During the First World War, Emir Faisal, son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, the Hashemite ruler of Hejaz (today Saudi Arabia) led a revolt against the Turks, made famous in the film "Lawrence of Arabia" (T.E. Lawrence). The revolt's British backers believed that Arab and Jewish nationalists could work together to build a new Middle East.
|T.E. Lawrence at Aqaba, 1917|
On June 17, 1918, Weizmann wrote to his wife Vera in London about the romantic journey along the Red Sea past the "glowing mountains" of Sinai via Aqaba to the Anglo-Arab army in southeast Transjordan. Here he met Faisal: "the first real Arab nationalist I have met. He is a leader! He is quite intelligent and a very honest man, handsome as a picture. He is not interested in Palestine, but on the other hand he wants Damascus and the whole of northern Syria."
|Weizmann and Feisal at their meeting in Ma'an , June 1918. |
Photograph: Yad Chaim Weizmann, Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel
In December 1918, Faisal and Weizmann met again in London. In the interim, Faisal had captured Damascus, which he hoped would be the capital of the Arab Kingdom promised by the British, but his regime there was fragile. In their talk on December 11, Weizmann promised help from the Zionist movement. They agreed to cooperate against the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which divided Palestine into British and French spheres of influence and gave Syria to the French. An agreement was drawn up, signed on January 3, 1919, in which Faisal expressed approval for the Balfour Declaration and Jewish settlement in Palestine. Other clauses ensured freedom of religion and Muslim control of the Holy Places sacred to Islam. In the original, held in the Central Zionist Archives, you can see the reservation in Arabic Faisal added in his own handwriting, saying: "If the Arabs are established as I have asked in my manifesto of January 4, addressed to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I will carry out what is written in this agreement. If changes are made, I cannot be answerable for failing to carry out this agreement."
On February 6, 1919, Faisal appeared before the peace conference and demanded an Arab state, excluding Palestine from his demands. However, under pressure from Arab nationalists, he later retracted. In the summer of 1919, the first Syrian Congress proclaimed the Arabs' desire for a united independent Syria, including Palestine and Lebanon. In March 1920, Faisal was proclaimed King of Greater Syria. However, by July the French had driven him out of Damascus, and Syria became a French mandate. The British, who had just created the state of Iraq (a move leading to many current problems), compensated Faisal by making him its king. His brother Abdullah became Emir of Transjordan and later King of Jordan.
The documents and quotes shown here come from the Weizmann Archives in Rehovot and were published in the "Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann" series. In 1994, the Israel State Archives published some of them in Hebrew in its commemorative volume on Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president.