While western mainstream media may celebrate the 65th anniversary of the State of Israel these days, this is usually also associated with al-Nakba, the catastrophe of the Palestinian people. Forceful expulsion and expropriation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians then living in Mandatory Palestine. That al-Nakba might have begun one and half centuries earlier, when General Bonaparte with his 13.000 French soldiers attempted to advance into Ottoman Palestine in 1799 in order to check British expansion is not so well-known. In his recent book Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East, Juan Cole only briefly touches the brutal Syrian campaign of 1799.

According to Al Jazeera’s critically acclaimed documentation of 2008, the later Napoleon then had encouraged the “Jews of the world to reclaim their land in league with France.”

“This story [the Nakba] starts in 1799, outside the walls of Acre in Ottoman-controlled Palestine, when an army under Napoleon Bonaparte besieged the city. It was all part of a campaign to defeat the Ottomans and establish a French presence in the region.

In search of allies, Napoleon issued a letter offering Palestine as a homeland to the Jews under French protection. He called on the Jews to ‘rise up’ against what he called their oppressors.

Napoleon’s appeal was widely publicised. But he was ultimately defeated. In Acre today, the only memory of him is a statue atop a hill overlooking the city.

Yet Napoleon’s project for a Jewish homeland in the region under a colonial protectorate did not die, 40  years later, the plan was revived but by the British.”

Whether this was Bonaparte’s real intention, is highly questionable, though. It seems to be one of the numerous myths about the origins of Zionism.

18 May 2013 @ 10:55 am

Last modified May 18, 2013.

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