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15: The Creation of Israel/The Nakba

In the final weeks of the module, we step away from occupied Germany and Japan to consider the global ramifications of World War II for colonial empires, colonized peoples, and the international system more broadly. The war undoubtedly dealt a profound blow to imperial projects across the globe. But to what degree, and with what consequences, did war accelerate processes of decolonization and boost aspirations for self-rule among oppressed peoples? Looking at various discrete sites in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, we will consider the impact of the war on empire, assessing how 'postwar', a nascent cold war and decolonization intersected.

We begin by considering how the war destabilized the British Mandate in Palestine, a process that quickly led to the formation of a new Israeli state in 1948 and another war that quashed Palestinian aspirations for statehood: the Nakbah (or Catastrophe). Our particular point of entry into contentious debates around the fate of the Palestine Mandate is Richard Crossman, newly elected MP for Coventry East and a member of the Committee of Inquiry, whose papers are now housed at the Modern Records Centre.

Class slides.

Seminar questions:

  • why was the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry convened, how did it function, and what did it set out to accomplish?
  • were Palestinian viewpoints and aspirations marginalized in international deliberations over the fate of the Mandate, and if so, how do we explain this?
  • what variety of factors contributed to British and US political elites' willingness to endorse Zionism as a political project? What role (if any) did increasing antagonism between western states and the USSR play in deliberations over Palestine/Israel?
  • how far should we see the creation of Israel in 1948 as a direct outgrowth of World War II?

Required reading:

Chronology (from Wm. Roger Louis & Robert W. Stookey (eds), The End of the Palestine Mandate (U. Texas Press, 1986)

Leonard Dinnerstein, 'America, Britain and Palestine: The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry and the Displaced Persons, 1945-1946', Diplomatic History 4, iii (July 1980): 283–302

Primary sources: 

Richard Crossman, Palestine Mission: A Personal Record (Hamish Hamilton: London, 1946), chapter 1, 'The Enquiry Begins,' pp.11-28

Report of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry Regarding the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine, Lausanne, 20th April, 1946, Cmd. 6808 (HMSO, 1946)

'The Case against a Jewish State in Palestine:Link opens in a new window Albert Hourani's Statement to the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry of 1946' reprinted in Journal of Palestine Studies, 35, i (Autumn 2005): 80-102

Supplementary reading:

Gilbert Achcar, The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (Metropolitan Books, 2010)

Husain Aiyaz, Mapping the End of Empire: American and British strategic visions in the postwar world (Harvard UP, 2014)

Kathleen Christison, Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on US Middle East Policy (University of California Press, 2001) e-book, ch.4, 'Harry Truman: Victory Belongs to the Victors'

Michael J. Cohen, Truman and Israel (University of California Press, 1990)

Motti Golani (ed.), The End of the British Mandate for Palestine, 1948: The Diary of Sir Henry Gurney (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) e-book

Motti Golani, Palestine between Politics and Terror, 1945-1947 (Brandeis University Press, 2013) e-book 

Martin Jones, Failure in Palestine: British and United States policy after the Second World War (Mansell, 1986)

Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed (Yale University Press, 2010)

Arieh J Kochavi, 'The Struggle Against Jewish Immigration to Palestine', Middle Eastern Studies 34, iii (July 1998): 146-67

William Roger Louis & Robert W. Stookey, The End of the Palestine Mandate (IB Tauris, 2017)

Nur Masalha, The Palestine Nakba: Decolonizing History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory (Zed Books, 2012)

Avinoam Patt, '"The People Must be Forced to Go to Palestine": Rabbi Abraham Klausner and the She'erit Hapletah in Germany', Holocaust and Genocide Studies 28, 2 (Fall 2014): 240-76

Evan M. Wilson, A Calculated Risk: The US Decision to Recognize Israel (Publishers Group West, 2008) e-book

Muhsin Yusuf, 'The Partition of Palestine (1947) - An Arab Perspective', Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture 9.4 (Nov 30, 2002): 39-

Online resources:

Richard Crossman materials relating to the Anglo-American Committee

Middle East Online: Arab-Israeli Relations, 1917-1970 (Archives Unbound digital database)

Nakba Archive:

NB: the Mass Observation online archive also contains materials relating to how British people responded to events in Palestine during and after the war.