The Israeli peace camp has cultivated a myth that Jewish problems in Palestine started with the advent of Zionism and mass immigration. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, contemptuous of Zionism and ignorant of history, concurred. Yet the Palestinian Arabs attacked Jews in Tiberias during the 1834 revolt, long before the word Zionism entered political jargon. In Jerusalem pogroms, Arabs were murdering religious Jews, not Zionists. The 1928 massacre of Jews in Jerusalem resulted not from their land purchases, but from the religious Jews—acting in their dhimmi status—erecting a flimsy barrier between male and female prayer zones before the Western Wall, thus upsetting the tacit understanding with Muslims by which each side refrained from any actions whatsoever in relation to the Wall (quite an understanding it has been: the Arabs benevolently took it on themselves to not interfere at the Jewish Wall).

Arabs are not political enough to differentiate between religious and nationalist Jews. Israel, unable to single out the guerrillas, similarly attacked the entire Palestinian society. As their paternalist society fell apart, Palestinian Arabs needed an enemy to blame, and Jews came in handy. Blame is easily placed on any alien, and Jews are still more alien than the Palestinian Arab Christians. The elders of the crumbling villages joined hands with town notables, leftists, intelligentsia, and nationalists against Jews, who became the symbol—however incidental—of their old society falling apart. Regardless of the Zionists, ultra-Orthodox Jews were doomed in Palestine for as long as it would take the Arab societies to reconstitute themselves on the modern stage: long and perhaps forever. Ultra-Orthodox Jews also tend to forget that their own numbers swelled dangerously even before the massive immigration of secular Zionists; religious Jews constituted the majority in Jerusalem by the early twentieth century, but were unable to resist Arab pogroms. Palestinian Arabs wouldn’t have tolerated too many religious Jews. The influx of Zionists exacerbated the tensions, which were already lethal.

Jews made an easy target and a vent for Arab discontent. The majority of Arabs lived in the hills and hardly ever saw a Jew throughout their lives. Like in many other territories whose populations had never encountered Jews but were terrified at the thought of us, Palestinian Arabs developed animosity toward Jews. The Arabs in the Palestinian plains were lumpen-proletariat: landless peasants displaced from overcrowded villages, immigrants from countries as far away as Egypt and Sudan who moved to relatively civilized Palestinian port towns in search of jobs, and Palestinian notables whose clans were fighting each other more often than all of them fought the Jews. Palestinian nationalists opposed the British more than the Jews because they expected that the Jews wouldn’t constitute a problem once their British supporters were gone.

The violence against Jews came from Arab throngs and isolated gangs, rather than from the general Arab population. As so often in history, the murderers were few, but the general population did not restrain them.