Lawrence of Arabia?
The most famous British support missions included the eccentric Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who was sent to western Arabia to aid Arab separatists. While most British soldiers viewed Arabs as uncivilized “wogs” (a derogatory term for nonwhites), T. E. Lawrence respected Arab culture, even adopting Arab clothing and mannerisms. While Lawrence of Arabia fascinated curious European crowds, most Arabs were not as impressed.
Although Lawrence is said to have unified the Arab tribes, this seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. Lawrence did develop a special relationship with a charismatic Hashemite named Faysal, but he never directly led any of the Arab tribes. Instead of T. E. Lawrence, the protectors of Mecca and Medina, Sharif Husayn (governor of western Arabia) and his sons Ali, Abdullah, and Faysal, were the most influential leaders in Arabia. Because of their Hashemite family's reported descent from Muhammad and their relationship with Istanbul, Husayn's family held great sway in the Hijaz region of western Arabia. In addition, the Saùdi family of eastern Arabia used their power to fight the pro-Ottoman Rashidi dynasty of northern Arabia. Nevertheless, the Hashemites led the fight for Arab independence.
Everyone Wants a Piece
In a type of symbiotic relationship, Arab nationalists viewed British firepower as their meal ticket to independence, while the British in turn used Arab nationalism to undermine Ottoman calls for global Islamic revolt. With Arab and British leaders united in their disdain for Istanbul, an alliance was struck in which Arab leaders were guaranteed certain territories in return for their cooperation in the war effort.
With the combination of Arab tactical superiority and British technological advantages, Arabia, Palestine, Syria, and southern Mesopotamia had fallen from Ottoman hands by October 1918.
With the Ottomans defeated in most of their Arab lands, Anatolia was their only remaining territory. In hopes of salvaging some part of their once-great empire, Istanbul chose to withdraw from the ailing Central Powers. Less than two weeks later, the Central Powers surrendered in Eurasia, ending the first global war.
“A land without a people for a people without a land.” This Zionist motto was used to convince the world that Palestine should become the Jewish homeland. In reality, by 1914, the land was occupied by more than 500,000 Arabs, whose families had lived there for more than 1,000 years. In contrast, fewer than 100,000 Jews lived in Palestine in 1914, the majority of whom had emigrated from Europe since the late 1800s.
Throughout the war, the British and French offered various portions of the Ottoman territories to other governments as incentives for their alliance. For instance, the Greeks and Italians were offered parts of western Anatolia for their partnership with the Allies. In the early years of the war, other secret arrangements were made with Russia, including the partitioning of Persian lands and the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement—named after its authors, Englishman Sir Mark Sykes and Frenchman François Georges-Picot. The Sykes-Picot plan agreed on the distribution of Ottoman territories, giving the Russians much of Ottoman Anatolia while the British and French claimed Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia.
In addition, European Jews were promised territory in Palestine, despite previous promises to Palestine's Arab inhabitants. In a letter known as the Balfour Declaration, the British foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, assured the prominent Jewish tycoon Lord Rothschild that London would support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As a result, European Zionists (Jewish nationalists) continued to purchase plots of land in the hope that their scattered Palestinian settlements would one day be united in a viable Jewish state.
As Arab leaders caught wind of the Sykes-Picot and Balfour plans, many began to question the true intentions of the West. In particular, King Husayn recognized serious contradictions between these new documents and his previous correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt. In response, French and British delegates traveled to the Hijaz (western Arabia) to assure the Hashemite king of their postwar plans for the region.
By promising the same pieces of land to multiple peoples and governments, the Allies had managed to secure war partners for the short term. However, in the long term, Western double-talk created bitter enemies. After fighting alongside British soldiers, Arab warriors found their allegiance unappreciated. In their eyes, the West had defamed Arab honor, creating feelings of betrayal and resentment that remain to this day.