The Seeds of Enmity: In Continuing the Discussion Begun in the July/August 2002 Humanist regarding the Origins of the Strife between Israelis and Palestinians, Events of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s Figure Strongly in the Unfolding Story. (Origins of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict)

By Schafer, David | The Humanist, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview

The Seeds of Enmity: In Continuing the Discussion Begun in the July/August 2002 Humanist regarding the Origins of the Strife between Israelis and Palestinians, Events of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s Figure Strongly in the Unfolding Story. (Origins of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict)


Schafer, David, The Humanist


On April 24, 1920, at San Remo, Italy, the League of Nations bestowed upon Great Britain a mandate to administer Palestine and Transjordan: France was given a similar mandate over Syria and Lebanon. The British mandate, which took effect three and a half years later, lasted roughly a quarter of a century and left an indelible imprint upon the future course of events in the area.

The league, recognizing the growing aspirations for eventual independence in this as well as many other parts of the world, made preparation for self-government a principal goal of the mandates. This emphasis gradually brought about a major change in the thinking of the local inhabitants, for whom government had always been in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Although some of the independence-minded Arabs had fought alongside the British against the Ottoman Turks during World War I, the establishment of Britain as the ruling power in their region inevitably led to increasing resentment by Palestinians toward their new overlords.

Throughout the years leading up to and during World War I, Britain had been primarily concerned in the Near East with maintaining its access to petroleum and other natural resources there, as well as control of sea and land routes to India and the Far East. At the same time, Britain became increasingly preoccupied with the growing unrest in Europe, which would culminate in a second world war, the persecution of European Jews, and ultimately the Holocaust. Britain's policies in Palestine required attempting to balance the aspirations of the indigenous Arabs against those of ever-growing numbers of immigrant Jews, but this balance was never fully achieved. Almost from the start, Arabs were suspicious of the ultimate aims of Jewish immigration, represented to them as a benign introduction of a relatively small group which desired only to live in peace with the Arab majority. Soon enough, Arabs came to view Jewish immigration as a conspiracy between the British government and the Jews to create a colonialist Jewish state out of the whole of Palestine, from which most Arabs would be excluded.

Even without Jewish immigration, the British would have had their hands full in Palestine. "The Arabs" were a highly heterogeneous population, sharply divided along many lines. The Ottoman Empire had encouraged a considerable degree of local autonomy which, taken together with the tribal origins of most Arab inhabitants, often led to long-standing internecine animosities among them. In Palestine, for example, there was considerable rivalry between the two main families centered in Jerusalem--the Husseinis and the Nashashibis--who tended to take opposing sides in disputes. Though both were anti-Zionist, the Nashashibis often sided with British efforts to manage Arab-Jewish conflicts in the apparent hope of achieving compromise.

Palestine's Arab neighbors were angry about both Zionist inroads and British power and perfidy in their part of the world. Their rulers were proud, accustomed to respect. Sharif Hussain--ruler of Mecca and later of the whole Hijaz (western Arabia) and a Hashimite (member of the same clan as Muhammad), acknowledged keeper of the Holy Places of Islam--had been an ally of Britain during World War I. Hussain had received promises from Britain's Sir Henry McMahon in 1915, and his second son Faisal had accepted help from Colonel T. E. Lawrence to capture Damascus in 1918 and had begun to see himself as the ruler of Syria. But Syria was awarded to France, and a bitter Hussain in protest refused to sign the postwar treaties--an inauspicious beginning for the British mandate.

Meanwhile, in March 1920, a Syrian national congress made Faisal king of Syria, but he was quickly defeated by the French and sent into exile. The next year the British crowned him King Faisal I of Iraq and appointed his younger brother Abdullah the amir of Transjordan. …

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The Seeds of Enmity: In Continuing the Discussion Begun in the July/August 2002 Humanist regarding the Origins of the Strife between Israelis and Palestinians, Events of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s Figure Strongly in the Unfolding Story. (Origins of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict)
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