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At the end of the 19th Century, the motivation for the zeal for the land of their forefathers was the secular and political movement called Zionism, a desire to return to Zion, their name for this historic homeland of the Jewish people. This shows us that God doesn’t just use believers to achieve His ends. He could also use Theodore Herzl, a Jewish atheist working as a journalist in France. Appalled at the anti-Semitism that he observed as the result of the Alfred Dreyfus case, he realised that, even in the civilised countries of France and Germany, Jews were still viewed with suspicion. He wrote a book called Der Judenstaat – the Jewish State – as an expression of his political Zionism, his desire to see a modern Jewish state, with a country, a flag and an identity. And, of course, there could be only one place for the realisation of this dream, Palestine, the historical Land of Israel.
Newspapers and other media sources today give the impression that Israel ‘occupies’ land once owned by people living in a ‘Palestinian state’. But evidence is to the contrary. For a start, the Arabs in no way saw themselves as ‘Palestinians’. When the First congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919, the agreement was that ‘we consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria’. The only people who considered themselves ‘Palestinians’ in the first half of the 20th Century were the Jewish inhabitants. Even the Jewish national newspaper was called ‘The Palestine Post’ (now called ‘The Jerusalem Post’).
At the beginning of the 19th Century, the London Jews Society, one of the first missionary groups targeting the Jewish people in the World, had opened a building complex in Bethnal Green to act as their centre for missionary operations. They were thinking of a name for it. What did they come up with? Palestine Place. Interesting, why would they have named their headquarters after a territory and a people, with which they had absolutely no connection? Simple answer – it was because the only people at that time who mainly identified with the land of Palestine were the Jews.
The other point concerns ownership of the land. Did Jewish immigrants seize it or was the land acquired legally? Land settled in by these first immigrants in the 1880s was bought from the absentee Turkish landlords, who were eager for the extra cash. The land initially settled in was the uncultivated, swampy, cheap and empty land. Later on they bought cultivated land, some of it at exorbitant prices. In his memoirs, King Abdullah of Jordan wrote ‘… The Arabs are as prodigal in selling their land as they are in useless wailing and weeping’. Before the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, no land was seized or acquired in any way other than through legal means.
In the 20th Century, Arabs as well as Jews were immigrating into Palestine, mainly from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon. Between 1922 and 1931, when the country was administered by the British, illegal Arab immigrants (i.e. extra to the agreed quotas) comprised almost 12% of the Arab population. The Hope Simpson Report acknowledged in 1930 that there was ‘uncontrolled influx of illegal immigrants from Egypt, Transjordan and Syria’.
The first key event of the 20th Century was the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, thanks to them joining the losing side in the First World War. After the war, responsibility for the Land of Palestine fell to the British. In 1917, just weeks before the end of the First World War, Lord Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, wrote the Balfour Declaration (mentioned earlier) to the Jewish community, promising a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
On the 11th December 1917, General Edmund Allenby, a devout Christian, was handed the keys of Jerusalem, as Britain’s representative, by the defeated Turks. The rest of the country was conquered in the following year and Palestine became British responsibility. At the San Remo conference in 1920, the League of Nations rubber-stamped this situation and Britain was officially given the Mandate for Palestine. Britain was now able to implement the Balfour Declaration and it would have done if it hadn’t made similar promises to the Arabs.
More next week
Who were the Palestinians a hundred years ago?