Arab Politics and the Rise of Palestinian Nationalism

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VOL. 16


No. 4
P. 77
Arab Politics and the Rise of Palestinian Nationalism


In the past, analyses of the development of Palestinian nationalism have tended to overemphasize the role played by Zionism and underrate the internal Arab factors that led to the rise, not only of Palestinian nationalism, but of other local Arab nationalisms as well. In the case of Arab writers, those who embraced nationalism-whether its local (wataniyyah) or pan-Arab (qawmiyyah) variety-were inclined to blame the problems and contradictions of the Arab national movements on the forces of European imperialism. They tended to regard the political forces that emerged in the Arab lands east of Suez after the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire as the result of a struggle with an alien power or movement. On the other hand, Zionist writers, preoccupied as they were with the local Palestinian scene, often overlooked the larger Arab arena in which Palestinian politics evolved. [1] 


Such interpretations do not stand up to a close examination of the evidence. The political entities that struggled for independence in the territories east of Suez after World War I were new creations, fashioned from the debris of the Ottoman Empire by the statesmen of foreign, colonial powers. After the final defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the old order of political allegiance to the dynastic sovereign of the Islamic state was gradually replaced by one of allegiance to the country in which one lived. In other words, local nationalisms began to take root in Palestine, Syria, and Iraq and gradually came to prevail. It is to an examination of the early stages of this process in Palestine that this essay is devoted. In order to sort out the array of factors involved in this process, it is useful to think in terms of two frameworks: the ideological, the transformation of political loyalty from one set of ideas to another; and the institutional, the political elites within whose ranks the ideas took form.


I. The Ideological Framework


Until the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire, which encompassed many different regions and ethnic and religious groups for nearly six centuries, was the focus of loyalty, not in a national, but in a dynastic sense. In other words, the loyalty of the Arabs, Turks, Greeks, and others was to the House of Osman. However, the influence of Western ideas, particularly the concepts of nationhood and sovereignty, gave rise to an unsuccessful attempt to make the concepts of an Ottoman nation and a vaguely defined Ottoman fatherland the foci of political loyalty. [2] 


Ottomanism was the ideology that emerged to win the loyalty of the subjects of the Empire, including the inhabitants of the Arab provinces that lay to the east of Suez. Two varieties of Ottomanism, one conservative and one modernist, were current among politicians and intellectuals within the Empire in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Conservative Ottomanism stipulated that Islam and its civilization were inherently superior to Christianity and European civilization. Some of its advocates denied that the Ottoman territories and their Islamic civilization lagged behind Western Europe. Others, especially those who had lived in Europe, conceded that the West was superior in its material progress and industrialization but was inferior to the East in terms of culture and morality.


On the other hand, the modernist variety of Ottomanism stressed that the Islamic world was in a sad state and that the Muslim lands had stagnated because true Islam had been corrupted. From the perspective of the advocates of this view, Islam could regain its past glory if its original purity was recaptured and if Muslims adapted themselves to the achievements of modern civilization.


Despite their differences, the two varieties of Ottomanism had one common denominator: the aspiration for a single Ottoman nationality and a common loyalty to the Ottoman state, irrespective of ethnic origin. The unity and continuation of the Ottoman Empire, so the advocates of both varieties believed, could bridge the gap between the East and the West and protect Islamic civilization from Western encroachments. [3] It was this Ottomanism, with its emphasis on a common Ottoman citizenship and loyalty, that was the reigning ideology in the Empire until the early years of the twentieth century.


It should be stressed that the Arabs did possess a special awareness of their ethnic and cultural identity within Islam. The same applies to the Persians and Turks, since the three peoples had made major contributions to Islamic civilization. But until the final two decades of Ottoman rule this awareness on the part of the Arabs did not strain the bond to Islam and the Ottoman house and state. So strongly did the Arabs identify with Islam that no expression of ethnic or cultural distinction was manifested, despite the fact that the Ottoman state was ruled by a family of Turkish descent and that the language of the court and of government offices was Turkish. However, the gradual rise of Turkish nationalism in the latter part of the nineteenth century began to erode the Arabs' sense of shared identity as Muslims with the Ottoman Turks. Turkish nationalism, therefore, evoked a ready response from the Arabs: if the Turks were a nation racially, culturally, and politically, so were the Arabs.


The Arab response first found expression in political Arabism (1908-14) and then in Arab nationalism during the war. While the goal of political Arabism was reform in order to insure Arab rights and greater Arab autonomy within the framework of the Ottoman Empire, that of Arab nationalism was complete political independence for the Arab provinces. By the end of the war, Ottomanism was dying, and the only viable ideology to take its place was Arab nationalism.


Even though the new ideology of Arab nationalism was by no means universally accepted in the Arab provinces, it incorporated an ingredient of superlegitimacy because it postulated the existence of a single Arab nation that had the right to independence. The creators and advocates of Arab nationalism envisioned the establishment of a pan-Arab system, the nucleus of which would be a united Greater Syria including Lebanon and Palestine.


The Palestinians played a role in the growth of Arab nationalism, and this role was greater than has been suggested by some historians. Yehoshua Porath, the author of a major study on the Palestinian national movement, minimized the extent of Palestinian involvement in the Arab nationalist movement. His argument is based on the very small number of Palestinian Arabs who were attracted by the new ideology of Arab nationalism, the failure of the Palestinians to rebel against the Turks, and the near absence of Arab nationalist societies in Palestine. [4] 


However, there is other evidence that contradicts this traditional view of Palestinian involvement in the development of Arab nationalism. While the new ideology was by no means widespread in Palestine, there are numerous examples of subscription to the new ideology, for example, in al-Karmil. [5] Through this paper, which was popular in Palestine because it was the most outspoken opponent of Zionism, the Palestinian intelligentsia was exposed to the ideas of Arab nationalism. This exposure was reinforced by influential Arab nationalist newspapers outside Palestine such as al- Muqtabas (Damascus) and al-Mufid (Beirut). A number of young Palestin- ians who were attracted to the idea of Arab nationalism and who occupied senior posts in Faysal ibn al-Husayn's short-lived Arab government in Syria (1918-20) tried to move this idea to the forefront of Palestinian politics after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. [6] Although this attempt ultimately failed, it gave impetus to a feeling among Palestinian Arabs that next to their commitment to Palestine there was also a commitment to the culture and future of a larger Arab entity.


Let us examine the number of Palestinian participants in Arab nationalist societies before the armistice. According to Ernest Dawn, there were 126 members of Arab nationalist societies by 1914 of whom 22 were Palestinian. [7] According to calculations carried out for this study, there were at least 25 Palestinians confirmed as members of Arab nationalist societies by the end of the war, three of whom were members of the Ottoman Parliament who overtly defended Arab rights in the empire. Of the 25 Palestinian members, 13 came from Jabal Nablus, 9 from Jerusalem (3 of them were members of Parliament), one from Jaffa, one from Haifa, and one from Gaza. (See table 1.) Moreover, of the 387 names that appeared on the Arab telegrams sent in support of the Arab Congress held in Paris in June 1913, a total of 139 were Palestinian. Forty-four of these were from Nablus and its environs. [8] The Paris Congress was dominated by Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians. Indeed, several Palestinians, including 'Awni 'Abd al-Hadi, played an important role in organizing the congress.


The figures cited above suggest three conclusions. First, on the basis of population estimates for the year 1915, the ratio of Palestine's Arab nationalist leaders to its total population is higher than that of Lebanon and slightly lower than that of Syria. It is pertinent once again to cite Dawn's figures: in Palestine there were 3.1 Arab nationalist leaders per 100,000 in comparison with 2.4 in Lebanon and 3.5 in Syria. [9] Second, it seems inconceivable that all literate and politically conscious Palestinians could have been neutral toward Jamal Pasha's execution of Palestinian Arab nationalists [10] or, as a consequence, toward the Ottoman government itself. The Palestinian upper classes and the Palestinians in general did retain their loyalty to the Ottoman state, but some members of this class were arrested, imprisoned, or even executed.


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Finally, the figures cited above indicate that in comparison with other Palestinian towns, Nablus played a disproportionate role in the early phases of Arab nationalism. Two factors combined to enable Nablus to make such a contribution. In the first place, it had a more homogeneous Muslim Arab population than did Jerusalem, Jaffa, or Haifa. [11] Because of this homogeneity, Nablus produced local political and commercial elites, whose political thinking was Muslim Arab, unmingled with the European concepts of modernization that tended to permeate the more ethnically and religiously diversified cities of Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Haifa. Second, Nablus boasted the most important textile industry in the region which, together with its famous soap industry, helped its inhabitants maintain strong commercial relations with Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut, and even Cairo. Jerusalem, on the other hand, was basically a city of pilgrimage and imports with very modest economic activities; Jaffa was a point of entry for pilgrims and tourists.


Although numerous Palestinians rode the crest of what seemed to be an Arab nationalist victory after the war, their experience with Faysal's government in Syria exposed the vulnerability of the new idea of Arab nationalism. Many of the young, transnational elites who formed the nucleus of Faysal's Syrian kingdom truly believed that under the leadership of the Hashemite prince pan-Arabism would have its day of glory. But their doctrine, which postulated the existence of one indivisible Arab nation with identical interests and goals, could not withstand the traumatic post-war realities imposed by the colonial policies of England and France. In other words, the Arab nationalism which replaced the "universalism" of the Ottoman Empire was not as concrete or as strong a reality as its exponents and advocates had initially thought.


One should bear in mind that by 1918 Arab nationalism was not a fully developed ideology, with grass roots support and a program to serve as a guide to action. It was, rather, an idea which arose first and foremost as a response to the nationalism of the Young Turks. Thus, when its leaders, most of whom hailed from prominent families, found themselves operating in a new environment in which the relations between society and political forces had to be redefined and in which there was no sultan in the center to restrain and stabilize, they learned their first lesson in the difference between the pan-Arab ideal and the pressing demands of local politics.


The embrace of pan-Arabism by the elites who travelled between Damascus, Nablus, Beirut, and Baghdad after the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire bore no fruit. The diverse political ambitions and priorities of the Syrians, Palestinians, and Iraqis who constituted the backbone of Faysal's Arab government in Syria provided harsh confirmation of the weakness of pan-Arabism. [12] An examination of the action agenda of the three nationalist organizations that dominated the Damascus political scene illustrates this point. The Iraqi-run association al-'Ahd (The Covenant) devoted its attention to the affairs of Iraq; the Syrian-led Jam'iyyat al-Fatat al-'Arabiyyah (The Young Arab Society) and its front organization Hizb al-Istiqlal al-'Arabi (the Arab Independence party) focused on Syria; and the predominantly Palestinian al-Nadi al-'Arabi (the Arab Club), which was set up in 1918, was concerned with Palestine and began to withdraw its support from Faysal following the Faysal-Weizmann draft agreement of January 1919. [13] Faysal, it should be noted, was inclined to cooperate with the Zionists in the hope of securing British support for his policy of countering French designs in Syria as long as that cooperation did not compromise Arab independence.


Another crack in the fragile edifice of Arab nationalism was the way in which the Syrian, Palestinian, and Iraqi elites related to one another in Faysal's Arab kingdom in Syria. The concept of Arab nationalism and the narrower concept of pan-Syrian unity had to compete with the growing reality of territorial nationalities along Syrian, Palestinian, and Iraqi lines. In Syria-the birthplace of the idea of a single Arab nation rooted in a common language, culture, and destiny-the anti-Palestinian and anti- Iraqi winds were blowing from more than one direction. Members of the old Damascene and Aleppine political elites viewed the Palestinians and Iraqis as strangers (aghrab) [14] who could not be expected to have local Syrian concerns at heart. [15] The upstart Baghdadis and Palestinians who exercised an appreciable measure of authority in Damascus became increasingly alienated in Syria. Members of the old political elites regarded them as "confused," "hot-headed" youths who belonged to an "invisible world" (rijal al-ghayb). [16] The presence of Palestinians in Damascus and Aleppo triggered calls in certain quarters for their dismissal, as recounted by Husayn Fakhri al-Khalidi, a medical doctor from Jerusalem who worked for the Department of Public Health in Aleppo during Faysal's rule over Syria. [17] 


Thus, the Arab nationalist movement had fragmented less than two years after the end of the war. The Anglo-French division of the empire's territories hastened, but was not solely responsible for, this fragmentation. Local nationalisms were beginning to displace the professed sentiments of pan-Arabism. Looking at the Damascus political scene, a January 1920 Zionist intelligence report correctly predicted a new epoch in the history of the Arab nationalist movement which it called the "Arab Nationalist Movement of Palestine." [18] Indeed, there was no collective Arab crisis that dictated a collective Arab plan of action. In Palestine, the primary issue was national survival in the face of Zionism, a settler movement of European provenance. In Syria and Iraq the crisis was not national survival but political independence, a crisis of resisting attempts by England and France to achieve hegemony and of finding a framework that would satisfy the aspirations for self-determination.


Hence, Arab political elites-Palestinian, Syrian, and Iraqi-were confronted with two forces: the push of Arab nationalism and the pull of local nationalism. Disappointed as they were by the policies of England and France and having failed to translate the pan-Arab doctrine into a concrete reality, they resigned themselves-some painfully and begrudgingly-to the overwhelming pull of local concerns and priorities. Nationalism linked to limited pieces of territory and their populations prevailed.


One may argue, therefore, that the failure of Arab nationalism in this period played a critical role in the emergence of Palestinian nationalism. The commonly held view that Zionism motivated the Arabs of Palestine to organize themselves politically and formulate their nationalist ideology has a measure of truth, but it is not a sufficient explanation. [19] The fragmentation of the Arab nationalist movement forced its Palestinian proponents to confront and accept the factors that separated them from the Syrians and Iraqis. For all the pan-Arab fervor of the Syrians and the Iraqis, the Palestinians were simply not at the top of the Syrian or Iraqi political agenda. In these circumstances, it seems unlikely that the Palestinians would have failed to establish their own independent national movement even if Zionism had been absent from the scene, for the British were in Palestine to divide and rule. But since Zionism was also present, the question then arises: what was the role of this alien political force in the emergence of Palestinian nationalism?


First, it is logical that two forces engaged in a struggle against each other-in this case the indigenous Palestinian opposition and the Zionist colons-must have left their mark on each other. In the minds of Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular, Zionist colonization underscored the importance of aggressive leadership, unity, and organization. Furthermore, the fear on the part of the Palestinian Arabs that Zionism would one day reduce them to an alienated minority in their own country intensified their conviction that local Palestinian interests and wishes should be given more serious attention by the Ottoman authorities. Hence the Palestinian opposition to the laxity of the Ottoman state in checking Zionist colonization. In this opposition and in other forms of resistance to Zionism lay the beginnings of a strong patriotic devotion to Palestine.


Second, the few authors who have written on Palestinian Arab politics before World War I seem to agree that there were three threads in the Palestinian opposition to Zionism in Ottoman times: Ottoman loyalism, Palestinian patriotism, and Arab nationalism. [20] Ottoman loyalism dictated the rejection of Zionism because it was bent upon separating Palestine from the Ottoman state; Palestinian patriotism objected on the grounds that it was a deadly threat to Palestinians; and Arab nationalism called for opposition to Zionism because it sought to wrest Palestine away from Arab hands and thwart the cherished goal of Arab unity.


Ottoman loyalism, which was upheld by the older notable elites, ran parallel to Palestinian patriotism until the disintegration of the empire in 1918. Its advocates were on the whole anti-Hashemite and unenthusiastic about Arab nationalism. On the other hand, Arab nationalism, which was espoused by younger urban elites, was intertwined with Palestinian patriotism until 1920. Its adherents, anti-Ottoman and pro-Hashemite after 1914, believed that the pan-Arab order postulated by their Arab nationalist doctrine would provide Palestine with a protective shield against Zionism. Thus Palestinian patriotism was the common characteristic of the two main Palestinian groups: the older urban notables and the younger urban notables. It was in the context of an increasing Zionist threat to Palestine that this patriotism grew.


When Palestine fell, political control was in the hands of older notables, many of whom were staunch Ottomanists and strong opponents of the Sharif-Husayn and his sons. The Arab nationalists from Palestine, too feeble a minority to wield any political power, were effectively suppressed by Jamal Pasha. However, heartened by the entry of Faysal's army into Damascus in early October 1918 and by Faysal's appointment as head of the military administration set up there, the Arab nationalists thought that the fulfillment of the dream of Arab independence was at hand. They also believed that by supporting Faysal and his Arab government in Damascus they could muster assistance for their struggle against Zionism.


For many of the older notables, the situation looked different. The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire signified to these men that Ottoman- ism was no longer a viable political ideology. Nor was Arab nationalism attractive. First, there was the local patriotism discussed above. Mandel has rightly suggested that from 1910 onward, when the Palestinian Arabs began to see the Zionists as a threat to Palestine in particular, they "increasingly spoke of themselves as 'Palestinians' in the context of Zionism." [21] Seeing Palestine put under a separate military administration and alarmed at Britain and her pro-Zionist policy in the country, the older generation of Palestinian political elites chose to focus on Palestine and the Palestinian struggle against Zionism. They believed that Zionism was a threat to the Arabs in general, but a direct danger to Palestine in particular. From their perspective, therefore, Palestinian nationalism was the appropriate response because the Palestinians were the most directly threatened by the Zionist movement. On the other hand, the younger generation of Palestinian elite championed the cause of Arab nationalism, believing that the victory of the new ideology would not only secure Arab unity and independence, but also prevent the implantation of an alien entity in Palestine.


There was also the question of self-interest. Members of the older generation of Palestinian notables sought to maintain and expand their positions of strength with the hope of molding Palestinian Arab politics into a stable political order that they would dominate unchallenged by political newcomers. An independent Palestine was more likely to provide them with the opportunity to continue exercising political power from a position of strength. On the other hand, a Palestine united with Syria might pose risks that they were unprepared to take. Faysal's entourage of younger and increasingly influential Arab nationalists, who hailed from Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, began to assert themselves as the new masters of the Syrian heartland. [22] Thus, while the older Palestinian notables did not wish to see the ambitious young Arab nationalists dominate the political scene in Palestine, the younger members of the elite saw in Syrian- Palestinian unity a chance to climb the political ladder and attain positions of local dominance.


Third, the elite of such Syrian cities as Damascus and Aleppo posed a challenge to the positions of older Palestinian notables. The network of propertied urban families in Syria was much larger and, on the whole, wealthier than the network of Palestinian urban families. Compared with Palestinian cities, Damascus and Aleppo had much larger populations and greater commercial importance. Therefore, it was likely, were Palestine to merge with a greater Syria, that the Syrian notables would overwhelm their Palestinian counterparts, a scenario the older Palestinians were keen to avoid.


And they did. By the end of 1920 the hope of Syrian-Palestinian unity had been frustrated, and Palestinian nationalism became a preeminent force in Palestine. Zionism provided the Palestinians with a locus for their struggle, but it did not create this force. Zionism may have evolved as the focus of the Palestinians and the pivot around which their politics revolved, but the origin and growth of Palestinian nationalism as a movement that encompassed all Palestinian Arabs were in the arena of inter-Arab politics. Just as local nationalisms determined the political priorities of the Syrians and Iraqis, so they determined those of the Palestinians.


II. The Institutional Framework


On the eve of the Ottoman defeat, Palestinian politics were dominated by urban notable families who had been linked with the Ottoman imperial bureaucracy. These families constituted the institutional framework within which the ideologies of Ottomanism and Arab nationalism competed with each other and within which the Palestinian nationalist movement arose. Which were the dominant families, and what were the sources of their power? And what political style and practices did their leading members adopt?


The sources of the power of these families lay primarily in their property holdings, their tradition of learning, and their integration into the Ottoman system of government in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Through the modernization movement which it initiated, the Ottoman government extended its authority over the administration and public institutions of the state, thus making local political power a function of position in the bureaucratic apparatus. A post in government service served both as a symbol of status and as a means through which wealth and influence could be maintained and expanded. [23] 


The class that benefited most from this situation was that of the notable families whose members filled powerful, senior bureaucratic posts. Besides acting as intermediaries between the government and their society, leading urban families in Palestine used their posts to gain legal rights to more land and private property. In this way, they were able to emerge after 1860 as the most powerful political group in Palestinian society. Political leadership rested almost exclusively in the hands of these families for nearly eight decades-from the 1860s until the loss of Palestine in 1948. [24] 


Among the notables, those of Jerusalem wielded the most power. The Husaynis exemplified the process of gradual concentration of political power in the hands of the leading members of one family. Their principal contestants in the quest for power hailed from the Nashashibi family. Other prominent Jerusalem families such as the 'Alamis, Dajanis, and Khalidis also enjoyed a large measure of political power. Jerusalem's sanctity to the three monotheistic faiths and its autonomous status under the direct control of Istanbul after 1887 (the year in which the Porte created the independent sanjaq of Jerusalem) lent it a special significance and power. [25] Furthermore, the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem court of appeals, which was set up in 1910, extended to the district of Nablus, and the qadi (religious judge) of Jerusalem exercised jurisdiction over Gaza, Nablus, and Haifa. [26] Just as important, Jerusalem acted as a capital for Palestine. It housed the consulates of Britain, France, Prussia, Austria, and Spain and was the residence of a Greek Orthodox patriarchate, a Latin patriarchate, and an Anglican bishopric. [27] 


The aristocratic families of Jerusalem had lived for many centuries in the city. This contrasts with Nablus where many leading families had settled in the city toward the middle of the seventeenth century. [28] In addition, some of Jerusalem's families, notably the houses of al-Husayni, al-Khalidi, Jarallah, and al-'Alami, had held religious posts for hundreds of years and were hereditary managers of important waqfs (religious endowments). [29] By virtue of holding the important posts of mayor and mufti of Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century, the Husaynis outranked the other aristocratic families and constituted the dominant political elite in the country until 1948. [30] 


The heavier involvement of the Jerusalem notable class in what one observer calls "economic-administrative activity" (i.e., contracting and employment) in the civil service in the second half of the nineteenth century also widened the economic basis of the financial power of this class. [31] Some prominent rural families joined members of the urban notable class in their economic activities, thus broadening the coalitions of propertied political elites under the leadership of office-holding urban notables.


Since the assignment of senior posts in the Ottoman imperial bureaucracy was the prerogative of the Ottoman state, support for the sultan was a prerequisite for appointment. No wonder, then, that many of the bearers of aristocratic names subscribed to Ottomanism until the dissolution of the empire. After that, and for the reasons outlined above, it was only natural for them to embrace the idea of Palestinian nationalism.


Nevertheless, only certain members of leading Palestinian families succeeded in acquiring senior offices in the Ottoman state apparatus. Many younger and less prominent members failed to attain public office, either because of their age or because of limited opportunities. As a result, they had less of a stake in the continuation of the Ottoman state than did the older and bureaucratically established members of their families. Alienated, these young notables embraced political Arabism and Arab nationalism to promote Arab rights, protect Palestine from Zionism, and secure higher political positions. Even though certain middle-class individuals participated in Palestinian politics in the period under survey, none attained top leadership positions. The explanation lies in the fact that they belonged to a lower socioeconomic class that did not enjoy the tradition of influence and social leadership. Neither their society nor the British occupier viewed them as natural leaders with local sources of political power.


In post-war Palestine, then, there were two main groups whose members enjoyed a marked advantage in the quest for political dominance. At the top were the older urban notables (hereafter referred to as "Older Politicians"), who for several generations had held positions in the Ottoman bureaucracy and had been the natural leaders in local society. Below them and competing with them were young urban notables (hereafter referred to as "Younger Politicians"), who on the whole had not been integrated into the Ottoman system of government.


Schooled in Ottoman politics, the Older Politicians maintained their Ottoman values into the mandatory period. [32] Their actions were circumspect, and their political behavior cautious and discrete. In the words of Jamal al-Husayni, "These older men inherited indecision and laxity (muyu'ah wa rakhawah) from the Ottoman etiquette." [33] These traits, Jamal asserts, were not a reflection of weakness or fear, but rather a mode of expression which denoted "good intention and civic politesse" (husn al-niyyah w-al-talattuf al-madani). [34] In Jamal's view such caution and courtesy were no match for the realpolitik of the British and the Zionists. [35] 


The Older Politicians also tended to act in a legalistic manner, relying on petitions as a major political instrument to promote the cause of Palestinian independence with the British authorities. They sought to appeal, in pragmatic and constitutional terms, through the Muslim- Christian Associations (MCAs) and the congresses they held. To mobilize the Palestinian public and disseminate their political views, they used mosques, churches, guesthouses, town cafes, as well as the press, clubs, and schools. [36] The political societies they set up were family coalitions characterized by two sets of relationships: the domination of a particular political body by one family, as was the case of the Husayni family in the Arab Executive Committee; [37] and the family's ability to increase the network of its power partners and in the process to expand its base of support thus enhancing its bargaining power vis-a-vis its competitors and the government.


It should be noted that few relatively older Palestinians were involved in the cause of Arab nationalism before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. 'Awni 'Abd al-Hadi (b. 1882) and Is'af al-Nashashibi (b. 1885) were among those who were. Older still were Sa'id al-Karmi of Tulkarm (b. 1852), Hafiz al-Sa'id (b. 1841) who was born in Gaza but served as mayor of Jaffa in Ottoman days, and Salim al-Ahmad 'Abd al-Hadi of Jenin (b. 1870). These three older men, it should be noted, had a talent for and a strong interest in Arabic language and literature.


This lends credence to the view that intellectuals were more important among the Arab nationalists than they were among the Ottomanists. [38] One cannot say, however, that all intellectuals subscribed to Arab nationalism. In Palestine, for example, there were some intellectuals who cast their lot with the Ottoman regime until its fate was sealed. Salim al-Ya'qubi, the Palestinian poet, journalist, and orator (b. 1880 in Lydda), supported the Ottoman claim to the caliphate and attacked the Arab revolt and its leader the Sharif Husayn. [39] As'ad al-Shuqayri (b. 1860 in Acre), an expert in shari'a and a man with some talent for Arabic composition, supported the unity of the Ottoman Empire and criticized the Arab nationalist movement even after 1918. [40]


The median age of the Younger Politicians tended to be ten or more years less than that of the Older Politicians. For example, among the Younger Politicians, Muhammad Amin al-Husayni was born in 1897, Ishaq Darwish in 1896, 'Arif al-'Arif in 1892, Husayn Fakhri al-Khalidi in 1894, Muhammad 'Izzat Darwazah in 1888, Rafiq al-Tamimi in 1889, and Fakhri al-Nashashibi sometime after 1890. On the other hand, among the Older Politicians, Musa Kazim al-Husayni was born in 1853, 'Arif al-Dajani in 1856, Raghib al-Nashashibi in 1883, 'Umar al-Bitar in 1878, and Ya'qub Farraj in 1875. [41] 


Even though the top leadership of the Older Politicians and the Younger Politicians came from aristocratic families, members of the middle class-- both Muslim and Christian-did participate in the political societies of the two groups. Among them were Muhammad 'Izzat Darwazah, Ishaq Darwish, and Saliba al-Juzah. Middle class individuals apparently played a relatively greater role in the Arab nationalist rather than Palestinian nationalist groupings.


Fewer of the Younger Politicians had served in the Ottoman army. It is likely, in view of what little is known about them, those who had were not of senior grade. For instance, Muhammad Amin al-Husayni was an aide to a Turkish commander during World War I. Ishaq Darwish, 'Arif al-'Arif, and Husayn Fakhri al-Khalidi also served in the Ottoman army during the war. The Younger Politicians' experience in school, in secret societies, in the barracks, and in the Sharifian army instilled in them a stronger disposition to political activism than to compromise.


Both the Older and the Younger Politicians were influenced by the liberal thought of Europe. In the manner of the nationalists of the time, they believed in constitutional government, westernization, individual virtue, and the right of self-determination. Even though the two groups identified with Islam, they were inclined toward secularism, emphasizing a national idea which included the Christians and the indigenous Jews. They did not justify their nationalism in religious terms; that is, they were not seeking political independence in order to promote Islamic revival. An independent Palestine was not meant to be the servant of a wider Islamic system; rather, Palestine was perceived as having the right to be its own judge and master, with its own interest reigning supreme. This was the essence of the two groups' opposition to Zionism and their insistence on self-determination. In their view, if national interest was the supreme principle of society, why should the Palestinians allow foreign Jews to establish a geographical base in Palestine in order to turn the country into a Jewish state? Or why should the Palestinians, who constituted the overwhelming majority, accept anything less than being the masters of their own society? This was, after all, the thrust of the principle of self, determination that was prevalent in Europe and America and which had become so fashionable in the Middle East in the second decade of the twentieth century.


The Younger Politicians gradually emerged after 1920 as the dominant group in Palestinian Arab society. Like nationalists in neighboring Arab countries, the Younger Politicians continued to assert that all Arabs were linked by language and culture and to raise as a matter of principle the issue of Arab unity and independence. However, for the reasons already discussed, they saw their future in the context of an independent national state in Palestine. Their ideology, strategy, tactics, and organization were shaped accordingly. And even though the class that produced the Older Politicians and the Younger Politicians was virtually unassailable from below for nearly four decades, the nationalism in whose name the two groups waged their struggle was not created by either of them. It was a genuine movement that encompassed all the Arabs of Palestine. At the heart of this nationalism lay a set of principles derived for the most part from European political thought. Sovereignty and loyalty to a specific society and territory rather than to a dynasty or a religious doctrine were the bases of this ideology which deeply affected not only Palestine, but the entire Middle East.


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Muhammad Muslih teaches in the Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. This article is based on a chapter of his book The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism (Columbia University Press and Institute for Palestine Studies, forthcoming). 

1. Among the authors who treat Palestinian nationalism mainly from the standpoint of its struggle against Zionism are Naji 'Allush, Al-Muqawamah al-'Arabiyyah fi Filastin, 1914-1948 (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1967); 'Abd al-Wahhab al-Kayyali, Palestine: A Modern History (London: Croom Helm, 1973); Ann Mosely Lesch, Arab Politics in Palestine, 1917-1939: The Frustration of a Nationalist Movement (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1979); Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, 1918-1929 (London: Frank Cass, 1974).

2. For details on the emergence of the ideas of Ottoman patriotism and the Ottoman fatherland, see Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1964); Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London, Oxford, and New York: Oxford University Press, 1968); serif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962); Stanford J. Shaw & Ezel Kural Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol. 2, Reform, Revolution, and Republic, the Rise of Modern Turkey 1808-1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 255-72.

3. This analysis of the two varieties of Ottomanism is derived from C. Ernest Dawn, From Ottomanism to Arabism: Essays on the Origins of Arab Nationalism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1973), 129-47.

4. Porath, Emergence, 24.

5. Rashid Khalidi, "The Role of the Press in Early Arab Reaction to Zionism," Peuples Mediterraneens, no. 20 (July-September 1982) 105-23; Khayriyyah Qasimiyyah, "Najib Nassar fi Jaridatihi al-Karmil (1901-1914), Ahad Ruwwad Munahadat al-Sahyuniyyah," Shu'un Filastiniyyah, no. 23 (July 1973), 101-24.

6. For details see Muhammad 'Izzat Darwazah, "Tis'una 'Aman f-il-Hayah," vol. 2 (manuscript in author's possession). The interested reader can refer to the published version of this manuscript which recently appeared under the title Mi'at 'Am Filastiniyyah, Mudhakkirat wa-Tasjilat, vol. 2 (Damascus: Samed Press, 1986), 11 ff. See also Bayan al-Hut, al-Qiyadat w-al-Mu'assasat al-Siyasiyyah fi Filastin 1917-1948 (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1981), 116-19; Philip S. Khoury, Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism: The Politics of Damascus 1860-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 75-92; Lesch, Arab Politics in Palestine, 79-90; Porath, Emergence, 70-123; Khayriyyah Qasimiyyah, AI-Hukumah al-'Arabiyyah fi Dimashq bayna 1918-1920 (Cairo: Dar alMa'arif, 1971).

7. Dawn, From Ottomanism to Arabism, 153.

8. See the names in Muhammad 'Izzat Darwazah, Nash'at al-Harakah al-'Arabiyyah al-Hadithah (Sayda: al-Maktabah al-'Asriyyah, n.d.), 430-32; AI-Mu'tamar al-'Arabi al-Awwal (Cairo: al-Lajnah al-'Ulya li-Hizb al-Lamarkaziyyah, 1913), 150-210.

9. Dawn, From Ottomanism to Arabism, 153.

10. Among these were Salim al-Ahmad 'Abd al-Hadi, 'Ali al-Nashashibi, Sayf al-Din al-Khatib, and Muhammad al-Shanti. 

11. For details on the social life of Nablus, see Muhammad 'Izzat Darwazah, "Tis'una 'Aman f-il-Hayah," vol. 1 (manuscript in author's possession); Ihsan al-Nimr, Tarikh Jabal Nablus w-al-Balqa', vols. 1 and 2 (Nablus: Matba'at Jam'iyyat 'Ummal alMatabi' al-Ta'awuniyyah, 1975); Rafiq alTamimi and Muhammad Bahjat, Wilayat Beirut, vol. 1 (Jdaydat al-Matn: Dar Lahad Khatir, 1979), 99-118.

12. Among the Palestinians who occupied key positions in Faysal's government in Syria were Sa'id al-Husayni, foreign minister; 'Awni 'Abd al-Hadi, Faysal's private secretary; Muhammad 'Ali al-Tamimi, chief of the Damascus gendarmerie; Amin alTamimi, adviser to Amir Zayd, Faysal's brother, and head of the Director's Council; Ahmad Hilmi 'Abd al-Baqi, director of the Treasury; Mu'in al-Madi, director of the Department of Intelligence; and several other Palestinians, including Muhammad 'Izzat Darwazah, who played important roles in a number of political organizations, most notably Jam'iyyat al-'Arabiyyah al-Fatat (The Young Arab Society). The names of the Palestinians in Faysal's government are taken from Porath, Emergence, 87-88; and al-Hut, al-Qiyadat, 116-19.

13. Khoury, Urban Notables, 85.

14. Darwazah, "Tis'una 'Aman," vol. 2, 140.

15. Elie Kedourie, England and the Middle East: The Vital Years 1914-1921 (London: Bowes & Bowes, 1956), 160. 

16. Khalid al-'Azm, Mudhakkirat Khalid al-'Azm, vol. 1 (Beirut: al-Dar al-Muttahidah li-l-Nashr, 1973), 94-95.

17. Husayn Fakhri al-Khalidi, "Al-Mudhakkirat" (manuscript in author's possession), 65-66.

18. Zionist intelligence report, 31 January 1920, Central Zionist Archives, Record Group L/3, File 278.

19. See, for instance, Porath, Emergence, 304.

20. See Rashid Khalidi, "The Role of the Press," 108-9; Neville J. Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism Before World War I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 226-27.

21. Ibid., 226.

22. For details, see Khoury, Urban Notables, 78-86.

23. See Albert Hourani, The Emergence of the Modern Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 36-67.

24. For details, see M. Abir, "Local Leadership and Early Reforms in Palestine, 1800-1934," in Moshe Ma'oz, ed., Studies on Palestine During the Ottoman Period (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1975), 249-83; Gabriel Baer, "Village and City in Egypt and Syria: 1500-1914," in A. L. Udovitch, ed., The Islamic Middle East, 700-1900: Studies in Economic and Social History (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1981), 632-39; Haim Gerber, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, 1800-1914 (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1985); A. N. Poliak, Feudalism in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and the Lebanon, 1250-1900 (London: The Royal Asiatic Society, 1939); Ya'qov Shimoni, The Arabs of Palestine (New Haven: Human Relations Area Files, 1956).

25. Gerber, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, 96-98; P. M. Holt, Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, 1516-1922: A Political History, 4th edition (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985), 243; Zeine N. Zeine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism, with a Background Study of Arab-Turkish Relations in the Near East (Delmar, New York: Caravan Books, 1973), 26.

26. Porath, Emergence, 6.

27. Baer, "Village and City in Egypt and Syria," 638.

28. Ibid.

29. Poliak, Feudalism in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, 38-39.

30. Lesch, Arab Politics in Palestine, 26.

31. Gerber, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, 111.

32. Husayn Fakhri al-Khalidi, "AI-Mudhakkirat," 68, 126.

33. Jamal al-Husayni, "Mudhakkirat Jamal alHusayni" (manuscript in author's possession), 9.

34. Ibid., 12.

35. Ibid., 5.

36. Lesch, Arab Politics in Palestine, 17.

37. This committee was originally elected by the Third Palestinian Arab Congress which was convened in Haifa on 13 December 1920. It included Palestinian representatives who were responsible for implementing the resolutions of the Palestinian Arab Congresses, which were seven in number, and for coordinating the national struggle in the 1920s and early 1930s. 

38. Dawn, From Ottomanism to Arabism, 167-68.

39. Al-Mawsu'ah al-Filastiniyyah, vol. 2, 583.

40. Ya'qub al-'Awdat, Min A'lam al-Fikr w-alAdabfi Filastin ('Amman: Jam'iyyat 'Ummal al-Matabi' al-Ta'wuniyyah, 1976), 318-20; Porath, Emergence, 252.

41. Biographical information on politically active Palestinians in the period under survey is scarce because of the very small number of biographical dictionaries. The information provided here is taken from: al-'Awdat, Min A'lam al-Fikr; Ahmad Khalil al-'Aqqad, Al-Shakhsiyyat alFilastiniyyah hatta 'Am 1945 (Jerusalem: Wikalat Abu 'Arafa, 1979); 'Awni 'Abd al-Hadi, Awraq Khassah (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1974); George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (New York: Capricorn, 1965); Darwazah, "Tis'una 'Aman, vol. 1; al-Hut, al-Qiyadat w-al-Mu'assasat; AlMawsu'ah al-Filastiniyyah, 4 vols. (Damascus: Hay'at al-Mawsu'ah alFilastiniyyah, 1984); 'Arif al-'Arif, AlNakbah, Nakbat Bayt al-Maqdis w-al-Firdaws al-Mafqud 1947-1952, vol. 1 (Sidon: AlMaktabah al-'Asriyyah, 1956); Khayr al-Din al-Zirkili, Al-A'alam Qamus Tarajim li-Ashhar al-Rijal w-al-Nisa' min al-'Arab w-al Musta'ribin w-al-Mustashriqin, vol. 8 (Cairo: Al-Matba'ah al-'Arabiyyah, 1927); Mustafa Murad al-Dabbagh, Biladuna Filastin, vols. 4 and 7 (Beirut: Dar al-Tali'a, 1965).