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Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 Paperback – 27 Feb 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (27 Feb. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520259890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520259898
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 752,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"[An] important book... The picture presented is thorough and fair and persuasive." -- Benny Morris New Republic "Groundbreaking... Riveting... Eloquent." The Nation "An important academic work that is accessible to general readers." Jerusalem Post "Written in ... honorable revisionist spirit." Books & Culture: A Christian Rvw "An important academic work that is accessible to general readers." Spero News

About the Author

Hillel Cohen is Research Fellow at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of The Present Absentee: Palestinian Refugees in Israel since 1948 and Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Services and the Israeli Arabs.

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By D. Tal on 26 Sept. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
arrived just as promised, in time and shape
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Laith Al-masri on 22 July 2010
Format: Paperback
Good read and a different perspective than I am used to. I good follow up to Ilan Pappe's book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
The most important book on the Arab-Israeli conflict 25 Mar. 2008
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is quite simply one of the most important books to be published on the Arab-Israeli conflict in a long time. It focuses on a relatively narrow, but fascinating subject, the Arabs who worked alongside Jews in Mandatory Palestine, sometimes because they were favorable to Zionism but more often for pragmatic reasons. Cohen's contribution is not merely the scholarship but also the tales he tells of individuals caught up in momentous events.

Unlike so much of the scholarship on the Middle East this book is surprisingly un-perverted by the politics that so often weaves its way like a snake into books about the history of Israel or the Palestinians. Cohen notes that one should allow people to judge themselves, thus rather than taking the side of the modern Palestinian nationalist narrative, as man researchers do, and calling the `collaborators' "traitors" one should allow them to speak for themselves. They saw themselves as nationalists. They have found themselves, supposedly, on the wrong side of history. But they did not know that and this book allows the reader to hear these people come forward from history and speak for themselves.

The story covers the period 1920 to 1948 and examines the story Palestinian Arabs who worked with local Jews and Zionists in Mandatory Palestine. What is most fascinating is that Cohen shows that more often then not the Arabs who `collaborated' with Zionists were Muslims. This Muslim-Jewish connection took place because the most anti-Zionist Arabs were Christian Arabs, more often than not, Greek-Orthodox. Some leading Muslim families, such as the infamous Hajj Amin Al Husayni, were also leaders of Palestinian Anti-Jewish nationalism. But when king Faisal met Chaim Wiezman it was a Muslim notable talking to a Jewish one. Religious Muslims tended, ironically, to be less anti-Zionist then secularized urban Muslims and Christians.

Everywhere in Palestine there were Arabs who supported the Zionists in one way or another, usually because they resented persecution at the hands of Palestinian nationalists who called them traitors. Sometimes the reasons were economic as in the land purchases. Sometimes they were pragmatic as with the family feud of Nashashibi versus Husayni. Sometimes they were by other marginal groups, such as Bedouin near Beit Shean, or Druzim who were marginalized by the Nationalist Palestinian elite.

This book tells a unique story and reminds the reader that nothing is as black and white as most of those who write on the Middle East want to make. The Zionist movement made tremendous efforts to work with local Muslims, sometimes through bribes, but more often than not through persuasion and using Jews fluent in Arabic to work with locals. The outbreak of war in 1948 ended all those dreams of coexistence. But this coexistence was not the pipe-dream of Buber and Brit Shalom, but very real hands on coexistence between two nationalisms. Modern historiography prefers the more extremist version of Palestinian nationalism, this book dares to tell a different story.

Seth J. Frantzman
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and well-researched 18 Feb. 2010
By The Elder - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When used in wartime, the word "collaborator" is a loaded term. Like the words "traitor" and "treason," "collaborator" is pejorative by its nature, but its negative implication is only in the subjective context of the labeler.

Hillel Cohen, in his fascinating book "Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948," consciously uses these words in the context that Palestinian Arabs use the words today. As a firm member of the post-Zionist historians, perhaps this is not surprising, nor his use of the word "Nakba." But to Cohen's credit, despite his constant use of these terms without scare quotes, he is an honest enough historian to show that the supposedly treasonous behavior done by countless Palestinian Arabs between the Balfour Declaration and the founding of Israel was often anything but.

Reading this book, with Arab appellations being applied to situations where the Arabs end up looking very bad, is an exercise in whiplash. The exact same facts could have been used in a book called "Arab-Zionist Friendship, 1917-1948" but Cohen's use of the pejorative lends a sense of unreality to his terminology.

The book itself is a remarkable historical work, with much use of recently declassified Israeli archives showing the extent of the early Zionist Shai intelligence operations and methods, together with the large numbers of Palestinian Arabs who, to some extent, decided to work with the Jews rather than shun them, often at the cost of their lives.

"Army of Shadows" follows a roughly chronological history of Arabs who willingly sold land to Zionists, who traded with them, who worked for them and who at times employed them, even who married them. It follows the rise of Hajj Amin al-Husseini and elaborates on how his anti-Jewish policies often alienated the silent majority of Arabs and sometimes drove them to become even closer to the Zionists. It shows an overlooked aspect of the messy history of the competing desires of the Husseini-style Arab absolutists, Nashashibi-style pragmatists (who were no less nationalist), the pro-Abdullah camp who wanted a federation with Transjordan, the Arab labor unions, farmers, village elders, land dealers, economic opportunists, criminals, loyal friends to Jews. Yet, again, Cohen's terminology is exclusively the one used by the most extreme Husseini camp, and is now considered normative by Husseini's political heirs of Fatah and Hamas. In some ways, that terminology is almost Orwellian newspeak where it has become forbidden for today's Palestinian Arabs to even think that there could be something positive about cooperating with Israel.

In the 1920s, there were some Arab parties who were explicitly Zionist - the Muslim National Associations and later the Farmers' Parties. Cohen brings some evidence that Zionists were instrumental in helping these parties start and grow, but he implies that there would not have been any pro-Zionist sentiment altogether without this outside influence, a much weaker argument (and one that is slightly demeaning to Arabs, that they could not possibly have been independently anything but anti-Zionist.)

Cohen irritatingly ascribes noble motives to Arabs who want to become and remain friends with Jews, but he almost never gives the Jews the same credit. He consistently emphasizes the Zionist intelligence organization and how it manipulated Arabs but doesn't seem to think that it was possible that Jews could honestly be friends with the Arabs without ulterior motive. The paradox is that Cohen himself grew up friends with neighboring Arabs and those friendships helped him to go into the field of history; his enlightened post-Zionism cannot admit the possibility that early Zionist Jews could possibly have been as open-minded as he himself is.

But for all his faults, Cohen is scrupulously honest - he does not hesitate to tell anecdotes and facts that contradict even his own assumptions and biases. Even as he describes Husseini-style nationalism as being normative he is quick to mention that their opponents also felt they were acting with the best interests of their people in mind, and that they even accused Husseini of being the traitor to their cause.

The 1929 riots ended the explicitly Zionist Arab parties but there remained a significant number who were willing to work more covertly with the Zionist establishment. Some were opportunistic or greedy, some were idealistic, some were simply loyal to their friends. The collaboration included finding land that was for sale, providing intelligence from the Husseini nationalist camp, and quietly championing a more pragmatic relationship with the Zionists who many thought were too powerful to defeat anyway. The Husseini clan was most concerned about land sales, yet they often engaged in such sales themselves.

It was a combination of the Husseinis' intransigence, hypocrisy and their own terror campaign against their political rivals that paradoxically ended up pushing more Palestinian Arabs away from the extremist nationalism of the Husseinis. They didn't become Zionist but they were more willing to accept partition and accommodation. Yet even during the darkest days where the Husseinis were assassinating political rivals and suspected collaborators based only on suspicion, land sales to Jews continued and even increased. Even after the White Paper severely resticted land transfers, the Arabs and Zionists found loopholes to continue to sell land to Jews.

Early in the book, Cohen appears to conflate pan-Arab nationalism with Palestinian Arab nationalism - the former of which was far better established than the latter - and somewhat weakens his case when he claims that most Palestinian Arabs were nationalists. But by the end, when he takes a closer look at Palestinian Arab nationalism and its failure to stop collaboration with the Jews, he gets closer to understanding the truth - that specifically Palestinian Arab nationalism was always a shallow movement that didn't interest Palestinian Arabs themselves enough to fight and die for their own cause. Palestinian Arabs were more loyal towards their clans and villages than towards any sort of national cause, and even the nationalists were split between the absolutists, the ones that favored partition, the pan-Arab Greater Syrians and the Abdullah-oriented "Jordan option" advocates. (The relative ease in which the West Bank Arabs allowed themselves to become annexed to Jordan shows that the purely Palestinian Arab nationalism was weak even in their epicenter.)

Often, the outside Arab armies seemed to be more interested in fighting Zionism than the supposed victims of Zionism themselves. Cohen brings a number of examples where Arab villages fought to keep outside forces away, and many made peace pacts with nearby Jewish settlements. These pacts are part of the reason many Arabs stayed safely in Israel.

Cohen's reasons for the failure of Palestinian Arab nationalism dwells on these divisive factors and the relative success of Zionist intelligence and organization. He is too post-Zionist to entertain the notion that Palestinian Arab nationalism's failure was because it was from the start a negative movement, not a positive one - it was always more to stop Zionism than to build an independent Palestinian state. This is the real reason that it was so shallow and vulnerable to so many divisions - it was not an ideology so much as a violent reaction to a different ideology. No national movement can sustain itself if it is based mostly on the negation of another national movement.

Despite its flaws, this well-researched book is a very important addition to the history of the Palestinian Arabs and of Zionism.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Good overview of Arab collaboration with Jews around the creation of Israel 26 July 2009
By David A. Teich - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book gives a very good view of the varied reasons for collaborators to have worked with Jews. It also gives a very interesting picture of politics among the different Arab clans that caused, as it still does today, the charge of collaboration as a political tool.

The problem that took away the fifth star is that the author's polemics often exaggerate things and make assumptions that just aren't supportable. Even though I agree with his views, am a Zionist, and just spent six years in Israel, I expect a book such as this to lay out the facts and be a bit less subjective. The facts support his points well enough, the extras, even though I agreed which much of them, took away from the rigor the book could have had.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Impressive, Detailed, Scholarly 29 Nov. 2009
By L. King - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a must read book on the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Cohen educates his readers with an absolutely riveting account of the rivalry and tensions between various clan factions in Mandatory Palestine dating from the collapse of Ottoman rule to the Israeli declaration of independence. [ Instead he names local Arab clan leaders and land brokers who willingly sold lands to Jews and to the Jewish Agency. ]

The word "collaborator" in the context of conflict is often taken negatively. Yet in business one collaborates all the time - its how we get things done. When I collaborate with others it is in order to get more accomplished collectively that could be done by individually. In Palestinian society "collaboration" was viewed as pejorative, and therein lies the problem. The main branch of Palestinian nationalism today rejects the notion of collaboration and by examining history we can uncover the origin of this school of rejectionist thought.

I recently wrote the author of a history of the Middle East why he didn't cover the story of the minority view of Arab sympathizers to Jewish migration. He had considered contrary movements in Egypt and in Iran. He dismissed it as the story of the dog that didn't bark, implying that it wasn't very relevant. Yet in the Sherlock Holmes story of the same name the fact that the dog did not bark was the clue that solved the case!

Paragraph by paragraph Cohen clearly outlines of the events of the day backed by newspaper articles of the day, interviews, reports and archived correspondence. He also looks at the campaign of intimidation backed by the Mufti Haj Amin Husseini against those in the Arab community who were friendly towards Jews. What began as threats by 1936 had turned to bombs and and assassination of rivals and members of their families for selling land and doing business with Jews. (There was no refinement of the notion of Jew vs. Zionist shown.) Yet due to the nature of clan rivalry one of the effects was to drive some of the opposing clans such as Abu Gosh into a positive relationship with the Zionist camp.

The book shatters the Palestinian mythologies that Jews stole land, that the land sales were largely from foreigners or even that there was a coherent Palestinian polity, or that the British were on the side of the Jews or Arabs. It's an honest book in that he shows that the Arab land brokers were in some cases motivated by greed to sell land to Jews at high prices and were not adverse to questionable practices in amassing their holdings for resale. Some would squander the profits while others were interested in modernization and reinvestment for the benefits of their families or clans. Cohen establishes a realistic picture of a proto-Israeli polity that was organized for mutual benefit that made sure that it was as well informed as it could be about the sympathies and antipathies that it faced and this was both the purpose and beginnings of Israeli intelligence.

Overall I was spellbound with Cohen's ability relate the past. Credit should also go to his translator Haim Watzman. The book has a multitude of interesting details of which I was completely unaware and it certainly changed my perspective on this period of history. I've put Cohen's next book Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967 on order. Highly recommended!
They book using careful research brings to light events in ... 9 Aug. 2015
By Efraim Goldstein - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
They book using careful research brings to light events in the history of Israel that is not well known. This information sheds light on the current Israel and Palestinean conflict.
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