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Anticolonialism in Middle East


The final and highly anomalous case of anticolonialism in the Middle East is Palestine, unique among its neighbors in that it was a settler state. The text of the Palestine mandate included the terms of the Balfour Declaration (1917), in which Britain as mandatory power undertook to facilitate the setting up of a "national home for the Jewish people." In 1922, there were 93,000 Jews in Palestine and about 700,000 Arabs; in 1936, there were 380,000 Jews and 983,000 Arabs; and in 1946, about 600,000 Jews and 1.3 million Arabs; thus the Jewish population increased from 13 percent to 31 percent over a period of twenty-four years. Anticolonialism took different forms, principally through opposition by both Arabs and Zionists to British policy, which they tried to combat in different ways, and Arab opposition to Zionism. The Palestine rebellion of 1936 to 1939 was mostly a peasant insurrection against colonial rule and the settlers; in 1947 to 1948, the Zionists fought and won against an assortment of Arab armies and the poorly organized Palestinian resistance forces; the colonial power had long indicated that it would withdraw.

Opposition to colonial rule and colonial settlement was fairly widespread throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and took a variety of different forms, rural and urban, organized and spontaneous, religious and political, showing greater or lesser degrees of coherence. In any colonial situation, a wide spectrum of responses existed, with resistance at one end, acquiescence in the middle, and collaboration at the other end. Some members of the colonized population rebelled and some collaborated, but the majority acquiesced, at least for most of the time. In the nationalist historiography of the colonial period, the struggle for colonial freedom or national independence is often characterized in a way that shows the brave freedom fighters ranged against the brutal colonial authorities. The "achievements" of colonialism have long been open to question, and the divisions and chaos of the postcolonial world make the value of the legacy more questionable as time passes. Nevertheless, it is also important to understand the complexity and multifaceted nature of anticolonialism: the intrigues; the competing and often warring factions; the venality and corruption of many of them. For national maturity, and increasingly for national reconciliation, it will be necessary that such uncomfortable truths are boldly confronted rather than wilfully ignored.


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Peter Sluglett

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ambiguity - Ambiguity to Anticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate SystemAnticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate System, Islam And Anticolonialism, The Economic Impact Of Colonialism, Resistance To Colonialism