A Forgotten Mobilization: The Tunisian Volunteer Movement for Palestine in 1948

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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This paper goes beyond the ideological views of nationalist leaders who positioned the departure of Tunisian volunteer soldiers for Palestine in 1948 in the framework of national-liberation history, and it analyzes the volunteer movement to provide a picture of the internal mechanisms of popular mobilization. This was a dual movement, of spontaneous participation and organized recruitment by local committees. The volunteers were ideologically heterogeneous, some having had no previous political career. The decentralized nature of the mobilization and the regionally differing socioeconomic compositions of the volunteers suggest that regionally diverse trajectories of nationalism movements coexisted in Tunisia. Understanding this volunteer movement from the bottom up, focusing particularly on the socioeconomic conditions that made the mobilization possible, can help us understand the dynamism of nationalism as a social movement.

A Forgotten Mobilization: The Tunisian Volunteer Movement for Palestine in 1948

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

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2

Gabriel BaerFellah and Townsman in the Middle East (London: Frank Cass1982): 225-323; Joel Beinin and Zackary Lockman Workers on the Nile: Nationalism Communism Islam and the Egyptian Working Class 1882-1954 (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1987); Ted Swedenburg “The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt (1936-1939).” In Islam Politics and Social Movements ed. Edmund Burke iii and Ira M. Lapidus (Berkeley: University of California Press 1988): 169-203; Joel Beinin Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001).

5

Elizabeth Schmidt“Top Down or Bottom Up? Nationalist Mobilization Reconsidered, with Special Reference to Guinea (French West Africa).” American Historical Review 110/4 (2005): 984. See also Beinin Workers and Peasants: 71-98.

7

Michel Camau and Vincent GeisserLe syndrome autoritaire: Politique en Tunisie de Bourguiba à Ben Ali (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po2003): 114. For the exclusion of some groups of Tunisians from historiography during the postcolonial era see Thomas DeGeorges’s insightful article on veterans of the world wars “Still behind Enemy Lines? Algerian and Tunisian Veterans after the World Wars.” In The World in World Wars: Experiences Perceptions and Perspectives from Africa and Asia ed. Heike Liebau Katrin Bromber Katharina Lange Dyala Hamzah and Ravi Ahuja (Leiden: Brill 2010): 536-9.

9

Elbaki HermassiÉtat et société au Maghreb: Étude comparative (Paris: Éditions Anthropos1975): 137.

13

Samya el-MechatTunisie les chemins vers l’indépendance 1945-1956(Paris: Harmattan1992): chap. 11.

16

Al-Rashīd Idrīs“al-Mujāhid al-akbar yazūru al-mutaṭawwiʿīn al-Maghāriba.” al-Ḥurriyya27 June 1948.

21

Al-Rashīd IdrīsFī ṭarīq al-jumhūriyya: Mudhakkirāt (Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī2001): 181-2.

23

Mohammed Bahri“Le conflit israélo-arabe vu du Maghreb,” Revue française de science politique (1966): 778. Despite Bahri’s assumption about the continuous struggle between Ben Yousef and Bourguiba Ben Youssef’s hostility toward Bourguiba and his inclination toward Arab and Islamic identities should not be regarded a priori as a fact. At least during the period of the volunteer movement in the 1940s such hostility did not manifest itself explicitly in the Néo-Destour and the conflict was rather between Western-educated Néo-Destour leaders (including Ben Youssef) and al-Zaytouna’s leading young professors.

27

Israel Gershoni and James JankowskiRedefining the Egyptian Nation 1930-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1995): 207.

28

Mohamed Sayah ed.Pour préparer la troisième épreuve: 1. Le Néo Destour brise le silence 1944/49 (Tunis: Centre de Documentation National1972): 255-322; Jean-Paul Chagnollaud Maghreb et Palestine (Paris: Sindbad 1977): 90-3; el-Mechat Tunisie: 32-3.

37

Al-Fadil ben ʿAshur had since 1945been the president of al-Khalduniyya circle a place of study and cultural exchange founded by elements in al-Zaytouna and al-Sadiqi. For al-Khalduniyya see Mahmoud Abdel Moula L’universié zaytounienne et la société tunisienne (Tunis: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique 1971): 103-6 134-5. The lectures provided an account of the historical background of the Palestinian issue without specifically commenting on the role of Tunisia or the Tunisian people. See Muḥammad al-Fāḍil b. ʿĀshūr Filasṭīn al-waṭan al-qawmī li-l-ʿArab (Tunis: Nashr ʿAlī al-Jundūbī 1948).

52

Azzeddine AzouzL’histoire ne pardonne pas: Tunisie 1938-1969 (Paris and Tunis: Harmattan and Dar Ashraf Éditons1988): 122.

61

Abd al-Fattah Muhammad el-AwaisiThe Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Question 1928-1947 (London: Tauris Academic Studies1997): 196-9.

62

Israel Gershoni“The Muslim Brothers and the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39.” Middle Eastern Studies 22/3 (1986): 369-97; el-Awaisi The Muslim Brothers: 97-101. Lia by contrast sees no causality between involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian issue in the 1930s and the domestic expansion of the organization but he conceded that the pro-Palestinian campaign attracted new adherents especially among the youth. See Brynjar Lia The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement 1928-1942 (Reading uk: Ithaca Press 1998): 241-2.

68

Idem Sfax 29 May 1948adn 1TU/1S/15.

78

Ahmad KassabL’histoire de la Tunisie: L’époque contemporaine (Tunis: Société Tunisienne de Diffusion1976): 197-205; Ali Mahjoubi Les origines du mouvement national en Tunisie 1904-1934 (Tunis: Publications de l’Université de Tunis 1982): 601-8.

91

KassabL’évolution de la vie rurale dans les régions de la moyenne Medjerda et de Béja-Mateur (Tunis: Publications de l’Université de Tunis1979): 98-109; Mahjoubi Les origines du mouvement national: 30-3 166-8 579-83; Abdelmahid Hénia Propriété et stratégies sociales à Tunis XVIe-XIXe siècles (Tunis: Faculté des Sciences Humaines et Sociales de Tunis 1999): 371-2.

92

Jean PoncetPaysages et problèmes ruraux en Tunisie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France1963): 159-60 204 247 258-70; Kassab L’évolution: 26-64; idem Études rurales en Tunisie(Tunis: Publications de l’Université de Tunis 1980): 417-8.

107

Idem Béja 12 June 1948adn 1TU/1S/15.

115

El-MechatTunisie75-8.

Figures

  • View in gallery
    The regional distribution of volunteers among 20 controles civils and the tst.

    note: the effective number of volunteers in each contrôle civil is shown in parentheses. The participation-rate score is the number of volunteers per 100,000 inhabitants for each contrôle civil. the score (x) is divided into five levels (represented by different shades of grey) as follows: 1) 0 ≤ x < 37.2; 2) 37.2 ≤ x < 74.4; 3) 74.4 ≤ x < 111.6; 4) 111.6 ≤ x < 148.8; and 5) 148.8 ≤ x < 186.

    source: based on “etat no. 2: repartition num erique par circonscription des transfuges refoule s d’egypte et tripolitaine,” document attached to report of civil controller of gabes, gabes, 9 july 1948, adn, 41tu/900/485. the boundary lines (solid lines for contrôles civils, broken lines for caïdas) are based on those in max sorre and georges hardy, atlas de l’afrique du nord (paris: l’illustration, 1939): pl. 9. the populations of the contrôles civils are based on the census results for 1946 (ast, 1940/1946: 12).

  • View in gallery
    Numbers and ratios of business taxpayers in 1948.

    note: the effective number of taxpayers in each contrôle civil is shown in parentheses. the tax score is the number of business taxpayers in 1948 per 100 inhabitants in each contrôle civil. the score (x) is divided into seven levels (represented by different shades of grey) as follows: 1) 0.39 < x ≤ 0.78; 2) 0.78 < x ≤ 1.16; 3) 1.16 < x ≤ 1.54; 4) 1.54 < x ≤ 1.92; 5) 1.92 < x ≤ 2.31; 6) 2.31 < x ≤ 2.69; and 7) 2.69 < x ≤ 3.07. No contrôle civil falls within levels 5 and 6.

    source: based on ast, 1949/1950: 123. the boundary lines (solid lines for contrôles civils, broken lines for caïdas) are based on sorre and hardy, atlas, pl. 9. the populations of the contrôles civils are based on the 1946 census data (ast, 1940/1946: 12).

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