Professor Zach Levey gave a presentation Sunday night at Congregation Bonai Shalom entitled: “The Rise of the Arab-Jewish Conflict in Palestine: 1921-1939.” Co-sponsored by the Congregation Bonai Shalom Adult Education and Social Action Committees and the Boulder Chapter of Hadassah, the event also featured Cathy Olswing, Regional Vice President for Hadassah’s Desert Mountain Region, who briefly presented Hadassah’s role in Palestine during the same period.
Speaking before an almost-full room, Professor Levey provided an illustrated history of the roots of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine in the early years of the 20th century up to the beginning of World War II. Contrasting (and generalizing) the two groups in that period, the Arabs were still organized mostly along clan lines, and operating much as they had for hundreds of years under the Ottoman Turks. The Jews, in contrast, were mostly educated, dedicated Zionists with modern political outlooks, from the socialists of the kibbutz movement to the democrats and parliamentarians from Europe.
More photos from the event:
The Arabs had been promised self-rule by the British during the First World War in order to enlist their support against the Ottoman Empire. However, the Arabs were just as aware of the British Balfour Declaration, which seemed to run counter to their interests from the beginning. As Jewish immigration stepped up after World War I under the British Mandate, and the British seemed in no hurry to grant the Arabs self-rule, riots and other violent confrontations began to be the order of the day. And despite Arab societal pressure, and even a fatwah against doing so, Arabs continued to sell land to the Jews at a tremendous profit, as the Jews would buy even seemingly worthless malarial swamp land for tremendous sums.
As the Jewish population rose from 80,000 just before World War I to over 400,000 (31% of the population) by 1939, the two populations, which had lived quite separately for years, rubbed against each other more and more often, all over the country. By 1939, it was clear to the British that they had made a mistake in seemingly promising the same land to two peoples — there seemed to be no possibility of compromise or even reasonable separation — even though the Jews were agreeable to a partition arrangement, the Arabs were vehemently against any such loss of any of their lands. The British ultimately sided with the Arabs, who had population and oil as the world went to war again, and the stage was set for what was to follow.
The question and answer session after the talks was made especially interesting by the remarks of audience members who lived or spent time in Palestine during the Mandatory period.
Zach Levey is the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Professor in the Jewish Studies Program, Political Science and International Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder. His principal areas of research and teaching are the Cold War, US-Israeli relations, the foreign policy of Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.