April 15, marks for me an anniversary of another April 15 of 44 years ago, two months short of getting my MBA from UCLA. It was a Monday after Easter and I had just returned from one of those “junkets” that some of us were invited to for in situ job interviews… this time I recall, it had been Rochester, NY, courtesy of Xerox Corporation.
That afternoon, six of us had gathered at our customary coffee shop, two-plus decades before the social-advent of Starbucks, and had turned from the significant event of the day – the last day to mail the income tax return – to our topics of common interest in politics and international economics. Most of the two dozen of us tenured to take turns at holding the table (3 to 7 of us at a time) were graduate students in either economics or business, who also had an undergraduate engineering background. Most interesting aspect of our group was our diversity, half comprised by foreign students.
It was Adil’s turn that afternoon to give us a history lesson, corrected at times by Raffi. So here we were, four American ignorami in this case, being taught that there had been another war during the 1936-9 period, and not just the Spanish Civil War. It was according to Adil the “Great Arab Revolt,” an uprising by Palestinian Arabs in “Mandatory Palestine” against Britain’s colonial rule which had overtly and covertly allowed mass Jewish immigration.
As I recall, it was a most interesting experience to listen to Adil, an Arab student from Amman (Jordan), give a lecture under the scrutiny of Raffi (Rafael), an Israeli student who the year before had been an IAF (Israeli Air Force) pilot in the Six-Day War, flying a dozen sorties of which he was very proud. Jordan had lost East Jerusalem and the West Bank to Israel, but Adil was not holding Raffi responsible for the War; in fact he seemed to be more critical of his own parents than he was of Israel for launching the pre-emptive war. Adil was born in Palestine during the revolt – just like Raffi was – but his parents, in what he considered a selfish act, just like so many other wealthy Palestinian Arabs, had opted to cash in their assets and flee the fight, in his family’s case to Transjordan. I believe that I pointed out to him in that particular occasion that he should be thankful of his parents’ decision for he might otherwise be dead or perhaps a tenant in one of the refugee camps instead of doing graduate work at UCLA.
Adil explained to us what the British rule had done to Palestine in the three years immediately prior to the revolt (1933-6), illegally allowing the Jewish population to double, maybe triple, to fulfill the Zionist aspirations, where by 1936 the Jews represented over 25 percent of the total population, half of them foreign-born. The impoverished Arab peasants were being forced (economically) to sell their lands, and the economic-political-administrative power was passing to the hands of the Jews. The revolt, Adil told us, was really a fight against dispossession to a long existing majority of people, the homeland of the Palestinian Arabs… and Britain representing the sentiment in much of the West, with the possible exception of Portugal and Spain, was blatantly allowing the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people.
There was no counter from Raffi, his only contention was the insistence that historical and religious rights took precedence, and that there had to be an alternate, an option to the Jewish Diaspora… one afforded by the establishment of Israel. The Great Arab Revolt was truly the last stand by the Palestinian Arabs before the politics of the postwar (1946-8) made the creation of Israel inevitable. What we at the table seemed to agree on – maybe not Raffi – was the treatment of the insurgents by the Western and Jewish press as “bandits” or “terrorists” instead of what they really were: nationalists. It brings us back to what our treatment is today for those who do not agree with us and commit violent acts defending their ground… we call them terrorists, military might able to create or redefine meanings in any dictionary.
More than seven decades after the Great Arab Revolt, the fate of Palestinian Arabs is no better defined today than it was then. And yet, most people in the world don’t understand their plight… the pain and anger of being dispossessed.