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9-08-2015, 22:24

THE MIDDLE EAST BETWEEN TWO WORLD WARS, 1919–45

After the conclusion of the peace settlements following the First World War, Britain attempted, for a time successfully, to secure the benefits of empire in the Middle East while minimising the costs of control. Its time-honoured way of achieving this was to maintain old social structures and unreconstructed traditional rulers. Modernisation and democratisation was at best half-hearted, since mass nationalism would have threatened British dominance. The Ottoman khedive of Egypt became a king under British supervision. The Hashemite amirs of Arabia were transformed into sovereign rulers. The Arab states were also provided with constitutions; assemblies were ‘elected’ and ministers were appointed who were supposedly responsible to the assemblies. British ‘advisers’ made sure that law and order were maintained and Britain’s interests preserved. These arrangements proved unstable and, after the Second World War, progressively collapsed in Egypt, Iraq and the Sudan. Although not an Arab state, Iran (Persia) was subjected to a similar pattern of indirect rule after the war. This merely continued, in this region, the policy followed before the 1914 war. Britain was inventive in devising constitutional and international arrangements that gave it what was necessary to protect its imperial interests without saddling it with responsibility for the welfare of the indigenous peoples of the countries it controlled. An exception was Aden, which was annexed in the nineteenth century and became a colony ruled outright by Britain; its population, however, was small. A more ingenious solution was found for the Sudan, reconquered in 1898, which became half a colony, a so-called condominium, shared between Egypt and Britain in 1899; in reality, both Egypt and the Sudan were administered by Britain. Britain did not attempt to rule over the Arabs living in the sheikhdoms of the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf, or in the interior of Arabia. Instead, special treaties were signed and protectorates proclaimed excluding any foreign influence other than British. Iraq, Iran, Transjordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were ostensibly independent countries bound only to Britain by treaties of alliance ‘freely concluded’ against this general background of its imperial policy in the Middle East; the position of Palestine, a large, predominantly Arab land for which Britain assumed direct responsibility under the League Mandate, was different. From the first, Palestine proved a troublesome possession. Far from providing Britain with a friendly and secure base in the Middle East, increasing numbers of troops from Britain’s small army had to be assigned to Palestine just to try to keep the peace. In other parts of the Middle East British policy also ran into constant problems. It was already too late and too expensive to extend imperial control by the mixture of force, efficient administration and paternalism that Britain had so successfully adopted in the heyday of imperialism. Taking on the heritage of the Ottoman rulers after the First World War turned out to be far more difficult than the British had expected. Not all the different ethnic and religious groups accepted the Arab rulers imposed on them. The largely desert regions of the former Ottoman lands that Britain had now acquired, with their stretches of irrigated territory along the coastlines and river banks, were divided into Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq. The ‘royal’ protégés whom Britain appointed to rule the Arab states were two sons of the Hashemite Sharif Husain of Mecca, Abdullah and Faisal. What territories they would actually rule remained uncertain, a detail not sufficiently worked out in 1919, especially as the French had their own ideas about how to govern Syria and Lebanon, the Arab territories that had been assigned to them. Abdullah had hoped to become king of Iraq with Faisal as king of Syria. Faisal actually established himself in Syria for a short time until he was driven out by the French. The British then decided to install Faisal as king of Iraq, which left his brother disappointed. Abdullah, at the head of a contingent of tribal forces, in turn threatened to avenge Faisal’s unceremonious expulsion from French Syria, at the same time putting forward claims to rule over an Arab Palestine, claims that were totally unacceptable to the British. Instead, the territories across the Jordan, the Transjordan, were separated from Palestine and constituted into a separate state in 1921 with Amir Abdullah as ruler. This was intended as no more than a temporary arrangement until the French agreed to allow Abdullah to become king of Syria. But this the French never did. Syria thus nurses a historical grievance. The ruler of small, barren Transjordan hankered after Jerusalem but was totally dependent on Britain. The creation of these states was not based on any logical or natural divisions. Nor were they based on the Wilsonian principle of what the people wished, even supposing this could have been accurately discovered. Instead they derived from machinations of a few leaders and from the power play of Britain and France. Ottoman dominion was more easily destroyed than replaced. The one country with clear national frontiers was Egypt. Britain’s dominance was difficult to justify after the First World War. Egypt had received continuous Western tutelage since the British occupation began, and an efficient administration had been built up with outstanding and powerful British proconsuls, modestly named ‘consul-generals’ (because Turkish suzerainty was acknowledged until 1914). The Sudan too was under effective British control, as we have seen, though in theory it was shared with Egypt. During the war of 1914–18 Egypt was declared a British protectorate; a strong military base was established and all protest was suppressed. The war nevertheless brought about change. It created wealth among a minority of Egyptian merchants, and a small Egyptian elite evolved, whose members became determined to remove British control and govern the country in their own interests rather than Britain’s. But they were split between the supporters of the monarchy and supporters of a nationalist party, the Wafd, led by Sa’ad Zaghlul, who in 1918 made himself spokesman of the nationalist cause. How could Egypt be denied independence when it was promised to the backward Bedouin Arabs? After riots and demonstrations Egypt was offered limited independence. Zaghlul objected. He also demanded that Egypt should have a say in the Sudan, for control of the headwaters of the Nile was regarded as vital by the Egyptians, who were dependent upon its water. No one in Cairo would conclude a treaty on British terms, so Britain in 1922 unilaterally proclaimed a limited Egyptian independence but reserved all those rights considered essential to British interests including military control of the Suez Canal. So-called constitutional politics now revolved around the rivalry for power among the group of Wafdist politicians supported by wealthy landowners and the corrupt supporters of the king. Between Britain and an elected Egyptian Wafd government a modus vivendi was at long last achieved by the signature of an Anglo-Egyptian alliance in August 1936. British troops were withdrawn from Egypt’s main towns but British air and land bases were maintained to guard the Suez Canal, and the Royal Navy had free use of the harbour of Alexandria. In the event of war or the imminent threat of it, the Egyptian government promised Britain its full support and unrestricted use of all Egyptian facilities and territory. Under the terms of the treaty the Egyptian army would also pass under British command in wartime. For a while all seemed peace and harmony and the foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, was even featured on Egyptian postage stamps. But within two years there was renewed bitterness about the continued presence of British troops. During the 1939–45 war King Farouk and the Egyptian government proved uncertain allies. Egypt did not declare war on Germany and Italy, but was nonetheless ‘defended’ by the British Eighth Army against Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Meantime, Farouk and his government were making secret overtures to Hitler in 1941, professing to welcome a German occupation. Hatred of Britain played a part, but there may also have been an element of reinsurance in case Rommel, as seemed likely, entered Cairo victorious. The British victory at El Alamein in 1942 settled Egypt’s immediate future, since Britain’s wartime needs overrode all notions of genuine Egyptian independence. To the Egyptians at the end of the war what stood out starkly was not that they had been defended against a German invasion but that, despite Britain’s recognition of their independence in 1936, the British remained virtually an occupying power ten years later. By then an economically exhausted but still militarily dominant Britain faced a chorus of strident nationalist demands to revise the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and to hand complete independence over to Egypt’s rival political leadership. As elsewhere in the Arab world, after 1945 Britain was faced in Egypt with the immensely difficult task of appeasing an Arab nationalism that was now stronger than ever. Treaties and a special relationship also protected British interests in Iraq which became a British mandate after the First World War. In many ways Britain carried on where the Ottoman rulers had left off. Except in non-Arab Persia, where Shia Muslims are the majority, the Arab governing elite in country after country was chosen from the same group, the Sunni Muslims, whether they were in a majority as in the Arabian peninsula or in a minority as in Iraq. Other minorities, communities of Kurds, Christians and Jews, were left to the mercy of the Sunnis, as were some majority groups, such as the Shia Muslims of Iraq. The Iraqi Shiites were not reconciled to alien or Sunni rule and rose in revolt in 1920. The British helped to suppress the rising, the Royal Air Force brutally bombing the rebels into submission. The British then proceeded to install the Amir Faisal as king, but Iraq remained an unstable kingdom, with an ineffective and corrupt parliament. A few years later, in 1933, the Iraqi army carried out a horrifying massacre of Christian Assyrians. The British did not intervene; good relations with Iraq took priority. The monarchy set up by the British did not prove a strong stabilising influence. After Faisal’s death in 1933, his playboy son succeeded, only to be killed six years later in one of his many sports cars. As in all the newly independent but politically underdeveloped states, the indigenous army played an increasingly important role. By the 1930s Iraqi independence was internationally recognised; Britain appeared to have fulfilled its task and preserved its interests in the form of a treaty signed in 1930 with a nominally independent Iraq. But internally Iraq remained as unstable as before, and in 1936 a successful coup saw the start of a series of military interventions in government. At the start of the Second World War the German National Socialists seemed to many Iraqis to be natural allies; not only were they at war with the hated British, but they were enforcing a programme of anti-Jewish racial policies and were apparently ready to allow the Arabs their own way in Palestine. Germany’s victories in 1940 and 1941 proved even more persuasive in turning Iraq away from the Allies. It now looked likely that Britain’s dominance of the Middle East would be broken. Although, Iraq was bound to Britain by special treaty, the country became a centre for anti-British Arab activity, and in the spring of 1941 a pro-German coup drove out the Regent and his government. For Britain the situation was very dangerous. With vital British interests, including the continued flow of oil from the Kirkuk wells, at stake, Churchill ordered the occupation of Iraq by British and Indian troops in May 1941. For the remainder of the war, and indeed for some years after, Britain was able to reassert its dominance, until it all collapsed in another bloody Iraqi coup in 1958. Persia, during the First World War, was a partitioned country divided between Russia and Britain until the Russians departed after the Bolshevik Revolution. The end of the war in 1918 left the British in a dominant position with sole rights to the exploitation of Persian oil. As in Iraq, Britain in 1921 moved away from direct control to indirect influence. Among the leaders who seized power in Persia was the self-appointed commander of the Cossack Brigade, Reza Khan. He soon extended his military power over the whole country, crushing tribal revolts and political opposition, and dignifying his authoritarian rule with a constitutional façade. The Persian parliament, the Majlis, was dependent upon the rulers, not the other way round. In 1925 Reza Khan had himself chosen as the new Shah and declared the foundation of the Pahlavi dynasty, whose survival he sought to ensure by despotic rule and the murder of opponents. Britain did not intervene and regarded it as in its best interests to deal with a strong ruler, allowing agreements to be made that would not be jeopardised by changes of leadership. What mattered was to maintain the Anglo-Persian oil concessions and the bulk of the profits. As oil production increased, the royalties paid to the Shah also grew; these he used to strengthen his army. Following the example of Kemal Atatürk, he forced Westernisation through. The emancipation of women and the spread of Western influences, especially education, began to change Iran, though more in the towns than in the countryside. Communications were improved and there was some industrial development. Centralised government, a growing bureaucracy and a new army represented the modern face of Persia, renamed Iran in 1935; but, for the masses of the poor, little was done. The Shah favoured the rich, the merchants and the landlords, over the majority, the poor peasants, from whom taxes and military service were exacted. To the poor’s resentment against the rich was added a religious dimension: the peasants remained faithful to traditional Muslim teaching, while the middle and upper classes tended to Western secularism. The Shah’s efforts to stimulate modernisation widened rather than narrowed the differences between the poor 90 per cent and the privileged few at the top of the social pyramid. The seeds of reaction were sown. The Shah wished to throw off British influence and was attracted, when the Second World War began, to National Socialist Germany, as were other Middle Eastern leaders. In the midst of a devastating war Britain could not afford to jeopardise its oil supplies. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 gave Iran an added importance as a vital Allied supply route to the Russians. With Britain and the Soviet Union now allies, joint action was agreed. In August 1941 British and Russian troops invaded Iran and deposed the Shah. The 21-year-old Mohammed Reza succeeded his father as Shah. Under Allied supervision mass politics were encouraged, with the Russians, the Americans and the British seeking to broaden their support among the people. Thus the Russians promoted a pro-Soviet Tudeh Party with its base in the Soviet-occupied north. The British supported tribal leaders in the south. The disruption the war brought to Iran compounded the problems from which the country was already suffering, but the national crises were postponed until the war’s conclusion. France’s power and role in the Middle East was once second only to Britain’s. Despite France’s success in penetrating the eastern Mediterranean culturally and commercially – French became the language of the educated elite – French power was eroded by two world wars. The British succeeded in limiting France’s share of Ottoman spoils to the Lebanon and to a Syria much reduced in size. France showed little interest in guiding its mandate to independence. In 1920 the French made short shrift of Faisal’s Syrian kingdom. They then proceeded to divide their mandate into five separate administrative nations and, when this proved unworkable, into two states (in 1925), the Lebanon and Syria. The mandatory governments were firmly controlled by the French military on the model of Morocco. Nationalist demonstrations and, all the more so, rebellions were harshly suppressed. Complete military control was the prior condition of France’s civilising mission. In the aftermath of a serious Muslim revolt in Syria in 1925–6, the French decided it was expedient to grant more autonomy and proclaimed a Syrian republic in 1930 with a parliamentary constitution. Whereas Britain fostered Arab ‘monarchies’, the French promoted ‘republics’. In 1936 a French–Syrian treaty, following the British example in Iraq, sought to lay the basis of a partnership between Syria and France in place of outright French domination. Arab nationalism in Syria was not satisfied. The French military and bureaucracy maintained close supervisory control, their presence making it evident who the real rulers were. In the Lebanon, the French faced less opposition, and the constitution which they imposed sought carefully to distribute the offices and representation among the principal groups of inhabitants. But nationalist opposition to the French occupation developed among both the Christian Maronites and the Muslims. France’s domination of the Levant became a vital symbol of its continued role as a great power. France took its cultural mission seriously and made sacrifices for it. Money and teachers were poured in to provide French education; hospitals were built and French judicial codes introduced. Communications improved, Beirut turned into one of the Middle East’s best harbours, modern cities with fine public buildings and adequate utilities transformed the Ottoman towns and, most important of all, a genuine effort was made to improve the lot of the peasant, with impressive increases in agricultural productivity. France thus made a real and genuine contribution to the wellbeing of the peoples of Syria and the Lebanon. In Syria and the Lebanon in 1940, as well as North Africa, however, the French administration and army remained loyal to the government of Vichy France, and obeyed its orders. Although the generals on the spot wanted to fight on, suspicion of Britain’s intentions also remained strong. As long as Syria and the Lebanon did not become an enemy base, Britain, beset by enough difficulties already, was prepared to leave Vichy undisturbed in the Levant. But the Syrians, impressed by the German victories, became increasingly pro-Nazi. Syria was the key. The Germans arranged to send military supplies to Iraq by way of neighbouring Vichy Syria. Vichy agreed to cooperate in return for substantial German concessions in France. The Vichy government also agreed to defend Syria against a British attack. So German planes landed on Syrian airfields with supplies for Iraq; but the effort was in vain. Churchill acted ruthlessly. If necessary the British would fight their former allies. Iraq as has been seen was occupied before German supplies could get through and then, in June 1941, Britain, together with the Free French forces, invaded Syria and the Lebanon. The Syrian and Lebanese campaigns signified a deep humiliation for France. The bulk of the French forces had refused to join the Free French troops and, though they capitulated, had been allowed to return to Vichy France. Despite the ceremonial return of Syria and the Lebanon to Free France, it was the British who were the clear masters of the situation. Capitalising on this, Britain demanded that the Free French proclaim, in order to appeal to Arab opinion throughout the Middle East, that the Lebanon and Syria would be free. De Gaulle had no choice but to comply. Deeply resentful, he accused Britain of driving France out of the Levant. De Gaulle in 1945 was more concerned to reestablish French authority. In May he ordered military action and a number of Syrian towns were shelled and bombed. But this was not 1920. Britain was in a position both of overwhelming military might and of decisive political influence in Europe and the Middle East. Supported by the US, Britain forced the French out. It was a humiliating end to French rule, and de Gaulle neither forgot nor forgave. The French were able to take comfort two years later when British rule in Palestine came to an end. Although Britain’s Balfour Declaration had powerfully contributed to the creation of the State of Israel, there were in 1945 many Jews who no longer saw in Britain a benevolent friend. British policies had not won Arab friendship either. Biblical Palestine was a familiar concept in the West, but at the close of the First World War few people in Britain or elsewhere had more than the vaguest notion of its geographical extent; King David’s and Solomon’s empire had included much of today’s Syria and Jordan, Egypt’s Sinai as well as contemporary Israel. There was no simple guide to what the modern territorial frontiers should be since Palestine as a country had ceased to exist under the Ottoman Turks. It was the British who re-created Palestine within its post-1919 frontiers. To the north were Syria and Lebanon: how far should these countries extend? Agreement on the frontier was reached with the French government; then, in 1922, the British decided to divide their sphere along the River Jordan, which thus formed the eastern frontier of Palestine. Beyond the river to the east a new country was created: the British Mandate of Transjordan. The importance of these artificial frontiers was never accepted as final by the peoples who lived within them. Syria could dream of being reunited with the Lebanon and of establishing a greater Syria by incorporating land belonging to presentday Israel. Jordan claimed Palestinian lands west of the river, including Jerusalem. Israel claimed the West Bank – in biblical times Judaea and Samaria – which before 1947 was part of the Palestine Mandate. Possession has been decided by war and conquest and the Arab Palestinians have no country of their own. Within the mandated territory of Palestine as geographically defined in 1922 the Jews were to be permitted to build their National Home among the 650,000 Palestinian Arabs already living there. As only 68,000 Jews inhabited Palestine in 1919 there could be no question of forming a Jewish state immediately. A National Home was a vaguer phrase; but there was no doubt about the end in view. Zionists, and also such powerful statesmen as Churchill, Smuts and Lloyd George, believed that a progressive Jewish state would, in future years, be re-created; the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was seen as providing a promise of assistance towards the goal of a pro-British Jewish state. Until events proved otherwise, the Palestinian Arab population was regarded by the British as too sunk in poverty and backwardness to merit consideration. In some official papers they were contemptuously referred to as mixed ‘Levantines’. The racial arrogance of an outmoded imperialist frame of mind was thus superimposed on the complicated Palestine issue. There was a significant silence about the political rights of the majority of the inhabitants of Palestine in the Balfour Declaration; they were given no more than an assurance that the ‘civil and religious rights’ of the ‘non-Jewish population’ would not be prejudiced, although they were the overwhelming majority. Leading Zionists recognised that a Jewish state was a distant prospect and would require large-scale immigration of Jews; but that Jews in their masses would actually come was a matter of faith. In 1919 the majority of Palestine’s 68,000 Jews were settled in Jerusalem, most of them orthodox Jews who had lived there under Ottoman rule for four centuries in their own religious communities. These religious Jews were generally opposed to the aims of the ‘new’ late nineteenth-century Jewish immigrants from Europe inspired by Zionist ideals of nationalism and statehood. It was persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire especially, and widespread anti- Semitism, which had led to the birth of Zionism before the First World War. Some 16,000 Zionist pioneers had settled in what had been part of the Ottoman Empire, mainly in agricultural colonies but also in towns. Working on the inhospitable land they had been inspired by the belief that they were laying the basis of a state for the Jewish people. Zionists asserted, with Theodor Herzl, that the Jews were a people, dispersed in history, but one people wherever they now lived. One day they would return to Palestine, their historical country. The early Zionists saw themselves as colonisers reclaiming Jewish land, precursors of the Jewish nation. But the world was ruled by the great powers, so the Zionists would need the sympathy and protection of one of these if they were to set about building their own nation. Theodor Herzl had tried to enlist the help of the German kaiser. The Zionist leader Dr Chaim Weizmann turned to Britain. The Jews bought land in Palestine and on this land built their kibbutz, their own agricultural communities. The majority of the Arab population was seen by the Zionists and their Western supporters as benefiting rather than suffering from this economic development of the barren Palestine soil, which Jewish zeal and skill would turn into productive plantations. It was a vision wounding to the pride of the Arab elites, conscious of their own culture and resenting the label of backwardness. From this followed the Arab identification of Zionism with ‘Western imperialism’. There were also educated, moderate Arabs who got on well with their Jewish neighbours, but the Jewish and Arab societies in Palestine were different from the beginning and the differences widened rather than narrowed. With the growing influx of Jewish immigrants, Jewish society became overwhelmingly European, democratic and socialist. Arab society, on the other hand, was traditional and patriarchal, and the few wealthy Arab landowners dominated the poor tenants scratching a living from the soil. Paradoxically, Arab landowners profited greatly from Zionism: because the Jews were eager to buy land, property values soared, and Arab wealth was hugely augmented. The growth of Jewish industry and commerce also introduced a new factor and built, adjoining an Arab town like Jaffa, the modern Tel Aviv. Development increased the gulf between the more prosperous urban and agricultural Jews and the mass of poor Arabs. The fundamental problem was whether Arab or Jew would ultimately control Palestine. The rate of Jewish immigration and the related question of Jewish land purchases were, in the early years, at the heart of that problem. The Arabs did not, after all, turn out to be a negligible political factor. There was indeed a widespread Arab reaction against the Balfour Declaration. Arab nationalism and expectations had been aroused by Faisal’s establishment of an Arab kingdom in Damascus in 1918. In October 1919 Curzon, who did not share his predecessor’s Zionist sympathies, replaced Balfour as foreign secretary. British official views were hardening against the wider Zionist aspirations and moving towards a policy of evenhandedness as between Arabs and Jews, which meant taking the Arab point of view into account. What the Arabs feared was that, as soon as a large Jewish population was built up in Palestine, the Zionists would impose their own Jewish state on all the Palestinian people. Accordingly, they wished Jewish immigration to be restricted. By early 1920, tension between the Zionists and the Arabs had risen dangerously. The British responded by limiting Jewish immigration and imposing a quota of 16,500 for one year. This was, even so, more than the Arab political leadership could accept and they organised their followers to react with violence. In May 1921 Arabs attacked Jews and Jews retaliated. By the time the British could bring the violence under control, forty-eight Arabs and forty-seven Jews had been killed. It was the beginning of the tragic sequence of bloody Arab–Zionist conflicts. The British now tried to allay Arab fears and to make further concessions to their views. First immigration was suspended, then it was announced that Jewish immigration would be strictly controlled, restricted to the economic absorptive capacity of the country. The Jews were not to take over the whole of Palestine: their National Home would be established in only a part of the country. But this reassurance had a boomerang effect, for Churchill, as colonial secretary, also explained that the Palestinian Arab majority could not expect to be set on the path to independence like the other Arab mandates, owing to the pledge of a National Home given to the Jews. The denial of independence to the Jews because of the Arabs, and to the Arabs because of the Jews, had all the makings of a bankrupt policy. Finally, the British undertook to take some account of local political attitudes; a legislative council, with more Arab members than Jewish, as well as British nominees, would be set up. The British hope was that the Jews and Arabs would work together in this forum, but the Arabs rejected the proposal out of hand. They also refused to form any representative Arab organisation in parallel with the existing Zionist organisation, later known as the Jewish Agency. The refusal of the Arabs to cooperate politically with the British, and to provide an elective Council of Palestinian Arabs, weakened their position. The Jewish Agency, meanwhile, became the nucleus of an effective government for the Jews. The problem of the Jewish state and the pressure of would-be Jewish settlers appeared to be easing in the 1920s. After an initial influx of Jews, immigration slackened. In 1927 more Jews actually left Palestine than entered, and in 1928 the net increase was only ten. However, Zionists and Arabs still wanted assurance about the future. The British Labour government elected in 1929, buffeted by Zionist demands for a coherently defined policy, did not follow a steady course: in 1930 promises were made to halt Jewish immigration altogether; then, in 1931, it was allowed to continue. This tendency to veer first one way and then the other only encouraged more violence in Palestine and increased the pressure on London from both sides in the struggle to influence British policy. It was Hitler’s persecution of the Jews in Germany, and the rest of the world’s rejection of large-scale Jewish immigration, however, that more than anything transformed the Palestine question in the 1930s and after the Second World War. All of a sudden there were hundreds of thousands of Jews who wished to escape the Reich in addition to those leaving Poland and central Europe. The fate of the Jews of continental Europe appeared to prove the Zionist case that the Jews would always be maltreated and so had to possess a country of their own. Before 1933 only a minority of German Jews had supported Zionism though prominent men were among them. The great migratory wave of Jews from the late nineteenth century onwards moved out of Russia and Romania west to Germany, France, Britain and, above all, the US. Hitler’s violent persecution converted more Jews in the 1930s than Herzl had done. But from 1936 onwards conversion to Zionism was less important a factor in the pressure to enter Palestine than the closing of the doors of the European countries and the US to large-scale immigration of the increasingly desperate German and, later, Austrian and Czechoslovak Jews who had fallen under Nazi German rule, in addition to the continued emigration from central Europe. Their fellow Jews in Palestine were willing to provide refuge and to share their possessions; Jews in other countries were willing to provide financial aid to enable their persecuted co-religionists to emigrate; the Germans wanted to force them out of the expanding Reich, yet the British mandatory authority in Palestine, fearing Arab reactions, barred the way to any but controlled immigration. Nevertheless, between 1932 and 1936 the quotas were sufficiently large for the Jews who wished to leave Germany and to settle in Palestine to be able to do so, encouraged by the National Socialists, who for a time agreed to the transfer of a proportion of Jewish property. Emigration from Germany soared, reaching a peak of 62,000 in 1935 alone. The surge of Jews lay at the root of Arab fears. If the Jews gained a majority in Palestine they would not be satisfied with a Jewish Home in Palestine, but would demand a sovereign Jewish state, to which the Arabs, still in a majority, would be subjected. In just two decades from 1919 to 1939, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased sevenfold, while the Arab population had not quite doubled. The trend was all too clear. With financial help from abroad, the Jews purchased land from absentee Arab landlords and found work for their co-religionists. The displaced Arab tenants and workers were aroused to religious fanaticism and hatred of the Jews by Arab politicians led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin. Haj Amin, a nationalist, was corrupt and totally unscrupulous in dealing with Arab opposition to his leadership; murder of Arab opponents and terror became an unstated part of his political programme. Yet he also enjoyed genuine large-scale backing from Palestinian Arabs fearful of the spectre of a Zionist-dominated Palestine. The Arab nationalist movement was implacably hostile to any Jewish development or to Jewish– Arab collaboration. The Mufti mobilised the Arabs not only against the Jews but also against the British. In the spring of 1936 an Arab strike was called and violence broke out. Jews were once again the target and for a time the Arab political leadership presented an unaccustomed united front. But the British hit back, refusing to reduce Jewish immigration and imprisoning Arab terrorists. Palestine was on the verge of civil war. Determined to restore order and to find a solution, the British responded with troop reinforcements. A Royal Commission was sent to investigate and its conclusions were embodied in the Peel Report, published in July 1937. The commissioners concluded that the Arab and Jewish communities were irreconcilable and recommended that Palestine should be partitioned between Arab and Jew. Partition of a small country was a bitter pill for both Zionists and Arabs to swallow. The Zionists, after careful deliberation, finally accepted partition as a solution that would give them a small state in northern Palestine. It was a starting point. But the Arabs rejected independence if it meant partitioning Palestine; no less unacceptable to the Palestinian Arabs was the loss of Jerusalem which, under the partition plan, would have remained a British mandate. The British government accepted the report as the basis of policy in Palestine. But it was one thing to adopt a policy, quite a different matter to enforce it against strong opposition. The Palestinian Arabs were reacting with increasing violence, and in 1938 their revolt was renewed; there was fighting throughout Palestine, with Jewish settlements and British troops and police being attacked by militant Palestinian Arabs. The British reacted fiercely, executing convicted Arab terrorists and arming the Jews to defend their outlying settlements which, in turn, strengthened the Haganah, the Jewish secret army. The Arab revolt continued into 1939. Despite Britain’s firm response in Palestine, in London the government retreated from forcible partition against Arab wishes. Just when the need for Jews to leave Europe became most urgent, Britain further restricted immigration into Palestine. For five years Jewish immigration would be limited to 75,000 and thereafter would be permitted to continue only with Arab consent. The Zionists reacted with predictable anger: the new quota meant not only that the threatened Jews of central Europe could not be rescued, but that the Arabs would remain a large majority in an unpartitioned Palestine. British calculations were simple: the Arabs far outnumbered the Jews in the Middle East; in a war with Nazi Germany, Arab friendship was important and uncertain, while Jewish support could, it was thought, be counted on. In Palestine, British troops finally crushed the Arab revolt but the Palestinian Arab political leadership continued to protest that British policy was too favourable to the Jews and was denying Palestinians their independence. The Second World War and the mass murder of 6 million European Jews by Hitler’s executioners transformed the Palestine question. From this searing experience the State of Israel emerged, peopled by Jews ready to defend with their lives a country of their own. In their eyes the injustice to the Palestinian Arabs paled in significance when compared with the fate that had befallen European Jews under Nazi rule in a world that had even placed obstacles in the way of saving them and their brethren. Such murderous indifference created a new hardness and bitterness among Jews. The Arab cause, in the meantime, was not helped by the attitude of the Arab political leadership to the global contest. The Second World War found the Arab world on the sidelines, more hostile to its British ‘protectors’ than to the Nazi aggressors. In 1941 the Mufti became Hitler’s ally and tool, the chosen Führer of the Arabs: a German victory, it is clear, would have meant the destruction of the Jews of Palestine as well. But even while Jews all over the world wanted the Allies to win and fought in Allied armies, Zionists were preparing for the post-war period. Among them were extreme nationalists ready to fight not only the Arabs but also the British rulers if necessary to create a Jewish nation.

 

 

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