Palestine Post WWII

Once WWII had ended and was followed quickly by the war of 1948 which granted independence to the Jews and the formation of the State of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict truly began in earnest.  In the war of 1948, Israel had dominated its Arab neighbors and reclaimed much of the territory that the Jews believed was theirs through divine mandate.  This led to understandable and reasonable objections from the surrounding Arab nations, and even more understandable conflicts between the Jews and their former Palestinian Arab neighbors.  Many Arabs living in Palestine prior to the war of 1948 had fled their homes when war broke out, reasonably so.  Many others were removed by force.  Once the dust had settled, however, Palestinian Arabs believed they had the right to return to their homes and villages – a right that the Jewish State of Israel flat out denied.[1]  The Jewish leaders of Israel framed their rejection of that right in terms of national security – despite the official designation of Israeli citizens, all Palestinian Arabs were considered to be potential subversives by the State.[2]  The State of Israel retained the right to move remaining Arabs off of their land by force, despite their lawfulness, and entire villages were moved or destroyed by the military.[3]  Israel believed that these now-refugees should be embraced and welcomed into the surrounding Arab countries, but although they received sympathy from Arabic neighbors, they were also viewed with suspicion and most of them were denied citizenship in their new countries of residence.[4]  This, rightfully, created contention between the Jews and their Arab neighbors, both of whom believed they had a right to the land that they had once called home.

The second post-WWII source of conflict over Palestine was Israel’s new position of extreme aggression – even provocation – of their neighboring Arab countries, much to the chagrin of European powers like Britain and the United States.  Known as Ben-Gurionist Activism, the Jews believed mandate Britain was obligated to help them establish their rights and independence.[5]  When that failed to happen, Ben-Gurion believed that they had to be confronted both diplomatically and militarily to ensure the establishment and maintenance of Jewish rights.[6]  This activism also assumed that the only discourse the Palestinian Arabs would understand would be military strength.[7]  Any hint of resistance or hostility had to be met and challenged head-on to demonstrate to the Arab states (and to the rest of the world at large) that Israel would not tolerate anything that threatened either its security or its sovereignty.[8]

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2017): 222.

[2] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 222.

[3] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 222.

[4] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 223.

[5] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226.

[6] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226

[7] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226.

[8] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 226.

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The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Palestine Partition Proposition

From the beginning of the British mandate in Palestine following WWI, tensions between the growing Jewish population in Palestine and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs in the region had continued to grow.  The Arabs of Palestine distrusted the British mandate officials, in large part due to their perceived favoritism towards the Zionist claims for a Jewish national home which was sparked by the Balfour Declaration of 1922.[1]  In the aftermath of the Arab revolt of 1936, the Peel Commission was formed to understand and investigate the underlying motives behind Arab resistance to both the Jews and the British Mandate.[2]  The conclusions of the Peel Commission Report and the idea of a partition of two independent states was a last-ditch effort by mandate Britain to attempt a lasting peace between the Jewish and Arab communities, although it was doomed to fail even before its findings were published.

The Peel Commission of 1937 was tasked with two important objectives – to get to the bottom of the causes of tension between the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine and to make recommendations of how that tension could be equitably resolved.[3]  At the outset of the published report, the commission acknowledged the seriousness of their charge, indicating that “no other problem of our time is rooted so deeply in the past,” referencing the historical claim to Palestine shared by Jews and Arabs alike.[4]  The commission also admitted that promises made to both sides in the duration of WWI which led to the mandate of Palestine had given both Arabs and Jews of Palestine expectations that had not been fulfilled satisfactorily.[5]  Neither community had any interest in working together to create or maintain a single state in the region, nor were both willing to reconcile and work together for the formation of a national identity.[6]  Given that, the ultimate recommendation of the Peel report was a revolutionary one that would pave the way for all future reconciliation attempts in Palestine going forward.[7]

In the interest of peace, the commission recommended a partition plan for Palestine, which created two separate and independent states: one for the Arabs and one for the Jews.  Although seemingly equitable from a current viewpoint, the partition becomes less-so when viewed through the lens of Arab sentiments contemporary with the report, the division of land given the demographics or the time and the way that the land was to be divided.[8]  In addition, the Peel Commission recommendation did not allow for the creation of a third separate state for Palestinian Arabs – rather the division would make the Arab section of the partition a part of Jordan, since historically the region had been encompassed by the Southern Syrian Empire.[9]  This would mean that the Arabs living in Palestine would forgo their growing national identity and become absorbed by the Jordan Emirate.[10]  For the Arab community in Palestine, this compromise was untenable.  While other Arab populations in the Middle East were gaining autonomy and independence from colonial interference, those in Palestine viewed the potential of Jewish State as a takeover of their homeland by a foreign (and often hostile) people.[11]

While ultimately rejected as impractical, the Peel Commission Report viewed their recommendations as the only available method to creating lasting peace in a region torn apart by dueling national identities by two distinctly different cultures that could not – or would not – see eye to eye.  There would be no compromise possible amidst the growing tensions of a region where both communities had a valid and historical claim to the same homeland, especially in light of perceived Western interference in Middle Eastern affairs.  Where Palestinian Arabs rightly viewed themselves as capable of independence and self-governance based on a long-standing presence in the region dating back to the 7th century.  On the other hand, Jews had a historical claim to the land that they believed was given to them by God himself, a claim that even many Muslims acknowledged openly.[12]  The unfortunate truth was that both communities shared claim to the same territory, and neither were willing to accept a lesser portion of that claim than they believed they deserved – namely all of Palestine.  Anything short of the entire land of Palestine would be unacceptable to Arabs and Jews alike, making the Peel Commission recommendations doomed to fail almost before they could be published.    Although the commission report ended on a hopeful note, stating that “if it offers neither party all it wants, it offers each what it wants most, namely freedom and security,” and it was most likely the only possible solution for peace, it fell short of the goal and was rejected by both sides.[13]  Instead of easing inherent tensions between the two opposing sides, the idea of partition sparked new ones, which put Jews, Arabs and British mandate powers simultaneously at risk for growing violence in the region going forward.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bartal, Shaul.  “The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Origins of the Partition Concept.”  Jewish Political Studies Review 28, no. 1/2 (Spring 2017): 51-70.

 

Gill, Natasha.  “The Original ‘No’: Why the Arabs Rejected Zionism, and Why it Matters.”  Middle East Policy Council. Accessed March 10, 2018http://www.mepc.org/commentary/original-no-why-arabs-rejected-zionism-and-why-it-matters.

 

Jewish Virtual Library.  “British Palestinian Mandate: Text of the Peel Commission Report.”  July 1937.  Accessed March 18, 2018.  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-peel-commission-report.

 

Smith, Charles D.  Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 9th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 129.

[2] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 134.

[3] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Origins of the Partition Concept,” Jewish Political Studies Review 28, no. 1/2 (Spring 2017): 52.

[4] “British Palestinian Mandate: Text of the Peel Commission Report,” July 1937, Jewish Virtual Library, accessed March 18, 2018, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-peel-commission-report

[5] “British Palestinian Mandate Text of the Peel Commission Report.”

[6] “Palestinian Mandate: Text of the Peel Commission Report.”

[7] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 57.

[8] Natasha Gill, “The Original ‘No’: Why the Arabs Rejected Zionism, and Why it Matters,” Middle East Policy Council, accessed March 10, 2018, http://www.mepc.org/commentary/original-no-why-arabs-rejected-zionism-and-why-it-matters.

[9] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 57.

[10] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 57.

[11] Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937,” 58.

[12] Charles D. Smith, “Palestine and the Arab Israeli Conflict,” 134.

[13] “Palestinian Mandate: The Text of the Peel Commission Report.”

Modern Zionism

The textbook defines Zionism as “a nationalist ideology that advocates the creation of a secure Jewish homeland in Palestine for the worldwide community of Jews in fulfillment of their historical and religious associations with the region.”[1]  While this definition is definitive and highlights the ideals that encompass modern Zionism, the definition that resonated more completely with me was the one found in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel from May 14, 1948.  This direct quote states that “(Israel) was the birthplace of the Jewish people.  Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped…After being forcibly exiled from their land, (the people) never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.  By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”[2]  Nationalist Zionism was born in a turbulent period of Persecution and was viewed in light of the historic persecution of Jews throughout Europe, and was a secular more than a religious ideology related to nationalism and the right to an independent Jewish state.  Although Zionism was not solely linked to Palestine, as WWI came to a close, more and more prominent European Zionists pushed for an Independent Jewish state within the borders of their religious and historic homeland.

It’s simple to see why this posed a problem that related to Arabs which were comprised of both Muslims and Jews, not only in Palestine but in the surrounding countries as well.    Although the Jews ruled and controlled Palestine from 850-725 BCE (and then again from 140-63 BCE), they lost control of Palestine through captivity to the Babylonians and then were subjugated to Roman and Byzantine rule until 638.[3]  From 638 onward to the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of WWI, Arabs (primarily Muslims) had controlled Palestine, with brief periods of Crusader rule over parts of it.  Establishing an independent nation state in Palestine for the Jews would mean the displacement or necessary inequality of the Arabs who had called Palestine home for thousands of years.  Although Zionism took many different forms, the Labor Party’s idea of Zionism meant the labor to be completed in Palestine in Jewish communities should be completed solely by Jewish workers, which would result in the construction “of a Jewish state where Arabs had no political rights and were excluded from Jewish economy.”[4]  Since the aim for Jewish immigration were wealthy or, at the very least, middle class European Jewry, the influx of cash into Jewish settlements was pronounced at a time when the Arab economy was struggling.  To be excluded from the benefits of Jewish immigration economically and to be excluded from governmental decision making policies that would affect the entire pre-existing Arab population clearly caused tension with Palestinians both Muslim and Christian alike.

 

 

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 9th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017): 563.

[2] “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel,” May 14, 1948, quoted in Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 9th edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017): 215-216.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 598.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 115.

The Importance of Context in History

It’s easy to view current events in a vacuum – relating them to history and placing them in context is difficult work that takes more than just watching the news, and for people who are not historians-in-training, or interested in the subject, doing so requires a certain amount of effort and curiosity that is often (in my experience) lacking.  Examining things in context, however, is essential to obtaining a deeper and more meaningful understanding of them, especially in the area of history and politics that the Arab-Israeli conflict is framed within.  Looking solely at current events is incredibly myopic and cannot possibly allow anyone to see the numerous levels of such a complicated and comprehensive subject adequately.

This area of the world is rife with conflict, and it’s been happening for thousands of years.  It is the epicenter of three of the world’s major religions, and Christianity, Judaism and Islam all collide over shared interest in the region – especially in the ‘Holy Land’.  With so much at stake, it is no surprise that tensions in the area are high, but understanding why is the key to framing the discussion of those conflicts properly.  In order to do that, it becomes mandatory to study history and to frame the region I its proper, historical context.

Regardless of whether the biblical/religious-historical context of the Land of Israel has a basis in truth or historical certainty, it is clear that the region was once inhabited by those who called themselves Jews.  They suffered under various conquests by Babylon, by the Romans and were finally scattered throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, known as the diaspora.  Between those conquests and dispersions, Christianity was founded in Jerusalem, adding a second layer.  While Christians and Jews were both persecuted under Roman rule, Christianity ultimately became the state religion of the Roman Empire, and Jews and Pagans became out of favor.  Roughly five hundred years later, Islam originated in Saudi Arabia, and quickly spread throughout the Middle East.    Tensions flared between the 9th and 13th centuries under the Crusades – the European Christians’ attempt to reclaim the Holy Land.[1]Under the Ottoman Empire, Christians and Jews were protected, although taxed as dhimmis – those who paid the jizya tax and submitted to Muslim rule in exchange for protection and a sense of autonomy for following their own religious beliefs and ideologies.[2]  In the 19th century, however, tensions between Christians and Muslims began to deteriorate again as primarily Christian Europeans began influencing through trade affairs in Ottoman controlled territory.[3]

All of these nuances would be missed if the region was only examined from a current, contemporary viewpoint, and placing the struggles currently in effect would be impossible without proper historical context and interpretation.  Although examining the history is more difficult and requires more work, the benefits are astronomical, and provide layers of depth that can’t even be seen from the surface.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Ninth Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017): 8.

[2] Charles Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 12.

[3] Charles Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 13.