In his autobiography Weizmann writes, ‘In April 1936 rioting broke out in Palestine, and a new and unhappy chapter opened in Zionist history’. Weizmann’s context is that the Arab believes democracies only understand force (p.469). This perverse view is based on little evidence except his observation of French and British responses to Hitler and Mussolini, all European. Weizmann lists murdering Jewish travellers, attacking Jewish settlements, burning Jewish fields, and uprooting Jewish trees. Amonst others, he blames the Grand Mufti, whilst bemoaning the slow rate of Jewish immigration. Were any European country to have experienced the massive influx that Palestine did during the 1920’s and 30’s the rioting in the streets would have been far worse.
Trying to make sense of this period of history without distorting it is extremely difficult. It is easy to speak of ‘understanding the context’ when one is dealing with a fixed text, but historical context is rarely singular. So, Weizmann’s ‘context’ has to be placed within other equally important contexts. We have to account for Arab views of the Jew, and I’ve made ‘views’ plural intentionally. The same must be said for Jewish views of the Arabs: indigenous Jews had a more positive view of their Arab neighbours than did the Jewish immigrants. Some indigenous Jews hated the immigrants as much as did some Arabs, immigrant European Jews often seeming arrogant towards the local Jews. The newcomers also tended to settle in groups away from the indigenous community.
And both Jew and Arab had views on the British, the French, on TransJordan and Syria, some of those views informed – or more likely , misinformed – by events 20 years earlier. Too many of our politicians today simplistically condemn terrorism whilst paying lip service to its causes. To speak of ’causes’ in the context of terrorism inevitably draws the charge of ‘excusing terror’. That, frankly, is lazy thinking, dangerous propagandising. Understanding what drives people to acts of destruction including self-destruction is vital to solving the problem.