We hear about it on TV and read about it in the newspaper: the Israeli-Palestine conflict seems to be never ending. But how did the conflict start in the first place? And most importantly, whose fault is it? Who is right and who is wrong? Questions that cannot be answered. To understand the current complicated situation a look at the origins of the conflict is necessary. Especially Great Britain, while holding the UN mandate of the territory, seems to be a tremendous player in its outbreak.
The Mandate for Palestine was conferred on Britain by the League of Nations in 1922. By the time Britain referred it back to the UN in 1948, Palestine was politically unstable and consumed by a fierce opposition of Arabs and Jews. Despite its time frame only being a tiny fraction in three thousand years of recorded history, British policy had profound consequences in setting the stage for the protracted Middle-East conflict. Particularly immigration policy contributed to insurmountable difficulties, destabilization and havoc in Palestine since rising Anti-Semitism in Europe provoked Jewish mass movements. Immigration to North America and Australia was severely restricted and Jews were left with only one attainable destination to safeguard their lifes against the cruel actions of the Nationalsozialisten: Palestine. The Arab population living in Palestine was outraged about the mass immigration and pressured Britain to restrict its immigration policy.
The Arabs pressured British immigration policy.
When taking a closer look at the British mandate, Britain’s actions in Palestine seem to contradict each other. While restricting Jewish immigration in Palestine, Britain seemed to favour Zionism in the international sphere. This is due to contradicting international and colonial policy interests. On the one hand, Britain feared the undermining of stability and security by Arab dissatisfaction induced by pro-Zionist policies within Palestine. On the other hand, internationally, the increasing belief that a European war was inevitable showed that the survival of Britain was tied to American support. Therefore, in order to avoid jeopardizing Anglo-American unity, British rhetoric supported Zionism much in line with American foreign policy, comforting the American pro-Zionist lobby in Washington. Another reason was Britain’s dependence on American financial backing and weapon supplies during the Second World War (1939-1945). Thus, military unity during wartime played a major role for Britain’s actions.
Nevertheless, Britain continuously restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. One example is the White Paper quota in 1939, which restricted immigration to 75,000. This is as well due to the British fear of confrontation with Arabs throughout the Middle East as well as India. After 1945, British representatives based in Arab countries stressed their concern of the lack of Arab consent in Jewish immigration, which could lead to a wave of hostility throughout the Arab countries, spreading to the Moslems of India. Such wave would consequentially threaten the British position in the Middle East. Moreover, Lawrence B. Grafftey-Smith, British Diplomat at the time, warned Ernist Bevin, British foreign minister at the time, that further immigration might provoke intervention by the Arab League, which was founded in 1945. The League increased the will and the power of Arab individual states to resist the implementation of British pro-Jewish policies.
Such contradicting policies by the United Kingdom ultimately contributed to the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli was in 1948. Being unable to find a solution between both parties, the United Kingdom resigned from its mandate.
Today, almost 70 years after the outbreak, the war seems never-ending. When visiting Israel in summer 2016 I was shocked to hear about the daily fear in the people’s lifes and to see the shelters, which are part of everyone’s house, serve as bus stops or are placed in the streets. A solution to the conflict currently seems unrealistic.2