Ted Thornton
History of the Middle East Database
Later Mandate Period Including World War II
1930 - 1947
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1930   The British Passfield-White Paper was issued in response to the civil strife of 1928-29 in Palestine. Bowing to pressure from the Arabs, Lord Passfield and the British retreated from their pledge to permit unlimited Jewish immigration and began to impose severe limits on the numbers allowed to immigrate. Illegal immigration continued.

On March 28, 1930, Turkey's president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decreed that the legal name for the city known as Constantinople from Byzantine times would henceforth be Istanbul. (see also)

1931  The second Italo-Sanusi War ended in Libya with the hanging of the Libyan freedom fighter, Umar Mukhtar.  After World War II ended, Mukhtar's captor Italian General Rodolfo Graziani was tried and imprisoned.

Three years after Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ahmed Hamid Ben Badis established the Association of Muslim Ulemas in Constantine, Algeria. Like the Deobandis while they were still under British rule and like the Muslim Brothers in Palestine before the first intifada, the AMU was an apolitical organization. 

Also in 1931, Saudi Arabia invited American Charles Crane to the country to help explore sources of water. The geological survey Crane organized did not find water, but did find evidence of oil deposits.

1932 Turkish women gained the right to vote. In 1932, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed by Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the first modern Muslim state, as Max Rodenbeck put it, that was the product of a jihad. Also in 1932, Iraq gained independence from Great Britain, but Britain retained military bases and oil interests.

1933   Iraq joined the League of Nations. Iraq's King Faisal I died and was succeeded by his son Ghazi, who reigned until 1939 when he was killed in an auto accident. An uprising of Assyrians in Iraq was crushed. A new Anglo-Iranian oil agreement was signed. Saudi Arabia's King Ibn Saud awarded a concession to drill for oil to the American Standard Oil Company. The Saudi-American partnership became known as  the Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO), and several other American oil companies came on board before oil finally began to flow in 1938.

1934   Italy suppressed the Sanussi uprising in Libya. Iran became the official name of the Dominion of Persia.

1935   Death of Rashid Rida, conservative reformer and defender of Islam. Italy invaded Ethiopia.

On November 20, 1935, Syrian Islamic Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam died in a clash with British troops in Palestine after he and two followers killed a Jewish policeman. al-Qassam became one of the inspirational forces behind both the Islamic Jihad group and HAMAS during the first Palestinian Intifada ("uprising") in the late 1980's. al-Qassam was a fiery orator who called for the waging of jihad against Zionist, British, and French forces in the Middle East.

1936  Germany occupied the Rhineland. In Egypt, King Fuad died, and was succeeded by his son, King Farouk. A 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty (abrogated by Egypt in 1951) limited British control in Egypt even further. Mussolini's Italy occupied Ethiopia.

In Palestine in 1936, the numbers of Jewish settlers reached 30% of total population. An Arab revolt broke out in Palestine against increased Jewish immigration. This rebellion lasted until 1939 when it was suppressed by the British army with the help of Zionist militias and neighboring Arab regimes.

As part of a general strike in 1936, Palestinians formed the Arab Higher Committee under the leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin-al-Husseini. The strike prompted the British to send the "Peel Commission" to Palestine to re-study the conflict. The Higher Committee boycotted the commission. The following year (1937), in their report, the Peel Commission introduced the idea of partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states (Text at MidEastWeb) (see also).

On October 29, 1936, Iraq endured the first military coup in its modern history (many more would follow).  The civilian government of Yasin al-Hashimi was abolished. The main plotters were a civilian politician, Hikmat Sulayman, along with the army chief of staff, Bakr Sidqi who was assassinated the following year. 

1937   In Palestine, the Irgun Zvai Leumi ("National Military Organization"), a secret, extreme right-wing, Jewish group, was formed. The group blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in 1946. 

The Peel Commission in 1937 called for the partition of Palestine, a plan opposed by the Arabs. (see also merger with Haganah and the Altalena incident.)

Also this year, David Ben Gurion was quoted as saying, "I favor partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state we will abolish partition and spread throughout Palestine." (in Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987),198)

A year earlier in a letter to his son, Ben Gurion had written, "We will expel the Arabs and take their place." (Shabtai Teveth, Ben Gurion and the Palestinians (New York, Doubleday Books, 1981), 189)

From August 20 through September 26, 1937, a series of bombings of Palestinian civilian buses occurred in Haifa.  The Jewish Irgun and Haganah claimed responsibility.  Palestinian attacks upon Jewish targets also took place during this year. 

The Arab Higher Committee organized anti-Jewish riots in Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad. The British arrested the leaders, but the Mufti escaped to Europe where he proclaimed his support of Nazi Germany.

On August 11, 1937, Iraq's dictator General Baqr Sidki was assassinated by a Kurd..

1936-1937 W. Wilson Cash was a Christian missionary who during the 1930s lived for a time in Egypt.   His hope was evangelical:  “...if Muslims are to find fullness of life and spiritual experience it will only be as Christ is acknowledged as Lord and Master."   He described Islam as an “eclectic faith.” He presented Christianity as the “answer to the Moslem quest.”   Cash assumed that the Qur’an was the creation of Muhammad, not God.  Thus for Cash, the Quranic teachings on the crucifixion of Jesus reflected how “entirely [Muhammad] misunderstood the Sonship of our Lord.”   He characterized Islam as full of “fanaticism” and “barbarities” and as “militant and aggressive.” Cash endorsed the Crusades unapologetically. (See W. Wilson Cash, Christendom and Islam: Their Contacts and Cultures Down the Centuries (The Haskell Lectures, Oberlin College, 1936-37)  (New York:  Harper and Brothers, 1937), xi, 16, 92, 96, 157.) (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

1938   Americans, having been awarded a sixty year concession by Saudi Arabia to search for oil, made their first strike. Also this year, Germany annexed Austria. The Munich Agreement was signed this year between Hitler and Chamberlain.

On November 10, 1938, Turkey's president Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" died at the age of 57 from complications related to alcoholism having governed since 1923.  He was succeeded by Ismet Inonu. 

Also in 1938, the anti-Zionist movement Neturei Karta (Aramaic: "Guardians of the City") was founded in Palestine by Orthodox Jews. Adherents believed that the nation of Israel can only be established after the coming of the Messiah.

1939   A British "White Paper" called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state for both Jews and Arabs (Text at Yale's Avalon Project). Both groups opposed the plan, but it did help to keep everybody talking throughout World War II. Germany invaded Poland  and World War II begins. The paramilitary Jewish group Irgun Zvai Leumi began  operations against the British in response.  In 1946, the Irgun targeted British and Palestinian officials in their bomb attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

Also in 1939, Faisal II became king of Iraq after his father King Ghazi died in an auto accident.  Faisal, who was three, did not come of age until 1953 (his uncle Abdul Illah ruled as regent until 1953). Faisal reigned only from 1953 until 1958 when he was overthrown in a revolutionary military coup and executed.

1939-1956 John Bagot Glubb ("Glubb Pasha"), a British general, led and trained Transjordan's Arab Legion.

1940   Italian offensive in Egypt. Germany captured the Netherlands and France.

Also this year, Zionist Joseph Weitz advocated the wholesale transfer of the Arab population out of Palestine and into neighboring Arab countries.

The Muslim League in India called for the formation of an Islamic state (Pakistan).  The idea first surfaced in a speech made by Islamist reformer Muhammad Iqbal in 1930. 

1941  In January, the underground Jewish militia "LEHI" (also known as the Stern Gang), whose most famous member was Yitzak Shamir (see also), proposed an alliance between itself and the Nazis, expressing sympathy with "the German conception" of a "New Order in Europe," and offering to cooperate with Germany in forming a Jewish state "on a totalitarian basis which will establish relations with the German Reich" and protect Nazi interests in the Middle East. (see Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle, 95)

Also this year, the Germans invaded Russia. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered the war.

In Iraq, Rashid Ali, former prime minister, staged a nationalist coup on April 10, 1941 with the backing of the military, then  turned to Nazi Germany for support.  Thanks to the separate peace treaty the French Vichy government had struck with the Nazis in 1940, Nazi influence had begun to spread throughout the Middle East, mainly via the French Mandate areas of Syria and Lebanon.  The emerging Ba'ath ("Resurrection") Party in Syria became attracted to some atavistic Nazi ideas, including anti-Semitism, that fit well with the Ba'athists' own fantasies of restoring a glorious Arab and Muslim past. The prospect of Nazi influence in the government of Iraq was too much for the British, then at war with Nazi Germany, to ignore.  The following month, May 1941, British troops crushed the Rashid Ali rebellion and occupied Syria and Lebanon at the same time.  From June 1 to 2, 1941, anti-Jewish rioting occurred in Baghdad. Iraqi military personnel, paramilitary youth gangs, and mobs of citizens went on a rampage through Jewish neighborhoods and business districts. 179 Jews were killed, 586 businesses were looted, and 911 buildings housing more than 12,000 people were broken into. This event profoundly undermined the confidence of Iraq's Jews in the government to protect them. ( Peter N. Stearns, General Editor, The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 765)

The British occupied Iraq for four years after which the monarchy was restored under Crown Prince Abdallah, who ruled in the name of Faisal I's grandson, Faisal II. The Chief Minister was Nuri al-Said. 

On August 25, 1941, Iran was invaded and occupied by the British and the Russians. Reza Shah Pahlevi abdicated in favor of his son, Muhammad Reza, who ruled as Shah until the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Rommel's Afrikacorps, victorious in North Africa, advanced on Egypt. The Italians were expelled from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia.

French President Charles de Gaulle had second thoughts about  a proclamation of independence on behalf of Syria and Lebanon he had approved in the summer of 1941 and rescinded the order affirming his belief in the imperial right of France to maintain sovereignty over the affairs of the two countries.

1942   The Germans were defeated at the Battle of al-Alamein in EgyptEgypt's Princess Munira Hamdy created street theater out of this event. Libya was liberated from Italian rule by the allies: the French administered Fezzan, and the British administer Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

Enrico Fermi tested the first nuclear reactor in the United States.

In Egypt, the British forced King Farouk to appoint a pro-Allies cabinet. On February 4, the British drew up a tank battalion in front of the Abdin Palace and forcibly installed a Wafd ministry presumed to be pro-Allies in sympathy. The Egyptian government was thus reduced to puppet status, subordinated to the British in an openly humiliating way. This severely damaged the moral prestige of both the king and the Wafd, the party that had spearheaded the constitutional and nationalistic movement.  These events laid the groundwork for the July revolution ten years later.

Also this year in Palestine, Abraham Stern, leader of the "Stern Gang," was killed in a police raid. Menachem Begin, future prime minister, was a member of Stern's group.

The Biltmore Resolution (so-called after the Biltmore Hotel, in New York) was drawn up in 1942.  It called for unrestricted Jewish immigration into Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine (Text at UNISPAL). After the war ended in 1945, the Jewish Agency demanded that the resolution be fully implemented.

1943    A combination of popular unrest and pressure from the British persuaded the French to permit elections in Syria and Lebanon in which their interests were resoundingly defeated.  In Syria , the National Bloc was returned to power and Shukri al-Quwwatli became the first president.

In 1943 in Lebanon, an unwritten "National Pact" was approved according to a 1932 census. Under the unwritten terms worked out under supervision of the French, the President was to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Parliament, a Shiite Muslim.  This constitution was an attempt to more clearly delineate the processes of political life in Lebanon sketched out by the French in 1926.  (The Maronites took their name from the fifth century Saint Maron, a Syrian hermit who died in 435. The Maronites have their own Patriarch but remain in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.) (More on Sunni Muslims) (More on Shiites)

The French continued to resist Syria's and Lebanon's efforts to exercise national sovereignty.  Violence against the French erupted following the end of World War II in 1945.  Damascus suffered yet another round of French air and artillery bombardment (see entry for 1925 - 1927).

In Morocco, the Istiqlal ("Independence") Party was founded.

At Stalingrad, the Russians defeated the Germans.

1944   On August 8, Jewish commandos from the Irgun and Stern Gang attempted to assassinate the British high commissioner Sir Harold MacMichael and Ladt MacMichael in Jerusalem, but failed.  On November 6, 1944, Britain's colonial secretary in the Mandate Lord Moyne was assassinated by the militantly Zionist LEHI organization (formerly called the "Stern Gang").

1945   On February 14, 1945, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Saudi Arabia's King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud met on board the American warship Quincy in the Suez Canal and agreed that the U.S. would protect the kingdom militarily in exchange for Saudi concessions to develop the country's oil resources (meaning a reasonably priced supply of oil for the United States for the foreseeable future).

On March 10, King Abd al-Aziz Saud of Saudi Arabia wrote a letter to United States President Roosevelt warning him that Jews in Palestine were, "'planning to create a Nazi-Fascist entity in the name of democracy and its vision.'" (quoted in a review of a book by a confidante of the king, Abd al-Aziz al-Tawijri, published in al-Majalla, no. 933, December 28, 1997, 2.)

Also in March, 1945, the Arab League was formed. Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen joined together in a confederation that proclaimed its intent to defend Palestine. (BBC profile of the Arab League)

Germany surrendered in 1945 bringing the European theater of World War II to its end. Allied armies liberating the POW and concentration camps confirmed what most had feared: that for many years the Nazis had been engaging in the mass extermination of European Jews according to a plan designed to eliminate "inferior" races. Six million Jews (1.5 million of whom were children) were killed between 1933 and 1945, an event called simply, the "Holocaust," from the Hebrew word ola ("burnt offering"). Two thirds of European Jewry (one third of all Jews worldwide) were annihilated.  (Background on anti-Semitism)

On August 17, 1945, Achmed Sukarno proclaimed Indonesian independence.  The Dutch attempted to recover control over Indonesia (lost to the Japanese during the war years; the Japanese had encouraged Indonesian nationalist and Islamist sentiments).  But, the Dutch gave up after five years, and Indonesia's independence was recognized in 1950. Divisiveness among Muslim groups prevented Indonesia from becoming an Islamic state.  Following elections in 1955, control over Indonesia fell to President Sukarno and the military.  Sukarno's rule lasted until 1965. (Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1988), 768-771)

Also in August, 1945, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki leading to the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.  Elsewhere, there were riots in Algeria and the United Nations was created.

In 1945, the heads of United States diplomatic missions in the Middle East in a meeting with President Harry Truman advised him not to go along with any plan to partition Palestine saying it would lead to a bloodbath in the short term and to dangerous problems for American interests in the Middle East in the long term. Rejecting their advice Truman apologized, but said that in this matter he would remain responsive to the interests of his constituents, most of whom were Jewish not Arab.

1946     Death of the Lebanese Druze-Muslim nationalist Shakib Arslan (b. 1869). Arslan labored for a wide array of causes. Following World War I, he shifted the focus of his efforts from Ottomanism to Arab nationalism, activist and Islamist much in the same vein as Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani. He was anti-Western. He earned the admiration of fellow Muslims who dubbed him a mujaheed, a "striver" for Arab freedom and independence. Among the causes he supported were those of Umar Mukhtar in Libya and Muhammad abd al-Karim in the Maghreb.  Arslan's Islamist brand of nationalism was challenged by other prominent nationalists such as Sati al-Husri.

On July 22, 1946, Irgun Zvai Leumi ("National Military Organization"), the militant underground faction led by Menachem Begin, blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, headquarters of the British Mandate administrators. Ninety people were killed, including Jews and Arabs as well as British nationals. The bombing was in retaliation for a British raid on the Jewish Agency on June 29. 

The USSR vacated Azerbaijan under UN pressure.

An 'Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry ' visited Palestine in 1946. It recommended the distribution of 100,000 additional immigration certificates to Jews living in European refugee camps who wished to settle in Palestine. Furthermore, it recommended the lifting of land sale restrictions imposed in the 1939 White Paper. As for the future sovereignty over Palestine, the committee was intentionally ambiguous, a position that pleased no one. Arabs responded by holding a summit on May 28 that announced its intention to resist the recommendation of the Anglo-American committee to open the doors to further Jewish immigration into Palestine. (Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Third Edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), 131)

Albert Hourani, who later became an esteemed historian, was serving as a representative of the Arab Agency when he testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that "'no room can be made in Palestine for a second nation except by dislodging or exterminating the first.'" (quoted in Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Third Edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), 130.)  Zionist leader Chaim Weizman agreed, although he drew a different conclusion on what the course of action ought to be.

Also in 1946, Transjordan became an independent kingdom henceforth called "Jordan."  Amir Abdullah crowned himself king on 25 May.

In 1946, France finally ended its interference in the affairs of Syria and Lebanon (see entries beginning in 1916 and see 1943) and pulled out.

Also in 1946, the Ba'ath ("Renaissance") Party was formally constituted in Syria.  Founded in the early 1930s by two students, Michel Aflaq, an Orthodox Christian and Salah al-Din al-Batar, a Sunni Muslim, the party committed itself to combining Socialism, Islamism, and Arabism as it worked toward its primary goal of Arab unity and restoration of past Arab glories (see also note on Ba'ath in 1941 entry on Rashid Ali uprising). Syrian Ba'athists, knowing they were too weak to bring Syria under their control, opted for union with Egypt in 1958, but were unable to exercise influence over the more powerful Egyptians (Nasser had actually tried to dissolve the party. The union fell apart in 1961.)  The Ba'ath Party seized power in both Syria and Iraq in 1963.  (See William L. Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, Second Edition  (Boulder, CO:  Westview Press, 2000), 317 and passim)

From January to December, 1946, the sovereign Kurdish"Mahabad Republic" existed (with its capital at Mahabad). It was formed when the Soviets left the area at the end of World War II. In December of that same year, Iranian troops moved in and crushed the new state.

1947   India gained its independence in 1947 from Great Britain. A new state, Pakistan, with eastern and western entities nearly 1,000 miles apart, was created from portions of predominantly Muslim northeastern and northwestern India. The settlement did not alleviate ongoing conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. One of the principal flash points was Kashmir. (See BBC's, "Sixty Bitter Years After Partition," Aug. 6, 2007)

Civil war erupted in Greece in 1947.

On April 16, 1947, the phrase "cold war" was used for the first time in a speech given in the South Carolina legislature by Bernard Baruch.  The man who coined the phrase was speechwriter Herbert Bayard Swope. The phrase entered world wide circulation, however, as the title of a book published the same year by Walter Lippman.

In 1947, Britain announced it would no longer administer the League of Nations Mandate. The United Nations on November 29 voted (Resolution 181 - Text at Yale's Avalon Project) to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states with Jerusalem designated an internationalized zone (see BBC map). (This was an idea introduced by the British Peel Commission in its report in 1937). Palestinian Arabs rejected the plan.

A look at the critical numbers demonstrates why the Arabs rejected the U.N. Partition Plan. The Jews, who constituted only 31% of the population and owned or were settled upon only 6% of the land were awarded 52% of the land, while the Palestinians, who constituted 69% of the population and owned or were settled upon 94% of the land were given only 48%. Moreover, before 1881, the year of the first wave of European Jews migrating into Palestine, Arabs constituted 95% of the population and owned 98% of the land.

While this was going on, the Jewish Agency in Palestine was forging a secret agreement with King Abdullah of Jordan to partition Palestine between them. Both sides regarded the Palestinian Arabs as their common enemy. King Abdullah had begun bargaining with the Jewish leadership as early as 1922.  Abdullah met with Chaim Weizman in London that year and pledged that if Weizman and the World Zionist Organization helped him become king of Palestine, Abdullah promised he would develop a Jewish national home there. Weizman turned down the offer.  (See Mary C. Wilson, King Abdullah, Britain, and the Making of Jordan (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 104)  A descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, Abdullah was keen to restore Hashemite tribal authority over the third holiest sites of Muslim pilgrimage: the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Syrians, for their part and for similar reasons (including the fact that they actually built the sites) strove for the same aim.

The July, 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs featured an article signed anonymously "X" but which in fact had been written by American George Kennan, newly appointed head of the State Department's policy planning staff and future ambassador to the Soviet Union.  In the piece, Kennan argued for an American policy of "containment" with respect to the Soviet Union. This policy would translate into American attempts to limit the influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East for the next forty years. 

On August 14, Jewish Haganah commandos attacked the home and orange grove of the Palestinian Abu Laban family near Tel Aviv, killing all twelve including the mother and her six children. It was the first major post World War II Zionist attack.

Also in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection roughly two thousand years old and critical to the understanding of Judaism and Christianity, were discovered at Jordanian controlled Qumran.

 

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Last Revised: December 9, 2008