Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The first ( successful ) anti-imperialist struggle

I've been reading the autobiography of Meyer Levin author of Exodus. He reminds me that at one time to be a zionist was as often as not to be understood not just as someone who wished to build an egalitarian society free from anti-semitism in the ancient jewish homelands, but also as a forward thinking socialist. In 1936 he was a journalist for a new american magazine 'Inside' and went to report on the Spanish civil war. It was then in steady decline faced with an arms embargo by the west and the USSR whilst the fascists had the support of Germany. Levin saw the infighting between the different factions in the Republican side which he saw as resulting from and partly the cause of the sinking morale amongst the fighters. Despite that he had to fight with himself not to remain not as a writer but as a fighter against the fascists.
In the end he was given one hour to leave, presumably because the military unit he attached to did not wish him to see them in retreating.

Levin went straight from the Spanish War to Palestine where he drew the parallel with Spain, where the fascists were supporting the anti-semitic Mufti of Jerusalem in the inciting of the arab riots and attacks on the jewish commnunities there. The British did not intervene whilst the attacks were aimed only at the jews, but when the situation started to get out of hand with attacks being made on them they enlisted more jewish police to protect their towns and villages whilst allowing Orde Wingate's Special Night Squads to be set up. These took the war to the marauders instead of, as had been the policy until then (of 'Havlaga', the restraint of the Hagana whereby jewish towns were defended from attack but without seeking to actively pursue the attackers. This policy meant that the initiative was always with the arab terrorists and many jews died as a result).

Benny Morris in '1948' has written that the arab defeat of 1936-39 affected their ability to wage war against the jews in the period that really mattered during 1947-48. When the arabs in Palestine restarted their murderous attacks on jews after the UN resolution on 29th November 1948 (the day after this resolution a pogrom was organised against jews in the new city of Jerusalem and jews were taken off buses in Jaffa and slaughtered) as a presage to the invasion by the surrounding arab countries, they were subdued within a few months by the better organised Hagana, just in time to deny the invading arab armies the benefit of friendly palestinian arab bases.

The British in Palestine were almost overwhelmingly sympathetic to the arab cause, partly because of the anti-semitism rife in the British army and culture and romantic notions about desert arabs. The Jews moreover were not the easiest of imperial subjects.
Unlike the case in Africa or elsewhere the Jews knew they were at least the equals of those British who governed in Palestine. The Jews hardly benefited from British institutions, with jewish taxes paying for those and for programes that were intended to improve the economic and health situation of Palestine's arabs. At the same time jewish institutions arose and became a parallel state awaiting the time that the British occupier would leave Palestine. When the British finally did leave, 'driven out' in Fieldmarshal Montgomery's own words, the imperialists were not missed by those jews who had just pulled off the first successful anti-colonial struggle. The efforts of the tiny Stern Group, the Irgun and the Haganah had managed to evict the British superpower with its 100,000 soldiers in Palestine seeking to hand that territory over to arab dictators. The British might have had much experience in empire and in ruling colonial peoples through the tried tactic of 'divide and rule' reinforced by ruthless brutality, but they had not managed to adapt their methods to ruling the jews in Palestine without alienating them. They could not do this as British sympathies did not lie with jews. Jews recognised that the British after 1917 wished to prevent Jewish self-determination in that land.

Levin gives an account of the British chief of police in his district who lived in the same building as him:

“...a young man who was the epitome of the bored colonial. His room was devoid of books or any other sign of interest in human activities. One day I went out with him on his rounds as paymaster for the Jewish settlement police in the area. In each village, the Jewish boys lined up smartly, each lad advancing in turn to receive his bit of pay from the hand of the ruling Briton, then performing the ritual Thank you , Sir, the smart salute, the about-face, and march away. The entire story of imperial reign was in this silly little ceremony-the British hand collecting money from a people and doling out part of it to them again for their own services in their own protection. In some countries, the British contribution as a nation expert in the business of government was probably valuable, but I couldn't help seeing, as the British couldn't help seeing, that every Jewish boy who marched up and thanked his chief for his pay considered himself an individual of higher development than the little colonial policeman. There were Jewish heads fermenting with theories, ideas, ambitions, and resentments, and to them the hand of the Briton was the very hand that impeded their country's development.”(p122, In Search)

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