Menachem Begin was the prime minister of Israel from 1977-1983, while leader of the conservative Likud party. Earlier, he had played a key role in the establishment of Israeli statehood as one of the primary leaders of the Irgun organization, a private Zionist army formed in the late 1930s which "advocated terrorist tactics equal to those used by Arabs who attacked individual Jews." (Smith, p 100). Begin's book The Revolt, which documented Irgun's development, was first published in English in 1951.
Chapter IV - We Fight, Therefore We Are
Here, Begin explores the reasons behind what he terms the Jewish "revolt" that led to the founding of the state of Israel. Note that the title of his book itself implies that this struggle was mainly a Jewish-British conflict in which the Jews of Palestine rose up against their British oppressors. This is the overriding theme of Begin's entire narrative, which functions to downplay the historical importance of Arab-Israeli conflict over Palestine.
In addition to the implicit desire of the Jews to escape what Begin paints as British colonial control, Begin identifies two additional reasons for the "revolt" - the ongoing slaughter of millions of European Jews in Hitler's concentration camps during WWII and Britain's simultaneous refusal to permit more Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Begin thus directly blames Britain for at least part of the death toll of the Holocaust. He claims that British Intelligence knew what was happening to Jews in the concentration camps, "but they remained silent" (p 26). He discusses British complicity in the fate of several refugee ships bound for Israel that sank in the Mediterranean (p 35). According to Begin, this was all part of Britain's overall plan to ensure continued postwar control of Palestine, by "achieving the maximum reduction in the number of Jews liable to seek to enter the land of Israel" (p 28). Methodically, Begin builds a case for Britain's interest in Palestine. He mentions the large numbers of Englishmen among the earliest Zionist emigres to Israel (p 29), and the geo-political significance of Palestine, situated astride the Suez Canal and "athwart the road to India" (p 31).
Begin explains British policies such as extending protection to Jews in Palestine before the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and issuing the Balfour declaration in 1917 as Machiavellian maneuvers designed to designed to shroud her colonial interests in a cloak of benevolence (p 29). He outlines for his readers his vision of what he terms "the British Master Plan" (p 32), whereby Britain would maintain control of Palestine by pitting Jews and Arabs against one another, which would allow the British to continually pose as a neutral adjudicator between warring parties (p 31).
Begin thus blames growing Arab resistance to Zionism in the decades preceding WWII on British provocation. "Arab riots and attacks could be easily brought about...the Arabs were encouraged, sometimes quite openly (by the British), to organize attacks on the Jews" (p 31). Begin concludes his description of the "British Master Plan" for Palestine by portraying Britain's intentions behind limiting Jewish immigration into Ersatz Israel (as outlined in the final 1939 White Paper) as yet another attempt to "ghettoize" the Jews, this time in their own homeland, by granting them "a strictly proportional share - about one third - in the government" (p 33). A compelling parallel is thus drawn with the previous historical experiences of oppression faced by European Jewry. This allows Begin to neatly sidestep the question of whether it was legitimate for Zionist forces to maneuver to gain a numerical majority in a land already occupied by another people, the Palestinian Arabs.
He concludes this chapter by constructing a narrative that casts the Israeli "revolt" in historic, heroic terms with religious underpinnings. He explains that the struggle was a natural outgrowth of events (i.e., global anti-semitism culminating in the Holocaust) having forced the Jews to take up arms in order to defend their existence as a people. Begin describes the "new generation (which) grew up and turned its back on fear...it began to fight instead of plead" (p 40).
"For nearly two thousand years, the Jews, as Jews, had not borne arms...we gave up our arms when we were exiled from our country. With our return to the land of our fathers our strength was restored" (p 40).
Simultaneously, Begin's narrative invokes the right of a people to self-defense and the historic Jewish "right" to Palestine in order to justify the creation of the state of Israel.
Chapter V - Logic of The Revolt
Next, Begin purports to matter-of-factly describe several of the socio-political factors important to the success of the "revolt." As I see it, Begin's three primary objectives in writing this chapter were slightly less dispassionate than this, but very important to the overall themes of his book. These objectives were to (1) further the idea that the Zionist conquest of Palestine was an anti-colonial struggle waged against the British, (2) assign all blame for the conflict over Palestine to British imperialism and undue Arab hostility towards the Jews, and (3) to dehumanize the Palestinian Arabs and make them appear to be a more "backwards" people than the Israeli Jews.
By weaving an analysis of British imperialism into his narrative (p 52), Begin skillfully furthers the notion that the conflict in Palestine should be seen as a classic anti-colonial struggle. The proof that this analysis is used for purposes more rhetorical than factual comes in the following few paragraphs, when Begin reveals that this insightful analysis of British imperialism taught the Israeli forces...not much, only that it was necessary to destroy the British government's "prestige" in order to undermine its authority (p 52).
At every opportunity, Begin absolves the Jews of any and all blame for the conflict over Palestine. He again blames the British for inciting Arab violence against Jews - "throughout the revolt, the Government spared no effort to turn back the tide, to convert the Anglo-Jewish struggle into an Arab-Jewish conflict. The Arab contacts of both the Haganah and the Irgun Zvai Leumi often told of the visits of government agents to Arab villages and of their inciting speeches to the Arabs" (p 48). He also wastes no time in assigning the remaining blame for the conflict on undue Arab hostility towards the Jews, usually using inflammatory, obviously biased language.
"The historical facts of the Arab attacks are known: the pogrom in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1920, the murderous attack in Jaffa in 1921, the blood-bath of 1929, the incessant campaign of violence from 1936 to 1939...these one-sided attacks" (emphasis added) (p 48).
Again and again, Begin uses negative descriptive language and makes sweeping, stereotypical generalizations that tend to dehumanize the Palestinian Arabs. For example, "the Arabs who, while they cannot be accused of undue cowardice, are not regarded as particularly courageous" (p 48), or "the Arabs, it is true, do not read much" (p 49). Repeatedly, Begin paints a picture of the Palestinian Arabs as childlike, uneducated, easily excitable, prone to violence and the pleasures of the flesh.
"Their (the Arabs') only subject of conversation was the attack on the headquarters of Authority. They were full of wonderment. Their excitable imagination was fired" (p 49). "The fact that the mighty British government...failed to put an end to our struggle...exercised a very healthy influence on the Arabs. Their imagination did the rest" (p 50). "They anticipated that Tel Aviv, its buildings, and its daughters, (emphasis added) would be delivered up to the Palestine Arabs" (p 50).
Chapter XI - The "Altalena" Affair
This chapter actually provides only background information to Begin's full discussion of the "Altalena" affair, which involved a shipment of arms to Israel aboard the vessel "Altalena" in June, 1948, which left port in France later than planned and was thus due to arrive in Israel immediately following the first United Nations declared truce. Begin's objectives in this chapter seem to be to describe the circumstances that Israeli forces found themselves in during this period of the struggle (i.e., to provide reasons why more armaments were needed), and to discuss another incident crucial to the founding of the state of Israel: the conquest of Dir Yassin, the first Arab village to be captured by Jewish forces.
Begin precedes his discussion of Dir Yassin with an almost parallel exploration of the Arab conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem. His sharply differing treatments of both events are unintentionally revealing. Whereas Begin stresses that inhabitants of the Old City caught in the battle were "a section of the civilian population among whom were many women and children" (p 161), regarding Dir Yassin, repeated references are made to the "Arab troops," "the fire of the enemy," "to overcome the enemy...our troops were forced to fight for every house." Furthermore, he claims that civilians at Dir Yassin were given evacuation warnings by attacking Israeli troops. In other words, Begin does everything possible to downplay the significance of civilian casualties at Dir Yassin.
Source: The Revolt (1951) by Menachem Begin