Hugh Gregory GallagherPart IIThe Commissioners were in the Middle East from June 10 until July 21, 1919. Over these six weeks they traveled over what is now Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. They spent full two weeks in Palestine.
Everywhere they went they were received enthusiastically. The Anglo-French promise of self determination and government by the consent of the governed had received wide-spread attention and America's strong advocacy for democracy was well known. The Commissioners had come from President Wilson and were most welcome.
Many of the political, ethnic and religious groups attempted to pressure or influence the Commission into supporting their various positions. The Commission noted this but concluded that, on the whole, these pressures balanced out and that it's conclusions were not impacted by them. In its report, the Commission made an estimate of the population of Palestine, emphasizing however, "The figures in all cases must be regarded as only approximate, but may be taken as giving a fairly accurate view of the proportions of the population."
Muslims 515,000 Christians 62,500 Jews 65,000 Others 5,000 Total 647,500
It was the Commission's method to move from town to town. At each town they would stage a hearing to receive testimony and written petitions. They held such public meetings in the following Palestinian towns:
The Commission divided the testimony and petitions received into political groups, economic and social groups and religious groups. The total of such groups heard was 140: 47 political, 5 economic and social, and 88 religious. The preponderance of the religious testimony was from the bewildering array of Christian sects represented (55). 14 Jewish religious groups testified as did 17 Muslim groups. The Commission was impressed by the fact that there was testimony received from Muslim and Christian women,
- Jerusalem (four days of meetings)
- Beersheba (meetings with representatives from Gaza)
The simple statement that the women of the East left their historic seclusion to appear before a Commission of American men is a revelation of the new role women are playing in the nationalistic movements of the Orient.
In analyzing the written and oral testimony it received, the Commission found that 72.3% opposed the Zionist project. The anti-Zionist note was especially strong in Palestine where 222 (85.3%) of the 260 petitions declared against the Zionist program. This is the largest percentage in the district for any one point. The Commission noted testimony to the effect,
The Arabs are friendly toward the Jews long resident in the land who use the Arabic language; they will resist to the uttermost the immigration of foreign Jews and the establishment of a Jewish government.
This is reflected in its finding, that 54.9% of all petitions called for the "proper safeguarding of the rights of minorities...This request received more united support from both Moslems and Christians than any other, except anti-Zionism." After its analysis of all the testimony, the Commission concluded,
The Jews, who constitute a little more than ten percent of the population were all for Zionism, under a British mandate. The Moslem and Christian population was practically unanimous against Zionism, usually expressing themselves with great emphasis.
The Commission's final recommendation to President Wilson were as follows:
- The Commissioners began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favor, but the actual facts in Palestine, coupled with the force of the general principles proclaimed by the Allies and accepted by the Syrians [i.e. today's Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians] have driven them the recommendation here made.
- The Commission was abundantly supplied with literature on the Zionist program by the Zionist Commission to Palestine; heard in conferences much concerning the Zionist colonies and their claims; and personally saw something of what had been accomplished. They found much to approve in the aspirations and plans of the Zionists and had warm appreciation for the devotion of many of the colonists and for their success, by modern methods, in overcoming natural obstacles."
- ... [with quotes from the Balfour Declaration] For a national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish state be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.
The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conference with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.
After quoting Woodrow Wilson's statement of the American principle of government with the consent of the governed, the Commission concluded,,
If that principle is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine's population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non- Jewish population nearly nine tenths of the whole are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. The tables show that there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine were more agreed that upon this. To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration and steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people's rights, though it kept with in the forms of law.
At one point, the Commission stated,
No British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist Program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of no less that 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the program.
To create a Jewish state over the objections of the Palestinians, the commission concluded, would violate the American principle affirming the right of self-determination of nations. In its report of August, 1919, the King Crane Commission advised that, "...the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up."
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By the time the Commission had submitted its report to the President, it was too late. Events had made it irrelevant. Although the Paris Peace Conference was continuing its work, President Wilson had returned to America with the German peace treaty and the Covenant treaty creating the League of Nations. He submitted the treaties to the Senate for ratification and took off on a speaking tour across the country to drum up support for them. Outside of Pueblo, Colorado, the President suffered a major stroke, on September 25, 1919. This stroke, and following ones, left Wilson incapacitated for the rest of the term.
On November 25, the Senate rejected both the peace treaty and the League of Nations Covenant. This vote effectively ended American participation in the peace conference. The King Crane Commission report was filed away in the State Department and forgotten.
With Wilson out of the action, America played no role in the 1920 San Remo Conference which awarded Great Britain a mandate over Palestine --- nor did it play a political role in the decades of struggle that were to follow. For the following quarter of a century, British armed forces on the ground were required to keep down the unceasing Palestinian Arab and Christian Arab violence and rioting, as over time their land and their jobs were taken from them by European Jews immigrating to their new home. No longer able to keep the peace or bear the expense, the British pulled out in 1948 and the state of Israel declared its independence. War broke out immediately thereafter and has continued more or less ever since.
In a secret memorandum to the British Cabinet, written August 11, 1919, Foreign Secretary A. J. Balfour, author of the Declaration bearing his name and whose intent he still supported, said,
The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant [self-determination] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the independent nation of Palestine than in the independent nation of Syria. For in Palestine we do not even intend to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American [King Crane] Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism...
In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.