Pamela Ann Smith, Palestine and the Palestinians, 1876-1983 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984).
Palestine has been the focus of a disproportionately large number of monographs, special studies, collected works and polemics. Yet there has not been, until now, a competent synthetic history of that country and its people. Pamela Ann Smith’s work ably fills this need, offering a useful introduction to the socioeconomic and political history of Palestine. The author covers a wide variety of topics, ranging from the makeup of the old social classes of the late Ottoman period and the impact of British imperialism and Zionist colonization to the efforts of the various sectors of Palestinian society to cope with dispersion and exile after 1948 and to forge a viable national liberation movement. The narrative is presented without jargon, and with data that is consistently thorough.
Smith’s treatment of the “great families” through the Mandate period and under Jordanian rule and the rise of a modern bourgeoisie is particularly good. She shows how elements of the old aristocracy forged an alliance with the Transjordanian monarchy before 1948 and then played a critical role in facilitating King ‘Abdallah’s annexation of the West Bank. This relationship had an extensive political as well as economic dimension. “Great family” individuals were appointed by the king to seats in the Jordanian Chamber of Notables and were offered Cabinet seats and upper level bureaucratic positions in such “non-sensitive” ministries as education and social welfare. At the same time, the monarchy encouraged economic enterprises in which a lion’s share of the market was guaranteed for these same people. Smith demonstrates how the growth of nationalist challenges led to the disintegration and ultimate decline in the power of the “great families” after the mid-1950s, as royal repression discredited those elements who remained loyal to the king and caused the rest to go into an unwilling opposition.
Smith’s discussion of the Palestinian bourgeoisie is also well conceived and presented. For a work which is essentially introductory, there is an admirable wealth of data on specific names, companies and case studies. The ability of this class to transfer capital abroad and to call on links with relatives and associates in neighboring Arab states facilitated their growth after 1948. This discussion also covers the rise and fall of the Beirut-based Intra Bank; Smith delineates the political lessons of its seemingly forced collapse in 1966.
This book should find a welcome and appreciative audience among readers seeking an overview as well as among beginning students of Palestine. In this regard, the lack of a concluding chapter is unfortunate. Also, the exhaustive bibliography might have better been divided functionally, in order to direct the reader to further works on specific issues. But these criticisms do not detract from this competent, well-researched, well-documented and very readable survey of a brief but vast sweep of history. It is at once sympathetic to its subject and scholarly in its presentation of that history.