In the context of the hundredth anniversary of World War I and its effects on the global balance of power and the geopolitics of the Arab region, especially the future of the Palestinian State, Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) published a book entitled, The Impact of World War I on Palestine: A Hundred Years’ Legacy. The book highlights the negative repercussions of the war and the peace diplomacy that followed it towards the Arab peoples. It has only recently been discovered that many of the problems in the Middle East are the result of the colonial policies that were dominant during and after World War I.
The book is a joint effort between AJCS and the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) and gathered the efforts of fourteen key historians, legal experts, academics and officials that studied the events preceding, during and following World War I to form a clear vision of the Palestinian question for readers. The book explained that the Great War, as it became known, was not only the most lethal war in history but also led to the most changes. Its effects included political changes and revolutions throughout the world. It also resulted in the demarcation of new borders and determined the fates of kingdoms. No people know this better than the Palestinian people whose future was affected due to the support for Jewish immigration after the war. This change in demography and politics is clear now in Palestine as the Palestinians find themselves in a long-term conflict with Israel and are stateless and scattered all over the world.
This mix of injustice, resistance and humanitarian crisis carries serious geopolitical repercussions worthy of sharp historical and legal analysis.
The book examines the roots of the Palestinian crisis. The Balfour Declaration, in which the British government announced its promise to establish a homeland for Jews in Palestine, was an important stage in the series of events related to modern Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict. As this declaration went hand-in-hand with military effort, it was also related to issues that continue to prolong the duration of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These include: imperialistic interests or the neo-colonisation of Palestine, the geostrategic game of the Eastern question, the policies pertaining to the geography of the Middle East and the role of the voice of the Jewish diaspora.
A century after the start of World War I, the motives behind the Balfour Declaration are still a topic of discussion among researchers. One researcher believes that the manner in which Palestine transformed into Israel is a story of unlimited deceit and treason. At the end of World War I, the Palestinians were unable to confront the challenges of the new British colonial rule that had begun in 1917. They were simple peasants who had just got rid of Turkish dominance that endure for 400 years. As British rule was associated with a developed political movement, Zionism, that had disastrous objectives, “they were deceived, misled and suppressed from before the end of World War I until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The seeds for this great deceit were planted with the Balfour Declaration in 1917, verified in the San Remo Peace Conference and later enforced with the British Mandate on Palestine in 1922”.
The authors indicate that the British Mandate of Palestine was a complex legal and constitutional framework through which Britain administered its occupation of Palestine. This mandate confined the Palestinians, rendering them unable to escape even after it ended. Furthermore, through it, British politicians aimed to deprive the Arab majority from self-determination while facilitating Jewish immigration. The authors explain that successive British governments were unwilling to allow any developments toward the self-determination of the Palestinian people or the establishment of a government that represents all sectors and can confront the Zionist project effectively. Sir Martin Gilbert, a key historian of the Zionist movement, believes that “the essence of the British mandate’s policy was to prevent the formation of any representative institutions as long as Palestine had an Arab majority”. It also cannot be denied that there was a racist dimension to the British policy.
On the other hand, the book addresses the struggle of Palestinian refugees to obtain legal protection and their right to return and compensation. This is a comprehensive political struggle to gain individual and collective recognition as civilians with a key interest in the context of the Palestinian people’s pursuit of self-determination. The book summarises the problematic history that resulted from political obstruction and the largest group of displaced people in the world. It also evaluates the resulting “protection gap” for the refugees and touches on the most recent developments in international law relating to refugees, discussions on displacement and the provision of new capabilities for legal protection. It concludes that the imposition of commitments based on international law under execution in the light of political and popular discussions and the involvement of Palestinian refugees as the main stakeholders played a key role in providing Palestinians with legal protection and creating greater opportunities to avoid the problems caused by the pursuit of peaceful solution.
Furthermore, the book discusses the way the two world wars granted Israel immunity based on the supposition that it does in fact enjoy immunity. Israel appears to be free of any responsibilities imposed by international law and enjoys very special stature by Western countries. In effect, Israel has been given a free pass not granted to any other country except the United States to kill and occupy.
Moreover, the authors highlight the strategies of the colonial project to end Palestine and establish Israel in its place in what is considered a unique occurrence in the history of the world. This abnormal colonial project exceeds the limits of any other colonial project in methodology and duration. It has gathered a group of elements rarely found in any other project. Among these elements is its use of the religious beliefs of a minority as a justification to uproot a majority. To achieve this purpose, the project employed two hypotheses based on obsessional religious fears and abnormal religious hatred:
1. Antisemitism plagued Europe and Jews would never accepted. The solution had be a distant location place with a significance to them. Zionism maintained that the primary reason for occupying Palestine is to escape oppression in Europe and that it had nothing to do with the Palestinians.
2. The Palestinian resistance of colonisation stems from hatred towards Jews for religious reasons in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Therefore, Zionists raised fears about Islam and sought help from Christians that continued to hold the crusade ideology which manifests nowadays in the form of Islamophobia. This is suggested by Israel’s connection between Islamic resistance and organisations such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and Boko Haram.
About the Book
Title: The Impact of World War I on Palestine: A Hundred Years’ Legacy
Author: A group of researchers
Publishers: Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, Palestinian Return Centre and Arab Scientific Publishers