A mini-lecture and a book

As a recently retired history professor, I cannot help a little lecturing when there is confusion. My heart is breaking for those suffering in the eastern Mediterranean, so as an author and historian I’m naturally going to recommend a book as my contribution to the peace process. 

The conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis is not thousands of years old, despite the epic storytelling. Rather it goes back to the end of the Ottoman Empire, which was huge.

The entire area in conflict today was part of the Ottoman Empire which oppressed everyone equally. Jewish, Christian, and Orthodox enclaves could conduct their own affairs and patrol their own communities, so long as they paid their taxes and followed Ottoman law. It was kind of like the Pax Romana – a big empire forbidding autonomy but allowing significant freedoms. Any breaking of the peace was punished.

The Ottoman Empire sealed their doom when they chose to support Germany in World War I, and the victorious European powers divided it up. Although Prince Faisal of Arabia had united the Arab tribes under his control and was prepared to rule a pan-Arab state (surely you’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia?), the victors would not allow this sort of power to emerge. Instead they divided the area into mandates, which were like semi-autonomous colonies. Palestine was one of these, controlled by Great Britain.

World War II put an end to mandates, as people under colonial rule helped their oppressors then rebelled against their rule. Violence in Palestine had been on the increase, and although Britain had promised a Jewish state, it became impossible. By 1947, the brand spanking new United Nations did some partitioning to prevent war. Palestine was under Palestinian Arab control, Israel under Israeli Jewish control. 

Israel agreed to the partition and announced their new state. The Palestinians didn’t, and attacked Israel. You can read about all the wars since then, but they resulted from creating nationalisms (Palestinian, Israeli) where there hadn’t been any, which in my experience always causes trouble. Today’s horror is the latest version.

So what’s the book? The Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin, is a 1989 book by a Pulitzer Prize author, so it’s readable. It focuses on that time after World War I, when the modern Middle East was created, and how it happened. Highly recommended!

1 comment to A mini-lecture and a book

  • […] It’s not Victorian, nor H. G. Wells, nor about writing fiction, but if you’re interested in the historical roots of today’s Middle Eastern conflict, check out my history blog post. […]