It may be hard to believe nowadays, but there was a time when leftist Arab leaders in this country could rightly be called “Israeli freedom fighters.” In those days, the Arab left fought for Israeli independence and was not averse to a “Jewish state.” Accounts from that time offer much food for thought.
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In August 1948, before the reunification of Maki (the Israeli Communist Party), Arab communists held a meeting in Haifa. Emile Habibi, a founder of the National Liberation League in Palestine and later a Maki MK, delivered a speech there. Kol Ha’am, the Maki journal, quoted his remarks: “The league will fight so that the Arab masses in Israel will become a democratic element that, together with the Jewish democratic forces, will fight for complete fulfillment of the United Nations resolution. Peace and independence of the Jewish and Arab state depends upon Jewish-Arab understanding.” The term “Palestinian” was not commonly used back then.
The festive unification gathering took place in October 1948 at the May Cinema in Haifa. The Davar newspaper quoted Habibi, who called for “ousting the Iraqi occupation army from Eretz Israel” and declared that the party would fight for the establishment of the Arab state “to safeguard the independence of the State of Israel.”
At the time, “Israeli independence” was the chief focus of the left’s leaders, Jews and Arabs alike. In his speech, Meir Vilner, a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, stressed his comrades’ contributions: “The great majority of our comrades are fighting in the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces. Many of our finest comrades were killed and wounded in battle as they set an example of brave and honest freedom fighters.”
He also cited the party’s contribution in recruiting international aid “for the State of Israel’s War of Independence,” noting that “just as the Arab masses wish to see the State of Israeli triumph over the invaders, the Jewish masses wish to see thwarted the imperialist plot to add on the Arab portion of Eretz Israel across the Jordan River.”
The party members’ contribution to Israel’s independence is revealed in a parliamentary question from MK Vilner in 1949 addressed to Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion following the issuing of restraining orders and detention orders by the military governor against two party members – Ramzi Khuri, the Maki secretary in the Western Galilee, and Nadim Musa. The Al Hamishmar daily reported that Vilner made sure to say in his parliamentary question that these two party members “stood at the head of the Western Galilee underground against the Kawkaji gangs.”
During a January 1950 Knesset debate over the Defense Service Law, Maki members made a big impression with their speeches, according to Ma’ariv: “Tawfik Toubi stood out for his harsh words this time,” said the newspaper. Toubi had railed against the return to the country of Nimr Hawari, who headed an organization that worked against Israel. Toubi reminded the other Knesset members about Hawari’s past, about the speech he gave in Gaza in which he addressed the mufti, saying: “Under your flag, Mufti, we shall enter Tel Aviv and toss the Jews into the sea.” MK Toubi called for Hawari to be tried as a “war criminal.”
Six months later, in June 1950, Toubi came under attack from Arabs in the “administered territories.” According to a report from the Government Press Office, this occurred after the military governor issued Toubi an entry permit for the Arab village of Tira. As Toubi toured the village, he “was attacked by a group of local residents who pelted him with tomatoes and splashed ink on him. A fist fight broke out between his supporters and opponents, and sticks and knives were brandished as well.” The report goes on to say that “Mr. Toubi found refuge in the home of the military governor, who assigned five police officers to guard him and escort him until he left the village.
Like they say – those were the days.