Friends and Enemies

The Palestinians

by Jonathan Dimbleby, photographs by Donald McCullin
Quartet Books, 256 pp., $25.00

Report and Recommendations of an Amnesty International Mission to the Government of the State of Israel, 3-7 June 1979

Amnesty International, 71 pp., $4.95

Arab Politics in Palestine 1917-1939: The Frustration of a National Movement

by Ann Mosely Lesch
Cornell University Press, 245 pp., $19.50

By, “the Palestinians” the British television journalist Jonathan Dimbleby means the hundreds of thousands of people in South Lebanon—what Israelis call “Fatahland”—who are the children of the refugees who fled Palestine in 1948. They are the main body of the national movement whose vanguard is the PLO. Having spent their lives in harsh camps, or working in Gulf states which denied them citizenship, the Palestinians in Lebanon are now men and women who set themselves apart from the rest of the Arab nation as people who have witnessed their own catastrophe. It is Dimbleby’s unreserved sympathy for them that makes his book worth reading. Through interviews and photographs, he presents their history as they see it.

Just when (he tells us) the Turks were repressing the Palestinians’ own first challenge to Ottoman rule during World War I—by ruining their traditional economy and hanging their leaders—the British army marched in. But British politicians only replaced the Ottoman empire with their own duplicitous colonialism. Notwithstanding Sir Henry McMahon’s commitments to the Hashemite Sherif of Mecca in 1915 and early 1916, the secret Sykes-Picot agreement between England and France during 1916 detached Palestine from its cultural and political center in Syria, which the French sought to control. This accord prepared the ground for British administration of Palestine under the League of Nations Mandate which formally endorsed Lord Balfour’s promises to the Zionists in 1920.

The imperialism of some Europeans, Dimbleby continues, thus promoted Zionism in Palestine even as the racism of other Europeans menaced Jews, driving them to Zionism. Nor were the Jews all that grateful for refuge; they barely concealed their ambition to have a state within their ancient borders. They set about dispossessing Palestinian farmers of traditional holdings, only to establish upon them farms and industries which actively discriminated against Palestinian workers. Forced from their land, vulnerable in the cities, the Palestinians thus saw their country bought up, fenced in, transformed, by swelling waves of Jewish immigrants. Peaceful political action was useless while their own desperate use of force brought on British and Zionist terror. The Zionists finally drove them out, harassing Arab families who clung to their land.

Suddenly homeless, reviled by the imperialist West, at war with Israel, the Palestinians were also misused by reactionary Arab regimes, and patronized by UN relief agencies. The writer Yahya Rabah told Dimbleby:

We came to realize that we were nothing without a homeland…. A homeland is not only land and security. It is songs and happiness. When we ate bread or drank water, our first thought was that the bread of our country was better, the water tasted more sweet.

Dimbleby wants readers to share the ideology that most Palestinians derive from this special version of their history. But he does not appreciate what he’s revealed: that the galvanizing force in the lives of the Palestinians of Fatahland, of the PLO leadership, seems to be their political rage, and not the defense of some …

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