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College Papers History Religion Undergraduate Work

Unity, Support and Power: Failure of Palestinian Nationhood

Note: This is a paper that was written for a Modern Middle East undergraduate history course.  The paper was supposed to be five pages long, but I went a little overboard.  Even so, I don’t think I even came close to fully covering the topic, not that I really could in a semester, or in one short research paper.  Nonetheless, this paper received an A.

1948 Map of Conflicts in Palestine.
Zionist Military Operations Outside UN-proposed Jewish State, 1 April to 15 May 1948. (Source: Greenpolitics)

At the end of World War I, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the entire Middle East was in a state of flux. What used to be a single sovereign entity was carved up into modern nation states by the victorious European powers. At a conference in San Remo in 1920 Britain and France, according to an arrangement known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), drew the borders for four new states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. In 1922, Palestine was further divided into Palestine and Transjordan. These new countries were legitimized as mandates of the League of Nations, states that would be protectorates of European powers and eventually gain independence. Thus, Britain retained control of Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan and France retained control of Syria and Lebanon, directly and indirectly.[1]

Over the following decades, each of the mandate states threw off the shackles of colonialism and won independence, with the exception of Palestine. The pursuit of national independence for Palestinians has been impeded by a series of complications, starting with the Balfour Declaration of 1917:

His Majesty’s Government [of England] view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.[2]

The Balfour Declaration is a letter that was issued by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. British government officials believed that the Jewish ‘vote’ needed to be won to ensure victory in World War I. If the British didn’t secure Jewish backing, the Germans would “buy them” and use them to influence Russia into signing a separate peace treaty with Germany, allowing the Germans to focus on the western front.[3] The Balfour Declaration was a response both to the fear of the supposed power of world Jewry and the sympathetic nature of some British government officials to the Zionist cause.[4] Zionist leaders did their best to encourage these feelings, resulting in the inclusion of the wording of the Balfour Declaration in the League of Nations sanctioned British mandate for Palestine in 1922.[5]

Contrary to the popular idea that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land, the area was well populated. At the beginning of the Zionist influx into the Palestine Mandate area, there were approximately 450,000 Arab and 20,000 (Arab) Jewish residents.[6] Direct British rule and British efforts to fulfill the obligations of the Balfour declaration combined with the influx of European Jews created a volatile situation that retarded the national development of Palestine. Instead of developing modern governing institutions like other newly formed Middle Eastern nations, Palestine’s residents spent the mandate period in conflict and constant competition between British, Jewish and Arab interests.

The major conflict between the two groups was based on the meaning of the Balfour Declaration. The Zionist interpretation of the Balfour Declaration was that it intended the creation of a Jewish state that, as Chaim Weizmann (Chair of the Zionist Commission and later first president of Israel) said, would be as Jewish as England is English.[7] Critics of the Zionists interpreted the Balfour Declaration’s goal as the creation of a Jewish cultural center inside an independent Arab state. The ambiguity was introduced into the document to give the British room for diplomatic maneuvering, but in the end, all it did was complicate their position in Palestine. They were never able to resolve the contradiction inherent in their promise.[8]

The confusion in policy created by the Balfour Declaration led one senior British official to say, just prior to leaving the country, that Britain had “nothing but fluctuations of policy, hesitations…no policy at all.”[9] The British alternately supported Jewish development of a national home and Arab national aspirations in a precarious balancing act intended to maintain the status quo. This remained true until their withdrawal from Palestine in 1948, twenty five years later. When the last British High Commissioner departed Haifa, there was no formal transfer of powers to a new local government because there was no government in Palestine. When the mandate ended, the Jews and Arabs were left to struggle for supremacy.[10]

The internal struggle for power in the years and months leading up to the end of the British mandate for Palestine and the subsequent war that started on May 15th, 1948 with the end of British mandatory rule between Jewish and Arab irregular forces from the surrounding nations saw the birth of the state of Israel and the failure of the Palestinians to establish a nation. The reason for the success of the Jews over the Arabs boils down to three key differences: unity, external support and military power. The Jews entered Palestine with a unified goal, if not a unified ideology. They enjoyed wide support from Jewish and Christian communities around the world, as well as the backing from Britain guaranteed by the Balfour Declaration. They also took advantage of their ties to Europe to advance their military prowess, which proved decisive in the 1947-1948 conflict with the Arabs, also known as the first Arab-Israeli War. The Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, were completely unprepared for the task ahead of them.

During the early years of the mandate, the Arab notables felt it was only natural that they should govern the land they had lived on for centuries.[11] They were convinced that at some point the British would come to their senses and stop supporting the Jews. In the meantime, the Arab notables in Palestine did what they could to maintain their social status, including working with the British mandate authorities, who supplied them with positions of authority.[12] For example, the British created the office of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and assigned al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni to the role. Later the British created the Supreme Muslim council, which Husayni headed.

The reliance of Arab leadership on the British caused them to mostly work with, rather than against, the mandate government, which also meant that they were indirectly supporting the Zionist occupation of what they considered to be Arab land. The Arab notables attempted to negotiate with the British privately while condemning British support of Zionism publicly, all the while working to ensure there would be no disruptive mass political demonstrations that could destabilize their social and political positions.[13] The need to stay on good terms with the British undermined the authority of the Arab notables in the eyes of the public.[14] Further complicating the Arab political atmosphere in Palestine was the constant rivalry between the two prominent families in the region: the Husaynis and the Nashashibis. Their attempts to create rival power bases in Palestine prevented Arab unity. The inter-Arab rivalries and reliance on the British, together with the need to suppress popular movements to maintain their positions, caused the Palestinians to never be capable of forming a unified front, which effectively neutered the Palestinian political body and Palestinian aspirations of nationhood. It would be fair to say that the goals of the Arab leadership (to maintain their positions) did not match the goals of the Palestinians, but due to the Ottoman top-down power structure, the average Palestinian had no way to directly influence the decision making process until later in the mandatory period, when guerilla leaders like al-Qassim began to rally popular support.

Compounding the problem was the lack of any meaningful external support for the Palestinian Arabs. To start with, none of the Arab political institutions formed in mandate Palestine were recognized by any international authority, not even by the Arab states, who took it upon themselves to speak for the Palestinian Arabs.[15] But, their motives weren’t entirely pure either. Throughout the mandate period, the surrounding Arab states had, despite repeated requests, failed to supply the Palestinian Arabs with arms, food, or any financial support. The Arab states each had different agendas in terms of what they wanted to accomplish in Palestine, but the rights of the Palestinians themselves probably ranked very low on their list of priorities. Most of the surrounding states were solely interested in land grabs to increase the power of their respective states in terms of inter-Arab regional politics.[16]

By the time hostilities broke out in Palestine after the November 1947 announcement of the UN Partition Plan, the Arabs felt a distinct sense of abandonment. They had no effective leadership and they had been isolated by the surrounding Arab states. According to Rashid Khalidi,

The Palestinians entered the fighting which followed the passage of the UN Partition Resolution with a deeply divided leadership, exceedingly limited finances, no centrally organized military forces or centralized administrative organs, and no reliable allies.[17]

According to a Haganah Intelligence Service – Arab Division executive, the average Palestinian had come to the conclusion that they could not hold their own against the Jews.[18] HIS – AD further reported that most of the Arab public would be willing to accept the 1947 UN Partition Plan and lacked a desire to engage in a war with the Jews because of a lack of weapons and internal organization.[19] Many were unwilling to fight because if they died, there would be no compensation for their widows and/or orphans.

 

Categories
Living in the Philippines

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines

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The Intramuros area of Manila is actually pretty big.  There are still sections of the original wall wall running through the city, complete with rusty cannons and stone guardhouses, which people can still walk on.  These areas aren’t maintained well, though they’re kept relatively clean.  The inner area of the wall seems to have been converted into mostly tertiary schools, souvenir shops, restaurants and a few businesses.  We didn’t wander the walls or the greater Intramuros area during this trip; we went straight to Fort Santiago.

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Fort Santiago is the site of the oldest military compound in the Philippines and has been attacked, destroyed, rebuilt and used by the Spaniards, Filipinos, British, Americans and the Japanese during various wars and occupations.  It’s purpose has been both noble and terrible as a site for national defense and the scene of a major massacre.  Currently, the area is in varying states of repair, with some areas looking well manicured and others crumbling with every gust of wind.  You can see where some structures have been shored up with improved technology over the centuries, like a few steel braces and beams we saw on the original red brick Spanish military barracks which was originally built in 1593.

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Before entering Fort Santiago proper, there is a well manicured area that must have been rebuilt to give you a sense of what the area looked like in its prime, under Spanish control.  It’s really quite nice.  There are also a few cafes and gift shops in this area, as well as a partially restored warehouse that was used for storing goods brought in off ships.

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There are still a few ugly ducklings around that need some attention and restoration, but I saw plenty of construction material positioned alongside and in front of them, so at some point these should be fixed up nicely.  I’m especially curious as to what the second building was for.  It looks like a residence.  A rough guess is that it belonged to the owner of the shipping warehouse across the plaza.  Some of the chips on the walls look like they were caused by bullets though, so perhaps at some point a group of soldiers tried to use it for a makeshift defense.

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To enter Fort Santiago proper, you have to cross a moat using the original bridge.

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Flanking both sides of the gate are relief carvings of what look like Spanish soldiers.  They’ve both been heavily damaged, perhaps through intentional defacing by angry Filipinos who resented Spanish rule.

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These red brick ruins are all that’s left of the barracks built by the original Spanish soldiers in 1593.  During the American period they were used by military officers and their families.  The building was destroyed during World War II.

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The two holes in the first image, and a few others like it, were placed along the waterfront area of the fort, by the Pasig River.  When we first saw them my wife said they looked like places for holding prisoners.  I looked down in one and saw that it had a tunnel that led back into the fort so I guessed that it was a powder and munitions storage area.  Turns out we were both right.

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The Spaniards originally used the area as storage vaults for munitions and powder, but it was too damp to suit their needs.  They built a new storage area further away from the river and turned it into a dungeon for prisoners.  This area would later be used by the Japanese to imprison and torture Filipino and American guerrillas, civilians and POWs.

Just past that sign I’m standing in front of in that picture there’s an opening that leads down into the lower level.  It was locked up.  I’m guessing it was damaged during the Ondoy disaster last year and hasn’t been reopened to the public yet, which is a shame because it would have been very cool to get a first-hand look at something with so much historical significance.  I’ll have to find out who to annoy into reopening the area.

Since I couldn’t go in, I stuck my arm down through the opening and took a few pictures with my camera.  When I got home later and transferred the images to my laptop, this is what I saw:

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Notice anything odd about that image?  Here are two more that I took from different angles:

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That’s just a tad bit creepy right?  I think it must be a statue, because later I saw bronze statues through an opening in another closed off area, but those were all one solid color.  This one has different colored clothing on and a more natural looking skin tone.  The area is creepy anyway, because the Japanese massacred 600 people in there at the end of the war:

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The whole Fort has a pretty heavy atmosphere.  A lot of lives were lost in that small area and during the majority of its existence it has been used as a stronghold for a foreign military on Filipino soil.  As we walked through I couldn’t help but imagine the way things must have been in the past, what the soldiers must have done, both good and bad, or how the Filipinos felt when they saw the walls.  I spent some time in the US military so I wasn’t imagining ‘glorious battle’.  I was just wondering at the daily routines.  What did they eat?  Where did they eat?  I wondered how they’d adjusted to the heat and if they ever flicked cigarette butts over the wall into the river.  I wondered where they used the toilet.  The simple stuff that often gets overlooked in action movies.

Fort Santiago is well worth a visit and I’m looking forward to going again when more areas are open to the public.  Besides the dungeons, the actual building Jose Rizal (the Philippines national hero) was imprisoned in as well as a walkway down by the river were blocked to the public.  I still think it must be due to last year’s Ondoy storm damage so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a reopening sometime in the next few years.

Note: In this post I deliberately avoided talking about Jose Rizal, though his presence in the fort does play a large part in the nation’s history.  The reasons for that are that I don’t know enough about him to discuss him yet and I focused on the areas that interested me or had significance to me as an American.  The fort has a very nice Jose Rizal museum which you can take a look at if you have an interest in that aspect of Filipino history.  I’ll be posting about Jose Rizal in the future when I’ve heard about and read up on him more.

Categories
Food Living in Singapore

Amigos; Western Food

When I moved to Asia I knew I was going to be giving up a few things. One of those things was easy access to cow meat. Singapore doesn’t have much in the way of cheap beef, or reasonably priced steaks. Or, so I thought.

During my first visit to Singapore in March of 2008 I saw that a typical diet here consists of mostly chicken, pork, or fish and rice or noodles with a small portion of some green leafy vegetable. Soups containing those ingredients are also popular. That’s pretty much all I’ve eaten for the last year as well. Not that I’m complaining! A lot of those dishes are delicious! But, I had a craving for something a bit more solid than that, and the last time I had a good amount of beef was on my birthday in the Philippines in March of this year. Even then it wasn’t a steak dinner as most Americans would envision it.

I had resigned myself to the belief that I would only have a good steak dinner when I was back in the US, so I wasn’t actively looking around for good deals. I didn’t want to break my budget to get something I can easily do without.

When my wife and I first agreed to rent our current place in Pasir Ris, the agent that located the property for us gave us a short tour of the area. Well, actually we went on an hour long walk around a good portion of the neighborhood but it was so exciting that we hardly noticed the distance we covered until we looked at it on a map later.

During this walk, we passed a small shop that was part of a hawker area. It’s called ‘Amigos; Western Food’ and doesn’t have a very impressive exterior, but the agent went into detail about how good the food they serve is. I smiled and nodded, but I wasn’t really convinced, and wasn’t in any hurry to try it. A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy from Egypt, who also had nothing but good things to say about the place.

Last night, my wife and I finally got around to checking it out. Good thing the place is open late, because we didn’t make it over there until about 1am! I think we were the only customers there. We took a look at the menu, and I was surprised to see that there was a steak available for only 13.90, so I ordered it. My wife got a plate of lamb chops, which was also reasonably priced at about 9 dollars or so. Still, it was cheap, so I wasn’t expecting much. I certainly wasn’t expecting something that looked better than the picture on the menu. That’s sort of a joke, where what you order rarely looks as tasty as the picture. This time, the opposite was true, and we were more than pleasantly surprised to find such great looking dishes at a hawker stall.

The lamb chops.

The steak.

So, I suppose the real question is, how did it taste? That was the second surprise. The stuff was better than great! It was fantastic! In anticipation of a potential fail whale, we asked for Tabasco sauce, but we wound up not needing it. As you can see from the pictures above, both dishes came with a sauce. Each had a distinct taste that seemed appropriate to the meat. The potato wedges were also fantastic and the veggies used for the small salad were crisp and fresh. As for the meat, it was tender and had just the right amount of fat on it. My steak was a little undercooked, but it had been so long since I’d had a good steak dinner, and it tasted so good, that I didn’t care. I gobbled the whole thing down, then cleared the rest of the plate, and was very satisfied. My wife and I traded bites of lamb for steak, and her lamb was just as good.

If anyone’s looking for a reasonably priced place to get a great steak or set of lamb chops, this is definitely the place to go!