Skip directly to content



Share via Social Media


PROTAGONISTS in conflicts are often so obsessed with the history of the conflict in which they have been involved that they are unable to face the emotional and intellectual challenge of transcending the past in order to address the task of achieving a reasonably honorable, if necessarily imperfect, resolution of the conflict. The wronged, or oppressed, party is particularly susceptible to such an obsession.

The intensity and longevity of the obsession is affected by several factors: the nature of the wrong inflicted in the first place, the attitude of third parties to the conflict, and the conduct of the oppressor party after the infliction of the wrong.

For the Palestinians, the oppressed party in their conflict with Zionism, these factors have combined to ensure the prolongation and intensification of their obsession. During the almost seven decades between the early 1880s and 1948, the period covered in this book, Palestinians were at the receiving end of a Jewish political movement of European provenance, Zionism, which presented them with the deadliest threat, short of physical annihilation, to which a people can be subjected – the denial of their birthright in their ancestral home, Palestine. Nor did this threat remain hypothetical: 1948, the Year of the Catastrophe, as Palestinians call it, witnessed the long-dreaded, inevitable climax of Zionist colonization since the 1880s in the twin phenomena of the establishment of Israel by force of arms in the greater part of Palestine, and the displacement of the Palestinians inhabitants from a score of towns, and from some four hundred villages whose ruined sites became part of the new Jewish state. In the process, at least ten thousand Palestinians were killed and three times that number wounded; 60 percent of the Palestinian population at the time, some 700,000 persons, were rendered homeless. The Palestinians may not have been annihilated in 1948, but they were dispossessed of their country.

World public opinion has been sympathetic to the Palestinians. As erstwhile victims of European colonialism, the Third World countries (including India) have instinctively identified with their cause. The Communist countries (including the USSR and China), while recognizing the existence of Israel, have supported the Palestinians partly because they view their struggle within the context of opposition to Western imperialism, and partly for geopolitical reasons. Important sectors of public opinion in Western Europe have also evinced an understanding of the plight of the Palestinians, reflecting centuries of European association with and sensitivity to the Middle East

But gratifying as the sympathy of world public opinion has been to the Palestinians, it has been neutralized by the massive support extended to Zionism by the United States both before and after 1948. The United States bears a heavy share of the responsibility, immediately following the end of World War II, for propelling events in Palestine toward their terrible consequences (for the Palestinians) in 1948. American support for Israel since then has steadily escalated despite continued Israeli denial of Palestinian national and human rights. It is American support that above all else has enabled Israel to persist in this denial. What particularly rankles with Palestinians is that the United States’ endorsement of their dispossession has been made in the name of the democratic values of American political culture. The irony of this is all the greater because there is evidence to indicate that the majority of the American people would support an evenhanded solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that guaranteed the existence and security of Israel as well as Palestinian national survival and self-determination.

From the beginning of the colonization of Palestine, the architects of the Zionist “dream” excluded from consideration its potential consequences for the Palestinians. The reality of Zionism as translated on the ground was rarely perceived as diverging from the dream, which was (and still is) regarded as pristine; any divergence between the reality and the dream was only a momentary aberration from the dream. Thus the ineluctable link between Zionist action and Palestinian reaction was banished from Zionist consciousness. Since 1948, with the exception of a small Israeli peace movement, the Israelis have succumbed to an emotional and intellectual condition (to which an oppressor is prone) that complements the Palestinians’ obsession with the past. This condition is characterized by an acute aversion to a scrutiny, with all its moral implications, of Zionism’s historical record in Palestine since the 1880s. So great has their aversion been (and so compelling the apparent psychological need for it) that, which the help of historical revisionism and rationalization, the Israelis have convinced themselves and their supporters either that the Palestinians did not exist at all before 1948, or – if they did – that the Palestinians were the initiators of the conflict and the tormentors of Zion. The Israelis’ final refinement of this line of reasoning has been to categorize their Palestinian victims under much rubrics as “fanatics” and “terrorists,” that the sources of whose behavior must be sought in specious, atavistic fountainheads. Thus have the motives behind Palestinian existence to Zionism and Israel been traced comfortably away from the context of the conflict itself, and equally from those of Israeli introspection and moral responsibility.

If 1948 had marked the end of the impingement of Zionism and Israel on Palestinian rights, time would still have had a formidable task to heal the wounds already inflicted on the Palestinians.

In fact, throughout the two decades between 1948 and 1967 Israel adamantly refrained from any alleviating gesture of redress or reconciliation, whether in the form of repatriation, reparation, or territorial adjustment. It proceeded, instead, to “legalize” its expropriation of the abandoned movable and immovable properties of the Palestinian refugees and to transfer these properties to Jewish ownership. It imposed military rule on the terrorized Palestinian minority left in its midst. It carried out, in the name of retaliation for the slightest border violations, grossly disproportionate military operations against Palestinian border villages on the Jordanian-controlled West Bank and in the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip, villages whose best farmland it had already seized in 1948. It annexed the demilitarized zones and no man’s land on the West Bank. It unilaterally diverted the waters of the Jordan River for its own purposes. It repeatedly flaunted its might by holding military parades in West Jerusalem. During the same two decades, the Palestinian problem evolved into the conflict between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries. And in the 1960s Palestinian despair found expression in the concept of armed struggle under the aegis of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In 1967 Israel went further still. Having wrested the greater part of Palestine in 1948, it was now bent on wresting what land remained in Palestinian hands. Between June and September 1967, it expelled across the Jordan River some 250,000 inmates of the refugee camps located on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. It proceeded to apply to the newly occupied territories the very policy of systematic colonization, pursued by the Zionists in Palestine from the 1880s until 1948, that had created the Palestine problem in the first place.

Enjoying an absolute monopoly of power over the Occupied Territories since 1967, Israel has facilitated its colonization of these territories through a whole gamut of administrative, legalistic, economic, psychological, and physical measure. Immediately after the cessation of fighting in June 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the “unified” city its capital. The municipal boundaries were expanded to include large areas of Palestinian territory on the West Bank. Strategic parts of these areas were expropriated and housing projects were completed in them to accommodate Jewish Settlers “returning home” from Russia and the United States. Bulldozers were dispatched into the Old City of Jerusalem to tear down venerable medieval Muslim religious buildings adjacent to the Wailing Wall. Dozens of Muslim family properties within the Old City walls were seized in the name of “public interest” and transferred to Jewish Ownership. Extensive excavations were undertaken next to the foundations of the holiest of Muslim shrines without prior permission of the Muslim religious authorities. Three prosperous villages erased from the map and their entire population expelled overnight.

The so-called Emergency Regulations, resurrected from the days of British colonial rule, were the cornerstone of Israeli policy. These regulations allowed arrest without warning; censorship of newspapers, books, telegrams, and letters; restriction of movement, limitation of contact with others, dismissal of employees by order of the Minister of Defense, and internal exile and deportation from the country without judicial approval; the opening and closing of areas, the imposition of unlimited curfews, and confiscation and destruction of property. Under the umbrella of these regulations, habeas corpus was routinely denied by the Israeli occupation authorities as was freedom of expression, assembly, and movement. Hundreds of houses were blown up to punish relatives of individuals suspected of to involved in resistance. Troops received authorization to fire live ammunition into demonstrations by unarmed civilians, including schoolchildren. Thousands of Palestinians were detained and hundreds subjected to torture in prison. Academic life was disrupted through the periodic suspension of instruction at schools and universities, and the repeated invasion of classrooms and dormitories by special units of Israeli army. More than one hundred leading citizens (doctors, clergymen, feminists, judges, professors, civil servants, and union leaders) were banished from the country. Elected mayors were dismissed, deported, and (in some cases) maimed with the connivance of Israeli officials. Informers and quislings were subsidized and armed. Israeli colonist vigilantes, armed by their government, were permitted to take the law into their own hands in acts of vandalism and murder.

In the economic field, the Occupied territories became a hostage market for Israeli products as the expense of local industries. The economic need of Palestinian villagers was exploited to create a pool of cheap labor available to Israel at substandard wages for jobs no Israeli would touch. The water resources of the West Bank were tapped not only for use by Israeli colonists but also for diversion to Israel proper. Even the planting of trees and the growing of vegetable patches by Palestinians were made subject to official Israeli permission.

Israeli policy centered on two complementary processes: the expropriation of land from or its closure to Palestinians; and the construction of Jewish colonies (“settlements”) and towns on the land thus alienated, or its requisitioning for direct Israeli state use. Every nook and cranny of the legislation of the former regimes in Palestine (Jordanian, British, Ottoman, and pre-Ottoman) was searched for subterfuges by which “legalize”, rationalize, and gloss over the seizure of land whether from owners private or public, resident of absentee (in the Diaspora); or from tenants, refugees, sharecroppers, shepherds, or Bedouins. Where no subterfuges could be devised, Palestinian soil was declared by fiat the “national patrimony” of the Jewish people. By 1984 nearly 50 percent of the West Bank and 30 percent of the Gaza Strip had been seized as “absentee property” or “registered state [i.e., Jordanian government] land”, or land requisitioned for “military purposes” or closed for “training purposes”, or land expropriated for “public purposes”. In all instances land so seized was reserved for the exclusive use of the Israeli government of Jewish citizens of Israel.

The implantation of Jewish colonies and towns accompanied the process of land alienation At first these colonies masqueraded as military or paramilitary outposts in uninhibited areas set up for “security” reasons or even as archaeological excavation camps. But emboldened principally by the acquiescence of the united States and its funding of the colonization process, successive Israeli governments proceeded to establish colonies and towns in the midst of thickly inhabited Palestinian areas in the name of the biblical right of return to all parts of Eretz Israel. By 1983colonists were living in about 140 colonies and towns all over Palestinian Occupied Territories. To be sure, a tiny proportion of the confiscated land (30,000 out of the 2.15 million dunams*) had been owned by Jews in these territories before 1948; however, the restoration of property to its pre-1948 owners was exclusively restricted to Jews and did not apply to Palestinian-owned property in West Jerusalem and Israel proper.

The Palestinians and the PLO leadership in the diaspora saw with horror their compatriots in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank facing dispossession by slow strangulation – a fate even worse than that endured by their fathers and mothers in the period culminating in 1948

The PLO answered the historic delegitimization of the Palestinians by Zionism with counterdelegitimization, and Israel terror with Palestinian terror active the PLO the more steadfast the Palestinians were under occupation, and the more steadfast the Palestinians under occupation the more resolved the Israelis were to extirpate the roots of autonomous Palestinian decision-making i.e., the civilian and military institutions of the PLO. Hence the Israeli devastation of the Jordan Valley (across which the PLO operated from Jordan) in the period from 1968 to 1970. Hence also the Israeli devastation of southern Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut (the PLO’s base of operation after 1971), culminating in the siege and bombardment of the Lebanese capital and the massacre at Sabra and Shatila in 1982.

The distinctive lot of the Palestinians now (whether in the suburbs of Beirut, the Old City of Jerusalem, or elsewhere) is that their suffering, be it physical or mental, has little chance of fading into a distant memory: The wounds of yesterday fester alongside those of today.

A victim’s obsession with the past is often the concomitant of a vengeful disposition, and protagonists have habitually compiled “historical records” of their conflicts as a prelude to each other’s delegitimization. But a retrospective glance can also serve a constructive purpose. That is the intent of this book, which it is hoped will shed some light on the Palestinian s as a people in Palestine before their diaspora, and on the genesis and evolution of the Palestine problem during its formative phase. By so doing may it also poster an understanding of the Palestinian situation today and the minimal prerequisites for an honorable settlement, from the Palestinian perspective, against the background of the actual historical record.


Before Their Diaspora is limited in its chronological and topical scope; its core is the photographs and their captions. It deals neither with the Zionist venture per se not with the Arab-Israeli conflict in general. The beginning of the period covered by the photographs (1876) was chosen for two reasons: the earliest photographs that could be found on the Palestinians go back to this time, and the earliest stirrings of Zionism in Eastern Europe happened to occur more of less simultaneously. The final date, 15 May 1948, marks the formal end of the British Mandate, the end of the “civil war” phase of the first Arab-Israeli war, the forcible establishment of the state of Israel, and the resultant beginning of the Palestinian diaspora. With few exceptions, no attempt was made to include photographs of related contemporaneous events, however, are referred to in the introductions and chronologies. The historical introduction to Part I reaches back into antiquity.

The book is structured chronologically. Its five main parts deal, respectively, with the last days of Ottoman rule (1876-1918), the period from the British occupation to the Great Palestine Rebellion (1918-35), the Great Rebellion (1936-39), the period from the London conference to the UN partition recommendation (1939-47), and the six months of civil war (November 1947-May 1948) .

The photographs in Part I are somewhat loosely organized around aspects of political, social, cultural, and religious life, concluding with a “portrait gallery.” Those in Parts II and IV are more rigidly organized into subsections along the same lines, the photographs in Parts III and V focus almost exclusively on the momentous political and military developments that occurred during the periods they cover. The photographs in Part I cover the longest period – some forty years; those in Part V, the shortest – only six months. Every attempt was made to determine the exact date of each photograph, or failing that, to establish as accurate approximation as possible, but within some subsections a strict chronological sequence is not always followed.

Most of the 474 photographs that appear here were selected from a total of about 10,000 photographs in the archives of the Institute of Palestine Studies, Beirut, now transferred to Geneva, Switzerland. The most precious collections in the IPS archives are those of the late Wasif Jawhariyyah and the late Khalil Raad, to which many photographs donated by or acquired from individual Palestinians and Arabs have been added. In preparing this volume, however, selections were also made from the photographic archives of several other institutions in Britain and the United States, which are mentioned below.

It was not an easy task to collect and identify photographs from individual Palestinians resident in so many countries. The deteriorating situation in Lebanon, where work on this book began, make the task all the harder. Numerous other relevant photographs to which access could not be obtained must, of course, exist in various institutions and private homes all over the world. A continued search of these photographs would no doubt have further enriched the selection published here, but for practical reasons it was necessary to end the search at some point.

The photographs in this book were chosen on the basis of their relevance to its purpose and subject matter. Content took precedence over aesthetic criteria, so that occasionally the content of even a poorly produced photograph justified its inclusion. The selection of photographs was also partly determined by the requirements of structure and balance within the various sections and subsections. In the last analysis, though, the photographs that appear here could only reflect the range of the total number from which they were chosen. While every effort was made to cover as many aspects of Palestinian life as possible, gaps inevitably remain and are readily noticeable.

Each photograph has two numbers: a sequence number and the catalogue number assigned to it either in the IPS archives or in the external collection from which it was selected. In the commentaries, photographs are identified by sequence number only. The list of photographic credits on pp. 349-51 identifies the photographs by catalogue number also. Almost all of the photographic prints, because the original photographs were not available.

On the perennial question of transliterating Arabic words into English, I have not followed any rigorous system. Thus I have dispensed with initial and terminal ains and hamzas, retaining only medial ones, eg., Ka’bah (ain) and Samu’il (hamza). I have generally been guided by common usage and, in certain cases, by how individuals wished their names to appear in English.

Finally, a note on the term “Palestinian”. Because of its increasingly exclusive use since 1948 to denote Palestinian Arabs, it has been used throughout the book in this sense.


Many institutes and individuals have contributed to the preparation of this volume. Special thanks are due to the Imperial War Museum in London; the Matson Photo Service at the Episcopal Home in Alhambra, California; St. Anthony’s Middle East Center, Oxford; and the PLO Information Center in Beirut for permission to use photographs from their archives.

Dr. Fathi Qaddours took a particular interest in this project on behalf of one of its two principal patrons, the Arab Bank Ltd., Amman. Prof. John Munro ably edited the first version of the captions. Ms. Juliana Peck and Rev. Daniel Harrington, S.J., read drafts of the introductions and preface while Mr. Muhammad Ali Khalidi rechecked the commentaries, chronologies, and introductions for factual congruence; all three made valuable suggestions. Mr. and Mrs. Sa’id Abu Hamdeh were unstinting in their help with the development and production of the photographs. Ms. Martha Dukas very fortunately introduced me to Mr. Richard Zonghi, the designer.

Many of the photographs in this book were selected from the collection of the late Wasif Jawhariyyah of Jerusalem, a noted Palestinian connoisseur and arbiter of taste. Mr. Jawhariyyah deposited his entire priceless collection at the Institute for Palestine Studies, and I am particularly pleased and honored to have the opportunity of introducing at least a portion of his legacy to the general public. Extensive use has also been made of the unique collection of the late Khalil Rad of Jerusalem, the leading professional Palestinian photographer of his time. I wish to express my deep gratitude and appreciation to the families of both these worthy gentlemen.

A number of other individuals have also helped either by identifying photographs or by donating them from their family albums. I am sincerely thankful to all of them : Mr. and Mrs. ABD al-Rahman Abd al-Hadi, Ms. Soraya Antonius, Mrs. Hanna Asfour, Mr. Anton Attallah, Mrs. Mu’in Bisisu, Mr. Abdurrahman A. Bushnaq, Mr. Kamel Deeb, Dr. Salma Jayyusi, Mr. Salim Katul, Mr. and Mrs. Khulusi Khairi, Dr. Rashid Khalidi, Ms. Dominique Roch, Mr. Fuadd Saba, Mr. Yusuf Shadid, Ms. Hilda George Shibr, Mr. and Mrs. Adel Taji, Dr. Izzat Tannous, Mr. Ghaled Suleiman Tuqan, Mrs. Suha Tuqan, Mrs. Milli Ziyadeh, and Dr. Nicola Ziyadeh.


Cambridge, Massachusetts

*One dunam equals one thousand square meters

Before Their Diaspora was published in 1984.