T. Cliff

A New British Provocation in Palestine

(July 1946)

From Fourth International, Vol. 7 No. 9, September 1946, pp. 282–284.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The last few months have borne witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the development of imperialist policy in Palestine – an old policy in new clothing. For many years British imperialism pursued a policy of oppression in Palestine. During the 1936–39 upheavals thousands of Arabs were murdered and tens of thousands imprisoned, so that every fifth or sixth adult spent some time behind bars in those days. Whole villages were wiped out entirely in bombardments. One complete quarter of Jaffa was evacuated and then bombed without the inhabitants being given a chance to remove their furniture. The army, upon entering a village charged with participation in military actions, was in the habit of putting a few of the young men of the village to death as an example to the others. Collective fines were daily events, as were also curfews, inspection of identity cards and administrative arrests of thousands without trial. The conditions in prison may be imagined from the fact that the official price of the food provided was 17 mils per capita (4d = 8½ cents); the sanitary conditions were unfit for human beings. Special hard labor camps were erected (the quarries of Nur es-Shams gained particular notoriety), in which the conditions were so atrocious that accidents and sickness at work were of the most frequent occurrence. A British police expert from India was specially brought to Palestine to direct operations. The heritage of 1936–39 is 15,000 Arab orphans and 57 police stations built in all corners of the country, each of which can hold thousands of people.

At the moment these same repressive actions are being directed, even if less brutally, against the Jewish population of the country. Over 2,000 Jewish agricultural workers have been imprisoned without trial, and looting and other provocative acts have become common phenomena. British imperialism, for years on end, has attempted to direct the ire of the Arab masses against the Jewish population of the country. For this purpose the policy of Zionist expansion has been supported, a policy which results in the eviction of Arab tenants from the land, drives Arab workers from jobs, and strengthens the Zionist fortress which is determined to establish a Jewish State in Palestine. Imperialist support for Zionism is calculated to achieve two results: One, to establish a power which directly supports it, which will constitute a faithful ally against the Arabs in every instance of an anti-imperialist uprising of the Arabs of the Middle East; the other, to have Zionism serve as a means of diverting the ire of the oppressed Arab masses away from imperialism onto a side issue – clashes with Jews. But in order that Zionism be a buffer between the Arab masses and imperialism it is essential, first, that the weight of this population remain relatively small so that it should feel dependent on imperialist good-will and not become an independent factor; and secondly, that the Arab masses should be deceived into believing that it is only because of imperialist patronage that this factor does not become stronger and dislodge them still further from their positions. In other words: Between the imperialist master and his Zionist servant there are both common and antagonistic interests. Zionism wants the establishment of a strong Jewish capitalist state. Imperialism, it is true, wants a Jewish capitalist society shut up in itself and surrounded by the hatred of the colonial masses, but it is not at all interested to have Zionism become too strong a power.

The situation in Palestine and the Arab East at the moment is such that imperialism is not at all sure that the granting of 100,000 certificates will be sufficient to divert the ire of the Arab masses away from imperialism onto the Jews. The central slogan of the Arab masses in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine has become the evacuation of imperialist armies. In these circumstances the granting of 100,000 certificates and the concentration of the British army in Palestine on the grounds of defending the Jews would be to open a game to turn the Arabs from their demand for the evacuation of the imperialist armies. British imperialism therefore intends to achieve the same aim by an opposite tactic: Concentrating its army in Palestine on the grounds of defending the Arabs from Zionism, in order to disarm the Jews, etc. The British, after thus weakening the Jews, hope to succeed in stirring up clashes between Arabs and Jews in all corners of the Arab East. (We should not be surprised therefore if this attack against the Jews were but a prelude to the granting of 100,000 certificates.) In the incitement of national hatred imperialism is fully assisted by the Zionist movement, despite the friction between them. Thus, for instance, in these very days, a picket of some scores of Zionists is posted at the entrance to the Arab market beside Tel Aviv to prevent Jews from buying Arab products. The beating of Arabs, throwing of petrol on the products of fellaheen (peasants) who dare to offer their wares to Jewish customers and similar acts are everyday occurrences. The demand of the Zionists for a Jewish State is but fuel on the fire of imperialist provocation. The Zionist terror is not at all intended to expel imperialism, but only to form a new partnership with it which will provide the junior partner with easier terms. This is apparent to anyone who follows Zionist policy in Palestine. M. Sheh, member of the Jewish Agency Executive, whom the British army came to arrest a few days ago, but did not find at home, declared:

“One of the bad principles of the traditional system [of British policy] is that the British authorities compromise only with the one who knows how to disturb and to break their peace, but are accustomed to treat lightly and betray a faithful, peaceful and patient ally. If this is the way to win the alliance of Britain, we cannot avoid trying to follow this path, as we are very interested in Britain’s alliance with us. We cannot long maintain the present one-sided alliance in place of a mutual alliance. The Jewish population in Palestine does not intend to expel the British from the country and be their heirs. We do not see any contradiction whatsoever between mass immigration, a Jewish state, and wide and strong British bases in this country. On the contrary, we shall look upon it very favorably.” (The Essence of the Crisis, Haaretz, October 26, 1945, Hebrew.)

Even after the latest arrests the Zionist leaders continue in the same vein. On July 4, 1946, a declaration was issued by the Jewish Agency Information Bureau in Jerusalem: “The Jews in Palestine are ready to defend themselves, but this does not mean that they are against the maintenance of a British army in Palestine to guard the just interests (!) of the British Empire.”

Thus in the very hour that the whole Arab East is in ferment and its central slogan is “Evacuation of the British army from all the countries of the East,” the Zionists are prepared to assist in its maintenance. In 1936-39 the Zionist leaders did not protest against the cruelty of the British army towards the Arab masses, and demanded, on the contrary, a “strong arm”; now they protest against this very same policy which is directed towards them, but continue supporting the “strong arm” for the Arab East as a whole. At the very moment that British imperialism is intent on stirring up communal hatred, the Zionists, by the struggle for Jewish products, Jewish labor and a Jewish State, aid and abet the imperialist provocation whose victims may well be the Arab and Jewish masses.

Besides the Zionists who help imperialism wear the mask of defender of the Arabs from the Jews, there is another important force which buttresses this same imperialist policy – the feudal, semi-bourgeois Arab leadership. While British imperialism is carrying through its oppression of the Jewish population, it nurtures chauvinistic clerical forces among the Arabs. For this purpose the Mufti of Jerusalem was permitted to escape from prison in France, reaching Egypt on June 19, 1946 by plane (was it an RAF plane?) and settling himself in the palace of the Egyptian king. Who is the Mufti ? He is one of the biggest landowners in Palestine, his family possessing 50,000 dunams – a land area equal to that owned by about a thousand average fellah families. He was the organizer of attacks on Jews in 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936–39, and has declared on countless occasions that he is not antagonistic to British imperialism at all, but wishes to work with it; but that he, and not Zionism, is its really faithful ally. Thus, for instance, in his testimony before the Royal Commission of 1937 he said:

“I have always known and believed that the British Government and British people have great statesmen and I am always convinced of the wise judgment of the British Government and the justice of the British Government . . . but when I see such action taken I always attribute it to Jewish pressure because we cannot see how such a great nation, such a great country with the great statesmen they have, could adopt such a course unless there was outside influence bearing in that direction.” (Royal Commission of Palestine, Minutes, No. 4614, p. 296.)

During the height of the 1936–39 upheaval the Mufti together with his fellow-leaders wrote in a proclamation issued on September 4, 1936:

“It is regrettable that Britain suffers this number of casualties in a holy part of the Arab countries, their allies of yesterday and today (!), in order to serve Zionism and erect a national home for it in Arab Palestine ... The government could not stamp out the revolt and restore order by force, as the Arab people were behind the rebels ... and the English soldiers did not fight willingly, but were forced to enter the struggle. They knew that they were not fighting for British interests, as the Arabs do not fight Britain, and do not wish to damage her interests, but fight against the Jewish settlement and Zionist policy alone. If not for these two, the Arabs would live in friendship and peace with the English.”

Zionism is not in harmony with the interests of British imperialism! Long live the British Empire; down with Jewish influence! The Arab leaders are ready heart and soul to serve the Empire! – Such is the stand of the feudal semi-bourgeois Arab leadership.

This position found its most extreme expression when the Mufti’s nephew and right-hand man, Jemal el-Husseini, declared that the Arabs of Palestine would agree that Palestine remain a crown colony forever, on condition that Zionist expansion was halted.

After despairing that Britain would permit him to destroy the Jewish population in Palestine, the Mufti moved over to Germany. From here he was sent to Yugoslavia to organize Moslem troops against the Partisans (for which the Yugoslav government is now demanding that he be handed over to them for trial!). He was also active in the organization of Jewish death camps. Now that Germany has fallen, he is ready to place his services once more at the disposal of British imperialism.

The Moslem Brotherhood

The British are at the same time doing all in their power to foster the Moslem Brotherhood, a clerical-fascist organization in Egypt, which is at present organizing branches in Palestine. It was this organization which succeeded to a certain extent in diverting the demonstrations against the Balfour Declaration which took place on November 2, 1945 in Cairo and Alexandria into attacks on the communal minorities, Christian and Jewish. Their success was only partial, as the Egyptian workers’ movement understood that the communal attacks constituted an assault upon it. The workers’ paper Ed-Damir stated at that time:

“It is very heartening that the workers were not dragged into the plots hatched against them to involve them in the attacks of November 2, the day of the cursed Balfour Declaration ... The Egyptian workers’ movement struggles against racial fanaticism and deprecates every movement fostered around it.”

The Moslem Brotherhood tried to erect separate committees of Moslem workers in various enterprises, but this failed owing to the unity, irrespective of community, displayed by the Egyptian workers. While the Moslem Brotherhood showed great activity on November 2, it refused to participate on February 21, 1946, “Evacuation Day,” as this was a real anti-imperialist movement and not a communal one. Slogans of solidarity among Moslem, Christian and Jewish workers were shouted throughout the demonstrations, and the fascist leader Ahmed Hussein, who tried to worm his way into the demonstration, was howled down and not allowed to speak. When the Workers’ and Students’ Committee called an anti-imperialist strike on May 10 of this year the Moslem Brotherhood declared its opposition. The strike took place, however, despite the opposition of the Brotherhood, the Egyptian Government and the Arab League. The Egyptian government and the British imperialists do all in their power to nourish and strengthen the Moslem Brotherhood. Reuters publishes a Brotherhood declaration every Monday and Thursday. The announcement of John Kimche that the Brotherhood had half a million members was printed in all the local newspapers, although in reality they have a membership of not more than 10,000. At the same time all news about the Workers’ and Students’ Committee is systematically suppressed. The Brotherhood issues a daily paper (whose financial sources it does not of course divulge), while the workers’ papers have been closed down. It arranges meetings and conferences; similar gatherings of the workers are banned. The radio station devotes a regular program to it, and its delegates are given every assistance to visit the neighboring Arab countries; the workers’ representatives are refused visas. The Stalinists’ habit of dragging after the “nationalists” was displayed in its ugliest form during the last few days. While the Jewish Stalinists launch a struggle against the British White Paper and demand free immigration and settlement, one of their groups going so far as to join the world Zionist Organization, the Arab Stalinists sing laudations to the Mufti. Thus, in an article entitled The Grand Mufti, Al-Ittihad, Arab Stalinist weekly, writes on June 23, 1946 in honor of the Mufti’s arrival in Egypt:

“Our struggling nation honors those who sacrifice themselves. The Arab nation in Palestine has shown vitality and faithfulness to its interests and those who work for them. Arab Palestine from end to end celebrated the good news ... Arab Palestine expressed its feelings in its celebrations and demonstrations for every man who it is sure served his country faithfully. In these expressions the nation provides us with a great lesson that it does not pay attention to words but honors deeds and glorifies and honors their doers. Our nation has proved that it has not forgotten nor will forget those who struggled, passed through trials and made sacrifices for their homeland.”

These praises of the Mufti were offered only a few months after the same paper wrote the following:

“This great historical strike [the strike of government workers and employees] showed up British imperialism, and demonstrated that there is no difference between Arabs and Jews, showed who is the common enemy and pointed the way of struggle against this common enemy.” (Al-Ittihad, April 21, 1946.)

We should not be surprised if the spinelessness of the Arab Stalinists leads them to repeat their slogan of 1935-36, when they demanded that the government disarm the Jews! All the provocations of the Moslem Brotherhood did not succeed in sowing communal antagonisms in Egypt. And the last great strike in Palestine in April of this year in which 26,000 Arab and 6,000 Jewish workers participated, proved that despite the splitting propaganda of the Zionists and the feudal-bourgeois Arab leaders, there is a solid basis for the unity of the Palestinian toilers in defense of their vital interests.

In reply to the bloody imperialist provocations, constantly repeated, which cause tremendous suffering to Arab and Jewish masses alike, the struggle must be launched for the all-embracing unity of the trade unions in the Arab East countries irrespective of national or communal differences. The struggle must be launched for the establishment of a united trade union movement in Palestine; the existing differences between the wages of Arab and Jewish workers must be fought against; equal pay for equal work must be the slogan; municipal labor bureaus should be established to include all the workers; all boycotts against the products, agricultural or industrial, of another nation, must be abolished. The expropriation of the key sections of the economy from the hands of foreign capital, and the agrarian revolution – these are the fundamental conditions for the broad and all-sided development of the economies of the countries of the East, the raising of the material and cultural status of the masses, irrespective of nation or community, and the eradication of the barriers between them. Imperialism, source of communal provocation, must be rooted out and the struggle launched for liberation of the Middle East, in which all the minorities – Jews, Kurds, etc. – will be given wide autonomy in the regions inhabited by them, within the all-embracing framework of the Republic of Workers and Peasants of the Arab East.

The British working class must fight for the evacuation of the British occupation army from the East. The overthrow of imperialism will put an end to the subjugation of the masses of the East and the trading in their blood. The English and American workers must demand, at the same time, the opening of the gates of their countries to the victims of fascism including the Jews; and must organize material assistance for the suffering European masses in general and those in the Displaced Persons’ Camps in particular.

Jerusalem, July 8, 1946


Last updated on 3 February 2017