feeling of importance compared to ordinary Muslim lands such as Syria or Iraq. This of course was greatly strengthened by the existence in the country of one of the holiest places of all Islam, the city of Jerusalem. To return to the concept of Palestine, what Mujir al-Din shows is that despite the discontinuation of the ofcial use of the term after 1250, the population continued to use it, out of habit, which shows that identities can be inuenced by simple things like customs and not necessarily only by hard factors such as the market forces of the Marxists. Also, it stands to reason that if the term Palestine was known to the population two and a half centuries after it ceased to be used ofcially, one can assume that it might have survived another ve centuries as the name commonly used for the country by its inhabitants in the early twentieth century. In fact, there are several surviving pieces of information that indicate that this may well have been the case. A major example is the seventeenth-century fatwa collection of Khayr al-Din al-Ramli,29 who uses the term Palestine when addressing people in the area who approached him for legal opinions. As he needed to communicate, his choice of term indicates its wide usage at the time, though we cannot know how far it went in the social hierarchy. It is also interesting that he also used the term bilad, often inecting it in the form of biladuna (our country), which, while hardly constituting a demand for independence, does indicate that a sociological identity term had crystallized. While no other documents of comparable importance have yet surfaced, there is a stream of minor indications that the usage of the term continued. Thus, two very important legal scholars of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Damascus refer to Khayr al-Din al-Ramli as the great scholar (alama) of Palestineinterestingly, not Southern Syria, a term completely missing from the documentation of the period.30 A crucially important source that sheds further information on this issue is the daily or periodical press, which started to appear in various cities in the wake of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. This pressand particularly the most avowedly political newspapers of the period, Filastin and al-Karmil, which began to appear in 1911has been extensively mined to shed light on the politicization of the Palestinian Arabs and their emerging reaction to Zionism. But in this study we are interested in a slightly different topic the prenationalist self-perception of the inhabitants of the country. The new press began publication in 1908, when the Turkication policy of the new regime was not yet apparent or even extant, and shows that contrary to what we had previously assumed, the people of the period were well aware of the concept of nationalism, though the nationalism was mainly Ottoman. The newspapers also show that Zionism was still not taken seriously but seen as a passing episode, so that it did not yet seem to affect collective identity. Basically, then, the newspapers of this short period can be said to reect the traditional belief-system as transformed by the nineteenth-century modernizing Ottoman reform. Astonishingly, however, the prevailing self-perception of



the inhabitants of the country at the time was that they were living in a country called Palestine (not Southern Syria), that they were collectively referred to as Palestinians, and that their ethnicity was Arab.31 This brings us nally to Yehoshua Porath, the rst scholar to have dealt with the topic, who dated the rst appearance of the term Palestine to 1911, when it was published in Filastin.32 Though the term, as we have seen, actually turns out to have been in undisputable use at least two years before, what is of lasting value is Poraths assessment, based on his review of its usage between 1911 and 1914, that the term could not have been suddenly invented in 1911 and must therefore have been current in the country all along. The material presented in this study indicates that this was indeed the case. While some could argue that a limited number of references over time does not prove the continuous use of the term, I contend that the authors I cite all spoke the language fully known to the people around them. Had the term died out, it is inconceivable that it would have been reinvented before the full owering of nationalism.


As to nationalism in the modern sense, Rashid Khalidi has shown quite convincingly, on the basis of a study of the Palestinian press after 1911, that at about that time or in 1912 at the latest, full-edged Palestinian nationalism made its rst appearance, propelled as it was mainly by Zionism. Nonetheless, as we have shown, the identity per se was not at all invented in response to Zionism, just as the notion of nationalismalbeit Ottoman nationalismwas not new at the time, at least not to the educated elite. And however strange the notion of Ottoman nationalism may seem to us today, for the Arab citizens of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century it was apparently natural and appropriate. Be that as it may, local Palestinian identity clearly existed in the country before the British and before Zionism. The importance of the Palestinian embrace of pan-Syrianism between 1918 and 1920 should not be overstated: it is clear that it was seen as a rst step toward Arab nationalism, and that Faysal, installed as king of Syria, seemed like a force capable of overpowering Zionism. As Porath maintains, it was a union of convenience, not a deep-seated union of hearts,33 and the Palestinians hastened to forget Syria with Faysals ouster in July 1920. Clearly, Palestinianism was stronger among Palestinians in 1920 than Syrianism. This is not to say that different circumstances could not have propelled the Palestinians in another direction, but merely that their former nonpolitical identity obviously played a powerful role in the unfolding of events. In this sense, Ernest Gellners argument that the past is irrelevant for the formation of modern national movements is grossly exaggerated. Morris is, of course, greatly mistaken in his claim that the Palestinians did not have a feeling of being a nation during the Mandate. The two books by



Porath document this national activity in much detail, and a recent historicalanthropological study by Ted Swedenburg shows that common people participated in this movement.34 Ben Gurion himself reluctantly acknowledged the existence of an Arab-Palestinian movement in 1929; the unintended, but tremendously important historiographical value of his remarks, is that they allude to masses of supporters, whereas Morris and others would have us believe that Palestinian nationalism was conned to the elite. The Great Palestinian Revolt of 193639, the The Great Palestinian biggest in the British Empire in the twentieth century Revolt of 193639, the and well known to have been shouldered by the peasbiggest in the British ants, is proof enough that national feeling existed and Empire in the twentieth was quite intense. It is possible that Morriss conclucentury, is proof enough sion is partly based on the Palestinians surprisingly that national feeling weak aggressive force in the 1948 war, but other inexisted and was quite dependent factors should be examined and (possibly) intense. ruled out, such as the way the British broke the back of Palestinian society during the Great Revolt. An important aspect of the prenationalist Palestinian identity already alluded to is the constant awareness of the threat posed by the Europeans-cumCrusaders. On one level this awareness constitutes an interesting chapter in the invention of tradition debate. As with other historical episodes having a bearing on the present, the prevailing consensus among modernist scholars is that the Crusades were completely forgotten soon after 1291, only to be reinvented again in the twentieth century.35 The truth is, however, that they were never forgotten. Already Mujir al-Din (1490) mentions them at length. When he speaks about the waqf-tomb of the saint Ali b. Alil, he describes the renovation undertaken by the waqf guardian as follows: Then he rebuilt a tower on the roof of the tomb, facing west, for the purpose of holy war in the path of God, where he put weapons with which to ght the Europeans.36 Full awareness of the imminent possibility of a crusade is also recorded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,37 while Rashid Khalidis discovery of a 1701 petition where the notables asked the qadi of Jerusalem not to allow a French consul in the city was likewise connected to the memory of the Crusades.38 Napoleons invasion of Egypt in 1798 was also perceived as a new crusade targeting Jerusalem and its surroundings.39 From this there is but a short step to the famous campaign launched in the Ottoman parliament by Shukri al-Asali in 1911, calling on the government to forbid the sale of Fule villagelands (in the Esdraelon valley) to the Zionists on the grounds that there was a Crusader castle in the middle of the area.40 The importance of these ndings becomes clear in the context of Adrian Hastingss theory on the importance of religion to the development of national movements.41 His main idea is that even within the same universalistic monotheistic religion, certain communities underwent cultural developments that differentiated them from other communities, and even if the matter was as minor as a different script of the prayer book (the case of the Croats) it



sometimes made the community feel special enough to develop its own nationalism. This fruitful idea could easily be applied to the Palestinians. The place of Jerusalem in Islam, the need to defend it from the Crusaders (later the Zionist Jews), and the responsibility placed on their shoulders in this respect by the entire Muslim community, constituted cultural capital not possessed by the Syrians or Iraqis. I would suggest that in these circumstances, the rise of a separate and aggressive Palestinian nationalism was, in the nal analysis, inevitable.


A second problematic feature of Zionist representations of Palestinian history is the depiction of traditional Palestinian society as primitive and retrograde. We shall divide the discussion of this topic between the earlier Ottoman period and the nineteenth century. Studies by more recent generations change considerably the old image of Ottoman Palestine as a wilderness interspersed with some swamps. One of the new studies, by Wolf-Dieter Hutteroth and Kamal Abdulfattah, shows that only the heart of the Esdraelon valley and portions of the coastal Sharon plain were empty in Ottoman times.42 The rest of the country was settled, and not at all sparsely. Furthermore, characterizing the entire Ottoman period from the sixteenth century onwards as one of decline and stagnation is a myth. Amnon Cohens study of the Galilee in the eighteenth century traces a large-scale economic boom, based primarily on cotton production destined mainly for the French market.43 Beshara Doumanis study of the economic history of Nablus in Ottoman times likewise shows a very energetic activity, mainly in the booming soap industry that continued to grow throughout the period.44 The intellectual eld, as well, was far from being a dry wilderness. Though not enough is known in this domain, we do have the important example of the already cited fatwa collection of Khayr al-Din al-Ramli.45 Beyond the light it sheds on premodern Palestinian collective identities, it has intrinsic value as a book of legal thought and practice, attesting to the vibrant and open nature of Islamic law at this time of supposed general decline. Another and no less interesting aspect of Khayr al-Dins career is the enormous inuence he wielded in the entire Middle East at the time. The madrasa he built and headed in al-Ramla became a virtual pilgrimage site for scholars and men of state, who would come to stay for several months before returning to their normal lives. Even the political eld was not devoid of interesting and important developments. Due to the weakness of the central Ottoman government, various provinces became semi-independent, under governors who preferred to increase their power in one province rather than be transferred to another. Seventeenth-century Palestine witnessed the rise of three virtually independent principalities, based in Gaza (the Ridwan family), Jerusalem (the Ibn Farukh family), and Lajun (the Turabay family). These principalities were on



the whole friendly and cooperative among themselves, and even coalesced against external enemies in actual wars, as against Fakhr al-Din II of Mount Lebanon in 1623. An interesting point here is that toward the end of the century these dynasties were linked by marriage in a way that created a sort of Palestinian state.46 Much of Morriss argument revolves around the role of the ayan, or notables, an institution that has come under heavy attack from Palestinian scholars as well.47 This institution is widely seen as the main culprit for almost everything bad in Palestinian history, but this seems an exaggeration. It must rst be borne in mind that the notables are hardly a relic of a primitive age, but came into being as part of the Ottoman administrative system in the provinces, a system that was sophisticated and even ingenious in more ways than one, and deserves our admiration rather than disapprobation. We know nothing of the rationale behind the institution at the time of its creation in the sixteenth century, and we can judge only the outcome. The basic idea was that the Ottomans realized from the start the difculty of running a vast empire solely by ofcials sent from Istanbul, and instead nominated only the top ofceholders, mainly governors and qadis. All the lower functions were lled by local people co-opted by the government. Then, according to the prevailing custom whereby a son usually followed in the footsteps of his father, control of these functions became a relatively secure family prerogative.48 This association between a family and an important administrative function gave substantial prestige to the holders, and in time a kind of urban aristocracy came into being, an interim layer between the distant central government and the local population. These ofceholders were simultaneously part of the ruling elite and part of the ruled population. On the whole, they never betrayed the interests of the central government, so that the Ottoman government had faithful allies in the provinces, thereby making the governance of the Arab provinces smoother and cheaper than it would have been otherwise. But it seems to me that it is not fanciful or nave to claim that this elite also saw itself as representing the people vis-` -vis the government, as in the case a of the revolt in Jerusalem in 1825 when both the notables and the common people rebelled against the Ottoman governor. This was an extremely efcient provincial administration, and one cannot but note that it was also benign: it gave to the local population the crucial element of autonomy while making the Ottoman government something other than foreign rule. Furthermore, members of the local ayan families were not conned to serving in Jerusalem. Some rose to prominence in other provinces and reached positions close to the top in Istanbul itself. An example is Musa al-Khalidi, who became Anadolu Kazaskeri (the third highest post in the ulama hierarchy) in the 1820s.49 An interesting and important dimension of the ayan institution was that each of the important families in Jerusalem became in time the custodian of a certain socio-economic function: The Husaynis became muftis and Naqib al-Ashraf and Hana muftis; the Khalidis became sharia court secretaries and



deputy qadis. Other families specialized in heading Su orders or overseeing holy tombs or administered large-scale waqfs. While coups (effected through special connections in Istanbul) did take place, they were rare, and a sort of balance of power came into being among the various families, each recognizing the importance and contribution of the others. One can imagine that as time went by, a sort of balance of honor, not just of power, developed among the families, where the social and political niche of each became sacrosanct and not to be tampered with by other families. In the light of this, we must register our complete disagreement with the widespread contention that the ayan constituted a relic of a barbaric and primitive social formation. Quite the contrary: it was an ingenious and life-giving institution. To the local population it gave autonomy and a real measure of meaningful participation in the Ottoman political system; to the state it gave efcient administration at minimum cost. If Palestinian society of the early Ottoman period did not deserve Morriss categorization as primitive, it deserved it even less in the nineteenth century, when the country entered an accelerated pace of economic development as of about 1830. It is true that we are not talking about an industrial revolution. The tariff policies of the advanced industrial nations determined the basic division of labor between Western Europe and the rest of the world. But within such limits, development was possible, and Middle Easterners, including Palestinians, were able to take part in it. For example, a former generation of economic historians held that the entire body of the traditional craft system in the Middle East was wrecked soon after 1825, when the introduction of steam navigation drastically lowered the cost of transportation. Later studies have shown that this was far from being so simple. The early industrial revolution affected primarily the weaving and other textile industries and had little impact on most of the traditional crafts. The entire food industryevidently the most important traditional industrywas not sensitive to ooding by foreign products.50 Besides the various crafts and industries that held their own, we nd an array of new professions and occupations. The new tourism industry, for example, gave rise to new inns and hotels, as well as tourist guides and photographers. Pharmacists, doctors, journalists, and even lawyers were other new professions in nineteenth-century Syria and Palestine. On the whole, one gets the clear impression that employment was now more available than before.51 This was also the conclusion of Alexander Sch lch, who studied minutely the economic development of Palestine beo tween 1856 and 1882, and found substantial growth in commerce and craft production in all the cities and towns.52 This is borne out by the overall gures of foreign trade, which in Jaffa, for example, had risen tremendously between 1825 and 1875 and continued to rise to the end of the Ottoman period.53 There were also clear signs of entrepreneurial activities among the local and regional Muslim population. Already impressive, to my mind, is Thomas Philipps recent work showing the phenomenal (though temporary) rise of the town of Acre during the governorship of Ahmad al-Jazzar in the late



eighteenth and early nineteenth century. During this period, the population increased from some 2,000 to 35,000, to become the third largest town in Syria and Palestine. Such a phenomenal rise, obviously propelled by the cotton trade, should in my view be attributed to entrepreneurship, and shows that the regions inhabitants knew how to take advantage of new economic opportunities if allowed to do so by a sufciently powerful and benign government.54 An impressive example of Arab-Palestinian entrepreneurship in the nineteenth century was the production and export of Jaffa oranges.55 The export of oranges to Europe began in earnest in the second half of the nineteenth century, and in the last twenty-ve years of the Ottoman era it seems to have reached a frenzied pace. Orange groves expanded enormously, and would have done so even more quickly were it not for a bottleneck in the form of a water shortage. To overcome this problem, Jaffa orange growers, most of them Muslims, adopted the most sophisticated water technology available at the time, introducing some 500 European water pumps in a sort of miniindustrial revolution. Another interesting case of economic development at the time could be observed in Gaza. Farmers and Bedouins in the region started in the last quarter century or so of the Ottoman era to grow large quantities of barley destined for the beer breweries of Europe. By the end of the period, about 40,000 tons of barley were shipped annually from the virtually nonexistent port of Gaza to Europe.56 Finally, a word is in order concerning the primitive nature of Palestinian agriculture, seen as so central in Morriss analysis. This agriculture was probably as simple technologically as any at the time, and there is not much to add to this point. But there is something to be said about Jewish agriculture, to which, obviously, the Palestinian model must be compared. The fact is that we know enough about early Jewish agriculture in Palestine to warrant some humility, particularly on the part of Israeli scholars. As is well known, the rst agricultural colonies that were established in 1882 collapsed within a year, and were only saved from total ruin by the massive intervention of Baron Rothschild, the French Jewish philanthropist, who single-handedly kept Jewish agriculture in Palestine aoat until 1900. The less than successful nature of early Zionist agriculture is beautifully described by Ahad Haam in 1891: There are now about ten [Jewish] colonies standing for some years, and no one of them is able to support itself . . . wherever I strived to look, I did not manage to see even one man living solely from the fruit of his land. . . . In Palestine, as in all lands, the tiller of the land will eat its fruit . . . the traveler can see on both sides of the road fertile elds and valleys covered with grains. The Arabs are working and eating. . . . Grief has engulfed us alone. Why then? The real answer, that any clever man in Palestine knows, is that the rst colonists brought with them substantial idealism,



but they all lack the qualications necessary for agriculture and cannot be simple farmers.57 All this goes to show that despite all the difculties, the Palestinian economy in the nineteenth century was in the throes of a dynamic change, and that if the country failed to industrialize it was not because entrepreneurship was lacking. Meanwhile, important socio-political developments were also taking place. It is now clear that the formerly much maligned Ottoman reforms were far more effective in transforming the country than was previously realized.58 In the rst place, much happened in the realm of law and order, particularly after the Crimean war, when army units were nally sent against the local powers that had never accepted the authority of the central government, particularly in the mountainous areas. These local forces were subdued one by one. From the Amair family in Dura to the Abd al-Hadi family in Nablus, local strongmen were routed and Ottoman authority was denitively established. In the lowlands, the Bedouin were subdued within a generation and either expelled east of the Jordan or turned into settled farmers. The only local power elite that did not feel the brunt of the Ottoman crackdown were the ayan families of Jerusalem, but even they were transformed toward the end of the period, gaining in efciency and becoming the backbone of a newly streamlined Ottoman administration working in concert with the Istanbul-appointed governor. The hallmark of this administration was the council (village council, municipality council, administrative council). Recruitment for municipal councils was based on free elections, which contemporary descriptions show to have been truly democratic (though the nominating process left some room for the Ottoman governor). Thus, Ottoman reform in the provinces created a true element of nation building for the Palestinians: from the bottom up, scores of administrative, educational, judicial, and welfare institutions were established, all staffed by local Palestinians, all based on modern education and on rules of conduct anchored in new rules Starting in 1876, the and regulations. Even if these rules were in practice running of the Ottoman only partially adhered to, the resulting administrative Empire was based on infrastructure was nevertheless impressive. If one were parliaments, which, to compare the Palestinianness of the local adminishowever imperfect, were tration of the late Ottoman period with that under the based on free elections in British mandate, there is hardly a doubt that the former which the Palestinians would be ranked much higher.59 participated. Moreover, Palestinians still participated in running the entire empire, which of course they did not under the British. Starting in 1876, and then more regularly in 1908, the running of the Ottoman Empire was based on parliaments, which, however imperfect, were based on free elections in which the Palestinians participated. The parliaments, then, can probably also be seen as modest beginnings of state building, and it would be



unfair to gloss over them just because they were nipped in the bud with the coming of the Mandate. Historians have recently highlighted the achievements of two of these parliamentarians, Yusuf Zia al-Khalidi and Ruhi al-Khalidi. Yusuf Zia became a member of parliament in 1876, and unexpectedly began to function as an aggressive leader of a nonexistent opposition, criticizing the government and calling for more democracy.60 Small wonder, then, that when the Ottoman parliament was dissolved in early 1877, Yusuf Zia was one of the rst to be banished from Istanbul. It is noteworthy, too, that contemporaries compared him to the ery intellectuals of the Paris Commune of 1870. The other noteworthy parliamentarian was Yusuf Zias young nephew Ruhi al-Khalidi, who became a member of the second Ottoman parliament after 1908.61 He also was highly critical of the government and did not hesitate to express his views in parliamentary speeches. In this case, the main topic of criticism was the soft hand supposed to have been shown by the Ottomans toward Zionism. It is interesting to note that Ruhi al-Khalidi, who knew some Hebrew, wrote a book on the history of the Jewish people which includes a chapter on modern Zionism. The book has not so far been published, and judging from the extensive summary of it given in a study by Walid Khalidi, is not going to see the light of day any time soon. The reason for this is the difference in mentality in those early days of the conict. Thus, a writer such as Ruhi al-Khalidi, though he believed the Palestinians right to their land was unshakable, did not feel he had to harness even ancient history to that fact and wrote with great sympathy about some heroic chapters in the political history of the ancient Israelites. It is not entirely clear whether Ruhi al-Khalidis friendly treatment of ancient Jewish history can be explained by a prepolitical naivet or whether it was motivated by some kind of ideology. e One can suspect the former; but even so, such an ability and readiness to look at the other from the inside, so to speak, is a rare commodity in the historiography of the conict.62 Though both Yusuf Zia al-Khalidi and Ruhi al-Khalidi were notables, their performance in the service of their community seems respectable not to say commendable. Their appearance in Jerusalemite society of the late Ottoman era bespeaks a certain level of political development, which certainly was not attained by Palestinian society during the Mandate. Both the political development in these earlier years and the quality of the emergent leadership as exemplied by these two Khalidis surpassed anything witnessed under the British, when leadership of their stature was entirely absent. We shall try to explain why later on; for now it is important to note that their very appearance in late Ottoman times shows that the later absence of leadership was not due to some inherent defect in Palestinian society itself.


It is now time to return to Benny Morriss analysis of the collapse of Palestinian society in 1948. It is the present writers contention that there were



several reasons for what befell the Palestinians in 1948, none of them related to inherent aws in the society. Some of the reasons were contingent, while others derived from their overwhelming weakness in the face of two formidable opponents, one a world empire totally outside their league, and the other a small force numerically, but unusually well-endowed in human and economic terms and backed, both politically and economically, by powerful international forces. Let us review some of the factors in some detail. One major short-term factor leading to the collapse of Palestinian society was the demoralizing effect of the early ight of the Palestinian upper class from the areas under re. Morris claims that a society behaving in such a way fundamentally lacked cohesiveness. But there is no independent proof of this, and recent cases throw some doubt on Morriss assumption. Was the largescale ight of the residents of Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel in the 1990s, in the face of Katyusha bombardments from Lebanon, to be interpreted as social disintegration? And what about the ight of 100,000 Israelis from Tel Aviv during the Gulf War in the early 1990s? Could a more plausible explanation for this ight be that these people simply had no active role to play in the area, in many cases had relatives in other parts of the country or could afford to stay in hotels or abroad, and therefore chose to leave the targeted area while the ghting continued? None of these factors applied for the Jewish society in Palestine in 1948, but all of them applied to the Palestinian upper class (the average Jewish economic income was of course higher than the Palestinian average, but very few individuals in the Yishuv were rich). The upshot is that this factor has been blown out of proportion, and probably very little meaning can be attached to it in concrete sociological and historical terms. Possibly the most unsettling of Morriss claims is that the Mandate provided a nursery of state building that the Palestinians failed to take advantage of but which the Zionists exploited to the full. The truth is that this nursery did exist, but only for the Yishuv. Full elaboration of this point alone would require a book,63 but some factors can be mentioned. Tom Segev has recently shown how the Mandate helped consolidate the Jewish polity, noting, for example, the closeness that existed between at least part of the British leadership and the Zionist leadership, notably (though not only) Chaim Weizmann. The latter is even admired by some English leaders of the period. The overall impression one gets is that the Yishuv was not really considered a society under occupation, but a state within a state.64 It is interesting to compare the way Britain suppressed the two revolts that took place in Mandatory Palestine, the Arab revolt of 193639 and the Jewish revolt following World War II. The suppression of the Arab revolt was brutal and cruel, and was suppressed in ways that even some British ofcials described as not shaming the Nazis. These methods included the indiscriminate killing of villagers near where British soldiers had been the victims of terrorist acts, the stripping of women to make sure that they were not men in disguise, and tying village leaders on trains as human shields.65 Such acts against Jews would have been inconceivable. Indeed, the suppression of the Jewish revolt



was almost a Boy Scout affair. The worst moment of this suppression was the so-called Black Saturday of June 1946, in which the British army searched for hidden weapons and arrested some second-rank Zionist leaders, who were held for a number of months and never brought to trial. Compare to this large numbers of executions of the leaders of the Arab revolt and the forced exile of countless others for years on end. In 1948 most of the potential leadership of the Palestinians was either dead, in prison, or in exilehardly a nursery of state building, and hardly equal treatment to that shown to the Zionist movement. Morris does not give weight to this massive repression as a major factor in the collapse of Palestinian society. We must also keep in mind the Greek tragedy-like nature of the Palestinian revolt. Much smaller revolts, in Iraq in 1920 and in Egypt in 1919, propelled these countries along the road to independence and statehood, while Britains commitment to Zionism made such an outcome inconceivable for Palestine. The White Paper of 1939, which seems to negate this conclusion, really came to appease the Muslim world (India) in anticipation of the coming storm in Europe. That same gathering storm, of course, also meant that the Palestinian revolt was totally ill-fated in terms of timing. A major factor shedding light on the debate at hand is the history of education in Mandatory Palestine.66 Britains differential treatment of the two communities in that domain is important both symbolically and practically, and it helps explain the collapse of Palestinian society in 1948. Whereas the education for the Palestinians was provided in the manner of a conquering power, the Jewish-Zionist community was given special treatment: it was accorded complete autonomy to handle its educational affairs as it saw t. This obviously had some ideological background, insofar as the Jews were seen not as being under occupation so much as partners. This differential treatment had grave consequences for the nation-building processes in the two communities: while the Palestinians received a traditional and conservative education that stamped out any nationalist and anti-imperial overtones, Jewish education was characterized by an ultra-nationalism that put the nation above the individual and inculcated in students self-sacrice as the highest value. Hatred and contempt for the British and complete discursive obliteration of the Palestinians were part and parcel of this educational system. Thus, the educational system under the Mandate superbly prepared the Jews for the day of reckoning, while it effectively tied the (cultural) hands of the Palestinians behind their backs in preparing for 1948. But to my mind, the most important factor inhibiting any nation-building activity by Palestinians under the Mandate was their failure to found a parliament. It is well known that Britain offered them this possibility in the early 1920s and again in the early 1930s. But was it a fair offer? There was no talk of a usual parliament based on representation. The Palestinians were supposed to agree to parity between themselves and the Zionists, who by the end of the Mandate constituted only about a third of the population. No nation on earth would have acquiesced to such an offer.



The importance of this issue can be gauged by comparing Palestine to Syria in this regard.67 In terms of overall sociological structure, Syria and Palestine were quite similar: both had a powerful ayan class with identical characteristics, the notable families in both countries having originated from ofceholding and religious learning, with the partial addition of landlordism in the nineteenth century. The interests of the Syrian notables were just as traditional and conservative, but they were able to make a partial transformation to the age of nationalism and fought the French vigorously throughout Frances mandate over Syria. After the collapse of a popular revolt in 1927, the main arena of conict for the Syrian elite was the Syrian parliament, which the French allowed them to found. While the elite was riven by enmities and family rivalries, the parliament afforded a strong political framework that tied it together and prevented its atomization. It was therefore nothing other than the parliament that allowed the Syrian elite to conduct a relatively successful campaign that led to the countrys independence nineteen years after the collapse of the 1927 national revolt. In other words, the main difference between the functioning of the national movement in Syria and its Palestinian counterpart was the latters failure to establish a parliament that could unite the factions in the meaningful whole that certainly existed beneath the ssures. While the existence of a parliament in Syria imparted a nation-building capability to the Syrian national movement, the negation of that possibility for the Palestinians spelled their doom. Turning now back to the part played by the maligned Palestinian ayan in the collapse of Palestinian society in 1948, it would be superuous to reiterate the divisiveness, animosity, and bitter clannishness that characterized their mode of action during the Mandate. Nonetheless, since the situation was pretty much the opposite during the Ottoman period, when factions and families respected one another and cooperated on ofcial bodies such as the administrative council with very little friction, it seems to me that one can attribute the change to the difference between the British and Ottoman approaches. Under the latter, each family occupied a niche that provided it with self-esteem and the esteem of others. The British, perhaps out of an Orientalist assumption that everything the Ottomans did was wrong, placed all the power within Palestinian society in the hands of one individual, Haj Amin al-Husayni, who did not even really owe his job to his family. The carefully nurtured balance among the families was shattered overnight, and with it the kind of noblesse oblige aristocratic cooperation so beautifully described by Albert Hourani. Honor, status, and probably even economic income were lost under the British. Small wonder that what remained, in such conditions, was all-out war and a complete inability to cooperate. Turning the tables and looking briey at the Jewish-Zionist society under the Mandate, the glowing terms Morris uses to describe it need serious revision and historicizing. For example, while the Arab society of Palestine was normal in that it had the usual range of classes and occupations found in any traditional society, this was not at all the case for Jewish



society in Mandatory Palestine. With Jewish immigration regulated, under the arrangements agreed between the Jewish Agency and the British government only professional people or those with some wealth were admitted. This rule was enforced, at least to a point, and there is evidence that illegal immigrants were deported.68 As a result, comparing the two populations in terms of education, political involvement, and so on is not entirely meaningful, especially if the implicit intention is to castigate and point ngers. In sum, the critical mode of thinking applied to the 1948 war by Israels New History, which suggests that the traditional Zionist historiography was biasedin fact, Orientalistin its portrayal of that conict, has not been rigorously followed by all its practitioners even to the Palestinian-Israeli conict. But the concept of self-critical research implicit in the New History is all the more in need of being extended to the entire length of Palestinian history. The empathy and reexivity which have become the buzzwords of sociohistorical research in the post-Saidian period should be embraced by Israeli and Palestinian historians alike in their mutual research. As an Israeli scholar, this writer has taken it upon himself to fulll his part of this implicit mission. This study was intended as a small example of the task which lies ahead of us.

1. Aziza Khazum, Western Culture, Ethnic Stigmatization and Social Segregation: The Origins of the Ethnic Inequality in Israel, Israeli Sociology 1 (1999), pp. 385428. 2. Ella Shohat, Israeli Cinema: History and Ideology (Tel Aviv: Breirot Press, 1991). 3. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978). 4. Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Vintage Books, 1979). 5. Rashid Khalidi has recently followed a line of research very similar to the one suggested in this study. See Rashid Khalidi, Arab Society in Mandatory Palestine: The Half-Full Glass? in Histories of the Modern Middle East: New Directions, eds. Israel Gershoni, H. Erdem and U. Wokock (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2002), pp. 22946; idem., The Palestinians and 1948: The Underlying Causes of Failure, in The War for Palestine, eds. Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 1236. 6. Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947 1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). 7. Ibid., 8. 8. Ibid., 9. 9. Ibid., 1516. 10. Ibid., 17. 11. Ibid., 1718. ` 12. Yaacoc Shimoni, Arvei Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1947), pp. 240330. 13. Ibid., 27576. 14. Y. Vaschitz, The Arabs of Palestine (Tel Aviv: Sifriyat Poalim, 1947), pp. 19, 134, 33637. 15. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1982). 16. See Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983). 17. See James Jankowski and Israel Gershoni, eds., Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), particularly the chapters by Gershoni, Gelvin, and Halliday. 18. Juan R. I. Cole and Deniz Kandioti, Nationalism and the Colonial Legacy in the Middle East and Central Asia: Introduction, International Journal of Middle East Studies 34 (2002), pp. 189203. 19. James Gelvin, Divided Loyalties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

40 20. For example, Anthony D. Smith, The Nation in History (Boston: Brandeis University, 2000). 21. Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, 19181929 (London: Frank Cass, 1974), pp. 47. 22. Mujir al-Din al-Ulaymi, Al-Uns al-Jalil Tarikh al-Quds wal-Khalil, 2 vols., (Najaf: al-Matbaa al-Haydariyya, 1968). 23. Ibid., 2: 6668. 24. Ibid., 1: 105, 114, 146. 25. Ibid., 2: 73. 26. Ibid., 1: 65, 66, 94, 101. 27. Ibid., 1: 303. 28. Ibid., 1: 71. 29. See Haim Gerber, Palestine and Other Territorial Concepts in the Seventeenth Century, International Journal of Middle East Studies 30 (1998), pp. 563572. 30. Ibid. 31. See, for example, articles in al-Quds, 27 Nisan 1909; al-Nar al-Othmani, 14 Haziran 1910; al-Najjah, 8 Nisan 1910. 32. Porath, Emegence, pp. 47. 33. Ibid., 84. 34. Ted Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995). 35. Bernard Lewis, History: Remembered, Recovered, Invented (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975). 36. Mujir al-Din al-Ulaymi, 2: 7273: Thumma ammara burjan ala dahr al-iwan min jihat al-gharb lil-jihad sabil Allah taala wa wadaa hi alat al-harb li qital al-Afranj. 37. Amnon Cohen, The Fortication of Ottoman Jerusalem: The European Dimension, Kathedra, no. 63 (1992), pp. 5264; Dror Zeevi, An Ottoman Century: The District of Jerusalem in the 1600s (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), pp. 10, 3233. 38. Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 29. 39. Adil Manna, The Sancak of Jerusalem between Two Invasions (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1986), pp. 1 ff. 40. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, pp. 1079.


41. Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 42. Wolf-Dieter Hutteroth and Kamal Abdulfattah, Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria in the Late Sixteenth Century (Erlangen: Frankische Geographische Gesellschaft, 1977), maps. 43. Amnon Cohen, Palestine in the Eighteenth Century (Jerusalem: Eisenbrauns, 1973). 44. Beshara Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), passim. 45. See Haim Gerber, Islamic Law and Culture, 16001840 (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1999). 46. See Zeevi, An Ottoman Century, chapter 2. 47. There are numerous studies on the ayan, and all of them are derogatory. See e.g. Salim Tamari, Factionalism and Class Formation in Recent Palestinian History, in Roger Owen, ed., Studies in the Economic and Social History of Palestine in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982), pp. 177202; Issa Khalaf, Politics in Palestine: Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration, 19391948 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991). 48. While we owe here the original analysis to Albert Hourani, the detailed description of how this system worked in daily life in various localities remains to be done. In the case of Jerusalem, at least the groundwork for such a project has been done, in the form of a traditional-looking modern biographical dictionary of Palestinian ayan, composed by Adil Manna. This paragraph summarizes his work in general. See Adil Manna, Alam Falastin awakhir al-ahd al-Uthmani (Beirut, Muassasat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, 1995). 49. Ibid., 13738. 50. See Haim Gerber, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem (Berlin: K. Schwarz, 1985), pp. 62 ff. 51. Ibid., 69 ff. 52. Alexander Sch lch, Palestine in o Transformation: 18561882 (Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1993). 53. Ibid., 92; Gerber, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, p. 74 ff.


54. See Thomas Philipp, Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 17301831 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001). 55. Gerber, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, p. 78 ff. 56. Ibid., 7980. 57. Ahad Haam, Truth from the Land of Israel, in Collected Works, vol. 1. Ahad Haam (Jerusalem, 1947), p. 28. 58. I mainly summarize here my Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, passim. This is also the general line of the argument of Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, chapters 13. 59. Adil Manna records hundreds of cases from the late Ottoman period of local Palestinians lling important local administrative functions in various localities and various levels. 60. See on him Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, p. 69 ff. 61. Ibid., 76 ff. 62. See Walid Khalidi, Kitab al-Sionism, aw al-masala al-sahyiuniyya li-Muhammad Ruhi al-Khalidi al-mutawaffa sanat 1913, in Hisham Nashshabe, ed., Dirasat Filistiniyya (Beirut, Muassasat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, 1988), pp. 3782. In a private letter to the present writer Walid Khalidi states that he refrained from publishing the entire manuscript because Ruhi quotes extensively from classical Arabic sources (on Judaism and Jewish

41 history) and from modern encyclopedias (on Zionism) without identifying the passages he transcribes verbatim, and which he intermingles with his own commentary. According to Walid Khalidi, a scholarly edition would require a meticulous identication of these passages and their sources, which are not credited, a tedious and mechanical undertaking for which he has not so far had the time. 63. Something of this nature has already been done by Barbara Smith, who put more emphasis on the way the Mandate advantaged Zionism, while I am more interested in how the Palestinians were disadvantaged, in real historical ways and in discursive-ideological ways. See Barbara Smith, The Roots of Separatism in Palestine (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993). 64. Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete (New York: Little Brown and Co., 2000), chapters 3,12, 15, and passim. 65. Ibid., chapter 20. 66. Ibid., passim; Ylana Miller, Government and Society in Rural Palestine, 19201948 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), pp. 90118. 67. See Philip Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), passim. 68. See Segev, One Palestine, chapter 10.