"[I]n Palestine it is not consequences but causes which cry out for examination. The causes, which have been kept concealed or as far out of sight as possible, all are to be sought within the period from the [First World] War to 1923." (JMN Jeffries, Palestine: The Reality, 1939, p 574)
As the ms media frame it, Palestine/Israel is primarily a matter of tit-for-tat, a term which invariably crops up with each new round of Israeli savagery in the Gaza Strip, the latest included. The repetition of this term, with its historically contextless perspective, tends to deter the casual reader/viewer from a consideration or examination of the underlying causes of the problem, causes which cannot be lost sight of if one is to truly understand the problem and envisage a just and peaceful solution for it.
With this in mind, I have found it useful to consult those who were there at the time to witness the original tat, if I may call it that, namely, the forced imposition of an alien, European settler-colonial regime on a war-ravaged and defenceless non-European people, a regime so virulent and toxic as to turn their world literally upside down.
Vivian Gabriel (of which more in a follow-up post) is the author of one of the earliest, if not the earliest, critiques of the Zionist invasion of Palestine ever penned. His lengthy, 25-page article, The Troubles of the Holy Land, appeared in The Edinburgh Review of January, 1922. While the whole is well worth seeking out and reading, for the purposes of this post I've picked out some of the key passages and added linking summaries:
Beginning with a thumbnail sketch of Palestine's geography and population, Gabriel moves to an account of Ottoman Palestine. And what a contrast it is to Palestine under the succeeding British/Zionist heel.
"Before the war the people had their own elected representatives, generally from the leading local families, in the Imperial Parliament at Constantinople. They had also local self-government in the administrative council of the province. This was elected by the district councils, which were in turn chosen by the municipalities and village councils. Very few Turkish officials were stationed in Palestine, the majority of functionaries there being natives of the country. The administration, whatever its faults, was simple, inexpensive and suited to the people. Until the war, it was popular enough. The people resented conscription for the Turkish army and despised their Turkish rulers as men of inferior culture; but, on the whole, they were contented, secure and tranquil. The normal Turkish garrison was only about 400 men. The established religion was Moslem but there was complete toleration for other religions, and the various communities, e.g., the Orthodox Greeks, the Jews, the Catholics, each had their own charter of liberties and their own jurisdictional courts. The incidence of taxation was about 26 shillings a head of the population, but much latitude was allowed and actually not more than 20 were collected. The country paid its way and even yielded a handsome surplus to its Turkish rulers, to say nothing of the assigned revenues that went to the bondholders of the Ottoman Public Debt. Concessions for the development of mineral resources, ports and railways, had already been granted and work on them commenced. Fruit and grain enough for export were produced, and there were large gains also from the Christian pilgrim traffic.
"It has long been the fashion in this country to decry the 'unspeakable' Turk and to talk glibly of Ottoman misgovernment. To the student of administrative methods, the 'Corps du Droit Ottoman' tells quite a different tale. The regulations it contains are certainly suited to the people and conditions, and many of them, particularly those relating to representative institutions and the collection of the revenue, had been drawn up by the best experts in Europe and were the direct survivals of the old Roman law that was applied in the Asiatic provinces, with later infiltrations from the Napoleonic codes. Among these laws was one protecting the people from foreign exploitation by restricting immigration, and another confining transactions in real estate to Ottoman subjects.
"During the war, the people of Palestine suffered very badly. They were treated by the Turks as an alien hostile race, for their pro-Ally sympathies were well known: they were robbed and starved; their crops were seized, their fields cut up for trenches; their businesses were ruined and their able-bodied men were forcibly conscripted, even after 3 payments of exemption tax; tens of thousands of them died from pestilence or famine. When therefore the British and Allied forces over-ran the Holy Land, they were welcomed with such joy as had not been known before. It was indeed a liberation and the traditions of the British name promised great things for the future. Men wore their best clothes and strangers embraced each other on the roads from sheer gladness. There were endless 'Te Deums' in village mosques and churches, or in what the law had left in them."
Gabriel has more to say in the same vein but the following sentence on 1918 Palestine is telling: "The problem of Palestine was perhaps the easiest of solution of those that had been left to Great Britain as a result of the war." But no, they had to stuff it up, didn't they?
"The picture now presented by [High Commissioner] Sir Herbert Samuel's report, and by the reports of the commission on the Palestine disturbances [of 1921] and of the Zionist Organization, is by no means so refreshing, and recent visitors to Palestine find the situation overhung with clouds, the population sullen, morose and angry. The people say openly that they were better off under the Turks and are only restrained from violence by the fear of British bayonets; the machinery of military coercion is everywhere in evidence; public security no longer exists and even the High Commissioner himself travels with an armed escort; concessions have been suspended and developments remain in abeyance; the Holy Places are neglected, the government is out of touch with the people.
"Something must have gone seriously wrong in the interval to have produced a change so marked and unexpected. History records no other instance of the same kind under British rule."
Gabriel goes on to sketch the rise and rise of the Zionist movement, culminating in the issuance, by the government of Lloyd George and Lord Balfour, of the Balfour Declaration, which gave official British backing to the creation of a Jewish state... sorry, National Home, in Palestine, a development which quickened the pulse of many a European and North American Jew.
"In Palestine itself," however, writes Gabriel, "the people whose national home it already was took quite another view. They were still under the Turks, from whom they first heard of it. It was, to use their own phrase, a bolt from the blue, and they were thoroughly alarmed at the economic difficulty of two national homes in one house. Their great ambition was the promised independence and, notwithstanding Turkish taunts, they refused to believe that the British would not keep their word. This was their attitude at the beginning of the occupation, but a few months later, when a Zionist Commission under the leadership of Dr Weizmann arrived in Palestine, they began to be seriously perturbed."
This semi-official body, in its arrogance, proceeded to behave as though it owned the place. Hebrew was made an official language and the Zionists were given a monopoly over development. "Matters reached such a pass towards the end of 1918 that the chief administrator of Palestine was compelled to ask either for a military force to repress the civil population, or for a definite pronouncement of policy that would enable him to allay the popular excitement," wrote Gabriel.
A joint British-French proclamation promising popularly elected governments in their respective colonies... sorry, Mandates, was issued but the smooth-talking Dr Weizmann had Whitehall's ear and the proclamation's promise of democratic rule vanished as quickly as an Obama statement calling for an Israeli settlement freeze in the occupied Palestinian territories today. Things came to a head with the appointment of Britain's first civilian ruler, the British Zionist politician, Sir Herbert Samuel.
"The public had become thoroughly alarmed, and the tension was not allayed by the acts of Sir Herbert Samuel's government. The Jewish element in the public service was disproportionately increased and in nearly every position where a native was found he was counterbalanced by a Jew. The employment of a large number of Jewish workmen and labourers out of all proportion to the Jewish population of the country had displaced Arab labour and was a means of using public money for the very support of the immigrants whose introduction was viewed with hostility and alarm; men talked in whispers in the street and were afraid to use the post or telegraph; the official use of Hebrew was largely extended, and the native's ignorance of this tongue provided a reason for edging him out in favour of the Jew; even the postage stamps were surcharged with an inscription signifying 'the Land of Israel'; Zionists openly referred to the High Commissioner as 'the Prince of Israel'; the natives suffered great loss in 1920 by the prohibition of the export of grain in order to feed the foreign immigrants; an advisory council was formed, but it was nominated by the High Commissioner and contained an official majority; there was no representative government such as the people had been used to. A spark would have set the country in a blaze at any moment, and the High Commissioner evidently lived in constant apprehension of concerted action by the people. Machine guns and armoured cars were frequently paraded; at every railway station there was a Jewish linesman to watch the native station-master; the Arab notables were required to give security to keep the peace, although they had never broken it, or be imprisoned by default; the native press was muzzled while the Zionist ran free."
Gabriel concluded, in part: "It should not be forgotten that the Balfour Declaration is a pact between the Government and the Zionists, not between the latter and the Arabs, who were no party to it at all, and still refuse to have any official dealings whatever with Zionists. If by pursuing the present policy a worse than Irish question is allowed to grow, the land of our 3 great cognate faiths will be a shame to the whole world."
Now, what was that about tit-for-tat?