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The Israel-Palestine Conflict in retrospect


The dispute between Arabs and Jews over Israel-Palestine dates back to 1917 in its political forms. As the First World War raged, the UK Foreign Secretary A J Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration. It read, ''His Majesty's Government would view with favour the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish national state.'' The document added the proviso that this was to be ''without prejudice to the rights of existing communities'' i.e., the Palestinians must not suffer due to the foundation of a Jewish homeland.

The British Empire had wrested Palestine from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire claimed to be the Caliph (vicegerent) to the rule of the Islamic nation, and as such laid claim to the allegiance of all Sunnis. In fact, not all Sunnis did heed his call to wage jihad against the Britishers, but was seen by the Muslim world as a symbol of the pan-Islamic community.

What did ''a Jewish national home'' mean? Was it to be a fully sovereign nation? Perhaps it would be a province within an independent Arab kingdom? Or would it be a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, such as Canada? There was constructive ambiguity to the terminology.

Zionism had been gathering pace among European Jews since Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State)in 1896. The Austrian Jewish journalist had said that Jews must set up a country for themselves as the only way to be safe. For centuries, they had been butchered in Christendom. Even in secular Christian nations, Jews faced informal discrimination. Ironically, Jews were comparatively well treated is Dar Al Islam at the time.

Zionism takes its name from Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Al Quds Al Arabi). Zionists believed that Jews should gain control of land and turn it into a Jewish nation. Most favoured Palestine, but some even considered other areas such as Uganda. Zionists said that Jews needed ''a land without a people for a people without a land.'' Almost as though Palestinians are not people!

Admittedly, the population of Palestine was very small at the time. Only about 5% of the people residing there before the birth of Zionism were Jewish.

From the 1890s, a trickle of Jews from Eastern Europe made aliyah (immigration to Palestine). At first, they posed no threat to their Arab neighbours and got along well with them.

The United Kingdom administered Palestine during 1917-48. As even an ardent British imperialist told me, it was ''a total ***ing disaster!'' There was hardly a day of peace.

By no means had all European Jews been Zionist before the 1930s. Many were deeply integrated into Western nations in which they had been citizens for centuries. Zionism would seem to make the Jews have divided loyalties. Establishment Jews in Western countries often wished to underscore their allegiance to their homeland, whether it was France, the UK, or even Germany. Zionism was associated with socialism. Jews who were liberal or conservative were neutral at best towards Zionsim and often downright hostile.

The British authorities in Palestine had to play piggy in the middle. They had to balance Zionist desires against anti-Zionist desires.

The Palestinian Arabs became alarmed at incasing and excessive immigration. They saw it changing Palestine forever. They feared that their land would become unrecognisable, and they would soon be alienated in their own country.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem set his face against Zionism. He told Muslims not to sell property to Jews. Some Palestinians were still minded to be welcoming to Yehudim. Moderate Palestinians were sometimes assassinated by hardliners. The Grand Mufti came to look likeopenly pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish.

All across the Muslim world, there was growing concern that the Palestinians would be insidiously driven out of their own country. The British had to listen to the anxieties of Muslims in British India, Nigeria, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf.

Contrariwise, Zionists were demanding that more Jewish immigration to Palestine be permitted. Zionists had the ear of some prominent British statesman, including Winston Churchill. Churchill was always an ardent philosemite. His father's close ally in politics had been Lord Rothschild.

In 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. He was an outspoken anti-Semite. He passed anti-Jewish laws. The level of discrimination against German Jews was quickly intensified. Official anti-Jewish propaganda was ramped up. Jews began leaving Germany in droves, but at first relatively few shifted to Palestine.

In 1939 London announced that it would withdraw from Palestine within 10 years. In 1939 only about 15% of the people in Palestine were Jewish. Had Britain granted independence, then no Jewish state would have been viable.

In 1942 the Wannsee Conference was held at Berlin, Germany. In two hours, a dozen Nazi officials planned the annihilation of all European Jews. The Nazis had already murdered at least several thousand Jewish civilians before 1942. By 1945 one-third of all the Jews in the world had been killed by Nazi Germany in the space of just three years.

Churchill's friend was sent as his roving ambassador to the Middle East. Lord Moyne was resident in Cairoin 1944. There he was murdered by two Zionists. Moyne was a civilian and an unarmed man. The UK was a country that had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews by taking them in as refugees. Yet these two terrorists murdered a British representative simply because he believed that Palestinians had rights too. The Egyptian authorities apprehended and hanged the assassins. Churchill's sympathy for Zionism was dented by the assassins' crime.

Many Jews believed that they could only be safe in a country that they controlled. They had been in Germany for over a millennium. Jewish Germans were German in every sense. Many were immensely proud of their Germaneness, and they had made a magnificent contribution to German life in fields such as theatre, literature, music, architecture, law, and medicine. If they were unsafe there, then they were unsafe everywhere. The Holocaust could be repeated everywhere else.

After 1945 the British tried to stem the flood of Jewish refugees desperate to reach Palestine. Many of them were Holocaust survivors. Long before Zionism, Jews had marked their Passover Festival by toasting ''next year in Jerusalem'' even when they had no intention to ever even visit it. But it became an expression of deadly earnest.

The UK was deeply indebted to the United States after the Second World War. Washington DC demanded that the Britishers admit more Jews to Palestine. Zionist propagandists blackguarded the British Army by likening them to Nazis. In the Western World, there was huge empathy for the Jews who had suffered so horrifically in the Second World War. Westerns knew little and cared little about the Palestinians.

Zionist terrorists attacked British troops in Palestine. The UK found itself mired in a guerrilla conflict. The Muslim world sympathised with the plight of its co religonists in Palestine.

In 1948 the United Kingdom referred the Palestine Question to the United Nations. The UN partitioned Palestine. Two-thirds of the land would go to one-third of the people; the Jews would get a country called Israel. The Palestinians constituted two-thirds of the people but received but a third of the land. Palestine was split into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Jersualem was to be a shared capital.

Israelis accepted the UN award as it was so advantageous to them. Palestinians rejected this vivisection of their nation. The first Arab-Israeli War broke out.

The British immediately withdrew and declared neutrality. They did not wish to jeopardise relations with friendly Arab nations such as Jordan, Iraq and the British protectorates in the Gulf: Kuwait, Qatar, Oman etc…

The Israeli Army had many officers who had previously served in the British Army.

George Callaghan is a political analyst based in the UK. Please look at George Callaghan's YouTube channel. Search ''George from Ireland.''

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