PALESTINE AND PALESTINIANS: The Palestinian Press as a Shaper of Public Opinion 1929-1939: Writing Up a Storm
Sakr, Naomi, The Middle East Journal
The Palestinian Press as a Shaper of Public Opinion 1929-1939: Writing up a Storm, by Mustafa Kabha. London UK and Portland, OR: Vallentine Mitchell, 2007. xxvii + 271 pages. Appends. to p. 275. Refs. to p. 280. Index to p. 292. $95 cloth; $35 paper.
Reviewed by Naomi Sakr
Studies of the press can make illuminating contributions to political and social history, but book-length works in English on Arabic-language newspapers in the early 20th century are still rather rare. Through his painstaking research among Arabic and Hebrew archives, Kabha has helped to fill a gap: He has provided scholars who speak neither language with access to narratives of how Palestinian newspaper owners, editors, and writers interacted with each other, with Palestinian society, the British Mandate authorities, the Zionist movement, and the wider Arab world during one of many turbulent decades in Palestinian history. His sources include 30 newspapers in Arabic spanning 31 years to 1939, all but seven of them Palestinian, plus a number of personal interviews. Armed with detailed historical evidence, Kabha feels able to refute opinions that have been in circulation, such as one relayed in Hebrew literature alleging a "lack of mental inclination [or] thirst for the written word" among young Palestinians in the 1930s (p. 29). He is also equipped to contradict the version of events set out in the memoirs of contemporary figures.
This is a book of reference and historical record, which is not easily digestible in large doses. Kabha has arranged most of his material chronologically and strives to be so comprehensive that, at times, the reader is faced with lists of newspaper titles accompanied by a few lines of description on each one. This is most obviously the case in the section entitled "Introduction," which actually consists of an inventory of papers existing before 1929. Following the introduction is a short chapter addressing "social aspects" of the press over the whole decade covered by the book, in which Kabha devotes just over two pages to the newspapers' readership, making various assumptions based on the advertisements they carried. From then on the main body of subject matter is divided into periods defined by landmark events, notably the establishment of political parties, the strike of 1936, and the 1936-39 revolt. …