Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.
There is a belief that Pakistan is solely opposed to Israel due to the latter’s post-independence atrocities against Palestine, which are attributed to the sizeable military mismatch between both Palestine and Israel—however, this is not a complete picture. The reality is that Pakistan’s founders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal laid the groundwork for the nation’s pro-Palestine stance long before Pakistan or Israel gained independence.
The founders were unequivocally opposed to a Jewish homeland fashioned at the expense of the Arabs. Due to such a robust foundation, one still sees the phrase “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel” written quite unapologetically on the Pakistani passport. The founders adopted this posture due to them witnessing Britain’s exploitation of Arab Muslims, Britain’s reneging on promises to the Arabs, favoritism towards the Jews, and the global powers’ support of Zionism on Palestinian soil.
Two of Pakistan’s founding fathers and undoubtedly the most integral ones were Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal. Pakistanis herald Mr. Jinnah as the father of the nation who overcame not only British imperialist designs but also a Hindu-dominated Congress in India that was vehemently opposed to dividing the subcontinent.
Although he passed away before the independence of Pakistan, Mr. Iqbal is credited as being the spiritual father of the nation. Popularly known as the Poet of the East, he uplifted Muslims of the subcontinent with his poetry and oration and dreamt of an independent Muslim homeland.
Both Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal were pivotal parts of the All India Muslim League (AIML). The AIML was the primary political party safeguarding Muslim rights in British India, but during the 1920s, the organization began taking a keen interest in global Muslim affairs as well.
Post-World War I
During World War I, the Ottoman Caliphate, which housed Palestine, was to be abolished and many of the territories of the once great empire were divided between the UK and France (see Sykes-Picot Agreement). The British also reneged on certain promises after their triumph in WWI was assured. One of these was to the Emir of Mecca. To the Emir, they promised if the Arabs abetted Britain and France against the Ottomans, they would support the Arabs in self-rule (which the Emir envisioned as a pan-Arabic state from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen).
One of the territories that the UK colonized was Palestine and thus began the age of Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948). The Arabs and Muslims were betrayed, and in their stead, the Jews were supported. This was indicated by the Balfour Declaration in 1917 which promised British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was a correspondence between UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.
The Balfour Declaration, conflated with Mandatory Palestine, made Muslims around the world cognizant of the profound implications of these events. As history would later reveal, the first seeds of a Jewish homeland had just been planted. The Muslim world was visibly dismayed by such machinations, especially after undergoing the trauma of the Caliphate’s loss.
Things continued to unfold tragically during the Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936-1939) that engulfed the region in violence. Seeing the British adopt ruthless measures to quell the Arab opposition, there was further Muslim uproar in India. In response, Mr. Jinnah, in his presidential address to the AIML in 1937, stated, “Great Britain has dishonored her proclamation to the Arabs – which had guaranteed to them complete independence of the Arab homelands…After having utilized them by giving them false promises, they installed themselves as the mandatory power with that infamous Balfour Declaration…fair-minded people will agree when I say that Great Britain will be digging its grave if she fails to honor her original proclamation…”.
The AIML leadership continually passed resolutions in support of the Palestinians, protested in the streets, and sent their delegations to display solidarity with the Arabs. Mr. Jinnah, known to be unrelenting, continued also to verbally berate the harsh and illegal treatment of the Palestinians. He asserted, “You know the Arabs have been treated shamelessly—men who, fighting for the freedom of their country, have been described as gangsters, and subjected to all forms of repression. For defending their homelands, they are being put down at the point of the bayonet, and with the help of martial laws. But no nation, no people who are worth living as a nation, can achieve anything great without making great sacrifice such as the Arabs of Palestine are making.”
In July 1937, the Peel Commission endeavoured to unearth the causes of unrest in Mandatory Palestine. The commission produced a report that recommended partitioning Palestine. This tragic recommendation for the Arabs, affixed with the immigration of Jews to Palestine exponentially rising during the third, fourth, and fifth aliyahs, traumatized the global Muslim psyche. In British Palestine, between 100,000-300,000, Jews immigrated to Palestine—a monumental demographic shift.
The Jews also had for years bought and occupied Palestinian, landmarking a territorial shift in their favour as well. The AIML protested against the British mandate and its anti-Arab policies, citing them as violating religious and human rights thus warranting its abolition, but such proclamations fell on deaf ears. Miss Farquharson of the National League of England requested Mr. Iqbal’s views on the Peel Commission’s recommendations.
To that, Mr. Iqbal replied, “We must not forget that Palestine does not belong to England. She is holding it under a mandate from the League of Nations, which Muslim Asia is now learning to regard as an Anglo-French institution invented for the purpose of dividing the territories of weaker Muslim peoples. Nor does Palestine belong to the Jews who abandoned it of their own free will long before its possession by the Arabs.” The last sentence of the preceding unveils Mr. Iqbal’s view that Palestine was solely a Muslim issue—this emotion resonated with the Muslim masses of India and beyond.
This sentiment is further highlighted by Mr. Iqbal’s statement in 1937 in an AIML setting, “The problem, studied in its historical perspective, is purely a Muslim problem…Palestine ceased to be a Jewish problem long before the entry of Caliph Umar into Jerusalem more than 1300 years ago. Their dispersion, as Professor Hockings has pointed out, was perfectly voluntary and their scriptures were for the most part written outside Palestine. Nor was it ever a Christian problem. Modern historical research has doubted even the existence of Peter, the Hermit. Even if we assume that the Crusades were an attempt to make Palestine a Christian problem, the attempt was defeated by the victories of Salah-ud-Din. I, therefore, regard Palestine as a purely Muslim problem.”
He espoused parallel thoughts in his poems as well, which were perhaps the most inspiring to the Muslims of India. His poem Sham-o-Falesteen (Syria and Palestine) poignantly proclaims:
Heaven’s blessing on those brazen Frenchmen shine!
Aleppo’s rare glass brims with their red wine.
—If the Jew claims the soil of Palestine,
Why not the Arab Spain?
Some new design must have inflamed our English potentates;
This is no story of oranges, honey or dates.
The second couplet is the most telling i.e. if Jews had a claim on Arab land because they were present there two thousand years ago, then the Arab Muslims certainly had a claim on Spain where they ruled for 800 years.
World War II
In 1938, Mr. Iqbal passed away before the onset of World War II, but his message on Palestine was immortalized in his poems, statements, and speeches. The AIML continued to honor his legacy by not only pursuing the creation of Pakistan but also facilitating Palestine resolutely.
When the war broke out, the British, characterizing shrewd but indignant behavior, cozied up to the AIML for their support in WWII. This was primarily because the Hindu-dominated Congress’ support was not forthcoming. During the war, many pro-Palestinian actions were undertaken. For example on the AIML’s call, Palestine Day was observed on the 26th of August 1938 across the subcontinent.
In 1939, Mr. Jinnah sent senior AIML members Ch. Khaliquzzaman and Abdur Rehman Siddiqui to meet with the Grand Mufti of Palestine to assist with the Palestinian issue. In July 1939, the British government prepared and issued a white paper unilaterally. The White Paper of 1939 called for the establishment of a Jewish home within an independent Palestinian state in the next 10 years and rejected the Peel Commission’s recommendations.
In simpler words, it recommended a one-state solution for the Arabs and Jews. It also ordered that Jewish immigration be limited and would depend on Arab consent. Many Arab leaders thought such recommendations were untenable and rejected the proposal, as did the Jews. The latter became militant and incepted a violent campaign against the British.
Mr. Jinnah, too, was critical of the white paper – he criticized its recommendations and reiterated that the original promises made to the Arabs in WWI along with their demands should be honored. He wrote to Viceroy Linlithgow that the British “…should try and meet all reasonable national demands of the Arabs in Palestine“ as this was one of the prerequisites for AIML’s cooperation in the British war effort in India during 1939-40.
Mr. Jinnah had also threatened “to call out the Muslim Ministries in the Provinces“ on the issue of British injustices towards Palestinians. Mr. Jinnah also pledged his support to the Supreme Arab Council of Palestine. He ramped up the pressure domestically and reaffirmed to the British how important Palestine was spiritually for the Muslims. Furthermore, he created a “Palestine Fund” to raise and dispatch money for Palestinian families who lost their relatives in the struggle for freedom. Despite his constant struggle towards the creation of Pakistan, he remained adamant about the Palestinian cause as well.
Post-WWII: Creation of Pakistan and Israel
The post-war scenario looked bleak for the Palestinians. For the Indian Muslims, too, it was a difficult time due to the intensifying question of partition. Despite this critical juncture (around 1946) and the Indian Muslims requiring all their energy, Mr. Jinnah and the AIML did not vacillate vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue.
On 20th April 1946, The Anglo-American Committee report was published – it recommended that 100,000 Jewish immigrants persecuted by Nazis be allowed to immigrate to Palestine immediately (among other things). Upon hearing such, Mr. Jinnah remarked that this was the “grossest betrayal of the promises made to the Arabs” and he was distraught at how the great powers had only leveraged the territory of Palestine to accommodate the Jews at the Arabs’ expense.
The Grand Mufti of Palestine Muhammad Amin-el-Husseni himself recognized Mr. Jinnah’s unyielding struggle towards the Palestinian cause several times. On one such occasion in 1946, the Grand Mufti wrote to Mr. Jinnah, “Muslims of the world would remember how the League under leadership of Jinnah favored and cared for the affairs of the Muslim countries like Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Western Trablus, Indonesia and all other countries of North Africa.”
In 1946, the US, which had replaced the UK as the dominant global power, and its dalliance with Israel began to blossom further – this was evidenced by the US President’s policy of supporting a Jewish state in Palestine.
On 14th August 1947, Mr. Jinnah’s long and tedious struggle to create an independent nation for the Muslim Indians was finally successful. Although a momentous occasion for the AIML and new Pakistanis, the Palestinians were not as lucky as they became anguished due to the UN’s deliberation on how to partition Palestine.
When the partition plan was accepted by the UN in November 1947, Mr. Jinnah, then the Governor General of Pakistan, wrote to US President Truman and asserted, “The decision is ultra vires of the United Nations charter and basically wrong and invalid in law… The very people for whose benefit this decision is taken—the Jews, who have already suffered terribly from Nazi persecution—will I greatly fear, suffer most if this unjust course is pursued…”.
Talking to Robert Simson of the BBC, he expressed that the decision was “unjust and cruel” and pledged to aid the cause “of the Arabs in Palestine in every possible way.” In the aftermath of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine that aimed to divide the territory into an Arab state, a Jewish state, and a Special International Regime for Jerusalem and Bethlehem, war broke out internally as well as between the nations of the Arab League and Israel. The result was almost a complete Israeli victory with the new state not only controlling the area proposed by the UN but also occupying around 60% of the area proposed to the Palestinians.
Israel also took control of West Jerusalem, which was meant to be an international zone. The state of Israel was born on 14th May 1948. History, the greatest of writers, inscribed poetically how Pakistan and Israel both came to be within the space of 9 months – perhaps the only two nations to be created in the name of religion. Both nations are marked with territorial disputes as well, which remain unresolved and pose a threat on a global scale. Mr. Jinnah passed soon after on 11th September 1948.
A few months ago, if someone asked me if Pakistan would ever recognize Israel regardless of the strong Israel-US nexus, my answer would be a no. However, in recent months, the elites of Pakistan have trapped the country in an almost-unwinnable situation after Imran Khan’s ouster. Pakistan is desperate for money, for its loans to be waived, and for inflation to come down. Terrorist attacks have also begun rising. Israel, already on a high after the Abraham Accords, might see this as an opportunity to aid or pressurize Pakistan to recognize Israel, sell their nuclear weapons, or both.
The murmurings of such Machiavellian machinations have been ongoing in the country’s power corridors as well as on social media for a while. In fact, when the relatively stable government of Imran Khan was governing, there were internal and exogenous pressures on him to recognize Israel. Now that a vapid and corrupt government marred with greater economic and political schisms has replaced his, those same burdens stand buttressed.
If Pakistan does become desperate or corrupt enough to recognize Israel, it would be to its detriment in the long run. Conversely, to “befriend” and perhaps denuclearize the only Muslim nuclear state with one of the strongest armies in the world would be a massive victory for Israel. Netanyahu himself is on record for stating that after Iran, Pakistan is the largest specter to the state due to its possession of a massive nuclear arsenal.
Pakistanis, as pro-Palestine as they are, are in a despairing situation, which will turn murkier still, I fear. The implication is that maybe the citizens (not all but some) could be convinced of the absurd move to recognize Israel or worse. I am completely opposed to this as the Palestine issue has always remained a red line for Pakistan – this much we must not obfuscate – and for the politicians and citizens to abandon this red line would be catastrophic, maybe not economically, but morally and spiritually.
We must remember that in British India, times were tougher for the Muslims than what Pakistan is facing currently, but the founders did not compromise on their scruples even with their backs against the wall. For example, Mr. Jinnah, known even by his rivals as incorruptible, was made several enticing offers from Gandhi, Viceroy Mountbatten, and others to become the first PM of a united India if his demand for Pakistan was renounced – but he never accepted.
Mr. Iqbal, as unwavering himself, expressed his fiery passion for Palestine in a letter to Mr. Jinnah, “The Palestine question is very much agitating the minds of the Muslims… Personally I would not mind going to jail on an issue which affects both Islam and India. The formation of a Western base on the very gates of the East is a menace to both.”
The examples of Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal signify the staunch policy against Israel and the indefatigable commitment towards Pakistan and Palestine that Pakistanis must exemplify now. Therefore, the country must follow in the steadfast footsteps of the founders and refrain from recognizing Israel – for recognizing Israel is to forsake Palestine, and to forsake Palestine is to forsake Pakistan.
This piece was originally published on Modern Diplomacy.
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