Arthur James Balfour took a land
belonging to one people and gave it to another people just by signing a
declaration in 1917. Those were the days when the British Empire behaved as if
the whole earth belonged to it.
The Jews were
just 7% of Palestine’s population in 1917. Today that country belongs to Jews
and its original inhabitants have been pushed into destitution. The recent bout
of violence between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs prompted me to
read up their stories. I bought two books, one written by Western writers and
the other by a Palestinian though he was born in America.
Mansfield’s book is a classical history of the Middle East originally written
in 1991. The edition I have is one that was updated by Nicolas Pelham in 2019. The
introductory chapter of this book gives us a glimpse into the history of the
Middle East from the ancient days up to the Ottoman Empire. The very opening
sentence of Chapter 2 is: “At the end of the eighteenth century, the balance of
power between the European Christian states and the Islamic world represented
by the Ottoman Empire had swung decisively against Istanbul.” Then we move on
into a murky history of many wars and struggles.
century witnessed two world wars. The Jews were persecuted in many countries
even before Hitler initiated the cruellest genocide in human history. The Great
Britain decided to give a home to the Jews, the very home that their God had
promised them: the Promised Land of Israel (which was far from what Yahweh
promised: flowing with milk and honey).
Empire wasn’t motivated by altruism, Rashid Khalidi assures us right in the
beginning of his book. They were motivated by anything but altruism. They
wanted to reduce the Jewish immigration to their own country in the first
place. They believed that “‘world Jewry’ had the power to keep newly
revolutionary Russia fighting in the war and bring the United States into it”. They
wanted to have control over Palestine for geopolitical strategic reasons. And
so Balfour donated a country which was not his to a people who had nothing to
do with him without consulting the people to whom the land actually belonged.
Mahatma Gandhi opposed the move strongly. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in
the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French,”
Gandhi said in no uncertain terms. “It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews
on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud
Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their
crime was committed anyway. It was followed by a century of exploitation and war
and destruction. The plunder was consummated divinely, so to say, when Donald
Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Jewish Israel. A
plunder that was started by one imperial power was concluded by another
imperial power. Rashid Khalidi’s book focuses on the history of that plunder
while Mansfield & Pelham give us the bigger picture.
books agree that the West committed many blunders and acts of political
chicanery in the Middle East in the last century. Even if we relegate what the
European powers such as England, Holland and Portugal did in the region
earlier, we won’t be able to forget the evils perpetrated there recently by
America. Mansfield & Pelham write that under America’s watch hundreds of
thousands of Middle-Easterners perished in endless conflicts in Iraq, Algeria,
Sudan and Israel/Palestine. America is the incarnation of Satan for the people
of the Middle East – except the Israeli Jews.
This is not
to say that the Arabs were blemishless. They had their own clannishness and
petty politics. They were not united against the western forces. Even the Arab
Spring that tore a ray of light in the dark horizon of a region of political
and religious dictatorships and obscurantism and internecine quarrels failed to
blossom because of the faults of the Arabs themselves.
region, Middle East, stands in desperate need of redemption.
One of the many Arab apartments bombed by Israel
In 2014, say Mansfield & Pelham, the region accounted for only 5% of the world’s population but generated 45% of world’s terrorism, 47% of the world’s internally displaced people, 58% of the world’s refugees, 68% of the world’s battle-related deaths. The unemployment rate among the youth there is the world’s highest too.
always tragic. It is a series of tragedies created mostly by people who put
themselves up as leaders or rulers. You can’t read these books without feeling
pity for the human species whichever gods the groups may be worshipping. I
consider myself fortunate that I have redeemed myself from gods at least. The
earthly representatives of the gods, the political breed more than the religious,
are the real problems as these and other history books show us. An ordinary
person can only read about the tragedies created by these people and heave