Did Arabs and Jews in Pre-1947 Palestine have a good relationship?

  • 1 minute read
  • • by Sharon Koifman
  • • January 8, 2024

While there were many stories of Jews taking care of Arab peasants and creating deep relationships, in a big frame, Jews have experienced revolts and massacres against them through the early 20th and 19th centuries. The leader at the time, Amin Al-Husayni, collaborated with Hitler to try to get rid of Jews. That’s after centuries and millenniums of continuously being treated like second-class or even third-class citizens.

Through my years as an activist, I heard wonderful tales of Jews and Arabs getting along very well.  There is no question that, on a personal level, many Arabs and Jews had great relationships. Jews even had a history of taking care of fellow Arabs. Rosh Pinna, the very first Zionist settlement, had good relations with Ja’una, an Arab neighboring village. The inhabitants of Rosh Pinna built the very first modern Arabic school in Palestine. Also, the first Zionist settlers introduced the industry to the land and employed the fellahin (Arab peasants) in their factories. They used to earn more in factories than farming land, as they still do today. Pinchas Rutenberg connected Arab rural villages and towns to their first electric grid. 


The reality was that educating and empowering the fellahin was bad business for the Arab nobleman. It gave them less control, and Jews also increased the cost of the land and gave them more competition. This was the first motivation Arabs had to hate the Jews (if we ignore antisemitism and the usual stuff).


According to Arieh L. Avineri, thanks to the Jewish settlements in Mandatory Palestine:


“The Arab economy developed far beyond that of the neighboring countries; the standard of living rose; the birth rate and life expectancy increased.”




“The first real stimulus to economic development came from Zionist settlement. The land purchases, the melioration of the land (despite the limitations imposed by the Turkish authorities), the building boom, the planting of vineyards and citrus groves, the increase in commercial and transportation ties with the outside world – all contributed to the creation of new opportunities for employment and subsistence.”


That made many fellahin give up on farming and try their luck on Jewish lands and factories for new opportunities, which pissed the Arab landowners.


This fear of Jews that came from the noblemen and led by the Grand Mufti, created a tough place for Jews.


There were many Riots opposing Jews in the early 20th Century, including 2 the most famous ones: the Hebron massacre (67 Jews killed; 58 Jews wounded) and the Safed massacre (18–20 Jews killed; 80 Jews wounded). The Hebron massacre was particularly depressing because it was actually the first time in a few millennials that the Jews were fully removed from Hebron, and to add a little more salt on the wound, the Jews in that region did not particularly subscribe to Zionist Ideology so it was clearly an Anti-Semitic action. 


There were quite a few others, like the Bloody Day in Jaffa in 1936 (9 Jews killed, 40 Jews wounded (11 critically). And the 1921 Jaffa Riots, where 47 Jews were killed and 140 were wounded.


The focus of many of these revolts was specifically about limiting Jewish immigrants. Where unlike Arab immigration, everyone were accounted for


Here’s the list of some of the main Massacres and revolts


1920 Nebi Musa Massacre

1921 (Jaffra Riots)

1929 Palestine riots, Jaffa Massacre, Safed Massacre, Jerusalem riot, Kfar Darom massacre, Hebron Massacre

1936-1939 Great Arab Revolt


And these were the big ones. Violence against Jews was an everyday reality.


The end results also meant that Jews need to evacuate or depopulate 12 towns

During the 1929 Palestine riots:

1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine


During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine:


Unfortunately, nothing clearly defines the hate toward the Jews than an Arab leader who clearly wanted to continue Germany’s genocide against the jew. By simply Googling “Amin al-Husayni” the grand Mufti and Hitler, you will see a picture of both leaders Chillin like 2 villains.



The Jews in Palestine, like in most countries in the world (including Arab countries), were always treated like second-class citizens. These policies in Palestine never changed until Jews had control over the territories. 


The Jews of the time were not allowed to visit the Cave of Patriarchs (one of the most important monuments where Abraham was buried), nor many places in Jerusalem. The Jews’ right to immigrate was often under threat by Arab protests and British will. Those caught trying to enter illegally by sea or land were taken to detention camps. British soldiers entered any house or kibbutz they wished to demand food, beer or arrest Jews. 


Under the Ottoman rule, it sucked even more. According to Tudor Parfitt, historian, writer, broadcaster, traveler and explorer:


“…Inside the towns, Jews and other dhimmis were frequently attacked, wounded, and even killed by local Muslims and Turkish soldiers. Such attacks were frequently for trivial reasons: Wilson [in British Foreign Office correspondence] recalled having met a Jew who had been badly wounded by a Turkish soldier for not having instantly dismounted when ordered to give up his donkey to a soldier of the Sultan. Many Jews were killed for less. On occasion the authorities attempted to get some form of redress, but this was by no means always the case: the Turkish authorities themselves were sometimes responsible for beating Jews to death for some unproven charge.”


In 1834, when the Arab peasants were angry with Mohammad Ali (Egyptian governor at that time) for forcibly enlisting their sons to the army, they decided to lash out at the Jews. They raided and pillaged Safed for 33 days. Many Torah scrolls were desecrated, and Jewish women were raped. Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, an Anti-Israel sociologist and a political scientist, call it an early expression of Palestinian nationalism. It’s interesting how one of the first supposed expressions of National identity consisted of crimes against Jews, and this was pre-Zionist movement, Jews.


Did you know that Arab kids enjoyed stone-throwing a Jew even before Zionism? Benny Morris, a former Anti-Zionist historian who switched leniency to left Zionism, shared a history of a 19th traveler:


“I have seen a little fellow of six years old, with a troop of fat toddlers of only three and four, teaching [them] to throw stones at a Jew, and one little urchin would, with the greatest coolness, waddle up to the man and literally spit upon his Jewish gaberdine. To all this, the Jew is obliged to submit; it would be more than his life was worth to offer to strike a Mohammedan.”


Stone throwing is not a symbol of resistance, as the Intifada lovers like to tell you, but a symbol of utter despite.


In 1847, a Jewish kid stumbled on a Christian Arab boy’s foot. The Arab boy threw a pebble back onto the Jewish kid. The Greek Orthodox Christians joined the Muslims and accused the Jews of looking for Christian blood to bake the Passover matzah. If not for the Sultan, the blood libel could lead to a disaster. This was a century before the UN Partition Plan.


During World War I, the Young Turk government actually began deporting the Jews from Tel Aviv in 1917, just as the Turks planned to start the Armenian Genocide.


So please don’t give me this junk about friendship and flowers. Like every other place in the world, Jews had a tough time In Israel and survived oppression for thousands of years till they got their region.

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