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Why Arabs Kill Jews | The Nation

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Why Arabs Kill Jews

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This article originally appeared in the June 3, 1936, issue.

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Jerusalem, April 20

All the Hebrew papers came out today with wide black margins. "Tel Aviv Mourns Its Dead" is the headline of one. "Bloody Day in Jaffa" reads the large black streamer of another. The Palestine Post, the moderate, unofficial English organ of the Zionist Exexcutive [sic], carries a double head, "Nine Jews Dead, Scores Hurt in Arab Attacks," and goes on to say:

...Loosed passions of Jaffa's underworld.... In two or three hours nine defenseless Jews were done to death and at least two score injured, some very seriously.... Jaffa's main roads...were turned...into lanes running w ~ t h blood and strewn with glass of smashed windshields from motor cars. Blood-covered stones were about everywhere.... Every half-hour vehicles from Jaffa turned up . . . with their load of dead and wounded....

An Arab was seen raising a bleeding hand.... From this point on, the life of every Jewish man or woman in Jaffa was in danger.... All Jewish traffic in the Jerusalem direction was suspended.... Roads became unsafe as crowds of villagers had collected menacingly.... Meetings were held in Nablus last night at which...boycott of the Jews was demanded and the proposal made to call a general strike throughout Palestine.

And so on. But this is a news report, and as everybody knows, news is not always synonymous with information. To understand what happened yesterday, to evaluate this incident correctly, reading a news story, however true, is not sufficient. We must study the forces which led to yesterday's bloody massacre.

Revolutionary changes are taking place in the whole Arab world. A movement which gripped most of Europe during the last century has arrived in Arabia and is bringing no less momentous changes. The old adage, "There is no nationality in Islam," is no longer true. Here, too, the old social force, religion, is beginning to give way to the new social force, nationalism. Not that religion is not still a powerful force in Arabia, but it is on the defensive and daily losing ground to the encroaching nationalism. This change has gone farther in Palestine than in Hejaz, farther in Syria than in Palestine, and farther in Egypt than in any other Arab state. But one can see it even in Trans-Jordan, where Emir Abdullah's car was pelted with onions when the news spread that he had sold land to the Jews. One can see it plainly in Jerusalem, where a general strike against the British recently took place although the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Housseini, was strongly opposed to it, and where the number of Moslem religious pilgrims is perceptibly falling off while the membership of nationalistic clubs and societies is rapidly increasing. Many Arabs have warned me not to explain the widespread anti-Jewish feeling on religious or racial grounds. Racially, they point out, they belong to the same stock as the Jews, and their preoccupation with religion is far too mild to make them hate anybody because of it. Their bitter animosity is purely nationalistic-they see in the Jews the agents of British imperialism coming to take away their country.

The standard bearers of the nationalist crusade are young men between fifteen and twenty-five. This, the revolt of Arab youth, is the most important phenomenon in the Near East. It is true that there was a nationalist movement even before the World War, but it was nationalist chiefly in the sense that the Arab effendis (landlords) were opposed to the foreign exploiters because they wished to do the exploiting themselves. Suspicious of this sort of nationalism, the young men are opposed to all exploiters whether foreign or native. The riots in Cairo were carried on entirely by young men, and though it is easy to ridicule these youths making defiant gestures at John Bull, it was these same young men who prevented -with stones and fire, when they were needed-the old, unscrupulous leaders from selling out, and who in the end forced Britain to yield to their demands. In Damascus, too, it was the young men who forced the leaders to take the boldest steps. When the leaders issued a declaration calling off the strike on the seventeenth day, the students took matters into their own hands, overruled their elders, kept the strike going for another forty-odd days, and in the end forced concessions from the French government such as had never been given before.

The Arab youth movement cannot be trifled with, and the sooner the West learns to respect it, the better. In Palestine nearly every village now boasts a patriotic youth society; the Scout movement, in the vanguard of the new nationalism, was unheard of before 1920, but now it has a membership of about 4,000; so great is the demand for education that some 60 per cent of the applicants have to be turned away every year for lack of accommodation, though the British have been opening about seventy new schools each year. The rising generation represents a complete break with the Arab past.

Opposed to them stand the Zionists. There is of course no comparison between the Zionists and the imperialists of the West. Driven out of the countries of their birth, the Jews come to their historic home willing to pay their way-paying ten times the real value for every inch of land. Nor has the coming of the Jews worked to the economic disadvantage of the original inhabitants. Not only has Palestinian Arabia been enriched by Jewish immigration, but Palestine has become the center of attraction for the whole Near East. Tens of thousands of Arabs enter illegally every year in search of work. According to one Jewish economist, the Jews have paid to the Arabs about $100,000,000 for land, and the total Jewish investment in the country certainly exceeds $300,000,000. The Arab nationalists point out, however, that they are losing their country. The Jewish population has increased by about GOO per cent since 1919, and has more than doubled during the last four years, jumping from 174,000 in 1931 to an estimated 375,000 at the end of 1935. The Jewish proportion of the population as a whole has increased from 9.5 per cent in 1919 to about 40 per cent at the end of 1935. In 1922 the Jews owned 600,000 dunams of land (a dunam is approximately a quarter of an acre) ; in 1933 the Jews owned 1,260,000 dunams. Probably they own a million and a half today.

The Zionist leaders do not, of course, underestimate the threat of a growing Arab nationalism. Ben Guryon, leader of the Federation of Jewish Labor and one of the most important men at the Jewish agency, said frankly: "Zionists should know the dangers of Palestine, dangers which we have not seen yet, dangers from the East, far greater than the danger from the West. Palestine is no picnic [he used this good American word]." Again and again he spoke of the "permanent war" to be waged here.

Ben Guryon was right. A permanent war is being waged; usually on the economic and political planes, sometimes--in April, 1929, May, 1921, August, 1929, October, 1933, and now--it becomes a real war. The tourist is introduced to the permanent war at the port, where Jewish taxi-drivers pull Jewish tourists away from Arab taxis. Palestine is surely the only country in the world where Jews smoke only Jewish-made cigarettes, which in turn are boycotted by Arabs. Arabs do not buy in Jewish stores if they can avoid it; Jews do not buy from Arabs, although the latter sell somewhat more cheaply.

Nowhere is the struggle more bitter than in giving work. Arabs try to employ only Arabs. The Federation of Jewish Labor makes keeping work from Arabs one of Its chief aims. I recently asked a prominent Histadruth leader, in whose office hung the picture of Karl Marx, how he reconciled such a policy with the class struggle. "The struggle for pure Jewish labor is the class struggle," he cried. Even Ben Guryon told the Palestine Jewish Congress: "Just as it is unthinkable for a Jew to open a house of prostitution in one of the Jewish villages, so unthinkable must it be for a Jew to employ Arabs."

The political struggle against the Balfour Declaration began as soon as the Arabs were told of it. As early as 1920 a Moslem-Christian committee went first to London, then to Geneva, and back to London to protest the "flagrant breach of promise" on the part of the British. No incident, however insignificant, occurs in Palestine without the Arabs exploiting it as an occasion for repeating what they think of the Balfour Declaration. In 1925, for example, the Arabs brought two cases to court against the government. One was to restrain the government from using springs belonging to the Arab village Urtas to supply Jerusalem with water; the other was to remove the hated initials "E. I.," Eretz Israel, Land of the Jews, from the postage stamps. The Arabs lost both cases, but great excitement was engendered while they were being tried. The possibility of reconciling the two points of view is almost nil. An Arab nationalist sees in a Zionist his mortal enemy who comes to rob him of his fatherland, although he pays for It. Every good Zionist sees the Arab as an unnecessary obstacle to his homeland dream. There are certain exceptions, liberals like Dr. Judah Magnus of the Hebrew University, who want peace and generous cooperation. Ragheb bey Nassashibi, ex-mayor of the Holy City and president of the National Defense Party, had an answer to this: "Why shouldn't they want peace? Peace will enable them to build their national home and then they will confront us with a de facto. It is we who cannot afford peace. To expect that of us is like expecting a man whose throat is being cut to smile pleasantly." The Revisionist slogan, "With Blood and Fire Will Judea Rise," is closer to the truth. Palestine is not a picnic. Two powerful forces are colliding. Blood is inevitable. It has flowed in the past; it is flowing today; it will flow in the future until one side emerges victorious.

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