While I was working on the text of the US and the Middle east, I was confronted with the fact that there are a number of somewhat independent threads in history that connect with the main story I am trying to tell. I am reminded of the many independent streams that flow into the same river, growing the river as they go. Some of these are short enough that they can be related in the main story but there are times when the side-story is complicated enough that to deserve a separate treatment. Including too much detail causes the main theme to get sorta lost. I had a feeling that this would happen and the first time that I was certain of the problem was when I ran into the connections to the state of Israel. The story is quite complicated and telling it in its own page just made sense to me….
I will say this much after writing the text up to the period ~1920’s: trust nothing you read on the internet or elsewhere unless it is confirmed from a variety of sources. If you Google a topic, make sure you go beyond the first page of results. About the only thing that is certain is that there are a lot of different viewpoints about this topic out there and they all have their own agenda. The Wikipedia is particularly unreliable due to the amount of information that is left out. Not that there are a lot of outright lies, just a lot of important omissions.
Now I suppose that one can go as far back as the conquest of the area by the Romans, or before that by the Babylonians and others….but I choose to start this story in the same time period as the main history, which means that it starts in the 1800’s. At the time, the Jewish people were scattered all over the planet and had suffered persecutions for nearly 2 thousand years. The revolutions in America and France had given some hope that liberty and freedom might be on the rise and that a period of tolerance might be dawning. This was to prove a false hope.
In 1894, an officer in the French Army by the name of Alfred Dreyfus was accused and convicted of treason related to cooperation with a German attempt to acquire secrets related to French artillery. In the public press, much was made of the fact that he was a Jew. At the time it was not known that the trial was conducted in an illegal manner and that evidence had been suppressed and denied to the defense. All of the relevant details are not universally agreed to, even today, but it is clear that the Army failed, at a minimum, to give Dreyfus a fair trial by withholding evidence that contradicted his accusations and supported his innocence. Several years later, while Dreyfus was serving time at the infamous prison on Devil’s Island the real traitor was uncovered, put on trial and almost immediately exonerated. This trial was plain to all observers to be a poorly disguised and badly executed cover-up which generated intense controversy and discussion.
All of this came to a boiling point 2 years later, in 1898 with the publication of a letter, titled “I Accuse”, to the French people by the author Emil Zola. Zola was a highly influential and respected French novelist who could not be ignored
With Zola’s intervention, the illegalities and lies could no longer be suppressed and the truth began to be exposed about fabricated documents, false testimony and illegal behavior by the Army. While all this might make for a bad movie (depending upon who played Dreyfus…), it became a much bigger issue because of the attitudes of Dreyfus’s attackers who were almost unanimously and openly antisemitic. The papers and individuals who were his accusers were relentless in their attacks on Jews in general. It is probably fair to say that the travesty associated with Dreyfus’s trial became a bit of a side-show during the war in France over the rights and treatment of Jews. Any doubt that French society was rife with antisemitism was removed. The feelings aroused by the conflict have lasted until the present day. During World War 2, it was the French authorities, not the Germans, that rounded up the Jews for deportation to the Nazi death camps. In the 1990’s the French military still refused to display a memorial to Dreyfus commissioned by the President of France.
Dreyfus, by-the-way, was eventually cleared of all charges, reinstated in the Army and later served with distinction during World War 1. One side-bar note: the present bicycle race, the “Tour de France” was originally started by a group whose sole intention was raising funds for the further demonization of Dryfuss.
So, an interesting side bar in history…but the connection to Israel?
A Hungarian-Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl had been assigned to report on the trial and its aftermath. In 1996, Herzl wrote the book “The Jewish State” and founded the World Zionist Organization, which called for the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine.
As this is the first mention of the term Zionist, I should note that there is a description of the term and its connotations at the end of this piece. Reading it at this time will make the terminology clearer but may cloud the narrative by getting ahead of itself.
The antisemitism and injustice revealed in France by the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus had a radicalizing effect on Herzl, demonstrating to him that Jews, despite the Enlightenment and Jewish assimilation, could never hope for fair treatment in European society. The movement slowly gathered strength during the runup to the First World War. When the war started, Germany was the sole possessor of the technology for making the chemical Acetone, which was essential to the manufacture of munitions. A chemist named Chaim Weizmann, who also just happened to be a leader in the Zionist movement, invented a technique that generated Acetone through a fermentation process. This brought him to the attention of and into personal contact with the man in charge of the munitions department of the British government – David Lloyd George as well as Arthur James Balfour (previously the British prime minister) – the First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1916, Lloyd George became Prime Minister and Balfour moved to the Foreign Office. Weizmann moved in impressive company……which was to prove a key to later events.
This mix of persons came together at the right time to build momentum for the creation of a Jewish homeland. In addition, it was hoped by the British that the possibility of a future Jewish homeland would help motivate the United States into joining with England and France in the war. The Zionists sought a homeland for the Jews in a variety of places, including Uganda, but came to nothing.
During this same time period, the Great Powers (England, France etc.) were already planning for the post-war environment where they anticipated the defeat of the Germans and their allies. They were particularly interested in carving up the remains of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had been the target of the Europeans for a very long time as I have described in the main page related to the Middle East. The key element was the timing – at the same time that the Europeans were salivating over the bones of the Ottoman Empire, part of that empire which constituted the area of Palestine was actually open for exploitation. The initial movements began in 1916 with a series of negotiations between the British, French and Italians. The Russians joined the party later that year with the result that there was an agreement reached between the British, Russians and the French to divide up the area into “spheres of influence” This was outlined in the agreement signed in 1916, named the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which was a secret tripartite collection of letters, complete with colored maps,
agreeing to carve up the Mideast after the war. The complete text is included as an attachment along with a more detailed map. Baghdad and Basra [Middle and Lower Iraq] were decreed British spheres of influence, while oil-rich Mosul[Upper Iraq] and Syria would be French, with Russia exercising a privilege over its frontiers with Persia. Note specifically the “Allied Condominium” AKA “International Zone” in the area of Palestine.
The India Office in London expressed the British thinking succinctly in a telegram to Charles Hardinge, the British viceroy of India: “What we want is not a United Arabia: but a weak and disunited Arabia, split up into little principalities so far as possible under our suzerainty [authority] – but incapable of coordinated action against us, forming a buffer against the Powers in the West.”
Around this same time, the influence of the Zionists resulted in the publication of what is known as the “Balfour Declaration”, named for its author. This “Declaration” has the sound of some form of complex and detailed negotiated statement when in fact it is nothing more than a letter from Balfour to a leader of the British Jewish community. The full content is:
November 2nd, 1917.
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
The British were the most adamant about maintaining control in the region, as after 1918, Britain continued to maintain almost a million soldiers stationed throughout the Middle East. The Persian Gulf had become a ‘British Lake’ by 1919. With the Russian Revolution in 1917 and its withdrawal from the war, the British and French wrote the Russians out of the agreement. This was exacerbated by the later release of all the related documents in Russian hands by Lenin in December of 1917…which caused a lot of embarrassment to the other parties.
Does anyone but me find it extraordinary that England, France and Russia were laying down plans for carving up the spoils at the very start of World War 1…..or that the British had 1,000,000 soldiers in the area? For comparison, at its peak, the US had 550,000 troops in Vietnam and 140,000 in Iraq.
There was now a whole basket of conflicting and contradictory agreements made between the French, British, Italians and a variety of Arab and Jewish interests. Most of the discrepancies related to the efforts of the Great Powers to enlist the help of the Arabs in the defeat of the Ottoman Turks. It is clear that many parties were talking to each other and giving assurances that they never meant to keep and which were kept from the knowledge of the other parties. The British made private arrangements with the French, then the Arabs and the Russians and even disparate groups of Arab interests. The French did much the same. On the whole however, the British and French held to their desires for control, with the principal losers being the Arab states who got less territory than they were promised. At the end of World War 1, the general provisions of the Sykes-Picot Agreement were incorporated into the Versailles Treaty of 28 June 1919 which closed the First World War, known at the time as “The Great War”. The first 26 Articles of this treaty became known as the “Covenant of the League of Nations”. Article 22 established a system of Mandatories to administer former colonies and territories on behalf of the League. Mandatories were a diplomatic slight-of-hand technique for dividing up the spoils of the war among the victorious parties. A “Mandate” was a provision that transferred the control and administration of a territory of the losers to one of the victors. Part of the chicanery here was the desire to extract reparations from the losing nations, mainly Austria, Germany and Hungary and to do this without including any of the benefits of the mandated territories or their resources. A bit of “having your cake (reparations) and eating it (the mandates) too”.
In the case of the area of Palestine, this became one of the British Mandates. It should be noted that in many of the previous negotiations with the Arabs, it is clear that all or most of what eventually ended up in the British Mandate had, in fact, been promised to the Arabs as a part of an independent Arab State. Think the Arabs forgot that? Or that the Jews believed that the Balfour Declaration promised them a homeland in Palestine?
The American Government examined what was going on and wanted and took no part in the territorial agreements. There were loud complaints from the U.S. delegation to the Peace Treaty related to the carving up of the territories but they were insufficient to derail the conference. The US Senate refused to ratify the treaty of the League of Nations which led to its demise. The U.S. contempt for the “spoils of war” part of the settlement played a major role in the defeat of the treaty as the Senate was unwilling to accept the territorial agreements which were an integral part of the treaty.
There is an alternative viewpoint related to the Mandates that holds that they were a good-faith effort to assist the previous possessions to gain independence and self-sufficiency. In this view, they had been ruled badly were in need of some assistance in order to grow their nations. It can be argued that the later transition of Iraq from a British mandate to a free nation is proof positive of this. I suspect that on each side that there were persons of differing motives and agendas, some more benign than others. But, frankly, I find any benevolent view of these actions to be unacceptable.
enough conflicting evidence and testimony about to conclude that it
might be summed up as something like: “Well, we won the war and the
losers deserve some punishment. (Sound like an American election?)
Eliminating their territories will make them less capable of causing
trouble in the future. So, lets help these folks get on their feet and
if it benefits us in the process, so be it.” The difficulty I have with
the American attitudes is that the Wilsonian folks at the time wanted
to set these people free and independent immediately without delay and
that was dumb and naive. Witness the fact that Africa is still in chaos
and they had 30 more years of help before achieving their independence.
The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement did not call for Arab sovereignty in Palestine, but the French and British agreement did call for ‘suzerainty of an Arab chief’ and ‘an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other allies, and the representatives of the Sherif of Mecca. At the Peace Conference in 1919, Prince Faisal, speaking on behalf of King Hussein, asked for Arab independence, or at minimum the right to pick the Mandatory. In the end he recommended an Arab State under a British Mandate. The Zionist Organization also asked for a British mandate, and asserted the ‘historic title of the Jewish people to Palestine’.
A Confidential Appendix to the report of the King-Crane Commission observed that ‘The Jews are distinctly for Britain as mandatory power, because of the Balfour declaration’ and that the French ‘resent the payment by the English to the Emir Feisal of a large monthly subsidy, which they claim covers a multitude of bribes, and enables the British to stand off and show clean hands while Arab agents do dirty work in their interest.’ The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement called for British mediation of any disputes. It also called for the establishment of borders, after the Peace Conference, along the lines of a map the Zionist Organization had submitted at Versailles. The area east of the Hedjaz Railway, including most of Trans-Jordan, was not included in the map of the territory that the Zionists had originally requested at Versailles. The Zionist Organization’s claim of title and their request for a strictly British mandate undermined the plans of the French and Italian delegations. They had aimed to establish their own control over Palestine under the justification of the pre-War Protectorate of the Holy See and the French Religious Protectorate of Jerusalem.
At the 1920 San Remo conference of the Allied Supreme Council, the Mandates were assigned. The precise boundaries of all territories, including that of the British Mandate of Palestine, were left unspecified, to “be determined by the Principal Allied Powers” and were not completely finalized until four years later. The final territorial settlement is shown in the map below:
During that time, His Majesty’s government had power and jurisdiction within Palestine and the other Occupied Enemy Territories. To many observers it seemed as though the boundary of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine was to extend eastward to the western boundary of its mandate for Mesopotamia. However, the area east of a line from Damascus, Homs, Hamma, and Aleppo – including most of Trans-Jordan – had been pledged in 1915 as part of an undertaking between Great Britain and the Sharif Hussein of Mecca. The area east of the Jordan river ‘was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future’. At the 1919 Peace Conference the Zionist Organization’s claims did not include any territory east of the Hedjaz Railway.
Also during this time, Chaim Weizmann (remember him from above? – the head of the Zionist movement) and the main representative of the Arabs, Emir Faisal, son of the King of Hejaz, negotiated an agreement of mutual support and cooperation. The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, signed early 1919 between provided that the boundaries between the Arab State and Palestine should be determined by a Commission after the Paris Peace Conference and was an amazingly fair-minded settlement. Weizmann stated: “the Jews did not propose to set up a government of their own but wished to work under British protection, to colonize and develop Palestine without encroaching on any legitimate interests”.
Under the terms of the agreement:
- The agreement committed both parties to conducting all relations between the groups by the most cordial goodwill and understanding, to work together to encourage immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale while protecting the rights of the Arab peasants and tenant farmers, and to safeguard the free practice of religious observances. The Muslim Holy Places were to be under Muslim control.
- The Zionist movement undertook to assist the Arab residents of Palestine and the future Arab state to develop their natural resources and establish a growing economy.
- The boundaries between an Arab State and Palestine should be determined by a Commission after the Paris Peace Conference.
- The parties committed to carrying into effect the Balfour Declaration of 1917, calling for a Jewish national home in Palestine.
- Disputes were to be submitted to the British Government for arbitration.
The proposed Arab State and Jewish National Home called for separate boundaries and administrative regimes in the sub-districts of historical Cisjordan (Western Palestine) and Trans-Jordan (Eastern Palestine). The Palestine Order in Council provided that ‘The High Commissioner may, with the approval of a Secretary of State, by Proclamation divide Palestine into administrative divisions or districts in such manner and with such subdivisions as may be convenient for purposes of administration describing the boundaries thereof and assigning names thereto.’
The Cairo Conference was convened by Winston Churchill, then Britain’s Colonial Secretary, to resolve the problem. With the mandates of Palestine and Iraq awarded to Britain, Churchill consulted with his Middle East experts. At his request, Gertrude Bell, Sir Percy Cox, T. E. Lawrence (Laurence of Arabia), Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Sir Arnold T. Wilson, Iraqi minister of war Ja?far alAskari, Iraqi minister of finance Sasun Effendi (Sasson Heskayl), and others gathered in Cairo, Egypt, in March 1921. The outstanding question was the policy to be adopted in Trans-Jordan to prevent anti-French military actions from being launched within the allied British zone of influence. The Arabs in this area, known as the Hashemites were Associated Powers (allied with Germany and the Ottomans) during the war, and a peaceful solution was urgently needed.
The two most significant decisions of the conference were to offer the throne of Iraq to Emir Faisal ibn Hussein (who became Faisal I of Iraq) and an emirate of Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) to his brother Abdullah ibn Hussein (who became Abdullah I of Jordan. Trans-Jordan was to be constituted as an Arab province of Palestine. The conference provided the political blueprint for British administration in both Iraq and Trans-Jordan, and in offering these two regions to the sons of Sharif Husssein ibn Ali of the Hedjaz, Churchill believed that the spirit, if not the letter, of Britain’s wartime promises to the Arabs might be fulfilled. After further discussions between Churchill and Abdullah in Jerusalem, it was mutually agreed that Trans-Jordan was accepted into the mandatory area with the proviso that it would be, initially for six months, under the nominal rule of the Emir Abdullah and would not form part of the Jewish national home to be established west of the River Jordan.
I hope you caught the part above where the British decide who is to be the King of Iraq…
That agreement was formalized before the mandate officially went into effect. In September 1922, the British government presented a memorandum to the League of Nations stating that Trans-Jordan would be excluded from all the provisions dealing with Jewish settlement, and this memorandum was approved on 23 September. A clause was added to the charter governing the Mandate for Palestine which allowed Great Britain to postpone or permanently withhold all of the provisions which related to the ‘Jewish National Home’ on lands which lay to the east of the Jordan River.
From that point onwards, Britain administered the part west of the Jordan, 23% of the entire territory, as “Palestine”, and the part east of the Jordan, 77% of the entire territory, as “Trans-Jordan.” Technically they remained one mandate but most official documents referred to them as if they were two separate mandates. Transfer of authority to an Arab government took place gradually in Trans-Jordan, starting with the recognition of a local administration in 1923 and transfer of most administrative functions in 1928. Britain retained mandatory authority over the region until it became fully independent as the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan in 1946.
On a humorous note…Following its occupation by British troops in 1917–1918, Palestine had been controlled by the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration of the United Kingdom Government. Anticipating the establishment of the Mandate, in July 1920, the military administration was replaced by a civilian one, headed by a High Commissioner. The first High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel arrived in Palestine on 20 June 1920, and complied with a demand from the head of the military administration, General Sir Louis Bols, that he sign a receipt for ‘one Palestine, complete’: Samuel famously added the common commercial escape clause, ‘E&OE’ (errors and omissions excepted). That’s about all the humor that existed in this mess…..
Already by this time, discord appears related to the Arab resistance to the Jewish presence and in particular to the terms and assumptions built into the Balfour Declaration. The following related to violence in 1920 is excerpted from a document known as the “Palin Report”. Assuming the site still exists, the full report can be found at:
In early 1920, Arab protests had been mounted against the Balfour Declaration, against privileges accorded the Zionist Commission, and against the denial of Arab independence. They culminated in violent attacks on Jews in Jerusalem during the celebration of the Muslim holiday of Nabi Musa in early April, which coincided with Passover. Five Jews and four Muslim Arabs died. The British Foreign Office appointed a commission composed of three military officers and headed by Major General P. C. Palin, which filed its report on 1 July 1920. The report, which was never made public, argued that the disturbances were caused by the Arabs’ disappointment over unfulfilled promises of independence, which the British had made during World War I to Sharif Husayn ibn Ali of Mecca; their belief that the Balfour Declaration implied the denial of their own right of self-determination; and their fear that the establishment of a Jewish National Home would lead to such substantial Jewish immigration that the Arabs would be subject to the Jewish community. The report argued that those feelings were aggravated by the proclamation of Sharif Husayn’s son Amir Faisal ibn Hussein as king of Syria, in March 1920, with a potential claim to Palestine, too. Feelings were also aggravated by the actions of the Zionist Commission, which sought a privileged status vis-à-vis the British military administration and asserted the right of the Jewish community to state-hood. The report called the Zionist Commission “arrogant, insolent and provocative” and said that its members could “easily precipitate a catastrophe” Nonetheless, the report concluded that the British must rule with a firm hand, proving that the policy of the Balfour Declaration would not be reversed but also that the Arabs would be treated fairly. It was sharply critical of the Zionists for exacerbating those concerns by their ‘impatience, indiscretion and attempts to force the hands of the Administration’.
From the Wikipedia:
The Palin report states
that the writings and speeches of
extremists amongst the Zionists had interpreted the Balfour Declaration
as giving them Palestine. “There was no question of moderate
colonization or a National Home, but a declaration of Palestine as a
Jewish State”. A letter from Mr Joseph Cowen had been published in the
Times on 19 September 1919 stating that Palestine was to become “as
Jewish as England is English”. Other Zionists had used their “literary
gifts to fan the flames”. Leon Simon had written an article in the
Zionist Review which, in spite of its apparently moderate conclusion,
was “hardly calculated to pacify a panic-stricken people”. Simon began
by saying: “There will be a state in Palestine containing a number of
Arab inhabitants”. Palin remarked: “one might almost imagine he was
referring to a handful of gypsy nomads … rather than to the great
majority of the population of the country”.
In 1921 we see the founding of the Haganah, the Zionist’s underground military organization. Under the current British rule, this was an illegal organization. It’s avowed purpose is to protect Jews from Arab attacks and to respond in kind. There is an outbreak of disturbances in Jaffa protesting large-scale Zionist immigration resulting in 46 Jews killed and 146 wounded. The British Haycraft Commission of Inquiry attributed the disturbances to fears of Zionist mass immigration.
The following year Winston Churchill issues a White Paper excluding Trans-Jordan from scope of Balfour declaration. Ignoring the political criteria, this White Paper authorizes Jewish immigration according to “economic absorptive capacity” of the country. The first British census of Palestine shows population of 757,182, with 78% Muslim, 11% Jewish and 9.6% Christian.
The exact boundaries continued to a cause of dispute for some time and were only finally agreed to in September 1923 when the last remaining dispute involving the French and Italians was resolved. This last dispute involved, among other items, claims by the Vatican for rights to Christian locations in Jerusalem. Both the French and Italians were eliminated and their claims discarded.
So finally, by about 1923-4, we have the borders fixed and the administration settled. Now the fun begins….Some of the following is taken from a British oriented site that is no longer in existence….
In all of the above, one thing is clear – neither the British nor the Arabs envisioned a nation that was exclusively Jewish. Jews were allowed to settle in Palestine, but with full recognition of the rights of the folks that already lived there. This I believe to be true and without any contradictory evidence. For the Arabs, there would be Trans-Jordan, a country that they ran and controlled as an independent nation. For the Jews, there would be the right to live in their historical homeland, which they would share with the established Arabs. The Palestine area would remain under British control with its government and administration “to be determined at a later date.” This is not a bad deal for anyone in my opinion, but reason was not to become the rule here.
Many of the Zionists, on the other hand, had a different view. Their dream was for a Jewish state but they realized that the reality was that the British would not agree to any such thing. The later statements of the Zionist leaders makes it clear that from the beginning many of them had their sights on sole control but were unwilling to state this publicly nor were they able to get the British to agree to it. While they might dream of a Jewish state, they knew that they had to accept a reality that did not meet this goal. It is important to keep the Zionists aspirations separate from the Jewish aspirations.
Considering the way things worked out in the future, it is significant
to remember this. The generation that lived at this time is mostly
gone, but their children, who heard them tell the story are still alive
and in their upper ages. They in turn have passed this to their
children, the current youth.
During the period from 1924 thru 1928 a wave of Jewish immigration, totaling some 67,000 Jewish immigrants, over 50% from Poland, increases Jewish population of Palestine to 16% of total. Registered Jewish land ownership (1928) totals 4.2% of area of country.
From then until about 1929, there was a measure of peace in Palestine but no progress toward a resolution of the general political issue: who will run this country after or beside the British? There was an attempt to create a form of representative governing body together with a Constitution which was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs. The Arabs would later change their minds about this but by then, attitudes elsewhere had also changed. The Arab rejection seems to have been based on their refusal to accept the terms of the Balfour Declaration and the rights it gave the Jews to live in and settle in Palestine, which they considered their land and not available to be someone else’s new home. Their refusal was rather short-sighted in that, given the numbers of people in Palestine, they would have had a permanent majority in any legislative body. By the time they figured this out, the Jews were of a different mind. It played out as a “self-fulfilling prophesy”: the Arabs feared that the Jews were plotting to take over the entire country and were encouraged to think that way by a number of politicians who were antisemitic. The Jews had a few radicals among them who were quite fine with this idea and they picked up the same line. Now you have a lot of loud voices pushing the same thought….a Jewish take over and the fear kicked into high gear.
Adding to this were the actual facts related to Jewish migration. In the early 1920’s, the Jewish population consisted on only about 10% of the total population and immigration was running perhaps 5,000 a year. Even tho the British established strict limits on immigration, it was certainly at a much higher pace than in previous years. From the rough averages that are available, immigration ran 5 times higher – 25,000 / year than before. This only added to the anxiety of the Arabs. As it was, there was a lot of small-scale violence and conflict during these years. It is fair to give credit to the British for trying to find a way to get the 2 groups to cooperate and live together. It is also true that at times the British personnel favored one part or another. There were avowed Zionist as well as Arabist and antisemitic individuals in the ranks of the British administration at times but, on balance, probably more Zionists at first and more Arabist later.
In 1929, the violence ratcheted up a significant notch as a consequence of a long-running dispute related to privileges and rights associated with the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. For the Jews, it is one of the last remaining portions of the ancient Temple of Solomon (an outer wall, in fact). The original length is estimated to have been around 485 meters; today what remains above ground and visible is just 60 meters long, the rest being below ground. The largest stone is 45 feet long, 15 feet deep, 15 feet high, and has an estimated weight of more than one million pounds. For Muslims, it is not only part of the huge platform which forms the foundation of the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, but it is also believed to be the gate through which Muhammad was carried by a mythical creature known as the Buraq when he arrived at Jerusalem for his ascent to heaven. The terms and conditions associated with religious practice at the wall had been informally accepted as “nothing changes”, meaning that the practices in the past were to continue for both Jews and Arabs unchanged in any way. In September of 1928, the Jews began a program of instituting walls between their men and woman….it is considered uncool for the men and women to share the same space while praying. The Arabs did not take kindly to this, or the claims in part of the local Jewish press that “the Wall is ours” or words to that effect. In August of 1929, they were back with much the same and the Arabs were inflamed.
Palestinians rioted in several towns in reaction to the demonstrations at Wailing Wall. In resulting clashes, 133 Jews killed and 339 wounded; 116 Palestinians killed and 232 wounded, mostly at hands of British military. Later, a general conference convenes in Jerusalem to formulate a Palestinian position on the Wailing Wall controversy. The League of Nations joined the investigations in 1930 and British “Shaw Palestinian Commission of Inquiry” attributes the 1929 disturbances to Palestinian fears of Jewish immigration “not only as a menace to their livelihood but as a possible overlord of the future”. The “International Wailing Wall Commission” recommends restoration of the status quo and confirms Muslim property rights at the Wailing Wall.
In the second British census of Palestine, taken in 1931, the population is now 1,035,154 with 73.4% Muslim, 16.9% Jewish and 8.6% Christian. Also in 1931, a purely military branch of the “Homeland Security” group Haganah was formed known as Irgun. The group was formed as a consequence of dissatisfaction with the performance of Haganah and its inability to protect Jewish homes and property. This group was decidedly more professional in training and proficiency.
In 1933, the Nazis took power in Germany, and their imminent infamous persecution of Jewry brought an exodus of Jews from Germany and other European countries. Large numbers came to Palestine, exciting the already simmering resentment again into violence. No formal commission was appointed to inquire into this new outbreak in 1933, but was later surveyed in the “Peel Report” of 1937. Examining the effects of the sudden increase in immigration, the report comments:
“The Arab reaction to this sudden and striking development was quite natural. All that the Arab leaders had felt in 1929 they now felt more bitterly … the greater the Jewish inflow, the greater the obstacle to their attainment of national independence. And now, for the first time, a worse fate seemed to threaten them than the withholding of their freedom and the continuance of Mandatory rule. Hitherto, with the high rate of natural increase among the Arabs, it has seemed impossible that the Jews could become a majority in Palestine within measurable time. But what if the new flood of immigration were to rise still higher? That question gave a very different colour to the idea of self-government in Palestine as Arab nationalists had hitherto conceived it. It opened up the intolerable prospect of a Jewish State – of Palestinian Arabs being ruled by Jews. It is not surprising, therefore, to find … the old antagonism growing hotter and hotter, till it bursts again into flames.”
Clashes erupted mainly in Jerusalem and Jaffa, with considerable casualties, although not as heavy as those of 1929. The report continues:
“So one more page of the history of Palestine under the Mandate had been written in blood. And there was one feature of this last outbreak of Arab violence which was as unprecedented as it was significant. In 1920, 1921 and 1929 the Arabs had attacked the Jews. In 1933 they attacked the Government. The idea that the British authorities in London or Jerusalem were trying to hold the balance even between Arab and Jews was now openly scouted. They were allies of the Jews, it was said, and the enemies of the Arabs. The Mandate was merely a cynical device for promoting British ‘imperialism’ under a mask of human consideration for the Jews …
“It was thus becoming clear that the crux of the situation in Palestine was not growing less formidable with the passing of time. On the contrary, the longer the Mandate operated, the stronger and more bitter Arab antagonism to it became”.
This Palestinian antagonism and resistance to the Mandate from then on gathered strength. By 1933, the various Palestinian political parties and groupings had united to form an Arab Executive Committee, and showed more inclination to co-operate with the British authorities. At this stage the Jews, still in a minority despite massive immigration, were the party to feel apprehension over representative government, and a new move in 1936 to set up a legislative council was defeated in Parliament after the Zionist Congress had “… expressed its categorical rejection of the scheme … as contrary to the spirit of the Mandate”.
It would appear to me that by about this time the British had come to the conclusion that they were getting to be as much of the problem as either the Jews or Arabs and started looking for an “exit strategy” as we might put it today. Their answer came in part from the Peel Royal Commission report which recommends partitioning Palestine into Jewish state comprising 33% of country including Haifa, Galilee and coastal plain north of Isdud; an Arab state in the rest of country (to be incorporated into Trans-Jordan) and British mandatory enclaves including Jerusalem. Part of the Palestinian population is to be forcibly transferred, if necessary, from the Jewish state. Repeat that- forcibly transferred.
The map to the left shows the proposed partition plan.
The Arab Higher Committee rejects the Royal Commission’s partition proposal and demands independent unitary Palestinian state “with protection of all legitimate Jewish and other minority rights and the safeguarding of reasonable British interests”.
The Arab rebellion intensifies.
The World Zionist Congress in Zurich decides to ascertain “the precise terms … for the proposed establishment of a Jewish state” and the Arab National Congress at Bludan, Syria, attended by 450 delegates from Arab countries, rejects the partition plan, demands the end to the Mandate, a stop to Jewish immigration and prohibition of transfer of Palestinian lands to Jewish ownership. The issue of the Royal Commission’s report brought an almost immediate renewal of violence, starting with the assassination of a British District Commissioner. Although it was not conclusively established that the assassins were Arab, the British dissolve the Arab Higher Committee and all Palestinian political organizations. Five Palestinian leaders are deported. The British also establishes military courts throughout Palestine to counter escalating rebellion.
In 1938 the British decide to send a “technical commission of inquiry”, to study the feasibility of partition as recommended by Royal Commission. Bombings kill 119 Palestinians. Palestinian bombs and mines kill 8 Jews. A British officer organizes the “Special Night Squads”, composed of British and Haganah personnel, for operations against Palestinian villages. The rebellion intensifies and reinforcements are brought from England. British troops recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem from Palestinians who had take it over. The report of the British Technical Commission of Inquiry declares the impracticality of the Royal Commission’s partition proposal. The British call for a general conference on Palestine to be held in London and attended by Arab, Palestinian and Zionist representatives.
Later in 1939 the London Conference ends with no agreement reached. Malcom MacDonald, Colonial Secretary of State, issues the “White Paper of 1939” embodying the British solution to Palestine problem: conditional independence for unitary Palestinian state after ten years; admission of 15,000 Jewish immigrants annually into Palestine for five years, with immigration after that subject to “Arab acquiescence”; protection of Palestinian land rights against Jewish acquisition. The British House of Commons votes 268 to 179 to approve White Paper of 1939.
Europe is plunged into the Second World War in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland.
The British arrest the entire leadership of Irgun. They were kept in captivity until June 1940. Upon their release, one of the members, Avraham Stern, formed another small group that became known as the “Stern Gang” which was even more violently opposed to the British. These folks even went so far as to contemplate a form of alliance with Hitler against the British in return for support and the release of Jews from Europe and their transport to Palestine. Those plans never went far but the Stern Gang was rather successful in its activities against the British.
During the war, between 1940 – 1945 over 60,000 Jewish immigrants arrive in Palestine, including 20 – 25,000 who have entered the country illegally. This increases the Jewish population in Palestine to 31% of total. Registered Jewish land ownership rises to 6% of the total area of the country. Conflicts between the British, Jews and Arabs continue, perhaps a bit lessened, but only slightly. By 1943, minds are already turning to the aftermath of the war.
I won’t even touch on the Nazi directed Holocaust or the responses (and lack thereof) by the Allies. I accept without qualification the conclusion that upwards of 6,000,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and consider any denial of this to be obscene and the height of antisemitism. Some of the following records from the war-time period may be suspect, but there are enough sources of verification to attach a high degree of certainty. Personal diaries and captured documents provide convincing evidence. The world owes an eternal debt of gratitude to the wisdom of the Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower for his insistence on the recording of the evidence of the camps and his demand that the news media document them.
The Nazis made an effort to recruit Arabs in their efforts to defeat the British in North Africa and the Middle East.
Among their many willing accomplices was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin el-Husseini, who fled Palestine after agitating against the British during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. He found refuge in Iraq, another of Her Majesty’s mandates where he again topped the British most wanted list after helping pull the strings behind the Iraqi coup of 1941. This revolt in Baghdad was orchestrated by Hitler as part of a strategy to squeeze the region between the pincers of Rommel’s troops in North Africa, German forces in the Caucuses and pro-Nazi forces in Iraq. However, in June 1941 British troops put down the rebellion and the Mufti escaped via Tehran to Italy and eventually to Berlin.
Once in Berlin, the Mufti received an enthusiastic reception by the whole Islamic community of Germany, which welcomed him as the “Fuhrer of the Arabic world.” In an introductory speech, he called the Jews the “most fierce enemies of the Muslims” and an “ever corruptive element” in the world. Husseini soon became an honored guest of the Nazi leadership and met on several occasions with Hitler. He personally lobbied the Fuhrer against the plan to let Jews leave Hungary, fearing they would immigrate to Palestine. He also strongly intervened when Adolf Eichman tried to cut a deal with the British government to exchange German POWs for 5000 Jewish children who also could have fled to Palestine. The Mufti’s protests with the SS were successful, as the children were sent to death camps in Poland instead. One German officer noted in his journals that the Mufti would liked to have seen the Jews “preferably all killed.” On a visit to Auschwitz, he reportedly admonished the guards running the gas chambers to work more diligently. Throughout the war, he appeared regularly on German radio broadcasts to the Middle East, preaching his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic message to the Arab masses back home.
The picture to the left shows him reviewing Nazi troops and giving the traditional Nazi salute.
in 1943 the Mufti traveled several times to Bosnia, where on orders of the SS he recruited the notorious “Hanjar troopers,” a special Bosnian Waffen SS company which slaughtered 90% of Bosnia’s Jews and burned countless Serbian churches and villages. These Bosnian Muslim recruits rapidly found favor with SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who established a special Mullah Military school in Dresden.
The Grand Mufti el-Husseini is still venerated as a hero by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). It should be noted, that the PLO’s top figure in east Jerusalem today, Faisal Husseini, is the grandson to the Fuhrer’s Mufti. In 1951, a close relative of the Mufti named Rahman Abdul Rauf el-Qudwa el-Husseini matriculated to the University of Cairo. The student decided to conceal his true identity and enlisted as “Yasser Arafat”. Arafat also considered the Grand Mufti a respected educator and leader, and in 1985 declared it an honor to follow in his footsteps.
The complicity of the Grand Mufti are not debatable. Documents captured by the Allies confirm his actions and intentions.
However, one needs to understand something of the problem that the British found themselves in.
Here is a map of the European theater of war in 1942:
The red shows the farthest that the Germans ever advanced, the green shows the Allies. The status of Turkey is debatable and borderline to siding with the Axis. Note the position of Palestine in the bottom right. Just below that, about where the map has the city of Cairo indicated is the Suez Canal. The oil rich Middle East is in that same bottom right section. One of the principal objectives of the Nazis was the capture of that region and they came frighteningly close to achieving that goal.
Remember that this is September 1942, less that 10 month from Pearl Harbor and D-Day is 18 months away and there is no American presence in the battle grounds of Europe. Lots of supplies yes, but no boots on the ground. The British needed desperately to retain the Suez Canal as it was their life-line to the colonies in India and Asia. The oil in Iraq & Iran was essential to their military. The loss of these, either of them, spelled certain doom for England.
After years of trying to play match-maker between the Jews and Arabs, neither of which had been particularly cooperative, they realized that they had some real problems. They had promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine but had promised the Arabs that there would be a shared governance. At the same time, the Zionists had interpreted the Balfour Declaration to have promised them Palestine as THE homeland, even though the document said A homeland. The difference of those 2 words: “a homeland” vs “the homeland“, 2 simple words, spelled disaster. The entire time since the institution of the Mandate had been burned up by disagreements related to those 2 words. By the time the war came around, any good will that the British had was evaporated by the violence between Jews and Arabs. You see above, the actions of the Grand Mufti and what this says about Arab intentions and beliefs.
What credibility and acceptance the British had was forever destroyed by a little remembered event known as the sinking of the Struma. Again, it is 1942 and the Jews all across Europe are terrified by the ongoing Holocaust. They needed and wanted desperately to escape Europe. The British had agreed, under Arab pressures to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine, well before the war. This helped placate the Arab fear of a Jewish takeover facilitated by massive immigration while at the same time frustrating the Zionists. The Jews on the other hand wanted into Palestine any way they could get there.
In December of 1941, an agency representing the Jews in Romania commissioned a ship named the Struma to carry refugees to Palestine. They paid an exorbitant price per person for the fare, the equivalent of $1,000.00 today. They did not know that the 74 year old ship they were bound on was a 160 foot long converted cattle barge with an engine that had been salvaged from another shipwreck on the bottom of the Danube River. They did not know that there were only 2 lifeboats. The final passenger count of just under 800. They did not know that the sleeping quarters were so cramped that there was insufficient room for all the passengers to even sit down. They did not know any of this because they were not allowed to see the ship until the day of sailing. Upon arrival at the dock, they were stripped of most of their possessions and baggage.
When they did sail, on December 12 , they left the coast of Romania on the Black Sea and it took 3 engine failings and a tow to get them to Istanbul the capital of Turkey. The tows cost everyone on board their wedding ring, which were the only valuables they retained, all else had been taken in port before they left. There they found out for the first time that the entry visas they had all been promised were a fraud and did not exist. Weeks of negotiations then took place while the passengers remained on the stinking vessel. The only food and water they received came from the local Jewish community. The British, in light of the Arab unrest in Palestine, were unwilling to allow the Jews to continue and stuck to their clampdown on immigration. They lobbed the Turkish government NOT to allow the ship to sail to Palestine. The Turks, on their side, refused to allow the passenger to disembark as they did not want they staying in Turkey. There were a few exceptions, such as a woman who had a miscarriage and a few persons who did actually have their own visa. Finally, on February 23, the Turks towed the ship, with 769 passengers aboard, back into the Black Sea. It still had no working engine. The following day, acting on orders to sink any vessel they came into contact with, a Russian submarine sent a torpedo into the barge and it sank immediately. The Turks did not even send a rescue operation. There was one single survivor, picked up by the tender of a local lighthouse. All of this took place in the public eye, with the British position actively debated in Parliament and it was the last straw for the Jews who now openly and actively opposed the British in Palestine and began a war of resistance. The Struma was the last ship to leave wartime Europe.
Examples of the Jewish conflicts with the British during the war include:
- Avraham Stern, the founder of the Stern Gang is killed by British police.
- Haganah steals arms and explosives from British military installations.
- David Ben-Gurion states that the end of World War II will be beginning of Zionist struggle in Palestine.
- Stern Gang and Irgun join to conduct terror campaign against British.
- Failure of an attempt by Zionist terrorists to assassinate High Commissioner Sir Harold MacMichael and Lady Mac Michael in Jerusalem.
- The Stern Gang murders Lord Moyne, British resident minister of state in Cairo.
This list could go on and on….
As the war comes to an end President Roosevelt meets King ibn-Saud at the Suez Canal and assures him that the US will make no move hostile to Arab peoples. The “Covenant of League of Arab States”, which emphasizes the Arab character of Palestine, is signed in Cairo by representatives of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Trans-Jordan and Yemen. President Truman asks British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to grant immigration certificates allowing 100,000 Jews into Palestine. Large-scale illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine resumes.
The British position in Palestine at the end of World War II was becoming increasingly untenable. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors temporarily housed in displaced persons camps in Europe were clamoring to be settled in Palestine. The fate of these refugees aroused international public opinion against British policy. Moreover, the administration of President Harry S Truman, feeling morally bound to help the Jewish refugees and exhorted by a large and vocal Jewish community, pressured Britain to change its course in Palestine. Postwar Britain depended on American economic aid to reconstruct its war-torn economy. Furthermore, Britain’s staying power in its old colonial holdings was waning.
In May 1946, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry unanimously declared its opposition to the White Paper of 1939 and proposed, among other recommendations, that the immigration to Palestine of 100,000 European Jews be authorized at once. The British Mandate Authority rejected the proposal, stating that such immigration was impossible while armed organizations in Palestine– both Arab and Jewish–were fighting the authority and disrupting public order. The Arab League warns the Americans and British that disregard for the rights of the Palestinians will damage their commercial and oil interests in the Arab world.
Despite American, Jewish, and international pressure and the recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, the new Labour Party government of Prime Minister Clement Atlee and his foreign minister, Ernest Bevin, continued to enforce the policy articulated in the White Paper. British adamancy on immigration further radicalized the Jewish population. Under David Ben-Gurion’s direction, the Jewish Agency decided in October 1945 to unite with all the other Jewish dissident groups in a combined rebellion against the British administration in Palestine. The combined Jewish resistance movement organized illegal immigration and kidnapping of British officials in Palestine and sabotaged the British infrastructure in Palestine. In response Bevin ordered a crackdown on the Haganah and arrested many of its leaders, some 2,675 or so persons. While the British concentrated their efforts on the Haganah, the Irgun and Stern Gang carried out terrorist attacks against British forces, the most spectacular of which was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946. The “Inner Council” of the Zionists Council declares that the only possible solution to the problem in Palestine is the establishment of a Jewish state.
By 1947 Palestine was a major trouble spot in the British Empire, requiring some 100,000 troops and a huge maintenance budget. On February 18, 1947, Bevin informed the House of Commons of the government’s decision to present the Palestine problem to the United Nations (UN) as all attempts at a resolution are rejected by both the Zionists and the Arabs. On May 15, 1947, a special session of the UN General Assembly established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), consisting of eleven members. The UNSCOP reported on August 31 that a majority of its members supported a geographically complex system of partition into separate Arab and Jewish states, a special international status for Jerusalem, and an economic union linking the three members. Backed by both the United States and the Soviet Union, the plan was adopted after two months of intense deliberations as the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29, 1947. The vote is 33 in favor and 13 opposed. The Arab League members walk out of the proceedings. Although considering the plan defective in terms of their expectations from the League of Nations Mandate twenty-five years earlier, the Zionist General Council stated willingness in principle to accept partition. The League of Arab States (Arab League) Council, meeting in December 1947, said it would take whatever measures were required to prevent implementation of the resolution.
On a note for the movie watchers: On July 18, the British rammed the Jewish illegal immigrant ship “Exodus” (formerly “President Warfield”) on the high seas. They towed it to Haifa where it was the subject of extensive publicity, generating public sympathy for the Zionist cause. The passengers were eventually disembarked in Hamburg. The incident set world and particularly US opinion against the British, and caused the British to intern illegal immigrants thereafter in Cyprus, rather than attempting to return them to Europe. I remember watching the movie but have no idea if it was historically accurate or not.
Throughout this time, Haganah continues to conduct terrorists operations against a variety of Arab towns and families. In response, the Arab League assembles a “Technical Military Committee” to help supervise a Palestinian response. The Committee determines that is not possible for the Palestinians to effectively defend themselves without “regular forces” and recommends training them to defend themselves. The Arab League resolves to provide arms, volunteers and financial assistance to the Palestinians. By the end of the year, about 275 local committees are organized for the defense of Palestinian towns and villages.
Despite the passage of the UN partition plan, the situation in Palestine in early 1948 did not look auspicious. When the Arab High Committee rejected the plan immediately after its passage and called for a general strike, violence between Arabs and Jews mounted. Many Jewish centers, including Jerusalem, were besieged by the Arabs. Jerusalem itself was effectively blockaded by December. In January 1948, President Truman, warned by the United States Department of State that a Jewish state was not viable, reversed himself on the issue of Palestine, agreeing to postpone partition and to transfer the Mandate to a trusteeship council. Moreover, the British forces in Palestine openly sided with the Arabs and attempted to thwart the Jewish attempts to arm themselves.
In mid-March the military prospects changed dramatically after Haganah received its first clandestine shipment of heavy arms from Czechoslovakia. It might surprise one to know that munitions were being shipped in from a country behind the Iron Curtain, but at the time, the Russian leader Joseph Stalin was on the side of the Israeli. He would be one of the first to recognize the new state. The Haganah went on the offensive and, in a series of operations carried out from early April until mid-May, successfully consolidated and created communications links with those Jewish settlements designated by the UN to become the Jewish state. In the meantime, Weizmann (remember Acetone in World War 1 above?) convinced Truman to reverse himself and pledge his support for the proposed Jewish state. In April 1948, the Palestinian Arab community panicked after the Irgun killed as many as 250 Arab civilians at the village of Dayr Yasin near Jerusalem. The accounts vary but it is generally accepted that many civilians were killed in their homes as an attempt was made to capture the village and relieve a part of the blockade of Jerusalem. The news of Dayr Yasin precipitated a flight of the Arab population from areas with large Jewish populations.
During this same time, the first and subsequent contingents of volunteers arrive from the various Arab League countries. The initial number is near 1,000 soldiers. The situation very rapidly spirals out of control as the two sides move to armed confrontation. The Haganah calls for a general mobilization of all men of fighting age (25-35) and the Arabs respond by preparing to bring forces in from Trans-Jordan. Arms are imported from Europe by both sides. The “cleansing” of several coastal areas by the Jews expels the resident Palestinians. President Truman secretly receives the Jewish leader Chaim Weizmann and assures him of the US support for an independent Israel on May 15. The Jews activate what is termed “Plan Dalat”, which calls for the relief of Jerusalem (which was sealed and controlled by Arabs) and the clearing of all obstacles which prevented access to the city. It also calls for the expulsion of Arabs from areas that are to lie within the boundaries of the new Jewish state or which present a direct threat to the new state. The city of Haifa is suddenly evacuated by the British and fighting for the control of the city begins. Palestinian resistance collapses and the residents (Palestinians) flee in panic. In short order, additional cities and villages are attacked. Portions of Jerusalem are captured and the Palestinians ejected.
On May 14, 1948, Ben-Gurion and his associates proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel.” and the British officially end their Mandate on May 15. All of this as agreed to by the United Nations. Well…. Ben-Gurion did jump the schedule by 1 day… By this time, it is estimated that somewhere between 175,000 and 200,000 Palestinian refugees have fled their homes. Numbers are debatable but there is no doubt that the number is high.
President Truman recognizes the new state of Israel on May 15 as does the Soviet Union. Forces from a variety of Arab nations begin an attack against the new state as full-scale war erupts. Egyptian troops enter from the south and Arab League brigades cross the Jordan river from the west along with forces from Iraq. Lebanese troops enter from the North and retake several villages. Haganah captures Acre while the Syrians recapture several Palestinian villages in the north. The road to Jerusalem from the coast is blockaded. Fighting in the Old City of Jerusalem resulted in the capture of the Jewish Quarter and its demolition by the capturing Jordanian forces. Jewish facilities, synagogues, libraries and homes were systematically destroyed and desecrated. The tombstones in the Jewish cemetery were used to build housing for the soldiers and to pave roads. A hotel is later built on the site.
On June 11, a truce is declared that lasts until July 8. Negotiations by a United Nations mediator result in a proposal for a political settlement and partition which is rejected by both sides. A second truce is negotiated, starting July 18 and lasting until October 15. The negotiator, Count Folke Bernodotte of Sweden, prepares a second proposal which is also rejected by both sides. On September 17, he is murdered by the Stern Gang.
truce seems to have held longer than expected but does not prevent the
Israeli Defense Force (IDF) from expelling all inhabitants from villages
5-15 miles inside the Lebanese border and other villages in Galilee. In
December, the IDF begins an offensive to drive the Egyptians from the
southern coastal region. An intrusion into Sinai is forced to stop by
1949 begins with the signing of an armistice between Israel and Egypt. Egypt retains the Gaza strip but evacuates other areas. The remaining Palestinians in these areas are compelled to evacuate. Additional armistices follow with Lebanon (March 23), Jordan (April 3) and Syria (July 20). The borders are agreed to and the status of Jerusalem is accepted by all sides. It remains under Arab control. Note that this series of armistices did not amount to a formal recognition of the State of Israel, rather, they simply called a temporary halt to the conflict.The agreement related to the Jewish access to the City of Jerusalem and its Holy Places was almost immediately violated by the Jordanians and the Jewish state was forced to accept the result. The United Nations was ineffective in resolving this issue (surprise, surprise…).
To the left is a map of the armistice lines agreed to. Note that an armistice does not mean that either of the 2 sides considered the main issues resolved. Nor does it mean that the Arabs accepted the new state of Israel…most still do not. It simply means that they decided to stop the fighting and withdraw behind the agreed to lines. I decided not to include a detailed list of the events during the war and all of the ugliness that occurred. Suffice it to say that both sides have a lot of blood on their hands. There were generally 2 basic types of atrocities committed: the killing of unarmed civilians, men women and children and the murder of prisoners who had surrendered. There are dozens of lists of these all over the Internet. None of them agree with each other and I find no reason to put any more faith in one list than another. Even when they agree, the events that they leave out are always substantial. Claiming that one side was better than another will be a test of one’s own personal prejudices. For this observer, however, The Jewish State was given birth by the United Nations and it had every right to defend itself against an armed attack intended to kill every Jew in the country.
I would summarize the events during the war this way: As the date approached for the exit of the British and the declaration of the founding of the new state of Israel, the Jews were better prepared than the Arabs for the war to come. Both knew that a war was inevitable. The Israelis were better organized and had the advantage of a centralized command and control system while the Arabs were generally several independent nations and armies acting independently and without much coordination. The Arab nations were pursuing different agendas and had differing goals for the war, particularly with respect to territorial interests. The Israelis had to defend everywhere however, which made concentrated attacks by the Arabs more difficult to deal with. While air power was not critical, the Israeli Air Force came to control the skies which gave a significant advantage in terms of intelligence. The Israelis were able to drive or intimidate the Arabs away from their homes and effectively cleansed the new nation of Palestinians. This is the root cause behind the creation of the continuing Palestinian refugee problem and remains at the heart of the conflict that continues 50+ years later. One must ask however, was this a reasonable action given the fact that these Palestinians were still hell-bent on the destruction of Isreal. Personally, I call it a case of self-defense.
When both sides had come to the conclusion that neither was going to win all they wanted, they chose to stop the fighting, temporarily.
With this, the Genesis of Israel is complete.
Jews and Zionism
I want to finally touch on a matter of definitions and symantecs: the terms Zionist and Jew. I have tried to use them properly, as I understand the terms and up to this point did not find a convenient place to distinguish them. They are not the same or equivalent. All Jews are not Zionists and all Zionists are not Jews.
The term Zion refers to an old Hebrew word for one of the hills in the city of Jerusalem. The word means “marker” or “commemoration”. In 1891, the term “Zionism” was coined by one Nathan Birnbaum to describe a movement associated with the desire of the Jews to return to their traditional homeland in Palestine. At the time, there were a number of movements similar to this in Germany and Italy. These sought the creation of a national home for people who had been absorbed into larger empires. Birnbaum was an Austrian who published a periodical while attending the university and it was in this publication that the term originate. In 1893, he published a pamphlet titled “The National Rebirth of the Jewish People in its Homeland as a Means of Solving the Jewish Question”. Four years later, when the First Zionist Conference was held, he was elected Secretary General of the organization. This first conference was called by Theodor Herzl as a symbolic Parliament for those in sympathy with the implementation of Zionist goals. Among its results were the statement:
“The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Eretz Israel secured by law.” This leaves unstated where exactly this land is. The term Eretz Israel requires some clarification as it will lead to much misunderstanding in the future. The term comes from the Hebrew Bible and refers to the area promised by God to the descendents of Abraham. There are 3 main sections in the Hebrew bible where the land is spoken of along with numerous other short references and the interpretations are controversial, naturally……The key passage, Genesis 15: 18 reads: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates- the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” I made no attempt to identify where all these folks lived but I am familiar with the Hittites, having read some 6-8 books on the subject. I went looking for a map that might depict these borders and settled on the two on the left. It is somewhat innacurate given that I know that the Hittite Empire extended into areas much farther north that are contained in either map.
The one on the left is about as extreme a view as one could take: The western boundary is the Nile river from the Delta to the first cataract at Aswan, the eastern boundary is the Euphrates river from near its source to its mouth in the Persian Gulf, the north is the coast of the Mediterranean and a straight line covers the south. The other one has the western boundary somewhat restricted and this has a reducing effect on the straight line connecting east and west. There are lots of other interpretations and maps available. I include this map with their exceptional interpretations as there are many in the present time, including one Osama Bin Laden, who claim that the true objectives of the Jews include the acquisition of all this territory.
So, what can one say with any certitude about the motives and ambitions of the Zionists? Well, the original founders of the movement left us no map as to what specific territory they aspired to but it is clear that their first preference was the region of ancient Palestine. The fact is that at times, they sought a homeland in a lot of strange places, including South America and Africa. So far as I can tell, there is no specific land mentioned on maps until we get to the time of the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot agreements. At this time, it does become clear that the goal was all or a portion of the British Mandate. The British make it clear that the area of Trans-Jordon is allocated to the Arabs which leaves only the region of Palestine. My reading of the evidence is that the Zionists, for the most part, had their eye on the Palestine Mandate and at no time had any ambitions toward any larger land claim, nor any dreams or fantasies of it either. Their problem was that they could not even claim at that time, a right, an exclusive right, to Palestine as the British were firm in their commitments to the Arabs that it would not be a solely Jewish land. There is ample evidence that while the British had made their intentions clear, that many of the Zionists had other plans and dreams – a Jewish homeland in Palestine, devoid of the Arabs. But, at those times, they could not speak of this for fear of a total alienation from the British.
The period between the World Wars witnessed a gradual hardening of the attitudes of the Zionists. While many of them were acceptive of the British and their policies and were willing to try to forge a homeland in company with the Arabs, the majority moved away from this position. The resistance of the Arabs, the violence and the restrictions on Jewish immigration and land ownership were all parts of the reasons. I think the key was the violence and the conclusion drawn from this that safety could only come in a true Jewish Homeland. In the end, when World War 2 ended, it is pretty clear that the Zionists fully intended to try to take Palestine for themselves. Adding a bit of fuel to this fire were the statements of the leader of the Stern Gang who did in fact claim an area for the Jews that closely approximates the map above on the right. But, keep in mind that this was the same person who tried to form a pact with Hitler.When the War of Independence broke out, it is clear that the state of Israel was quite content with trying to save its claim to Palestine and never went beyond that.
But, like everything else in this
topic, it stays complicated. One of the other military units that fought
during the War of Independence was the Irgun (mentioned above). Its
emblem shows a map of both Palestine and Trans-Jordan.
Later, in 1985, Israel issued a 10 Agorot coin which had on one side a map that includes much of the region, including parts of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. That good ol’ boy Yassar Arafat carried one of these for a long time as “proof” of the intentions of the Israelis. The coin is actually a replica of a coin issued 37-40 BC (NO I will not use the BCE terminology) during the siege of Jerusalem.
The 28th Zionist Congress, meeting in Jerusalem 1968, adopted the five points of the “Jerusalem Program” as the aims of Zionism today. They are:
- The unity of the Jewish People and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life;
- The ingathering of the Jewish People in its historic homeland, Eretz Israel, through Aliyah from all countries;
- The strengthening of the State of Israel which is based on the prophetic vision of justice and peace:
- The preservation of the identity of the Jewish People through the fostering of Jewish and Hebrew education and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values;
- The protection of Jewish rights everywhere.