The Balfour Declaration Did Not Poison Jewish-Arab Relations in the Land of Israel

Nov. 10 2017

According to the now-standard version offered by Palestinian leaders and publicists and their supporters, Britain’s 1917 endorsement of the Zionist project was a disaster for the Arabs of Palestine and led to the souring of Jewish-Muslim relations more generally. Efraim Karsh shows that this narrative is a complete distortion: Muslim leaders, including Emir Faisal of Syria and Emir Abdullah of Jordan, lent their support to the Balfour Declaration. Moreover, on August 12, 1918, the grand vizier of the Ottoman empire officially stated the empire’s “sympathies for the establishment of a religious and national Jewish center in Palestine by well-organized immigration and colonization.”

So too, during the Mandate period, most Arabs welcomed Jewish settlement. Karsh writes:

Even the most protracted period of Palestinian Arab violence in 1936-39, with its paralytic atmosphere of terror and a ruthlessly enforced economic boycott, failed to dent Arab-Jewish coexistence on many practical levels, including defense cooperation. Contrary to its common depiction as a nationalist revolt against the ruling British and the growing Jewish presence in the country, this was a massive exercise in violence that saw far more Arabs than Jews murdered by Arab gangs who repressed and abused the general Arab population. And while thousands of Arabs fled the country in a foretaste of the 1947-48 exodus, others preferred to fight back against their oppressors, often in collaboration with the British authorities and the Haganah, the largest Jewish underground defense organization. Still others sought shelter in Jewish neighborhoods. . . .

[Once World War II began], Arab and Jewish citrus growers joined forces in demanding the cancellation of customs duty and the extension of government loans to cultivators for the duration of the war. Large quantities of Arab agricultural produce reappeared in Jewish markets, and . . . both communities enjoyed the unprecedented spending and investment boom attending Palestine’s incorporation into the British war effort. Land sales continued as far as possible with Arabs often acting as intermediaries for Jewish purchases in the zones that had been prohibited [to Jews] by the British authorities in 1939.

Thousands of Jews made the traditional pilgrimage to Rachel’s tomb, near Bethlehem, while Jewish students visited this exclusively Arab town for the Christmas celebrations. . . . Jews rented accommodation in Arab villages and opened restaurants and stores with the villagers’ consent; the Nablus municipality initiated talks with senior Zionist officials on linking the city to the Jewish electricity grid; and former rebel commanders and fighters made their peace with their Jewish neighbors.

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More about: Balfour Declaration, History & Ideas, Israel-Arab relations, Mandate Palestine, Muslim-Jewish relations, Ottoman Empire

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war