Monday, December 12, 2011

The Arabs of Palestine Saw Themselves as Part of Syria 90 Years Ago

The original link "Britaininpalestine" link is no longer active*
Here is the original caption on this picture we found online a few months ago:

Arab demonstration, Jerusalem, 1919/1920. The banner on the left reads "We resist Jewish immigration", the banner on the right reads "Palestine is part of Syria". (Emphasis added) In the post-WWI Peace Settlement the League of Nations divided Syria and Palestine into French and British mandates. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which pledged Britain's support for a Jewish National Home in Palestine, was included in the British mandate for Palestine.

The picture reflects the political tensions in Palestine after the British captured the area from the Ottoman Empire.  The region was being divided up by the Great Powers with France taking over Syria and Lebanon, and Great Britain assuming the mandate of Palestine (both sides of the Jordan River) and Iraq.  And in accordance with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Palestine was to house the national Jewish home.  By 1922, the British had lopped off the eastern bank of the Jordan (some 70 percent of Palestine) to establish the Kingdom of Transjordan for Emir Abdullah.
"Anti-Zionist" demonstration in
Jerusalem, March 1920

Some Arabs in Palestine objected, particularly to the division of the single former Ottoman region of Syria and southern Syria (Palestine).

The Library of Congress photos were taken on March 8, 1920, the same week that the Syrian Congress proclaimed independence for Syria and Palestine. The demonstrations by Arabs in Palestine were echoing the sentiment expressed in Syria.

This historical period is discussed by Stanford University scholar Daniel Pipes:  "No Arabic-speaking Muslims identified themselves as "Palestinian" until 1920, when, in rapid order this appellation and identity was adopted by the Muslim Arabs living in the British mandate of Palestine."

"Muslim distaste for the very notion of Palestine was confirmed in April 1920, when the British authorities carved out a Palestinian entity," Pipes wrote in 1989.  "The Muslims' response was one of extreme suspicion. They saw the delineation of this territory as a victory for the Zionists; in their more paranoid moments, they even thought it reflected linger­ing Crusader impulses among the British...."

Demonstration in Jerusalem, March 1920. Note the same
signs declaring Palestine is part of Syria and denouncing
Jewish immigration. The Arabs of Palestine were strongly
anti-Jewish decades before Israel's founding
"By the end of World War I in November 1918," Pipes continued, "the notion of a Syrian nation had made considerable headway among the Arabs of Palestine. They agreed almost unanimously on the existence of a Syrian nation. With few exceptions, they identified with the Syrian Arab government in Damascus, headed by Prince Faysal, a member of the Hashemite family. Palestinian enthusiasm for Pan-Syrian unity steadily increased through mid-1920."

"Four major events occurred in 1920. In March, Faysal was crowned king of Syria, raising expectations that Palestine would join his independent state. In April, the British put Palestine on the map, dashing those hopes. In July, French forces captured Damascus, ending the Palestinian tie with Syria. And in December, responding to these events, the Palestinian leadership adopted the goal of an independent Palestin­ian state," Pipes concludes.

* The photograph appeared on a site called "Britain in Palestine," but the site has subsequently been dismantled.  We suspect it is part of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum's collection currently undergoing a refurbishing.

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