The Politics of Dispossession: The Invasion of Qods

February 2, 1998 - 0:0
Part 1 ----By the end of the 18th century Palestine (Bait-ul Moqaddas) was already 200 years in the hands of the Ottoman empire, but the empire was already showing signs of weakening and Russia and Austria were nibbling at its extremities. It suited Britain to keep the Ottoman empire intact as a means of restraining the Russians and as a way of protecting the best trade route to India. Goods were shipped to Alexandria, carried by camel caravans via Cairo to Suez, and then reshipped for the journey across the Red Sea. In the event of trouble in Egypt, Britain would have needed to switch to the Palestinian coast with its long land connection to the Persian Gulf. The British government kept this option open by maintaining good relations with the Ottoman Sultan. The first threat to the Egyptian route came in 1897 when Napoleon occupied Egypt with the intention of bringing the Red Sea under French control.

Hoping to close also the secondary routes through Palestine, he sought to populate the Holy Land with people who would be permanently indebted to him. It was for this reason that Napoleon called upon the Jews in diaspora (dispersal) to return to the Holy Land and rebuild the civilizations they had abandoned. Oh! Israelites, come to your holy places, his proclamation beckoned.

However, nothing came of his urging because the Ottoman Sultan, with the help of the British Navy, sent a formidable army to oust the French who withdrew in 1801. However, Napoleon's proposal sowed an idea which was later taken up by the British in the 19th century. The aim was to solve two primary problems at once: to persuade and establish them in Palestine where they were unpopular, and to put them there because they could guard the contingency routes.

Others, especially British Protestants, had religious motives for helping the Jews fulfill what many had considered a biblical prophecy. Lord Ashley, an English Protestant and social reformer, was an early advocate of Zionism. In 1838 Ashley reinforced the religious argument by adopting an economic one. Palestine was short of labor and capital and Jews could provide both. Ashley wrote: They will return at their own expense, and with no hazard but to themselves: they will submit to the existing form of government, having no preconceived theories to gratify and having been almost everywhere trained in implicit obedience to autocratic rule.

Palmerson is also reported to have commented that Jews must be allowed to return because their wealth was well known and they could bring capital with them. As he knew that this could lead to problems with the Arabs, he suggested that the Palestinians be moved to Iraq. The idea was discussed again as recently as 1994. Iraq had been negotiating for the lifting of the UN sanctions imposed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Americans hinted that they might agree if Iraq would allow the 600,000 Palestinians refugees living in Lebanon to be moved to northern Iraq. The U.S. was to have the advantage of not having to exert pressure on Israel to allow Palestinians to return.

As it turned out, for more than a 150 years there was no change in the situation. In the autumn of 1917 General Edmund Allenby, leading British forces into Egypt, began an offensive against Turkish forces in Palestine. As Allenby's men swept forward, Balfour wrote a letter which was to become infamous in the Arab World. It was addressed to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist leader: His Majesty's government view with favor the establishment in Palsetine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their utmost to facilitate the achievement of this object.

It is understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the existence of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. (To be contd)