Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 / Edition 1

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Inspired by stories he heard in the West Bank as a child, Hillel Cohen uncovers a hidden history in this extraordinary and beautifully written book—a history central to the narrative of the Israel-Palestine conflict but for the most part willfully ignored until now.
In Army of Shadows, initially published in Israel to high acclaim and intense controversy, he tells the story of Arabs who, from the very beginning of the Arab-Israeli encounter, sided with the Zionists and aided them politically, economically, and in security matters. Based on newly declassified documents and research in Zionist, Arab, and British sources, Army of Shadows follows Bedouins who hosted Jewish neighbors, weapons dealers, pro-Zionist propagandists, and informers and local leaders who cooperated with the Zionists, and others to reveal an alternate history of the mandate period with repercussions extending to this day. The book illuminates the Palestinian nationalist movement, which branded these "collaborators" as traitors and persecuted them; the Zionist movement, which used them to undermine Palestinian society from within and betrayed them; and the collaborators themselves, who held an alternate view of Palestinian nationalism. Army of Shadows offers a crucial new view of history from below and raises profound questions about the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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Editorial Reviews

New Republic - Benny Morris
“[An] important book. . . . The picture presented is thorough and fair and persuasive.”
The Nation
“Groundbreaking. . . . Riveting. . . . Eloquent.”
Jerusalem Post
“An important academic work that is accessible to general readers.”
Books & Culture: A Christian Rvw
“Written in . . . honorable revisionist spirit.”
Spero News
“An important academic work that is accessible to general readers.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520259898
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 2/4/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,347,873
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Hillel Cohen is Research Fellow at the Truman
Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of The Present Absentee: Palestinian Refugees in Israel since 1948 and Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Services and the Israeli Arabs.

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Read an Excerpt

Army of shadows
Palestinian collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948
By Hillel Cohen
University of California Press
Copyright © 2008 The Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-520-25221-9

Chapter One


In July 1921 a formal delegation representing Palestinian Arab national institutions set out for London in a desperate, last-minute attempt to persuade Britain to back away from the Balfour Declaration and its commitment to allow Jewish immigration into Palestine. Hasan Shukri, mayor of Haifa and president of the Muslim National Associations, sent the following telegram to the British government:

We strongly protest against the attitude of the said delegation concerning the Zionist question. We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy whose wish is to crush us. On the contrary. We consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country. We are certain that without Jewish immigration and financial assistance there will be no future development of our country as may be judged from the fact that the towns inhabited in part by Jews such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, and Tiberias are making steady progress while Nablus, Acre, and Nazareth where no Jews reside are steadily declining.

This was one of many telegrams sent to the British high commissioner in Palestine and the British government by the Muslim National Associations and other Arab pro-Zionist organizations. Its purpose was twofold: to portray the national institutions of Palestinian Arabs as unrepresentative and illegitimate, and to promote the ratification of the Mandate. Shukri and his associates, from cities and villages throughout Palestine, did not send these messages of their own volition. The motivating force behind them was the Zionist Executive, which also financed the activities of these organizations.

Seeking support among Palestine's Arabs was an innovation for the Zionist movement. In its early days, when Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire, the movement put its major effort into world diplomacy, and the fruit of these labors was the Balfour Declaration. The question of future relations with the Arab inhabitants of the country was set aside. Only after the British conquest in 1917 did the Zionist movement's leaders begin to confront this challenge. The result was an ambitious program to obtain wide-ranging Palestinian Arab cooperation with the Zionist enterprise. When, in 1919, Chaim Weizmann signed an agreement about Palestine with Emir Faysal, one of the leaders of the Arab national movement, it reinforced the sense that the Arabs would consent to a Zionist homeland in their midst.

But at the same time, Palestinian Arab nationalists, some of whom had been opposing Zionism at the end of the Ottoman period, began to reorganize. Their new position was much improved, for the principle of self-determination for the region's peoples had been accepted by the international community. Furthermore, the Balfour Declaration and the Zionist aspiration to establish a Jewish state magnified the fears of the wider Arab public. Both of these intensified nationalist sentiments. Opposition to Zionism spread and found expression in the establishment, beginning in 1918, of the Muslim-Christian Associations. This was followed by anti-British and anti-Zionist demonstrations and attacks on Jews in April 1920 and May 1921.

The Zionist movement developed the strategy as a response to this process, with the objective of undermining the evolution of a Palestinian nationality from within. The means were Arab political figures and collaborators. Zionist activists on all levels were involved. The moving force was the Zionist Executive's Arabist, Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky, a veteran land purchaser for the Jewish Colonization Association who was well connected among the Arabs. Above him in the hierarchy stood Col. Frederick Kisch, a retired British intelligence officer and head of the Zionist Executive's political department in Palestine. The president of the Zionist movement, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, was also involved in the contacts. The three of them claimed, at least for external consumption, that Jewish immigration would do only good for the country's Arab residents. They believed that they could buy local Arab leaders. Most important, they refused to recognize the authenticity of Arab nationalism in Palestine. The telegrams sent to the British government by Arab oppositionists were part of that strategy.

During his visit to Palestine in spring 1920, Weizmann held a series of meetings with various Palestinians. Apparently the encounters gave reason for optimism. He drank coffee with Bedouin sheikhs in the Beit She'an/Beisan Valley and was received ceremonially in Abu-Ghosh, near Jerusalem. In Nablus the former mayor, Haidar Tuqan, promised to disseminate Zionism throughout the Samarian highlands.

Weizmann's meetings were arranged by members of the intelligence office of the Elected Assembly, the body responsible for intelligence and political activities within the Arab population. At the conclusion of his visit, Weizmann asked the office to draw up a comprehensive plan for countering Arab opposition to Zionism. Its proposal was as follows:

1. Cultivation of the agreement with Haidar Tuqan. Tuqan, who had served as mayor of Nablus at the end of the Ottoman period and represented the city in the Ottoman parliament after 1912, received u1,000 from the Zionist leader. In exchange, he promised to organize a pro-Zionist petition in the Nablus region and to open a pro-Zionist cultural and political club in the city. 2. Creation of an alliance with the influential emirs on the eastern side of the Jordan, based on the assumption that they would be reluctant to support a national movement led by urban elites, and thus be natural allies of the Zionists. 3. Establishment of an alliance with Bedouin sheikhs in southern Palestine, in order to sever the connections that already existed between them and nationalist activists. 4. Purchase of newspapers hostile to Zionism in order to ensure a pro-Zionist editorial policy. This tactic was based on faith in the power of the written word and on the assumption that presentation of the Zionist case could prevent the spread of Palestinian nationalism to the broader public. 5. Organization and promotion of friendly relations with Arabs, and the opening of cooperation clubs. 6. Provocation of dissension between Christians and Muslims. This is a key document. In 1920, Jews were just a bit more than a tenth of the country's population, but the principles the document sets out have remained a basis for the relationship between the two peoples to this day. It advocated three strategies. The first was support of opposition forces within the Arab public with the object of creating an alternative leadership. The second was to deepen fissures within Palestinian society by separating the Bedouin from the rest of the population and fomenting conflict between Christians and Muslims (and Druze). The final strategy was developing a propaganda machine of newspapers and writers who would trumpet the advantages that would accrue to Palestine's Arabs if they did not oppose Zionism.

The plan was based on the presumption that there was no authentic Arab national movement in Palestine. This was true to a certain extent, but those who promoted it ignored the process taking place before their eyes. So, for example, Dr. Nissim Maloul, secretary for Arab affairs of the National Council, the governing body of the Jewish community in Palestine, termed a furious demonstration he witnessed in Jaffa in February 1920 a "counterfeit nationalist demonstration." He noted that most of the participants were fellahin, poor Arab farmers, "whose costume and countenances indicate that they do not know for what reason and why they are standing there." At the Zionist Congress a year later labor leader Berl Katznelson used similar phrases. Such people chose to believe that opposition would lapse with the economic growth accompanying Jewish settlement. Such faith was reinforced when they found collaborators, whose very existence and enlistment served as proof that their perception was correct.

Kalvarisky organized the collaborators in nationwide political frameworks. The Muslim National Associations were set up first, then the farmers' parties. Members of the associations were not necessarily nationalists, and members of the farmers' parties were not necessarily farmers.


Kalvarisky, who was appointed to head the Zionist Executive's Arab department when it was established, set Zionist policy toward the Palestinians for some fifteen years. Aiming to change Zionist as well as Arab attitudes, he sincerely believed in the possibility of cooperation on the part of Palestine's Arabs:

If we justify practically our claim that the establishment of a Jewish national home will bring benefit to its non-Jewish residents as well, we will find among most of the Muslim effendis, including most of their leaders, an element that will oppose the path of violence and hostility and will resign from the Muslim-Christian Associations. It will not be difficult to break the Muslim-Christian alliance, but it cannot be done by direct and open action in that direction. A frontal attack will only strengthen that unity. The only way is to win the hearts of the Muslim members one by one, by granting a part of the economic benefits they expect from the establishment of a Jewish national home. After purchasing the effendis, most of the population of Palestine, which will in the future as in the past continue to be led by this caste, will also come over to our side.

Though some challenged Kalvariski's intriguing analysis, for a variety of sometimes contradictory reasons, his plan was approved. Thus commenced systematic Zionist intervention in Palestinian Arab politics.

The organizations Kalvarisky established with his Arab partners were meant to serve as a counterweight to the Muslim-Christian Associations, which were the hard kernel of the Palestinian Arab national movement. He dubbed his groups the Muslim National Associations. The name was designed to enable their members to feel "nationalist," as the times demanded, while sharpening the distinction between Christians and Muslims, a division rooted deeply in the local heritage the Arab national movement sought to diminish.

These associations' public activity was limited to public assemblies and petitions to the British authorities. In the petitions, which accompanied each stage of the political struggle of the 1920s, the Muslim National Associations attacked the Palestinian national movement and expressed explicit or indirect support for Zionist immigration to Palestine, for the British Mandate, and for the Balfour Declaration.

After the ratification of the Mandate in July 1922, the associations' members continued to help the Zionist movement, but in a new guise. The British were organizing elections for a legislative council that was to contain both Arabs and Jews. The Fifth Palestinian Congress, at which most of the Arab political organizations in the country were represented, decided to boycott the elections on the grounds that they were being conducted under the terms of the Mandate, which the Congress considered invalid. The Zionist Executive, for its part, viewed the council as a tool for advancing its interests, so it supported the elections. While the Arab Executive Committee was holding public assemblies all over the country and emissaries of the mufti of Jerusalem, the spiritual and political leader of Palestinian Muslims, were preaching against the elections in the mosques, the Zionist Executive used the Muslim National Associations to encourage broad Arab participation in the elections.

On the coastal plain the pro-Zionist campaign was organized by Ibrahim 'Abdin of al-Ramla, whose family had a long history of ties with the Zionist movement. In Gaza the head of the local association, Kamel al-Mubashir, conveyed to Dr. Maloul optimistic reports on the chances of success. In Hebron pro-Zionist activity was directed by Murshid Shahin, a former police officer, who reported that there was intense resistance to elections in his city.

Shahin's evaluation was closer to reality. Except for some isolated areas (including Acre, a focal point of opposition activity, and al-Ramla thanks to 'Abdin's work), Arab voter turnout was thin. As a result, the legislative council was not established. The failure did not, however, bring about a profound change in the Zionist institutions' approach or tactics. The contrary was true.


In 1924 a new component of Arab pro-Zionist activity made its appearance-the farmers' parties, a loose network of political parties set up in different parts of the country at the initiative of the Zionist movement or as a joint initiative. From the Zionist point of view, these parties would maintain and deepen the divide between Arab villagers and urban Arabs and weaken the Arab national movement. Colonel Kisch, who oversaw the establishment of the local parties, recommended that these branches be led by men he had met during his travels-Fares al-Mas'oud of Burqa, a village in the highlands near Nablus; 'Afif 'Abd al-Hadi of Jenin; 'Abdallah Hussein of the village of Qumey in the Jezreel Valley; and Sa'id al-Fahoum of Nazareth. These men belonged, for the most part, to leading regional families or families with land in the village, and not to the fellah class.

Even though many of the members of the farmers' parties were already connected with the Zionist movement through the Muslim National Associations, the new organizational structure and the parties' wide distribution gave them new energy. Influential heads of families from the Mt. Hebron region (such as Musa Hadeib of Duwaimah) and the Jerusalem highlands (such as 'Abd al-Hamid Abu-Ghosh) became more active. In Nablus, Haidar Tuqan renewed his activity and led the new party. He reported to Kalvarisky in winter 1924 that he had already succeeded in organizing 200 villages under the banner of the party. This was an exaggeration, growing perhaps out of a desire to get the Zionist Executive to increase its financial support. But in the atmosphere of political stagnation that prevailed in the mid-1920s, even the plan offered by the parties' activists to compete in the elections to the Supreme Muslim Council and oust Hajj Amin al-Husseini was not perceived as completely implausible.

The Palestinian opposition reached the pinnacle of its power in the mid-1920s, in parallel with the waning of the Arab national institutions. But the Zionist movement was not able to exploit this opportunity. In 1926-27 the Yishuv was, like the Zionist movement overseas, deep in a financial crisis. The financial crisis in Eastern Europe had halted the flow of capital to Jews in Palestine, the construction sector had collapsed, and businesses had gone bankrupt. Jewish emigration from Palestine increased, and the movement's shrunken funds were directed to coping with economic problems. In the absence of funding, the farmers' parties ceased to function almost completely-until after the events of August 1929.


The bloody riots of 1929, in which some 130 Jews were murdered in communities and settlements throughout the country, forced the Zionist movement and British administration to rethink their strategies. On September 13 of that year the British Colonial Office appointed the Shaw Commission "to enquire into the immediate causes which led to the recent outbreak in Palestine and to make recommendations as to the steps necessary to avoid a recurrence." In the wake of the commission's conclusions, which questioned Britain's commitment to a Jewish national home in Palestine, the British government appointed Sir John Hope-Simpson to examine the question of Jewish immigration, settlement, and development of the country. He commenced his work in May 1930.

In reaction to the commissions, the Zionist movement again needed the good services of collaborators, who, at the behest of the Zionists, persuaded dozens of Arabs to sign petitions formulated by the United Bureau (the body established after the riots to coordinate activities of the Zionist Executive and Jewish National Council). According to the United Bureau, the petitions were intended to prove that

the masses of the fellahin oppose the incitement and bloodshed of the Supreme Muslim Council, and that they wish for peaceful relations with the Jews and do not see the Council as their proxy. In this way we intend to dilute the impression the world has received that the [Muslim] Council expresses the desires of the broad masses of the people and that it speaks and acts in the name of all the Arabs in the country.


Excerpted from Army of shadows by Hillel Cohen Copyright © 2008 by The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents



1. Utopia and Its Collapse
2. Who Is a Traitor?
3. We, the Collaborators

4. Old Collaborators, New Traitors
5. Unity Ends
6. The “Traitors” Counterattack

7. World War, Local Calm
8. Prelude to War
9. Treason and Defeat: The 1948 War



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