Report from the (Now Quiet) Fronts #55: A Legacy of Colonialism

The political impact of the Great War on Africa and South Asia was minimal; it essentially consisted of German colonies being appropriated by other European powers. The devastation in Europe did nothing to undermine the appetite for other peoples’ land. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, there was a tremendous loss of life. The military casualties were trivial, in total amounting to less than those suffered in a single day of any major offensive on the Western Front, but native civilian deaths were overwhelming.

Africa 1914
Africa 1920

Relatively few Blacks served in a military capacity, primarily with the Germans, but all the belligerents required bearers, tens of thousands of them. By 1917 a million porters had been conscripted, mostly in East Africa, and perhaps 100,000 had died, typically of disease. The mass conscription meant a shortage of farm labor and thus a shortage of food, aggravated by the confiscation of food and cattle by the military forces. This and poor rains in 1917 resulted in a famine that killed another 300,000 civilians, and then in September 1918 the Spanish flu arrived and accounted for 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 deaths.

The only non-European area (apart from Asiatic Russia) to undergo serious and lasting change because of the Great War was the Middle East. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire created a new pattern of states, few of them actually independent, but ironically Turkey itself benefited, becoming a compact Anatolian state with no need to administer and guard the relatively unproductive territories to the south. Initially, however, even Anatolia was to be partitioned. The Greeks, promised land in Anatolia and Thrace, decided to push their claim immediately and sent 20,000 troops to Smyrna (Izmir) in May 1919; violence resulted and the Greco-Turkish War (or Turkish War of Independence) was underway.

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Greek troops enter Izmir

The Turkish National Movement, led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) of Gallipoli fame, was adamantly opposed to any partition of Anatolia and was already mobilizing forces, guessing the Allies and their meagre garrisons would not resist. Armed by the Bolsheviks, who wanted part of Armenia (at the moment an independent state), Kemal first dealt with the Armenians in the east and the French in the southeast. The Greeks, meanwhile, had occupied most of Western Anatolia during the summer of 1920, and in August of that year the Allies ratified their promises of partition with the Treaty of Sèvres.

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Mustafa Kemal

Greco-Turkish War

 

 

Meanwhile, in November 1920 the Venizelist government in Greece was replaced, through elections, by the Royalists (remember the National Schism?), who opposed the war, and on 19 December King Constantine I, deposed in 1917, returned to the throne. Nevertheless, the Greek advance towards Ankara, the seat of Kemalist power, continued into 1921, and by August they had come to the Sakarya River, about 50 miles from Ankara. The Turkish army, entrenched along the river, was still outnumbered but was now a better equipped and trained force, and the Greeks failed to break through, a strategic victory for the Turks. The Greeks began withdrawing westward.

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King Constantine I

A stalemate set in, and in March 1922 the Allies, who were now losing interest in supporting the partitions and discussing the abandonment of the Treaty of Sèvres, called for an armistice, which was rejected by Kemal. In August he launched his offensive and despite being outnumbered two to one he cleared the Greek army from Anatolia by 18 September, and on 24 July 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne confirmed Turkish control of all of Anatolia and eastern Thrace. More than a million Anatolian Greeks were resettled in Greece, while about a half million Muslims left Greek territory. The nearly 3000 year Greek settlement in western Anatolia had ended.

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The Turks enter Izmir

Finally, the former Ottoman Empire. Remember the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916? France and Britain had made many promises to the Arabs and Jews about independence, but behind the scenes they had agreed to establish spheres of influence. All this was known of course, inasmuch as the Bolsheviks had published all Russia’s secret treaties in late 1917, and they declared no interest in the piece of eastern Anatolia assigned to Russia. The British began an unending stream of weak arguments that King Hussein had misunderstood the earlier agreements, but he refused to sign the Versailles Treaty. The British continued negotiations with Hussein until March 1924 and a half year later they switched their support to King Ibn Saud of Riyadh (Nejd).

 

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Zones of French (blue), British (red) and Russian (green) influence and control established by the Sykes–Picot Agreement.

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Feisal Hussein and Lawrence at Versailles

With no opposition from the British Ibn Saud was free to expand his power in Arabia, and Hussein’s days as King of the Hejaz were numbered.  The Hejaz was conquered in 1925, and the following year Ibn Saud became King of the Hejaz.  By 1929 Ibn Saud, as King of Hejaz and Nejd, controlled all the Arab Peninsula, excepting Oman, Yemen and the Gulf kingdoms, in which the British had interests.  On 23 September 1932 the two states were united as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and with the discovery of oil this repressive medieval autocracy became the darling of the West and ultimately a close and increasingly uncomfortable ally of the United States.   And with it came the poison of Wahhabism, the most extreme and vicious form of Sunni Islam.

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Ibn Saud, King of Saudi Arabia

 

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Hussein, former King of the Hejaz

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Ottoman Arabia

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Versailles Treaty created the states of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq from the Ottoman provinces north of the Hejaz; in April 1921 the Emirate of Transjordan, carved out of southern Syria and eastern Palestine, was recognize as a state. But these “independent” states were all to varying degrees controlled by France and Britain through League of Nations Mandates., which allowed the Mandate power to determine when an area was ready for complete independence. The French Mandate covered Lebanon and Syria and the British Palestine and Transjordan; because of widespread revolts there was no Mandate for Iraq, but the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1922 effectively gave the British control over the area – and the oil. The Zionists fared a bit better. They did not get a Jewish state, but Zionism had been recognized and the Balfour Declaration provided some hope for a new Israel.

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Mandates of the Versailles Treaty

We are now living with the legacy of these post-war arrangements. Iraq was granted full independence in 1932 (though British influence clearly remained), but the other Mandates were not given up until after the Second World War, as colonialism was collapsing. The Arab world quite justifiably felt betrayed by the West, certainly by the French and British, and the foundation of contemporary Arab resentment of the West (and its values) and the emergence of extremist Islam can be laid at the door of Versailles. As can the disaster of Iraq, stitched together from areas with little sectarian relationship to one another and plundered by the British.

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A patchwork country

Not being officially involved in the settlement of the Middle East and espousing a policy of self-determination, the Americans were generally spared of any blame, but in 1948 Great War veteran President Harry Truman, against the advice of his advisors, threw the support of the United States behind the establishment of the state of Israel. Quite understandably, the Arab world saw this as one of the last gasps of western colonialism, especially since most of the new Jewish population came from Europe and America and their new state had the ultimate military backing of the United States. The autocratic and aggressive nature of her neighbors notwithstanding, Israel’s rise to regional superpower and the increasing callousness and disregard for established international law embodied in her policies fueled further resentment and extremism. And now America, tied to Israel with the “passionate attachment” Washington warned of, reaps the hate.

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Bibi Tells It Like It Is (Not)

 

(The five statements in this piece come from Dale Sprusansky, “Netanyahu’s AIPAC Speech: 5 Lies,” Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, May 2014, pp. 36-37.)

 

On March 4 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu gave a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel’s powerful lobbying organization. One certainly does not expect an Israeli politician speaking to AIPAC to present a completely objective view, but Bibi’s total disregard for facts is breathtaking. The sad fact of course is how many members of the US Congress believe the Prime Minister’s words, which he himself clearly knows to be lies.

 
In the Middle East bludgeoned by butchery and barbarism, Israel is humane; Israel is compassionate. Israel is a force for good.”

 

"Please like me."

“Please like me.”

Bibi gives the salute to the Volksgenossen

Bibi gives the salute to the Volksgenossen

No one can deny that the Middle East is indeed awash with “butchery and barbarism,” and Syria’s Bashir Assad is setting the bar to new heights. But for any sane person to honestly describe Israel as “humane” is absolutely absurd. Can the treatment of Palestinians, especially in the vast open air prison of Gaza, be considered humane and compassionate? Her actions in operations like Cast Lead in Gaza would be described as “barbarism” by most civilized people, and the constant violation of international covenants, particularly the colonization of the West Bank, is in my opinion barbaric according to the established norms of the post-WW II world. “Butchery” is certainly not a term that can be generally associated with Israel, but the slaughter in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982, enabled and supported by the Israeli army, is aptly described by the word. And if Israel is anyway a force for good, it is only in contrast to the despicable regimes that inhabit the region.

 
“(Israel has) values that move us to treat sick Palestinians, thousands of them from Gaza. They come to our hospitals. We treat them despite the fact that terrorists from Gaza hurl thousands of rockets at our cities.”

 
Israelis may have such values, but the state of Israel manifestly does not. Some Palestinians have found help in Israeli hospitals, but because of the extreme difficulties involved in crossing into Israel, far more sick and desperate people are denied any such succor. For Netanyahu to mention “values” in the same sentence as “Gaza” is a sick joke. The world – excepting of course the US – recognizes Gaza as little more than a huge prison camp, sealed off from the world and regularly assaulted by one of the strongest militaries on the planet. Because of the Israeli blockade, people are actually suffering severe malnutrition, and Palestinian public facilities that patently have nothing to do with any ability to attack Israel are regularly destroyed. For Hamas or whoever to shoot missiles into Israel is barbaric, but consider the whole picture. In the last seven years Palestinians in Gaza have fired some 9000 usually ineffective rockets at Israel; in two years, 2005-2006, Israel fired 15,000 very effective shells into Gaza. And there are the ever wildly unequal casualties: in the period since 2008 30 Israeli civilians have been killed, as opposed to 1867 Palestinians in Gaza.

 
“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed.”

 
Even if Israel did not openly discriminate against non-Jewish citizens, this would still be a ludicrous statement. How is it possible for a state, 20% of whose citizens are not Jewish, to be both a “Jewish state” and a democracy? If the term is not completely meaningless, there must be discrimination: if it is a Jewish state, then the implication is that Jewish citizens are somehow more suitable than non-Jewish, that this is their state. And the fact is that Arab citizens are indeed discriminated against, both unofficially – and now with increasing violence – and officially. How could it not be? Israel is in a virtual state of war with the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank and seizing more and more Palestinian land. How are the Palestinians of Israel, most of whom have relatives in the occupied territories, supposed to respond to these actions of “their” government? Meanwhile, Arab ghettos have become a prominent feature of the Israeli landscape. I have personally witnessed this, and that was twenty years ago.

 
There are perhaps a hundred “unregistered” Arab villages in Israel, recognized as illegal, though they have been there for centuries. The inhabitants cannot get public services or building permits, which means any repairs to a home invites the arrival of the government bulldozers. Meanwhile, their ancestral lands are being appropriated by Jewish communities, some of which openly declare “Jews only,” apparently missing the incredible irony. The legal Center for Arab Minority Rights identifies some 50 or more laws that openly discriminate against Palestinian citizens. Most damning, however, 93% of the land in Israel is owned by the state or quasi-state entities, and non-Jews cannot legally buy or lease that land. It is after all a Jewish state.

 
Consider Avigdor Lieberman, the thug who is currently Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has proposed a two state plan that would not only incorporate West Bank Jewish settlements as part of Israel, but also assign some Israeli Arab areas to the Palestinian state. So much for being a citizen. He believes that Arab members of the Knesset who even speak to Hamas are terrorists and should be executed. He would also like all Israeli citizens to swear an oath of loyalty or lose their citizenship, demonstrating, I suppose, that he is an equal opportunity fascist.

Reichsminister Lieberman

Reichsminister Lieberman

“Israel, the one country in the Middle East that protects Christians and protects the right of worship for everyone.”

 
Well, the Turks might disagree with this proposition, and the Syrian Christian community has enjoyed the protection of the Assad government, though certainly not because of any humanitarian concerns. The Palestinian Christian community, meanwhile, has been steadily declining, and it is clear that the Israeli occupation is at least partly responsible. Access to the holy sites in Jerusalem is apparently not part of Netanyahu’s definition of “right of worship,” since it is extremely difficult for non-Israeli Palestinians to obtain a permit to visit the holy city. It is also indisputable that Israeli Jews are steadily taking over the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, and there seems little concern for the religious concerns of non-Jews. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, in pursuance of 1967 law for the protection of holy sites, has designated 135 Jewish sites and not a single one for other religions. See also Ironies from Israel #1: Archeological Hypocrisy.

Welcome to Bethlehem

Welcome to Bethlehem

“(Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon) would open up a Pandora’s box of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and around the world.”

 
This is not so much a lie as an incredible exercise in hypocrisy. Leaving aside the consideration that it is not entirely clear that Iran is dead set on obtaining a weapon, the fact is that aside from Pakistan the only nuclear power in the Middle East is Israel. Everyone knows this, but the US and Israel play a stupid game of never mentioning it – or that Israel had actually cooperated with apartheid South Africa in weapons development. And while Washington is badgering everyone in the Middle East to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has, no American politician dares even bring up the subject in the case of Israel. Given Israel’s history of doing whatever she pleases, regardless of international law, it might be considered understandable if places like Iran were a bit paranoid. Admittedly there is some truth concerning proliferation: a Shiite bomb in Iran could easily drive the Sunni Gulf autocracies to start shopping around, as if the ruling elites in Teheran could possibly be stupid enough to start threatening a nuclear strike. Given the strength of its military and the unqualified support of the US, it is certainly questionable that Israel requires a nuclear arsenal, and a first step in dealing with Iran might be simply admitting that Israel actually possesses such weapons. But given the attitude of Washington, that will never happen.

 
Sprusansky ends his article with “The time is coming when lies no longer will suffice.” Given the growing detachment of the American Congress from reality, that time is likely to be very far off indeed.