Jewish “terrorists” vs Arab “fighters”: An open letter to the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor

The following is a letter written by a CiF Watch reader named David Shayne, and originally submitted to the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor in response to his report entitled ‘British officials predicted war – and Arab defeat – in Palestine in 1948‘.

Dear Mr. Norton Taylor,

I read your article with great interest, but I must say I was rather appalled to read your following claim:  

The documents, which have a remarkable contemporary resonance, reveal how British officials looked on as Jewish settlers took over more and more Arab land.”

This statement is extremely misleading, evoking an image that  Jewish government or other entity was forcing Arabs off their lands in large numbers.  This picture is false.

It is well documented that, during the British Mandate, Jews in fact acquired very little settled Arab land.  All Jewish land acquisitions were commercial, land purchased from willing sellers (and often at exorbitant prices).   The Jews, being politically powerless, had no means to compel Arabs to sell their lands.  Moreover, a vast majority of these purchases involved unused lands in sparsely settled areas, e.g. the Jezreel and Hefer valleys, swampy areas that the Arabs tended to avoid.  The Jews, in turn, avoided moving into heavily populated areas.  That is why to this day Arab and Jewish population concentrations are in different parts of the country (e.g, the West Bank and the Coastal plain).  

There are many books that describe these issues, a particularly good one is “From Time Immemorial” by Joan Peters.

Even today, when there is a Jewish government which can and does exercise its power regarding the controversial settlements policy in the West Bank, most of these were likewise built on uninhabited stretches of land.  Generally, Arabs were not expelled in order to create these towns.

Another severely erroneous statement in your article was this:

In the weeks leading up to the partition of Palestine in 1948, when Britain gave up its UN mandate, Jewish terrorist groups were mounting increasing attacks on UK forces and Arab fighters, the Colonial Office papers show.”

It is not clear what time period is meant here.  If the reference is prior to November 29, 1947 (the UN Partition Plan vote) then it is true that some Jews did engage in “terrorism” and Jewish forces did attack British forces (which the British always called “terrorism” even the targets were legitimate military targets and no British soldiers were killed).  But there was also plenty of Arab terrorism, meaning the random murder of unarmed Jews and Britons that had occurred during the same time.  The British, too, engaged in “terrorism” of their own from time to time (see the book “Major Farran’s Hat“). Singling Jews out as “terrorists” is grossly misleading.

If the reference is to the period between November 29, 1947 and May 15, 1948, then the statement is a flat-out lie.  Arab forces attacked Jews all across Palestine the very next day after the UN vote.  Dozens of Jews were killed immediately, the Jews tried to organize to defend themselves.  Since the British were leaving, and the Jews had their hands full just protecting themselves from the Arabs, all anti-British operations ceased.  I am not aware of a single significant incident of Jews attacking Britons during this time period.

The British, on the other hand, continued to severely oppress the Jews and prevent them from acquiring the necessary arms to defend themselves.  Moreover, many Britons openly aligned themselves with Arabs and some participated in anti-Jewish terror (e.g, the February, 1948 bombing of Ben Yehudah Street in Jerusalem).

The very characterization of Jews as “terrorists” and the Arabs as “fighters” when it was Arab terrorist violence that launched the 1947-48 war to start with reveals a deep prejudice that belies any semblance of objective reporting.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your response.

David Shayne

20 replies »

  1. This disgusting abomination of reporting is even worse than the letter makes it out to be.

    “UK officials warned London that Jewish opinion would oppose partition “unless the Jewish share were so enlarged as to make the scheme wholly unacceptable to Arabs”.”

    This is journalism?? Which ” UK officials”? Who were they? Did they have any animus toward the Jewish population? How did they know what “Jewish opinion” was? Was there a poll?


    “British officials warned the colonial secretary, George Hall: “The Jewish public … endorsed the attitude of its leaders that terrorism is a natural consequence of the general policy of His Majesty’s Government””

    Which British officials? How did they know the attitude of the “Jewish public.” Does “terrorism” include something that would not be considered terrorism as defined today such as a regular military attack by military forces against military forces?


    “The next UK intelligence report referred to “effective pressures which Zionists in America are in a position to exert on the American administration”.”

    This sentence is just thrown in out of nowhere as if to “resonate” with the antisemites in Britain today who talk about the Jewish lobby.

    British officials reported later in 1946: “Arab leaders appear to be still disposed to defer active opposition so long as a chance of a political decision acceptable to Arab interests exists.” But they warned: “There is a real danger lest any further Jewish provocation may result in isolated acts of retaliation spreading inevitably to wider Arab-Jewish clashes”.

    In other words, Arabs were pacifists who committed no violence until continuously provoked? This is an utter and shameful complete distortion of history.

  2. One other thing. How about a citation to the cited documents so they can be checked? How hard can that be?

    • The documents are available for anyone to read on application for a reading ticket at the National Archives. Unfortunately they are not on line because the NA say the can’t afford to digitise them.

        • The wiki article also notes that, at the time of his comments, Porath was much more leftist than he is today.

          • Bad history is bad history. Porath’s article in the NY Times was so devastating a critique of Peter’s methodology, that I doubt he would recant it today, even though he has become a Likudite. As he wrote:

            “The more extreme you were in your Zionist beliefs the more thoroughly you propagated the Jewish mythology. What is surprising is that Joan Peters still writes as if the Zionist myths were wholly true and relevant, notwithstanding all the historical work that modifies or discredits them.Neither historiography nor the Zionist cause itself gains anything from mythologizing history.”

            • What an incredibly scathing critique!

              Here’s another: the more extreme you are in your libero-fascist beliefs the more thoroughly you propagated the Arab mythology. What is surprising is that you still write as if the Arabist myths were wholly true and relevant, notwithstanding all the historical work that modifies or discredits them. Neither historiography nor the libero-fascist agenda gains anything from revisionist history.

              • Michael, you should send your comments to Professor Porath, since his was the scathing critique I quoted. He may not appreciate your accusation about perpetuating Arab myths, since he is as dismissive of those as he is the Zionist ones.

                Based on David Shayne’s well-written response to the Norton-Taylor article, I thought this was a site for serious discussion. You and SerJew have proven otherwise. I’m outta here.

                • Do you really think that I care if he doesn’t like my comment? Besides that, now that he’s a reformed leftist, he probably sees that his then-distorted view was erroneous.

                  Toodaloo! Don’t forget write!

                  On the other hand, you can forget that part.

  3. “There are many books that describe these issues, a particularly good one is “From Time Immemorial” by Joan Peters.”

    Peters’ book is a well known fraud. Please wake up!

    • The issue in Peter’s book that is controversial is regarding the amount of illegal Arab immigration into the Mandate for Palestine in the first few decades of the 20th century.

      This has nothing to do with the documentation of Jewish land acquisition which is the issue the author of this post is referencing.

  4. Regarding Joan Peters’ “From Time Immemorial,” a Wikipedia article cites Israeli historian Yehoshua Porath’s assessment of the book, as follows:

    Reviewing the book for the November 28, 1985 issue of The New York Times, Israeli historian Yehoshua Porath described the book as a “sheer forgery,” stating that “[i]n Israel, at least, the book was almost universally dismissed as sheer rubbish except maybe as a propaganda weapon.” In 1986, Porath repeated his views in The New York Review of Books, and published a negative review that cites many inaccuracies.”