There has long been a need for a good general history of the Palestinians. Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal help fill this gap with their excellent portrait of the past two centuries in Palestinian history. Although there is little new scholarship presented in this volume, it offers a well-researched, accessible synthesis of the available literature on the Palestinians. The book will be of particular interest to those interested in the sociology of national liberation movements.
The authors have problems with many perspectives of Palestinian history. First, many published accounts treat the Palestinians as victims of historical forces they could not control. Kimmerling and Migdal argue that the Palestinians were surely victims, but also "active participants in the creation of their people's collective character" (p. xv). Second, many accounts have been partisan. Sympathetic historians often fail to recognize mistakes made by generations of Palestinian leaders. Pro-Zionist historians, on the other hand, have produced accounts which resemble official Israeli policy statements. Kimmerling and Migdal "satisfy neither the demonic nor idyllic vision of the Palestinian Arab." Rather, they attempt to present a balanced treatment of their subject. They argue that a Palestinian nation has been forged over time. A common sense of identity has been created, and Palestinians imagine themselves, in Benedict Anderson's formulation, as a national community.
The authors' story begins in 1834 with the Palestinian revolt against Egyptian occupation. Muhammad Ali's forces, under the leadership of his son, Ibrahim Pasha, faced opposition from local Arab leaders who rejected Egyptian plans for military conscription of Palestin ians. Disturbances swept Nablus, Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa, Tiberias, Hebron and other areas. The Ottomans eventually regained control of Palestine in 1840, expelling Muhammad Ali's troops and strengthening their grip on the population. As part of the Tanzimat reforms designed to revitalize an ailing imperial administration, the Ottomans revamped Palestine's land tenure, taxation and governmental systems.
In addition to the increased power of central government, two other forces emerged which would propel Palestine into the twentieth century. The first was Palestine's incorporation into the world market. After the Ottomans reestablished control, contacts increased between Arab merchants, landowners and European capitalists. Wheat, maize, barley, sesame, cotton, oranges and olives were exported to European and Arab countries. The second force was the birth of Zionism and concurrent Jewish immigration to Palestine. Jewish land buying and importation of new technologies had an effect, often indirect, on Arab agriculture. Thus, as the authors note, Palestine on the eve of World War I barely resembled the country it had been a century before. Railroad, shipping and telegraph networks connected Palestine to Europe and provided communication lines with other regions. Europeans-both Jews and Christians-were arriving in large numbers to settle, and wealthy Arab families began sending their sons and daughters to foreign-run schools and colleges.
After the establishment of the British Mandate, a sense of nationalism crystallized among Palestinians as they became aware of Zionist ambitions in Palestine. One early nationalist, Negib Azouri, warned in 1905 that Arabs and Jews "are destined to confront each other continuously, until one prevails over the other." After the collapse of the short-lived Hashemite kingdom in Syria in 1920, Musa Kazim al-Husseini (the grandfather of Faisal al-Husseini, today a prominent West Bank leader) said, "Southern Syria no longer exists. We must defend Palestine." Palestinian nationalism also manifested itself in literary terms. Between 1919 and 1932, some 54 works were published in Arabic, with others appearing in English and French. From 1933 to 1944, this figure nearly tripled.
After the 1929 riots in Jerusalem, various Arab leaders sprung to prominence. One, Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam, became a celebrated Palestinian "martyr" when he fell in battle against British troops in 1935. The sheikh had adopted a staunchly anti-British and anti-Zionist posture, calling for the use of force against British troops and Jewish militias. Foreshadowing political currents which would arise in the 1980s, Qassam's rhetoric utilized Islamic symbols. The concept of jihad occupied a central place in the sheikh's thinking. Indeed, llamas-the Islamic Resistance Movement active in the occupied territories today-names its military brigades after Qassam.
According to the authors, "perhaps no event has been more momentous in Palestinian history [than the 1936-39 rebellion].... It mobilized thousands of Arabs from every stratum of society, all over the country, heralding the emergence of a national movement.'' (p. 96). The revolt showed Britain and the Zionists that local Arabs would resist attempts to establish a foreign presence in Palestine. Britain responded by dispatching thousands of troops to Palestine, hoping to crush the rebels by instituting harsh measures; collective fines were levied, prisoners were hung or used as "human minesweepers," and houses were demolished. Mandate officials also disbanded the Arab Higher Committee, forcing Palestinian leaders to seek refuge in other countries. The flight of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, was the greatest blow suffered by the Palestinian leadership. In one of history's great tragedies, the mufti "never again set foot on the soil of a unified Palestine" (p. 107) and remained far removed from his constituency for the remainder of his days. A major lesson learned by the Zionists was the need to fortify their armed forces for the eventual struggle for Palestine.
The revolt also revealed cleavages in Palestinian society. Unlike the 1834 revolt, which was led primarily by political notables, the 1936 rebellion "was in many ways more a product of people at the base of society." (p. 104). More militant sentiments were often expressed by those in the lower strata of population. The revolt's leaders urged Palestinians in urban areas to discard the tarbush, or fez-a mark of middle- and upper-class status-for the kafiyya favored by peasants. The revolt also had an "Islamic" angle. Arab combatants called themselves mahidin, and leaders resurrected the ghost of Sheikh Qassam to mobilize the populace.
Its leadership crushed and dispersed, the Palestinians were not prepared for al-Nakba, or the Disaster, which befell them in 1948, when Palestinian society disintegrated in a matter of months. Kimmerling and Migdal present a balanced account of the 1948 war, drawing upon traditional and revisionist historiography. After the 1948 exodus, the Palestinian community was scattered throughout the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Palestinians in the newly formed state of Israel faced discrimination, land confiscations and lived under military administration until 1966. Those settling in refugee camps in the Arab world existed as second-class subjects under regimes which paid lip service to the Palestinian cause, but did little to help their displaced brethren. Only Jordan granted the refugees full citizenship benefits.
In 1959, Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar), Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) and Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) formed Fatah. This group believed Palestinians should take responsibility for their own struggle. Moreover, they considered the liberation of Palestine a prerequisite for Arab unity, not the other way around as Nasserites maintained. Finally, armed struggle should take precedence over diplomacy, which had failed to help the Palestinians. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established under Gamal Abdel Nasser's aegis in 1964. Fatah launched its first military operations, most of them ineffectual, against Israel the following year.
It was not until Israel's swift victory in 1967, however, that liberation efforts picked up steam. Meeting in a Damascus cafe after the June war, Palestinian leader Dr. George Habash told Yasser Arafat "everything is lost." Arafat disagreed: "This is not the end. It's the beginning" (p. 240). The major problem the commando groups faced, however, was the lack of a territorial base in Palestine. Rivalries developed among guerrilla leaders, and different organizations worked at cross-purposes. As Kimmerling and Migdal put it, "[t]he result was an odd mixture of ideological purity and political irresponsibility" (p. 227).
Decades of failed PLO military operations, terrorist attacks and diplomatic initiatives ended in a stalemate by the 1980s. After the organization's withdrawal from Beirut in 1982, Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation realized they needed to take matters into their own hands. After all, despite its overblown polemics, the PLO had failed to liberate an inch of Palestine. The move toward self-reliance in the occupied territories culminated in the outbreak of the intifada in December 1987. The PLO claimed responsibility for the uprising, but it was clearly a spontaneous action by the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinian search for an independent homeland climaxed in the September 1993 signing of the Oslo Accord. Palestinians are divided over the merits of the agreement between the PLO and Israel. Opponents accuse Arafat of selling out and agreeing to police the territories for the Israelis. Arafat is facing opposition from his constituents in the diaspora, the 1948 generation not addressed by the Accord. He must also deal with Hamas, which opposes accommodation with Israel. Islamic groups have proliferated in the West Bank and Gaza since the late 1970s and now represent an alternative to Fatah leadership. Supporters of the Accord contend Arafat had no other choice; the PLO was militarily weak, divided and economically troubled. Better to take what it could get than wait.
Kimmerling and Migdal are to be commended for analyzing the sundry interpretations of Palestinian history and producing an unbiased narrative. At times, however, they might have adopted a more critical stance. For example, the authors go easy on the infamous Zionist Plan Dalet, which discussed the possible expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war: "Plan Dalet itself was full of inner contradictions....The tragedy [of the Palestinian exodus] resulted from a convergence of emotions...."(p. 153). This may be true, but it ignores the debate raised by scholars such as Norman Finkelstein and Nur Masalha, who censure Israeli historian Benny Morris for not drawing the logical conclusion from his research on the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. As Masalha concludes in his Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of "Transfer" in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948 (Institute for Palestine Studies, 1993), the Palestinian migration may not have resulted from written orders from the Zionist leadership. However, it was clearly the product of "an unswerving vision" and "shared understanding" among Zionist leaders and military commanders, most of whom accepted the morality of "transfer," but disagreed on the feasibility of implementing such a concept.
In other sections, there are factual errors. On page 81, the authors suggest Palestinian families comprised the bedrock of Transjordan's settled population. This is not altogether true. Numerous families migrated from present-day Syria and Saudi Arabia, settling in northern and central Jordan centuries before the modem Hashemite state was created. On page 222, the authors present the battle of Karamah in 1968 as a Fatah victory aided by Jordanian artillery. Although Fatah was allowed to take credit for routing the Israeli forces from the Jordan Valley, Jordanian ground units participated in the action and sustained fairly heavy casualties. Finally, on page 306, it is stated that Muamar Qadhafi of Libya came to power in 1959 when the correct year is actually 1969.
These minor points aside, this book is an ideal place to tum for those seeking a good examination of Palestinian society in its historical context.