According to the now-standard version offered by Palestinian leaders and publicists and their supporters, Britain’s 1917 endorsement of the Zionist project was a disaster for the Arabs of Palestine and led to the souring of Jewish-Muslim relations more generally. Efraim Karsh shows that this narrative is a complete distortion: Muslim leaders, including Emir Faisal of Syria and Emir Abdullah of Jordan, lent their support to the Balfour Declaration. Moreover, on August 12, 1918, the grand vizier of the Ottoman empire officially stated the empire’s “sympathies for the establishment of a religious and national Jewish center in Palestine by well-organized immigration and colonization.”
So too, during the Mandate period, most Arabs welcomed Jewish settlement. Karsh writes:
Even the most protracted period of Palestinian Arab violence in 1936-39, with its paralytic atmosphere of terror and a ruthlessly enforced economic boycott, failed to dent Arab-Jewish coexistence on many practical levels, including defense cooperation. Contrary to its common depiction as a nationalist revolt against the ruling British and the growing Jewish presence in the country, this was a massive exercise in violence that saw far more Arabs than Jews murdered by Arab gangs who repressed and abused the general Arab population. And while thousands of Arabs fled the country in a foretaste of the 1947-48 exodus, others preferred to fight back against their oppressors, often in collaboration with the British authorities and the Haganah, the largest Jewish underground defense organization. Still others sought shelter in Jewish neighborhoods. . . .
[Once World War II began], Arab and Jewish citrus growers joined forces in demanding the cancellation of customs duty and the extension of government loans to cultivators for the duration of the war. Large quantities of Arab agricultural produce reappeared in Jewish markets, and . . . both communities enjoyed the unprecedented spending and investment boom attending Palestine’s incorporation into the British war effort. Land sales continued as far as possible with Arabs often acting as intermediaries for Jewish purchases in the zones that had been prohibited [to Jews] by the British authorities in 1939.
Thousands of Jews made the traditional pilgrimage to Rachel’s tomb, near Bethlehem, while Jewish students visited this exclusively Arab town for the Christmas celebrations. . . . Jews rented accommodation in Arab villages and opened restaurants and stores with the villagers’ consent; the Nablus municipality initiated talks with senior Zionist officials on linking the city to the Jewish electricity grid; and former rebel commanders and fighters made their peace with their Jewish neighbors.
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