Israel-Palestine: A Colonial Mishap ?

Colonial Mishap

With the  ongoing controversy over Trump’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it becomes interesting to examine the role the Western nations had in stirring the conflict in Israel-Palestine in the first place – Were the colonial masters of the land responsible for aggravating the critical situation as the Arabs and the Jews?

Following the initial drive-out campaign led by the Romans in AD 71, the Jews were forced to flee their home, Palestine. However, a part of the community stayed back, and several other Jews kept trickling back over the course of the next few years. Meanwhile, the Arabs became the major population in Palestine. The trickling in of the Jews steadily continued, and in 1897 the World Zionist Organization was founded by Zionists i.e. Jews who believed they ought to go back to Palestine to reclaim their homeland. With a series of purges against Jews conducted in Russia, France and Germany, the Jews considered this as the best way to go. The Arabs were considerably alarmed at the prospect of losing their current settlement.

The British came in the picture just a little after the outbreak of the First World War. Eager to strategize diplomatic alliances to weaken their opponents, they decided to approach King Hussein of Mecca to rouse the Arabs so that they could wage a revolution against the Ottoman Turkish autocracy. British agents sowed internal discord, while the British High Commissioner McMahon exchanged letters with King Hussein to carry out this plan. In his letters, he promised Hussein a free Arabia after the end of war; and the Arabs agreed to join the British against the Turks. The Allies however, tacitly signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement and decided to divide Ottoman Turkey up between themselves at the end of war. The terms of this highly contradictory document were later released in public by Russia and the Arabs grew increasingly wary of the attitude of the British.

To makes things worse, the British grew desperate for monetary resources that were plentiful among the rich business class of Jews. Under pressure of the Zionist Congress, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared Britain’s support for the Zionist cause of establishing a home in Palestine in exchange for a way out of their economic deficit during war. Evidently, Britain’s evasive and contradictory foreign diplomacy played a definitive role in the rise of negative sentiments among the Arabs and the Jews. After the First World War, Palestine became an officially British-mandated region.

Failing to acknowledge the deep gulf between the two communities, Britain hoped to bring the Arabs and Jews to live together and share the land. It even tried to squiggle out of its duplicitous diplomacy by asserting it did not mean the entire area of Palestine as entitled to the Jews, and wished to accommodate non-Jews as well. In any case, the progression of events saw the rise of Hitler, and a reckless massacre of the Jewish community, that spread panic and an uncontrolled degree of Jewish influx into Palestine. Jews immigrated through sea and land and the Arabs panicked. They launched a revolution that was ruthlessly crushed by the British. Britain, desperate to settle the issues, tried to put forth inadequate proposals that were outrightly rejected.

Added to this was constant pressure from the USA to allow more Jews into Palestine. Bevin, the then Prime Minister of Britain, specifically asserted USA’s role. This was not entirely untrue- Truman proved to be uncooperative. He refused to send American troops to restore order, or even let Jewish immigrants enter USA. Conditions in Palestine deteriorated with a rise in terrorism led by Jews, and terrible instability hit the region.

After the end of the Second World War, a tired, drained Britain simply walked out of Palestine, handing over the issue to United Nations. United Nations passed a resolution to divide the area of conflict into two regions: Israel for Jews and Palestine for Arabs. Vicious fighting between the two groups broke out, and having full knowledge of this fact, Britain withdrew all its troops. Ben Gurion, the UN Secretary General at the time, declared the formation of Israel officially in May 1948. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon immediately declared war.

Thus began one of the most crippling of civil crises in a region, continuing for years on full scale, one that has not died down even today. While the religious sentimentality was an obvious seed of discord, it was undoubtedly aggravated by the selfish interests of Britain and other Western Nations, especially USA. Diplomatic announcements on sensitive issues is a crucial subject matter- Exactly one hundred years ago, Arthur Balfour failed to realize this, as does the President of the United States of America today.

-Contributed by Tinka Dubey

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