"Al-Nakba" is an Arabic word meaning "the catastrophe". Sixty-eight years ago, on 29 November, 1947, the UN Security Council rolled out Resolution 181 on Palestine. In the process, it put wheels on a runaway train that continues to mow down Arabs and Jews alike well into the 21st century and also midwifed the cancer of global jihad. By legitimising Israel's declaration of independence a year later, this resolution marked the first Nakba of November for Palestinian Arabs.
What complicates the Palestine problem is our skewed understanding of the primary actors and their motives. British politicians, for example, did not submit to the creation of a Jewish State in the Middle East out of the goodness of their hearts. It was desperate realpolitik that shaped the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild supporting the creation of Israel.
"What complicates the Palestine problem is our skewed understanding of the primary actors and their motives."
By 1917, the war against Germany was going badly for Great Britain and France. The Western Front was a stalemate and both armies were down on morale in trenches deep red with blood. To compound their woes, the Bolshevik revolution had gripped Russia and their eastern bulwark was clearly about to implode. Vladimir Lenin soon usurped Czar Nicholas II and the Kerensky Duma, and made Russia bow out of World War I before the year was out. This was heartening news for Germany, which no longer had to fight on two fronts.
In these dark days, Balfour and British Prime Minister Lloyd George hoped that Rothschild and his fellow Zionists could pull the US into World War I and turn the tables on Germany. In return, Great Britain would, as the letter states, "Favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." Two million American soldiers subsequently proved them right by steamrolling through Europe and forcing the German surrender in November 1918.
The second Nakba of November took place 73 years before 1947, with the birth of one Chaim Weizmann on its 27th day in a small village near Pinsk, Russia. This sounds unkind, I know, but such was Weizmann's pivotal role in the creation of Israel. His life was the perfect confluence of timing, motive and opportunity to wrest a Middle Eastern homeland for the Diaspora.
An early Zionist, Weizmann was also a world-famed chemist at a particularly dicey moment in British history. During World War I, Germany had cornered the production of acetone, a crucial ingredient in making weapons. The Triple Entente could have lost the war had Weizmann not figured out a way to make a synthetic version of the liquid.
This discovery brought him to the attention of George and Balfour and inserted him into the British war machine. He famously went to a cabinet meeting and proclaimed "Don't capitulate to Germany. You can win this war if the US comes in as your ally. We can arrange this. In return, you must promise us Palestine once the tide turns in your favour." Great Britain followed his lead.
The financiers of Zionism, the Rothschild family of banking and oil magnates, however, had little interest in Palestine before the 1880s. That changed in 1886, when Karl Benz patented a practical gasoline-powered engine and ushered in the era of automobiles. The Rothschilds owned a majority of Russian oil output through the fields in Baku and foresaw a lucrative market for their product.
The only question was how to ship the large volumes necessary to meet global demand? Cue the Suez Canal, which shortened oil shipping to the Far East by four thousand miles. Zionism's pan-Jewish ideals, the Rothschilds figured, were the best vehicle to make boatloads of money and they got behind Weizmann and Israel.
"[Weizmann's] life was the perfect confluence of timing, motive and opportunity to wrest a Middle Eastern homeland for the Diaspora."
Meanwhile, the Arab world was enraged at Great Britain's treachery. Not only was Sherif Hussein, the ruler of Hejaz who had helped T E Lawrence beat back the Ottoman Turks in the Middle East, swindled out of the Levant, but the Arabs could also not understand why they needed to pay for Adolf Hitler's sins.
The first Saudi King of Arabia, Abdul Aziz, inquired this of US President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945: "I don't understand why you're talking about taking land away from us, the Arabs, and giving it to the Jews. We didn't do anything to the Jews. If you want to do something for the Jews, why don't you give them the best part of Germany?"
You could say that the Arabs made life difficult for themselves by continuing to oppose the inevitable creation of Israel. Things could have turned out differently had they accepted the favourable 1937 Peel Commission partition plan while the Zionist bargaining position was still weak. After 1950 and the escalation of the Cold War, it was much too late. With the rise of Nasserite dictatorships that looked to the USSR for support, Israel became a crucial cog in the US's regional policy and there was no going back.