The first Palestinian Arab congress (al-Muʾtamar al-Arabi al-Filastini) met in Jerusalem from 27 January to 9 February 1919 (one source says it ended on 10 February); it was convened by the Muslim-Christian Association. Organized by local Muslim and Christian associations, its thirty participants framed a national charter that demanded independence for Palestine, denounced the Balfour Declaration (and its promise of a Jewish national home), and rejected British rule over Palestine. A majority sought the incorporation of Palestine into an independent Syrian state, and the delegates strongly denounced French claims to a mandate over Syria. The congress expressed its request for independence in the language of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson's principles supporting the right of self-determination of subject peoples.
The congress issued a statement which included the statement:
"We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds."
The struggle between the quiescent elderly propertied notables and the activist young
educated members of the middle classes became apparent in the Palestine Arab
Conference which met in Jerusalem between 27 January and 10 February 1919. The
Conference, which comprised delegates from Muslim-Christian Societies from various
parts of Palestine, was called to discuss the presentation of Palestinian demands for self-determination before the Peace Conference and to voice Palestinian Arab fears regarding
Zionism and the prospect of Jewish domination.
According to a report on the Conference filed by Captain J .N. Camp of the British
Intelligence, eleven out of the twenty-seven delegates were pro-British, two pro-French,
two delegates with uncertain political sympathies and the remaining twelve were pan
Arab or pro -Arab. 7 2
The conference was presided over by Aref Pasha Dahudi Dajani and dominated by the
notables of Palestinian towns mostly representing the propertied classes and vested
political and economic interests. The most outstanding members of the Pan-Arab group
were two young intellectuals belonging to the urban middle classes, 'Izzat Darwaza and
Yusuf al-'Isa, editor of Falastin.
Camp reported that, from the outset, the Conference was subject to strong pressure from
outside. 'The pan-Arab influence of certain members of the Muntada al-Adabi and
Nadiel-Arabi was very persistent'.
The struggle inside the Conference was between the pro-British bloc and the pan-Arab
bloc, and the split owed its origins to economic factors as well as to a generation gap:
Young Moslems, members of the various Arab Societies agitate for an independent
Palestine, which would form part of a great independent Arab State. Moslem villagers
and Moslems who own any considerable amount of property are nearly all pro-British.
Camp asserted that the fear of Zionism was the main reason that leads the young pan-
Arab element to favour its union with an independent Arab Syria, for with Palestine
joined to an Arab Syria the people of Palestine with the help of other Arabs would be
able successfully to resist Jewish immigration.73
Herein lay the dilemma of the pro-British Palestinian Arabs: although they were opposed
to Zionism (the report spoke of 'the unalterable opposition of all non-Jewish elements in
Palestine to Zionism'), they were actually helping the Zionist cause by being loyal to a
pro-Zionist Britain. They adopted the Zionist position: namely British rule and separation
of Syria and Palestine. 74
In view of this dilemma it was not surprising that Camp should have reported: I have
personally heard many Arabs, both Christians and Moslems, declare that they will
forcibly resist any attempt to set up in this land a Jewish State or anything resembling it.
The pan-Arab young bloods, very bold in speech, say so openly ,the elderly declare that
they will sell out and leave the country .1 do not think the threat of the young Arabs is to be taken lightly, as they might cause much trouble by appealing to the fanaticism of the
villagers and as they certainly be supported by Arabs outside Palestine. 75
It was under the influence of the 'young bloods' that the Conference passed some strong-
worded resolutions. The delegations held that resolutions expressed the wishes and
demands of the people 'Southern Syria known as Palestine'. They communicated these
resolutions to the Peace Conference 'being convinced that it will admit rights, comply
with our demands and grant our requests'. The Palestinians' wishes and demands
submitted to the Peace Conference opened a reference to 'the fact that the Declaration of
President Wilson considered to be one of the fundamental principles on which the Peace
Conference is based for the freedom of nations liberated from the Turkish yoke, the
cancellation of all secret treaties concluded during the war and the promise to nations to
choose the kind of government they desire for themselves'.76
The decisions are worth quoting in full: 77
1 . We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria as it has never been separated from it at
any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic
and geographic bonds.
2. The Declaration made by M. Pichon, Minister for Foreig Affairs for France, that
France had rights in our country based on the desires and aspirations of the inhabitants
has no foundation and we reject all the declarations made in his speech of 29th December
1918, as our wishes and aspirations are only in Arab unity and complete independence.
3. In view of the above we desire that one district Southern Syria or Palestine should not
be separated from the Independent Arab Syrian Government and to be free from all
foreign influence and protection.
4. In accordance with the rule laid down by President Wilson and approved by most of
the Great Powers we consider that every promise or treaty concluded in respect of our
country and its future as null and void and reject the same.
5. The Government of the country will apply for help to its friend Great Britain in case of
need for the improvement and development of the country provided that this will not
affect its independence and Arab unity in any way and will keep good relations with the
Allied Powers. 78
The Palestine Conference also decided to send a delegation to Damascus 'to inform Arab
patriots there of the decision to call Palestine Southern Syria and unite it with Northern
Another delegation of three was named 'as possible representatives to go to Paris'. 80
The decisions of the Conference were presented in writing to the British, French, Italian
and Spanish representatives in Jerusalem. It was apparent that the young elements, with
the help of Palestinian pressure from outside, prevailed on the Conference. Before
adjourning, the Conference agreed to meet again at Nablus three months hence, but failed
to elect an executive Committee to the Conference.
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