Saturday, November 20, 2004

Mid East Conflict Part V: Friction in Palestine

In part IV of our discussion, we looked at the creation of Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula. During his consolidation of power, Al Saud had captured Medina and Mecca in 1924 and drove out the hashemite shayk Hussein who went to Ammon where is son Abdullah had just been made administrator of the area known as TransJordan, which was still a part of the British Mandate of Palestine.

British Mandate of Palestine 1927 Posted by Hello

The Balfour Declaration, signed by the British in 1917 and supporting a Jewish Homeland, and the Sykes-Picot agreement, which ceded Syria (including the area now referred to as Lebanon), set the stage for unrequited dreams of a massive, independent Arab state as I discuss in parts I and II of our review. The Zionist movement was equally rebuffed, but better organized and capable of planning. By 1929, the Jewish population had almost doubled to 175k from the 1890 population of approximately 60k and immigration did not seem to be slowing.

On to the inner sanctum for review of friction in Palestine.

If you look at this map from 1927, TransJordan had as yet to be completely separated from the Palestine mandate. Power was given to Abdullah to administer the area, mostly populated by Arabs. The entire mandate was essentially under control of the British at this time, so it would actually be remiss of me to refer to the TransJordan area as a state yet or define the Israeli and Palestine borders with Jordan.

In our previous review, we discussed the actions of the ever growing immigration, which included purchasing large tracks of land, developing it and establishing large Jewish enclaves. The incoming European Jews had a large amount of cash to spend. The Palestine mandate, as a whole, was in a great deal of financial trouble trying to maintain it's obligations to all of the residents of the area. Tension continued to rise as the new Jewish settlers bought large tracks of land from largely absentee Arab landholders. This instigated the disenfranchisement of the Arab tenants of the land, who were summarily pushed off the land or hired as day laborers working on the projects and farms of the new Jewish settlers.

The influx of settlers and money also had a direct impact on the local economy. Prices of land, food and other resources began to skyrocket, further pushing the Arab community, who were generally farmers and herders in need of land, into further poverty. Add to that the cultural differences and trouble was brewing.

Historically, it is important to understand when Arabs speak of a "Zionist" movement and the United States support (or control by, as some believe) of the creation of a Jewish homeland, such a thing did exist. May exist even today as the general policy of the United States to support the only standing Democratic nation in the ME for the last 56 years. The Zionist movement was not really confined to this one moment in history. Starting in 1821, Jewish settlers had been slowly moving into the Palestinian territories which were under Ottoman control at the time until the end of World War I.

The area was not referred to as "Palestine" at the time of the Ottoman empire which had controlled that area for well over 500 years. Palestine is the name that the British conferred on the area at the time that they had defeated the Turks and established the mandate. It did have an historical reference as the area had been referred to as Palestine, during the second crusade, by the Europeans who established a small kingdom to hold the surrounding area. Even that hearkened back to the Roman palentate of Palestine that came from the word "Philistine" who were once the inhabitors and rulers of the area (recall the story of David and Goliath; Goliath was a Philistine).

Also important to note that the indigenous people of the area were referred to as Arabs by both the Ottoman Empire and, later, the Arab contingent that was trying to obtain that area, part of Syria, etc as an independent ARAB state. The term "Arab" was applied to native Jews, Muslims and Christians who were of Arab descent. The term "Palestinian" is actually a recent term that came out of the revolt against the creation of the Jewish state, in which the "native" residents or once residents of the Palestine mandate regarded the land as their own. We will review the Palestinian and Arab wars in the near future.

As noted, it was in the 1890s that immigration of European Jews began to increase significantly. They were very organized and had leaders of the Zionist movement that were well acquainted with European diplomatic circles as well as the European colonial intent in the middle east. They understood better than the Arab allies what the outcome of participation in the fight against the Ottomans would be. Since the beginning of the heightened immigration in 1890, the European Jewish contingent had begun setting up labor unions, industrial and commercial organizations, banking, and community services. These groups led to political groups whose organizational abilities allowed them to lobby for their group. The Arab populace did not have the same capabilities. The Zionists were able to use this to their advantage after the defeat of the Ottomans and the installation of British governance over the area.

The "Zionists" also had many groups within their movement with differing ideas about the movement's purpose. These two groups first broke down into those that supported a simple establishment of the Jewish Diaspora, or a homeland, but not necessarily a separate state and those that wanted to create a Jewish state. The first were looking for a place to build their community and be protected by an established state organization. The second group's intentions were clear, but they originally were the smaller of the Jewish community as the prospects for such a state were limited until the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and World War I.

The indigenous Arab population of the area did not have such organizational abilities nor were they originally looking for a separate state. They would have been relatively happy had their area remained under the control of an Arab government, whatever that might have been, as long as they could have continued their tradition of farming and herding on the land. Their main focus was on family and tribe as their first loyalties. Inter-tribal disagreements kept them from organizing in any manner to assist them in developing the communities and organizations needed to support their needs. Worse yet, absentee landholders who sold their property to the Jewish immigrants did not understand nor really care about the condition of the tenants they were disenfranchising. With the inflated property value, it not only precluded the poorer, Arab indigenous population from purchasing the land themselves, but it also insured large and easy profits for the landholders which prompted more and quicker selling of the land.

Other issues were also the very liberal immigration policies of the British government of the area and the available and arable land itself. From this map we can see how the land itself is arrayed in what was once the Palestine Mandate:

Israel/Palestine Topographical map Posted by Hello

The land west of the white line is now Israel. At the time, still part of the Palestine Mandate, it was the most arable land in the region and why it was inhabited by the Arab farmers and herders. The land to the east of the white line was mountainous and then turns to mostly desert with a few oasis scattered about. As the indigenous Arabs were being forced out of the west economically, the very manor in which they had lived and earned a living was being taken from them. Generally, this was all legal at the time through land transactions and deeds, but it did not lessen the impact.

If you recall, in part I of our discussion, when the Arabs were working with the British, they were willing to allow a Jewish homeland in the area as long as they were guaranteed their own independent Arab state. During the peace conference of 1919 in Paris, Feisel, representing Hussein as the leader of the Arabs, signed an agreement that stated he would support the Jewish homeland, but he added an addendum in his own handwriting and language: only if the Arabs were allowed their own state.

As we discussed, the multiple agreements between Britain and it's allies, including France, were bound to insure that the Arabs did not get ALL that they wanted which included the area in Syria, up to and including Damascus. In 1920, Feisel, with approximately 2000 men, took Damascus. The Arabs, taking this for a sign that their wish for a total Arab state was imminent, attacked several Jewish settlements and killed approximately 60 Jews. Several reprisals took place by organized Jewish contingent and approximately 45 Arabs were killed. In the meantime, French and British troops drove Feisel out of Damascus and the British put down the violence in Palestine.

This was the first uprising of the Arabs.

The British understood that they could not control the mandate forever and that keeping the peace meant instituting government for and by the people of the region. This was also in the language of the agreement established by the League of Nations for the creation and dispersal of the mandates. The British determined to create a Palestinian representative legislature or parliament along with other government organizations and combine the two groups together to work towards an improved Palestine with an Arab Agency that was to work like the Jewish Agency in establishing Arab communities, welfare, etc. The Zionist movement still only counted approximately 84k in 1922 (appx 11% of the population at that time) and would be out numbered, but they had no choice but to agree as their agreements were contingent on the League of Nations which had written it in the mandate agreements.

The Arabs for their part, refused to take part in creating such a government and legislature as they felt it would legitimize the Zionist movement for a homeland.

[break: I will say here what is probably obvious to the reader. This is the second mistake in a line of mistakes that the Arabs make in dealing with the British and the Zionist. In this one instance, had they actually taken this offer, being the largest contingent in Palestine, they would have had the capability of governing immigration laws that would have slowed down the imminent land crisis. Israel might not exist today. It would have been nothing more than the Diaspora within a Palestinian state. The obvious issue here is that the Arabs were not organized, had no obvious strong leader or, at least, none that had the foresight to comprehend the implications.]

For several years, the region experienced several clashes between the communities of Arabs and Zionists (I continue to refer to the group as "Zionist" to distinguish them as European Jews from the Arab Jews who still considered themselves Arabs). In 1929, the next riot began.

It is at this point that the Zionist group that supported a Jewish homeland began to take the leadership role in the Jewish communities. Between 1920 and 1930, a large influx of Polish Jewish immigrants began to raise the specter of over population of the area. The British government noted this issue and commissioned several surveys of the land and population to determine how much immigration could be allowed. Most of the reports indicated that the land would not be able to support more than 20 to 40k more immigrants. The Zionist lobby attacked the studies and indicated that the aerial surveys showing arable lands were done after harvest and did not show the proper amount of farm land. Water, of course, was another issue. The Dead Sea did not offer any assistance. Most water was drawn from Lake Tiberius (also the Sea of Galilee) and the Jordan River run off with a few other rivers and wadis that ran into the area. Irrigation projects by the Jewish communities proved to be successful, but had put a strain on resources for other communities.

In 1929, with tensions rising, a confrontation took place. Both the Jewish and the Arabs shared Jerusalem as a holy site, along with several Christian sects. A confrontation at the Wailing Wall between a Jewish man and an Arab man seemed to set it off though the population boom, impending poverty of the Arab population and other government issues were the root causes. Several groups of Arabs attacked the Jewish communities in Hebron and Jerusalem. Approximately 133 Jews had been killed and 336 wounded while another 116 Arabs had been killed and appx 200 wounded by reprisals of the Jewish as well as the British police attempting to control the riots.

By this time, the friction was not just between the Arabs and the Zionists. The Zionists began to have issues with the new British movement to curtail Jewish immigration to the area. Other laws and edicts concerning land purchases and Jewish labor practices aimed at the Jewish community along with the inability of the British to protect the Jewish communities, further gave rise to the Zionist Nationalist group, whose agenda was to establish a Jewish state and protect their own. They were increasingly anti-British.

At the same time, as we know from history, the great depression had struck. Not just America, but the entire world seemed to be suffering. Germany not only suffered from this economic downfall, but was also suffering under the reparations that they were being forced to pay for their aggression in WWI. This depression gave rise to two new problems, increased immigration of German Jews to Palestine and the advent of Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Next discussion, the Arab revolt of 1936, Nazi German involvement in the ME and WWII.


Library of Congress: Jordan
Library of Congress: Israel

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