Thursday, November 25, 2004

Mid East Conflict Part VII: World War II to Israeli Independence

When we left off, Al Hussayni, chief orchestrator of the 1936 Arab revolt in the Palestine Mandate had been exiled and went to Iraq where he assisted in the attempted overthrow of the government in favor of the Rashid Ali Nazi party in 1941. TransJordan had just become an independent state in 1939 as a protectorate of Britain under the Amir Abdullah al Hussein, brother of the famed Feisel who fought at the side of TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) in World War I. The Palestinian Mandate was suffering under the struggle of pro-immigration Zionist Yishuv with growing control of the land and economy while the native Arabs seemed to slip even further into poverty. Attacks and reprisals continued throughout the 20's and 30's between these two groups.

The break up of the Palestine Mandate was the first attempt by the British to create a separate Arab state. This included parts of the "west bank" of the Jordan where the Palestinian Arabs resided.

Jordan Posted by Hello

On to the inner sanctum for a review of Jordan's alliance with Britain during World War II and the prelude to Israeli Independence.

Jordan and Britain

During the 30's and through World War II, Abdullah was to remain a stalwart ally of the British. The British had helped Abdullah set up and train a professional army that was used to stamp out Bedouin raiding in Jordan from the Saudi Arabian region. If you recall in our discussions about Saudi Arabia, the ikhwan (Muslim brotherhood) had continued to cause Al Aziz Al Saud problems with raiding his new ally's territories in the north and had stamped out most of their kind by 1929. However, remnants and the tribes they were from continued to harass the area until Abdullah's military had developed new ways to interdict and patrol.

In 1941, during the height of the war effort in North Africa and the Middle East, Iraq's king had been overthrown by the Pro Nazi party, supported by money and materials from Germany, funneled through al Hussayni. With the assistance of the Jordanian military and tribes, the British were able to overthrow the Nazis and restore the monarchy in Iraq.

You may recall also, that Syria had been under the control of the French since the end of World War I per the Sykes Picot agreement. After the the fall of France to Germany in 1940 and the establishment of the pro-Nazi Vichy government, Syria becomes a problem at the back door of the British in the Middle East. Abdullah, acting as an ally of Britain, drove into Syria and threw out the Vichy government there. It didn't hurt of course that he still had dreams of the Arab state of greater Syria that would include Syria, Jordan and, Allah willing, the entire remaining Palestinian territory, Jews and all.

[Break: Anyone else recall the movie and black and white TV series "Desert Rats"? The series was about the exploits of a British army group in North Africa, near Tobruk, who basically made a nuisance of themselves and gave the British time to regroup and bring in the Yanks. I was just reminded of that while reading.]

After the end of World War II, Syria was handed back to the legitimate French government and Abdullah's dreams were once again smashed. But the British offered him a new gambit: membership in the UN and a hefty subsidy to keep his kingdom going. Since Jordan was not awash in agriculturally significant land or other natural resources, this was a plus for Abdullah. In 1945, at the end of World War II, the Arab League of Nations (Arab League) was created and exists to this day. This conference was to provide mutual protection and commercial unity between the Arab states.

In 1947, Britain had turned over the problem of the remaining Palestine Mandate to the UN, which created UNSCOP: United Nations Special Committee on Palestine; consisted of 11 members.

UNSCOP reported on August 31 that a majority of its members supported a geographically complex system of partition into separate Arab and Jewish states, a special international status for Jerusalem, and an economic union linking the three members. Supported by both the United States and the Soviet Union, this plan was adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 1947. Although they considered the plan defective in terms of their expectations from the mandate agreed to by the League of Nations twenty-five years earlier, the Zionist General Council stated their willingness in principle to accept partition. The Arab League Council, meeting in December 1947, said it would take whatever measures were required to prevent implementation of the resolution. Abdullah was the only Arab ruler willing to consider acceptance of the UN partition plan.

The proposed separation looked like this:

UNSCOP Plan 1947 Posted by Hello

The green areas were to be the Arab State, the blue for the Jewish state, Jerusalem and international city and some sort of cooperative government agency to be established to regulate law and commerce between them.

Once again the Arabs turned down a solution for two states and insisted that the whole of Palestine become an Arab state.

In 1948, the British supported his bid to join the UN but the USSR blocked it by stating that Jordan was not yet free as a British Protectorate. In looking at it from the time period, it is doubtful that the USSR was looking out for Jordan's interests. Most likely they were wishing to drive a wedge between Britain and Jordan to limit Britain's influence on the Arab state's vote in the general assembly. Possibly looking out for their own potential for alliances if the state could be bought.

Britain orchestrated a new treaty with Jordan, granting them full sovereignty and control, but also bundling a large amount of money as "aid" to the state and rights for British bases. This was enough for the UN and in May of that year, Jordan became a member of the general assembly.

The Zionist and the British.

During this time, the question of the Palestine Mandate still lingered. The Yishuv had been looking at the British Mandatory government as an enemy more and more. The holocaust in Europe saw more and more Jews fleeing to the Palestine Mandate. The British at the same time had declared a moratorium of immigration to the area in order to deflect some of the rising tension. In 1942, at the height of the holocaust, a ship carrying Jewish refugees from Romania was refused entry to Palestine and sank a few days later in the Mediterranean killing all aboard but two. The Yishuv took this as the British acting as accomplices of the extermination of their people (the "holocaust" was not known or called so at that time).

In the meantime, the Jewish Yishuva had created their own paramilitary underground, referred to as the Haganah. The Haganah were originally trained by the British as guerilla fighters to use against the Nazi war machine in the middle east. Egypt to be exact. As the Nazis were kicked out of the Middle East, the Haganah turned more and more towards organizing the defenses of the Jewish communities against attacks from the Arab communities. Other paramilitary groups included the Irgun and the Stern gangs led by Lehi. Menachim Begin, ex Polish soldier (future Prime Minister of Israel) had come to Palestine in 1942 and taken over the Haganah by 1943.

The British had begun to side with the Arab population in the area more and more as partisan fighting continued between the groups. News of the horrific persecution of the Jews in Europe had reached the area by then. The Irgun and Stern gang began to harass British troops in the area in hopes of forcing the Mandatory government to allow unrestricted immigration to the area and saving more of the Jews, but the British government stood firm.

[Break: Historically, this looks like a terrible decision on the part of the British, considering what we now know about the holocaust. However, it's known that while there were reports coming from Europe concerning the problem, the actual extent to the persecution and deaths were not known. Part of the problem, of course, was that these countries could not conceive of the ugliness and evil that it would take to perform such a task. And, the British in Palestine were not the sole group of people to turn Jewish immigrants away. Spain and France before it was over run and the USSR had eventually closed it's borders. The whole world seemed to be blind to the situation]

In 1944, the British minister of Middle Eastern Affairs in Cairo, Lord Moyne, was assassinated by Lehi, the head of the Jewish paramilitary group Irgun. This group was the most extreme of the Zionist groups that was pressing the Jewish communities to expand even further and take the entire Mandate of Palestine for a Jewish home state. Upon the assassination of Lord Moyne, the Haganah, led by Menachim Begin cooperated with the British in hunting down Lehi and destroying the Irgun. But it was too late for the Jewish. From that moment forward, the British government refused to support a separate Jewish homeland while the mandate was still under their control.

For the Jewish, by the end of the World War II, the true nature of the holocaust was just being discovered with the liberation of the concentration camps and the records of the Nazis from France, to Germany, to Austria, to Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, to Greece, the Jewish people has been hunted and exterminated to the point where only a few thousand of the estimated hundreds of thousands in some countries remained. In Czechoslovakia, other Balkan states and in Nazi occupied USSR, an estimated 4.6 million Jews had been killed. In the USSR and Balkans, concentration camps existed, but, by the close of the war, the Nazis had begun to line them up in front of ditches and machine gun men, women and children into ditches they were forced to dig themselves.

Only those that survived the concentration camps, were hidden by friends and neighbors or had immigrated to other countries were still alive. Even the Vichy government of France had participated in rounding up over 70k Jews and sending them to the concentration camps.

It became clear to the Jews of Palestine that, in the future, their only guarantee of survival was no longer a Jewish "Homeland" in another country. Rather, the true cause of the Zionist became emblazoned in their hearts. The word "homeland" was dropped from all political language. The words "Jewish Commonwealth" replaced it and the Haganah became their military wing, harassing the British in Palestine from then on in hopes of forcing them to withdraw.

US Support of the Zionist

The US in the meantime had alternated between support of a Jewish state to non-support. In 1947, at the first recommendation of UNSCOP, the US supported the decision. Shortly thereafter, a foreign aid to President Truman indicated that the partition was impossible, so he withdrew his support. Sectarian fighting continued in Palestine and UNSCOP appointed a special mediator, count Falks Bernandote fo the Swedish Red Cross to try and work out a peace between the groups so that the partitioning recommendation could move forward.

In April of 1948, Weizman (who made agreements with Feisel during World War I for the immigration of Jews to the area; TE Lawrence mentions him in his papers and books), went to President Truman and once again influenced him to support the state of Israel. Lobbying the UN Security Council had begun.

Britain Withdraws - Israeli Independence

in 1947, Britain had set a date by which it would withdraw from Palestine: May 15, 1948, declaring that they cold no longer control the area nor enforce any decision by UNSCOP as it would go against all of their agreements and conscience. Until that date, the British worked with Arabs in an attempt to disarm the Haganah and other paramilitary Jewish groups. The Irgun gang had been responsible for an earlier bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and numerous other attacks on the British infrastructure. After the King David incident, Ben Gurion, head of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, broke all ties with this group and focused on the Haganah as a defense mechanism, but, by then, the British and embarked on reprisals, arrests and deportation of suspected collaborators.

April 1948, precipitated the Arab refugee flight from the Palestine Mandate. The Irgun group massacred approximately 250 Arabs in Dayr Yassin. As the news spread, more and more Arabs began to leave the area.

The day before Britain was to officially relinquish it's power in Palestine, at exactly 6PM on May 14, 1948, Ben Gurion officially announced the Independent State of Israel.

All hell was about to break lose.

[Update: I noticed that I made an error in the date. It was May 14, 1948 that Israel declared independence, not Mat 15. My apologies for the mistake.]


Library of Congress: Israel
Library of Congress: Jordan

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