World War I, the Versailles Treaty and Why You Don’t Learn About it in School

Paris 1919: Negotiating Peace

Directed by Paul Cowan (2009)

Film Review

This film was a real eye opener for me. Despite studying World War I numerous times in high school, I had no knowledge of the extreme turmoil in Europe during the 1919 Versailles Treaty negotiations.

Although peace negotiations were meant to take four weeks, they would last nearly six months owing to bickering between the allies. Previously I had no idea that Germany was engaged in a civil war (aka the German revolution of 1918) during the Versailles negotiations. The German delegation would ultimately resign and return to Germany, with the intention of resuming battle.*

After the German military blew up the naval fleet that had been “interned” by the allies, the German constitutional monarchy collapsed. The Weimar Republic that replaced it sent two official to Paris in August 1919 to sign the Treaty.

The long drawn out negotiations also created major popular unrest in France and Italy, which were experiencing high levels of unemployment, hunger and homelessness. French primer minister Georges Clemenceau was shot in the back by an anarchist assassin in February 1919, and the government of Italian prime minister Vittorio Orlando, one of the Big Four members, fell in June 1919. In August 1919, Hungary elected its first communist government.

The main point of disagreement among the Allied powers (Italy, France, Britain, US and briefly Japan) was the level of war reparations to impose on Germany. Initially US president Woodrow Wilson sided with British economist John Maynard Keynes. Heading the Versailles Reparations Committee, Keynes estimated that the German economy was too damaged by war and revolution to pay more than $19 billion. However In the final treaty Wilson supported UK prime minister David Lloyd George and French prime minister Georges Clemenceau in imposing war reparations of $300 billion on Germany.

Wilson’s pet project, a global League of Nations (which excluded Germany) was written into the Treaty. Ironically because the US senate refused to ratify that section of the treaty, the US would not become a member.


*The armistice signed November 11, 2018 was merely a cease fire.

**Germany had paid $30 billion when they ceased payments in 1931.

Al-Naqba: Palestine’s 200-Year History of Ethnic Cleansing

Al-Naqba: The Palestinian Catastrophe Episode 1 (1799-1936)

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

This is the most comprehensive documentary of the Zionist movement I’ve ever watched. The cinematography is incredibly beautiful and moving and includes scarce footage of vibrant pre-World War II Palestine.

I continue to be surprised by all the important events Western accounts leave out regarding the history of Zionism. Contrary to Western belief, the Jewish colonization of Israel didn’t began in 1916 with the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement, but with Napoleon’s 1799 proposal to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine under French protection.

In 1840, when the British Foreign office tried to persuade the Sultan of the Ottoman empire to open Palestine to Jewish immigration, there were only 3,000 Jews in Palestine.

In the 1880s, as the power of the Ottoman empire started to decline, French banking magnate Baron de Rothschild openly campaigned to expand Jewish immigration, spending 40 million francs on the establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine. The term Zionism* was first coined in 1885, with the first Zionist conference held in Basel Switzerland in 1906.

In 1907, as western Europe actively worked to usurp Ottoman colonies, the British Foreign Office called for the creation of a buffer state in the Arab-dominated Middle East – one that would be friendly to Europeans and hostile to Arabs.

The same year, 40,000 Palestinian farmers were forced off their lands by Jewish immigrants from Europe and Yemen.

By the close of World War I, when Palestine became a British protectorate, there were 50,000 Jews in Israel, 100,000 Arab Christians and 400,000 Arab Muslims.

In 1922, when the League of Nations charged Britain with preparing for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, it was opposed by US president Woodrow Wilson.

During the 1920s, Jewish immigration continued to increase, accompanied by increasing confiscation of Arab lands. Between 1922-25, 33,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine. Between 1925-1930, the country was flooded by an additional 175,000 immigrants.

Palestine’s ruler, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, approached the issue of Jewish immigration by trying to curry favor with the British colonizers. In contrast Arab (both Muslim and Christian) farmers who were being displaced began organizing and protesting Jewish immigration from 1925 on. The initially peaceful protests were brutally and barbarically suppressed by British troops, in the same fashion as India’s independence movement. Hundreds of protestors were jailed, executed or forcibly exiled.

As Jewish immigration continued to increase (42,000 in 1934 and 62,000 in 1935, The al-Qassam movement, which called for violent revolution to expel the British, launched a six-month Palestine-wide general strike in 1936.


*An international movement calling for the establishment of a majority Jewish state in Palestine via forced displacement of its Arab occupants.