Palestine and Israel – a tale as old as time. Or at least that’s the impression some people would like to convey. We’ve been accustomed to hearing about this conflict in simplistic terms – rockets fired back and forth, a mere real-estate dispute, or even an age-old religious feud. But the history of Palestine is far more intricate and profound, and it’s imperative that we all gain a more comprehensive understanding of this story. So, let’s embark on a journey back to the beginning, starting with the end of a World War, internal strife among Muslims, and a promise made by the Western world just a century ago. Here’s how it all began…
The Precursor: World War I and the Ottoman Empire
The year is 1916, and the First World War is in full swing. The Ottoman Empire, a 617-year-old powerhouse, is teetering on the edge of collapse. To gain support in their battle against the Ottomans, the British and the French promised the Arabs sovereignty and Arab leadership over the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant. The Arabs, with their eyes on the prize, agreed and assisted in defeating the Ottomans. You might be wondering, “What does this have to do with Palestine and the creation of Israel?” Trust me, we’ll get there.
Once the British and the French emerged victorious, the Arabs rightfully expected the land they were promised. However, unbeknownst to them, the British and the French had a secret agreement. In this clandestine pact, it was decided that the captured Ottoman province would be divided into areas under British and French control and influence. Palestine, Jordan, and Southern Iraq were assigned to the British, while the French were allocated to southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. This covert accord was known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
The Shocking Revelation and the Arab Discontent
The revelation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement left the Arabs utterly shocked. They had fought a war with the aim of ousting their non-Arab Muslim rulers, only to find themselves under European colonial rule instead. The Arabs had been deceived, and this deception would have far-reaching consequences.
The British Entry and the Zionist Movement
As the British took control of Palestine, an intriguing development was taking place in Europe. The Zionist movement, advocating for the mass migration of Jews to Palestine and recognizing Jewish claims to Palestinian land, gained increasing influence. In 1917, out of the blue, Britain publicly declared its intention to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In a sense, it was as if they had casually gifted Palestine, a land predominantly inhabited by Palestinians, to European Zionists. Historians still debate the motives and rationale behind this British decision.
At this point, the Jewish population in Palestine was less than 10%. However, with British support, mass Jewish immigration between 1922 and 1935 caused the Jewish population to surge to 27%. Under the British Mandate, as more European Jews arrived, the native Palestinian population grew increasingly apprehensive.
Palestinian Concerns and British Proposals
The Palestinians voiced their concerns to the British, who, instead of addressing their worries, suggested the partition of Palestine and even recommended the forceful removal of the Arab population from their homes as a solution. Predictably, the Palestinians rejected these proposals and rebelled against the British. These uprisings were violently crushed, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians.
In 1947, the British, weary of the ongoing unrest, handed their responsibility for Palestine to the United Nations, effectively saying, “Here, clean up our mess.” The United Nations proposed a partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. It’s important to note that the Jewish population in Palestine at this time constituted only one-third of the total population, with most having arrived from Europe just a few years earlier. Yet, in the partition proposal, they were granted 55% of the land.
Israeli Statehood and the Palestinian Exodus
The Arabs rejected the UN proposal, while the Zionists accepted it with a caveat: they didn’t agree with the proposed borders and campaigned for additional land. Thus, they agreed to an Israeli state but reserved the right to define its size. By 1948, Zionist militias had seized and captured Palestinian-inhabited villages and cities, rendering thousands of Palestinians homeless and dispossessed. The Zionists aimed to claim and cleanse as much land as possible before the British officially withdrew their forces. On the very day of their departure, the Zionists proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, leaving millions of Palestinians bereft of their homeland.
The Nakba: A Dark Day in Palestinian History
May 15, 1948, marked one of the darkest days in Palestinian history, known as the Nakba, or the catastrophe. The loss of one’s country, identity, and home in an instant is a harrowing experience. However, the Palestinian ordeal didn’t end there. The creation of Israel triggered a series of dire consequences, including the forced displacement of 1.9 million Palestinians, the appropriation of 78% of historic Palestine, the destruction and ethnic cleansing of 530 villages and cities, and the killing of 15,000 Palestinians in a series of mass atrocities.
The Prolonged Suffering and Occupation
The establishment of the State of Israel marked the beginning of over 70 years of occupation, home demolitions, arbitrary arrests, displacements, Israeli expansion, military checkpoints, construction of walls, discrimination, massacres, and bombings of innocent men, women, and children in their own homes. The Palestinians have endured ongoing hardship and oppression ever since.
In conclusion, it’s not as complicated as some may claim. The Palestinians are a people who have suffered the loss of their homes and have been oppressed for generations. This history shapes the current situation and highlights the importance of understanding and reflecting on our past to prevent it from recurring elsewhere in the world. May Allah alleviate the suffering of our Palestinian brothers and sisters. Ameen.