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«TOWARDS NAKBA: THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE, 1922-1939 A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State ...»

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With the devastation caused by the Great War, the victorious powers were determined to ensure that such a war would not occur again. To that end, they created the League of Nations in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference. The League’s purpose was to prevent another global war through disarmament, collective security, diplomacy, and the promotion of welfare. One of the first decisions made by the League was what to do with the colonies of the German and the Ottoman Empires. The League invented a system of “Mandates” through which selected the former colonies would develop the necessary, meaning western style, governmental infrastructures to govern themselves.

The League created a three-tiered classification system for the Mandates. “A”class Mandates were territories seized from the Ottoman Empire. These territories were deemed to “have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone.” 30 Class “A” Mandates included Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine (later divided into Palestine and the Transjordan). The League of Nations gave the Class A Mandatory power

responsibility for:

the administration of the territory under conditions which will guarantee freedom of conscience and religion, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, the prohibition of abuses such as the slave trade, the arms traffic and the liquor traffic, and the prevention of the establishment of fortifications or military and naval bases and of military Covenant of the League of Nations Article 22. Courtesy of the Avalon Project at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/leagcov.htm.

training of the natives for other than police purposes and the defense of territory, and will also secure equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of other Members of the League. 31 Class “B”- Mandates were territories thought to be lacking the necessary institutions to function as independent states, so the Mandatory powers in question were given wider authority to govern and protect the Mandates. The class “B” Mandates included the French and British Cameroons, Rwanda-Urundi, Tanganyika, and French and British Togoland. Classes “C”- Mandates were former German colonies in SouthWest Africa, and certain islands in the South Pacific. The League deemed that these territories had to be ruled in all aspects by their mandatory powers. Article 22 also stated that “the degree of authority, control, or administration to be exercised by the Mandatory shall, if not previously agreed upon by the Members of the League, be explicitly defined in each case by the Council.” 32 The Mandatory powers were forbidden from constructing fortifications or raising armies in their mandated territory. However, this did little to stop the Mandatory powers from doing exactly that. France and Britain treated their mandated territories as de facto colonies.

The strategic importance of Palestine was not lost on the British government. It created a buffer between the Suez Canal and the French in Syria and Lebanon and any Arab attacks coming from the Arab Peninsula. Any shipment going up the Red Sea was flanked by British territories of British Somalia, the Sudan, and Egypt. The Lloyd George government incorporated the coastal plain extending to the Jordan and the area east of the Jordan River into the Mandate of Palestine. British territory arched from the Persian Gulf Covenant of the League of Nations Article 22.

Covenant of the League of Nations Article 22.

to the Mediterranean Sea. Map 2 shows the position of British territory in the Middle


Map 2: British Territory in the Middle East after World War One. 33 In addition to its proximity to the Suez Canal, Palestine was important to British oil interests in the Middle East. British investors had established the Turkish Petroleum Company in 1912 to locate and develop new oil fields in Iraq. Following the First World War, the British government acquired rights to Turkish Petroleum Company and reached an agreement with King Faisal to begin drilling in 1925. In 1927 at Baba Gurgur, six miles north of Kirkuk, a massive oil field was discovered which produced 95,000 barrels Courtesy of http://www.Britishempiremaps.co.uk.

a day. 34 By 1929, the British had constructed a pipeline that ran from Kirkuk to the Palestinian port of Haifa.

The Mandate Government consisted of officials brought in from India, Egypt, and the Sudan who were familiar with Muslim– but not Ottoman and Arabic– culture. They were charged with creating a bi-national state in Palestine consisting of Arabs and European Jews. Bernard Wasserstein writes, “The political structure of mandatory Palestine was founded on the illusion that Britain could somehow discover a method of reconciling Zionist and Arab national interests.” 35 Neither Winston Churchill, who ran the Colonial Office through which Mandate policy was created, nor the Lloyd George Government as a whole, understood the nuances of European Jewry or the fervor of Arab nationalism in Palestine.

At the top of the Mandate political structure sat the High Commissioner through whom all final decisions in regards to the implementation of British policy ran. The first High Commissioner of Palestine was Herbert Samuel, who became the first practicing Jew appointed to a British cabinet in 1910. Samuel’s primary role was to mediate between Zionist and Arab demands. Samuel was very familiar with Zionism. He noted in his report to Parliament, “Zionism takes on many forms, and its individual adherents, like the adherents of any other political creed, hold various views as to its proper aims.” 36 Samuel acknowledged that an extreme element existed within Zionism that wanted to displace the indigenous Arab population. Zionism also included a segment who wanted to live in cooperation with the Arabs; Samuel sided with the latter. From Samuel’s Yergin, p. 204.

Wasserstein, p. 237.

Herbert Samuel, An Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine 1 July 1920- 30 June 1921 (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1921), p.7.

perspective, any other Zionist aims for Palestine would not be compatible with British aspirations there.

The Zionists were represented by the Jewish Agency under the direction of Chaim Weizmann, who was appointed by the Zionist Organization. The purpose of the Jewish Agency was to facilitate the absorption of Jewish immigrants and to consult with the Mandate government in Jewish affairs. To represent the Muslim majority, the Mandate government created the Supreme Muslim Council in 1922. The Council chose the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, to be its president. To British policy makers, Zionist and Arab national interests were not irreconcilable. Unfortunately events in the Middle East and Europe and within Palestine itself made the establishment of a bi-national state more problematic that had been anticipated.

–  –  –

The subject of this chapter is Arab nationalism. The first section covers the origins of Arab nationalism in response to Pan-Turkish nationalism before the First World War and the rise of Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, and Ibn Sa’ud, the leader of the Sa’ud family. The second section examines the influence of Faisal bin Hussein on Arab nationalism during his two-year reign in the independent Arab-ruled Syria. The chapter concludes with an examination of the rise of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al- Husseini as the leader of a new Palestine-centered Arab nationalism.

C. Ernest Dawn, Youssef Choueiri, Eliezer Tauber, Albert Hourani, and Basheer Nafi argue that the Arab nationalist movement involved many different factions. 37 Arab nationalism was not limited to a single city or region nor was it limited to Muslims only.

Yet despite their diversity, Arab nationalists all pursued the same goal: elevation of the global status of Arab people whom they argued had become weak militarily and institutionally and lacked cultural pride.

Shepherd and Joseph assert that Palestinian nationalism was a reaction to Zionist encroachment and was highly disorganized. Both of those assertions are incorrect. While there was a reactionary element in Palestinian nationalism, the fight against Zionism became the focus of Arab nationalism only in the wake of the wider Arab failure in creating an independent state centered in Damascus. Moreover, the Palestinian nationalist movement was not disorganized. Muhammad Muslih, Yehuda Taggar, and Zvi Elpeleg have shown that although the nationalists had no structure that paralleled the World See: C. Ernest Dawn, From Ottomanism to Arabism (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1973);

Youssef Choueiri, Arab Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell publishers, 2000); Eliezer Tauber, The Arab Movements in World War One (London: Frank Cass, 1993); Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples ( Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 1991);; Basheer Nafi, Arabism, Islamism, and the Palestine Question 1908-1941 (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1998).

Zionist Organization and its subsidiary in Palestine, the Jewish Agency, a centralized group of Arab nationalists did exist for the first seventeen years of the Mandate.38

–  –  –

Arab nationalism has its origins in the nineteenth century. Western educated Arabs who were heavily influenced by German theories of culturally sensitive nationalism introduced the idea of nationalism in the Arab world. The ideology itself was a linguistic and historical nationalism. Arab nationalism dictated that an “Arab” was anyone whose native language was Arabic. It had no racial or religious connotations attached to it. It is imperative to note that Arab nationalism at this time did not equate to pan-Islamism.

Nationalism within Arab communities was influenced by three factors. The first was Arab pride in their history. Nationalist writers lauded Arab contributions to the Ottoman Empire and Europe. The second factor was the concept of “fatherland” introduced by the Sultanate during the Tanzimat between 1839 and 1876. Ottoman Arabs were expected to be loyal to the Sultan as well as to the region they hailed from. This notion transformed Syria and the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish regions of al-Iraq from geographic regions to cultural spheres within a larger Arab framework. 39 While a panArabism, the idea of a single Arab state, existed within the nationalist discourse, the idea of the fatherland was dominant.

The third factor that shaped Arab nationalism was the ascendancy of the West.

Arab nationalists recognized that the Ottoman Empire was lagging behind the Western See: Muhammad Muslih, The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism (New York: Columbia University

Press, 1988); Yehuda Taggar, The Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Politics 1930-1937 (New York:

Garland, 1986); Zvi Elpeleg, The Grand Mufti: Haj Amin Al-Hussaini, Founder of the Palestinian National Movement (Portland: Frank Cass, 1993), Section 1.

Al-Iraq was the Ottoman province that became the British mandate of Iraq.

European nations in institutional and military terms. Institutionally, Arab nationalists wanted to build a university system that taught western languages and sciences.

Militarily, they wanted to emulate western armies whose battle techniques had far surpassed that of the Ottomans. This did not mean that these nationalists wanted to imitate the West. Dawn writes about Arabism and Ottomanism, “Both were defenses against the West, not against Christianity alone. Both were justifications of a civilization, the East, the worth and adequacy of which had been questioned by the progress of the West.” 40 This defense did not close the Arab-speaking world to Western philosophies and invocations. Many of the nationalists were open to a genuine intellectual exchange with the West but maintained the superiority of the East.

Arab nationalism began with Ottomanism and out of that emerged Arabism.

Ottomanism was akin to the American civil rights movement and adhered to the concept that all of the ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire should be equal under the law.

Within this discourse, Arab nationalists wanted to elevate the Arabs’ status within the Ottoman Empire. This “elevation” entailed the inclusion of Arabic in university instruction and in governmental affairs in the Arabic-speaking provinces of Asia, which by 1890 constituted the vast majority of Ottoman territory. Arabism emerged from Ottomanism as early as the 1860’s but was subordinate to it until 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War. Arabists argued that the Arabs had become weak because they had been ruled by non-Arab people for so much of their history. If Arabs were to reclaim their rightful place in the world, Arabists argued, they had to reclaim their language and heritage. Arabists did not, however, advocate independence from the Ottoman Empire until after the outbreak of the First World War.

Dawn, p. 146.

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