Palestine and British Mandate

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the definition of colonialism is “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically”.[1] In essence, a country with a powerful economy and military takes over a less powerful country for political and economic gain. Unfortunately, various European countries practiced colonialism in much of the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Much of the former empire was carved up by European powers in order to gain raw materials and political allies. Among the Middle Eastern countries, Palestine was thrown onto the bargaining table, ready to be divided amongst the Great Powers.

Britain and France were two of the major colonial powers in the Middle East and in 1916, they both signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement, secretly dividing territories amongst themselves.[2] In the Sykes-Picot Agreement, France obtained the rights to colonize Syria as well as Palestine, which was included as Syrian territory at the time.[3] However a year later in November, Britain stated in the Balfour Declaration that it supported the Zionist cause to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.[4] Along with the Balfour Declaration, British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour was able to secure a British mandate in Palestine, thanks to the aid of Zionists who convinced France to give up their control of the territory.[5] As a result of the Balfour Declaration and agreements with the League of Nations, Israel and Palestine became British mandates, which were “temporary ‘colonies’ with equal access for all in trade”.[6] Not surprisingly, the people that lived in these colonies were never consulted on whether they actually wanted to be a part of the British mandate system.[7] Under this system Britain had “absolute administrative control” over the Palestinian territories.[8]

There are several explanations on why Britain wanted control over Palestine. One reason was to have better control of the Suez Canal, with the help of Zionist settlers.[9] Also Britain wanted to “protect” the population of Zionists that had settled in Palestine to gain the favors of the Jewish population in the United States and Russia during the First World War.[10] Britain believed the Jewish people in the United States and Russia had influence over politics and so they believed that by supporting a Jewish State, they could have both countries stay involved in the war.[11] If Britain did not support the Zionist movement, they feared that the Germans would give their support to the Zionists instead, hampering the war effort and threatening their position in the Suez Canal.[12]

Allowing the settlement of Zionists into Palestine can be considered a colonial practice according to the definition of colonialism. The Zionists were foreign settlers supported by a European Power, Britain, and were serving in its best interests. Even though many Zionists settlers were not citizens of Britain, they did add security to the Suez Canal due to their vulnerability as a minority group in the Middle East.[13] Britain also gained valuable and much needed allies in the Middle East by supporting the Zionist cause. With the threat of rising Arab nationalism, Britain needed to secure a population that was loyal to its mandate. Likewise, Zionists needed the support of a Greater Power in the face of native opposition. The Balfour Declaration was a solution to both of those problems, as it benefited Britain and the fledgling Zionist colony.[14] The British kept Arab Palestinians divided by religion in its policies, keeping Arab and Muslim Christians from uniting against Zionist agendas.[15] This benefited Zionists as they gained more control over the region and in turn, this benefited the British economically by ensuring shipping routes in the Suez Canal and trade between the two countries. It was through Zionist settlers that Britain gained influence and economic gain in the region. However the unity between Zionists and Britain did not last. Around 1947, Britain relinquished its mandate over Palestine due to anti-British opposition, ending British colonization in the country.[16]

Although the mandate in Palestine did not last for Britain, it did demonstrate an alternative form of colonialism in the Middle East. In the absence of direct rule, Britain controlled Palestine through Zionist settlers. Their gains, as well as losses were also Britain’s. Perhaps this style of colonialism is still reflected today by wealthier countries controlling politics though a county’s people. Even so, the example of Palestine is a reminder that countries can eventually break free of a colonial legacy.

Bibliography

  1. James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  2. Akram Fouad Khater, “The Balfour Declaration, Stating the British Government’s Support for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, and Discussions Leading to Issuing It in 1917” in Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011).
  3. “Colonialism.” Oxford Dictionaries. Accessed December 7, 2012. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/colonialism

[1] “Colonialism,” Oxford Dictionaries, Accessed December 7, 2012, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/colonialism.

[2] Akram Fouad Khater, “The Balfour Declaration, Stating the British Government’s Support for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, and Discussions Leading to Issuing It in 1917” in Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011), 107.

[3] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.

[4] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.

[5] Akram Fouad Khater, “The Balfour Declaration, Stating the British Government’s Support for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, and Discussions Leading to Issuing It in 1917” in Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011), 107.

[6] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 190-191.

[7] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 191.

[8] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 191.

[9] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.

[10] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.

[11] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.

[12]  Akram Fouad Khater, “The Balfour Declaration, Stating the British Government’s Support for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, and Discussions Leading to Issuing It in 1917” in Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011), 107.

[13] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.

[14] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.

[15] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 221-222.

[16] James L. Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 223.

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