Saudi and Israeli annexations compared

Everyone knows that Mecca and Medina are the holy cities of Islam, and that they are in Saudi Arabia. But this is a relatively recent development:

From 1517 to 1918, the Hejaz [where Mecca and Medina are located -- ed.] was a province of the Ottoman Empire. Control of the Hejaz entitled the Ottoman Sultans to add the title Caliph to their collection of titles.

In 1916 Sharif Husain bin Ali began what is generally known as the Arab Revolt. While the Ottoman forces, until the end of the war, held on to Medina, most of the Hejaz was under the control of the rebels. From June 1916 Sharif Husain was addressed as King of the Hejaz. In 1924-1925 the Hejaz was conquered by the troops of Ibn Saud, Sultan of Nejd…

At the Paris Peace Conference, the Hejaz was represented by Prince Faisal, son of Sharif Husain; Faisal was assisted by T.E. Lawrence. Here British and Hejazi interests collided, and even more so, Hejazi and French interests.

The French ousted Prince Faisal from Damascus in 1920; in 1921 he was installed by the British as King of Iraq. His brother Abdallah was installed by the British as King of Jordan, also in 1921. The Paris Peace Conference left the Hejaz in the possession of Sharif Husain bin Ali.

Hejaz was a founder-member of the League of Nations — WHKLMA

Flag of the Kingdom of Hejaz in 1925

Flag of the Kingdom of Hejaz in 1925

The Kingdom of Hejaz was short-lived:

Ibn Sa’ud began organizing the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] in 1912 with hopes of making them a reliable and stable source of an elite army corps. In order to break their traditional tribal allegiances and feuds, the Ikhwan were settled in colonies known as hijrahs. These settlements, established around desert oases to promote agricultural reclamation of the land, further forced the Bedouin to abandon their nomadic way of life. The hijrahs, whose populations ranged from 10 to 10,000, offered tribesmen living quarters, mosques, schools, agricultural equipment and instruction, and arms and ammunition. Most important, religious teachers were brought in to instruct the Bedouin in the fundamentalist precepts of Islam taught by the religious reformer Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab in the 19th century. As a result the Ikhwan became archtraditionalists. By 1918 they were ready to enter Ibn Sa’ud’s elite army…

In 1924, when Husayn was proclaimed caliph in Mecca, the Ikhwan labelled the act heretical and accused Husayn of obstructing their performance of the pilgrimage to Mecca. They then moved against Transjordan, Iraq, and the Hejaz simultaneously, besieged at-Ta’if outside Mecca, and massacred several hundred of its inhabitants. Mecca fell to the Ikhwan, and, with the subsequent surrenders (1925) of Jiddah and Medina, they won all of the Hejaz for Ibn Sa’ud. — On War

The British recognized the new state, including the Hejaz, with the treaty of Jiddah in 1927. In 1932, the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz became Saudi Arabia, which was admitted to the League of Nations that year. Oil was discovered in 1938.

Why do I bring this up? For comparison to Israel’s history, of course.

Ibn Sa’ud invaded the sovereign Kingdom of Hejaz, where the holy places of Islam were located, and violently seized control of it. When Husain’s army fled from at-Ta’if, the civilian male inhabitants of the town were massacred by the Ikhwan — one can assume that the lucky women and children were enslaved.

In contrast, Israel did not invade a sovereign nation and seize territory by force. There was never anything analogous to the Kingdom of Hejaz in Palestine, and when Israel declared independence in the land which formally was part of the Ottoman empire, she was invaded by several Arab nations.

She also had the authority of the Balfour Declaration, as incorporated in the League of Nations Mandate, to create a Jewish National Home in Palestine, and of course the authority of the UN partition resolution of 1947 to declare a state. Although it’s true that Jerusalem wasn’t included in the Partition Resolution, it was obtained as a result of two defensive wars — and it was not seized from a sovereign state as Mecca and Medina were.

But today nobody (as far as I know there is not an irredentist Hashemite movement) claims that Mecca and Medina are not legitimate parts of Saudi Arabia. Nobody says that the occupation and annexation of the Hejaz were  illegal (although some are not happy with the way the Saudis are taking care of the holy cities).

So why is Israel’s possession of Jerusalem questioned?

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One Response to “Saudi and Israeli annexations compared”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    My guess is that less than one percent of the people who spout their opinions on the Middle East ( including myself) had a firm knowledge of the modern conquest of the Islamic Holy Places. In fact most people live with a vast number of unchallenged assumptions and pictures of reality which upon closer examination would prove inadequate or outright false. This valuable little lesson in the history of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic holy places also to my mind indicates how fragile, and incidental many of the ‘realities’ are which people take as fixed and eternal
    But who ever questions the eternal Arab and Islamic right to everything they possess in the Middle East? My guess is its rare to find even ‘Zionists’ (except for a few thinking ones like Vic Rosenthal) who actually do this.