“No true Arab can be suspicious or afraid of Jewish nationalism. . . . We are demanding Arab freedom and we would show ourselves unworthy of it if we did not now, as I do, say to the Jews—welcome back home.” These words were spoken by Faisal al-Hashemi—the future king of Iraq—at a banquet in honor of Chaim Weizmann on December 29, 1918. T.E. Lawrence (a/k/a “Lawrence of Arabia”) served as the translator. While many today see the Israeli-Arab conflict as both eternal and inevitable, the idea of an alliance between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East seemed perfectly natural to Weizmann and to Faisal, who were seen by the British empire as the representatives of their respective peoples. Rick Richman tells the story of this alliance:
On January 3, 1919, a few weeks after World War I ended, the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann met with Emir Faisal, the commander-in-chief of the Arab uprising against the Ottoman empire, at a London hotel. . . . At the meeting, Weizmann and Faisal signed an agreement, brokered over the preceding month by Lawrence, exchanging Arab acceptance of the Balfour Declaration for Zionist support of an Arab state in the rest of the Ottoman lands. In February, they traveled to the Paris Peace Conference, where the victorious Allies would remap Europe and the Middle East, and made complementary presentations about the future of the region. . . .
Faisal and his father, [King Hussein of the Hejaz], believed Zionism would bring financial resources and technical expertise to Palestine, transforming the economic circumstances of the Arabs in both Palestine and beyond. In January 1918, D.G. Hogarth, director of Britain’s Arab Bureau in Cairo, had traveled to Jedda to deliver to King Hussein a formal message regarding British policy: the Arabs would be given “full opportunity of once again forming a nation,” and “no obstacle should be put in the way” of the return of the Jews to Palestine. All holy sites would be protected, and the religious and political rights of all residents preserved. The message emphasized the importance of “the friendship of world Jewry” to the Arab cause.
In an article published in March 1918 in al-Qibla, the daily newspaper in Mecca, the king wrote that Palestine was “a sacred and beloved homeland” for “its original sons” [abna’ihi-l-asliyin], and the “return of these exiles [jaliya] to their homeland” would be beneficial to the region.
Read more at Jewish Review of Books
More about: Balfour Declaration, Chaim Weizmann, History & Ideas, Israel-Arab relations, T. E. Lawrence, Zionism