Book Review: Remembering the road to Nakba

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 7 Dec 2022

A reprint of a volume on the Balfour Declaration, The Conspiracy Pact, revisits the international context that led to the partition of Palestine and the eventual and unending plight of Palestinian diaspora.

The road to Nakkba



Sak El-Moamarah (The Conspiracy Pact), Gamil Attia Ibrahim and Salah Eissa, El-Karma Books, 2022, pp174


The de-mythification of the common story on the incredible Zionist ploy that led to the establishment of Israel at the heart of the Arab world could be the very summary of Sak El-Moamarah (The Conspiracy Pact) which was written by Gamil Attia Ibrahim and Salah Eissa, two prominent Egyptian writers, with a dedicated passion to the modern history of the Arab world. 

Originally published over 30 years ago, the book came out last month in a new edition by El-Karma Books to mark the 105th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on 2 November 1917. It was arguably this declaration that eventually led to a UN declaration on the partition of Palestine on 29 November 1947 and consequently the Palestinian Nakba in May of 1948.

In the introduction to the first edition of the book that came out in 1991, on the 73rd anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the first publisher, Dar El-Fatah El-Arabi, promised a text that offers the full picture of international politics during World War I and the subsequent years to show that the creation of the state of Israel was not strictly the culmination of the cunning pursuit of the Zionist movement. It was first and foremost a Western choice, particularly on the side of Britain, to avoid allowing a massive stretch of uncontrolled Arab population that would be in control of the trade lines and oil resources.

The book, divided into five sections, offers diverse narratives on the road to the Balfour Declaration. The devision makes way for the "reconstructed testimonies" of four leading politicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Arthur Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt; Zionist leader and Israel’s first president Chaim Weizman; Edwin Montagu, a liberal politician and cabinet member; and Hussein bin Ali, king of Hijaz. And finally, there is an "assumed" testimony of the land of Palestine on the events as they unfolded on the road to Nakba.

The five segments show a world in turmoil as the First World War was coming to an end. There is uncertainty about the future in triumphant capitals. There is apprehension about the fate of the Middle East with the conspicuous decline of the Ottoman Empire. There is worry over natural resources and trade lines.

There is the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. And, there is an active Zionist movement that is seeking statehood on the land of Palestine, even as it is getting offers from some leading world politicians, including Arthur Balfour himself, the prime minister of Britain, to settle for a Jewish hometown somewhere in east Africa. There is a weakened Ottoman sultan who is resisting the idea of a Jewish hometown in Palestine but who is faced at the same time with growing Arab resistance to the Ottoman aggressive control of the Arab land. And there are ambitious Arab leaders who are willing to contemplate some political deals.

The accounts of the testimonies as they unfold show a scene where it seemed opportune for most parties, including those on the Arab side, to go along with the wish of the Zionist movement to have a homeland on a part of Palestine. As of that point, the rest is literally history.

The Conspiracy Pact shows an often forgotten but interesting side of the story of the Balfour Declaration as it reconstructs the narrative of Montagu, the liberal British Jewish cabinet minister, under British prime minister Lloyd George, who favoured the integration of Jews in the countries they were living in over the creation of an exclusive Jewish state that he seemed to think would start a long and possibly unending saga of conflict.

While contesting the "claim" that it was strictly the Zionist ploy that got Balfour to issue his declaration, The Conspiracy Pact is not at all underestimating the dedicated and persistent effort that the Zionist movement invested into lobbying international support for its wish to have a state for Jews on the land of Palestine. And, while acknowledging the unfairness the Jews had to put up with in some countries in Europe, the book also reflects on the unfairness that the Zionist pursuit of a Jewish homeland in Palestine meant for Palestinians who were living on the land.

Having established that their work is a literary take on history, the authors freed themselves from the responsibility of abiding strictly to the text of archival documents that inspired their book. There is a timeline annexed to the book that starts in 1882 upon the foundation of the first nucleus of the Zionist movement until 1987, when the first Palestinian Intifada erupted.





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