«TOWARDS NAKBA: THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE, 1922-1939 A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State ...»
The Sykes-Picot Agreement further stipulated that the British and French governments, as the protectors of the Arab state, would not “themselves acquire and will not consent to a third power acquiring territorial possessions in the Arabian peninsula, Sykes-Picot Agreement. May 16 1916 courtesy of http://domino.un.org/UNISPAl.NSF/3d14c9e5cdaa296d85256cbf005aa3eb/232358bacbeb7b55852571100 078477c!OpenDocument.
Sykes-Picot Agreement, May 16 1916.
nor consent to a third power installing a naval base either on the east coast, or on the islands, of the Red Sea.” 57 This meant that no other European nation would be allowed to establish a presence in the Middle East. This prohibition extended to territories not included in the territory divided in the Sykes-Picot Agreement such as the Hejaz on the east coast of the Arab Peninsula. In addition, France and Britain asserted themselves as protectors of the Arab states, meaning that they would have to maintain a military presence in their regions of influence.
The Sykes-Picot agreement included a number of provisions to ensure absolute Anglo-French supremacy in the region. For example, according to the Agreement, “the negotiations with the Arabs as to the boundaries of the Arab states shall be continued through the same channel as heretofore on behalf of the two powers.” 58 This meant that all of the states that developed in the Middle East would have their borders drawn by both Britain and France. Similarly, the final accord of the Sykes-Picot Agreement stated, “it is agreed that measures to control the importation of arms into the Arab territories will be considered by the two governments.” 59 This stipulation gave France and Britain the right to control the flow of arms, as well as the right to equip the armies of independent Arab states with a standard of weapons that they deemed fit. They would outfit the Arab armies with outdated weapons to ensure the easy suppression of any rebellion.
Together, the British and French governments created the map of the modern Middle East. The spheres of dominance and influence first drawn by Sykes and Picot were reaffirmed in 1920 with the creation of the League of Nations and the establishment of the Mandate System. Out of the French territory, the nations of Lebanon and Syria Sykes-Picot Agreement, May 16 1916.
Sykes-Picot Agreement, May 16 1916.
Sykes-Picot Agreement, May 16 1916.
emerged. Out of the British territory, the nations of Palestine, Iraq, and the Transjordan emerged.
The Mandate system undermined any potential for a Hashemite-ruled Middle East. In the Arabian Peninsula, the collapse of Ottoman dominance and the establishment of the Mandates exacerbated the long-standing rivalry between the Hashemite family, who controlled Medina and Mecca, and the Bedouin Sa’ud family. Despite Sharif Hussein bin Ali’s claims to be the king of all Arabs and to the office of the Caliphate, his power was not absolute. In 1924, Hussein was driven out of the Hejaz by the armies of Ibn Sa’ud. He fled to TransJordan where the British had established his son Abdullah as King. Ibn Sa’ud established himself as king of Arabia, a role his descendants continue to play today.
Arab demands for statehood did not diminish after the implementation of the Mandate system but they did change. The Arabs themselves were divided by localities;
Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, and Medina all had their own political leaders who did not want to cede their authority to either Hussein to Ibn Saud. Arab nationalist activity concentrated within the Mandate states of Palestine, Transjordan (after 1922), Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. The next phase of Arab nationalism centered on another son of the disposed Hussein, Faisal bin Hussein, and his dream of creating an independent Arab state in Syria.
During the Ottoman period, Palestine did not exist as a political unit. It was part of the region known as Surya al-Janubiyya, southern Syria. 60 The region encapsulated what would become the Mandate states of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan.
The Arabs living in the region geographically described to be Palestine identified themselves as Syrians.
Following the First World War, the Syrian countryside was devastated. Farmers had abandoned their property to avoid the fighting between the Ottoman and British armies, so crops remained un-harvested. These displaced masses flooded into Damascus to find employment. Economically, Syria was shattered. The war disrupted exports of grain, cotton, and wool. This was the economic and social situation that Faisal bin Hussein claimed.
Faisal bin Hussein was the third son of the Sharif of Mecca Hussein bin Ali. In 1913, he served in the Ottoman parliament as a representative of the city of Jeddah. In 1918, Faisal moved to Damascus where he quickly rose to political dominance. He sought to establish an independent state called Greater Syria that included Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and the Transjordan. Many Arab nationalists, including al-Fatat, rallied around Faisal. It is important to note that this was not done out of loyalty to Faisal but rather because the Syrian nationalists knew that the British were propping up the Hashemites and might support the sovereignty of a state ruled, as a figure head, by one of Hussein’s sons. Unfortunately for the Syrian nationalists, Syria was within France’s sphere of influence and the French government had no relations with the Hashemites and respected no Arab demands for a state.
Unlike the majority of the Arab nationalists, Faisal was not opposed to a European presence in the Middle East. His reason was practical. The Arabs did not have the financial or the military capabilities to resist French and British advances. The majority of Arab nationalists, however, rejected his conciliatory approach and so compromised his goal for an independent Arab state. Muslih writes, “Despite their knowledge that Faisal had an Anglo-French noose around his neck, the Arab nationalist groups were not willing to appreciate his position of weakness in dealing with the two imperial powers.” 61 Some of the nationalist groups, such as al- Fatat, believed the Arabs could defeat both France and Britain in a war. More extreme groups like the al-Ahd turned against Faisal altogether. Nationalist writer Muhammad al-Qadib wrote, “I pledge to God that I will not work with anyone who thinks of working with them [the Hashemites]. I believe that he who works with any of them, trusting that with their help he can save the country and its people is either their accomplice, or is ignorant of their past deeds.” 62 The past deeds that al-Qadib referred to included Hashemite assistance to the British army in the war against the Ottoman Empire.
In 1919, the same year France was given the Syrian Mandate, Faisal called the First General Congress in Damascus. The British general Edmund Allenby, who captured Jerusalem in 1919, warned Faisal against convening the Congress because it would strain Faisal’s relations with France. Despite his warnings, Faisal called the congress together in June 1919. Ninety delegates representing Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Hima, Dayr al-Zur, Hawran, the Druze Mountain, al-Karak, Antioch, Latakia, Beirut, Tripoli, Mount Lebanon, and Palestine all attended.63 Three Syrian political factions dominated the Congress: first, the Arab nationalists in al- Fatat who rejected the Mandate system and viewed Britain and France as an imperialist threat to Arab independence; second, Faisal loyalists who rejected France as a mandatory power and favored the British; third, Arab Muslih, p.123.
Muslih, p. 123.
Muslih, p. 127.
nationalists who wanted the United States to have the Mandate over Syria because of President Woodrow Wilson’s insistence on national self-determination.
The Congress concluded in March 1920. Muslih writes, “At the end…the congress proved to a great embarrassment to Faisal and a blow to his hopes to bring the Arab nationalists in line with his moderate policies.” 64 The Congress declared Syria an independent state that included the territories of both Lebanon and Palestine. The Congress also did not recognize any Mandate authority over Syria, rejected the British policy of creating a Jewish national home in Palestine, demanded the withdrawal of French and British armies from the Middle East, and declared Faisal king.
Faisal became the victim of both the nationalist movement he had sought to control and French designs on Syria. In July 1920, the French army under General Henri Gouraud marched on Damascus. King Faisal fled Syria for Haifa and then London. In 1921, the British Government installed him as king of Iraq. His followers scattered to Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine.
The collapse of Greater Syria had a devastating impact on Arab nationalists in Palestine. Muslih writes, “In the eyes of Arab nationalists from Palestine, Faisal’s government [Syria] represented a crucial step for the realization of the dream of Arab independence.” 65 Palestinian Arab nationalists in Faisal’s government, such as his foreign secretary Sa’id al- Husseini, thought that a strong Arab government in Damascus would support their resistance movement against Zionism. They resented British efforts to establish Jewish settlements in Palestine. During Ottoman rule, the Sultanate, too, had allowed European Jews to purchase land and immigrate in restricted numbers but the
British went much further when they declared their intention to establish a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.
The failure of Greater Syria did not kill Arab nationalism in Palestine; rather, it only redirected it. With Faisal’s flight from Damascus, Palestinian nationalists focused their attention on establishing an independent Arab state in Palestine itself. In this tense political situation, a nationalist named Hajj Mohammad Amin al-Husseini emerged as a decisive figure and leader.
Hajj Mohammad Amin al-Husseini was born in Jerusalem in 1885 to the prominent Husseini family. He served in the Ottoman military during the First World War. In 1918, Hajj Amin joined Faisal’s army, which brought him to Damascus as an assistant to Director of Syrian security Gabriel Hadda’ad. Zvi Elpeleg writes, “Hajj Amin became involved in nationalist groups centered on Faisal, and took an active role in the organization of the Pan-Syrian Congress held in Damascus in 1919. He was especially active in organizing the participation of Palestinian representatives.” 66 In 1919, Hajj Amin returned to Jerusalem where he became a partner in the Rawdat al-Mar’arif school, one of the educational centers for Arab nationalism. In 1920, Hajj Amin was arrested for inciting violence at anti-Zionist demonstrations in Jerusalem.
Hajj Amin’s elevation to the position of Grand Mufti began with the appointment of Herbert Samuel as the first High Commissioner of the Mandate of Palestine in 1920.
The Colonial Office under Churchill established that in regards to the Arab population of Palestine, all Ottoman laws were to be respected. Following the Ottoman defeat, the High Commissioner had “inherited the authority of the Mutasarrif of Jerusalem.” 67 One of the
responsibilities of the Murasarrif [governor] was to appoint the new Grand Mufti of Jerusalem after Hajj Amin’s brother Kamil al- Husseini died in 1921. During the Ottoman period, the office of the Grand Mufti was subordinate to the Ottoman Sheik ulIslam, but in the post-World War One era, the Mufti held preeminence in Palestine. The Husseini family, which had traditionally controlled the office of the Mufti, was eager to expand its power and so nominated Hajj Amin to be the Grand Mufti. The Husseini family, however, faced a strong rival: the Nashashibis. In 1920, Ragib Nashashbi replaced Musa Kazim Husseini as the mayor of Jerusalem. One year later, the Nashashibi family leapt at the chance to claim another Husseini-held office for themselves.
Ottoman custom dictated that the Mustasarrif had to select the new Mufti from a list provided by the ulama. When the ulama selected its candidates, Hajj Amin was not on the list. His family launched a campaign to appeal to High Commissioner Samuel to appoint Hajj Amin anyway. Eager to maintain the balance of power between the Husseini and the Nashashibi families, Samuel acquiesced to the Husseini demands and in 1921, Hajj Amin was installed as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Nashashibi launched a massive campaign directed to Samuel, who refused to remove Hajj Amin. In exchange for his installation, Hajj Amin promised to co-operate with the Samuel-led Mandate government.
Hajj Amin, however, was not a British puppet. He recognized that the British were not pouring into Palestine establishing cantonments. The Zionists, on the other hand, were immigrating to Palestine by the thousands and purchasing land on which to build villages. As Philip Mattar explains, “Amin’s public view was that the Palestinians should not revolt against the British rule, which was too strong and, in any case, ephemeral; instead, they should concentrate on opposing the Zionists, who were the main threat to the Palestinian nationalists.” 68 Amin quickly expanded his power base. In 1922, the Mandate government created the Supreme Muslim Council to serve as a representative body for the Muslim population of Palestine. As Mattar notes, “Important as the office of the Mufti was, it did not compare to the power of the president of the Supreme Muslim Council.” 69 The Supreme Muslim Council controlled religious schools, religious courts, orphanages, mosques, and community finances. The Supreme Muslim Council elected Hajj Amin as its president in 1922. The presidency gave him the power to hire and dismiss judges in the religious courts. Hajj Amin particularly focused on the Haram, which he believed the Zionists wanted to claim. He also commissioned the construction of a museum and a library within the Haram al-Sharif as well as the construction of orphanages and schools.