The New York Times published a blog by Ethan Bronner in which he discussed how a journalist is not allowed to write objectively about any aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Mr. Bronner concludes:
Opponents of Israel feel the Gaza fighting has demonstrated (again) everything they have always believed—that Israel is a kind of Sparta that dehumanizes the Palestinians and will do anything to prevent their dignified self-determination…Those for whom Israel is the victim and never the aggressor likewise saw in this war a reaffirmation of their beliefs—that Hamas, an Islamist terror group, hides its fighters behind women and children; that Israel’s army was an exemplar of restraint and respect, holding its fire when civilians were in sight, allowing tons of humanitarian aid in even while at war…
The Toughest of Nuts
Some international political problems are, or appear to be, practically impossible to resolve, although their resolution is in the world’s best interests. These include:
- Northern Ireland
While you may argue that the “troubles” in Northern Ireland are finished, I wonder. I sincerely hope so, but I wonder if the bloodshed and despair have resulted in their dormancy. I hope, again, that this is not so and that the citizens of that region continue to enjoy peace and increasing prosperity.
Of all these, however, the toughest international nut to crack, so to speak, has to be that of Palestine.
The Slick & The Easy
Palestine can be, and too often is, seen through either of two prisms:
- Non-Palestinian Jews capitalized on the reality of The Holocaust to successfully realize the Zionist goal of an independent Jewish state, Israel, at the expense of the Palestinians who lived there and owned the properties from which they were driven, creating a new diaspora.
- Palestinians and Arabs, led by unscrupulous and corrupt men, unsuccessfully fought to eradicate Jews from Palestine and thwart the United Nations declaration on the partition of Palestine.
These two basic explanations of the Palestinian mess, while they both hold germs of truth, are too easy and have been made even slicker by the blood of thousands of Arab, Palestinian, and Jewish men, women, and children since the end of the First World War.
The Death March
Let’s take a look at the time-line that underlies this region and its current problems.
World War I
The Ottoman Empire signed a secret pact with Germany in August 1914. This alliance threatened Russia and its territories in the Caucasus as well as Great Britain’s use of the Suez Canal and its line of communication with its colonies in India and the Far East. In 1915, Great Britain invaded the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli and began the Mesopotamian Campaign. Conflicting promises were made by British representatives to Arabs (the McMahon-Husayn correspondence) and Jews (the Balfour Declaration):
The districts of Mersin and Alexandretta, and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, cannot be said to be purely Arab, and must on that account be excepted from the proposed delimitation. Subject to that modification, and without prejudice to the treaties concluded between us and certain Arab Chiefs, we accept that delimitation. As for the regions lying within the proposed frontiers, in which Great Britain is free to act without detriment to interests of her ally France, I am authorized to give you the following pledges on behalf of the Government of Great Britain, and to reply as follows to your note: That subject to the modifications stated above, Great Britain is prepared to recognize and uphold the independence of the Arabs in all the regions lying within the frontiers proposed by the Sharif of Mecca.
Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt, to Husayn bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, October 24, 1915
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.
Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild, 1917
The British tried to meld these various promises to Arab and Jew by statements, for instance, by their head of the Arab Bureau in Cairo, Commander David Hogarth, who wrote Husayn in 1918, saying:
The Entente Powers are determined that the Arab race shall be given full opportunity of once again forming a nation in the world. This can only be achieved by the Arabs themselves uniting, and Great Britain and her Allies will pursue a policy with this ultimate unity in view…Since the Jewish opinion of the world is in favour of a return of Jews to Palestine and inasmuch as this opinion must remain a constant factor, and further as His Majesty’s Government view with favour the realisation of this aspiration, His Majesty’s Government are determined that insofar as is compatible with the freedom of the existing population both economic and political, no obstacle should be put in the way of the realisation of this ideal.
General Allenby and his Egyptian Expeditionary Force benefited greatly from the 70,000 Arab troops who participated as part of the Arab Revolt in the Mesopotamian Campaign. Allenby took the title, Viscount Allenby of Megiddo, from his ultimate victory there over the Ottoman Turk army.
Further, General Allenby, British General Officer Commanding in Mesopotamia, advised his government in October, 1918, that he had given Husayn’s son, Faysal:
…official assurance that whatever measures might be taken during the period of military administration they were purely provisional and could not be allowed to prejudice the final settlement by the peace conference, at which no doubt the Arabs would have a representative. I added that the instructions to the military governors would preclude their mixing in political affairs, and that I should remove them if I found any of them contravening these orders. I reminded the Amir Faisal that the Allies were in honour bound to endeavour to reach a settlement in accordance with the wishes of the peoples concerned and urged him to place his trust whole-heartedly in their good faith.
These assurances flew in the face of the Sykes–Picot-Sazanov Agreement of 1916, when Great Britain offered to France and Russia a plan to establish separate spheres of influence in the Middle East.
Interestingly, Megiddo is the location referred to as “Armageddon” in the Book of Revelation.
Between World Wars
Zionists lobbied hard for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration and Arab/Palestinian leaders pushed back against increased, or any, Jewish immigration into Palestine.
Some Arab and Palestinian leaders, acting on the McMahon correspondence, sought to forge a nation, Greater Syria, to include what is today Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Egyptian Sinai. This movement was frustrated by the British and French mandates established after the war and based upon the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The new League of Nations did not establish these mandates, where France was given what became Syria and Lebanon and Great Britain administered what became Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and Palestine (Israel). The League did authorize them by the Treaty of San Remo in 1920.
The French ended the Pan-Arabist movement by defeating Faysal outside of Damascus in 1920 and expelling him. (see French Mandate of Syria)
Great Britain further frustrated Pan-Arab ambitions by creating the Protectorate of Transjordan and installing Abdullah bin al-Husayn as Emir (Transjordan became an independent state in 1948). This, and most other British acts, were violently opposed by the Arab Higher Committee, led by the British-installed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni.
Abdullah I, King of Transjordan, apparently dreamed of establishing a Greater Syria, incorporating Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Transjordan, under a Hashemite dynasty. Abdullah I was assassinated by a Palestinian in 1951 as he entered the Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. His crimes were his failure to support an all-out ware against Israel and for his negotiations with Jews and Israel.
al-Husayni, who had supported the British and Faysal’s armies in the Mesopotamian Campaign, rapidly turned against Great Britain after learning of the Balfour Declaration. He instigated riots against Jewish businesses and quarters in Jerusalem, primarily over issues related to the Western Wall of the ancient Temple of Solomon and to severely restrict or end Jewish immigration into Palestine. In 1931, he founded and led the World Muslim Conference. al-Husayni had to flee Jerusalem and Palestine several times to avoid prosecution in the Arab Revolt of 1937–1939.
The Second World War
al-Husayni fled Palestine and sought support from Mussolini and, most infamously, from Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He helped raise troops for the Waffen SS in Bosnia, for instance, and he was a spokesman for Nazism on German radio broadcasts. al-Husayni’s attitude and goals can best be summarized in his own words:
Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: “The Jews are yours.”
Memoir of Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Ami Isseroff and Peter FitzGerald-Morris, “The Iraq Coup Attempt of 1941, the Mufti, and the Farhud”
The Yugoslav Supreme Military Court convicted al-Husayni as a war criminal; he escaped in 1948 to Egypt, where he was given asylum. Subsequently, the new Arab League undercut his attempts toward Palestinian self-determination. He was not universally followed by Arabs and Palestinians; most agreed with his goals of restricting Jewish immigration and his complete opposition to the partition of Palestine and creation of a Jewish state. However, many did not support him, personally.
Between 1930 and 1939, Jews fled Germany and Austria, for obvious reasons:
- 90,000 immigrated to the United States
- 60,000 entered Palestine
- Up to 20,000 came into Japanese-held Shanghai
After the surrender of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe, over 250,000 Jewish refugees were classified by the newly-formed United Nations as “displaced persons.” In Palestine, Jewish leaders established an organization, the Mosad le-Aliyah Bet, with the mission to force the immigration of those refugees to Palestine. The Royal Navy intercepted many ships acquired for this purpose and interned the displaced persons in camps established in Cyprus.
The United States
The US government has often worked, with regard to Palestine, as if its left and right hands had not been properly introduced. In 1920, the Senate rejected the treaty establishing the League of Nations, in part due to Senator William E. Borah’s complaint that:
When this league, this combination, is formed four great powers representing the dominant people will rule one-half of the inhabitants of the globe as subject peoples—rule by force, and we shall be a party to the rule of force. There is no other way by which you can keep people in subjection. You must either give them independence, recognize their rights as nations to live their own life and to set up their own form of government, or you must deny them these things by force.
Borah and the Senate rejected the treaty, and for additional reasons, not the least of which was their distaste for “foreign entanglements.”
Following the Second World War, President Harry Truman had to deal not only with the human issue of the Holocaust survivors and the political issues attendant to the partition of Palestine and creation of the state of Israel; he also had to fight with people in his Administration. Key appointed leaders in the State Department and Department of Defense neither supported increased immigration into the US nor the establishment of Israel. Truman was badgered from all sides, and, while he never allowed his temper to control him, he certainly did not hold back his often biting commentary:
The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes. (Truman diary, 21 July 1947)
At one meeting in the Oval Office, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland was so agitated that he pounded on the President’s desk. Truman dismissed the Zionist group, saying:
No one, but no one, comes into the office of the President of the United States and shouts at him, or pounds on his desk. If anyone is going to do any shouting or pounding in here, it will be me.
Truman’s administration did neither him nor the nation good service during this. For instance, the US Ambassador to the United Nations announced that the US did not support the partition of Palestine when, in fact, Truman had clearly stated his support for partition. When Truman granted de facto recognition to the newly announced State of Israel on May 14, 1948, that ambassador left his post without saying a word to his staff and went to Washington, D.C., to personally hand in his resignation to the Secretary of State.
[27 February 2020] I have recently found an outstanding discussion of Israel and Palestine included in an interview of journalist I.F. Stone conducted in 1975 by Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer for The MacNeil Report published by National Public Radio and archived by the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. I hope this generates some thoughts by both of you who occasionally visit this website.
This is a very, very long missive. But, in my defense, the issue is very, very, very complicated. It is extremely simple to partisans of either side but, if you are not directly involved, it is complex. And, there’s no way for a writer to write about it without inviting extremely sharp criticism by one or both sides, who only wish to see their positions gain the light of day. Ethan Bronner’s blog in the New York Times is, sadly, so very true.
It’s also true that this region will never have peace until people on both sides of the conflict sit down and say, “Enough is enough!” When enough blood has been shed and enough hopes and prayers dashed, maybe people will say that.
I thought, when I published this article, that I would get into trouble over it. My sense of foreboding was palpable, but mistaken. Neither of the two regular readers reacted at all. Oh, sigh…