Long before the Turkish rule in Palestine ended, there had been stirrings of revolutionary and nationalistic thought in Europe. It was considered the right of every nation to have an independent country of its own.
Inspired by these ideas, a number of books were published on the concept of Jewish nationhood in the second half of the nineteenth century. The best known among them was ‘Der Judenstaat’ (or ‘The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question’), written in 1896 by Theodor Herzl, a political journalist from Austria.
This was when terrible anti-Jewish pogroms were taking place in East Europe and millions of Jews had been driven out of Tsarist Russia. Herzl was moved not so much by idealism as the need for the Jews to abandon the sick continent and seek safety elsewhere.
If Jews were to be a nation then, logically, there had to be a piece of land that could be designated as their country. With this in mind, in addition to the Rothschilds, a number of other Jewish organizations had been buying up pieces of land in Palestine for some time for the settlement of Jews displaced by the pogroms in East Europe.
Their numbers were limited and by the end of the nineteenth century, their proportion in the total population was estimated at less than one or two percent. Herzl tried to negotiate a deal with the Ottoman Empire to settle more Jews in Palestine, in exchange for a large loan, but it fell through.
He then turned to the British who proved more sympathetic. The lawyer hired to prepare and submit their case, entitled the ‘Charter for the Jewish Settlement’, to the British Government was none other than Mr. Lloyd George who became the Prime Minister of Britain at a most opportune time for the Jews thirteen years later.
After examining the possibilities for establishing a Jewish colony in the Sinai, Libya, and Cyprus, the British Government offered 6,000 square miles of territory for their settlement in Uganda. This was turned down by the World Zionist Congress although the opinion had been divided. The majority insisted that it had to be Palestine.
The belief in God-given right
Evangelist Lord Palmerston, three times British Foreign Secretary (1830 – 1851) and later the Prime Minister (1855 – 1865) extended consular protection to Jews in Ottoman-controlled Palestine. As he put it, “Palmerston had already been chosen by God to be an instrument of good to His ancient people.”
The belief, based on the Bible, that the Jews have a God-given right to the Holy Land, including Judea and Samaria, is as alive today as it had been a century or more ago. Senator James Inhofe, an Evangelist from the oil-producing state of Oklahoma, recently quoted Genesis itself on the US Senate floor as giving Abraham and his ‘seed forever’ all the land around Hebron, which is on the West Bank.
Such beliefs form a part of the theology of millions of U.S. Evangelicals, including ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft and so many other powerful figures in the Republican Party. There is little historical evidence to support these Biblical claims.
In her book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, Michelle Goldberg claims Christian Zionism is responsible for American support for some of the most irredentist Israeli positions, such as support for settlement-building.
She also states Evangelical Christians had a substantial influence on US Middle East policy, more so than some better-known names such as AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. ‘The influence of people like Hagee is to make the American public support the government’s completely one-sided, hawkishly pro-Israel stance. These groups have much more influence than AIPAC or the so-called Israel lobby’ (BBC).
Regardless of this, the dislike of Christians is so extreme in Israel that Ultra-Orthodox Jews often make a point of spitting on the faces of Christian priests they come across on the streets of Jerusalem.
The state prohibits the sale or lease of land to non-Jews; denies government funding to their educational, social, or medical institutions, holy and historical sites, or even citizenship rights that are guaranteed to all Jews anywhere under the ‘Law of Return’. Who is fooling whom, one wonders, in this not-so-holy alliance between Israel and the Christian Right in the USA?
The unfairness of the Sykes-Picot Agreement
In 1916 Britain and France signed the document, known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, that laid down how the Turkish Empire in the Middle East would be divided between them after World War I. According to this, France was to take possession of Syria. Lebanon was subsequently carved out of Syria, through an elaborate scheme of gerrymandering by the French, to create a nominal Christian majority state.
Palestine had also formed a part of Syria but the Jews had eyes on it as well. Under strong pressure from the British and the Americans, the French agreed to issue a declaration, known as the ‘Cambon Letter’ that expressed sympathy for the Zionist cause in quite vague terms.
The Zionists and their friends in the British Government used the Cambon letter to extract a far more firm and meaningful commitment from the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, that read in part, “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people —— nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”
The US President Wilson approved it even before it was issued and the American Congress adopted it, word for word, in a joint resolution on 30th June 1922.
Political rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine who, at the time, constituted eighty-seven percent of the total population were specifically excluded from this declaration.
Lord Balfour further clarified the situation a year later, “The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profound importance than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the ancient land.”
The total number of Jews in Palestine at the time, including the newly arrived settlers from Eastern Europe, was about 80,000 according to British estimates (see Encyclopaedia Britannica) but may have been much less.
Not all Jews support Zionism
The fact that the British Government letter containing the subsequent ‘Balfour Declaration’ was addressed to the Jewish banker, Lord Rothschild, and not to the Zionist Federation, gives more than a hint that power of money may have been a more compelling reason.
The men in power also believed that in returning the Jews to Palestine, they were helping the Lord carry out His work and, in the process, cleansing Christian lands of the despised Jewish race. The satisfaction that came from knowing that it was done at the expense of the Muslims was sweet revenge after centuries of defeats and humiliation suffered at the hands of the latter.
Read more: For French Muslims, dread and fear abound
Interestingly, there was never any suggestion to ask the Jews themselves if they really wanted to leave their homes to settle in the Promised Land that now belonged to some other people. The vast majority of Jews never wanted to be uprooted, from the places where they had lived for the past nearly two thousand years, to start a new life in hostile, impoverished, and forbidding Palestine.
Very few, almost negligible in number, chose to migrate from countries like the United States and Britain where they have been accepted more readily and treated kindly in recent years.
There is a mistaken belief that the Zionists represented the majority of the Jews. The notion cannot be supported by facts. In 1913 only about one percent of the world’s Jews had signified their adherence to Zionism, as estimated by Leonard Stein in ‘The Balfour Declaration’, Valentine Mitchell, London, 1961.
Of the three million Jews that inhabited the United States at the time, only 12,000 belonged to the Zionist Federation. In New York itself, the heart of American Jewry, there were only five hundred members.
Not all Jews support the notion even today. This is what the Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA & Canada has to say about Zionism, “The ultimate heresy of Zionism, its denial of Divine Providence over history, was the inevitable outgrowth of an overall rejection of God and Torah which typified the movement’s founders. The subsequent history of this bizarre ideology has been a ceaseless record of overt anti-Torah acts.”
It cannot be that the British Foreign Office was not aware of these facts, yet, they proceeded single-mindedly to hand over Palestine to the Zionists.
Winston Churchill’s firm stance
In October 1919 Churchill, then Secretary for the Colonies in the British cabinet, declared, “The Jews, whom we are pledged to introduce into Palestine and who take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.”
He also told the Arabs in March 1921, “It is manifestly right that the scattered Jews should have a national center and a national home to be reunited and where else but in Palestine with which for three thousand years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews, good for the British Empire, but also good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine and we intend it to be so.”
He was very clear about what the expressions ‘national center’ and ‘national home’ meant to him, “If, as may well happen, there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown which might comprise three or four million Jews, an event will have occurred in this history of the world which would from every point of view be beneficial and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.”
Arab leaders’ compliance
In all fairness, it must be clarified that the Arab leaders during World War I and in particular Husain, Sharif of Makka, who had joined hands with the British and rose in revolt against Turkey, did not raise any serious objections to the British plans for Palestine. His son, Amir Faisal, who was hoping to be made the king of Syria, had practically endorsed these on more than one occasion.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Joyce, Amir Faisal’s senior British military adviser who attended the meeting between Faisal and Chaim Weizmann (Zionist leader and the first President of Israel) in 1918, Faisal was willing to accept a Jewish Palestine if doing so would influence the Allies to support his claim to the throne of Syria. Later, at the 1919 Peace Conference, Faisal went so far as to offer public support for Zionism.
Read more: Has OIC failed the Muslim Ummah?
The migration of Jews remained limited almost exclusively to the victims of pogroms in Eastern Europe, until the advent of Hitler in Germany when there was a dramatic change. In 1932, one year before Hitler came to power, 9,500 Jews were admitted to Palestine.
The next year the numbers jumped to 30,000, the year after it was 42,000 and in 1935 it reached 61,000. By the end of World War II, more than half a million Jews had been shipped from camps in Europe to Palestine.
To cut a long story short, after World War I, the League of Nations handed over the territory to be administered as a mandate by the British. In 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, which approved the partition of the country between the Arabs and the Jews. It gave 47 percent of the country to the Arabs who now constituted 70 percent of its population and owned 92 percent of the land. The rest was given to the Jews.
The state of Israel
Unable to maintain peace, the British abandoned the mandate and withdrew their forces in 1948. On 14th May, the state of Israel proclaimed its independence and was accorded instant recognition by the Soviet Union and the United States.
In his foreword to late Professor Israel Shahak’s book Jewish History, Jewish Religion, the American dissident and author, Gore Vidal tells the story of how the US came to recognize Israel.
He states, “Sometime in the late 1950s, that world-class gossip and occasional historian, John F. Kennedy, told me how, in 1948, Harry S. Truman had been pretty much abandoned by everyone when he came to run for president. Then an American Zionist brought him two million dollars in cash, in a suitcase, aboard his whistle-stop campaign train. That is why our recognition of Israel was rushed through so fast.”
He further writes, “As neither Jack nor I was an anti-Semite (unlike his father and my grandfather) we took this to be just another funny story about Truman and the serene corruption of American politics. Truman notes in his papers that he privately explained his decision to his cabinet in these simple words-I have no Arab constituency.”
The Zionists were always very sure about the future of Palestine. Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism in the Iron Wall stated, “Zionism is a colonization adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to speak Hebrew but, unfortunately, even more, important to be able to shoot, or else I am through with playing at colonization.”
“We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waiters,” Prime Minister Rabin said as quoted by Uri Lurbani, Ben Gurion’s special adviser, in The Arabs in Israel by Sabri Jiryas.
Read more: Why Israel is able to suppress Palestine
“We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.” (Heilbrun, chairman, of the Committee for the Re-lection of General Shlomo Lahat, the mayor of Tel Aviv, October 1983).
The writer is a retired naval officer and is the author of ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective’. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.