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The Rise of Arab Nationalism and Jewish Nationalism

Israel – Palestine For Critical Thinkers: #5

The 19th century saw the rise of both Jewish and Arab nationalist movements – Arab Nationalism and Jewish Nationalism. The inception of Zionism and how it grew out of a need to address growing anti-semitism. Arab intellectuals imagining a powerful political union between all Arab states, and how these two political movements would eventually meet in Israel-Palestine. Let’s see the interaction between Arab Nationalism and Jewish Nationalism.

Rise of Arab Nationalism – Advantages and Obstacles 

The flag in the photo above is the flag of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire and a prominent symbol of Arab nationalism. Its design and colors are the basis of many of the Arab states’ flags.

First of all, not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs. That’s the easy part. Basically, the central premise of Arab Nationalism is that all the Arab world, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, constitute one nation bound together. They hold common ethnic, linguistic, cultural, historical, identical, nationalist, geographical and political ethos. Note that this description does not include religion, since some of the leaders of Arab Nationalism were Christians. Christian groups called for a completely independent Lebanon, while Muslims promoted an autonomous Greater Syria.

Conflicting identities and competing loyalties to tribe, sect, region, and religion were a serious obstacle to Arab Nationalism. There was also tension between Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, and other regional identities vis-a-vis the larger, all-encompassing Arab identity.  The most ironic obstacle was the linguistic diversity among Arab states (Arabic dialects,Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, Berber, Azeri, Baluchi, Luri, and Armenian).

The Development of Arab Nationalism

From the 1860’s Arabism began to gain predominance over Ottomanism among some Arabs in Egypt (which became an autonomous vassal state or Khedivate of the Ottoman Empire in 1867), Syria, and Lebanon. Arab nationalism drew inspiration from 19th-century European ideas. Arabs saw that the Slavic nationalist movements (mostly Christian) of the Ottoman Balkan territories, had, by the end of 1912, all won their independence. Better education glorified the past, raised political consciousness, and  kindled a nationalist spirit in a generation of young Arabs.

During the last years of Ottoman authority, the idea of Arab nationalism had virtually no impact on the majority of Arabs. They considered themselves loyal subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Arab Nationalism was strongest in Syria. The British, for their part, incitedHussein ibn Ali al-Hashimi, the Sharif of Mecca, to launch the Arab Revolt during the Great War. The revolt failed to generate significant support from within the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces. It remained limited to tribes from the Arabian Peninsula loyal to Sharif Hussein. You might say that Sharif Hussein ibn Ali was the first to press for Pan-Arabism.

1918 British Government map entitled "Map illustrating Territorial Negotiations between H.M.G. and King Hussein"
1918 British Government map entitled “Map illustrating Territorial Negotiations between H.M.G. and King Hussein”


In the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence the United Kingdom agreed to support Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottomans. The two sides interpreted this agreement differently. The United Kingdom and France reneged on the original deal and divided up the area in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Arabs felt unfavourable to Sykes-Picot.  The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised support for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine further confused the issue.

The Pan-Arabism movement began in 1931, during the convention of the pan-Islamic conference in Jerusalem. Muslim fears increased due to the growth of Zionism in Palestine. They declared:

  • The Arab countries are an indivisible whole. No divisions are acceptable.
  • All Arab countries must achieve of total independence within one single unity.
  • Colonialism is unacceptable. Arab nation must rejects with all the means at its disposal.

Three lines of poetry give us insight to Arab national consciousness:-

  1. “Awake, O Arabs, and arise!”,  Ibrahim al-Yaziji, 1868 in Lebanon
  2. “Write down, I am an Arab!”,  A poem of resistance by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, 1963, Israel
  3. “Are we Arabs one big lie?”, Nizar Qabbani, written in the midst of the 1991 Gulf crisis


Rise of Jewish Nationalism

Zionism is Jewish nationalism. Zionism calls for the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. For Zionists, the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. It is rooted in the Bible and Jewish history. Not by coincidence, Modern Zionism emerged in the late 19th century, just like Arab Nationalism. Zionism grew in reaction to anti-Semitic and exclusionary nationalist movements in Europe.

Theodor Herzl is considered the founder of the Modern Zionist movement. In his 1896 book Der Judenstaat, he envisioned the founding of a future independent Jewish state during the 20th century.
Theodor Herzl is considered the founder of the Modern Zionist movement. In his 1896 book Der Judenstaat, he envisioned the founding of a future independent Jewish state during the 20th century.

Herzl sought to encourage Jewish migration to Ottoman Palestine. After World War I, the Zionists created an alliance with Great Britain, who held the Mandate on Palestine. The Zionist were able to secure support for Jewish emigration to Palestine for several years. The alliance with Britain became strained. Great Britain soon realized the implications of  Jewish Nationalism for Arabs in the Palestine Mandate and for Arab Nationalism.

Arab Nationalism and Jewish Nationalism

Jewish Timeline – A Brief History of the Jewish People on One Page

Approved and recommended by the Israeli Ministry of Education.

6,000 Years of Jewish history & legacy at a glance on a one-page infographic.
The poster-chart combines different fields on a single timeline such as demography, literature, Jewish and World events, traditions, historical figures and more. Every entry on the timeline is a hot-spot that pops a balloon with an image, further reading and useful links (Wikipedia & more). In addition, you may freely download and print a high resolution version of the Odyeda Jewish Timeline in PDF format in white or parchment backgrounds.

Read more here:


The Origins of Arab Nationalism

Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair

A History of Zionism



About Israel and You

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