History of disasters
There are many historical narratives, mutually conflicting and supporting, which led to the creation of the State of Israel and the dislocation of the Palestinians. On one hand, the history of the Jewish Zionist movement, which began informally in the 1880s and became official in 1897, is intimately linked with the history of Western imperialism in the Arab regions. On the other, the persecution of the Jews in Europe compounds the problems faced by the present-day Palestinians because the West seeks to absolve itself by supporting Israel. The Zionist movement's goal, when it began, was to establish a homeland for the Jewish diaspoa in Jerusalem. At the time when the Zionist movement started, the total number of Jews living in Palestine was 24000 (in 1882). In the Jewish belief system, the creation of Israel would be the realisation of the homeland promised to the Jewish people by God. However, not all Jews were in favour of human struggle to realise the promise of God. Some Jews thought it was a blasphemy to try to create what God promised to do Himself, especially because the promised homeland was expected to manifest itself after the arrival of the Messiah. Secular Jews, or nominally Jewish people, supportedthe idea of a homeland for the Jews not because of any metaphysical idealism but because their persecution in Eastern Europe. Following the Zionist dream and political pogroms in Europe, between 30000 to 40000 Jews migrated to Palestine from 1881 to 1903. A large number of Russian Jews also migrated to Palestine (Russian Jews now make the largest ethnic group in Israel because of the upheavals caused by revolutionary movements in Russia.
Soon afterwards, Britain and France were engaged in World War I and, after the disintegration of the Ottomon Empire, divided the Arab lands between themselves. In 1915, the Husayn-McMahon correspondence took place which promised to the Arabs that a large territory would be created to bring all Arabic-speaking people together. This promise to the Arabs was extended in exchange of their support against the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, the British were promising their support to the Zionists because they needed Jewish money for fighting the World War I. After the war, the League of Nations awarded the Palestinian territory to Britain which established the British Mandate for Palestine. The idea behind the award was that the British would administer and develop the region. The British authorities implemented some development plans but continued to connive with the Zionist s especially by their promise to follow the Balfour Declaration, drafted in 1916 by a Zionist group of leaders. The Balfour Declaration sought to divide the Arab territory under the British Mandate into two separate entities to establish one Jewish and the other Arab state. This was in conflict with the earlier Husayn-McMohan Correspondence of 1915 in which the British had promised a consolidated Arab territoy in exchange for revolting against the Ottoman Empire. The British denied the existence of the Husayn-McMohan Correspondence for many years until George Antonius, a Palestinian bureaucrat, published the ten letters in his book The Arab Awakening (1938). This correspondence revealed the promises the British had made to the Arab leaders and exposed the duplicitous political manouvers of the British.
The ascension of Hitler in Germany in 1933 also did not help the cause of Palestine because a great wave of Jewish refugees changed the demographic balance of the Palestinian territory. Though Hitler supported the mass exodus of Jews from Germany to Palestine, he became wary of their demand of an independent state. Because of this stance of Hitler, many Zionists, till today, link any critique of Israeli aggression to Hitler's anti-Semitism and fascism. Moreover the Western guilt over the Holocaust has helped the Zionist project a great deal because it galvanises Western support against the Palestinians' struggle for sovereignty. During Hitler's Reich, the large number of Jewish refugees arriving in Palestine produced a great sense of dis-enfranchisement among the Arab Palestinians, especially because the Jewish refugees were purchasing land at a great scale. The acquisition of land was at such a speed that it produced boycotts and civil unrest among the Palestinians in which 10 % of the adult male Arab inhbitants (between 1936-39) were "killed, injured or detained." In 1937, the Peel Commission Report suggested the territory should be divided among the Jewish and Arab inhabitants because the unrest cannot be contained. The two-state solution was welcomed by Zionists because it promised them a separate homeland. At that moment, the Arab population was 70% of the total and they occupied 90% of the land. The British plans to divide the territory was not welcomed by Arab leaders. Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia rejected the recommendations of the Peel Commission. They decided to boycott Jewish and British goods if the recommendations are followed. The British withdrew the recommendations after the Woodhead Partition Commission's report. After many negotiations, protests, and resolutions between the Arab leaders of the region and the British authorities, the Arab demand for placing a limit on the Jewish immigration into Palestine was accepted in 1939. By this time, the British were also making plans for withdrawing from the region and relinquishing the Mandate to the League of Nations.
In 1945, the United Nations replaced the League of Nations and in 1947, through UN Resolution 181, a vote determined that the Palestinian territory should be divided between the Jewish and the Arab populations. The Jews at that time comprised 33 % of the total number people and owned only 7 % of the land. The United Nations awarded them 55 % of the Palestinian territory. The Arab Palestinians erupted in a violent protest. The Jews began their plans to exterminate the Arabs living in the territory awarded to them. On 14 May 1948, the British Mandate for Palestine expired and the State of Israel came into being. Within a year, over 700000 Palestinians became refugees in the neighboring countries because of the surprise attacks on their settlements. The Arabs remember the protracted war of 1948-1949 as Naqba, meaning a "catastrophe." The Jews call it the War of Independence. This shows how metaphysics and land can produce violently opposite visions and create largescale human disasters.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated January 18, 2009