Untold Story of The King-Crane Commission

By Tammy Obeidallah

‘Down with American Imperialists.’ This sign, or one of its variations, can be seen at protests and demonstratons throughout the world. U.S. policies have given credence to it, fueling legitimate hatred in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and others victimized by America’s lust for oil and support of the Israeli military juggernaut. Yet less than 100 years ago, the United States was admired in the global arena as a bastion of justice and freedom. Furthermore, Zionism—the belief that all Jews are entitled to a “homeland” in Palestine—was condemned in an official document.

The King-Crane Commission is relatively unknown, buried under a century of Zionist propaganda and attempts to discredit Dr. Henry Churchill King and Charles R. Crane as Nazi sympathizers. On the contrary, Dr. King was one of the best known educators of his time and served as the director of religious work for the YMCA in France. Mr. Crane was selected as part of a special diplomatic mission to Russia and was U.S. Ambassador to Chinafrom 1920-1921. In 1919, after World War I and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, President Woodrow Wilson apppointed King and Crane to head the Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. 

King and Crane’s mission was to record the wishes of the people in the former Ottoman territories regarding their desired form of government and the degree to which outside intervention would be accepted. President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4, 1918 address provided the backdrop for their objective:

“The settlement of every question, whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangement, or of political relationship upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery.”

It was in this spirit that King and Crane had embarked on their 42-day tour of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Asia Minor. The commission conducted conferences throughout the region, gathering opinions on such topics as territorial limits, independence, form of government, choice of mandate and Zionism.

The King and Crane Commission examined responses from religious, political and social/economic organizations and found overwhelming support among the Muslim population in Syria for an American mandate, as opposed to Britain or France, should it be determined that the fledgling government needed external assistance. The reasoning behind this preference was summarized in the final report as “…the nearly universal recognition of the fact that America sought no additional territory…” Article 4 of the General Syrian Congress, convened that same summer in Damascus, supported their finding:

“…And desiring that our country should not fall a prey to colonization and believing that the American Nation is farthest from any thought of colonization and has no political ambition in our country, we will seek the technical and economic assistance from the United States of America…”

While there was some disagreement in the territories as to the choice of mandate, there was nearly universal opposition to Zionism. The General Syrian Congress unanimously passed articles opposing partitioning Palestine from the rest of Syria. Leaders at that time grasped all too well the strategy of “divide and conquer”; they also understood the Zionist ambitions of setting aside Palestine as future Jewish state.

Prior to their journey, King and Crane had been lobbied by pro-Zionist groups and were, by their own admission, “pre-disposed in its favor.” However, during conferences with local Jewish representatives, it became apparent that their goal was the “practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine by various forms of purchase.”

Further investigation revealed something far more sinister than acquiring the land by mere “purchase.” Statements made by British officials increased the commissioners’ misgivings about the entire Zionist project. In their final recommendations, King and Crane wrote:

“No British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the program … Decisions requiring armies to carry out, are sometimes necessary. But they are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interest of a serious injustice.”

King and Crane also took into consideration the status of holy sites in Palestine: “The places which are most sacred to Christians—those having to do with Jesus—and which are also sacred to Moslems, are not only not sacred to Jews, but abhorrent to them.” The Commissioners went on to reason that it was neither logical nor prudent to place these most holy sites in the control of a Jewish authority.

Finally, King and Crane concluded that the implementation of the Zionist plan would be contrary to the aforementioned principle outlined by President Wilson, whereby nations have a right to self-determination free from external pressure. Nine-tenths of the population surveyed, including Muslim and Christian groups, were against Zionism. Their final recommendation read “…This would have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up.”

It is nothing short of tragic that in the 90 years since the King-Crane Commission, subsequent American leaders have abandoned the principles which led President Wilson to embark on that diplomatic effort in the first place. The common sense and mutually beneficial policy of non-intervention was rejected in favor of big oil and strategic interests. The opportunity to forge an allegiance with emerging governments eager for freedom and self-determination was squandered in favor of the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and genocide, from Deir Yassin to Lebanon to Gaza. And America will continue to pay the price.

(The entire King-Crane Commission Report can be read here.)

– Tammy Obeidallah contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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