Wilson’s King-Crane Commission

It would be an understatement to say that the Arabs of Palestine were unanimously opposed to the establishment of either a Jewish state or of any large-scale immigration of Jews – or any peoples at all for that matter- into their region. They expressed as much consternation towards Zionism as the Irish for instance would today if the province of Leinster were cordoned off and declared the domain of Greater Nigeria. In fact, the 1917 Balfour Declaration made no mention of securing an Israeli state within Palestine only committing Britain to facilitate the establishment within Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people” and then only on the condition that “nothing may be done which shall prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities ..” .

When Woodrow Wilson set up the King-Crane Commission in 1919 to investigate the feasibility of the Zionist project it reported that the independent nation of Palestine’ were emphatically opposed’ to the entire Zionist programme whilst the Zionists themselves “looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine” – which at the time comprised over 90% of the population. Correctly gauging the entire project to be ill-conceived from the onset it concluded by expressing “a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause” but ultimately recommended the limitation of Jewish immigration and the abandonment of the goal of a Jewish state on the grounds that it would be “a gross violation of the principle of self-determination .. and of the people’s rights”.

The Commission was the only international study group ever charged with consulting the views of Palestinian Arabs on the Zionist question and could see clearly from reactions it received on the ground that the seeds for perpetual war would be sown if immigration proceeded apace. Its recommendations went largely ignored due in no small part to cloudy emotive reasoning such as evidenced by Balfour himself who in a moment of Shangri-La-ism declared that; “Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the ancient land.”

Wilson’s fourteen points and the much vaunted Covenant of the League of Nations went out the window under the British Mandate – along with Arab calls for autonomy and representative government. This is most clearly shown by the powerlessness of the indigenous Arab population to prevent the immigration of some 400,000 Jewish settlers between 1920 and 1945 – an influx considerably hastened, it may be added, by the anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and Europe.

Nevertheless, the indigenous Arab population have always viewed this process as an enforced usurpation, an appraisal that David Ben Gurion himself acknowledged when he said in 1938 at the height of the Arab nationalist revolt; “in our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us .. but let us not ignore the truth among ourselves . politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves the country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside”.  He went on to characterise the revolt as an active resistance by the Palestinians to what they regard as an “usurpation of their homeland by the Jews ”

Israel declared independence on the 14th May 1948, the day the British Mandate expired. It is commemorated annually in the national holiday of Yom Ha’atzmaud. For Palestinians it is known simply as Yawm al-nakba, or Catastrophe Day. The subsequent wars, refugeeism and atrocities (committed by both sides) have cruelly vindicated the early reservations of the Crane Commission and as bad as they have been we can only hope that their worst impacts do not yet lay before us.

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