The Third International after Lenin

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Arab National Movement in Palestine between the Two World Wars cont'd

Conclusion of reading notes on Weinstock Chapter 9.
The Arab National Movement in Palestine between the Two World Wars

....leadership of the Palestinian Arab national movement remained wholly in the hands of the big landowners of the a’yan stratum (urban notables).

....Taken as a whole, Moslem society was “atomised by clannish separatism”. [10] This quasi-feudal mentality permeated Palestinian politics. The precarious foundation of the bourgeoisie, its organic links with the landowning stratum, and the persistence of the patriarchal structures ensured the continuing hegemony of the landed aristocracy even after it had liquidated its traditional sources of revenue by selling its lands. It was for the same reasons that the urban Christian elite did not manage to assert itself as the ruling class....

....The distinctive feature of the Palestinian economy was the partitioning of the country into two separate economies, one Jewish and the other Arab. This economic segregation was so pronounced that, in the opinion of the Special Committee of the United Nations, the economic life of the country presented “the complex phenomenon of two distinctive economies … closely involved with one another and yet in essential features separate”.

....The occupational structure of the Jewish population is similar to that of some homogeneous industrialised communities, while that of the Arabs corresponds more nearly to a subsistence type of agricultural society.”

....In the absence of a real Arab national bourgeoisie.... the effendis retained their authority unchallenged. Precisely because of this archaic structure of Palestinian society and the fragmentation of the agrarian population into a multitude of isolated villages, the Palestinian national movement proved incapable, during the period which concerns us here, of raising itself to the level of similar currents in neighbouring countries and establishing real political parties. Thus an absolutely anachronistic leadership of the reactionary gentry was superimposed on the nascent Arab working class, which was concentrated in the public services and concessionary enterprises, but remained generally unorganised. Arab political life was merely a reflection of the petty rivalries between the big families. During the Twenties, it boiled down in essence to a veiled struggle for influence between the Husseini clique, which secured the office of Mufti (renamed “Grand Mufti” during the Mandate), and the Nashashibi clique, which managed to have its leader appointed Mayor of Jerusalem.

....whilst in public these leaders stepped up their incendiary attacks on Zionism, denouncing any transfer of ancestral soil to the Jews as a betrayal, they secretly enriched themselves by means of the very operations which they so furiously attacked. The fanatical braggadocio was designed for the gallery. It made it possible to win the support of the masses. It also, no doubt, served other less avowable goals. Under nationalist pressure, the small Arab landowners no longer dared to sell their land openly to the Jews. [32] During the 1936-1939 Revolt Husseini’s guerillas actually executed “traitors”, but “at the same time a close relative of the Mufti was doing a brisk trade in precisely such allegedly criminal deals, but with a notable difference, for this person used to force sales from Arab smallholders at niggardly prices and then resell to the Jews at the usual exorbitant rates …” [33] In other words, hyper-nationalist propaganda became a lucrative industry, indeed even an American-style racket, for the Arab gentry.

....Let us now move on to a study of the Palestinian national movement. This current should be placed in the context of the general awakening of the Arab world which took place in the Middle East at the end of World War I.

....whilst in the neighbouring count-tries, the struggle was consciously directed against Anglo-French colonialism and took the form, in particular, of strikes, the Palestinian anti-colonialist movement was deformed by racism. The distorted national struggle expressed itself in anti-Jewish slogans (“Palestine is our country and the Jews are our dogs”), followed up by attacks upon Jewish passers-by and store-owners, and eventually in mob violence akin to the all-too familiar pogrom. These attacks cannot, however, in any way be assimilated to straightforward antiSemitic outrages which had their source in the classical European coordinates of the Jewish problem, but should be seen as a deformed expression of national consciousness,, all the more understandable as the Zionist leaders clearly allied with the British while the latter encouraged this distraction from the antiimperialist struggle.

....It goes without saying that this explanation cannot in any way serve to Justify or condone the annihiliation of entire peoples and it is furthermore obvious that racist deformations of the struggle for national emancipation reflect the reactionary character of the social forces who have assumed the leadership of it.

....The first period of the Palestinian national movement was characterised as we have seen, by anti-Jewish riots. But the legitimate hatred felt by the masses for Zionism diverted into an epiphenomenon, a struggle which, to be consistent, would have had to challenge British imperialism and its feudal allies who were sustaining the political structure making the realisation of Zionist objectives possible. Worse still, the chauvinist and racist excesses of the Arab masses, under the influence of fanatical reactionaries, threw the Jewish workers into the arms of their Zionist leaders and precluded any possibility of rapprochement between Sephardi Jews and the Palestinian movement. In the particular context of Zionist colonisation which aimed to establish a Hebrew nation in Palestine with its own working-class base, and not to exploit the natives in accordance with the usual colonial model, the Arab “pogroms” compromised the historically progressive character of the Palestinian people’s liberation movement. On the contrary, this anti-Jewish violence fitted into the diversionary plan so useful to British imperialism, local Arab reaction and even, in the final analysis, the Zionist leaders themselves, insofar as it perpetuated the British presence in Palestine. (In this respect the inter-communal conflict played the same role as the antagonism between Hindus and Moslems in India or Greeks and Turks in Cyprus; an instructive parallel can also be drawn with the Irish question, with respect to the Six Counties).

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