Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Palestinian Pro-Zionist Propagandists between Zionist Institutions and Arab Nationalists, 1930-1931

Hillel Cohen. Israel Affairs. Volume 14, Issue 1. January 2008.

From the outset of Zionist activity in Palestine and down to the present day, there have been Palestinian Arabs who have collaborated with Zionist institutions for various motives and in various ways. A study of this collaboration in different eras (during British mandatory rule, within the State of Israel and in the territories it occupied in 1967) can contribute significantly to understanding the characteristics of Palestinian-Arab nationality and the history of complex relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine, in addition to the intrinsic interest in collaboration as a human phenomenon and social aberration. Yet research by the traditional tools of the historian about such collaborators or ‘traitors’ is extremely sparse. There are numerous reasons for this, the most salient being a paucity of sources: not all doings in this area are documented in real time, and even those which are recorded in writing remain classified for many years. Even intelligence material dating from the mandatory period and the war of 1948 (stored in Israeli archives) has yet to be fully released.

Moreover, such material as has become accessible to scholars does not always answer such substantive questions as the collaborators’ motives, their relationship with the institutions and individuals who handled them and their attitudes towards Palestinian nationalism.

Most of the material consists of reports and assessments by the handlers, while the collaborators’ own voice is hardly ever heard. Even in those cases where they submitted their own reports, these deal with the collaborators’ surroundings rather than themselves, and little can be concluded from these reports regarding their motives, feelings and relationships.

This article focuses on a small group of collaborators about which a relative abundance of material has become available. These are the pro-Zionist propagandists who acted on behalf of the United Bureau (a joint agency of the Zionist Executive and the National Committee of Jews in Eretz Yisrael) in the years 1930-1. The plentiful sources relating to them permits a close acquaintance with the nature of these collaborators’ activities, the justifications they offered for their ‘treason’, their views on Arab and Jewish society and their relationships with their Jewish handlers. Equally, this material permits an understanding of the outlook of the Zionist institutions which employed the collaborators.

The relative plenty of sources about these propagandists is due to their main occupation having been writing, and to the presence of their publications in our possession. In addition to these writings, there are the letters that the propagandists sent to their handlers at the United Bureau, expressing their personal and social hardships. The replies of the handlers, as well as the internal correspondence of the Zionist institutions about the collaborators, are also accessible to researchers and they reveal the attitudes of these Zionist activists. This combination of sources makes the United Bureau files dealing with these propagandists (which are held at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem) a rare and important source about the employment of collaborators by Zionist institutions.

It must be borne in mind that no sweeping conclusions should be drawn from this material in respect of all the collaborators during the mandatory period, let alone other periods. But it can throw light on the first systematic use of collaborators and propaganda to undermine the Arab national movement in Palestine (attempts which continued in subsequent periods); on the Zionist attitudes which gave rise to these practices; and on the inevitable gap between collaborators and their handlers, even when engaged in joint missions.

The United Bureau’s Concepts and Goals

One result of the shock suffered by the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael from the bloody attacks on Jewish settlements and communities in the summer of 1929 was the decision to re-examine the Yishuv’s policy on the Arab question. The establishment of the United Bureau—which comprised members of the Zionist Executive on one hand and the Jewish National Committee on the other—was the institutional manifestation of this decision. At the Bureau’s head were Zionist Executive Chairman Frederick Kisch (a retired intelligence officer in the British army) and National Committee member Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (later the second Israeli president). Hayyim Margalioth Kalvariski was appointed to direct the Bureau’s operational structure, and its public board included figures from various sectors who were experienced in dealing with Arab personalities and institutions. The Bureau dealt with formulating policy on ‘the Arab Question’, creating contacts with Arab personalities and institutions, information gathering and propaganda. In short order, the Bureau’ personnel managed to recruit a number of informers and propagandists.

Employing collaborators was not a new practice for Zionist institutions. From the start of the Zionist Executive’s activity in Palestine, in 1918, it operated a fairly sophisticated intelligence apparatus, and the Central Zionist Archive (CZA) contains numerous files of intelligence reports from the first years after the beginning of the British occupation. Neither was there much innovation in the recruitment of Arab journalists to write propaganda articles. But over the years activity in these areas had attenuated, and the severe results of the disturbances in the summer of 1929 revived the requirement for fresh activity in both these areas. The relatively high importance that was attached to the recruitment of Arab propagandists (who are the focus of the present article) also stemmed from the crucial role played by the Arab press in spreading national sentiments within the Arab community in Palestine, its role in the escalation that led to the disturbances of that year, as well as the success this press enjoyed at the time.

Kalvariski, who was appointed to head the operational structure of the United Bureau, served as an Arab affairs advisor to Colonel Kisch for most of the 1920s, after devoting many years to land purchases for the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association. His propaganda activity began shortly after World War I and having joined the United Bureau he decided to expand it, out of a belief that Jewish-Arab hostility was caused by misunderstanding and aggravated by vested interests through the press. He considered that proper presentation of the issues, as well as propaganda that would address both the elites and the masses over the heads of their leaders, could solve this problem. As Kalvariski wrote to the Zionist Executive after being appointed to his new position:

In my opinion, nothing has harmed us more and done more to damage relations between Jews and Arabs than the Arab press. From the moment it appeared in Eretz Yisrael (al-Karmel, immediately after the Turkish revolution) to this very day it has never stopped accusing us and defaming our name. By means of this pernicious activity it injected deep hatred toward us into the Arabs’ hearts and poisoned the atmosphere, not only in this country but throughout the Arab lands (Transjordan, Syria, Egypt and others). In order to clear the air and turn the Arab heart back toward us, we must acquire some direct and indirect influence on the Arab press.

This was the guiding concept. In another discussion, specific tasks were described that should be assigned to those journalists who consented to co-operate with the Zionist movement:

  • Point out the damage and loss caused to the Arabs by their unwillingness to reach an agreement and understanding with the Jews.
  • Emphasize the Arabs’ inability to build up Eretz Yisrael on their own with no help from the Jews, and the impossibility of any development and progress unless the two nations work together.
  • Stress the difficulty, disruption and regress that are caused to all walks of life by the disturbances and insecurity in the country, and which are suffered by both nations.
  • Show up the economic amelioration and progress which were engendered by the new agricultural methods, the new building style, the development of commercial routes and public services—in all of which the Jews play a very major role, both direct and indirect.
  • Provide news material about the Jews’ good intentions toward the Arabs as declared by their leaders, the Zionist conferences, etc.
  • Publish translations of articles and speeches by famous men and experts on the Eretz Yisrael question which express views on the country’s future prospects and the benefits of mutual co-operation between the two nations, and other news items projecting the spirit of peace and fraternity.

These guidelines are all phrased positively, and indeed the presentation of achievements and advantages that the Arabs might gain from Jewish settlement was a central feature of the propaganda organized by the United Bureau. But there was an additional propaganda aspect which, although not apparent in this document, was encouraged by the Bureau—namely, defamation and quarrel-mongering, i.e. defaming the leader of the Palestinian national movement, the Mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and his followers and sowing discord among groups and figures in Palestinian society. Thus it was determined in one discussion that ‘internal propaganda [should] be conducted among the Muslims, and Hajj Amin [should] be deposed from the presidency of the Supreme Muslim Council’. The Jewish Mayor of Tiberias, Zaki Alhadif, who was also a member of the Bureau, repeatedly proposed ‘to sow misunderstanding and discord among them, and particularly between Muslims and Christians’.

These proposed operating techniques indicate clearly that even the severe events of 1929 did not alter the basic concepts held by those in charge of Arab affairs in the National Committee and Zionist Executive. They continued to ignore the existence of any significant Arab national movement in Palestine, or alternatively considered it to be so weak that the Arab public might be addressed without its mediation. Additionally, they clung to the approach that the Arabs might be persuaded that Jewish immigration would only redound to their benefit. Evidently, as in previous years, the Yishuv leadership failed to take the national emotions of Palestinian Arabs seriously. This concept was reinforced by the Bureau’s success in finding several Arabs who also disregarded the spirit of Arab nationality and worked hand in glove with the Bureau in the propaganda field as well.

The Propagandists’ Activity and Arguments

The most prolific of this band of propagandists who gathered around Kalvariski was Muhammad Tawil. Tawil was born in Acre in the 1880s to a well-to-do father and served in the Turkish army, where he attained officer’s rank. After the British occupation he joined the British civil service, but left it in 1921 on the grounds that he would rather serve his own country. For two years he wandered between Trans-Jordan and Anatolia, and in 1923 returned to Palestine. In 1926 he opened a copyist’s office in Tiberias and from then on maintained contact with Zionist figures in the region, especially Tiberias Mayor Zaki Alhadif. In December 1929, Tawil agreed to appear openly before the British commission of inquiry on the riots of August 1929 and to testify about the events in Tsfat/Safad in upper Galilee. In his testimony, he stressed the Arab leadership’s responsibility for the attacks on the Jewish Quarter and, in a subsequent letter, explained why he did so: ‘my heart ached at these disturbances, as I knew clearly that the Arabs had assaulted the Jews without any provocation or reason’.

Tawil was also involved in attempts to establish a fellaheen party in the north. The year 1930 saw a proliferation of opposition parties, which was abetted by the United Bureau, and Tawil announced the establishment of a Northern Farmers’ Party. But these were sidelines; his energy was devoted mainly to the publication of articles and pamphlets against the Supreme Muslim Council (and its President, the Mufti Hajj Amin), whose members, along with those of the Arab Executive Committee, he described as a gang of vested interests working against the good of the nation. Tawil also argued that the Arabs of Palestine were altogether unfit to establish a state.

The disturbances of 1929 naturally supplied Tawil with the main topic for his publications. In a pamphlet entitled How the Disturbances in Palestine Began, which appeared in similar Hebrew and Arabic versions, Tawil presented his doctrine at length. First, he asserted, responsibility for what occurred rested on the Palestinian Arab leadership:

We have had enough of chicanery, enough of tricks! Every one of us knows that these disturbances were prepared in advance … A large part of this revolt’s organization was carried out by individuals with despicable prejudices and personal interests … [there is] nothing here but personal interests of a certain circle among the inhabitants of Palestine, and this circle is the battalion of idle effendis and some of the bankrupt leaders.

Not only did he hold the leadership culpable for the murders, he also accused it of evading its responsibility towards the Arab public: multitudes of people engaged in killing and looting upon its orders and now they are rotting in prison without the leadership lifting a finger on their behalf, Tawil told his readers repeatedly.

Tawil grasped this opportunity, as he did on other occasions, to widen the rift between Christians and Muslims. He may have taken his cue from the doctrine of his contact in the Bureau, Tiberias Mayor Zaki Alhadif, since the latter called repeatedly for action to intensify internal discord in Arab camp, especially that of a religious nature. It must be borne in mind that Christian-Muslim unity is a basic tenet of Arab nationalism in general and the Palestinian case in particular. Tawil attempted to undermine this principle by asking his readers: ‘why didn’t the Christians join us in those bloody events, since they presume to be ‘sons of Arabia’? Don’t they claim to march hand in hand with the Muslims in all matters? Did you see even one of the Christians take an active part in the bloody events that occurred? Or is there so much as one Christian in jail under guard?’ This led easily to the conclusion that the Christians, like the effendis, were only exploiting the masses of common people for their own ends.

The leadership’s incompetence and the Muslim-Christian rift were indeed the two main themes of Tawil’s writings. In his book Kitab al-Haqa’iq al-Majhula (The Book of Hidden Facts) he devoted two chapters to these subjects, and had no qualms about charging that Christianity in general and its missionaries in particular were the main enemies of Islam. Even the chapter of this book devoted to the Arab boycott on Jewish products, which was imposed the same year, was pressed into service to attack the Christians. His main argument was that the Christians—who dominated commerce, while most of the Muslims were peasants—were the actual initiators of the boycott, which they also financed and supervised, as it permitted them to raise the price of their merchandise. He claimed that during the first five months of the boycott, Christian merchants earned 1.5 million Palestinian Pounds, twice their usual profits, while secretly buying their wares from Jews. In another book, he asserted that Muslims were closer to Jews than to Christians and ought to live in peace with them; he also published remarks in this vein in the newspaper al-Salam edited by the Zionist journalist Nissim Mallul, and in occasional manifestos.

Tawil, as mentioned earlier, was the most prolific of these writers. Some others were also active in the same arena, including Zahed Shahin of Nablus who maintained contacts with Kalvariski and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. He arrived at their first meeting, in March 1930, with copies of articles he had written and published in the Arab press and offered to write some for the Hebrew press as well. ‘Our main desire is that their articles attacking the present Arab leaders for fighting the Jews should appear in the very papers which are read by the Arab masses, in order to impress upon them the need for understanding with the Jews and the benefit it might bring to both sides’, Ben-Zvi told the others before they settled the details of payment for each article.

Shortly afterwards, Shahin published an article in al-Akhbar describing Ben-Zvi as ‘The only man who recognizes the need for ameliorating conditions of the Arab laborer and fellah, who defends their rights and does his best to assist them, provide them with basic needs and connect them with the Jewish farmer in bonds of friendship and fraternity’. In the same article he attacked Bulus Shehadeh, editor of the opposition paper Miraat al-Sharq, who depicted Ben-Zvi as a dangerous Communist. Shahin did not flinch at reminding his readers that Shehadeh himself had gone to Ben-Zvi and Kalvariski, hat in hand, to solicit aid for his own paper. Shahin and his colleagues also published signed advertisements in the Arab press expressing their desire for an accommodation with the Jews; they included similar remarks in an article they published in the Islamic paper al-Sirat al-Mustaqim and in al-Akhbar.

Akram Tuqan was another propagandist who co-operated with the United Bureau. He too was not satisfied only with writing, and engaged in organizational activity as well. Thus, for instance, he set up (with others) the ‘Semitic Union’ club, with the declared purpose of bringing Jews and Arabs together. The club started up in Nablus, but its short-lived activity reached as far as Jerusalem. Muhammad Tawil took part in founding the Jerusalem club; he and Tuqan arranged a meeting at the Amdurski Hotel with the participation of Jews and Arabs. One of the association’s aims, according to the proposed regulations written by the Arab members, was ‘union of the Arab and Jewish people’; another idea discussed was holding Hebrew and Arabic lessons. Tuqan also attempted to establish workers’ clubs in Nablus and Haifa dedicated to Jewish-Arab dialogue. However, there is little known about these groups except for Tuqan’s own reports and some scant mention in the Arab press (as will be addressed below).

Simultaneously, Tuqan carried on his work in the field of written propaganda. He published a book entitled Jews and Arabs in the Present Day, which he claimed to have co-ordinated with Dr Nissim Mallul, as well as a pamphlet with an identical title to Tawil’s al-Haqa’iq al-Majhula (The Hidden Facts). In it he presented possible channels for Jewish-Arab co-operation based on his organizational and partisan experience; published interviews with Jewish figures who supported co-existence and defended Jewish personalities who were subjected to attacks, such as Meir Diesengoff. For several months he worked in tandem with another propagandist, Aref al-Asali, who published a pamphlet entitled Arabs and Jews in History, portraying the close relationship between the two peoples and asserting that ‘the artificial estrangement and separation between them are mainly the result of political considerations’.

Examination of the publications produced by these writers reveals three main thrusts: first, the presentation of Zionism’s positive aspects and an idyllic model for possible Jewish-Arab relations; second, presentation of the Palestinian-Arab leadership in a negative light and, third, exacerbating the rifts within Palestinian society. These directions corresponded, respectively, with the wider political approach of the Yishuv leadership, which combined an aspiration for co-existence with the Arab inhabitants of the country as individuals, (provided they did not detract from Zionist aspirations), a desire to neutralize the Arab national leadership, and a desire to impair the process of constructing Palestinian nationhood.

The Propagandists Ranged Against the Palestinian Arab National Movement

The poignant attacks of Tawil and his colleagues against the leading figures of the Palestinian public, as well as the establishment of pro-Zionist clubs, at the very time when the Arab community’s leadership declared an absolute boycott of the Yishuv, did not pass without any response on the part of national movement’s activists. They considered these propagandists renegades or, to put it more bluntly, traitors. Just as the press treated renegades in other areas (the most prominent being those who sold land to Jews), it shouldered the task of exposing and condemning the propagandists’ misdeeds. Thus, the press repeatedly set the limits of acceptable behaviour regarding relations with the Zionist movement. It must be kept in mind that, until 1929, the struggle against collaborators was conducted mainly by labelling them as traitors in the court of public opinion, dismissing those of them who were employed by institutions linked to the Supreme Muslim Council, and sporadic physical harassment. The first assassination of a collaborator that can be found in the contemporary documents was in October 1929, but it was an extraordinary occurrence and the next such murder was committed only five years later.

Nonetheless, 1930 saw a rise in nationalist fervour and the United Bureau received numerous reports of plans for assassinating collaborators. Young men from Acre who banded together and came to Jerusalem—reported one informer—had prepared a ‘blacklist’ of five Arabs from their hometown who were suspected of treason in favour of the Jews ‘and intend to kill them’; while another informer reported a secret resolution adopted by the Executive Committee stating that ‘anyone in league with the Jews shall be beaten and his property robbed’.

Whether following these resolutions or independent of them, attacks on collaborators began and the propagandists and members of pro-Zionist organizations were the natural targets. One of the first victims was Muhammad al-Titi of Nablus, a member of the local pro-Zionist organization in which Zahed Shahin was also active. A few days after al-Titi and his colleagues met Kalvariski, while the former slept in his house alone except for his infant grandson, ‘the old man awoke from an axe blow that struck his head as he slept. He raised his head after this blow to try and resist his assailant, but was immediately struck by a second axe blow to the head and another to his hand. He sustained two severe head injuries that threatened his life, and the attackers vanished immediately.’ So reads the report of a United Bureau intelligence source, who added: ‘the townspeople of Nablus are convinced that the assault was prepared and arranged by men of the Arab Executive Committee’.

Al-Titi was attacked twice more, as were several of his colleagues, and it was none other than the opposition newspaper Miraat al-Sharq that hastened to report this in a positive vein (so as to clear itself of any stain of treason due to its resistance to the Husseinis). The paper blamed the victims for their own fate, as they had undermined the social order and caused trouble. Following these attacks, Shahin left his hometown of Nablus and found shelter in Jerusalem. Muhammad Tawil also suffered physical persecution. In May 1930 he was followed by several young men (whom he considered to be sent by the Supreme Muslim Council); they tried to kill him but he managed to escape.

And yet, in respect of attitudes towards those who collaborated with the Jews, during this period (unlike during the 1936-9 revolt) attacks on propagandists took place more typically in the press than on the ground. In April 1930, the newspaper Filastin published details of the Jewish-Arab conference organized by Tuqan, Tawil and others in a Jerusalem hotel, observing that their actions were hardly a surprise, but expressing astonishment that Kalvariski had been deceived into crediting these men with any influence. Miraat al-Sharq also published a report on the same topic under the headline ‘shameful activities of Zionist appendages’, thus clearly expressing its opinion of these gatherings. Some two weeks later, the paper again discussed the subject, classifying the association’s Arab activists as ‘traitors’ and charging that they had offered to foment discord among members of the Arab Executive Committee and to attack Hajj Amin al-Husseini, but that Kalvariski had opposed the idea.

Another attack on the pro-Zionist propagandists is of special interest as it was written by a young man named Salim Abu Ghosh, who actually belonged to the same circle but withdrew after his financial demands were not met. Abu Ghosh graduated from the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv and began work at the Hebrew newspaper Do’ar ha-Yom as well as in the Arab press. In October 1930 he published an article in the Arabic daily, Filastin, entitled ‘On the Comedy Stage’, describing all kinds of charlatans who by presenting themselves to Kalvariski as leaders of the nation and important journalists managed to extort large sums of money from him. Here the ridicule was already double-edged, both towards Kalvariski and those persons whom the Arab press portrayed as traitors.

It was Muhammad Tawil who responded to this challenge. In a pamphlet, which he published in October 1930, he refuted the accusations that he was serving the Zionists, and declared:

I am no Zionist and have no contact with the Zionists. Study my pamphlets and articles, and you will find nothing suspect. I am more nationalistic than anyone else. Our national demands are equal, but our methods differ. And your method may lead you to ruin and emigration. Any person has the right to criticize, and criticism must not be stifled. I cannot follow blindly in the footsteps of the Arab Executive Committee’s leaders. I cannot trust a doctor who after ten years of treatment has achieved no cure for our disease. I cannot recognize Hajj Amin al-Husseini as the leader of Palestine because his stewardship brings no benefit to the country.

This denial of any contact with the Zionists must be understood in view of the attacks on Tawil and his colleagues, and should not be taken seriously. But he went further and, in an additional (undated) pamphlet, laid out his motives, devoting several paragraphs to presenting his opinion as to who was a traitor and what constituted treason in the Palestinian reality of the time.

My principle is reform. Reform of the country and rectification of our religious life, since religion has weakened and the moral standard of many among us has declined. This is my target and this is my principle. Am I a traitor? … I am not a traitor, O my people. A traitor is one who deceives you and manipulates you in order to despoil your money. And you know who is such a traitor. A traitor is he who incited you during the strikes and caused dozens of your young men to be sentenced to death and other punishment.

Here Tawil raises an important argument: since his acts are aimed at rectifying the country’s plight and its religious life, he must not be called a traitor. On the contrary, he and his ilk are the genuine nationalists, while the national leadership is guilty of treason as it strives not for the people’s benefit but in favour of personal interests, and thus causes considerable harm to the people. But logical as this argument might have been, it was problematic from one aspect of principle: treason is not an entity in itself, and it cannot be gauged only according to the actor’s intentions but primarily according to his people’s perception. In other words, norms matter more than intentions. Any deed which contravenes social norms in respect of the enemy is considered treason. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge Tawil and his colleagues’ self-image as good nationalists, who did not betray their fellow Palestinians, but rather offered an alternative, better way for the national movement.

The Collaborators In Relation To Their Handlers

While portraying themselves as ‘good Palestinians’, Tawil, Shahin and Tuqan continued to publish articles presenting the basic declaratory and ideological arguments of the Zionist movement. Like the Zionists, these figures rejected the leadership of Hajj Amin al-Husseini and served as an instrument to undermine his legitimacy, but they did not hesitate to attack the Nashashibi opposition as well.

Whether they really considered Zionism a blessing and Hajj Amin a destructive leader or simply found that writing propaganda was an easy way to extract profits from the Zionists is difficult to judge. In any event, they were constantly presenting financial demands in return for their work, which raises the possibility that their main motive (though not necessarily the only one) may have been economic.

But it soon emerged that both sides had held inflated expectations of each other. The United Bureau discovered that these persons lacked any influence whatsoever and that their articles elicited nothing but ridicule; and the collaborators, for their part, earned but a pittance for their activity. After a few months of activity, Kalvariski and his underlings scaled down their contacts with the propagandists, who felt abandoned and frustrated.

The aforementioned Salim Abu Ghosh appears to have been the first to remonstrate. Shortly after the outset of his association with Kalvariski they had a financial dispute and Abu Ghosh sent Kalvariski a letter threatening that if he was not paid 20 pounds within a week he would publish his working arrangements in Filastin in such a way that would damage both Kalvariski’s relations with Arab contacts and his links with the Zionist movement in the United States. In this case Kalvariski did not bow to the threats, and in October 1930 Abu Ghosh indeed published the said article in Filastin. Thereupon, the United Bureau stopped all contact with Abu Ghosh, but he kept on sending extortionary letters. In them he stated that he preferred to continue working with the Bureau because of his hatred for the Mufti, but if his demands were not met ‘I will be prepared … to expose all the politics you are conducting here, and will publish the book I am now writing, which is entitled The Heroes and Politics of Zionism that includes all the combinations hatched by Tawil, Tuqan etc’. There is no evidence that Abu Ghosh’s demands were met, but they did strengthen the image of propagandists as a gang of money-grubbing crooks.

Abu Ghosh had written only a few pro-Zionist articles before beginning what the United Bureau saw as his extortion attempts, but Tawil also soon became embroiled in a confrontation with the Bureau and especially with his main liaison there, Zaki Alhadif. After publishing his first pamphlets against the Mufti, Tawil wanted to switch to real political leadership activity and proposed to Alhadif to establish a northern Agrarian Party that would be led by himself. But Alhadif considered that Tawil was a man of no public consequence, and wrote to his colleague at the Bureau, Shabtai Levi: ‘in my opinion nothing will come of this business, for what value can there be in any association founded by M.T.?’ In other words: Tawil’s overt activity in favour of the Zionists actually redounded to his detriment in their view. But Alhadif had an additional argument, which related to Tawil’s motives: ‘M.T. has discovered the Zionist Executive to be a cash cow. He is a despicable person, and his impertinence toward us will clearly exceed his impertinence toward the Arabs’.

These words were written only a few months after Tawil’s testimony before the commission of inquiry on the 1929 disturbances and the publication of his first pamphlet, but Alhadif was already convinced that Tawil’s motives were purely financial. Therefore, and also because of Tawil’s minute influence, Alhadif thought that Tawil’s activity ought to be curtailed and no more funds should be transferred to him. Tawil was aware of Alhadif’s position, and addressed an angry and resentful appeal to the National Committee and the United Bureau in which he presented his demands. This became known to Alhadif, who in turn hastened to write to the Bureau’s management:

… in my opinion he should be turned down and told he must address me and see me. And as I have already explained to you once, our standing with M.T. is not of the best. And what caused this is headquarters, which showed too much consideration toward M.T. without consulting those who know him very well. If we accede to him he will always demand money, and if we reject him we will not be able to stand his impertinence.

Alhadif’s words bespeak no empathy for a man who had taken a public stand in favour of the Zionist movement and even risked himself; he considered Tawil to be greedy and impertinent. But that was not Tawil’s sole problem. Simultaneously, he began receiving threats from part of the national movement, and there was even one attempt on his life. Tawil saw no choice except to escape to Syria, but was arrested there and sent back. Defeated and humiliated, he returned to Tiberias where he was ostracized by the Arab population and rejected by his Zionist handlers. Shortly afterwards, he addressed the following letter to the National Committee:

I can bear no more. I have become a man whose hand is against everyone and against whom everyone’s hand is turned, and all gates to a livelihood are locked before me. Human duty demands that you take an interest in my plight. You know I testified before the commission of inquiry only out of the internal impulse of my own conscience, and wrote my books with no view to your payment or reliance on it. I relied only on your honour, and believed that you certainly would not allow me to suffer but would stretch out a helping hand to me in time of need … If you abandon me to my fate and cast me off, it will mean you are pushing me to suicide. And if this is what you desire, then decide not to help me and not to take any interest in my plight. Believe me, I will commit suicide but before I do so I will write the reason for this act and publish it throughout the European and oriental press, so that the world may know that you are the cause of my death.

Continuing his letter, Tawil refers to the financial problems besetting him. He claims to have already been harmed economically by his work for the Jews, and to have received no reimbursement for travel and for the books he printed. As he wrote to the members of the National Committee:

I request that you allot me a monthly allowance in the sum of ten pounds for one year to cover my livelihood, or that you pay me a compensation with which I can arrange some employment. Consider me as one of the clerks in your office who was dismissed and to whom you owe severance pay, in return for my dedication and loyalty to you.

Tawil, who was well acquainted with the bureaucracy of the Zionist institutions, also appealed directly to the president of the Zionist Federation. He already understood clearly that his handlers were trying to wash their hands of him, and in this letter he also threatened suicide. He added: ‘I am not one of those who demand money, and if I had worked only for business purposes I would have demanded 500 Palestinian pounds for my testimony before the commission of inquiry and one thousand for my other tasks.’ He asked for expenses in the sum of 117 pounds, and ended his letter by promising that ‘the said sum will encourage me to continue my important work, and you will see what wonders I perform’.

The sources consulted by this author provide no answer to the question of whether Tawil ever received the money, but in the summer of that year he travelled to Europe where he carried on his propaganda against the Mufti and his attempts to persuade Zionist circles to finance his project of publishing a pro-Zionist newspaper in Arabic. He tried, unsuccessfully, to see Chaim Weizmann. The latter’s secretary, Hayyim Ariav, gave him a ticket back to Palestine, and upon his return he presented an account of his expenses along with a collection of items he had published in the European press. The expenses exceeded 100 Palestinian pounds and, apparently, he was never reimbursed for them. Four months later, in January 1931, defeated and furious, he sent to ‘the lord and ruler’ Yitzhak Ben-Zvi another letter pleading for four and a half pounds ‘as this is the month of Ramadan, the fast, and I have not one piastre’. His letter ended with the words: ‘let me inform you that if you insist on this usurpation of my rights and refuse to pay me the said amount after I have proven to you that I am entitled to it, you will cause the bomb to explode’.

The last document referring to Tawil is from the end of that month and was written by the head of the National Committee, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi:

Since your last letter contains threats and is impolitely written, and since I have received reports that you have already begun hostile actions against me and against the Jews, and since you curse and defame the Jews etc. I deem it beneath my dignity to enter into any disputation with you. I am retaining your letter to me along with the written commitments which you gave us previously, for publication and submission to a court of law if your future acts should require this.

On this note Tawil’s relationship with the Zionist movement appears to have ended. He left the country for Turkey, in whose army he had served as an officer during World War I. A few years later he died. In a deposition given by the United Bureau’s intelligence operative Aharon Hayyim Cohen to the Haganah Archive in 1953, he mentioned Tawil and his enterprises, concluding with the opinion that ‘it would be interesting to find out whether he died a natural death or was assassinated’.

Tawil was not the only one who demeaned himself in his attempts to collect funds from the United Bureau. It should be noted here that since the details of agreements between them are not in our possession, there is no way to determine whether the Bureau violated its commitments or whether it was the collaborators who began demanding an increasingly higher remuneration for their services (perhaps because of the danger they sensed as a result of their activity). Also, it is not always possible to judge the reliability of the collaborators’ reports on their own activity. For example, in the spring of 1930 Akram Tuqan reported to Kalvariski that he had visited and spoken in 48 villages, but there is no other source that confirms this activity.

In any case, Tuqan also made desperate attempts to increase the remuneration he was paid for his services, be they real or imaginary. In September 1930 he addressed a request to Ben-Zvi to raise his writer’s honorarium: ‘I have learned that Zahed Shahin is paid the sum of 40 piastres for every article he publishes’, he wrote to Ben-Zvi, ‘and since the articles published by the undersigned have a much greater impact than those of Zahed Shahin, and since I have the greatest trust in your excellency, I request that if it be deemed appropriate I should be treated equally with him.’ That was only the beginning of a rapid deterioration in relations. A few months later reports began to reach the Zionist executive that Tuqan and Asali—as well as Salim Abu Ghosh!—were coming to Jewish settlements with papers attesting to their work with the Zionist institutions, and soliciting charitable donations. Tuqan denied this and wrote to Ben-Zvi: ‘even if I were starving to death I would not go even to my brother to beg for help’. But in the same letter he mentioned his book entitled Arabs and Jews in History and asked for support in any amount for its publication and distribution. He took care to note that his activity stemmed from ideological motives and that the money was needed to finance the activities for which he was recruited—while portraying himself as ‘one of those who gave their lives for the cause of uniting Arabs and Jews’.

Tuqan had understood by this time that his chances of getting any money from the Bureau were slim, and he appealed to Colonel Kisch in a personal letter: ‘I ask Your Excellency to help me out of his private pocket in publishing my book, and since I know that YE gives, and loves to give, to charity I ask him to give me as much as his heart offers out of his private pocket.’ This author has found no replies to Tuqan’s letters nor any record that such replies were sent, and subsequent reports relate to his desperate attempts to collect any remuneration for his activity, which by this time was of scant value. He lodged at the Beharav Hotel in Jerusalem and made the rounds of local synagogues to beg for charity. But occasionally he was confronted by the congregants, who did not believe his stories. Thus did Tuqan, a founder of various friendship associations and a Zionist propagandist, also end his connection with the Zionist Executive.

Only a few years later, in April 1936, the great revolt erupted and the situation in Palestine changed immeasurably. Akram Tuqan was abducted by rebels and escaped miraculously. He hastened to publish a pamphlet about this. Zahed Shahin again offered his services to the Zionist institutions but they expressed no interest; another member of the same group, Yusef al-Jarrar, was murdered by the rebels. The fate of other members is unknown. Contacts with them were broken off in the early 1930s, and it seems that no one in the Zionist institutions regretted it.


The use of collaborators for propaganda purposes was a cornerstone of the early Zionist concept, which held that the Arabs of Palestine could be persuaded that Jewish immigration and settlement would only redound to their benefit. After the events of the summer of 1929, a concerted attempt was made to spread the Zionist message through propaganda, simultaneously with attempts to enlist the political co-operation of Arab opposition leaders. These moves failed, and in their aftermath those in charge of Arab affairs at the Zionist institutions shifted their emphasis and moved their main effort from recruiting political collaborators and propagandists to recruiting collaborators in the realm of intelligence and security. Still, attempts to spread Zionist concepts by means of Arab writers continued, although in different ways, throughout the mandatory period and after the establishment of the state (among others, through the newspaper al-Yawm) and after 1967 (when the newspaper alAnbaa was circulated in the Occupied Territories). All these attempts were based on non-recognition of the Palestinian national leadership’s legitimacy, a sense of necessity to undermine it, and a desire to address the masses over its head.

The Palestinians who operated within the Zionist publicity apparatus did so either for financial remuneration, out of their concepts regarding relations between the peoples, or because of their opposition to the national leadership (or a combination of these factors). Frequently the ‘real’ motives are hard to identify. This is true both after the establishment of the state and even prior to 1948. But as has been seen, even though the propagandists of the early 1930s were willing to assist the Zionist institutions, the mutual relationship never attained a basic degree of trust. The Bureau officials felt that the propagandists were trying to exploit them for money, while the collaborators felt they were endangering their social status, personal dignity and sometimes their very lives and, in turn, were being treated contemptuously by the Bureau officials. This failure appears to have stemmed from an inherent gap between the expectations and outlooks of the two sides, which seems to explain the appearance of frustrated, and sometimes vengeful, collaborators in every generation.

This gap between collaborators and their handlers can be presumed to exist in many situations, but when it concerns collaborators operating overtly in a hostile political environment the problem is greatly exacerbated. Informers (on political or security matters) may accomplish their assigned missions and transmit valuable information; real estate dealers (samasira) may be helpful in the transfer of more and more land. They too risk their lives and occasionally raise demands which their handlers consider exaggerated, but they can point to tangible achievements. This was not the case with those early propagandists. They were sent on a mission that could be considered a ‘foregone failure’: to engender a fundamental change in Palestinian Arab public opinion and to bring it into agreement with Jewish immigration and settlement. Because they failed, their handlers began to disparage them; but they, who had endangered their lives and had been ostracized in their communities, demanded some compensation for their efforts and the damage they suffered. In other words, the collaborators demanded payment for their efforts and the risks they undertook, while the Zionist institutions wanted to pay them according to the results.

The main argument of the Bureau officials who tried to wash their hands of the collaborators was that they were acting for money, from which it followed that the Bureau had no obligation towards them. This was not an empty claim: among those who came to the Bureau’s door to offer their services there were also various charlatans. But the question is whether this category can be said to include everyone who agreed to operate within the Bureau’s propaganda apparatus, and this author believes that the answer is negative. However the ‘unworthy motive’ argument served the Bureau officials well. It was presented most vehemently by Alhadif, who charged that Tawil was impertinently attempting to milk the Zionist institutions. But Tawil, of course, saw things otherwise, and was entirely unconvinced that the Zionists were the exploited party in this whole affair. The following passage he wrote can be considered prophetic as to the relations between Zionist and Israeli security agencies and some of their collaborators in the years to come:

O you leaders, O you Jews! You whom I have jeopardized my life to defend, you are neither grateful nor loyal. You befriend people when you need them, and if harm befalls them because of you, you disown them as you did to me. And what would you have done to these Arabs if they had reached an agreement with you? I think you would have given them no respite and impelled them to their death. Is that not so?

Beyond the moral rebuke, a further element arises from these words by Tawil: that despite his activity on behalf of the United Bureau, he sought the Arabs’ benefit rather than their undoing. This is not a marginal point. Among the collaborators there are many who consider themselves true nationalists and, like Tawil, justify their deeds with arguments of national interest.

This element of Tawil’s motivation bothered the United Bureau officials. In his aforementioned pamphlet Tariq al-Hayyah (The Way of Life) which he circulated in the late summer of 1930, Tawil did level harsh criticism at the Mufti and the Supreme Muslim Council, but he argued that the leadership had to be replaced because its bungling would ultimately lead to the Arabs’ being forced to emigrate. In attacking Husseini he wrote: ‘are you really unaware that our survival in this country depends on our holding on to the land and ensuring it remains ours?’

This highlights the patriotism of Tawil, which could not be reconciled with the approach of the Zionist institutions and especially not with that of Alhadif, who was well aware of the discrepancy. The latter, unlike several of his colleagues, cast doubt from the outset on all plans to co-operate with Arabs which were based on the principle of equality and mutual assistance. He wondered ‘whether it is at all in our interest to strengthen the Arab fellah and foster the Arab laborer, whether this cannot harm us greatly in respect of land purchases, which are the very most important matter … instead of a weak and penniless adversary we will cultivate a strong and well-endowed one’. In other words, Alhadif opposed a real alliance for the benefit of the two sides, which was among the fundamental arguments of Zionist propaganda. On the other hand, the collaborators believed—or wanted to believe—in the Zionist rhetoric (which they too were asked to propagate) that the Jews intended to develop the country in favour of all its inhabitants, and they chose to ignore the Zionists’ desire to establish a Jewish state with all its implications.

In retrospect, this was probably an unbridgeable gap. Alhadif’s approach dominated the Zionist movement’s relations with the Arabs of Palestine, since the Zionist mainstream never offered the Arabs a genuine partnership in Palestine, and this approach could not be reconciled even with the positions of men like Tawil, whose writing ascribed some measure of validity to the Arab population’s interests. Therefore, the Bureau saw fit to enjoy the support of Tawil and his colleagues so long as they propagated Zionist rhetoric, attacked the national leadership or fomented discord between Muslims and Christians. But when they attempted to sound an authentic voice or to collect some remuneration for the risk they undertook—they became superfluous, were labelled as despicable mercenaries, and the Bureau severed all links with them.