Antonius, George (1891–1942)
ANTONIUS, GEORGE (1891–1942)
: Palestinian civil servant and intellectual of Lebanese Greek Orthodox background. Antonius was born in 1891 in Alexandria, Egypt, where his father was a successful businessman. He was educated at an elite Anglo-Egyptian private school and at King's College, Cambridge, where he took a degree in engineering in 1913. During World War I, Antonius worked in the British government censorship office in Alexandria, and he was a member of a literary and social circle that included, among others, E. M. Forster and Constantine Cavafy. From 1921 to 1930 Antonius worked for the education department of the British government of Palestine in Jerusalem. While there, he was assigned to assist British diplomats on a number of missions in Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt, for which he was awarded a CBE (commander of the British Empire). Though never ceasing to be an admirer of British and European culture, he became increasingly alienated from imperial rule and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. He resigned partly out of dissatisfaction with British favoritism toward the Zionist movement.
While working as a Middle East expert for the Institute of Current World Affairs, a U.S. foundation, he cultivated many influential acquaintances in Palestine and elsewhere in the fields of politics, diplomacy, and journalism. He made himself known in the Palestinian community and became an informal advisor to the conservative nationalist leader, the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni. In 1934 and 1936 he met with Zionist leaders in a failed attempt to convince them to work toward a shared Palestine. In 1936 he supported the Palestinian general strike that preceded the armed insurrection of 1936–1939, and called for limits on Jewish immigration. Antonius was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the London Conference of 1939 and afterward helped to persuade the British to include provisions regarding Jewish immigration and independence in the White Paper of 1939. He died in 1942.
George Antonius is remembered primarily as the author of the classic The Arab Awakening, published in 1938. A study of the development of Arab nationalism beginning in the late Ottoman period, it was the first and one of the most influential works on the subject. The work examined the events of World War I and the denial of self-determination by the British and French afterward, and analyzed the current situation in Iraq, Syria, and Palestine. In it Antonius published for the first time the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence of 1915–1916—whose existence the British had denied—detailing British promises to Arab leaders. Antonius opposed the Zionist project of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, and always hoped for a compromise by which the country could be shared peacefully. His book concludes with these words: ". . . the relief of Jewish distress may not be accomplished at the cost of inflicting a corresponding distress upon an innocent and peaceful population. . . . the logic of facts is inexorable. It shows that no room can be made in Palestine for a second nation except by dislodging or exterminating the nation in possession."