The Lesson the Palestinians Learned from Israelis (To the Israelis' Everlasting Regret)

News Abroad

Mr. Carr is a contributing editor of MHG and the author of The Lessons of Terror.

This is an excerpt from Mr. Carr's recent book.

Following the Second World War, the campaign of Jewish terror reached its peak on July 22, 1946, when the Irgun--commanded by future Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin--blew up an entire wing of the famously beautiful King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Ninety people died: and once again, the vic- tims were Arabs, Britons, and Jews alike. Given such behavior, and given that they had long planned to leave anyway, the British informed the new United Nations that they intended to relinquish administration of Palestine to international control in 1947; and the UN--unable, as was much of the world, to separate what had happened to the Jews in Europe from what the Jews had long been doing in Palestine--subsequently came up with a new partition plan that gave even more prime territory to Jewish settlers.

During the months following the British departure, the Jews fought a war for the establishment of the State of Israel that saw many heroic deeds achieved by an enormous cross-section of their people. The Irgun and the Stern Gang, however, continued the murderous ways that had turned the British--once the Jews' most powerful protectors in the region--against them. Menahem Begin still believed that murdering civilians and hurling bombs into crowds of Arab shoppers would somehow break the Arabs' spirits and provoke sympathy for the Jews among the world community. He continued to be mistaken, and the global reaction grew particularly bad when Begin ordered his followers to focus their attention once again on targets in Jerusalem, hoping to create enough terror in that triply holy city to force the United Nations to drop its plans to place it under international supervision. So negative was the press created by the Irgun that even David Ben-Gurion, head of the Israeli cause, privately condemned their killing of civilians. But Begin ignored the censure, and later, after an armistice was declared, he denounced the agreement and kept fighting, this time instigating an armed showdown among Jews and posing a threat to the new Israeli government. The government won, but the strain of vicious terrorism that the Irgun had bred into the Israeli character would never be removed. Worst of all, it would inspire vengeful imitation among the Palestinian Arabs.

When the Palestinians formed those groups whose names were in time to become so familiar--the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, al-Fatah (or the Palestinian Liberation Movement), and its close but less openly military associate, the Palestine Liberation Organization--they took as one of their organizational and operational models the Irgun. The Palestinians also
received training in the Soviet Union, from which the Irgun had borrowed so many techniques. Had they not witnessed over many years the murderous efficiency of the Irgun, the Palestinians might have been tempted to choose a different path; but anger, desperation, and impatience took them down the same road, and inevitably, the results of their decision were also similar.

This article is excerpted from Mr. Carr's book and is reprinted with permission of the publisher, Random House. All rights reserved.

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Mark Bernadiner - 2/12/2003

This excerpt resembles me the 1930's Nazi and 1950 KGB anti-Semitic articles published in Germany and Soviet newspapers. All of them were based on the Geobbels propaganda principle. The only question is where Mr. Carr learned this principle?

Halina Minadeo - 1/24/2003

It would be interesting to know whether or not the Jewish state would have been
established if there had been no terrorist activities on the part of the Irgun and
other such "founding-father" groups. Would the Jews have been able to have
a state if they had used only peaceful, passive methods, as they now insist that
the Arabs adopt if the latter want to even begin discussions about a
Palestinian state? It seems that just as Joshua slew and demolished to take
the land away from the Canaanites, so now have the Israelis been following his
destructive, aggressive path. The Lord God of Israel allowed his people to seize
the Promised Land even though there were already inhabitants there.
Unfortunately, they were not Hebrews. History (if we can call "history" that which
is recorded in religious writings of a particular group) repeated itself in the war for
Palestine. If this land belonged to the Jews, who were "returning" (to a place
where the majority of them had never been, being descendants of mainly Central
European inhabitants whose genes probably have no traces of Semitic antecedents),,
then why was it necessary to launch such a bloody conflict? They should have
politely gone to every city, village, home and informed the occupants of said
sites that this was their land, given to them by none other than God Himself
(everyone knows that God is Hebrew) and then the Arabs would have all
said: "Oops, sorry! We will get packing straightaway." Then no lives would
have been lost and the Israelis would not have to keep explaining how
they never really meant to bomb the King David Hotel--after all, they sent
three (count them!) warnings which were ignored (Hi, this is the Irgun. We
have placed explosives in your basement, sneaked in by our boys disguised
as Arabs. So please do something about it. We would not want anyone to
get hurt.) Nobody's fault but their own that the Brits ignored the warnings
and thus caused the death of 91 as surely as if they had placed and detonated
the bombs themselves. And no one forced the Arabsto leave--they all went
freely, leaving the empty homes for the convenience of Jews from all over the
world. After all that they had suffered, it was only fitting that the Palestinians
should try to somehow atone for the tragedy by giving up all that they had.
And to think that those "Indian givers" now suddenly want their homes and
lands back! And they purposely live in those shabby, nasty refugee camps
just to make everyone feel sorry for them. Nothing but slum rats, those Arabs.
Look what the Jews did with that land that those Arabs were mismanaging--
Beverly Hills, compared to those stinky Arab ghettos. In conclusion, need
anyone ask why those so-called "Palestinians" (a made-up name--ther is
no such thing as "Palestine"--it is a recent invention, right?) are acting the
way that they are?

Asaf - 11/8/2002

The PLO realized that the Zionist Revisionists were the ones that created the Jewish state and not the economically disasterous Kibbutzim. It was not the military success of Irgun's attacks on the British that were damaging but that they were embarrassing to them was what hurt them. This was the Irgun's policy when fighting the British. That is why the PLO has come so close in creating a second Arab Palestinian state. They used Israeli narcisists left to embarrass the Israeli establishment, if by convincing ignorant Spharadi Jews that thier European brethren were mistreating them or by joining anti relegious fanatics in painting the "occupation" as religeiously motivated that endanger's Israel as a secular and democratic state. In everything else Carr is wrong.

Asaf - 11/8/2002

In all post WWI pre WWII collective violent outburst were instigated by Arabs against weak Jewish communities. These communities in Jerusalem, Hebron, and Tiberias were none Zionists or Anti Zionists. What they were however were weak and easy pray. The British backed away from the Balfour Decleration and the League of Nations' Mandate to creat a Jewish State on both sides of the Jordan because of laziness and immorality of the Crown's foreign policy and not because of the secular Jewish economic policies.
Today we can see the same moral ambiguity by the US who with one face condemns Israel for killing terrorists while with the other face praising the US "policy of assassination" against Al Qaida in Yemin.

Asaf - 11/8/2002

Arabs have been stoning Jews since Muhamad's subjugation of Jews. Arab massacres of Jews fill the 1200 years of Islam, from Muhamad's conquest of Medina to the Arab massacre in 1929 and now also include killing thier own kids while murdering Jews.
Never had the Jews massacred the Arabs. Not even when the squating Arabs invaders villiages fell to the Jews. The bloodshed just simply flows in one way.

Gus Moner - 10/27/2002

Who is insane? I cannot believe the maddeningly different comparisons are you trying to tie together to not make a point!

The fact that Israelis want a non-violent state for Palestinians has nothing to do with the unequal war being waged by Palestinians to rid themselves of Israeli occupation and settlements and to find a solution to 3.7 million refugees.

If Israel gave Palestinians their land, removed the settlements and helped finance a solution to the 3.7 million refugees scattered about, this would be a first step toward peace. They’d also have to consider relinquishing absolute control of water and other natural resources and share them. The coloniser-colonised / master, slave relationship has to end.

Gus Moner - 10/27/2002

Ms. Klinghoffer wants us to believe a hotel is a military target for terrorists violating the Balfour Declaration conditions and international approved human rights, when legally stationed soldiers are staying there. Sorry.

If the British side abrogated the Balfour Declaration sanctioning Jewish settlements it was because of Jewish abuses toward Arab property and rights and their violence against both the British and Arabs.

I’ll have to read your article to make further comments.

Gus Moner - 10/27/2002

I fail to see the advantage, moral superiority or even the distinction between trying to kill more or less civilians. Both are terrorists focused on their goals killing innocent people to pressure others.

Gus Moner - 10/27/2002

Perhaps it is wrong to get caught up in the polemics of who was the first to cast the terrorist stone. However, historical evidence out of context and without a background as you have presented is misleading.

Why were Palestinians, suddenly in the 1920’s, resorting to violence? Because the British had been given control of their land, and the British had promised to settle Jews there, against the expressed wishes of Palestinians as represented to the Versailles Peace Accords.
Additionally, a US instigated commission was sent there to investigate. They also ignored Palestinian wishes.

During WWI, in dire financing straits, Britain had made a commitment to banker Rothschild that the Zionist would be allowed to settle there, “as long as the rights and property of existing residents were not infringed.” These conditions were not fulfilled.

Contrary to your comment, Begin’s violence was also against Arabs. You provide evidence of the fact the Jews were terrorists: “While his tactics succeeded to some extent against the British [hanging of Jewish "terrorists" ended].” Again, who can tell who threw the first bomb? Begin’s group was one of dozens.

I do agree with the last point. “Mr. Carr's excerpt telescopes a complicated history of terror into a diatribe against one response of Palestinian Jews during that tragic decade.”

Gus Moner - 10/27/2002

I disagree with your point that the fact that Jewish terrorists did not hijack an airliner discredits the theory put by Mr. Carr that they learnt from Israelis how to get attention.

It simply means they have found more ways to go about bringing terror to their enemies or getting attention. One must bear in mind that before the massive settlement of Palestine by Zionist Jews in the early 20th Century. 15,000 Jews lived separately from yet peacefully with 40,000 Christians and 450,000 Arabs in Palestine. There were no Arab terrorists.

Notwithstanding, what you bring up is relevant. The media pays scant attention to the multiple factors blocking peace. Israeli settlements and the failure of Israel to address the issue of 3.7 million refugees from Palestinian wars are the stumbling blocks to the coexistence of 2 states. Israelis have imported over 1 million more settlers to occupy Palestinian land since 1948, land belonging to refugees in camps. Only 8% of Palestinian land belonged to Jews or the Jewish agency in 1948, whilst slightly over 50% belonged to the state and 40% to Arabs and Christians.

So, in the end, one can only partially agree with you on this point “Whether or not Fatah emulated Irgun is, by comparison, a trivial side issue.” Because, when Israelis paint themselves as non-terrorists and peace loving, their history and their theft of Palestine land and property from Arabs expose their true ways.

David Camp - 10/26/2002

Notwithstanding Orson Olson's rantings about other issues

Orson Olson - 10/26/2002

Camp writes: "There have been two principal stumbling blocks to Palestinian statehood....
The shared objective of both [Israel and US] is the sabotaging of all efforts at the sort of land-for-peace deal which most of the sane and civilized world has been calling for since 1967."

OK--Let't test this against the facts:

73% of Israelis are in favor of a free Palestinian state alongside Israel if the terror is stopped...
[Source: Yedioth Aharonoth National Opinion poll, April 5, 2002]

...while 69% of Palestinians under Arafat support suicide bombing operations against Israel.
[Source: Palestinian Opinion Pulse poll, July 2001, carried out by the Palestinian Jerusalem Media & Communication Center]

AND Camp believes the two-state solution is being blocked by the US and Israel?


Jeffery Thomas - 10/24/2002

What is truly disturbing about attempting to describe historical characters and events in a meaningful way, but without drawing moral conclusions, is the very lack of humanity inherent to the process. Making fine distinctions among various acts of terror is unworthy of public discourse on the subject at a time of increasing violence around the world. Even in brief comments, I would hope the question of our basic humanity would supercede "facts vs name-calling" as a point of departure. We in the history profession need to develop the sense of shame that we (I certainly am guilty of this) decry as lacking in the media and among our political elite. Violence cannot possibly continue to be the preferred answer to any of our problems, history reveals that this is true, and it is our solemn duty to say so every time we have the opportunity.

Ralph Seliger - 10/24/2002

Rather than learning their methods from the Soviet Union, as Carr states here, the Irgun & Stern Gang emulated the tactics of Michael Collins and the early IRA struggle against the British; i.e., more often than not, their "terrorism" was in attacking British military and administrative targets. When fighting with the Arabs became really brutal, they did launch some out & out terrorist attacks against Arabs, and these actions were publicly (not "privately") condemned by Ben-Gurion and the mainstream of the Zionist movement. Carr also messes up the historical sequence of events; almost immediately after the British departed from Palestine, Israel declared its independence and was invaded by armies from five or six Arab countries. Ben-Gurion ordered all the politically-affiliated militias (including the Irgun and Stern Gang) to be disbanded and to integrate into a new national army. But Begin's Irgun attempted to smuggle arms and to maintain its independent existence. This effort was crushed by troops commanded by Yitzhak Rabin, who sank the gun-running Irgun ship (the Altalena) and exchanged fire with Irgunists at the cost of lives on both sides. But Begin then complied and both extremist militias were dissolved. Thus, Carr is factually wrong in referring to terror attacks by the Irgun and Stern Gang after the British left, because these two groups no longer existed!

Judith Klinghoffer - 10/22/2002

My version of the events can be accessed on HNN article entitled "Jewish Terror." I do want to make a few points, the bombing of the King David Hotel was not the bombing of a civilian Target. It was a military one. It was the center of the British army. Unfortunately, civilians working in the Hotel died and the Yishuv condemned the attack PUBLICALLY. What he said privately, can be read in my article. Indeed, earler, Ben Gurion turned over to the British 700-1000 Irgun and Lehi members. Mayby Arafat can learned from that example. One thing is for certain, the Yishuv did not initiate terror in the British mandate. It is pitiful that a book so full of glaring factual mistatement is being published by Random House and this web site. Opinion is one thing. Wrong facts another.
Judith Klinghoffer

Ed Barry - 10/22/2002

Menachem Begin's Irgun issued a warning before the bombing, intending to give everyone enough time to clear out of the King David hotel. The British, apparently not believing the threat, did not make the warning public. While this is hardly an endorsement of Begin's terrorist tactics, it still illustrates a significant distinction--there is a world of difference between trying to kill as few civilians as possible and trying to kill as many as possible, as Palestinian terrorists do today (and as they teach their young children to do).

Steven Bowman - 10/22/2002

I should hope that the except from Mr. Carr's book on the lessons in terror learned by Palestinians is not reflective of his thesis and his facts in general. True the Palestinians have successfully learned Israeli efficient methods of irrigation. Not true that they learned terrorism from Menahem Begin. Indeed perhaps the opposite is the case.
Already in the 1920s Haj Amin el-Husseini had resorted to violence in his bid for control of the Arab response to the British and Zionists. In Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Hebron he attacked the aged religious communities, i.e., terror against non combattant civilians. Even more so in the 1930s when Haj Amin attempted to wipe out his Arab opponents during the Arab Revolt, the violence was against individual Jews and civilian targets. Begin's violence of the 1940s was against the British military and administration. His response to Arab attacks and bombings of Jewish busses was to respond also in kind. While his tactics succeeded to some extent against the British [hanging of Jewish "terrorists" ended], the point was never taken by the Palestinians, who hoped that the enemy of their enemy would succor them. After the defeat of the Nazis, many of whom came to the Middle East to teach tactics and propaganda, young Palestinians also trained with a variety of groups in the Soviet Union, and the IRA, past masters of urban bombing. The reductionism of Mr. Carr's excerpt telescopes a complicated history of terror into a diatribe against one response of Palestinian Jews during that tragic decade.

David Camp - 10/21/2002

This "excerpt" from Carr's book seems to be very poorly chosen.

The last thing historians in the U.S. need to help them understand the Mideast mess is more charges without evidence. Since I don't recall Begin and the Israeli terrorists doing anything quite like hijacking airlines or disrupting the Olympics, hard evidence of the Palestinians emulating the Israelis (if any such evidence exists) would be very pertinent here and should not have been edited out by HNN.

But this is anyway not a major question of interest to historians of the Mideast or American foreign policy.

The far more interesting issue is this: Of the two groups with long historic claims to self-determination in the region, one now has a sovereign state and the other does not.

There have been two principal stumbling blocks to Palestinian statehood, and, again, one is heavily covered by the U.S. news media while the other is largely ignored: Palestinian terrorism and Isreali settlements on West Bank. (The shared objective of both is the sabotaging of all efforts at the sort of land-for-peace deal which most of the sane and civilized world has been calling for since 1967).

Whether or not Fatah emulated Irgun is, by comparison, a trivial side issue - whether or not it really is a central matter discussed in Carr's book.

D. Camp