By Husain Al-Qadi,
It is exactly sixty years ago this week that David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel under a large picture of the man who had spearheaded the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl.
The event marks not only a momentous juncture in Muslim-Western relations but also a fulfilment of promises made by the British government in the Balfour Declaration of 1917:
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." [My emphasis] (Balfour Declaration, 2nd November 1917.)
When the news of this Declaration reached the Arab world, coming as it did on the heels of another secret deal in the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, it provoked a wave of protest by Arab leaders in Cairo. When the news reached King Sharif Husain, who eighteen months earlier had allied himself to the British in an "Arab Revolt" against the Ottoman Empire, he demanded an explanation. The response was captured in the words of a contemporary historian, George Antonius, writing in 1938:
"His [King Husain's] request was met by the dispatch of Commander Hogarth, one of the heads of the Arab Bureau in Cairo, who arrived in Jedda in the first week of January, 1918, and had two interviews with the King.
"The message which Hogarth had been instructed to deliver had the effect of setting Husain's mind completely at rest, and this was important from the standpoint of the morale of the Revolt. But what is equally important from the point of view of the historian is that the message he gave the King, on behalf of the British Government, was an explicit assurance that 'Jewish settlement in Palestine would only be allowed in so far as would be consistent with the political and economic freedom of the Arab population.' The message was delivered orally, but Husain took it down, and the quotation I have just given is my own rendering of the note made by him in Arabic at the time. The phrase I have italicised represents a fundamental departure from the text of the Balfour Declaration which purports to guarantee only the civil and religious rights of the Arab population. In that difference lay the difference between a peaceful and willing Arab Jew co-operation in Palestine and the abominable duel of the last twenty years. For it is beyond all reasonable doubt certain that, had the Balfour Declaration in fact safeguarded the political and economic freedom of the Arabs, as Hogarth solemnly assured King Husain it would, there would have been no Arab opposition, but indeed Arab welcome, to a humanitarian and judicious settlement of Jews in Palestine.
"In his reply, Husain was quite explicit. He said to Hogarth that in so far as the aim of the Balfour Declaration was to provide a refuge to Jews from persecution, he would use all his influence to further that aim. He would also assent to any arrangement that might be found suitable for the safeguard and control of the Holy Places by the adherents of each of the creeds who had sanctuaries in Palestine. But he made it plain that there could be no question of surrendering the Arab claim to sovereignty, although he would willingly consider when the time came, whatever measures might seem advisable to supply the future Arab government in Syria (including Palestine) with expert administrative and technical guidance.
"In the months that followed, Husain gave ample proof of the sincerity of his attitude. He sent out messages to his principal followers in Egypt and in the forces of the Revolt to inform them that he had had assurances from the British Government that the settlement of Jews in Palestine would not conflict with Arab independence in that territory; and to urge them to continue to have faith in Great Britain's pledge and their own efforts to achieve their freedom. He ordered his sons to do what they could to allay the apprehensions caused by the Balfour Declaration among their followers. He despatched an emissary to Faisal at 'Aquaba with similar instructions. He caused an article to be published in his official mouthpiece, 'calling upon the Arab population in Palestine to bear in mind that their sacred books and their traditions enjoined upon them the duties of hospitality and tolerance, and exhorting them to welcome the Jews as brethren and co-operate with them for the common welfare.' The article appears to have been written by Husain himself and is historically valuable not only as an instance of his freedom from religious prejudice or fanaticism, but also as reflecting the general Arab attitude towards Jewry prior to the appearance of political Zionism on the scene.
"In Egypt, the efforts of the British authorities to explain away the political implications of the Balfour Declaration had met with some success. In March, a Zionist commission headed by Dr. Weizmann arrived in Cairo on their way to Palestine; and they, too, went to no little trouble to allay Arab apprehensions. Dr. Weizmann, with his great gift of persuasion, scored a temporary success in interviews he had with several Arab personalities, and in this he was ably and zealously seconded by Major the Hon. W. Ormsby-Gore who was accompanying the commission as political officer delegated by the Foreign Office. They gave their hearers such a comforting account of Zionists' aims and dispositions as dispelled their fears and brought them to a state of acquiescence in the idea of Zionist-Arab co-operation. Meetings were arranged and held between Zionist and Arab leaders. The proprietor of an influential newspaper in Cairo [Dr Faris Nimr Pasha] was so far impressed with Dr. Weizmann's and Major Ormby-Gore's assurances that he made use of the weighty columns of his journal to dispell Arab fears about their political future and advocate an understanding between the two races." (Antionius, G., 1938, The Arab Awakening, pp. 267-270.)
This turn-around in opinion, of course, should not surprise anyone. Zionist activists like Dr Weizmann had had over 20 years to perfect their skills in deceptive diplomacy, from the establishment of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) in 1897 to their blustering their way over the Turks. There are many examples of this duplicity at work in the early 20th Century, as is evident in a letter to The Times newspaper from Theodore Herzl's right-hand aide and second President of the WZO, David Wolffsohn, who wrote in 1911:
"Sirs,- I shall be obliged if you will allow me to make a few observations upon the article of your Constantinople Correspondent on the 'Young Turks and Zionism' which appeared in your issue of April 14, and regret that my recent absence from Cologne has prevented me from writing to you before. I particularly regret this inevitable delay, as several statements in the article are quite incorrect. As they have not yet been challenged or rectified in your columns, I fear they may have found acceptance in certain quarters. Knowing, however, that you are far from desiring that any injustice should be done through any article in your paper to the cause that I represent, I feel that you will grant hospitality to a few notes of correction and explanation.
"While fully admitting the evident desire of your Correspondent to present an objective and impartial account of Zionism in the Ottoman Empire, I regret that his limited knowledge of our movement and the sources from which he appears to have derived it made it impossible for him to realize his desire. The cardinal defect of his article consists in the assumption that Zionism is a scheme for the foundation of a Jewish State in Palestine. This assumption is wrong. His comments upon our movement and his account of the views upon it in Turkish circles are mainly dependent upon this assumption. As his premise is incorrect, his conclusions are of interest only in so far as they represent the state of mind shared by others in Turkey who have likewise been misled as to our aims and intentions. [Emphasis added.]
"The object of Zionism is clearly defined in its programme adopted at our first Congress at Basel in 1897, and hence known as the Basel Programme. This programme is 'To create a publicly recognised and legally secured home for the Jewish people in Palestine.' The aim thus formulated is essentially different from the aspiration to found a State and those who attribute to us such an aspiration misrepresent us in a very serious degree, as they are likely, however, unwittingly, to cause difficulties being put in our way.
"It is because this erroneous notion has secured a strong hold upon the minds of many people that disparaging remarks were made upon Zionism in the Turkish Chamber several weeks ago. This misinterpretation of our position is all the more strange and inexcusable as I expressly declared at the ninth Zionist Congress at Hamburg in December 1909, that our work is guided and governed by the deepest respect for the Constitution and by the fullest recognition of the sovereignty of thePorte . We are simply desirous of making Palestine once again the national home of the Jewish people; and, to achieve that end, we are working for the economic and intellectual regeneration of the Holy Land in full conformity with the Law.
"Our object is so peaceful and our aims are calculated so highly to benefit the interests of the Ottoman Empire that we are painfully surprised that our movement should arouse any distrust in authoritative circles in Turkey. This circumstance can be ascribed only to the prevalence of various fantastic legends that have been put into circulation by our opponents, who, I regret to say, include may Jews. The latest of these legends is that Zionist activity is being conducted in the specific interests of Germany. This story is utterly without foundation in substance or fact, as we have no relations of any kind that can be construed as specially favouring the economic interests of Germany. The data advanced in support of the story are also incorrect. The Jeune Turc cited by your Correspondent is a purely Turkish paper, which, it is quite true, has more than once advocated a Jewish immigration into the Ottoman Empire in the interests of the Empire itself, but there is not the least ground for deducing from this that we are even in the least responsible for the policy of the paper. It is therefore immaterial to us whether the proprietor, Herr Hochberg , is a German Jew, or, as I have just been informed on excellent authority, a Russian Jew. Dr V. Jacobson, who is one of the leading Zionists in Constantinople and manager of an English company - the Anglo-Levantine Banking Company - is also a Russian subject.
"Finally, I wish to point out that the Zionist Organisation has absolutely no connection with the General Jewish Colonizing Organisation of Berlin. Hence the activity of this organisation or rather of its representative, Dr.Nossig , does not form a 'new phase' - or, indeed, any 'phase' - of Zionism, and the conclusions derived from this activity cannot be used as an argument against our movement.
"I am sure that when those who are interested in Zionism will have purged their minds of the various fantastic fables that have been put into circulation to damage it, they will realize its peaceful intentions and beneficent aims. Our organisation has already given a powerful impetus to commercial and industrial life in Palestine during the few years it has been active in the country, mainly through our companies which carry on their operations there. These companies - the Anglo-Palestine Company (Limited), the Jewish National Fund (Limited) and the Palestine Development Fund (Limited) - have all been registered in London as English companies. The part they are playing in the economic amelioration of Palestine is but an earnest of the great work that Zionism is destined to do, which, with the good will of the Ottoman Government, it will accomplish. Yours obediently, D.Wolffsohn, President of the Zionist Organisation, Cologne, May 1st." (The Times, Wednesday, May 10, 1911; pg. 8; Issue 39581; col B.)
Ninety-four years later, as I write this in 2008, five million Muslim inhabitants are dispersed as refugees in all directions away from Palestine while hundreds of Palestinian villages have been literally erased from the face of the earth, a fact articulated in the words of Moshe Dayan:
"Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I don't blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either.Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushu'a in the place of Tal al-Shuman . There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population." (Moshe Dayan, in Haifa, quoted by Ha'aretz, April 4, 1969.)
I know that some may question my motive in drudging up such old statements. I can already hear the dismissive chants of "living in the past" from some quarters and, indeed, my leaning so far back into history is a reluctant one. But unlike most of the major injustices of the past two centuries that are, by and large, recognised as such, and in many cases accorded varying degrees of redemptive gestures and closure (as in the apology of the Australian Prime Minister to the Aborigines and the Vatican apology over the Holocaust), the deception and suffering flowing from Zionism, and its various manifestations in the West of hostility towards Muslims, continues as though the historical record is of no consequence.
As little or no Muslim land remains to be conquered, these Zionist forces persist by charting for themselves entire new territories for invasion. Under the pretext of fighting terror, now even mosques, Muslim schools, religious conscience, and the day to day practice of every Muslim have become targets for invasive intervention.
Given this state of affairs, how am I ever to find it within myself to consign these episodes of nearly a hundred years ago to history, where it belongs, when every day I am confronted by them like a repeating nightmare differing only in its growing intensity and widening of focus?
Perhaps Zionists expect that the tiny groups of Muslim-Jewish interfaith dialogue, which seem to be mushrooming here and there, will recreate the diplomatic successes of DrWiezmann and Wolffsohn, so as to render Muslims agreeable to the demolition of Masjid al-Aqsa?
If this is the crux of the matter, which I suspect it is, then as the world teeters on the brink of economic ruin, we all need to think long and hard about the eventual consequences of this futile pursuit for the sake of our future generations. The argument is simple: one cannot expect a fifth of the population of the globe (1.7 billion Muslims) to abandon their attachment to things they hold sacred while every aspect of their lives is being invaded by those who act on the assumption that God has given them the right do so. God does not only give but He also takes.
To put it bluntly, no number of armies (including the Neocons, the Ed Husains, the Haras Rafiqs, the Taj Hargeys and other similar clones) will ever be able to create such distance between Muslims and their Holy Book that they will agree - through deception or otherwise - to the destruction of Masjid al-Aqsa.
"They plot and plan, and Allah too plans, but the best of planners is Allah."