Tuesday July 16, 2024

Arab-Israeli conflict through history: Part - II

By Abdul Sattar
October 14, 2023

In part one of this article, I tried to dispel the impression that the creation of Israel was purely and primarily for persecuted Jews, arguing there were imperial and geo-strategic interests of various powers that prompted the British imperial government to assure Jewish influential figures across the world that they really meant to create such a state.

We also talked about the propaganda that Jews were greatly oppressed by Muslims and that while there were cases where they might have been wronged by Muslim ruling elites, by and large they were safer in Muslim lands than other places. For instance, the Jewish holy temple in Jerusalem suffered at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylonia, who removed the Temple treasures in 604 BC and 597 BC and totally destroyed the building in 587/586 BC. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and looted its sacred contents. After this, huge numbers of Jews left Judaea to make a home elsewhere. In both cases those who desecrated the Jewish holy site or persecuted them were not Muslims.

In Europe anti-Semitism was triggered by the bias of Christian ruling elites that had been scapegoating Jews for various problems that existed in their societies. It is believed that Zionism was born from the evils of anti-Semitism. According to an article by Chris Hedges, it was a response to the discrimination and violence inflicted on Jews, especially during the savage pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th century that left thousands dead. Hedges notes, “The Zionist leader Theodor Herzl in 1896 published ‘Der Judenstaat, or ‘The Jewish State’, in which he warned that Jews were not safe in Europe, a warning that within a few decades proved terrifyingly prescient with the rise of German fascism.”

He talks about other factors that compelled the British ruling elites to support the creation of a Jewish state. “Britain’s support of a Jewish homeland was always colored by anti-Semitism. The 1917 decision by the British Cabinet, as stated in the Balfour Declaration, to support ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’ was a principal part of a misguided endeavor based on anti-Semitic tropes. It was undertaken by the ruling British elites to unite ‘international Jewry’ – including officials of Jewish descent in senior positions in the new Bolshevik state in Russia – behind Britain’s flagging military campaign in World War I.

“The British leaders were convinced that Jews secretly controlled the US financial system. American Jews, once promised a homeland in Palestine, would, they thought, bring the United States into the war and help finance the war effort. To add to these bizarre anti-Semitic canards, the British believed that Jews and Donmes – or ‘crypto-Jews’ whose ancestors had converted to Christianity but who continued to practice the rituals of Judaism in secret – controlled the Turkish government. If the Zionists were given a homeland in Palestine, the British believed, the Jews and Donmes would turn on the Turkish regime, which was allied with Germany in the war, and the Turkish government would collapse. World Jewry, the British were convinced, was the key to winning the war.”

The statements of other British officials with regard to a victory in World War I also indicate that the British were thinking about their own interests rather than the rights of the Jewish people in general. Sir Mark Sykes, a senior British diplomat who is credited with carving up the Ottoman Empire by coming up with a secret treaty with a French diplomat Picot, believed that without influential Jewry, the victory during the first great war was impossible. Sykes noted, “With ‘Great Jewry’ against us, there would be no possibility of victory.”

It is argued that the British ruling elites, including then foreign secretary Balfour believed that Jews could never be assimilated in British society and it was better for them to emigrate. It might be surprising for many to learn that the only Jewish member of PM David Lloyd George’s government, Edwin Montagu, vehemently opposed the Balfour Declaration. He argued that it would encourage states to expel their Jews, warning Palestine will become the world’s ghetto. Montagu was vindicated by the events that unfolded before, during and after World War II.

After the terrible war that claimed around 70 million lives including six million Jews, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees became stateless, having no place to go but Palestine. Jewish communities in many cases had been destroyed during the war or their homes and land had been confiscated. Those Jews who returned to countries like Poland found they had nowhere to live and were often victims of discrimination as well as postwar anti-Semitic attacks and even massacres.

It is claimed that Western powers scrambled to deal with the crisis of Jewish refugees by shipping victims of the Holocaust to the Middle East. Many feared at that time that it was a recipe for disaster, asserting that the European ruling elites were trying to mask their horrible crimes against Jewish people by committing another crime against the Palestinians that would trigger an endless conflict, displacing indigenous population and depriving them of their fundamental rights.

It is also important to mention that the Zionists had no qualms about their intentions that were meant to displace local people and grab their lands. People like Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl used sugar-coated words to lure Palestinians into believing that migration of Jews would benefit them. But Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, a senior Ottoman official, could see the dangers of such migration after witnessing the friction with the local population prompted by the first years of proto-Zionist activity, starting with the arrival of the first European Jewish settlers in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

According to Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University historian and author of ‘The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance, 1917-2017’, Yusuf Diya warned against the idea of the Jewish state. Rashid wrote in the book: “On March 1, 1899, Yusuf Diya sent a prescient seven-page letter to the French chief rabbi, Zadoc Kahn, with the intention that it be passed on to the founder of modern Zionism. The letter said, ‘Palestine is inhabited by others’.” It had an indigenous population that would never accept being superseded, making it “pure folly” for Zionism to plan to take Palestine over. “Nothing could be more just and equitable” than for ‘the unhappy Jewish nation’ to find a refuge elsewhere.” The letter concluded, in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.

Herzl tried to allay the fears of Diya by asserting Jewish immigration would benefit Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants. He wrote, “It is their well-being, their individual wealth, which we will increase by bringing in our own. No one can doubt that the well-being of the entire country would be the happy result.” The Zionist leader held out a categorical assurance to Diya asserting “who would think of sending them away?”

But it seems that such assurances were just a ploy to deceive the locals and the ideologues of Zionism knew that they would have to employ sledgehammer tactics to wipe out Palestinians from the historic lands. For instance, famous Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote bluntly in 1923: “Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing.”


The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: