When the War of Independence began, it quickly assumed the nature of a
civil war. Those opposing the declaration of statehood fought alongside the
organized armies of their kinsmen that invaded the territory of the infant
state from all directions. The fighting was bloody, and the opponents of
independence used terrorism against the population defending statehood. The
country was partitioned between the areas of the new state and the territories
remaining under the rule of the foreign invaders.
As the fighting dragged on, the opponents of independence began a mass exodus.
In most cases, they left because they feared the consequences of staying
on as a political minority or because they simply opposed on principle the
new political entity. In some cases, they refused to live as a religious
minority under the rule of those practicing an alien religion. In some cases,
they were expelled forcibly. They fled across the frontiers, moving their
families to live in the areas controlled by the armies of their political
kin. From there, some joined the invading forces and launched cross-border
raids. When the fighting ceased, most of the refugees who had fled from the
new state were refused permission to return.
The events described above did not transpire in 1947-49, but rather in 1775-1781.
The refugees in question were not Arabs, but Tory "Loyalists" who supported
the British against the American revolutionists seeking independence. During
the War of Independence, large numbers of Loyalist refugees fled the new
country. Estimates of the numbers vary, but perhaps 100,000 refugees left
or were expelled, a very significant number given the sparse population of
the thirteen colonies.
While there are many differences, there are also many similarities between
the plight of the Palestinians and that of the Tory refugees during the first
years of American Independence. The advocates of Palestinian rights are in
fact clearly in the same political bed with King George`s allies who fought
against American democracy and independence.
Like all wars of independence, both the Israeli and American wars were in
fact civil wars. In both cases, religious sectarianism played an important
role in defining the opposing forces, although for Americans taxation was
even more important. (Israelis suffered under abominable taxation only after
Independence.) Among the causes of the American revolution was the attempt
to establish the Anglican Church, or Church of England, as the official bishopric
of the colonies. Anglicans were the largest ethnic group opposing independence
in the 1770`s, as were Palestinian Muslims in the 1940`s, although in both
cases other religious/ethnic groups were also represented in the anti-Independence
Those fearing the possibility of being forced to live as minorities under
the tyrannical religious supremacy of the Anglicans and Muslims, respectively,
formed the forces fighting for Independence. The Anglicans and Muslims hoped
to establish themselves with the armed support of their co-religionists across
the borders. New England was the center of patriotism to a large extent because
of the mistrust of the Anglican church by the Puritan and Congregationalist
majorities there. The later incorporation of separation of church and state
in the U.S. Constitution was largely motivated by the memory of would-be
Among the leaders of the Tory cause were many Anglican parsons, perhaps the
most prominent being one Samuel Seabury, the Grand Mufti of the Loyalists.
In both wars of independence, the anti-independence forces were a divided
and heterogeneous population, and for this reason lost the war. In the American
colonies, the Tories included not only Anglicans, but other groups -- including
Indians, Scots, Dutch, and Negroes -- who feared for their future living
under the rule of the local political majority. Tory sympathy was based on
ethnic, commercial, and religious considerations. Where Loyalist sentiment
was strong enough, namely in Canada, the war produced partition, with territories
remaining cut off from the newly independent state.
When Independence was declared, the populations of the opposing forces were
about even in both 18th century America and 20th century Palestine. The exact
distribution of pro- and anti-Independence forces in the American colonies
is not known, but the estimate by John Adams is probably as good a guess
as any, namely, one-third patriot, one-third Loyalist, and one-third neutral.
When fighting broke out, civilians were often the first victims in both wars.
The Tories formed terrorist units and plundered and raided the territories
under patriot control. The southwestern frontier areas of the colonies, like
the southwestern border of Palestine, were scenes of particularly bloody
terrorism. In South Carolina the Tory leader Major William Cunningham, known
as "Bloody Bill," became the Ahmed Jabril of the struggle, conducting massacres
of patriot civilians. Tory and anti-Tory mob violence became common. The
historian Thomas Jones documents many cases of Tories burning patriot homes,
but claims the patriots seldom did the same.
Terrorist raids were particularly common along the New England coast and
up the Delaware. General Sir Henry Clinton organized many guerilla raids
upon patriot territory. Loyalists also launched assassination plots, including
an attempt to murder George Washington in New York in 1776. Among the terrorists
participating in that plot was the mayor of New York City.
There were Loyalist insurrections against the patriots in every colony. Tory
military activity was particularly severe in the Chesapeake, on Long Island,
in Delaware, in Maryland, and along the Virginia coast. As violence escalated
and spread, the forces of the revolution took countermeasures. Tories were
tarred and feathered. Indiscriminate expulsions sometimes took place. Tory
areas were sometimes placed under martial rule, with all civil rights, habeas
corpus, and due process suspended.
Queens County, New York, a Loyalist stronghold, was put under military administration
by Continental troops, and the entire population was prohibited from travel
without special documents. General Wooster engaged in wholesale incarceration
and expulsion of New York Tories. The Continental Congress called for disarming
all Loyalists and locking up the "dangerous ones" without trial. New York
Loyalists were exiled to Connecticut and other places, and sometimes used
in forced labor.
Loyalists were sometimes kidnapped and held hostage. In some colonies, expressing
opposition to the Revolution was grounds for imprisonment. In some colonies,
Loyalists were excluded from practicing law and from some other professions.
Tories were frequently stripped of all property rights, and had their lands
confiscated. In colony after colony, Acts of Banishment forced masses of
Loyalists to leave their homes and emigrate. The most common destination
was the Canadian maritimes, with others going to the British West Indies,
to England, and to Australia.
In both the Israeli and American Wars of Independence, anti-independence
refugees fled the country in order to live in areas under the control of
their political allies. Many who opposed independence nevertheless stayed
put. After the wars ended, these generally found the Devil was not as bad
as they had feared, and were permitted to live as tolerated political minorities
with civil rights. (This in spite of the fact that many refused to recognize
the legitimacy of the new states, sometimes for decades.)
The colonies/states that had banished Loyalists refused to allow them to
return, even after a peace treaty was signed. In most cases, property was
never returned. There was fear that returning Tories could act as a sort
of fifth column, particularly if the British took it into their heads to
attempt another invasion. (Such an invasion took place in 1812.) The newly
independent country, like Israel, initially resolved many of its strategic
problems through an alliance with France.
The Tory refugees were regarded by all as the problem of Britain. The American
patriots allowed small numbers to return. Others attempted to return illegally
and were killed. But most languished across the partition lines in eastern
British Canada, mainly in what would become Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The refugees would never be granted the "right to return." In most cases
they would never even be granted compensation for property; Benjamin Franklin
was among the leading opponents of any such compensation.
At this point, the similarity between the Palestinian refugees and the Tory
Loyalists breaks down. The British, unlike the Arabs, did a great deal to
settle their refugees, rather than force them into festering camps, and allotted
$20 million for their resettlement. The Tory refugees quickly became a non-problem,
and never played any subsequent role in British-American relations.
Nevertheless, an interesting thought-experiment might be to imagine what
would have occurred had the British done things the Arab way. Tory refugees
would have been converted into terrorist cadres and trained by British commandos.
They would have begun a ceaseless wave of incursions and invasions of the
independent United States, mainly from bases along the Canadian frontier.
The British, Hessians and their allies would have launched a global diplomatic
campaign for self-determination for the Loyalist Americans. They would have
set up an American Liberation Organization (ALO) to hijack whalers and merchant
marines and assassinate U.S. diplomats.
Benedict Arnold would have been chosen ALO chairman and would have written the Tory National Charter under the nom de guerre
of Abu Albion. The British would have organized underground terrorist cells
among the Loyalist population that had not fled. Britain and her empire would
have boycotted the new country commercially and pressured others to do the
same, asserting that the national rights of the Loyalist people were inalienable
and eternal, no matter how many years had passed since the refugees fled.
International pressure would have been exerted on the U.S. to give up much
of its territory and to internationalize Philadelphia.
For more than fifty years the position of the American State Department has
been that Israel should grant the Palestinian refugees the "right to return,"
that Israel is liable for the suffering of the refugees and should be responsible
for their resettlement. The State Department also thinks the refugees should
be represented at Middle East peace talks. The State Department is sympathetic
to calls for recognizing the rights of the refugees to self-determination
and political expression.
The State Department, in other words, is exhibiting Loyalist Tory sympathies.
A large portrait of Benedict Arnold should grace the office of every "Arabist"
at Foggy Bottom.
Steven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa.
Email Steven Plaut
this article to a friend