Sunday, August 13, 2006

cause summers here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy

It occurs to me that many people lack historical perspective on just what a contrived mess is the Middle East. Here's a little background on a few of the major players today:


Lebanon was the homeland of the Phoenicians, a seagoing people that spread across the Mediterranean before the rise of Alexander the Great. Carthage, which threatened Rome, was a Phoenician colony. Alexander burned Tyre, the leading Phoenician city, ending the Phoenician independence. The country became part of numerous succeeding empires, among them Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, and Ottoman.

Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years, but following World War I, the area became a part of the Syrian Mandate of France. On September 1, 1920, France formed the State of Greater Lebannon as one of several ethnic enclaves within Syria. Lebanon was a largely Christian (mainly Maronite) enclave but also included areas containing many Muslims and Druzes. On September 1, 1926, France formed the Lebanese Republic. The Republic was afterward a separate entity from Syria but still administered under the French Mandate for Syria.

Lebanon and Syria both gained independence in 1943, while France was occupied by Germany. General Henri Dentz, the Vichy High Commissioner for Syria and Lebanon, played a major role in the independence of both nations. The Vichy authorities in 1941 allowed Germany to move aircraft and supplies through Syria to Iraq where they were used against British forces. The United Kingdom, fearing that Nazi Germany would gain full control of Lebanon and Syria by pressure on the weak Vichy government, sent its army into Syria and Lebannon.

After the fighting ended in Lebannon, General Charles de Gaulle visited the area. Under various political pressures from both inside and outside Lebannon, de Gaulle decided to recognize the independence of Lebannon. On November 26, 1941, General Georges Catroux announced that Lebanon would become independent under the authority of the Free French government. Elections were held in 1943 and on November 8, 1943 the new Lebanese government unlaterally abolished the mandate. The French reacted by throwing the new government into prison. In the face of international pressure, the French released the government officials on November 22, 1943 and accepted the independence of Lebanon.

The allies kept the region under control until the end of World War Two. The last French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon's unwritten National Pact of 1943 required that its president be a Christian and its prime minister be a Muslim. Lebanon's history since independence has been marked by alternating periods of political stability and turmoil (including a civil conflict in 1958) interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade.

There's more.


The first wave of modern immigration to Israel, or Aliyah (עלייה) started in 1881 as Jews fled persecution, or followed the Socialist Zionist ideas of Moses Hess and others of "redemption of the soil." Jews bought land from Ottoman and individual Arab landholders. After Jews established agricultural settlements, tensions erupted between the Jews and Arabs.

Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), an Austrian Jew, founded the Zionist movement. In 1896, he published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), in which he called for the establishment of a national Jewish state. The following year he helped convene the first World Zionist Congress.

The establishment of Zionism led to the Second Aliyah (1904–1914) with the influx of around 40,000 Jews. In 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration that "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." In 1920, Palestine became a League of Nations mandate administered by Britain.

Jewish immigration resumed in third (1919–1923) and fourth (1924–1929) waves after World War I. A massacre of Jews by Arabs in 1929 killed 133 Jews, including 67 in Hebron.

The rise of Nazism in 1933 led to a fifth wave of Aliyah. The Jews in the region increased from 11% of the population in 1922 to 30% by 1940[citation needed]. 28% of the land was already bought and owned by Zionist organizations plus additional private land owned by Jews. The southern half of the country is the barren and mostly empty Negev desert. The subsequent Holocaust in Europe led to additional immigration from other parts of Europe. By the end of World War II, the number of Jews in Palestine was approximately 600,000.

. . .

In 1947, following increasing levels of violence together with unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. The UN General Assembly approved the 1947 UN Partition Plan dividing the territory into two states, with the Jewish area consisting of roughly 55% of the land, and the Arab area roughly 45%. Jerusalem was planned to be an international region administered by the UN to avoid conflict over its status.

Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947, David Ben-Gurion tentatively accepted the partition, while the Arab League rejected it. Scattered attacks on civilians of both sides soon turned into widespread fighting between Arabs and Jews, this civil war being the first "phase" of the 1948 War of Independence.

The State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiry of the Palestine Mandate.

Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949.


Ottoman control ended when the forces of the Arab revolt entered Damascus in 1918 towards the end of the First World War. An independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under King Faisal of the Hashemite family, who later became King of Iraq. However, his rule over Syria ended in July 1920 when French forces entered Syria to impose their League of Nations mandate. Following the Battle of Maysalun of 23 July between the Syrian army under Yusuf al-Azmeh and the French, the French army entered Damascus and Faisal was exiled. The period of the Mandate was marked by increasing nationalist sentiment and a number of brutally repressed revolts, but also by infrastructural modernisation and economic development.

With the fall of France in 1940, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government until the United Kingdom and Free French occupied the country in July 1941. Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.

Syria first negotiated a treaty of independence with France in September of 1936. Mohammad Al-abid was the first president to be elected under a post-French minded constitution, effectively the first incarnation of the modern republic of Syria. However, France reneged on the treaty and refused to ratify it, and continued its presence in Syria until 1946. Shukri al-Quwatli [1] was elected President when Syria was granted independence from Vichy France jointly with Lebanon in 1943. Although rapid economic development followed the second declaration of independence of April 17, 1946, Syrian politics from independence through the late 1960s were marked by upheaval.

The Syrian army played a limited role in the war.[2] Historians believe that the Arab armies planned and intended “to destroy the infant Jewish State, through occupation of its entire area by force” and allowing thousands of displaced Palestinian refugees a safe return to their homes.

Prominent Arab leaders at the time however had far less goals. From British and American documents of the time, it is clear that King Abdullah I of Jordan and King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia had already made it clear to the British government that sending symbolic ineffective troops is the least of evils to quiet their enraged masses while not disturbing the imperial plans for the region. One notable exception would be King Farouk of Egypt. While working under pressure from public reactions, he too had an internal agenda to appeal more to his people. The young governments of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq had genuine interest in restoring Arab rights but largely lacked the means to do so.

The small number of troops that Syria deployed at the Palestinian border speaks for its limited goals. In May 1948, just before Syria sent its troops into Palestine, British intelligence estimated that Syria had no more than 4,500 men available to fight in Israel. Glubb Pasha estimated the number of Syrian troops available for duty in Palestine did not exceed 3,000; the CIA in late June counted a “total of 2,500 effective men” stationed near the Syrian border, 1000 deployed in Palestine and 1,500 near it on the Syrian side. Quwatli pursued a cautious policy in Palestine.

I could go on, but it should be obvious that there is a thread of commonality here. Put simply, this is one of the oldest continually settled regions on the Earth, yet it has been contested, fought over, imperialized, colonized, and it's soul has been psychedelicized. Um, sorry.

But seriously, we have British & French dominion, with a health dose of US interference. We have the aforementioned Syrian, Palestinian, and League of Nations Mandate. In other words, the entire Western world has been screwing with this portion of the globe for generations.

Don't believe me? Check out Saudi Arabia, see exactly how long that peninsula has been an actual country. Same for Iraq. Seems to me to be a little naive and perhaps crazy to keep poking the beehive, and still be surprised that the little guys keep stinging anyone in their way.

Anybody ever see The Burning Bed?


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