The Spine

Palestinian Collaborators Then And Now


I've just finished a truly intriguing book.  It is called Army of
Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948
is the product of what is clearly a daring mind, that is the mind of
Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  The book bears
two blurbs: one from Zachary Lockman, director of the Center for Near
Eastern Studies at N.Y.U., who last appeared in the news as a signatory
to the international petition calling on universities and colleges to
boycott Israeli academics.  The second blurb was by Tom Segev, an
Israeli version of Alexander Cockburn: "all that the home country
has ever done is evil."  So be assured, Cohen's study is not a
Zionist tract.  It reads as a scrupulous account of a searing
collective experience of the Arabs of Palestine up to Israeli
The facts as mustered by Cohen show that what he calls
"collaboration" was a widespread phenomenon across classes and
political groupings.  Some individuals, even many, were motivated by
monetary emoluments from the Jews.  But this did not seem to be the
underpinning of Arab opposition to their own ultra-nationalist -under the
Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Husseini, actually fascist-  leadership which
specialized in assassinations but could not mount much more than
marauding expeditions.  Neither was active sympathy with the
Zionists a disproportionate allegiance of the Christian Arabs of
Palestine.  What we learn about the three decades after General
Allenby conquered Jerusalem from the Ottomans was that the nationalist
impulse among the local Arabs was not one impulse at all, but fissured
and, in any case, intrinsically weak.  The elites of the Arab Higher
Commission sold their lands to the Zionists; many Arab professionals
worked with the Zionists; many ordinary Arabs found deeper sympathy among
the Jews than among their own effendi.   So they did not
much view their routine cooperation with Jews and Jewish associations as
disloyal.  Palestine Arab nationalism was a minority
sentiment.  It did not cohere and its cement, such as it was, was
fear.  Perhaps seeing how weak Husseini faction was and how powerful
the Zionists seemed, those Arabs who opposed the "resistance"
by selling land or sharing intelligence felt their actions were more
realistic than the hard-liners.  Who now can say that they were
not?  The "collaborators," called by others the
"traitors," Cohen insists, "viewed themselves as loyal
Palestinian Arabs, more loyal than the national leaders."
There is even today, sixty years after Jewish statehood and forty years
since the occupation of the West Bank, an enormous network of Arab
collaboration with Israel.  But the fact is that I don't know much
about it, and I went pretend too much.  Still, I will hazard this:
the failure of the idea of the Palestinian nation to congeal, the
persistence of smaller and more local loyalties among the Arabs of
Palestine, the doggedness of more primitive attachments, the corruption
and brutality of the various leaderships retards the idea of Palestine
and prevents its realization practically.
Palestine needs more than money to come into being.  All the aid in
the world will not crystallize the dream into a fact.

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