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The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflictby Jonathan Schneer
Synopses & Reviews
Part I, Sirocco
Palestine Before World War I
the land called palestine gave no indication, early in the twentieth century, that it would become the world's cockpit. Rather, if anything, the reverse. A century ago it was merely a strip of territory running along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The remote, sleepy, backward, sparsely populated southwestern bit of Syria was still home to foxes, jackals, hyenas, wildcats, wolves, even cheetahs and leopards in its most unsettled parts. Loosely governed from Jerusalem in the south and from Beirut in the north by agents of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine's borders were vague. To the east it merged with the Jordanian plateau, to the south with the Arabian deserts, and to the north with the gray mountain masses of Lebanon. And it was small: Fewer than two hundred miles long and fifty miles wide, it was not much bigger than present-day Massachusetts (to put it in an American context) and about the size of Wales (to put it in the British).
The strip of land, resting mainly upon limestone, was devoid of coal, iron, copper, silver, or gold deposits and lacked oil, but it was happily porous (calcareous, the geologists said), meaning that it was capable of absorbing moisture whenever the heavens should open, which they might do, especially when the wind came from the north. When it came from the east, however, as it frequently did in May and October, the wind was a malign enervating force. It was a furnace-blast sirocco in hot weather and a numbing chill in cold. The two mountain ranges that ran in rough parallel the length of the country from north to south could not block it. The western range, which includes the Mount of the Amorites of the Book of Deuteronomy, runs between the Jordan Valley (to its east) and the maritime plain (to its west). The eastern edge of this range is an escarpment that drops (precipitously in places) to the fabled Jordan River below. The second or eastern range of hills, which include the mountains of Moab, Judea, and Galilee, is a continuation of a chain that begins in Lebanon and reaches southward into Jordan. To its west lies the river valley; to its east is a desert plateau. In the north of the country the mountains are quite tall: Mount Hermon rises more than 9,200 feet above sea level. (People ski there in winter now.) To the south the mountains are typically half as high, and the surrounding landscape is bleak, empty, and inhospitable.
For such a tiny land, Palestine contains extraordinary topographical contrasts. The Jordan River runs southward along a descending valley floor, passing some seventy miles from the clear waters of the Sea of Galilee, where the surrounding hills and fields are relatively green, welcoming, and fruitful. It empties into the brackish bitter Dead Sea, thirteen hundred feet below sea level, where the landscape is barren, freezing during winter, broiling in summer. In the Dead Sea area the Jordan Valley has never been cultivated, although at the turn of the twentieth century the wandering Bedouins might camp there. Even they, however, would move on during the hottest months, when temperatures scale 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and the land opens in cracks and fissures.
Elsewhere in Palestine, however, life flourished. It drinketh of the rain of heaven, Moses is supposed to have said of his
Chronicles the history of the 1917 document that set in motion the establishment of the Israeli state, reshaped the Middle East and influenced present-day tensions, in a provocative account that reveals the behind-the-scenes politics that went into its creation.
Issued in London in 1917, the Balfour Declaration was one of the key documents of the twentieth century. It committed Britain to supporting the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for theJewish people, and its reverberations continue to be felt to this day. Now the entire fascinating story of the document is revealed in this impressive work of modern history.
With new materialretrieved from historical archives, scholar Jonathan Schneer recounts in dramatic detail the public and private battles in the early 1900s for a small strip of land in the Middle East, battles that started when thegoverning Ottoman Empire took Germany's side in World War I. The Balfour Declaration paints an indelible picture of how Arab nationalists, backed by Britain, fought for their future as Zionists in England battleddiplomatically for influence. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to either side or even to most members of the British government, Prime Minister David Lloyd George was telling Turkey that she could keep her flag flying over thedisputed territory if only she would agree to a separate peace.
The key players in this watershed moment are rendered here in nuanced and detailed relief: Sharif Hussein, the Arab leader who secretlysought British support; Chaim Weizmann, Zionist hero, the folksmensch who charmed British high society; T. E. Lawrence, the legendary super cerebral British officer who set the desert onfire for the Arabs; Basil Zaharoff, the infamous arms dealer who was Britain's most important back channel to the Turks; and the other generals and prime ministers, soldiers and negotiators, who shedblood and cut deals to grab or give away the precious land.
A book crucial to understanding the Middle East as it is today, The Balfour Declaration is a rich and remarkable achievement, a riveting volumeabout the ancient faiths and timeless treacheries that continue to drive global events.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jonathan Schneer, a specialist in modern British history, is a professor at Georgia Tech's School of History, Technology, and Society. He is the author of five additional books, as well as numerous articles and reviews. A fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1985-86, he has also held research fellowships at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK, as well as at the Erich Remarque Center of New York University. He was a founding editor of Radical History Review and is a member of the editorial board of 20th Century British History and the London Journal.
Table of Contents
Palestine before World War I — Ottomanism, Arabism, and Sharif Hussein — First steps toward the Arab revolt — The next steps — The Hussein-McMahon correspondence — The Sykes-Picot agreement — The Arab revolt begins — Prewar British Jews — Weizmann's first steps — The assimilationists — The road forks — Forging the British-Zionist connection — Defining the British-Arab connection — Managing the British-Zionist connection — Sokolow in France and Italy — Revelation of the Sykes-Picot agreement — British Muslims, the Anglo-Ottoman society, and the disillusioning of Marmaduke Pickthall — The curious venture of J.R. Pilling — Henry Morgenthau and the deceiving of Chaim Weizmann — "The man who was Greenmantle" — The Zaharoff gambit — The ascendency of Chaim Weizmann — Lawrence and the Arabs on the verge — The declaration at last — The declaration endangered — A drawing together of threads.
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History and Social Science » Europe » Great Britain » General History