Roots of the Conflict: Palestine’s Nakba in the Larger Arab ‘Catastrophe’

On May 15th of every year, over the past 68 years, Palestinians have commemorated
their collective exile from Palestine. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine to
make room for a “Jewish homeland” came at a price of unrelenting violence and
perpetual suffering. Palestinians refer to that enduring experience as “Nakba”,
or “Catastrophe”.

However, the “Nakba” is not merely a Palestinian experience; it is also an
Arab wound that never ceases from bleeding.

The Arab “Nakba” was namely the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided much of
the Arab world between competing Western powers. A year later, Palestine was
removed from the Arab equation altogether and “promised” to the Zionist movement
in Europe, creating one of the most protracted conflicts in modern human history.

Despite all attempts at separating the current conflict in Palestine from its
larger Arab environs, the two realities can never be delinked since they both
go back to the same historical roots.

How Did This Come about?

When British diplomat, Mark Sykes, succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic at
the age of 39, in 1919, another diplomat, Harold Nicolson, described his influence
on the Middle East region as follows:

“It was due to his endless push and perseverance, to his enthusiasm and
faith, that Arab nationalism and Zionism became two of the most successful of
our war causes.”

Retrospectively, we know that Nicolson spoke too soon. The breed of “Arab nationalism”
he was referencing in 1919 was fundamentally different from the nationalist
movements that gripped several Arab countries in the 1950s and 60s. The rallying
cry for Arab nationalism in those later years was liberation and sovereignty
from Western colonialism and their local allies.

Sykes’ contribution to the rise of Zionism did not promote much stability,
either. The Zionist project transformed into the State of Israel, itself established
on the ruins of Palestine in 1948. Since then, Zionism and Arab nationalism
have been in constant conflict, resulting in deplorable wars and seemingly perpetual

However, Sykes’ lasting contribution to the Arab region was his major role
in the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, also known as the Asia Minor Agreement,
one hundred years ago. That infamous treaty between Britain and France, which
was negotiated with the consent of Russia, has shaped the Middle East’s geopolitics
for an entire century.

Throughout the years, challenges to the status quo imposed by Sykes-Picot failed
to fundamentally alter its arbitrarily-sketched borders, which divided the Arabs
into “spheres of influence” to be administered and controlled by Western powers.

Yet, with the recent rise of “Daesh” and the establishment of its own…

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