A Deficient Commission: King-Crane, 1919

It is not to be forgotten, either, that, however they are handled politically, the people of Syria are there, forced to get on together in some fashion. They are obliged to live with one another – the Arabs of the East and the people of the coast, the Moslems and the Christians. Will they be helped or hindered, in establishing tolerable and finally cordial relations, by a single mandatory? No doubt the quick mechanical solution of the problem of difficult relations is to split the people up into little independent fragments. And sometimes, undoubtedly, as in the case of the Turks and Armenians, the relations are so intolerable as to make some division imperative and inevitable. But in general, to attempt complete separation only accentuates the differences and increases the antagonism. The whole lesson of the modern social consciousness points to the necessity of understanding ‘the other half’, as it can be understood only by close and living relations.

(Recommendations of the King-Crane Commission with regard to Syria-Palestine and Iraq, Section C – 2.)

It should be noted that the recommendations of this commission were wholly inadequate, and in fact dramatically exacerbated the problems in Mandate territories, in particular the recommendations for the Palestine Mandate, whereby 300,000 Palestinians were to be uprooted from their land for the creation of a Jewish State larger in proportion than the most liberal reading of the Balfour Declaration could envision.

Further, in regards to the above quoted section on Syria and Lebanon, the actions of both Turk and Western powers, including administrative organization and geographic engineering of the territory for the purpose of advancing colonial interests, inflamed Arab national consciousness which had in fact resisted the separation of their nation and dedicated themselves through multiple cycles of Mandate rule to the unity of Syria and Lebanon. The opinion registered here goes contrary to that history, and puts the onus of the territorial division on the people, rather than squarely on the shoulders of the colonial power who sought division for their own ends.

At present the former section made bold is again fashionable to the alien observer witnessing the events in Syria from afar. The King-Crane Commission, to its credit, had the insight to disregard that opinion, in the latter section made bold. Interference is again a central reason for inflated feelings of sectarianism, whether by neighbors, Turk and Arab, or Western figures orienting the conflicts narrative towards sectarian ground, whether to fit their own simplistic understandings of civil conflict in the region, or more sinisterly to again advance their own interests.

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