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Why the British Mandate failed and helped produce an Arab war on Zionism instead.
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The putative National Home became an armed camp, with Jewish dissident groups and waging guerrilla war on the British administration, leading to reprisals and counter-reprisals. It remained for the new United Nations to ponder the problem afresh and recommend partition, which was accepted by Jews but again rejected by Arabs. The British announced their intention to depart Palestine, after which the contest between Arabs and Jews was put to the test of the sword.
On May 14, 1948, the last High Commissioner, General Sir Alan Cunningham, left Government House in Jerusalem for the last time and proceeded under heavily armed escort in an armored car for Haifa port where he boarded HMS Euryalus, bringing to an end three decades of British rule in Palestine. The next day, at a meeting convened in Tel Aviv’s Museum of Modern Art, the head of the Jewish community in Palestine, David Ben Gurion, announced the formation of the new state of Israel, to which American and Soviet recognition was forthcoming within hours. Later that day, Arabs armies invaded, Tel Aviv was bombed from the air, and Ben Gurion’s first prime ministerial address to the nation was delivered from an air raid shelter.
The Jews prevailed, Arabs fled the war zone in large numbers and refugee camps housing their burgeoning communities became a permanent fixture in neighboring countries. Arabs have since plumbed every resource of counter-offensive, military, diplomatic, and psychological, to demoralize and destroy the country which has grown despite searing adversity into a powerhouse of innovation and development. The Jewish National Home has been a state for 64 years, but its existence remains contested to this very day.
British governments and officials at times acted to honor the Mandate’s terms, secured the national home in the 1920s at a time when Britain was militarily and financially stretched, introduced Hebrew as an official language, established, at first, a liberal Jewish immigration policy and developed the country’s infrastructure. But in the end, they entrenched a conflict that might have been deflected onto less bloody paths and ensured that Israel, when it did emerge, did so under fire, which has rarely subsided since, fueled by a refugee problem the international community has connived in keeping alive. It need not have been the outcome. A strong and lawfully established Jewish state had been an option, a firm British ally would thereby have emerged and Britain might even have maintained the military and naval facilities it had so fretted about losing during much of the Mandate. Certainly, such an alliance is likely to have endured longer and stronger than the gerry-built British treaties with Egyptian and Iraqi autocracies that imploded into blood-letting and overthrow within a matter of a few years. Instead, attempting to appease implacable Arab opposition to Zionism invigorated conflict and ensured an ignominious British departure. The British Mandate was a missed opportunity.
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