IB Extended Essay The Palestinian Powder-Keg: The Negative Impact of British Policy on Zionist Reform Movements in Palestine, 1917-1948 Abstract In the modern world, many contemporary historians view the conflict between the Arabs and Jews in Israel to be revolved around a theological clash; the classic battle between the hedonistic Muslim and the infidel Jew. Many people also think that the British provided the Jews their independence. However, both statements are highly erroneous. Theoretically both peoples could live together under one government. The conflict lies in that Britain used the mandate of Palestine for their own political and economic gains, resulting in Arab distrust of Western civilization and the peoples of the nation turning on one another. Upon analyzing both the Zionist and Palestinian opinions on the interfering British from 1917-1948, it became clear that the conflict stemmed from the nationalism of both groups, yet wanted their states to be on the exact same tracts of land.
The debate on the causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one that may never be resolved; however, it plays a vital role in the foreign policies of many nations as well as the attitudes toward the groups involved. When one looks at the treaties signed and the international agreements of the period, they can clearly see that the British did not keep their word to both the Zionists and the indigenous Palestinians. A movement known as Pan-Arabism developed, which became known as the 'Islamic Renaissance'. The philosophical treatises of the time show that the Arabs were angered by outside interference. Secondary histories cannot relay effectively the opinions of the various groups, therefore they only provide concrete facts. In conclusion, the British used Palestine merely for its own benefit.
If they would have opted for Zionist independence, as the Balfour Declaration stated, Israel would have become independent years earlier and there would not be as drastic of a conflict as there is today. Table of Contents The Palestinian Powder-Keg: The Negative Impact of British Policy on Zionist Reform Movements in Palestine, 1917-1948 Abstract i Table of Contents ii The Palestinian Powder-Keg: The Negative Impact of British Policy on Zionist Reform Movements in Palestine, 1917-1948 1-13 Appendix A: UNISCOP Partition Plan of Palestine, 31 August 1947 14 Works Consulted 15-16 Since the beginning of the Common Era, the Jewish people have been without a peaceful national homeland. The Roman general Titus sacked the Temple of Jerusalem and conquered the state of Judea in 70 C.E... As a result, the Jewish people were thrown into perpetual exile from their promised homeland during a period now known as the Diaspora. This period began to come to an end on 2 November 1917.
A declaration contained in a letter by Britain's Minister of Foreign Affairs, A.J. Balfour, to the representative of Hib bat Tziyyon (Lovers of Zion), Baron Edmund de Rothschild, officially committed the United Kingdom to the concept of a free Jewish state. It is a common misconception, however that the British 'provided', rather heroically, the Jewish state with their independence. On the contrary, British policy tended to hinder Jewish independence movements. The initial intent of the British policy was to secure a foothold in the Middle East that would be favorable to British concerns. This intervention contributed greatly to the already building resentment and distrust of Western civilization by the indigenous Arab populations, and provided further inspiration for the growing movement of Pan-Arabism. The intervention of the United Kingdom did little to benefit the creation of Israel, as the Jews were forced to accomplish this with support from the United States and the Soviet Union; rather it has fueled a contempt for all of Western civilization which is still at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.
The Zionist movement was relatively new to the Middle Eastern region. Although historically there has been an indigenous population of Jews in Palestine, Jewish immigration did not begin until the 1870's. At this time, many Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia journeyed to Palestine in order to create a new Jewish state on the foundations of the ancient one (Ben-Gurion 18). Jews continued to immigrate to Israel, but remained a relative minority.
However, the Zionists were able to effectively rally behind the cause of the Jewish national homeland to create one voice; they maintained a great propaganda machine through the world press as well as in day-to-day information (Antonius 38). Through these means, the Zionists wished to create worldwide sympathy for their cause. Although there was a Jewish presence within Palestine, it was far from significant enough to cause any sort of revolution. Outside support, such as that from the Jews of other nations, would be necessary to bolster the Zionist's efforts. Before the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Jewish population in Palestine was considerably small in comparison with that of the indigenous Arabs. In 1931, Jews made up only 14% of the country's demographics; by 1948, Jews still could only claim 32% of the nation's population (Said 55).
This discrepancy in the national population would contribute to the conflict between the two groups. Although far outnumbered, the United Kingdom stated their desire to create a homeland for the Jews. Britain had taken control over the area through an agreement with the French signed in February 1916. This agreement, known officially as the Asia Minor agreement, but often referred to as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, divided up the territories of the soon-to-be defeated Ottoman Empire between the French and the British. Palestine began to take on a strategic importance from a military standpoint because of its proximity to the Suez Canal. Since Britain was an island nation, she relied heavily on her naval supremacy.
This reliance upon maritime trade forced Britain to control a primary world waterway. Although the British had maintained a protectorate in Egypt since 1857, the proximity in the north of Palestine to the Suez canal could only be viewed as positive in the case of an invasion. British Prime Minister David-Lloyd George intended on making sure Palestine remained in British hands (Metz 34). However, Zionist movements in Palestine were increasing their effect on Britain's foreign policy. Because of the ongoing World War, Lloyd George and Balfour feared that if Britain did not favor an independent Jewish state that Germany would, therefore influencing the support of Jews throughout Russia and the United States. These Jews had much clout, and it was the opinion of the Ministry of Foreign affairs that if they won Jewish support they could keep Russia in the war and further the plight for American intervention (Metz 34).
Hence the issuance of the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917. Balfour's letter stated that: ... [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 the 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 (Balfour 75). This statement officially committed Britain to the Zionist cause and sparked the immigration of Jews from around the world to Palestine. It appeared that the Jewish people were eventually going to become the majority in Palestine, so naturally the British government supported them. The British felt it beneficial to their international trade, since it was near the Suez Canal.
Also, it was near oil-rich Iraq, another of their new mandates that Britain gained control of resulting from the Peace of Paris. Palestine could also serve as a communications and military outpost between India and the British Isles. Therefore, the British Foreign Service felt it necessary to support the Zionist reform movements in order to potentially gain an ally. The San Remo conference of April 1920 illustrated the plans for a system where spoils would be divided properly between the victors of the first World War, while attempting to provide the Middle East with some sense of self-determinism. Known as the British Mandate, it included provisos that recognized the "historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" and called for "secure establishment of the Jewish National Home". The terms of this plan were adopted by the League of Nations Council on 24 July 1922 and effected 29 September 1923.
The United States, although not a member of the League of Nations, officially entered its support for a Jewish nation through a resolution of the United States Congress passed on 30 June 1922 (Metz 36). This series of resolutions and agreements legally committed the Western allies to the idea of a sovereign Jewish state. As a result of the Western allies' commitment, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) created the Jewish Agency in 1929 in order to coordinate Jewish immigration into Palestine. The Jews enjoyed increased power, as the WZO and the Jewish Agency, under provisions set forth by the British Mandate, created the Ase fat Hanivharim, the Israeli elected assembly, and the V aad Leu mi, or the National Council. This council's job was to promote Jewish advancements in education and religion. They established the chief rabbinate in 1921, took control of the Hebrew school system, and opened the Israel Institute of Technology, commonly referred to as the Technion.
The WZO also increased purchases of land, increasing Jewish held property from 60 120 hectares in 1922 to 155 140 hectares in 1939. This provided for the serious growth of Jewish urban centers, resulting in increased political power for the Jews (Metz 40). The native Arabs of Palestine, on the other hand, were somewhat oppressed by these pro-Zionist reforms. In April 1920 the Supreme Allied Council decided that Great Britain would be the predominant power in Palestine. It was necessary, however, that the League of Nations approve a Palestine British Mandate in order for Britain to take full control. The official Mandate, approved on 24 July 1922, states: ...
The establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might 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... The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions. (Palestine British Mandate) Although this British Mandate provided for the needs of the Arabs of Palestine, the Arabs nevertheless felt betrayed by the British. The main area of concern for the Arabs was the question of land ownership.
As the Jews began to immigrate back into Palestine, they purchased mass quantities of land. The Arabs traditionally had never fully articulated the concept of private property, and by 1936 many poor Arabs could not afford their land and were forced to sell in the hope for what they considered to be large profits. As a result, there were a few extremely rich Arabs who benefited greatly under the British Mandate, while the majority of the populus were forced to suffer in mediocrity (Metz 39). Since the Arabs were not used to the concept of private property, the Jews used this to their advantage in order to purchase more land for less money. Arabs were swindled for large tracts of land for little money. This dishonesty, perpetrated by the Zionist reformers, furthered the idea of the corruption of Western civilization by the Arabs.
This betrayal added to the already escalating conflict between the Zionists and the indigenous population. The Arabs were also betrayed on the global front. The United Kingdom had ensured all Arabs of the region that they would be in full support of Arab independence, despite their earlier 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement with the other European allies (Ayubi 137). The Arabs began to feel that the West had suppressed their culture in order to further their own attempts to gain material wealth. These blatant imperialist tendencies helped fuel the contempt of Western civilization in the Middle East which would culminate in an outpouring of cultural pride and revisionism, known as the Pan-Arabian movement. The Pan-Arabian movement initially emerged from the Palestinian and Arabian scholars around the beginning of the twentieth century.
These intellectuals were concerned with the revival of the Arabic language and its literature, coupled with an Islamic renaissance (Ayubi 136-7). However, as Western influence grew in the Middle East and Western colonialist movements were encroaching upon Arabian affairs, the nationalist ideals of Pan-Arabism became political. Because of its colonial domination, the West now became the tyrant. Contradicting earlier Arab political theory, which was pro-democratic and more liberal, twentieth century Arab political philosophy dictated sacrifice for the state. Sati' Al-Hurri, the predominant Arab political theorist of the era, wrote on the topic of sacrifice: The national interests which may sometimes require a man to sacrifice his life, must perforce entail in some cases the sacrifice of his freedom... He who refuses totally to extinguish himself within the nation to which he belongs might in some cases find himself lost to an alien nation that may one day conquer his father land.
This is why I say continuously and without hesitation that patriotism and nationalism come before all... even above and before freedom. (S. Haim 90). This entire reversal from contemporary Western political theory can be directly attributed to the resentment felt by many Arabs to continuous Western intervention. Although Arabian nationalism had been present for centuries, only recently had these theories taken such a severe politicization and been applied to modern governmental practices. Unlike the portrayal Westerners gave to the conflict in the Middle East, it was not solely of a religious nature. This concept was furthered by the stereotype of the evil Muslim trying to conquer the Jew. Ironically, it was the other way around.
Although not of a religious nature, the Jews capitalized on the Arab situation, since their culture was only beginning to revive itself. Pan-Arabism demonstrated that the conflict had been caused by the Palestinian desire for self rule. In the efforts of the Western Allies to appease the Zionist reformers worldwide, they neglected to consider the concerns of the indigenous Palestinian peoples. Sherif Hussein, a prominent pan-Arabist, summed up the Palestinian view point of their homeland by stating, .".. One of the most amazing things until recent times was that the Palestinian used to leave his country, wandering over the high seas in every direction. His native soil could not retain its hold on him...
". (Blum 64-5). Until Jewish immigrants began to threaten the sovereignty of Palestine did the native population actually begin to care. Rather than attempting to live under a dual cultural system, the Arabs chose rather to vehemently oppose any pro-Jewish reforms. Sir Herbert Samuels, the first high commissioner of Palestine, wanted to create an elected legislative body and advisory council for the Arabs. He also wanted to create an Arab Agency, similar to the Jewish Agency, in order to best dictate the affairs of all peoples of Palestine.
Although the British policies set forth by Samuels and the Palestine British Mandate provided legally for the political and social rights of indigenous Palestinians, they nevertheless remained dissatisfied. The Arabs, thinking that their participation in these programs under the British Mandate would mean their compliance with the Balfour Declaration, refused and rejected the British Mandate. These actions would therefore result in no further cooperation between them (Metz 38). Arab discontent with the British Mandate and Jewish immigration came to a head in a series of armed revolts, starting in 1928, which culminated in the Arab Revolt of 1936. The politicization of the Pan-Arabist ideals had caused many Arabs to become radical nationalists, which gave a militant arm to the growing contempt of Europe.
The revolt commenced on 23 September 1928, when Palestinians accused British authorities of segregation at the Western Wall. Since this was the day before the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Palestine nationalists viewed this as a religious outrage. The segregation sparked a number of other violent insurrections, including the destruction of a Jewish bus, and caused almost a decade of bloodshed between the two nationalities (Kolinsky 35). An Arab Higher Committee, a coalition of Arab political parties, was formed, and a national strike was declared. The AHC demanded that Jewish immigration immediately cease; that no further land sales would be granted to Jewish landholders; and that an Arab national government would be established (Klieman 64). This Palestinian reaction caused the British government to generate a various number of documents throughout the decade.
Known as White Papers on Palestine, these documents attempted to compromise some aspects of their Jewish policy with the Arabs. The most anti-Semitic, the White Paper of May 1939 severely restricted all future land sales and called for the creation of an Arab government by 1949. Most importantly, however, it locked the Jewish population into a permanent minority status, only permitting them to make up one-third of the national demographics (Kolinsky 227). The WZO and the Jewish Agency vehemently rejected this proposal. Ben-Gurion even went as far to say "I do not exclude the possibility that [the Zionists] will have to revolt against England and conquer a Jewish state in part of the country" (Y. Haim, 143-44). The AHC found it unacceptable as well.
With the onset of the Second World War, however, talks concerning the White Paper diminished. Although there were some attempts at Jewish insurrection, Jews mostly complied with the new regulations (Metz 47-48). Britain once again demonstrated that they were concerned with the Palestinian question from a strategic perspective only. They turned their back on the Jews due to the onset of war and their military's dependency on Arabian petroleum. After the initial stages of the Second World War Great Britain began to change her policy concerning the Palestine situation.
The United States, not yet entered into the conflict, desired to remain militarily neutral. However, it was clear that President Franklin Roosevelt was vehemently opposed to the tyranny of the Third Reich. In a meeting held on board the warship Prince of Wales in the North Atlantic on 14 August 1941, Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain, issued a joint declaration that envisioned the state of world affairs for the years following the Second World War. Known as the Atlantic Charter, it defined the concept of self-determination: [The governments of the United States and Great Britain] respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them; ... after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, [the Allies] hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want... (Atlantic Charter, Article Three and Article Six) The Atlantic Charter demonstrated Britain's new policy that all states should have the right to determine their own forms of government. This Charter also shows the first inklings of United States' influence in Britain's policy concerning Palestine.
Later the United States would carry much weight in the decisions of the British Empire on their Near Eastern mandate. Britain's adherence to the Atlantic Charter revealed that she was once again willing to manipulate this mandate for the benefit of her own foreign policy. The United States was committed to the concept of self-determinism for all peoples of the world. Britain, not necessarily as idealistic, agreed to the terms of the Atlantic Charter in order to appease the Americans and hopefully convince them to enter the war against Nazi Germany. They used Palestine to placate the desires of a third party yet again. As a result of Nazi Germany's Holocaust against the Jews, hundreds of thousands of Jews were homeless across the European countryside.
Pressure from the United States government, on which Britain depended for post-war reconstruction aid, combined with pressure to end colonialism, sparked the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. This joint effort between the United States and Britain declared its opposition to the 1939 White Paper and recommended the immigration to Palestine of 100 000 European Jews. Despite their recommendations, the British refused. David Ben-Gurion, current leader of the Jewish Agency, organized a rebellion of Jews in late 1945. According to Ben-Gurion: The post-war period began with a ruthless crackdown by the British Labour government on Jewish immigration and all Jewish defence initiatives.
Haganah (The Jewish defense force) thereupon earned British enmity by devoting itself to illegal immigration... Whenever the British caught suspected Haganah members they threw them in jail. They were forever confiscating our painfully gathered stores of arms and vehicles, many of these admittedly stolen from Mandate supply depots. (Ben-Gurion 80) In reaction to continued problems with the Jews, the British were forced to move one-hundred thousand troops into Palestine and increase the maintenance budget of this garrison significantly. Because of these increased problems, the British House of Commons presented the Palestinian problem to the United Nations on 18 February 1947. On 15 May 1947, the United Nations General Assembly created an eleven member committee, known as the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNISCOP), to report and find a solution on the problem of Palestine.
The UNISCOP members deliberated on several plans of partition. On 31 August 1947, UNISCOP recommended a complex system of partition that included an international section, a Jewish section, and an Arab section. There would be an economic union created to unify the three areas (See Appendix A). This plan wanted to give the Jews nearly fourteen thousand square kilometers of Palestine, nearly half the land area.
The UNISCOP partition plan was furiously opposed by the Arab states, who viewed the Jewish presence in the Middle East as a fully-Westernized state. However, resulting from support of the United States and the Soviet Union, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181, which adopted the partition plan on 29 November 1947 (United States State Department). Although not fully complying with the League of Nations ruling twenty-five years earlier, the Zionist General Council was willing to participate. The League of Arab States, however, stated that they would prevent implementation of the plan by any means necessary (Rosenwasser 49). As a result of this impasse, the AHC called for a general strike in early 1948. This prompted the Arabs to attack predominantly Jewish centers, including Jerusalem.
Jewish militant factions, the Haganah and the Yishuv, responded by arming themselves with Czechoslovakian weaponry (Herzog 15). The stage was now set for the Jewish war of Independence, which Britain opposed. Throughout the history of the Zionist reform movements, Britain demonstrated no real support for Zionist reforms; they felt it necessary to take the question of independence into their own hands. Up until now, the British had used the Palestine situation to their benefit. The 1917 Balfour Declaration provided the British with support from a growing Jewish contingency in Palestine. British support of the Jews would cause support for the British worldwide, and potentially keep the faltering Russia in the war and provide the United States with further cause to enter.
The British were forced to act on this situation, considering rumored German interest in providing the Zionists with support. Strategically, Palestine provided Britain with a mandate in close proximity to the Suez Canal, while giving them an area of control in the oil-rich Middle East. The Suez Canal was a viable economic corridor and if the British had some measure of control over it, they could further exert their power in world affairs. Hence, the British supplied the Zionists with increased power in order to win their support for the United Kingdom in exchange for their alliance and favoritism. However, once the Arab Palestinians began to become troublesome, the British defaulted on their earlier commitments to the Zionists. The White Paper of 1939 clearly illustrated that the British interest in the creation of a Jewish state was merely a ploy to win the support of the Jews.
Now that Arab support was needed, Britain betrayed the Jewish populus to please the Arabs and fulfill their need for oil. Although the AHC found this proposition unacceptable, it still showed the intent of Britain to placate the Arabs desire for a pan-Arab Middle East. The enforcement of the regulations set forth by the White Paper during the years of the Second World War further illustrated that Britain was not fully supportive of Zionist reform movements. Although there was Jewish support for the British Army against Hitler, the British government still found it necessary to limit Jewish immigration into Palestine as well as restrict their land sales. Once again, the United Kingdom had used the ploy of the Zionists to their strategical benefit.
After the Second World War, when hundreds upon thousands of homeless Jews roamed across the European countryside, Britain once again used the situation in their mandate of Palestine to further their own measures. Although not initially withdrawing from Palestine, Britain eventually withdrew because of the expense of the enlarged garrison which they located there and United States' pressure. Without this pressure, Palestine would have remained under British jurisdiction. With the dissolution of the Ottoman Turkish empire at the close of World War I came British domination over the near East under the British Mandate. This allowed the British to manipulate the peoples of this region like they had done in their other colonies. Unlike in India, where Britain could lose much economically if their control were to cease, Palestine was a relatively unproductive territory, and the British only held it for the territorial prestige which came with maintaining a large empire.
The cause for the intense hatred between the indigenous Palestinians and the foreign Jews was not one of a theological nature; rather it was merely the result of political manipulation by the British Empire. The Palestinians only yearned for self-rule, as so many other ethnic groups of the time. Time and time again the Palestinian peoples were suppressed by the Europeans, not for pro-Semitic reasons; rather it was for mere political clout in the eyes of not only the world Jews but foreign governments. However, when the Palestinians were successful with their rebellions, the British totally reversed their position, as proven by the 1939 White Paper. This conflict illustrated the negative effects of the neo-Imperialist movements of the late nineteenth century and provided strong support for the cause of national sovereignty and self-determination. Appendix A UNISCOP Partition Plan of Palestine, 31 August 1947 Palestine under British Mandate, 1922 UNISCOP Partition Plan; adopted by United Resolution 181, 29 November 1947 Source: Israel: A Country Study Works Consulted Antonius, George.
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