The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, in which it was an aggressor, naturally brought the victors to claim the territories they conquered in a defensive war. While the war brought a loss for Muslims, it was a gain both for what remained of the Arab tribes first conquered by the Turks in the sixteenth century, as well as for the proto-nations that accreted around the growing cosmopolitan Arab urban middle classes. The "Arab nation" of pan-Arabist fantasies presumed a Muslim Arab nation and had as a model of governance only the arbitrary rule of the Muslim Arab tribal despot aspiring to sovereignty over a tribal super-confederation, hence the dreams of vain Arab leaders at the time and for decades thereafter to be crowned "Leader of the Muslims" or "Leader of the Arabs", rather than settle for a more lowly President of a mere nation state.
Unfortunately for Muslims, the Jews returned to their homeland just as the Arabs emerged into a world organised into nation-states, geopolitics having, in the intervening four centuries of Ottoman occupation, eclipsed the tribal confederations the Turks had originally subjugated and ruled. It is important to appreciate that the defeat of the Ottoman Empire is not the same as the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, even had they occurred as the same event, which they did not. Similarly, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire is not the same as the dissolution of the Empire, even had these occurred simultaneously, which they did not. Taken together in their interrelationships, these events offer a useful analogy for understanding the complex creation of "the Palestinians," and the lasting effect that complexity would have on the Palestinian identity and psyche, long before their relationship to Israel arrises.
Defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Great War brought the British Empire, one of the victorious Allied Powers, to claim its share of the territories of the vanquished aggressors, the Central Powers. Cosmopolitan middle class buds had sprouted in the main Arab urban centres under Western influence all over the Ottoman empire since the early nineteenth century. Outside the cities, these harsh lands offered a meagre existence steeped in superstition and backwardness, essentially unchanged from the way the Turks had found them.
The insertion into such a milieu of an industrious people possessed of capital would have an electrifying effect, no pun intended. It was quite clear that a subject territory, such as was to become Mandatory Palestine, could be relatively rapidly guided to prosperous independent statehood. Its ports, urban centres and readily-available labour were in close proximity. Booming Mandatory Palestine was a magnet for Arabs from all over the former Ottoman Middle East. The territory had become a regional power house even before it became independent as Israel.
While Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Allied Powers in the Great War, the Ottoman Caliphate was not. The Turkish nation may have lost the war of this life, but the Muslim ummah had not yet lost the war of the next life. The Empire might have been dissolved and the Republic declared, but the Caliphate still breathed, if only barely. While there was still life in the Caliphate, jihad could still save it. Various wars of independence from Ottoman rule, particularly in the Balkans, alarmed Muslims elsewhere, who perceived a threat to the Caliphate that, ostensibly, held the ummah together. Indian Muslims formed the Khilafat Movement to rescue the Ottoman Caliphate, and agitated amongst the Turks to preserve the Caliphate. Here Muslims collided head-on with citizens, something they had no regard for. The Turks took offence to such flagrant disrespect for their national sovereignty and promptly abolished the Caliphate.
It is interesting that in these closely-related, but quite distinct events, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, Muslim apologists and "scholars" see only the tragic closing of a grand Muslim chapter in the ending of their beloved Caliphate, and show little, if any, interest in the promising opening for new nations in the ending of the moribund Empire. The "Arab nation" that so many talked about when the Ottoman Empire collapsed was not a nation in the modern sense, but a super-tribal confederation such as the Arab caliphates had been before the Ottomans, Muslim too, occupied them. Identification with their Muslim occupier, no matter how brutal or inept, is rooted in religious texts such as the following hadith:
I urge you to fear Allah, and to listen and obey, even if (your leader) is an Abyssinian slave. After I am gone, you will see great conflict. I urge you to adhere to my Sunnah and the path of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and cling stubbornly to it. And beware of newly-invented matters, for every innovation is a going astray. (Sunan Ibn Majah 42)
The modern nation-state was one such "newly-invented matter." Pan-Arabist yearnings were real, but had less to do with nation-building than with tribal hegemony, and the string of "United Arab Republics" fell apart as fast as they came into being. The pan-Arabist dream offered the KGB the device with which to bring "moral" pressure against US protégé Israel to counter the latter's moral credentials as a tiny nation surrounded by hostile enemies.
The Soviet Union had been planting or sponsoring national liberation movements in Third World countries around the globe. Up till then, the overwhelmingly large Arab nation, including the fedayeen, was increasingly seen as out to kill Jews in tiny Israel. Through the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the KGB could cast the Arabs within Israel’s dominions as the tiny “Palestinian nation” oppressed and killed by the brutal Israel. The newly-minted "Palestinians," however, with no choice but to acquiesce in the scheme, were conflicted, and felt compelled to rationalise their less-than-dignified new status. PLO Executive Committee member Zahir Muhsein juggled his identity as follows:
The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.
Being Palestinian was a contrivance that did not sit easy with the Palestinians, who saw in it the potential for a severance from the larger "Arab nation", which means they were at best ambivalent. The creation of the Palestinian nation threatened to relieve the Muslims in general of their religious obligation to recover “Muslim lands” from where they had been “driven out,” thereby reducing the Arabs to merely calling for a “Palestinian state,” a distinctly less lofty objective. They could only countenance the lesser status of a “Palestinian nation” if the other Arab “nations” held fast to pan-Arabism and lent their unflinching support to their brother Arabs to defeat Zionism in Palestine, no matter how long that took, because “the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”
The assumption here is that the rest of the Arab nation will by then have gone some way towards creating the single Arab nation. Whether the Palestinians remembered or had conveniently forgotten, the Arab armies that tried to destroy Israel in 1948 did not do so for grandiose pan-Arab reasons. It was a scramble for spoils left behind by the departing British. Syria, Egypt and Jordan each wanted to annex the territory of Mandatory Palestine to itself, hence their armies driving the local Arabs from their homes and lands. Me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against the stranger.
The Palestinians had ample reason to be nervous. It is against this backdrop that we need to understand the Palestinians' initial refusal to acknowledge that they were henceforth Palestinians. Yesterday they were part of the mighty Arab nation fighting to drive the Jews from a part of that Arab nation’s vast land; today they are Palestinians, an Arab people without land. Yasser Arafat, part of the KGB package, famously retorted:
The question of borders doesn’t interest us…. From the Arab standpoint, we mustn’t talk about borders. Palestine is nothing but a drop in an enormous ocean. Our nation is the Arabic nation that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and beyond it…. The P.L.O. is fighting Israel in the name of Pan-Arabism. What you call ‘Jordan’ is nothing more than Palestine.
To the Palestinians, if nationhood had questionable viability as a means, it had none as an end. Whereas membership of the Arab nation is never in question for Muslim Arabs in general, for Palestinian Muslim Arabs — remember this formulation — this is now in question, given that their nation is, by definition, inextricably identified with the “occupied” territory known as the State of Israel. To take on the identity of Palestinian, they take upon their shoulders that sacred burden of all the Muslims and the historic burden of all the Arabs; all the responsibility without any power at all.
The only way Palestinians could compensate for the deficiency in their new identity, was to demonstrate to their Arab brethren just how seriously they take their duty of jihad against Israel. The Arabs in general were not only going to have to recognise the centrality of the Palestinians to their legitimacy as Muslims, but make them their top political and diplomatic priority to secure their credibility as Arabs in the eyes of the Palestinians and, they convinced themselves, in the eyes of all Muslims. To bring such commitment about, and to hasten the day when they could properly rejoin the Arab nation, the Palestinians would set off a campaign of terror such as the world has never seen.
But the writing had been on the wall for the Palestinians since the Arab armies expelled as many of them as they could from the newly re-established Jewish state. So much for “In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.” In reality, the Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and all other Arabs immediately set about creating exactly such a difference, not only because, when it came down to it, there was no such thing as “the Arab nation,” but because they wanted there to be no such thing as an Arab Palestinian. In the Arab countries where they landed as refugees, their hosts proceeded to herd them into squalid camps and confine them to squalid lives through a battery of discriminatory measures such as apartheid South Africa would have been proud of. This was not only a policy designed to keep pressure on Israel, it was also an expression of the maxim Me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against the stranger, and the Palestinians were very much strangers kept strangers.
From Islam, the Palestinians inherited the DNA to kill and be killed. The KGB, by creating the Palestinians, provided the catalyst to supercharge both killing and being killed. For Israel to be proved the monstrous killer of Palestinians, Palestinians have to get themselves killed by Israelis. The following exchange transpired between the IDF and a Gaza resident of a building that the IDF was about to bomb during the 2021 war the Palestinians launched against Israel:
Gaza resident: I can’t get all the people out. I need at least two hours to get them out.
IDF caller: Listen. We are going to bomb the building!
Gaza resident: You want to bomb? Bomb whatever you want.
IDF caller: No brother, we need to do everything we can so you won’t die.
Gaza resident: We want to die.
IDF caller: But you have a responsibility for children’s lives.
Gaza resident: If the children need to die, then they’ll die.
IDF caller: God forbid! God forbid! What do you want to die for?!
Gaza resident: This is how we reveal your cruelty.
And to reveal the cruelty of the Israelis, the Palestinians hijacked and blew up passenger jets, massacred (including children), took and killed Israelis hostages, launched intifadas, went on random killing sprees, attempted to assassinate their Arab hosts, committed insurrection in their Arab host countries, and perpetrated a string of the grossest cruelties, including, to this day, conceiving children for the express purpose of having them blow themselves up in Jerusalem to kill Jews.
The Palestinian Authority has sworn that even if they were to go bankrupt, paying Palestinian mothers to give their sons to die killing Jews is not negotiable. While the PA pays Palestinians to slay, Hamas pays them to be slain: Both policies answer to Qur’an 9:111, “They fight in His cause, and slay and are slain.”
In April 2018, as protests raged at the Gaza border, the terror group offered five hundred dollars to Palestinians for getting shot and wounded at the border, and three thousand dollars to the families of those who got themselves killed during the protests.
On this grotesque barbaric principle, the Palestinians stand or fall. The Hamas summer camps make sure that the dream of “crushing Zionism” gets passed on to the next generation. The PA does the same through its school textbooks. It must be stressed that incredible cruelty is not particular to the Palestinians, but is inherent to their religion. Being Palestinian just takes such cruelty to a whole new level, and places it before the eyes of the world. Lest the Palestinians be accused of innovation, let it be noted that breeding bombs is not a deviation from Islam. Their brethren in ISIS, scrupulous about following the Qur'an to the letter, did the same.
Nothing will deflect the Palestinians from their nihilism, because as a nation, they do not want to exist, and as Muslims, this life is worthless. They do not fight to attain a nation-state, but to not attain one. If they were to actually get a Palestinian state, how would they retain Arab support for crushing Zionism? That problem might just have been solved, but not in a way the Palestinians are happy with.
- The Ottoman Empire was defeated on 30 October 1918 and dissolved on 1 November 1922. The Republic of Turkey was declared on 29 October 1923. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished on 3 March 1924.
- Quoted in Robert Spencer, The Palestinian Delusion: The catastrophic history of the middle east peace process, Bombardier Books, New York, 2019. Kindle edition.
- Quoted in above source.
- Yoseph Haddad, Twitter, 19 May 2021 https://twitter.com/YosephHaddad/status/1394900465498869762
- Spencer, above. "This earthly life is too short and worthless," Rafik Berjak.