The circumstances of the Allies’ division of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath
of World War I beg for a drastic revision in light of the recently opened
Prof. Isaiah Friedman, a distinguished historian,
retired Ben-Gurion University scholar, senior fellow at St. Antony’s College,
Oxford, expert on British-Jewish- Arab relations, editor of The Documents on the
Rise of Israel and the co-editor of Encyclopedia Judaica, has conducted such a
William Faulkner reminded us that the past is never
dead, it’s not even past. The Sykes-Picot agreement, which set today’s Middle
Eastern borders to serve French and British interests, and the separation of
Trans-Jordan from Palestine in violation of the terms of the Palestinian
Mandate, still affect Israel’s destiny. The disengagement of Islam from politics
is difficult in traditional Arab societies, and a worldwide Caliphate continues
to be sought.
In this book, Friedman probes whether the British Pan-Arab
policy enhanced its security in the Middle East. He shatters many myths and
distortions and shows us how T.E. Lawrence, the hero of the “Arab revolt,” who
planned a single Arab state under British protection, became
However, his view that halutzim (Jewish pioneers) would
redeem the devastated Palestine came true.
On November 9, 1914, British
prime minister Herbert Asquith announced dramatically: “The Turkish Empire has
committed suicide” – it had launched a jihad against Britain. The Ottoman giant,
which enjoyed British protection, entered World War I on the German side and had
to be defeated.
The original British plan, devised in Cairo, for the
conquest of Turkish-occupied Palestine included landings at the Haifa Bay area
and at Aqaba. However, it was replaced on February 15, 1915, by an ambitious
Dardanelles Anglo-French expedition, destined for Constantinople.
were no Arab soldiers at Gallipoli, but in the wake of the Allied failure and
withdrawal, Arab cooperation became an interesting proposition.
British defense minister, Lord H.H.
Kitchener, and Henry McMahon, who
replaced him in Cairo, both imbued with imperial spirit, envisaged an Arab
fighting force joining the British under the guise of a new Caliphate. This was
based on a false premise that the Arabs would rise and replace the
But Arabs regarded themselves as Ottomans and devoted Muslims,
bound by their faith and loyalty to the caliphsultan in Constantinople. They
were the champions of Islam, fighting against the encroachment of the infidel.
The British belief that Arabs should blame Turkey for their backwardness and
economic stagnation was just as wrong; the Arabs held high positions under the
McMahon was warned that even if Turkey lost the war, the
Ottoman sultancaliph would still be admired. But both the September 10, 1915,
arrival in Cairo of Muhammad al-Faruqi – the leader of the Arab secret
societies, who promised the Allies a big Arab army – and the revolt started by
Sharif Hussein, the emir of Mecca in 1916, won British recognition.
British were unaware that Hussein had revolted only after the Turks sought his
life, and that he still tried to accommodate them.
Hussein aspired to
become a caliph, a great political and religious leader of a united Arab empire,
and on October 29, 1916, he proclaimed himself “king of the Arab countries.”
London, however, appointed him as the king of Hejaz only, and was vague insofar
as the Arab independence was concerned. But after an Arab Bureau was established
in Cairo, Gen. Ronald Storrs – without the Foreign Office’s authorization and at
variance with the official Whitehall policy – called on all Arabs to unite, get
rid of the Turks and declare, with British help, their independence.
Arab Bureau’s “five musketeers” – Col. Stewart Francis Newcombe, George Lloyd,
Aubrey Herbert, Leonard Woolley and Lawrence – shared Storrs’s
The total cost of the Arab revolt was £11 million in gold. But
only a few thousand badly disciplined soldiers, interested more in spoils than
in fighting, had joined the fray. It was Lawrence’s bold move in freeing Aqaba
and his false claim that his Arabs, and not Gen. Harry Chauvel’s ANZAC (the
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) cavalry, had liberated Damascus, that
caught the world’s attention.
Sir Arthur Hirtzel of the India Office and
Lt.-Col. Walter Gribbon of British Intelligence found that the Arab contribution
to the war effort was “practically nil,” while the cost was high. Palestine was
freed by the Allies, supported by the Jewish “Nili” spies, Aharon Aaronson’s
guidance in providing Gen. Edmund Allenby with maps indicating that advance
through the littleknown road to Beersheba would be preferable to his former
fatal frontal attack on the Turkish-German forces at Gaza, the Zion Mule Corps
and three Jewish battalions of Royal Fusiliers – the 38th, 39th and 40th,
recruited from the Yishuv itself.
SIR MARK SYKES, Gertrude Bell and other
Middle Eastern experts found a deep ethnic and religious schism among Arabs, but
hardly any evidence of nationalistic feeling. In 1919 Maj. J.N.
stated in Damascus that in the eyes of the vast majority of Muslim Arabs, Arab
nationalism and Islamism were “synonymous terms.”
Maj. C.S. Jarvis, who
lived 18 years among Arabs, found that the national feeling was confined to a
few educated Arabs. But all this had changed fast during the Paris peace
negotiations, when many countries won their independence, and from which Hussein
withdrew in protest of the Allied treatment.
On March 8, 1920, the Syrian
Congress recognized Hussein’s son, Feisal, as king of Syria, Palestine and
Mesopotamia. But the Great Powers implemented the Sykes- Picot agreement, giving
Syria and Lebanon to France, and Iraq and Palestine to Britain as protectorates,
claiming that the Arabs were not yet ready to govern themselves.
who complained that the Arab masses did not understand the meaning of
nationalism, had little chance of succeeding in Syria, as well as Palestine,
which Lawrence described as a racial and religious mosaic, torn by deep
It was, however, Islam that became the uniting force of the
Arab anti-foreign and anti-British policy. It was in this light that the budding
Arab nationalism, based on the Islamic concept of the infidel’s inferiority,
viewed the Balfour Declaration as a Zionist, imperialistic plot justifying the
British occupation of Palestine.
Feisal, guided by Lawrence, welcomed
Chaim Weizmann’s and Felix Frankfurter’s plans for the development of Palestine.
He was ready to grant Jews cultural autonomy and limited immigration.
facing the growing tide of Arab nationalism, he, too, started making different
British officials in London and Jerusalem differed in their
interpretation of the Balfour Declaration. On September 19, 1919, The Times
wrote that Jordan would not do as the eastern frontier of Palestine, and in the
North it should include a good part of the Litani River, as well as Mount
In November 1919, Lord Milner, secretary of war, advised Nahum
Sokolow “to insist upon as large a portion of Trans-Jordan as
But France took over the Hermon and the Litani, and British
officers in Jerusalem devised a Pan-Arab policy of divide, rule and
Richard Crossman asserted that it was natural for the British to
love all that was decadent in Arab civilization and to disregard its new, less
charming, less subservient features. This pro-Arabism was not really love for
the Arabs, but concealed anti-Semitism.
On March 28, 1921, Winston
Churchill received a deputation from the “Third Palestine Congress,” claiming to
represent all Palestine’s Arab people.
They professed unswerving
friendship for England, “too obvious to require proof.” This sympathy, they
claimed, had brought upon them the wrath of the Turks, who had persecuted,
tortured, executed and exiled many of them.
Palestinians had followed
King Hussein’s call, and thousands of them had deserted the Turks to fight for
the Allies, but had not been rewarded. England had broken the contract with
Hussein and was changing Palestine into a home for Jews, the “advocates of
destruction.” The delegation demanded a stop to Jewish immigration, the
abolition of the Jewish national home and the formation of a national Arab
Churchill replied that many of the Arab claims were not true.
The Arabs had not overthrown the Turks, the British forces had. The Balfour
Declaration had been issued at a critical stage of the war, when victory was
still in the balance; it had been ratified by the Allied powers and was the
basis of the Mandate. It was manifestly right that Jews should have a national
center and home. Britain thought it was good for all, including the
Churchill added pointedly that Palestine benefited from Jewish
On July 5, 1922, Arab leaders of the National Societies of
Haifa, Nazareth, Ghor District, Beisan and the surrounding areas wrote in
confidence to Churchill that the delegation of the “Third Palestine Congress”
did not represent them and had no right to speak in their name, and that towns
inhabited by Jews were making steady progress. They also protested to the League
of Nations that the delegates to the “Congress” represented a minority among
Palestinians. They supported the Rutenberg electricity concession and
Churchill was convinced that by installing Feisal in Iraq and
Abdullah in Trans-Jordan, he had fulfilled all of Britain’s obligations toward
the Arabs. He hoped that this decision, made after difficult negotiations, would
mitigate the Arabs’ nationalistic zeal. But the Arabs saw the exclusion of
Zionists from Trans- Jordan as appeasement.
The preservation of balance
between Jews and Arabs in Palestine was upset by those British officials who
were suspicious of the Jews and lenient toward Arabs.
Lord Samuel, the
first high commissioner for Palestine, and his chief adviser Ernest T. Richmond,
a passionate anti-Zionist, were chiefly responsible for stimulating the ensuing
Samuel, who tried to make everybody happy, had advised Jews to
make sacrifices, and had diluted the meaning of the Balfour Declaration by
temporarily halting Jewish immigration, in the wake of the riots that broke out
in Jaffa on May 1, 1921, during which 27 Jews and three Arabs were killed, and
104 Jews and 34 Arabs were wounded. Arab police armed with rifles joined the
rioters. But many Arabs took pains to dissociate themselves and described the
rioters as hooligans.
Therefore Samuel’s step was both hasty and
He also invented the post of grand mufti to make Arabs
faithful to one of their own, and on April 11, 1921, Haj Amin el-Husseini became
the spiritual leader of Palestinian Muslims. Three weeks later, 43 Jews were
murdered. Eventually those Arab forces that sought accommodation were eliminated
by crude Arab terror, the Arab states’ instigation and the British Pan-Arab
appeasement that culminated in the White Paper of 1939.
Did the Pan-Arab
policy serve British imperial interests? The facts speak for themselves. During
World War II, Palestine was a formidable and dependable British and Allied
military and economic base, largely due to the fact that some 33,000 Jewish
volunteers joined the British forces, while the entire Yishuv was mobilized for
the Allied war effort. This offered Britain formidable assistance at a crucial
time in 1940 and 1941, when German- assisted Rashid Ali carried out his
short-lived revolt in Iraq, while France in Lebanon and Syria recognized the
Vichy regime and had to be dealt with. Nor should the fact that the former mufti
of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, joined Hitler ever be
Today, just like yesterday, the presence of Israel again
continues to be central to world peace in a region undergoing social and
economic upheaval, a barrier against the threatening Islamic Jihad.