British Archives Dispose of the Palestinian Narrative

The release by the British National Archives in London in April 2013 of the records, previously secret files, of the British Mandate Administration in Palestine are revealing and invaluable for an understanding of contemporary attitudes towards Israel.  The files dispose in what should be a final and definitive fashion of the concept, the simple and histrionic one, asserted by the Palestinian Narrative of a Nakba, or catastrophe, resulting from the establishment of Israel.  The true Nakba, it should now be clear, comes from the refusal of Arab states and Palestinians to accept the United Nations General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 of November 29, 1947 and thus a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Israel.  The documents reveal that unlike the Jewish response to the Resolution, that of the Arabs was "a mood of bitterness and universal suspicion."

Not surprisingly, the documents show the British lack of sympathy, overt distaste, and even hostility for the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine, and they comment on the increase in Jewish settlement on the land.  The British administrators stated that the Jews were willing to go "to any lengths to achieve their aims."  Though they refer to atrocities on both sides, they more frequently mention Jewish terrorist groups that were attacking both British forces and Arab fighters in the weeks before Israel was established.  One report of October 1947 mentions an interview by Menachem Begin, then head of Irgun, that "the fight against the British invader would continue until the last one left Palestine."

Another report presents the Arab version of the killings, by a Jewish militia attempting to end the blockade of Jerusalem by Arab forces, that occurred on April 9, 1948 in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, the details of which are still disputed (though Palestinians and Arabs have continually used it for propaganda effect).  It also explains, if not defends, the massacre on April 13, 1948 by Arabs of  79 Jewish doctors and nurses in the convoy bringing supplies to the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus as a response to Deir Yassin.  An extremely hostile view of Jews was expressed by Sir Alan Cunningham, High Commissioner of Palestine, who wrote on April 30, 1948 that the Jewish broadcasts about their military activity "both in content and in manner of delivery, are remarkably like those of Nazi Germany."

The documents also argue that the Jewish public endorsed the view of their leaders that "terrorism is a natural consequence of the general policy of His Majesty's Government."  Most important in this was the British refusal to allow Jews, especially those coming out of Nazi concentration camps, to enter Palestine, and the British hostility to "illegal" immigrants.

What is most important in these documents is the implicit rejection of the Palestinian narrative of catastrophe that has been embraced by so many groups and individuals.  This is the validation by the British, themselves, so unsympathetic to the Jewish community, that the Arab attacks on Jews took place before the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948.  The documents record that in early 1948, the Arabs "had suffered a series of overwhelming defeats."  The consequence was that the Jewish military victories "have reduced Arab morale to zero and, following the cowardly example of their inept leaders, they are fleeing from the mixed areas in their thousands. It is now obvious that the only hope of regaining their position lies in the regular armies of the Arab states."

The documents speak of the "steady influx of Arab volunteers" from surrounding Arab countries.  They also dwell on the fact that while the Jews, while having some internal dissension, were organized, the local Arabs were inadequately helped by their own and neighboring Arab leaders, who made "extravagant claims of victories."  Sir Alan Cunningham on April 30, 1948 wrote that the Arab "much vaunted liberation army was poorly equipped and badly led."  By contrast, Cunningham reported that in almost all the fighting, the Jews "have proved their superiority in organization, training, and tactics."  He continued that the "foreign Arab guerilla bands ... are now quite unable to protect the local Arabs."

The most devastating reports came from Lieutenant Colonel C.R.W. Norman, head of British military intelligence in Palestine from October 1946 to July 1948.  He reported that Arab soldiers "were following the cowardly example of their inept leaders" by fleeing as Jewish forces advanced.  The Arabs "deserted positions and jettisoned arms and equipment" in the battle of Haifa[.] ... The desertion of their leaders and the sight of so much cowardice in high places completely unnerved the inhabitants."  Nevertheless, the Arabs, according to a report on May 6, 1948, attempting to save face, blamed the British for their defeat at Haifa.  In another report, Norman remarked that Arab military and civil leaders had left Jaffa and that the "whole area will be empty by the end of the mandate."

What is important in these reports, by individuals not sympathetic to Jewish aspirations, is that they all refer to events, hostilities, and behavior before the establishment of the State of Israel.  If a Nakba, a catastrophe, occurred, it was the outcome of the Arab attacks on the Jewish community before as well as after May 14, 1948.  After reading the British reports, no objective, unprejudiced observer of Middle Eastern history and politics can conscientiously accept the fallacious Palestinian version as anything more, in the words of Abraham Lincoln in February 1842, than "a drop of honey that catches the heart."