WORLD WAR I: ARABISM, ZIONISM AND THE MANDATE
In the last two decades of the nineteenth century two separate movements developed that were to have continuing effects of the first magnitude not only for Jordan and Palestine but for all of the Middle East and North Africa. One was the Arab revival-first clearly identifiable in Syria and Lebanon. The other was Zionism - the Jewish revival rising in Europe, led by east European Jews, and articulating a quest for Jewish communal survival and identity in political terms.
Commencing about the same time, the two movements developed separately. Both were and became increasingly ultra-nationalistic and had other general resemblance--chiefly, the aim in each case of uniting in independence dispersed oppressed peoples considered to have elements of commonalty in culture, religion, language, and history. Both movements, however, were highly individual; their bases of objectives, attitudes, and action were different. They were to converge and confront each other finally in the geographical region of Palestine where, it was initially thought by some, they could develop in mutual accommodation. As history up to mid-1973 has shown, they were, in fact, to prove incompatible.
In Beirut, by 1875, a small number of Lebanese and Syrian intellectuals, both Christian and Muslim in composition and acclimated to Western thought by European-style education, were urging the study of Arab history, literature, and language to revive the Arab identity. By means of pamphlets and posters secretly printed and disseminated, they attempted to expose the oppressions of Ottoman rule and to arouse Arab consciousness in the interest of autonomy or even independence. The idea of independence was expressed in context of a unity of "the Arab nation" as a whole. Because of tight Turkish security, this group atrophied after 1880.
During this time, but quite separately , a new spirit of Jewish identity was seeking expression in Europe. By 1890 the Odessa-based Society of Lovers of Zion was encouraging the movement of small bands of immigrants to Palestine. This effort met with constant difficulty from the Turkish governors and was not particularly successful. The missing dynamism for European Jewish nationalism was supplied by Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jew and a well-known journalist in Vienna, who was dispatched by his newspaper to Paris in 1894 to cover the treason trial of a French army officer of Jewish faith, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Appalled at the surge of anti-Semitism aroused in France by the Dreyfus case, Herzl shortly afterward conceived his plan for a Jewish homeland. Seized by a sense of mission, he then wrote his classic pamphlet 'Der Judenstaat' (The Jewish State), published in 1897.
Herzl saw the problem primarily as a political-national question of international scope. Encouraged by the backing of Eastern European Jewish intellectuals, Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897. This body then founded the World Zionist Organization (WZO), with the stated aim "to reconstitute their home on the Land of the Jewish Forefathers secured by public law."
In 1907 WZO set up an office in Palestine at Jaffa (Yafo), near which the Jewish city of Tel Aviv was founded in 1909. The small Jewish settlements, which became known as kibbutzim, evolved a distinctive system of communal living, and Jewish schools, press, and labor movements came into existence. Under stimulus of the second wave of immigration, the Jewish population in Palestine rose dramatically to some 85,000.by the start of World War 1, or fully 12 percent of the total population. It declined, however, to about 8 percent by the end of the war.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul the Young Turk nationalist revolution initiated by the army-based Committee of Union and Progress had forced Sultan Abdul Hamid II, on July 24, 1908, to restore the Constitution of 1876 and later, in April 1909, had deposed him in favor of his aged brother, Mehmed V. These developments generated an initial wave of good feeling in the empire and aroused the hopes and expectations of its various nationalities.
After 1909, however, it soon became clear to Arabs and Zionists alike that the new Turkish nationalism was bent on increasingly centralized and intensified turkification of the Ottoman domains rather than the granting of local autonomies, to say nothing of independence. Arab opposition to the new Turkish despotism arose in two separate arenas. One developed among Arab intellectuals of Beirut and Damascus who enunciated the ideas of a new Arab nationalism.
The Arab committees and clubs of Lebanon and Syria that had emerged in the first flush of optimism in 1908 were forced into clandestine political conspiracy in the form of secret societies, especially the Young Arab Society (Jamiyat al Arabiya al Fatat). The objectives became independence for all Arab societies, not only from Turkey but from foreign control of any kind.
The link between the urban Arab societies and the tribesmen in the desert was Hussein Ibn Ali al Hashimi, the grand Sharif and Emir of Mecca, the custodian of the Muslim holy places of Mecca and Medina and the Hejaz region of western Arabia. Hussein, head of the Hashemite branch of the Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad, was himself a descendent of the Prophet (hence, by Muslim usage, a Sharif, or noble). He had four sons, the middle two of whom, Abdullah and Feisal, were to become major figures in Middle Eastern events during and after World War I.
Hussein and his sons had received Turkish as well as Arabic (but not Western) education and from time to time had spent enforced years of elite restraint in Istanbul. Sharif Hussein had been appointed prince of Mecca in 1908 because the Turks thought he would be a quieting influence, but once in office he did not prove to be as tractable as the Istanbul government had expected.
Both Abdullah, later king of Jordan and grandfather of the present King Hussein I of Jordan, and Feisal, later king of Syria (1919-20) and of Iraq (1921-33), were by 1915 associated secretly with the Arab nationalist societies of Syria and Lebanon, and it was partly through the sons' efforts that Sharif Hussein accepted from the northern societies what was called the Damascus Protocol as a basis for his later negotiations with the British. In return the northern societies accepted the Hashemites as leaders and spokesmen.
The first of the major events leading to the Arab uprising occurred with the visit of Abdullah in February 1914 to Lord Horatio Kitchener, the British agent and consul general at Cairo. Abdullah inquired about the possibility of British support if his father should raise a revolt against the Turks. Kitchener's reply was noncommittal, as Turkey was not then allied with Germany and World War I had not begun. The war broke out in August, however, and by early November Turkey was aligned with Germany and Austria-Hungary and at war with Great Britain, France, and Russia. Great Britain declared Egypt a protectorate and assigned Sir Henry McMahon as first British high commissioner; Kitchener was made British secretary of state for war and, in tile changed circumstances, sought Arab support against Turkey. In Cairo McMahon conducted an extensive correspondence with Hussein. Arab independence under the "Sharifian Arab Government" consisting of the Arabian Peninsula (except Aden) and the Fertile Crescent of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. In his reply of October 24, 1915, McMahon, on behalf of the British government, declared British support for postwar Arab independence, subject to certain reservations and exclusions of territory. As with the later Balfour Declaration, the exact meaning was not clear, although Arab spokesmen since then have usually maintained that Palestine was within the pledged area of independence. In any case, on June 5, 1916, Hussein launched the Arab Revolt against Turkey and in October proclaimed himself king of the Arabs. Supplies and money were provided by Great Britain for the tribal forces led by Abdullah and Feisal and various prominent sheiks. British army technicians and advisers were also detailed from Cairo to assist the Arab irregular forces. Of these advisers, T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was to become the best known.
Meanwhile, on May 16, 1916, the British and French governments concluded the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement. This undertaking, although allowing for a postwar Arab state on the Arabian Peninsula and an ill-defined plan for an International arrangement over Jerusalem and part of Palestine, divided the rest of the Ottoman domains in the Fertile Crescent between the two powers.
The outbreak of war had effectively prevented any further development of the Zionist settlements in Palestine, and the main efforts of this cause shifted to England, where discussion with Zionists was, seen as having potential value to the pursuit of British war aims. The protracted negotiations with the British foreign office were climaxed on November 2, 1917, by the letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour that became known as the Balfour Declaration. This document declared the British government's "sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations," viewed with favor "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish People," and announced an intent to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.
Although painstakingly devised, the wording of this declaration was seen differently by different people and interests. Ultimately, it was found to contain undertakings that proved to be incompatible. The apprehensions of Hussein, Abdullah, and Feisal (not themselves Palestinians) were allayed by the British assurance that no one people in Palestine should be subject to another. Initially, there was substantial belief that Arabs and Jews could live there together under some sort of arrangement not yet set forth.
Also in November 19t7, the contents of the Sykes-Picot Agreement were revealed by the Bolshevik government. Arab consternation at the content was palliated by British and French reassurances, however, and by the fact that allied military operations were progressing favorably. Al Aqaba was taken by Feisal's Arabs in July 1917, and Jerusalem fell to Field Marshal Edmund Allenby on December 9, 1917. Turkish forces remaining in Syria were subsequently defeated by the British and Arabs after hard fighting, and Feisal entered Damascus in triumph on October 1, 1918. The armistice with Turkey was concluded on October 31, 1918.
Feisal, as chief Arab delegate to the Paris Peace Conference convened in 1919, was a dramatic and eloquent advocate but could not prevail against the European power interests. He met with Chaim Weizmann, representing WZO, on January 3,1919 and signed an agreement pledging the two parties to mutual cooperation under the Balfour Declaration concept. Feisal, however, wrote on the document that his signature was dependent upon fulfillment of Allied wartime pledges regarding Arab independence. Because these pledges were never fulfilled to Arab satisfaction, Arab leaders and spokesmen have consistently held the Feisal-Weizmann agreement to be invalid.
An American group known as the King-Crane Commission was appointed in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to investigate and report on the problem of disposition of Ottoman territories and the assigning of mandates.
From the Paris Peace Conference and the sub-conference of San Remo emerged the League of Nations Covenant and the mandate allocations making Great Britain the mandatory power for Palestine (East & West of the Jordan River) and Iraq... and granting France the mandate for Syria and Lebanon. The mandate's terms reaffirmed the Balfour Declaration, called upon the mandatory power to "secure establishment of the Jewish national home," and recognized '.'an appropriate Jewish agency" for advice and cooperation to that end. The WZO was specifically recognized as that agency. Hussein, Abdullah, Feisal, and other Arab spokesmen opposed the mandate's terms because the League of Nations Covenant had endorsed the Wilsonian principle of self-determination of peoples and thereby, they maintained, logically and necessarily supported the cause of the majority-namely, the Arabs-in Palestine.
To British authority, pressed with heavy responsibilities and commitments after World War I, the objective of mandate administration was a peaceful accommodation in and development of Palestine by Arabs and Jews under British control. To Hussein cooperation with the Zionists had meant no more than providing within his intended Arab kingdom a refuge for Jews to the leaders of WZO, which by 1921 had a worldwide membership of about 770,000, the recognition in the mandate was simply a welcome first step on the way to attainment of a separate Jewish national state.
Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine developed early and continued at an erratically rising tempo throughout the mandate period. Meanwhile, in Damascus Feisal had convened the General Syrian Congress in July 1919 and proclaimed Syria sovereign and independent. In March 1920 this congress reaffirmed the independence of both Syria and Iraq, and it declared Feisal king of Syria and Abdullah king of Iraq. In April, however, the San Remo conference carved out the mandates, and soon French troops began moving from Beirut into Syria. The French took Damascus on July 25, 1920. Feisal, thus deposed, fled to Europe and remained there until installed by the British as king of Iraq in 1921.
At the time of Feisal's ouster, his brother Abdullah was in what is now Trans-Jordan Jordan today... endeavoring to organize a counter effort against the French. it then became clear to Abdullah and the British that Abdullah was acceptable as ruler to the Bedouin tribes east of the Jordan, including the locally powerful Bani Sakhr. Palestine had not been specifically defined. After the British and French had agreed, under the Sykes Picot guidelines, as to what constituted Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, what was left over, by elimination, was the Mandate of Palestine. This included, in effect, the territory of pre-June 1967 Jordan and Israel.
In March 1921 Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, convened a high- level British policy council in Cairo. As a result of its deliberations, Great Britain divided the Palestine mandate along the Jordan River-Al Akaba line.
The eastern portion, or Transjordan, was to have an Arab administration, under British guidance, with Abdullah as Emir. He was recognized as de facto ruler in April 1921. Revisions in the final draft of the mandate were made to give Great Britain much latitude in this area and were approved by the League of Nations Council in July 1922. A British memorandum in September 1922 excluded Transjordan from the zone of the Jewish national home.