Israeli soldiers and armoured vehicles in Gaza City, November 1, 2023 (Photo: Getty Images)
THE FINAL CRUSADE in a series of nine religious wars fought between the armies of Muslims and Christians over a period of two centuries ended in 1291 with the fall of the holy city of Acre to Muslims.
Acre, which lies on the Mediterranean coast in today’s Israel, was the last bastion held by Christian Crusaders.
The first Crusade, launched by Christian forces from Europe in 1099, had seized Jerusalem from Muslims who had controlled the city for 450 years.
Jerusalem was recaptured by the Muslim army of Saladin in 1187. Christian Crusaders tried to take it back but were foiled. European armies led by Lord Edward, the future King Edward I of England, were defeated and forced to withdraw.
Jerusalem though would remain contested for centuries between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Today, it is at the heart of the battle between Palestinians, Israelis, and Hamas.
For Muslims, the city has the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest in Islam. For Jews, the Western Wall is one of Judaism’s most revered sites. For Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is where Jesus Christ was crucified.
Today’s battle in Gaza has its roots in the deep animosities that extremists in the three Abrahamic religions continue to harbour for one another.
Ruled by the Ottoman Empire till 1918, Jerusalem became part of Britain’s Palestine Mandate after the defeat of the Ottomans, who had allied with Germany in World War I. Jews started trickling back to Palestine in the late 1800s. But it was at the end of Ottoman control over Palestine in 1918 that Jews believed their moment, denied to them at different times for millennia, had finally arrived.
Britain was deeply complicit. Having replaced the Ottomans as the controlling authority in Palestine, the British tacitly encouraged European Jewish migration to Palestine.
Zionism—the nationalist movement for a Jewish homeland—gained traction. Jews comprised 8 per cent of the population of Palestine in 1918 when Britain assumed the mandate for Palestine which, together with Jordan, became a British protectorate.
By May 1948, when Palestine ceased to be a British protectorate, Jews comprised over 80 per cent of its population.
In the intervening 1920s and 1930s, incoming Jewish migrants had driven Palestinians out of their homes. By the 1940s, the swelling numbers of Jews, many of them Zionists, increased the level of violence leading to the Nakba, the Arab word for catastrophe which befell Palestinians in their own land.
“Between 1947 and 1949,” Al Jazeera reported, “at least 750,000 Palestinians from a 1.9 million population were made refugees beyond the borders of the state. Zionist forces had taken more than 78 per cent of historic Palestine, ethnically cleansed and destroyed about 530 villages and cities, and killed about 15,000 Palestinians in a series of mass atrocities, including more than 70 massacres.
Britain in 1948 left behind a fractured country and a legacy of decades of future wars between Jews and Muslims. Seventy-five years after the Nakba in 1948 when Palestinians lost their land and Jews gained a homeland, a second Nakba is today raging in Gaza
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“In 1936, Palestinian Arabs launched a large-scale uprising against the British and their support for Zionist settler-colonialism, known as the Arab Revolt. The British authorities crushed the revolt, which lasted until 1939, violently; they destroyed at least 2,000 Palestinian homes, put 9,000 Palestinians in concentration camps and subjected them to violent interrogation, including torture, and deported 200 Palestinian nationalist leaders.”
Israel declared itself an independent nation on May 15, 1948, hours after the British withdrawal from Palestine. In less than a year on May 11, 1949, Israel was formally recognised as a sovereign nation by the United Nations.
Massacres had preceded the British withdrawal. Jewish terrorist groups attacked Palestinians and other Arabs. The British, who had tried to appease both sides during their 30-year protectorate of Palestine, were attacked by Zionist terror groups as well.
Britain in 1948 left behind a fractured country and a legacy of decades of future wars between Jews and Muslims. A year earlier, the British had similarly withdrawn rapidly from India, leaving behind the horrific violence of Partition and residual hostility between India and Pakistan.
For the Zionist terror groups in Palestine that engaged in acts of savagery in 1947-48, the Holocaust in World War II gave Zionism both a moral imperative and Western support.
Seventy-five years after the Nakba in 1948 when Palestinians lost their land and Jews gained a homeland, a second Nakba is today raging in Gaza.
Like the ancient Crusades, the war between Israel, backed by the Christian West, and Hamas, backed by the Muslim world, could—as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned—spark a wider, longer modern crusade between the crescent and the cross.