The “Great Arab Revolt” failed to materialize

War of Words--Setting the record straight on the Arab propaganda war because the unending war between the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews is fought on a number of levels. One on the military front; another in the propaganda arena.

Dr. Alex Grobman

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Nine part must-read series that details the influence of the propaganda arena in the war between the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews.

For previous parts, click here and here

Part V

The “Great Arab Revolt” failed to materialize in any significant way because Hussein failed to command widespread support noted Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh. Many understood that Hussein was not attempting to oust the Ottomans for the good of his people, but to replace the Ottoman Empire with his own empire.

In varying degrees, opposition to the Sharif was widespread. There was no popular support in the Levant. The political leadership in Syria objected to the rebellion, and a similar situation existed in Palestine, which did not have any sense of national identity. In late 1914 and early 1915 when the Turks were about to attack the Suez Canal, there were all types of parades and festivities in Palestine anticipating their victorious entry into Egypt.

Alexander Aaronsohn, who wrote about the plight of Jews living in the Yishuv (Jews in pre-state Israel) reported that one day in Jaffa, a camel, a dog and a bull, adorned respectively with a Russian, French and English flag, were driven through the streets where the Arabs hit and threw waste on them to demonstrate their utter disdain for the Allies. The Reverend Dr. Otis Allan Glazebrook, the American Consul in Jerusalem, witnessed this contemptible demonstration of scapegoats with “pain and disgust.”

Arab Deceit

The Sharif initiated his revolt on June 1, 1916 without informing the British and without adequate preparation. He launched the attack after his duplicitous attempt to secure a separate deal with the Ottoman authorities failed. In the autumn of 1917, he came under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby, the commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. With his limited military and political support,  historian Isaiah Friedman asserted the Sharif provided such insignificant assistance that by June 1918 Sir Reginald Wingate, the high commissioner in Egypt, observed that any Arab achievements “must be attributed almost entirely to the unsparing efforts of the British and Allied officers attached to the Sherifian forces.”

Such was the deceit of the Arabs that on December 1, 1917, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, first General Allenby’s Chief Political Officer and later involved in the creation of the British Mandate, recorded in his diary:

[A] large batch of Turkish prisoners of war was being marched through the village [of Ramleh], but they were not preceded by their British Guard. The Arabs, thinking it was the return of the Turkish Army, turned out in force, yelling with delight and waving Turkish flags; it was not till the end of the column appeared and they saw British soldiers with fixed bayonets that they realized their mistake and great was their confusion. Their faces fell with a bump and they sank disconsolate to their hovels.

The British Had No illusions About the Danger they Faced

The British had no illusions about the danger the officers faced Isaiah Friedman asserted. As Lieutenant-Colonel W.F. Sterling explained: We realized that if Allenby’s forces failed, we should have little or no chance of escaping…The Arabs would be sure to turn on us. T.E. Lawrence contemptuously noted that the Arabs in Syria and Palestine would have rather have the Judean Hills stained with the blood of British soldiers than to choose sides in the war for their own independence.

What Did The Arabs Contribute?


Meinertzhagen concurred: “The Arabs of Palestine, far from contributing anything towards ultimate victory [during the First World War] actively opposed us and deserve no better treatment than others…And my advice to the Jews is never to lose sight of the fact that Palestine includes the area from Dan to Beersheba…”
Meinertzhagen concurred: “The Arabs of Palestine, far from contributing anything towards ultimate victory [during the First World War] actively opposed us and deserve no better treatment than others…And my advice to the Jews is never to lose sight of the fact that Palestine includes the area from Dan to Beersheba…”

Philip Graves, a correspondent for The London Times in the Middle East who served in the British Army from 1915-1919, was disturbed that the Arabs in Palestine, who either helped the Turks or were not involved in General Allenby’s military campaign in Palestine and Syria, tried to take credit for helping the British to bolster their claim for Palestine. “Most annoying,” he said, “to anyone who has served with the British forces or the Sherifian Arab forces in the Palestine campaign…are the pretensions of the Arabs in Palestine to have rendered important military services to the Allies in the Great War.” The Palestinians “confined themselves to deserting in large numbers to the British, who fed and clothed and paid for the maintenance of many thousand such prisoners of war, few indeed of whom could be induced to obtain their liberty by serving in the Sherifian Army.”

Historian Arnold Toynbee, who served with the Intelligence department of the British Foreign Office during World War I and became Director of Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), also took issue with the Arabs who sought to romanticize their role in defeating the Turks. “The militant peoples of Islam,” he said, “obtained political concessions, out of all proportion to their military achievements.” Yet they had the audacity to ascribe these military successes “to their own prowess and drew thence encouragement to continue in the same militant course” against the Allies who freed them.




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