Ottoman Syria (1516–1918)
In 1516, the Ottoman Empire conquered Western Asia. The Ottomans reorganized Syria into one large province or eyalet. The eyalet was subdivided into several districts or sanjaks. In 1549, Syria was reorganized into two eyalets; the Eyalet of Damascus and the new Eyalet of Aleppo. The majority of historical Palestine became part of the Eyalet of Damascus until 1660, and later became part of the Eyalet of Sidon.
Ottoman administration was such that it fostered a peaceful coexistence amongst the different sections of Syrian society for over four hundred years. Each religious minority — Shia Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian, and Jewish — constituted a millet. The religious heads of each community administered all personal status law and performed certain civil functions as well.
Future French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, briefly waged war against the Ottoman Empire (allied then with Great Britain), and held territory in Palestine during the March—July 1799 French occupation of Jaffa, Haifa, and Caesarea. In 1831, Muhammad Ali of Egypt conquered Ottoman Syria and decided to revive and resettle much of its regions. His conscription policies led to a popular peasant revolt in 1834.
As part of the Tanzimat reforms, an Ottoman law passed in 1864 provided for a standard provincial administration throughout the empire. The eyalets becoming smaller vilayets, governed by a vali (governor). A vali was appointed by the Sultan but with new provincial assemblies participating in administration. The Ottoman Syria then reorganized into two vilayets (Aleppo, Syria) and two sanjaks (Jerusalem and Zor). In 1872, Jerusalem and the surrounding towns separated from Syria Vilayet to become the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem.
During World War I, the decline of Ottoman Empire paved a way for the Arab nationalist movement to arise. However, the idea of Arab nationalism had virtually no impact on the majority of Arabs as they considered themselves loyal subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Britain had been a major sponsor of Arab nationalist thought and ideology, primarily as a weapon to use against the power of the Ottoman Empire. In June 1916, Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the guardian of the holy city of Mecca, entered into an alliance with the United Kingdom and France against the Ottomans. The Arab Revolt against the Ottomans was finally launched on June 10, 1916.
Mandatory Palestine (1917–1948)
The United Kingdom agreed in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence that it would support Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottomans. The two sides, however, had different interpretations of this agreement. Under the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, the British and the French divided each others' spheres of influences at the Middle East into several League of Nations mandates, which became the real cornerstone of the geopolitics structuring the entire region. The agreement gave Britain control over Southern Syria and Mesopotamia.
The British-led Egyptian Expeditionary Force, commanded by Edmund Allenby, captured Jerusalem on December 9, 1917 and occupied the whole of the Levant following the defeat of Ottoman forces in Palestine at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 and the capitulation of Ottoman Empire on October 31. The British Mandate for Palestine (Arabic: الانتداب البريطاني على فلسطين al-Intidāb al-Brīṭānī ‘alá Filasṭīn) was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922 and came into effect in 1923. The boundaries of Palestine initially included modern Jordan, which was removed from the territory a few years later. Britain signed a treaty with the United States (which did not join the League of Nations) in which the United States endorsed the terms of the Mandate.An agreement between Emir Faisal, the son of Sharif Husein of Mecca, and Chaim Weizmann, representative of Zionist Organization, for Arab–Jewish cooperation made the Palestinian Arab population to gradually distance themselves from the Arab nationalist movement led by Faisal. The Third Palestine Arab Congress on December 4, 1920 in Haifa called for representative government in Palestine with a parliament elected by a one-citizen-one-vote system and dropped the previous desire to unite with Syria that already under French control.
The 1922 Palestine Order in Council established a Legislative Council, which was to consist of 23 members; 12 elected, 10 appointed and the High Commissioner. Of the 12 elected members, eight were to be Muslim Arabs, two Christian Arabs and two Jews. Arabs, however, protested against the distribution of the seats. They arguing that as they constituted 88% of the population, having only 43% of the seats was unfair. Elections were held in February and March 1923, but due to an Arab boycott, the results were annulled and a 12-member Advisory Council was established.
In 1921, the Supreme Muslim Council was established and given various duties, such as the administration of religious endowments ("waqf") and the appointment of religious judges and local muftis. The members of the Council were elected by an electoral college. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, was elected in 1922 as the first President of the Supreme Muslim Council. Between 1921 and 1936, the Supreme Muslim Council became de facto central authority for the Palestine Arab population, especially the Muslim ones.The death of Palestinian Arab nationalist leader, Shaykh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, and an increasing Jewish immigration contributed to the large-scale 1936–1939 Arab uprising in Palestine, a largely nationalist revolt directed at ending British rule. Attacks were mainly directed at British strategic installations such as the Trans Arabian Pipeline (TAP) and railways, and to a lesser extent against Jewish settlements, secluded Jewish neighborhoods in the mixed cities, and Jews, both individually and in groups.
The Arab Higher Committee was established on April 25, 1936, after the start of the 1936-39 Arab revolt, replacing the Supreme Muslim Council as the representative of Palestine Arab population. The Arab Higher Committee brought together Arab factions in Palestine, including representatives of the rival Nashashibi and al-Husayni clans. On May 15, 1936, the Committee endorsed the general strike, calling for an end to Jewish immigration and nonpayment of taxes. Raghib al-Nashashibi, of the Nashashibi clan and member of the National Defence Party soon withdrew from the Committee.In 1937, the Peel Commission proposed a partition between a small Jewish state, whose Arab population would have to be transferred, and an Arab state to be attached to Jordan. The proposal was rejected by the Arabs and its leaders, both in the Husseini-controlled Arab Higher Committee and in the Nashashibi's National Defense Party, but accepted by the Jewish leaders as a basis for negotiations between the Zionist Organization and the British government. The revolt resumed during the autumn of 1937. Violence continued throughout 1938 and eventually petered out in 1939. By the time the revolt concluded in March 1939, more than 5,000 Arabs, 400 Jews, and 200 British had been killed and at least 15,000 Arabs were wounded.
World War II (1939–1945)
On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on the United Kingdom and sided with Germany. Within a month, the Italians attacked Palestine from the air, bombing Tel Aviv and Haifa, inflicting multiple casualties. In May 1941, the Palmach was established to defend the Yishuv when the forces of German General Erwin Rommel advanced east in North Africa towards the Suez Canal and there was fear that they would conquer Palestine. As in most of the Arab world, there was no unanimity amongst the Palestinian Arabs as to their position regarding the combatants in World War II. Some signed up for the British army - into the mixed Palestine Regiment unit, but others saw an Axis victory as their best hope of gaining Arab control of Palestine.
In terms of Arab-Jewish relations in Mandatory Palestine, these were relatively quiet times. Instead, the war years were very profitable for the Palestinian economy. The country developed economically during the war, with increased industrial and agricultural outputs and the period was considered an economic boom. In 1943, Ahmed Hilmi Abd al-Baqi and several moderate Palestine Arab leaders set up the Arab National Fund in Haifa as the alternative to the Jewish National Fund which its purposes were to buy land from farmers who were heavily in debt, to encourage the establishment of Awqaf whose proceeds would be allocated to the Fund, and to prohibit Jews from acquiring land anywhere in Palestine.
End of the British Mandate (1945–1948)
The British Empire was severely weakened at the end of war. In the Middle East, the war had made Britain conscious of its dependence on Arab oil and were concerned about maintaining Arab support. Even after the Labour Party won the general election in Britain in 1945, the British Government decided to maintain the 1939 White Paper policies that reduced the number of immigrants allowed into Palestine, restricted Jewish land purchases, and recommended that an independent Palestine, governed jointly by Arabs and Jews, be established within 10 years.
In June 1946, following instances of Jewish sabotage, the British launched Operation Agatha, arresting 2700 Jews, including the leadership of the Jewish Agency, whose headquarters were raided. In July 1946, the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the British administration, killing 92 people. The situation in Palestine caused the Mandate to become widely unpopular in Britain. By 1947 the Labour-led British Government was ready to refer the Palestine problem to the newly created United Nations. As the situation in Palestine deteriorated, the Arab League reconstituted the Arab Higher Committee comprising twelve members as the supreme executive body of Palestinian Arabs in the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Mandate government recognised the new Committee two months later.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state (with Jerusalem becoming an international enclave). The General Assembly's vote caused joy in the Jewish community and discontent among the Arab community. The Arab Higher Committee immediately rejected the Partition Plan for Palestine, and declared a three-day strike and public protest to begin on December 2, 1947, in protest at the vote. The call led to the 1947 Jerusalem riots between December 2–5, 1947, resulting in many deaths and much property damage. Large-scale fighting soon broke out between the sides.
From January 1948, the fightings became increasingly militarized, with Arab volunteers of the Arab Liberation Army entered Palestine to fight with the Palestinians. They consolidated their presence in Galilee and Samaria. Meanwhile, a veteran of 1936–39 Arab uprising and 1941 Mesopotamian Revolution, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, arrived in the Jerusalem sector from Egypt with several hundred men of the Army of the Holy War in December 1947. He was joined by a hundred or so young villagers and Arab veterans of the British Army. His army soon had several thousand men, and it moved its training quarters to Bir Zeit, a town near Ramallah.
State of Palestine (1948–present)
1948 Arab–Israeli War (1948–1949)
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel in Tel Aviv, a few hours before the termination of the Mandate at midnight. Over the next few days, the troops of Iraq, Egypt, Transjordan and Syria, including a thousand of volunteers that joined the Arab Liberation Army, crossed over the borders and invaded the former territory of British Mandate for Palestine, thus marking the beginning of 1948 War on Palestine.
On June 11, 1948, a month-long UN truce was put into effect. Neither side respected the truce. Both sides used this time to improve their positions, a direct violation of the terms of the ceasefire. The fighting then continued on July 8, 1948 for ten days until the UN Security Council issued the second truce on July 18. On September 16, UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, proposed a new partition for Palestine in which Jordan would annex Lydda and Ramla, the Negev would be divided between Jordan and Egypt and there would be a Jewish state in the whole of Galilee. The plan was also rejected by both sides and on September 17, Bernadotte was assassinated in Jerusalem by the militant Zionist group Lehi.On September 20, 1948, the All-Palestine Government was formed by the Arab League in Gaza with Ahmed Hilmi Abd al-Baqi as its Prime Minister. On October 1, 1948, the government declared the independence over the whole of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital. The fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians then resumed on October 15, 1948. On October 24, the Israeli forces captured the entire upper Galilee, driving the Arab Liberation Army and Lebanese Army back to Lebanon, and successfully ambushing and destroying an entire Syrian battalion.
The third truce was issued on November 7, 1948. Both sides used this opportunity to consolidate their territorial gains. By November 1948, the Israeli forces effectively controlled Galilee and northern Negev, while the Palestinian and Arab forces controlled Gaza, Jerusalem and most of West Bank.