Israel at 60: Birthday Dedication

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

The Zionists and their supporters read the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict within the context of success in establishing the State of Israel; but the facts suggest it is a history of injustice that has beset the Palestinian people because of no fault of their own.

Israel was created on narrow ethno-religious grounds, replacing and dominating the Palestinians who lived there for centuries. Israel would have never celebrated its sixtieth anniversary or even the first without the support of the West. And the Palestinians have been defending themselves with very limited resources against the powerful international Zionism and the great powers of the West since the inception of the Zionist movement. 

The struggle of the Palestinians has persisted since Theodore Herzel launched his Zionist project. To justify the morality of claiming a country that had been populated by its indigenous Arabs, Herzl, the father of Zionism used the same Europeans’ justification for colonialism by elucidating that the indigent Arabs would benefit from the colonization of their land by the civilized European Jews.

The British conquered Palestine in 1917 and issued in the same year the Balfour Declaration to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Sir Arthur Money, the head of the British Territory Administration in Palestine wrote to Lord Curzon in April 1919: “The Palestinians in fact desire Palestine for themselves: and have no intention of allowing their country to be thrown open to hordes of Jews from Eastern and Central Europe”. The League of Nations that was dominated by the victorious powers mandated Britain to administer Palestine with explicit commitment to create the right conditions for establishing a national home for the Jewish people against the will of its Arab population.

Palestinian Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike had resented the Zionists’ activities in their country before the creation of the Mandate. They were enraged when the 1918 Zionist Commission headed by Chaim Weizmann requested making Hebrew an official language besides Arabic. Jews then constituted only seven percent of the population owning one percent of the land, but the British occupying military granted Weizmann the request. Under the British rule, the Zionists managed to increase the Jewish population to twenty-eight percent through European Jews immigration.

A Palestinian popular national movement emerged as a response to Balfour Declaration, the San Ramo Peace Conference resolution, the defeat of King Faisal by the French in Syria and the growing Jewish presence. It was obvious from the start of the British rule in Palestine that its policy favored the Jewish community on the expense of the Arabs. The usage of Hebrew as an official language, the arrival of representatives of different organizations in the Zionist movement, and the appointment of Sir Herbert Samuel, a Zionist Jew, as the high commissioner were signs of Britain’s determination to establish a Jewish dominated state in Palestine. The Palestinians were frightened of the prospect of becoming a minority in their country when Sir Herbert Samuel summarized in a speech the main objective of the Zionist movement, “[to create] a purely self-governing Commonwealth under the auspices of an established Jewish majority”.

The collapse of King Faisal regime in Syria in July 1920 led to the relocation of the Palestinian activists’ headquarters from Damascus to Jerusalem and the development of Palestinian nationalism. No help was expected from Faisal or from Syrian Arabs. Recognizing the failure of the Greater Syria concept, the Palestinians decided in the 1920-21 Third Arab Congress that was convened in Haifa to develop a strategy based on the autonomy of the Palestinians. Musa Kazim al-Husseini, previous mayor of Jerusalem, stated, “Southern Syria does not exist any more. We have to defend Palestine”. The Palestinians formed associations to organize communications with the British occupation authority. The first Palestinian national organization was the Muslim-Christian Association that was established in various towns. It sponsored a convention in Haifa that was called the Palestinian Arab Congress and elected an Arab Executive (AE) to organize a deputation to London in 1921. The Palestinian Arabs wanted the Arab Executive to be recognized by the British authorities as a balance to the Jewish Agency, but the High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, refused to accept it because its members opposed the British mandate and the Balfour Declaration.

The Palestinians’ struggle for national recognition in the wake of the British occupation has been articulated in peaceful protests interrupted by bursts of bloody violence. The central political issue during the mandate period was whether the Jews would have unrestricted rights to immigrate and buy land in Palestine. The main Palestinian demands that had been the same throughout the mandate period were spelled out by the Third Arab Congress and presented to the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, in London by a Palestinian delegation in 1921. The demands included recognition of Palestine as a distinct political entity for the people living there; the formation of a national government with an elected parliament; revoking the policy of creating a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine that entails the suspension of Jewish immigration which was detrimental to the Palestinian people; and restraining the grabbing of the lands by the Zionist organizations. The British ignored the Palestinians’ demands all together.

When the threat of the Zionist movement increased due to the rapid Jewish immigration in the 1920s and early 1930s, the Palestinians responded with strikes and riots against Jewish neighborhoods. Sheikh Izz-eldin Al-Qassam, a mosque preacher who treated Zionism as nothing but a Western colonialist enterprise called for a holy war against the British. He sought to inspire his supporters to rise up against the British and the Zionists. Before it had time to act in major military operations, Al-Qassam armed revolt was suppressed, its leader and four of his companions were killed and the rest of his men captured in combat by a mixed British and Jewish troops in 1935. From a military point of view, Al-Qassam rebellion was brief and futile, but his action was the first organized armed uprising since the beginning of the mandate.

Angered at the British, a general strike took place followed by a spontaneous bloody uprising that developed into full-scale rebellion against the British mandate and its protégé, Zionism. The three years revolt exposed the failure of the Palestinian traditional leadership to overcome their personal and tribal feuds and rise up to the challenge. The Palestinian’s revolt that followed the strike was started by people from the lowest socio-economic segment of society which had suffered the most from the British policies and the Zionists’ invasion. The British military used heavy handed methods including ambushes, night curfews and blowing up houses to force the rebels to move out of the towns and eventually crush the rebellion. 

After 1936, the Mandate authorities started adding thousands of new Jewish police recruits to its police force, and by 1939 their numbers exceeded fourteen-thousand trained by the military. Besides the increase in the Jewish enrollment and training in the police force for fighting the Arab rebels, the British dropped their previous demands that the Jewish paramilitary organization, the Haganah, surrender their illegal weapons. With the revolt internal problems due to factionalism, and the collaboration of Jewish fighting force with the British authorities, the British military crushed the revolt with significant human and economic losses among the Palestinians and no concessions from the British.

And when the British withdrew in 1948, they surrendered all their military equipments to the Haganah; nothing was allocated to the Arabs.

The US was the first country to recognize the State of Israel in 1948 immediately after it declared independence. Under President Kennedy, the US provided weapons to Israel to balance Soviet arms sales to Egypt. During the early 1960s, in order not to anger its Arab friends, the US used to disguise its involvement in weapon shipments to Israel by asking Germany to deliver the equipment and the US would replace them. But since the 1967 war, the US has been supporting Israel openly with no concern about its Arab friends’ reaction. Arab states yielded to the US campaign of denying aid to the Hamas-led government that was elected by the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. And when Hamas took over Gaza, the Arab states enforced the siege on the Palestinian population in Gaza while the Gazans were dying as a result of the siege. 

The US has provided Israel with unconditional material and diplomatic support needed to colonize Arab lands. And in the 1973 war, US huge galaxe planes loaded with tanks, big guns and bombs rushed replacements of war equipment to the retreating Israeli army, fighting the Egyptians, directly to the front lines. American tax-payers supported the Israeli military and economic development. Aid money was not earmarked for building Jewish only settlements and the apartheid wall, but it freed money used to settle hundreds of thousands in the Palestinian West Bank and Jerusalem.

In a 1994 speech to a joint session of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin described the support and cooperation as “beyond compare in modern history”. And Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a similar speech in 1996 and said, “With America’s help, Israel has grown to be a powerful modern state”. Israel’s defenders in the US claim they support Israel because it shares with their country the “democratic values” and because Israel is vulnerable David facing a powerful Arab Goliath! Mearsheimer and Walt, authors of “the Israeli Lobby” found that total amount of economic and military foreign aid the US gave to Israel as of 2005 was $154 billion. This does not include other grants “that are not included in the foreign aid budget”. President Bush was the cheer leader on Israel’s sixtieth birthday with no reference to its victims who had been commemorating the “Nakba” on the same day. In his speech to the Knesset, he said that “[the US] is the closest ally and the best friend in the world [of a nation] that was a homeland for the chosen people”. He had already supported in writing Israel’s colonial policies on settlements and refugees, and ironically Arab governing elites still bet on Bush to give the Palestinians statehood and justice.  

While Israel and its supporters celebrate its birthday, the Palestinian people whether under occupation or in the refugee camps or third class citizens in Israel, have won two moral arguments. First, they proved the Zionist slogan that “Palestine was a land without people” was a false claim. They have been defeated by their enemies, Abandoned by their friends and betrayed by their own leaders, but they have survived and they have not given up. Second, contrary to the Zionist speculation that Jews would be safe only in a country of their own, the Palestinians have proved them wrong. Even after many war victories and political recognitions, the only place where the Jews feel threatened and insecure has been in Israel. Israel is the sole nuclear power in the Middle East but the Israelis act as if they live in a country under siege from a host of enemies outside and inside its borders that have never been defined.

On its sixtieth birthday, Israel should dedicate the celebration to Britain and the US because they earned it. And the Palestinian people, going it alone in their struggle seeking statehood and justice, are justified to pity their Arab governing friends who surrendered the solution to the Palestinian’s national struggle to the “best friends Israel ever had”.  

-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan,Ph.D, is a political analyst. He contributed this article to

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