In the aftermath of the Kurds’ failure to gain independence from Iraq, it’s interesting to understand how the Jews accomplished what the Kurds have failed to do (so far).
Below is a brief summary showing the most prominent steps leading to Israel’s successful emergence as a modern state:
From the mid-19th century, there was a growing, somewhat organized Christian and Jewish movement to return the Jews to Zion, which has been a Jewish imperative since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, strong sentiments among British Christian Zionists – with other tactical reasons pertaining to WW1 (1917) – lead Britain to proclaim the Balfour Declaration, which called for a Jewish national home in Palestine. (In the 2nd century CE, the Roman general Hadrian crushed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba, reconquering Jerusalem and Judea. These areas were renamed Palaestina, successfully minimizing Jewish identification with the land of Israel, even until today.)
Britain achieved official control over Palestine within a decade after it and France had imperiously carved areas of interest for themselves in the “Near East,” during their secretive Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916). Soon after, under Weizmann’s influence, Mark Sykes became an ardent Zionist and helped to create the Balfour Declaration. The acclaimed chemist and statesman, Chaim Weizmann, was critical to the Balfour Proclamation and the refounding of Israel. The San Remo Resolution (1920), incorporating the Balfour Declaration language, was the first international legal document that recognized the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
The Balfour language was crucially included in the League of Nations’ British Mandate for Palestine (1922), thereby setting the stage for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
After WW2, in part because of the horrific slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust, there was a sympathetic movement to establish the Jewish state in Palestine. In 1947, the United Nations, which succeeded the League of Nations and adopted the Mandate for Palestine in toto, passed a Partition Plan for Palestine which Israel accepted (the Arabs rejected it), calling for a Jewish state and an Arab state.
There was an immediate, violent reaction by the Arabs to the Partition Plan, with paramilitary forces on each side engaged in fighting. Immediately upon Israel’s May 14 Declaration of Independence (1948), six Arab armies attacked Israel. David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Yishuv (pre-state Israel), was determined to accomplish the absolutely necessary unification of the left and right wing Jewish forces into a unified army (IDF.) To do so, Ben-Gurion ruthlessly ordered the bombardment of the Altelena (a ship carrying weapons for the right wing Irgun forces) after it landed on Israel’s coastline. He also pressured the other military factions, though not as brutally as he did the Irgun.
After the Altelena affair, which took eight Jewish lives, the Irgun’s leader and Ben-Gurion’s rival Menachem Begin, was wise enough to forswear a civil war – which Begin’s followers would undoubtedly have lost. Begin ordered his fighters to stand down, later saying, “I hope that I will be remembered, above all, as someone who prevented civil war.” The combination of Ben-Gurion and Begin, fierce opponents who nonetheless managed to cooperate at the crucial time, was critical to Israel’s victory over the Arabs.
During the 1930s, European fascists and Jew haters caused many Jews (those with foresight) to flee their homes for Palestine, increasing the Jewish population there. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Arabs made an “own goal” by forcing their own Jews to flee, unwittingly increasing the population of the Jewish state.
Israel also had a wealthy Diaspora willing to send many dollars, though not many emigrants, to support the war effort and the Jews’ subsequent bid for independence.
The Jews kept down in Europe and Arabia until modern times were ambitious and smart. They gradually became successful, similar to American Jews, enabling Israel to become relatively wealthy and to garner respect from other nations, many of which benefit from Israeli innovation.
The Holocaust, which showed the depravity antisemites are capable of, forced the Israelis into a “Never Again” mindset, helping it to become one of the world’s most powerful military and economic successes. Israel’s location on the Mediterranean and Red Seas, at the nexus of Africa, Asia, and Europe, is a huge asset as well.
Above all, Israelis are an extraordinary people who used their newfound independence to prosper and to compete favorably with countries many times its size.
Regarding the Kurds: “For more than two decades, Erbil and Sulaimaniya have been rival power bases in northern Iraq. The former is home to the Barzani clan, and the latter the base of the Talabani family – the second act in the dynastic politics of Iraqi Kurdistan, whose people remain polarised even at a turning point in their history.” (theguardian.com) The recent fall of Kirkuk is evidence of that.
The Kurds, 30 million strong in Kurdistan (parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran), deserve their own state, but among other problems, they have not followed the Jews’ example. There was a 100 year, essential foundation for Israel’s independence and success. Without a strong foundation, whether the Kurds will ever have their own state is unclear.