Marcelo Svirsky & Ronnen Ben-Arie. Interventions. Volume 21, Issue 4. 2019.
Racialisation represents a response to the crisis occasioned when colonisers are threatened with the requirement to share social space with the colonised. (Wolfe 2016)
Before Zionist immigration began making a historical impact in the early twentieth century, the Arab majority of Palestine lived not just quite in harmony with the Jewish minority, most of them Oriental Jews (or Arab-Jews), but these two communities shared a wide range of social practices from sheer neighbourhood and the cohesions that common housing creates, to elite cooperation, commercial partnerships, sharing pastime activities, even political activism, and to some extent, also shared education (Dockser-Marcus 2007; Campos 2011; Jacobson 2011; Yazbak and Weiss 2011; Klein 2014; Tamari and Nassar 2014; Cohen 2015a, 2015b). Yet these practices did not survive the encounter with Zionism. In this essay we offer a reading of the historical binding and unbinding social forces that explain their disappearance, along with the emergence, organization, and constitution of the Zionist body in Palestine. The theoretical framework that best explains the colonization of Palestine by the Zionist movement is settler colonial theory (Wolfe 1999, 2006, 2016; Veracini 2006, 2010, 2015). We join its major assumptions and premises but ask to rethink some of them. According to the late Australian historian Patrick Wolfe, the logic of Indigenous elimination is what explains the dynamics of settler colonialism (1999, 2006, 2016). It explains not only the initial impetus and forces of settlers in the first stages of conquest but, crucially, this logic also explains the ongoing structures of law, culture, and the politics by means of which settler colonial societies continue to attempt to eliminate Indigenous ways of life and to appropriate Indigenous historical assets. Over time, the strategies of elimination may change, from genocide and ethnic cleansing to complementary practices of brute exclusion and controlled inclusion (Wolfe 1999). But whatever these policy transformations look like, the directive logic of elimination remains. Following Wolfe, “settler colonialism has both negative and positive dimensions. Negatively, it strives for the dissolution of Native societies. Positively, the ongoing requirement to eliminate the Native alternative continues to shape the colonial society that settlers construct on their expropriated land base” (2016, 33). Both dimensions constitute one reality; that is, the practices of elimination of native forms of life, and those forming the emergent settler community, are reciprocally constitutive, and in fact, from an ontological point of view, cannot and should not be differentiated. These are not two sides of a machine, nor two dimensions, but inseparable operations forming one dialectical reality. Arab Palestinian life cannot be thought today in isolation from the impacts that the Zionist project has had and still has on the reproduction of this form of life, as much as the Zionist settler body is nothing but the result of the assembled parts that the loss of native life provided. In what follows, by looking into the case of settler colonialism in Palestine, a corrective to the logic of elimination is offered.
We begin with a story from the middle, with an episode. Decisively, in our attempt to interpret the settler colonial formation in Palestine, strict chronology gives way to the systemic character of invasion (Wolfe 2016, 125, n35). One such episode from the middle is that of Sir Ellis Kadoorie, a Jewish philanthropist with family origins in Iraq who willed the sum of £120,000 to be spent on education in Palestine, “without distinction as to race or creed” (Abcarius 1943, 149). Sir Ellis died in 1922, and a year later the British Administration in Palestine “had decided on setting up an agricultural school to serve both Arabs and Jews on the lines of English public schools” (Abcarius 1943, 150). At that point already, the consequences that the Balfour Declaration had on the Arabs of Palestine were felt; namely, Arab resistance was mounting to counter the progress the Zionist settler enclave was making on the ground, so setting up a mixed school was an alleged attempt to foster better understanding between Arabs and Jews. Moreover, as Abcarius explains, “a joint educational scheme was in harmony with the spirit of the bequest” (150). An important fold in this story is the intervention of Frederick Kisch, who was born in India to a colonial British-Jewish family, became the highest ranking Jew to serve in the British Army, and joined the Zionist movement in 1922. Kisch was serving as the Head of the Jerusalem District of the Zionist Commission to Palestine (a Jewish semi-governmental body set up by the British whose role was to lead the realization of the promises given in the Balfour Declaration) when the Kadoorie bequest was discussed in the government. His position on this matter was unambiguous:
I opposed the scheme as firmly as possible on the main ground that at the present stage of development of our national home it is essential that our education should be national in character, emphasising that the Mandatory Government was really pledged to support us in our desire to secure this. (Abcarius 1943, 150)
The alternative that the Zionists insisted on was to set up two secondary schools, one exclusively Arab and one exclusively Jewish. An Arab agricultural school was set up in Tulkarm and opened in 1930, whereas the Jewish counterpart was opened near Mount Tavor in 1933. At least two questions can be raised regarding Kisch’s position. One is if it was exceptional in relation to the educational landscape of Palestine, and the other, if it was exceptional in relation to unfolding Zionist practices.
The second question is thoroughly answered in the following pages. The Kadoorie episode is one illustration of the separatist policies of the Jewish immigrant-settlers. As for the first question, we need to move backwards to late Ottoman times. As Salim Tamari explains, “One should not forget … the impact of … public schools established by the Ottoman authorities in the last third of the nineteenth century in bringing together in one classroom children who had previously gone to their own Qur’anic kuttab or Talmud schools (heder)” (2008, 153). Yet, though there was some mixed attendance in urban centres and private schools (Pappé 2004, 32), shared spaces in public schools were only a small part of the educational landscape of Palestine. Michelle Campos clarifies that by the time of the 1908 Young Turk revolution, “state institutions primarily educated Muslim students, whereas Christian and Jewish students by and large attended their own confessional or foreign-run schools” (2011, 83). Projecting European racial paradigms, by the 1920s Palestine had grown a dual educational system. This complex educational landscape was captured by the British in the Peel Commission Report (formally known as the Palestine Royal Commission Report) published in July 1937. In chapter 16 the report states this about mixed schools:
Their curriculum is broader than that of the Jewish or the Arab schools; their educational ideals and methods are western, and, in most of them, a specifically Christian type of character is aimed at. No encouragement is given either to Jewish or to Arab nationalism, not so much by suppression of these aspirations as by diversion of interest into other channels. Personal relations are normally good. In all the schools friendships between children of different races are common, and they are often received in one another’s homes. The unifying interests of school life have been found on the whole more powerful than the political antipathies of the parents … [And] during the disturbances, the mixed schools, with few exceptions, fared well. (Palestine Royal Commission Report 1937, 341)
The Peel Report praises the social effects of mixed schools, but it also acknowledges their limitations: “While the sons and daughters of many politically minded Arabs attend these mixed schools for the sake of the good education which they offer … Little impression has been made … on Jewish nationalism as a whole.” In addition, “common though interracial friendships are in school days, they often fail to survive the passage into adult life; the segregation of the races and the pressure of home influence both operate powerfully on the side of nationalism” (341-342).
Shared education was therefore not the rule but the exception. In contrast, close relations between Arabs and Jews in almost all areas of life were evident in urban neighbourhoods during Ottoman times. The discontinuation of these ties began during the second wave of Zionist immigration or Aliyah (1904-1914) with the development of separatist ideas, practices, and new institutional arrangements pushed by the Zionists. For the first time in modernity, a caesura in the way Arab-Jewish relations were perceived and practised in Palestine was opened. This rupture was the result of the differences between two sets of attitudes towards the very existence of Arab-Jewish contact: on the one hand the attitudes of the Arabs of Palestine and their brethren the Jews from Oriental descent considered as natives by the Arabs, and on the other hand the attitudes of European Jews coming into the country, refusing to immerse themselves in Palestinian society. As Cohen explains, “the Eastern European immigrants, particularly those who came from socialists frameworks, did not wish or need to integrate as part of the existent Sephardic community in Palestine, neither did they desire to integrate this community in the new Zionist system” they were forming (2015a, 185; see also Klein 2014, 63). For the colonists, Palestine’s reality had to be remade. As the Sephardi intellectual Hayyim Ben-Kiki diagnosed in 1921, “When the new [European-Zionist] settler comes to the Land, he does not come to accommodate and adjust. The precise opposite is the case: he comes to make others adapt to him” (Behar and Benite 2013, 105).
Jacobson (2003) captured this disagreement in her reading of Hebrew newspapers in the pre-World War I period. According to Jacobson, while two newspapers affiliated to the Zionist workers’ political parties were focused on national issues that in their essence ignored the rights of the Arabs, articles in the Sephardic newspaper ha-Herut (“freedom”) indicated a preoccupation with the question of how to cooperate “with the Arabs of Palestine, realizing that they are a key element for the future life of the Jewish community in the country” (105-106). As stated by the Military Governor of Jaffa, Lt. Colonel John E. Hubbard, in his report to London dated November 20 1918, “What the Arabs fear is not the Jews in Palestine but the Jews who are coming to Palestine” (Ingrams 1972, 45). Tamari puts the issue in this way:
Within the rising tide of Arab national sentiment in Palestine and Syria there was a clear differentiation between the European non-Ottoman Jews and the ‘native Israelites.’ An anti-Zionist petition signed in Jerusalem in November 1918 by a number of Palestinian intellectuals makes the point that ‘it is our wish to live in a satisfactory manner with our brothers the Israelites, the indigenous inhabitants of the country, with complete equality between their rights and obligations and ours’ … Similarly, the First Palestinian Congress meeting in February 1919 issued an anti-Zionist manifesto that rejected Zionist immigration while welcoming those Jews ‘among them who have been Arabicized, who have been living in our province since before the war; they are as we are, and their loyalties are our own.’ (Tamari 2008, 165)
Such a distinction existed because Arab-Jewish relations in modern Palestine had a history. Ancient historical bonds existed between Muslims and Jews for more than fourteen centuries. Compared with the fate of the Jewish communities in Europe, scholars have portrayed Jewish-Muslim relations in the medieval world in a positive light, particularly those relations as they evolved during the Golden Age in Al-Andalus. A series of factors converged in the Islamic world: a long history of physical proximity, low anti-Jewish violence, a plausible legal status deriving from Islamic religious pluralism, and the fact that “Jews were not limited to a small range of pursuits isolated from the rest of the population in deplored professions like moneylending, as in Europe” (Cohen 2015a, 31-32). According to García-Arenal (2013), Al-Andalus does not constitute a unique example of cultural interaction between Jews and Muslims. In fact, this sort of alliance can also be found in other Islamic regions, such as in Egypt and Iraq (Shiblak 2005; Shohat 2006).
Similar conditions never existed in Europe until late in the twentieth century, while on the other hand, already in the eleventh century, Jewish Iberian poet Moshe ibn Ezra believed “that Arabic is the vehicle of civilization” (Meddeb and Stora 2013, 18). What identified the Jewish-Oriental communities together is their “affinities with … and a sense of belonging to … the Middle East, or Orient, its peoples and cultures” (Behar and Benite 2013, xxiii, xxviii). As Hillel Cohen explains, the emergence of Arab Jewish identity took place as a result of the adoption of Arab ways of life by the Jews in Muslim societies, so many Jews spoke Arabic, the Jewish elite wrote in that language, they dressed like their Arab neighbours, and there was a striking similarity in the structure of the family (2015b, 172-76). As stated by Sephardi intellectual Hayyim Ben-Kiki in relation to Oriental Jews, their “soul was forged and formed along several generations with the Arab peoples” (Behar and Benite 2013, 103-104). In the Ottoman Empire, Jews did not live in a closed circuit but were connected by many ties to the Ottoman phenomenon in its entirety, and in Palestine, at the beginning of the Ottoman era, explains Ben Naeh, “Even if the Jews preferred the proximity of their coreligionists, there was no ghettoization or areas specifically set apart for Jews or for Christians. The areas of Jewish residences, which sprang up spontaneously, did not have hermetic borders” (2013, 205).
If Palestinian Arabs and Jews saw each other as natives of the land it is because they shared a common historical and cultural experience for a long time, in the same territory. As Klein states, “Before nationalism brutally separated the two words ‘Arab’ and ‘Jew’ … Arab-Jewish identity was a fact of life, something encountered daily by the country’s natives” (2014, 19). Crucially, the conflict that evolved “was a disturbance in this local identity” and eventually defeated it (ix). As Tamari puts it, “the majority of native Jews spoke Arabic” (2008, 152; see also Cohen 2015a, 173-180; Eliachar 1983, 15-16). The use of “native” to refer to the Oriental Jews of Ottoman Palestine was common then, as it is still common today in scholarship to refer to that period (Klein 2014, 45). According to Tamari:
In contemporary narratives of the late Ottoman period, such as in the autobiographies and diaries of Khalil Sakakini and Wasif Jawhariyyeh, native Jews of Palestine were often referred to as ‘abna al balad’ (sons of the country), ‘compatriots,’ and ‘yahud awlad Arab’ (Jewish sons of Arabs). (Tamari 2008, 164)
Arab-Jewish intimate life developed in urban centres, particularly in the four Holy Cities of Palestine, Safed, Tiberias, Hebron, and Jerusalem, where the majority of Arab-Jews lived, but also in Jaffa and Haifa. Arab-Jewish everyday life and the amalgamation of Arab-Jewish identity were two sides of the same coin—a cultural formation and medium that expressed the significant political and social inclusiveness that existed at the local level. The residential compound was the basis of the local identity, and “neighbors shared celebrations and tragedies” (Klein 2014, 37). That identity “meant more than coexistence and residing one beside the other. Lifestyles, languages, and culture created a common identity that centred on a sense of belonging to a place and to the people who live there” (21).
The works of Menachem Klein, Michelle Campos, Salim Tamari, Issam Nassar, Moshe Behar, Ami Dockser Marcus, Mahmoud Yazbak, Yair Wallach, Julia Philips Cohen, Yuval Ben-Bassat, Hillel Cohen, and Abigail Jacobson are replete with similar chronicles by Arab and Jewish writers from memoirs, newspapers, and other sources that documented their close relations in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safed, Hebron, Jaffa, and Haifa before Zionism. Odd as it may sound to the contemporary observer, “There was no mental boundary separating Muslim and Jew. The walls of language and culture were low ones, and Jews and Arabs who entered the physical or linguistic zone of the Other felt no sense of being alien” (Klein 2014, 45). Importantly, these scholars do not romanticize Arab-Jewish relations during Ottoman times, and they emphasize that these relations were not ideal. Yet, until the riots of 1929, crises took place as “brief interruptions against a background of close relations in everyday life” (38).
The assimilatory, self-proclaimed egalitarian policy of Ottomanization propelled by the 1908 Young Turk revolution posed practical questions to the communities in Palestine. For many Ottoman Muslims, the alleged equalizing aims of the new civic Ottomanism raised concerns in relation to the future of Islam’s standing as the Empire’s long-lasting religion, as regards the legal and political privileges that Muslims had enjoyed for centuries. For other Ottoman Muslims, those with a liberal inclination such as the noted politician and author Ruhi al-Khalidi, the revolution was the direct outcome of the “Ottoman dynasty’s tyranny itself” (Campos 2011, 45). For some non-Muslims holding foreign citizenship, the demand for Ottoman naturalization that Ottomanism implied was entangled with hesitancies about losing the invaluable protection of foreign consulates given under the Capitulations regime that the Empire was forced to uphold, not to mention the fear of conscription that taking up Ottoman citizenship involved. This was the case for the orthodox Ashkenazi Jews and for most of the Zionist immigrants. Others, including some central figures in the Zionist community, such as David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and Moshe Sharett, expressed their public support “in favour of Ottomanism and were active in the Ottomanization committees,” but what really motivated them were the national interests of the Jewish community in the country as expressed in Zionism. Ottomanism, then, was thought from the keyhole of Jewish survival in Palestine, in instrumental terms (Jacobson 2011, 96-97). For these leaders:
Participation in the new Ottoman political system was a good strategy, but it was devoid of the inherent value it had for Ottomanist Jews in Palestine. For these instrumentalists, participation in imperial public life was desirable only inasmuch as it would allow Palestinian Jews to push for Zionist separatist aims. (Campos 2011, 202)
In sharp contrast, Sephardim were very supportive of the new civic Ottomanism; it confirmed and expanded their habitus as Ottoman citizens; and it gave ratification to their sentiments as loyal and committed Ottoman citizens. But this support was complicated by the Zionist question. This is because while Ottomanism presented itself as an inclusive project, Zionism was particularistic. While the former offered one imperial citizenship for all now under egalitarian terms, the latter aspired to tear Palestine apart from the Empire to establish a Jewish condominium. Yet it took time for the tension to crystallize. In the pre-revolutionary era Zionism had not been an option for Ottoman Jews, but by the first years of the new century, second Aliyah’s practical Zionism was gaining presence with immigration, land settlement, and the establishment of Hebraist nationalist cultural institutions, thus becoming a material reality that could offer a new framework for Jewish life. As Campos explains, the revolution “coincided with the community’s progressive exposure to and reception of the ideas and institutions of European Zionism” (2011, 461), an exposure that was enabled by the freedoms that the Ottoman revolution at first promoted (proliferating political parties, societies, and newspapers), making Zionism a significant player on the political scene.
However, Sephardim split between those “who claimed that Ottomanism and Zionism were perfectly or very nearly perfectly compatible” and those who “believed quite simply that Zionism is contrary to Ottoman patriotism” (Campos 2011, 210). The latter camp voiced its critique of Zionism in the Sephardi press, and some, like the Izmir poet Reuben Qattan, went as far as to claim that Zionism would be a catastrophe for the Jews (Campos 2011, 210). Many Oriental Jews saw Zionism as both a legitimate expression of Jews’ collective cultural aspirations and “a fortuitous boon that would bring tremendous economic and social utility to their beloved empire” (Campos 2011, 461). This type of Zionism, termed by Jacobson as inclusive Zionism (2011, 178), “divorced Hebraic and Judaic cultural and social renaissance and local communal and economic development on the one hand, from Jewish autonomy, anti-Ottoman separatism, and national statehood on the other” as practised by the Ashkenazi Zionists in Palestine (Campos 2011, 209-210). Jewish immigration to Palestine was seen by pro-Zionist Sephardim as a just remedy for those persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe, and they believed Zionism could contribute to the wellbeing of Ottomans by way of its economic activities. More generally, they saw in Zionism an opportunity to revive Jewish culture, but significantly, they consciously divorced these principles from the territorial-political aspirations of the European Zionist movement. Intellectuals such as Nissim Malul and Shimon Moyal, Oriental Jews, fluent in Arabic, activists and journalists, represented this Sephardic pro-Zionist position (Jacobson 2011, 165-182). Not only the emphasis on cultural Hebraism rather than political territorialism stood at the centre of their Zionist belief, but no less importantly, the determination to maintain close Arab-Jewish relations and the call to Jewish immigrants to learn Arabic, and immerse themselves in the local culture. For them, these ideas were inseparable from the general project of Jewish revival in Palestine. Three principles characterized the Sephardic pro-Zionist position: a shared homeland with the Arabs, Ottomanism, and cultural Hebraism. The notion of the shared homeland was at odds with the exclusive territoriality that the Zionist settlers were invested in to ground the infrastructure of the future Jewish state. For these Sephardim, affirming Arab-Jewish shared life was meant to be the common denominator to bridge their Ottomanism and support of Zionism. As Jacobson stresses, for these Oriental Jews, “becoming an Ottoman citizen was seen as one of the ways to approach the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, mainly the Muslim among them, and to reach a better understanding between the peoples” (2011, 93), so in their eyes there was a direct connection between the question of Ottomanization and the question of Arab-Jewish relations. A brief look at the position expressed by the Sephardi newspaper Haherut, as explained by Behar, is very telling:
Haherut supported the principal Zionist idea of Jewish territorial in-gathering, though in a manner that differed greatly from other Ashkenazi Zionist bodies. It supported, for example, the Young Turks’ 1908 Revolution enthusiastically and promoted their new constitution and its attempt to legally and socio-politically anchor modern civic arrangements for—and between—the Empire’s subjects. Haherut was the sole institutionally organized Zionist body that advocated for integration of the Zionist idea within the new Ottoman framework and, by so doing, fostered egalitarian interethnic and interreligious cooperation with all communities, Palestinian Arabs included. Most Ashkenazi Zionists at the time disparaged the (Eastern) idea of ‘modern Ottomania.’ (Behar and Benite 2013, 121-122)
At its most significant level, the Ottomanism vs. Zionism debate that punctured and split the Oriental Jewish community was the first public instance when Arab-Jewish shared life was questioned in an open fashion. The Ottomanization debate became an arena of struggle of identities, belongings, and loyalties, and it would not be the last.
Largely, the European Zionists were content with just one form of mediation on the part of their Oriental co-religionists, that is, to be helped to bypass the legal restrictions on land purchasing set by the Ottoman government. This is how many well-respected Sephardic Jews found themselves acting as intermediaries in the fraudulent business of buying land for Zionist settlement that in many cases led to the eviction of Palestinian peasants from land their families and clans had cultivated and lived on for centuries, causing nothing less than depriving them of their means of subsistence and their habitat. One such famous figure was Albert Antébi. Though Antébi was seen by the radical Zionists as an enemy for his ardent support of Ottomanism and good Arab-Jewish relations, he took advantage of his citizenship and social status to help the Zionist movement a great deal (Campos 2011, 209-223). Regardless, for the European Jews, the Arab-Jews were Arabs, that is to say, members of a backward culture stuck in the past (Klein 2014, 102-104). Activities in Palestine such as Nissim Malul’s teaching of Arabic among Jews were attacked by the European settlers as an “internal threat” tantamount to assimilation (Behar and Benite 2013, 64-70; see also Jacobson 2011).
Eventually, the Oriental Jews found themselves taking sides. By the second decade of the twentieth century the tension between the Arab component in the identity of the Oriental Jews and their ambivalent will to collaborate with the Zionist enterprise which had already arisen earlier, became “an untenable position” (Tamari 2008, 155). It was not long until the Oriental Jews of Palestine found themselves as a minority compared with the growing numbers of Ashkenazi Jews, but also as holding a minor discourse as it concerned the political and social agenda on the question of Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine. Between the aspiration to some form of equality and the sharing of Palestine by Arabs and Jews that the Oriental Jews supported, and the Jewish European desire of the Zionist settlers to establish an exclusivist Jewish State—the latter had the upper hand, as we know. As Campos explains:
By 1914, a process had taken place that succeeded in realigning Muslims, Christians, and Jews, for local, imperial, and geopolitical reasons. This occurred hand in hand with the growth of the Zionist movement, which itself actively sought to segregate indigenous Jews from their neighbors, their environment, and their empire. Ultimately, though, separation in Palestine between Jews and Arabs came about as the result of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict—it was not the cause. (Campos 2011, 19)
The Balfour Declaration—by means of which in 1917 the British granted Palestine to the Zionist movement to build a “national home”—became a new test for the Arab-Jews, as it forced them to take one more step and choose sides (Cohen 2015a, 56). The opposition to the Balfour Declaration led to an Arab Delegation to be sent to London in July 1921. In interviews given to the press, the delegation stressed the good relations that Arabs and Oriental Jews had before Zionism, implying an existing opposition of views across the Jewish sectors in Palestine. This suggestion was publicly rejected by some Sephardi leaders in the country, who found it necessary to clarify their loyalty to Zionism (190-191).
It proved hard to extend a bridge between two emerging nationalisms on the background of a native-settler conflict. As much as Oriental Jews wished to become a bridge, there were not many Jewish settlers in the Yishuv (Jewish community) willing to cross over and reach out to the Arabs. The balance was tilted finally in 1929. The thesis put forward by Hillel Cohen is that the 1929 riots were the breaking point in the effort of the Arab-Jews to navigate between identities (2015a, 192-197; 2015b). For Cohen, the Arab attacks on their old Jewish neighbours in Sefad, Hebron, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Jaffa, killing 133 of them, need to be explained in terms of the end of an era: “when the Arabs attacked, they made no distinction between Jews of different political views, or between those who came from long-established families and those who were relative newcomers” (2015b, 256). At that point, for the Arabs, they were all Jews somehow involved in the project of dispossessing them from their ancestral land (2015a, 194-196); internal differences did not matter anymore. For the Oriental Jews, this was the end of dual loyalty and the inauguration of the attempts to become an integral part of Zionist institutions, an attempt that—given the racial topography of Zionism—was doomed to fail.
The bifurcation of economy and society, and the emergence of a Jewish enclave extricated from the Palestinian space, finally became visible by the end of the 1920s (Pappé 2004, 93-94; see also Smith 1993). This process was the result of several Zionist separatist policies in the areas of land, labour, everyday economic relations, and culture. One such important strategy was the exclusivist relation to land established by the Zionist movement. The general pattern that arose was that following the purchase of land from Arab absentee landowners, “villagers [peasant-tenants] were forcibly removed from lands sold to Zionists” (Shafir 1989, 41-44). In 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress held in Basel, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was founded. Its task was to organize buying and developing land for settlement in Palestine. At that Congress the most fundamental racial principles of Jewish colonization were established: land purchased by the JNF could not be resold, and could be leased only to Jewish settlers. Land was made into national capital. This method of national Jewish permanent ownership, Shafir explains, accomplished three complementary tasks:
It not only did exclude non-Jews from control of land once acquired by the JNF, but at one fell swoop abolished private ownership of land and replaced it by hereditary land leasing. Land purchased by the JNF could not be resold, as it was held in trusteeship for the whole nation. Nor it could be sublet in order to ensure that the usufruct would belong to the actual cultivator. (Shafir 1989, 155)
However, it would be only after 1907 that the JNF involvement in the purchasing of land for Jewish settlement would begin to have significant impacts. Until then, and since the First Zionist Congress of 1897, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Jewish immigrants in Palestine were preoccupied with creating stable conditions of employment, without which no further immigration could be called for. This brings us to the realm of labour. Another important strategy of colonization was that of the “conquest of labour,” the Jewish-only labour strategy adopted in 1905, coined in Hebrew as Avoda Ivrit (Hebrew labour). As Shafir (1989) explains, the Jewish-only labour strategy emerged as a response to a labour conflict between the First Aliyah landowners (small plantations) and the Second Aliyah landless workers; the preference of the former to hire Arab peasants (fellahin) drove the latter to forge alternative ideas for employment. Significantly, to conquer labour and retain it in Jewish hands away from the open market and Arab competition, this doctrine had to rely on Jewish funding from overseas as a form of subsidy, since Jewish workers insisted on maintaining a standard of living above Arab wages. Metropolitan capital—funding from the Jewish diaspora recruited in a global Zionist effort—was far more significant in the furthering of the Zionist project. It was “Zionism’s indispensable preaccumulation,” and in fact, without the freedom of not conditioning this financial lactation on profit “there could have been no Conquest of Labour—and, accordingly no kibbutzim, no Histadrut and, ultimately, no Jewish state” (Wolfe 2016, 228).
As Ella Shohat explains, “Avoda Ivrit had tragic consequences engendering political tensions not only between Arabs and Jews, but also between Sephardim and Ashkenazim as well as between Sephardim and Palestinians” (1998, 13). Avoda Ivrit was not met with approval on the side of the old Sephardic Yishuv. As both Jacobson and Behar noted from a reading of the Sephardi newspaper Haherut, its writers “warned against the exclusion of Palestinian fellahin from newly established Zionist farms, arguing that this ran the risk of harming the long-term interests of Jewish revival in Palestine” (Behar and Benite 2013, 123). Dockser-Marcus also reported on the issue that the Sephardi public activist Antébi “disliked the way the Zionists loudly proclaimed that they would hire only Jews to work on their settlements, angering Muslim peasants who had toiled on the land for years” (2007, 53). The doctrine aroused even more anger among the Oriental Jews as a result of the Yemeni experiment (the infamous “Yavnieli mission”)—to recruit “Jews in the form of Arabs” (Shohat 1998, 14)—another failed strategy to homogenize the labour force.
The opposition of the Arab-Jews to the conquest of labour explains only partially why in the story of settler colonialism in Palestine, discourses on the Oriental Jews and the Arabs of Palestine should be situated in relation to each other. The newly racialized spaces proved in no sense passing or temporary. Towards Arab Palestinians, the labour market has remained a racially differentiated space ever since (part of their comprehensive exclusion), but more generally, the doctrine restructured the labour market and eventually the entirety of the emerging Jewish social spaces—striating these spaces with racial coordinates—thus preparing them for newer actualizations. For Shafir, the conclusion of these and other developments in the early twentieth century is inescapable: the “ways in which the Jewish workers used the lessons they learned from the labour market conflict, [shaped] Israeli nationalism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general” (1989, 55). Indeed, Shafir adds, the reconfiguration of the labour market “left its imprint on all social relations in the Yishuv, and excited the passions more than any other single question” (215). If Zionism was initially inspired by the reasonable desire to create a refuge for the European Jews free of the forms of racism that made Jewish life intolerable for centuries, how could Zionists—in their ideological and practical incorporation of race—expect to accomplish that historical mission? It seems tragic to us, that against their own history and background, in their remaking of Judaism in Palestine the Ashkenazi Zionists refused to consider the Oriental Jewish alternative that reflected centuries of relative but practical harmony with the Arab native.
In the space of the labour market, Arab workers and their trade unions had no inherent interest in separatism; in fact, some Arab labour organizations were eager to build solidarities (Lockman 1996, 179-239). At times, and under certain circumstances—as both Lockman and Bernstein reveal—joint and cooperative action of Arab and Jewish workers did take place during the years of the British Mandate. The Histadrut (the General Organization of Hebrew Workers in the Land of Israel) in particular and the Labour Movement leadership more generally were paramount in their obstructionism of Arab-Jewish class solidarity, including personal intervention on many occasions by important political figures in the Zionist establishment to prevent joint union action such as strikes, voting on action, and demonstrations—using coercion, threats, and a range of divisive manipulations (Lockman 1996, 125, 138, 188, 230-234; Pappé 2004, 111-116; Grinberg 2013, 60-89). Though the Arab elite was not innocent of negative intervention itself, Pappé insists “the Zionist elite tried more than its Palestinian counterpart to kill the instinct for cooperation” (2004, 114).
With the influx of Eastern European Zionists into the northern city of Haifa at the turn of the century:
Instead of settling in the old neighbourhood of the Ottoman Jews in the Muslim quarter, harat al-yahud, [they] built themselves a new quarter, soon called ard al-yahud, on the western slopes of the Carmel, while in 1909 they started a third, also on the western slopes, above the German Colony, to which they gave the name Herzliyya. (Yazbak 1998, 201) [Similarly, around the same time, Tel Aviv was established outside and apart from Jaffa.]
Later waves of Zionist immigration sharpened the isolationism of Jewish everyday life in Haifa. These attitudes negatively impacted on the ways Arabs began perceiving their Jewish neighbours as a threat to take over the city (Yazbak 1998, 220-222). The emerging cosmopolitan city of late Ottoman times was now battling for its identity. As Nathansohn and Shiblak explain, “The rapid development of the city as a successful colonial enterprise … allowed for a communal coexistence” but, on the other hand, “a parallel track of development that laid the ground for establishing a ‘Jewish national home’ … motivated segregation and conflict” (2011, 189). Ultimately, “separate neighbourhoods, separate communal institutions, separate economic enterprises, and separate labour organizations were on the increase, [they] overshadowed points of contact and direct interaction” (Bernstein 2000, 207).
Muslims, Christians, and Jews had a life in common during Ottoman times, but during the British Mandate these relations became recontextualized by the native-settler conflict and coloured by nationalism, and characterized by a series of demographic changes, and economic, cultural, and urban separation. The historical picture that arises is one of a rupture between two worlds: while Ottoman Arab-Jewish sociabilities were forged over a long time and shaped a common texture of everyday life, Mandatory Palestine witnessed a rupture that made visible a social landscape comprised of two discernible communities running in parallel:
Like two rivers flowing side-by-side through the same landscape; here and there they came closer together; sometimes they even joined courses, projecting an impression of one flow. But facing an obstacle on their path they would split again, returning to their separate ways … The closer we get to the end of the Mandate, the more distant and alienated these relations become. (Hasan and Ayalon 2011, 97)
What once was a reality could not be continued. This was the impression emerging from the 1937 Peel Report: the inverse relation between cohabitation and the Zionist settler colonial project was clear to the international observer. As the report states, “the will to co-operate has never been strong enough to survive a crisis” (145). Just a few years later, British reports abounded with descriptions of the reality of segregation: “There are Chambers of Commerce in the principal towns, to watch over the interests of traders in general, but unfortunately in every town there are separate ones for Jews and Arabs” (Naval Intelligence 1943, 294). In sharp contrast to the everyday practice of shared life in the Ottoman era, Arab-Jewish contact in the Mandate period began to be thought of and addressed as a problem rather than an everyday self-evident reality, more precisely as a response to the conditions created by the native-settler conflict.
Many Oriental Jews remained in close proximity to the Arabs, even after 1929, and Oriental Jews who immigrated in this period generally moved into what Jacobson and Naor called the “frontier” neighbourhoods, or as they were referred to in Zionist public discourse, “Oriental ghettos” (2016, 121-149). These were quarters between Jaffa and Tel Aviv (the Yemeni quarter, Neve Shalom, Manshiyya), in Haifa (mainly in Harat al-Yahud), and in Jerusalem (Nachlaot)—“all located on a border between a Jewish neighborhood and an Arab village or neighborhood” (Jacobson and Naor 2016, 124). Also in Tiberias, Safed, Acre, and Beisan (Beit-Shean), Oriental Jews continued to live together with the Arab population, until 1948. Coded by the Ashkenazi society as a mark of backwardness and lack of Zionist commitment, this Arab-Jewish proximity was also racially articulated as an impediment to welcoming the Oriental Jews as equal partners into Zionist institutional life and leadership.
The Zionist separatist impetus needs to be thought across the different social spheres, and in relation towards all of Palestine’s natives: the eviction of the fellahin from the land and the consequent dispossession of their source of livelihood; the race-motivated refusal to become immersed in the Arab cultural world of the Oriental Jewish community; the lack of openness to embracing the Arab-Jews by the Zionist institutions that was mainstream in the Zionist Yishuv; and the institutionalization of education, culture, and politics apart from the native society of Palestine—these things resonated with each other, gave life to the settlerist colonization of Palestine.
By the third decade of the twentieth century, the becoming-state of the Yishuv encompassed “a military organisation and political, social, economic, and financial institutions separate from those of the indigenous population as well as from the British Mandatory Administration” (Smith 1993, 3). In this light, it can be claimed that “partition” as a model did not erupt as a despairing political response to the failure and unwillingness of the British to run the country. The 1937 Peel proposal for the partition of Palestine was an enunciation that materialized what at that time it was possible to say as much as to see. Namely, the Peel proposal was not an omen, a notice of what is about to happen (Svirsky and Ben-Arie 2019). Rather, it was an event telling that “something significant had already happened; some turning points had already occurred in the material constitution of the political” (MacKenzie 2008, 17). Metzer demonstrated that by the end of the British Mandate, the separation between the economies was almost complete: 95 percent of all Arab labour was employed within the Arab economy, producing “about 40 percent of the country’s annual output” (1998, 204, 219, 239-240). As this reality of partition was shaping, the urge for cohabitation and cooperation between Arabs and Jews as Pappé defined it continued to inhabit the social spaces of Palestine under British rule. As Pappé notes:
The Mandate created a space in which a basic human urge towards cohabitation and cooperation could exist. It surfaced at times that nationalists considered mundane and unimportant, such as when natural disasters like earthquakes occurred (1926), and when businesses were declining at times of economic crisis or booming in times of prosperity. Such calamities or blessings engendered human responses that transcended national identities. In Palestine these joint responses occurred where people who lived with occupational hazards realized trade union options, shared anti-government sentiments, coped with bad harvests, or faced famine and epidemics. These, and many other, circumstances led people to coexist and cooperate on non-national levels of class solidarity, common occupations, or common problems such as employers and unemployment. (Pappé 2004, 109)
Pappé goes as far as to claim that for the Zionists, “this natural urge was far more detrimental to the nationalist project than was British colonialism” (109), that is, dissolving the urge for a shared life was a conditio sine qua non in the making of the Zionist settler colony. Every instance of joint action—everyday encounters in the market and other public spaces in the towns, the strike of Arab and Jewish truck drivers in 1931 that for eight days paralyzed the country, the political activity in the Palestinian Communist Party, the economic cooperation in certain industries, and the clerks’ strike just a few months before the end of the Mandate (111-115)—all these stood in sharp opposition to the separatist agendas that, by then, both political elites had adopted.
The Avoda Ivrit doctrine and its additional impacts on the racialization of everyday consumption under the banner of “Jews should buy only Hebrew-labour made products, sold by Jewish business” (Toledano and McKie 2013, 115), the Jewish-only Histadrut, the segregated new urban neighbouhoods, the establishment of separatist cooperative agricultural settlements, Hebraist education, the composition of a highly distinctive settler culture, the foundation of Jewish paramilitary forces, and the consolidation of Jewish autonomous and vibrant political institutions—these became the social territories on which a new social aggregation was being cultivated. While during Ottoman times (First and Second Aliyot) Arab-Jewish everyday shared life was seen by the Zionists as a model that must be replaced, it was only with the political advantages that the British Mandate granted the Zionist movement and the increasing numbers of Zionist immigrants that the project of rejection of shared life took a definite form.
Yet, from the viewpoint of the separation of the Arab and Jewish communities during the Mandate years, there is at least one more question to address. Were these new social spaces internally open and integrative? Segregations, as race-motivated governmentalities, seek to expand, to realize further actualizations. As a result of Avoda Ivrit, and the various Zionist policies that followed—not two, we argue, but three societies emerged in Palestine. Two societies, torn apart along an emerging national axis (Arabs and Jews) under the Mandatory umbrella, and two communities torn apart along an emerging ethnic axis (Ashkenazim and Arab-Jews) relocating their standings in the Yishuv. Taking into account the Orientalist attitudes towards the Arab-Jews exposed during the two first Aliyot, the Zionist separatist policies that developed in the first two decades of the twentieth century had material and cultural consequences for the Oriental Jewish communities, to the point where, during the Mandate period, the foundations for a second-class Oriental Jewish sphere were revealed. There would be other Arab-Jews, not those families from the old Yishuv, who in a large-scale fashion would experience on their flesh the racial flexibility of Zionist labour, this time under the auspices of the State of Israel. As Shafir notes, “when Mizrachi immigrants arrived in massive numbers after 1948, the same structural relationship between Ashkenazim and Mizrachim found in the Yavnieli wave reasserted itself” (1989, 195).
Though economic separation was never complete, the bifurcation of the economies on a racial basis would reduce opportunities for Oriental Jews. In becoming a state within a state of the Yishuv under the leadership of the labour movement, the Histadrut conglomerate was the main supplier of labour and it had full control of the cooperative settlements (Kibbutzim), whereas the JNF controlled the allocations to Jews in the land market. All these fundamental Zionist institutions were established and controlled by Ashkenazi Jews, mainly by second Aliyah settlers. In fact, after the Great War, the Sephardim could not retain their representative official status. As Campos explains:
Sephardi leaders had been quickly eclipsed as government intermediaries under British military rule, which instead recognized the Ashkenazi and foreign Zionist Commission as having a special representative role for Palestine’s Jews, in addition to establishing a dual (Ashkenazi and Sephardi) Chief Rabbinate which effectively ended the Sephardi monopoly on religious authority. (Campos 2011, 338)
Having lost their influence, Oriental Jews found themselves blocked. In control of the main political institutions in the Yishuv, and of vast sources of employment mainly by means of the Histadrut, Ashkenazim were privileging themselves in official positions, jobs provision, land for settlement, and allowances. These exclusions would have a negative impact on the economic wellbeing of the Arab-Jews, particularly on those immigrating during the years of the Mandate. The new Jewish spaces, cut-off from the general society of Palestine on a racial basis, were formed according to an internal racial logic. Hebrew labour evolved as Hebrew-white labour, and Hebrew land became Hebrew-white land. For the first time in modern Jewish life in Palestine, Arab-Jews were socioeconomically rearranged to become second class. This was the space the white Jewish settler colonial project in Palestine had in store for the Oriental co-religionist. Being Jews, they were to serve the settler colonization of Palestine, but as Arabs they could not share in its fruits. As the leaders of the Oriental Jewish communities were also excluded from policy making in the Zionist Executive (Jacobson and Naor 2016, 35, 47-48), their socioeconomic discrimination was difficult to challenge. Sephardi and other Arab-Jewish organizations that were established to advance their communal interests as an alternative to the mainstream Zionist institutions were criticized as separatist (Eliachar 1983, 181). As Jacobson and Naor explain:
The leaders of the Sephardi and Oriental Jewish communities in Palestine voiced demands, such as for changes in the allocation of funds to education and welfare projects, the distribution of immigration certificates, and the allocation of positions in the Zionist institutions. In particular, leaders argued that young Sephardi and Oriental Jews found it difficult to secure jobs in the two Zionist institutions Keren Kayemet [JNF—Jewish National Fund] and Keren Hayesod [established in 1929 by the WZO for fundraising]. (Jacobson and Naor 2016, 25-26)
Every social segment in the Oriental Jewish community was stereotyped. “Oriental youth were viewed as a potential risk and element of instability within the Yishuv, as ‘rootless Levantines’ who create much concern on the part of representatives of the Yishuv’s educational, municipal, and other political institutions” (Jacobson and Naor 2016, 147). Tammy Razi’s (2009) research on what was termed “abandoned children and youth” sheds light on another dimension of ethnic racialization during the Mandate years. According to Razi, during the 1930s and the 1940s, the Welfare Department in Tel Aviv’s Municipality was responsible for the dissemination of a discourse that focused on the Oriental background of the abandoned children and youth in the city, in spite of the fact that the phenomenon included the Ashkenazim. The language used in the official reports linked the economic privation of the families in which the abandoned children and youth belonged to the fact that they were Mizrahim, and the non-modern character of these families. The racial tagging of Arab-Jews extended also to one of the most traditional arguments in the lexicon of occidentalization: hygiene. Dafna Hirsch (2008, 2009) has shown that health and hygiene had an important role in the project of modernizing and westernizing Jewish subjects in Palestine.
Grounding all these representations and practices was a fundamental Orientalist attitude: the Arab background of the Oriental Jews was to blame, and it was this background that in the eyes of the Ashkenazim prevented the Arab-Jews from playing a central role in the development of the Yishuv, an irremediable ontological separation. As Edward Said explains, “Orientalism depends for its strategy on this flexible positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand” (1991, 7). Altogether, the Arab-Jews were depicted as non-productive agents—the exact opposite of the white Zionist Geist—in this way justifying their segregation to roles at the bottom of the emerging social stratification, soon to be embodied in the Jewish state. In the social, cultural, and economic processes that followed the 1929 riots, two concomitant formations took place in Palestine: firstly, Arabs and Jews now perceived each other mostly through the lens of the conflict over the land; and secondly, the foundations that led to the invention of the Mizrahim as we know it today were established.
In the Zionist settler colonial project, the notion of “frontier” materialized not just via the expansion of physical boundaries of the territorial Jewish enclaves. Rather, in Zionist settler colonial expansion, land was just one realm of action. Zionist conquest during the first decades of the project was based on the race-motivated invention of frontiers, and frontiers were created literally everywhere. In racializing workers, their tools and skills, Jewish settlers created frontiers in the labour market, making the conquest of labour a horizon of expansion. Domestic consumption was another such new frontier, where from whom one purchases bread, cigarettes, flour, meat, and other products had national significance. By following the axiom that Jews buy only from Jews who have produced their goods on the basis of Hebrew labour only, one was contributing to a double movement: to strengthen the Jewish economy meant to weaken the Arab one. One existential territory arises on the dwindling of another; one life for another.
In the manufacturing of segregated enclaves Zionism invented frontiers, hence it could expand by conquering social spheres, by racializing life within them, and by bringing them into reciprocal resonance. In the case of Palestine, territorial conquest was dependent on settler colonial social expansion. It is worth remembering that by 1947 the Yishuv held only about 7 percent of the total land area of Palestine (national and private holdings), while by early 1949, with the signing of the Armistice Agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, Israel found itself dominating 77 percent of Palestine. This dramatic change ensued in the course of the 1947-49 war. The competence, strength, and hunger to conquer territories beyond the lines of the 1947 UN Partition resolution—these attributes were the product of a long process of frontier expansion in the social realm, as discussed earlier. That is, the figure of 7 percent might be misleading. Within the pre-1948 7 percent of land, a fully functioning society was developed and equipped as a state. Its territorial expansion was predicated on its institutional aptitudes, its internal cohesiveness, its ability to recruit, no less than on its determination and sense of entitlement. Social frontiers, not concrete walls and fences, were the first major cultural industry of the Zionist movement.
Confronting the field of indigeneity, early Zionism found itself working on more than one front. In their resistance, natives—Arabs and Jews—found themselves striving to maintain their ways of life. The engineering of racial Jewish enclaves meant that not only the Arab natives could not reproduce their ways of life as in the past, nor could Arabs and Oriental Jews continue their shared everyday practices. A shared cultural milieu formed through centuries bonded Arabs and Oriental Jews—a milieu that threatened the Zionist immigrant with an invitation to share a social space. However, in the eyes of the Ashkenazi pioneers, the source of this commonality was the reason to repudiate it. In this negation, Arab-Jewish shared life became a form of resistance, a contestation of the attempt—eventually successful—to disrupt the local identity shared by Arabs and Jews.
Two interrelated movements were taking place, both taking a toll on native life. On one level, in the expanding segregative activities of the settlers, Arabs saw their power, sense of ownership of the land, and nativeness being challenged. On another level, the Ashkenazi Yishuv asked to disempower also the Jewish Oriental millet and to place native Jews under a peremptory demand to join the national project on the former’s cultural and political terms. As part of the process that led them to side with Zionism, particularly after the riots of 1929, Oriental Jews were denativizing themselves politically. In between these struggles, shared life was losing its historical habitats, and struggling to create new ones. Shared life would have its swan-song on the verge of the Nakba, in the numerous efforts to establish civil alliances that attempted to resist the spreading of mutual violence. The dispossession and displacement of the Arabs of Palestine became a necessary but insufficient condition in the Zionist settler project. Arab-Jewish shared life had to go as much as the Arabs of Palestine had to go. From the viewpoint of the present, Arab life in Palestine has been placed under never-ending siege and destruction by the settler colonial machines of the State of Israel, and Arab-Jewish shared life has been made to disappear. Zionism is founded on a double elimination.