The introduction presents the history of Palestine from the emergence of Zionism in the late nineteenth century to the 1948 war. It focuses on the Zionist colonization of Palestine, and the failed attempt of the indigenous population to ward it off. It also demonstrates how younger generations of European Jews and the Arabs who came of age in the shadow of the Ottoman Empire's dissolution internalized the racist European gaze and envisioned a similar solution to combat it; namely, a masculine militarist culture. This culture played an important role in the militarization of Zionism and the Arab mobilization for the 1948 war. Finally, the introduction discusses the methodological concerns that arise when working with a unique source used in this book: personal letters, secretly intercepted and copied by the Israeli censorship bureau.
This chapter examines the little-known grassroots activity carried out by societies, parties, and tribes to recruit men and women to fight in Palestine in 1948. Both Zionist and Arab mobilizers drew upon a certain collective logic they believed existed among potential recruits: Arab mobilizers appealed to a pan-Arab sentiment, and in the Jewish world, Zionist mobilizers appealed to a "pan-Judaic" sense of duty they believed Jews harbored, whether Zionists or not. The Palestine cause created a major transnational mobilization, but what that cause symbolized was radically different in Morocco, the United States, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and European Displaced Persons (DP) camps where Holocaust survivors were concentrated in the aftermath of the Second World War. In fact, mobilization did not simply call on latent identities for either Jews or Arabs. It also helped mold them, creating new visions of political possibility.
This chapter focuses on the ideological training of the Jews and Arabs who arrived in Palestine in 1948 and those who were already there. Propaganda answered the critical question of "who is the enemy?" and pressured soldiers to repress competing interpretations not in accord with the officially sanctioned understanding of Zionism or the brand of Arab nationalism espoused by the ALA. The chapter argues that Zionist army education officers made novel use of biblical ideas about exterminating the enemy, long suppressed in Western rabbinical tradition. In so doing, they bridged the gap between the brutal ideology of the Revisionist Right and the supposed moderate view of Labor Zionism and the Haganah. The ALA leadership also drew on religious traditions, but more pressing for them was keeping Palestine at bay and taming the enthusiasm of Arab volunteers so that their anticolonial fervor did not extend to fighting the Arab regimes themselves.
This chapter examines how Jewish and Arab volunteers explained the reasons for coming to Palestine and what actually being there meant for them and for their loved ones back home. Rather than the assertion that "jihad" was the primary motivation for Arab volunteers, or that an uncomplicated sense of Jewish solidarity was behind Jewish mobilization, the chapter argues that the participation in the 1948 war was driven by complex, and often surprising, interests and causes. Moroccan Jewish volunteers (and their families in Morocco) regarded the Jews taking up arms in Palestine as signaling an end to their inferior status as dhimmis in Islamic lands. But Ashkenazi racism in Palestine made those volunteers reconsider their relationship with Arabs and ultimately with Zionism as well. Iraqi Arabs insisted they could transfer the momentum of fighting the British in Baghdad into Palestine, against the cynical intentions of the Iraqi government.
This chapter explores the reflections on violence among perpetrators and victims, and the ways that violence brought about a revaluation of the role of community in their lives. Jewish soldiers wondered what it meant to be Jewish in an era of national sovereignty, and whether Jews should revel in violence, like soldiers of other nations. Meanwhile, Palestinians and their allies wondered about the worth of pan-Arabism if it failed to save Palestine. The rank-and-file of the volunteer army tried to distance themselves from the impending disaster by allying with Palestinians, often against the ALA's direct orders. Palestinians came to doubt the promise of pan-Arabism, but for them the stakes were much higher: those not expelled by Jewish forces had to make the fateful decision of whether to stay put or leave their homes in hopes that the pledge to save Palestine would soon be realized.
This chapter captures the moment when the chaos cleared in 1949 and the results of the war became clear: the loss of homeland for Palestinians and creation of a new homeland for some Jews. It was then that several subgroups of Jews and Arabs tried to undo results of the war and return to what used to be: a return to Palestine for Palestinians, and return to the comforts of the diaspora for Moroccan Jews. The Israeli elite was pleased that most Jews were accepting of the violence that gave rise to the state. But the elite did not stand idly by when attempts were made to undermine its victories: it intercepted letters by Palestinian refugees and ambushed them as they tried to return; it also fabricated letters by Moroccan Jews to make sure those still in Morocco would not reconsider their immigration on account of Ashkenazi racism.
The conclusion evaluates the success of the ALA and the IDF in shaping the view of the rank-and-file during the war and its immediate aftermath. Both armies were successful at drawing volunteers based on collective pan-Arab and "pan-Judaic" logics. However, while the IDF was triumphant in entrenching the ideology that the Jewish tradition was comfortable with collective violence (with some surprising dissenters), the ALA was far less effective in convincing Arab volunteers that Jews infringed on their status as dhimmis, or that volunteers should be loyal to Arab leaders at any cost. Palestinians in particular started to question the promise of Arab leaders to reverse the nakba. Instead, they realized that they would have to be the ones to undo the catastrophe.