Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Terrorism Without "Occupation": Some Lessons From
The Early Arab Pogroms
by Steven Plaut
May 12, 2006
The Bash-Israel media and the Arab terrorist amen chorus have been
repeating for so many years that Palestinian terrorism and barbarism are
caused by Israeli "occupation" that few are still capable of examining
that "theory" critically. The simple fact is that Palestinian terrorism and atrocities against Jews began not only long before Israel "occupied" the West Bank and Gaza, but long before Israel was created. Examining those early waves of violence can shed enormous light on the Middle East conflict even today and help us understand its true nature.
There were waves of attacks against Jews in Palestine throughout the
1920.s . the Jewish population of Hebron was destroyed by Arab terrorists
in 1929. Palestine at the time was part of the British Mandate. While a
few hundred thousand Arabs lived in there in the 1930.s, it had never been
an Arab Palestinian state, and in fact had not been under any form of Arab rule since the Dark Ages.
The worst anti-Jewish atrocities in Palestine were part of a wave of Arab
pogroms lasting from 1936 to 1939 and dubbed the "Arab Revolt" by
apologists for the terrorism. They were designed to stop immigration to
the Land of Israel by Jewish refugees trying to flee a Europe that was
coming under the growing shadow of Hitler. During the "Revolt," between
415 and 463 Jews (depending on the source) were murdered by the Arab
The pogroms were aimed at Jewish civilians and sometimes at British
colonial forces. They escalated in September 1937, after the British Royal
"Peel Commission" made its recommendations. That commission called for a
tiny Jewish mini-state and a large Arab state, both to be carved out of
Western Palestine. It also called for severe restrictions on further
immigration to Palestine of Jewish refugees from Europe. But because it
did not rule out Jewish sovereignty and Jewish immigration altogether,
which were the minimal demands of the terrorists, the pogrom leaders
ordered escalated violence.
At the time, Palestinian Arabs were led by an "Arab High Command" headed
by the infamous Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. The mufti served as
chief clergyman in Jerusalem with British approval, even though he had
fought against the British in World War I. Al-Husseini later went on to become Hitler.s ally and point man, assisting Hitler in recruiting Muslims for the German side in World War II.
On May 10, 1941 the mufti broadcast a fatwa (religious ruling) calling for
a holy war against the British. It claimed the British had profaned the
Al-Aksa mosque and were out to destroy Islam (an allegation reinvented
against Israel by more recent Palestinian leaders). In 1943 the mufti was
sent to Yugoslavia, where he organized the 13th Waffen SS division, which
not only was responsible for the murder of about 90 percent of Bosnia\'s
Jews but also destroyed numerous Serbian churches and villages.
In his memoirs, the mufti thanked Eichmann and praised him as "gallant and
Throughout this period the Jews did not "occupy" anything except their own
personal property, exercising no sovereignty at all in the Land of Israel.
The campaigns of Palestinian terrorism had nothing to do with occupation,
because there was no Jewish occupation.
Apologists for the terrorists, like Hebrew University.s pro-Palestinian
professor and propagandist Baruch Kimmerling, argue that the violence
proves that a "Palestinian nationalism" was emerging in the late 1930.s.
In fact, the term "Palestinian" referred at the time to Jews, not Arabs.
Palestinian Arab leaders did not begin to demand the right to
"self-determination" and statehood until after 1967. When the West Bank
and Gaza were occupied by Egypt and Jordan, the Palestinian leadership had
no complaints about any "alien occupation" and expressed no desire for
Were there no voices of moderation and tolerance among Palestinian Arabs
at the time? As a matter of fact, there were. And the story of what became
of one of them can help us understand the entire Middle East conflict.
On May 4, a fascinating story related to that era was published for the
first time by the dovish Israeli journalist (and filmmaker) Yehuda Litani
in Yediot Aharonot, Israel.s leading daily. Litani is well known for
films sympathetic to the mundane problems of Palestinian Arabs.
Back when the mufti was beating the war drums and organizing mass murders of Jews, it seems that an article was published by a young Palestinian Arab intellectual, Araf al-Asli, age 27, denouncing the mufti, the pogroms, and the violence.
The article appeared in both Hebrew and Arabic leaflets. Titled "The
History of the Jews and the Arabs," its theme was that Jews and Arabs had
cooperated in the past, especially during the era of cultural flowering in
Muslim Spain. That cooperation had helped make Spain the most advanced
civilization of its age, surpassing the rest of Europe in science,
literature, and architecture. Indeed, Muslim Spain was the most tolerant
regime in all of medieval Europe.
Al-Asli went on to denounce Arab leaders trying to organize violent
assaults against Jews and trying to recruit support among Palestinian
Arabs for the untrustworthy dictators of the Arab states. He called for
cooperation and solidarity with the Jews. He warned the Arabs that if they
chose the path of armed conflict with the Jews, rejecting the outstretched
hand of the Zionists, the Arabs would lose.
In the midst of the anti-Jewish pogroms, al-Asli was proposing an
immediate ceasefire, followed by an alliance with the Zionists that would
produce prosperity for Jews and Arabs.
Soon after publication of the essay, terrorists commanded by the mufti
kidnapped the dissident, interrogated him, and eventually walled him up
inside a cave on Mount Scopus. Meanwhile, al-Asli.s father, a civil
servant in Jordan, managed to persuade the mufti to let his son out of the
cave. Afraid of antagonizing the Jordanian regime, the mufti allowed the
battered son out, but banished him to Lebanon. There al-Asli found work
waiting tables and teaching Hebrew to students at the American University
The story was buried for many years until relatives of al-Asli told it to
Litani and he published it. The incident shows clearly why so few voices
of moderation have ever been heard among the Palestinian Arabs.
The mufti died in 1974, but the al-Husseini family has continued to play a
central role in Palestinian terrorism and extremism.
For those who think Middle East terrorism is attributable to Jews
"mistreating" and "occupying" Palestinians, nothing can better remove the
blinders than studying the 1936-39 period in Palestine.