Middle East and the Holy Land, Palestine
The English as victors over the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 1914-18 First World War were mandated by the United Nations (then the League of Nations) to rule Palestine, Israel and Jordan until they were ready to govern themselves. (c1947)
The difficulties with these territories stems from their religious history and the claims of the Jews, Christians and Muslims to their shrines in and around Jerusalem on the West Bank of the river Jordan.
Currently Jordan on the east bank on the Jordan is a model of peace and comparative prosperity and a credit to British rule. More than 50% of the population are refugees from the West Bank but who probably have a better life with better economic prospects than they would have had if they had remained on the west side of the river were Muslim Arabs are not prepared to tolerate the presence of Jews for religious reasons.
The history of the region
The Jews were the first to arrive some 4000 years ago when Abraham led his tribe out of southern Iraq and settled on the west side of the rover Jordan. The story has been well documented in the Bible. Abraham was probably the first to introduce the concept of one, rather then many gods.
2000 years later Jesus a Jew was born in the area and created a new sect within the Jewish faith which became known as Christianity. The Roman's ruled the area at the time and there are many excellent examples of Roman towns as far east as present day Jordan. The Jews at one time BC 1000-BC 300 had been the most powerful military force in the region and controlled present day Jordan and the West Bank all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed in BC 200the Jews had a defence treaty with Romans and defended the eastern flank of the Roman Empire. Around BC 100 the Jews asked the Romans to come to Jerusalem to adjudicate in an internal dispute. The Romans stayed. Early Jewish prophets had predicted the arrival of a saviour who was expected at this time to be a warrior king to rid the Jews of the Romans. When the pacifist Jesus claimed to be the Messiah the Jewish authorities condemned him to death as he was an obvious impostor! The Christian Church has hated the Jews ever since.
AD 70 The date when the occupying Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem the centre of the Jewish faith, culture and state. This commenced what is known as the Diaspora, the exodus of Jews from Jerusalem and their Promised Land mainly to Europe.
cAD 300 The date the Romans adopted Christianity as their state religion. From this date no other religious group could attain roman citizenship which included the Jews who immediately became second class citizens in the Roman Empire and even futher despised by the Roman Church.
Also at this time the Romans moved their headquarters from Rome in Italy to Byzantium in present day Turkey and renamed it Constantinople. Most of the theological heart of Christianity was centred in Constantinople and nearby Nicea. The huge church of Sophia was built in Constantinople.
cAD400 The Romans left in Rome and still ruling territories as far west as England are over run by German tribes from north of the river Rhine. The Romans in the east however remain intact and continue ruling from Constantinople through to Jerusalem and beyond into present day Jordan. To become known as the Byzantiums.
cAD 700 Mohammed in born in Mecca in present day Saudi Arabia and starts a third monotheist(one God) religion which becomes known as Islam. This religion spreads rapidly eastwards and westwards through North Africa and into southern Spain and eventually into France where it is stopped by the formidable Franks (later under Charlemagne). The Byzantiums who are Christians and still very powerful see themselves as custodians of the two main Christian citadels, Jerusalem and Sophia in Constantinople. Unfortunately for peace amongst the three religions Mohammed dreamt he visited Jerusalem where he is taken to heaven by the Archangel Gabriel. His followers are henceforth determined to take Jerusalem from the Christians.
cAD 1200 Saladin. Actually a Kurd who was elected head of the Islamic Arabic armed forces in the Middle East because he was such a good general. He took Jerusalem from the Christian Byzantiums in 1187. Prior to this date Jerusalem had been attacked by Arabic Islamisists which caused the Byzantiums in Constantinople to ask the Pope in Rome for help and the Crusades commenced in 1095 (and lasted until 1291). Huge castles or forts built by the Christian forces of the west are still standing in Jordan today.
1453 The final blow to the Christians occurred when the headquarters of the Eastern Christian church fell to the Ottoman Muslims and the huge church of St Sophia was converted into the Blue Mosque. The Islamic Ottoman Empire now blocked the whole of the eastern Mediterranean and all hope of regaining Jerusalem or indeed Constantinople from the Muslims.
However as we have seen in other parts of this site the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean fuelled the European Renaissance and kick started the commencement of European and particularly English empire development. It took nearly 500 years before the Islamic Ottomans were to be crushed by the British in the First World War and in 1918 the whole of the Ottoman Middle East was divided between England and France to sort into separate states under a League of Nations Mandate. France had Lebanon and Syria and the English had oil rich Iraq plus the Holy Land.
The English now had the challenging task of meeting the aspiration of the Jews, Christians and Muslims all who claimed special status with regard to Palestine (the Roman name for Judea-Israel).
Strangely the status of the church of St Sophia in Istanbul was never at the top of the agenda.
The issues were:
- Christians have never demanded territorial rights in Palestine. Simply they want access to the holy places where Jesus spent his short life. This includes Jerusalem.
- Jews have always had (for 3000 years plus) their spiritual headquarters in Jerusalem and the West Bank of the river Jordan as their Promised Land. Since Oliver Cromwell's time, 1650, England (and Holland) have been the only places in Europe where Jews could live without being in fear of their lives. c 1890-1920 the Jews in England persuaded the British government to support the concept of a safe land for Jews out side Europe and the Holy Land was the agreed favourite area. Jews had indeed started trickling back to this area since 1800. The Holocaust of 1930 to 1945 (6 million Jews exterminated by German Nazi's in death camps) and the apparent support of this programme by the French and also even the Catholic Church in Rome re-in-forced this concept. The concept of a manageable amount of Jews living at peace with Islamic Arabs in the Holy Land went out of the window. The Jews started landing on the shores of Palestine in droves to the extent that some were turned back (to where?) by the British authorities. The surrounding Arab nations including British Egypt and Trans Jordan and French Syria publicly agreed to not rest until the Jews were once more eliminated from the Holy Land.
- In 1918 following much support from the British (the story of Lawrence of Arabia) the Arabs under Ottoman rule in the Holy Land gained their freedom for the first time in 500 years. Within a few weeks they found themselves under the rule of either French or British rulers even though it was known only to be temporary. At the same time oil had over night become important with the deployment of the motorcar.
1939 Money in the form of oil talks, the Islamic Arabs had it and the Jews didn't. The British gave the problem of the Holy Land back to the United Nations to sort out and a tough but lasting geographical division of the area disappeared.
The concept before oil intervened was to give the old "Promised Land " (all land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean) to the Jews and the almost geologically identical land of Jordan to the Islamic Arabs. The Muslims and Christians would have free access to Jerusalem for pilgrimage. Both Lands would be defensible over the natural boundary of the river Jordan.
Strangely enough this might still happen. Currently almost three-quarters of Jordan are Palestinian Arabs and a similar proportion of the West of the river Jordan are Jews. Both entities supported by the Americans and both economically stable. Current movements of people will strengthen these proportions so Jews become the vast majority in the west and Palestinians in the East. Only religious determination over Jerusalem will stop it.
The English ruled Palestine from 1918 to 1948. Palestine was then the name given to present day Israel, Palestine and Jordan. That is after the British won the Second World War the English were "mandated" by the United Nations (then the League of Nations) to run Palestine and Iraq. For the 400 years from 1517 to 1918 Palestine and Iraq were part of the Islamic Ottoman Empire headquartered in Istanbul Turkey. Prior to AD 70 Palestine (both sides of the river Jordon) had been the Jewish state of Israel, indeed all parts west of the river Jordon which runs north south through the territory was the Biblical "Promised Land" of the Jews (further details click here). The Jews left en mass (the Diaspora) in AD 70 when the Romans levelled their Temple in Jerusalem which was the centre of Jewish religion, culture and commerce.
The Palestinian problem is said to be the crux of the current (early 21st century) Islamic-West conflicts and the British were very much at the centre of enabling the return of the Jews to their Promised Land from 1918 onwards. Hence it is a very interesting part of the history of the British Empire.
The River Jordon is the key to understanding this conflict.
1900s The British at this time were the most powerful nation on earth similar to the Americans a century later. England had also since c1650 been one of the few safe havens for Jews in a Europe of Jew haters. Many rich Jewish banking families like the Rothschild's lived in England and as it became clear that nowhere in mainland Europe were Jews safe from persecution (except perhaps Holland) Rothschild persuaded the British government to support the creating a safe homeland for all Jews in their Biblical Promised Land Palestine. Following the victory over the Germans and their allies the Islamic Turks in 1918 the English were in the right position to implement this strategy.
1918 From this date onwards Jews commenced a steady flow to Palestine particularly from Germany and Russia where Jewish extermination "programs" were most prevalent. At this time the English divided Palestine into two using the Biblical texts and the River Jordon. On the West side Palestine, the old promised land and on the East side Trans Jordon renamed simply Jordon. Palestine had few inhabitants by to-days standards as the land did not support effective farming. Indeed no Arab group had made Palestine their homeland. As soon as some Jews arrived they set about draining marshes, irrigating deserts and planting trees.
Arabs from outside Palestine soon came to the area looking for the jobs created by the hard working, immigrant Jews and were welcomed as up to this time Jews and Muslims had always lived together in harmony. Unfortunately there is no history of Jews living in harmony with Muslims unless the Muslims werein a position to treat Jews as servants and defiantly not as equals or superiors. In Palestine (as in Cyprus) the local Muslims never showed the tenacious, entrepreneurial abilities of Jews (or Christians) and became jealous of their soon to be wealthier neighbours. Attacks on Jewish properties soon followed. When oil became an issue in the Middle East the English, rulers of both sides, tried to tread the middle path and did nothing to stop the flow of more, potentially trouble making Arabs, into Palestine looking for work.
1947 The English departed leaving the disaster waiting to happen to the United Nations:
- Their original concept of Jewish lands on both sides of the river Jordon had turned into a split into Jewish Palestine 25% and Arab Jordan 75%.
- Angry Arabs poised to kick the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.
1948 As soon as the British were gone the Arab countries of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon agreed to not rest until they had "pushed the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea" and advised all Arabs living in Palestine to leave before the blood bath commenced. This created a huge refugee problem that exists even to-day.
Suffice to say
- Of all the many battles in the last 50 years the Jews have only started one but have easily one them all.
- There is no evidence that the avowed intention of the Muslim Arabs is not still to remove the Jews from Palestine.
- The concept of Israel(The name given to Palestine by the Jews after 1948) and of ruling all the land west of the river Jordon is still the aim of the Jews as it was the aim of the British prior to 1948. To-day however the Jews are in a minority of one on this issue as the world seems to have no sense of history and pander to the Arabs initially because of their oil and now because of the concern of anti Western actions by Islamic extremists.
- The West Bank now expected to be part of Arab Palestine was the biblical Judea and Samaria of the Jews in the Bible.
- Jerusalem in the West Bank is an important area for Jews, Christians and Muslims. For Jews it was and is the heart of their culture and nation from c. 2000 BC to 70 AD when the Romans destroyed their Temple. For Christians Jerusalem is seen as the centre of the origins of Christian faith where Jesus spent much of his time. Muslims feel Jerusalem is their third most holy city even though Mohammed never went there. He claimed he visited Jerusalem in a dream with the purpose of meeting the ancient prophets of the Jewish and Christian religions.
- The ethnic spit in the West of the river Jordan is Jews 82%, remainder largely Arab.