By Lenny Ben-David
On March 28, 1921, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill visited Jerusalem where he attended a tree-planting ceremony on the site of the future Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. At the Government Office of the British High Commissioner, Churchill also met with Emir Abdullah of Jordan, Jerusalem’s Arab political and religious leaders, and the Jewish chief rabbis.
He also met and heard from a former mayor of Jerusalem, Musa Kazim el Husseini who denounced the Balfour Declaration, petitioned Churchill to stop the immigration of Jews into Palestine, and claimed that life for the Arabs was better under the Ottomans. Churchill responded, defending the Balfour Declaration and the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland.
Husseini was related to the infamous Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini and father of the notorious Arab militia fighter, Abdul Khadar el-Husseini. The Husseinis’ hatred of Jews was only matched by their hatred for King Abdullah, and Husseini clan members were involved in Abdullah’s assassination on the Temple Mount in 1951.
…You have asked me in the first place to repudiate the Balfour Declaration and to veto immigration of Jews into Palestine. It is not in my power to do so, nor, if it were in my power, would it be my wish. The British Government have passed their word, by the mouth of Mr. Balfour, that they will view with favour the establishment of a National Home for Jews in Palestine, and that inevitably involves the immigration of Jews into the country. This declaration of Mr. Balfour and of the British Government has been ratified by the Allied Powers who have been victorious in the Great War; and it was a declaration made while the war was still in progress, while victory and defeat hung in the balance. It must therefore be regarded as one of the facts definitely established by the triumphant conclusion of the Great War. It is upon this basis that the mandate has been undertaken by Great Britain, it is upon this basis that the mandate will be discharged. I have no doubt that it is on this basis that the mandate will be accepted by the Council of the League of Nations, which is to meet again shortly.
Moreover, it is manifestly right that the Jews, who are scattered all over the world, should have a national centre and a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews and good for the British Empire. But we also think it will be good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine, and we intend that it shall be good for them, and that they shall not be sufferers or supplanted in the country in which they dwell or denied their share in all that makes for its progress and prosperity. And here I would draw your attention to the second part of the Balfour Declaration, which solemnly and explicitly promises to the inhabitants of Palestine the fullest protection of their civil and political rights.
I was sorry to hear in the paper which you have just read that you do not regard that promise as of value. It seems to be a vital matter for your and one to which you should hold most firmly and for the exact fulfillment of which you should claim. If the one promise stands, so does the other; and we shall be judged as we faithfully fulfil both.
The Arabs Didn’t Liberate Palestine; the British Did
After all, the British Government has a view of its own in this matter, and we have right to such a view. Our position in this country is based upon the events of the war, ratified, as they have been, by the treaties signed by the victorious Powers. I thought, when listening to your statements, that it seemed that the Arabs of Palestine had overthrown the Turkish Government. That is the reverse of the true facts. It has been the armies of Britain which have liberated these regions. You had only to look on your road here this afternoon to see the graveyard of over 2,000 British soldiers, and there are many other graveyards, some even larger, that are scattered about in this land. The position of Great Britain in Palestine is one of trust, but it is also one of right. For the discharge of that trust and for the high purposes we have in view, supreme sacrifices were made by all these soldiers of the British Empire, who gave up their lives and their blood. Therefore I beg you to realize that we shall strive to be loyal to the promises we have made both to the Arab and to the Jewish people, and that we shall fail neither in the one nor in the other.
I would also draw your attention to the very careful and exact nature of the words which were used by Mr. Balfour. He spoke of “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jews.” He did not say he would make Palestine the National Home for the Jews. There is a difference between the two which is of great importance. The fact that Palestine shall contain a National Home for the Jews does not mean that it will cease to be the National Home of other people, or that a Jewish Government will be set up to dominate the Arab people. On the contrary, the British Government is well disposed towards the Arabs in Palestine, and, indeed, cherish a strong friendship and desire for co-operation with the Arab race as a whole. That is what you would expect from the British Empire, which is the greatest of all the Moslem States in the world, and which must never cease to study the needs and wishes of its Moslem subjects and allies; and surely you have found that – at any rate I have been assured on this point by many Moslems since my arrival here – in the daily contact with the officers of this Administration in Palestine: that they make no distinction as between Arab and Jew, and that they endeavour in every way to render impartial, even-handed justice.
We regard this mater of such importance that we moved his Majesty the King to appoint Sir Herbert Samuel as High Commissioner. He has held very high office in our own country, and he has many years’ experience in our Parliamentary and Cabinet life. Therefore in selecting him we knew we had a trained and experienced man who would understand what ought to be done and what the full meaning and purpose of British policy was. Moreover, he is himself a Jew, and therefore we knew that in holding the balance even and securing fair treatment for all he could not be reproached for being hostile to his own people, and he would be believed by them when he said that he was only doing what was just and fair; and I think this appointment has been vindicated and justified not only by what has been done but by its results.
I do not think you have any need to feel alarmed or troubled in your minds about the future. The British Government has promised that what is called the Zionist movement shall have a fair chance in this country, and the British Government will do what is necessary to secure that fair chance. But after all it is only upon its merits that Zionism can succeed. We cannot tolerate the expropriation of one set of people by another or the violent trampling down of one set of national ideals for the sake of erecting another. If a National Home for the Jews is to be established in Palestine, as we hope to see it established, it can only be by a process which at every stage wins its way on its merits and carries with it increasing benefits and prosperity and happiness to the people of the country as a whole. And why should this not be so? Why should this not be possible? You can see with your own eyes in many parts of this country the work which has already been done by Jewish colonies; how sandy wastes have been reclaimed and thriving farms and orangeries planted in their stead. It is quite true that they have been helped by money from outside, whereas your people have not had a similar advantage, but surely these funds of money largely coming from outside and being devoted to the increase of the general prosperity of Palestine is one of the very reasons which should lead you to take a wise and tolerant view of the Zionist movement.
The paper which you have just read painted a golden picture of the delightful state of affairs in Palestine under the Turkish rule. Every man did everything he pleased; taxation was light; justice was prompt and impartial; trade, commerce, education, the arts all flourished. It was a wonderful picture. But it had no relation whatever to the truth, for otherwise why did the Arab race rebel against this heavenly condition? Obviously the picture has been overdrawn. And what is the truth?
This country has been very much neglected in the past and starved and even mutilated by Turkish misgovernment. There is no reason why Palestine should not support a larger number of people than it does at present, and all of those in a higher condition of prosperity.
But you will say to me, are we to be led by the hopes of material gain into letting ourselves be dispossessed in our own house by enormous numbers of strangers brought together across the seas from all over the world? My answer is; no, that will not be, that will never be. Jewish immigration into Palestine can only come as it makes a place for itself by legitimate and honourable means; as it provides the means by which it is to be supported. The task before the Zionists is one of extraordinary difficulty. The present form of government will continue for many years, and step by step we shall develop representative institutions leading up to full self-government. All of us here to-day will have passed away from the earth and also our children and our children’s children before it is fully achieved. The Jews will need the help of the Arabs at every stage, and I think you would be wise to give them your help and your aid and encourage them in their difficulties. They may fail. If they are not guided by wisdom and goodwill, if they do not tread the path of justice and tolerance and neighbourliness, if the class of men who come in are not worthy of the Jewish race, then they will fail and there will be an end of the experiment. But on the other hand, if they succeed, and in proportion as they do succeed year by year, such success can only be accompanied by a general diffusion of wealth and well-being among all the dwellers in Palestine and by an advance in the social, scientific and cultural life of the people as a whole.
These are words which I speak to you with great belief in their truth. I am sure if you take my advice you will not find in the future any difference in the life you have led in the past, or in the part you have played in your country, except an improvement. There will be more food, there will be more freedom, there will be more people, there will be more health among the people, there will be more knowledge, the fruits of toil will be more securely enjoyed, and the harvests will be more fully reaped by those who have sown them. Above all there will be a complete respect for everyone’s religious faith. Although the Arabs are in a large majority in Palestine and although the British Empire has accepted the mandate for Palestine, yet in a certain wider sense Palestine belongs to all the world. This city of Jerusalem itself is almost equally sacred to Moslem, Christian and Jew – not only those who dwell in this land, but those of these three religions who all over the world look to what is the holy centre of their faith. The Arabs of Palestine have therefore a great trust which we look to them to discharge and to help us (the British Government) in discharging, and just as in the spiritual sphere the profession of one faith does not mean the exclusion of another, so in the material world there is room for all. If instead of sharing miseries through quarrels you will share blessings through co-operations, a bright and tranquil future lies before your country. The earth is a generous mother. She will produce in plentiful abundance for all her children if they will but cultivate her soil in justice and in peace.
A separate meeting took place that day between Churchill and Emir Abdullah in the garden of Government House. It was a fateful meeting for the Middle East. With T.E. Lawrence (“of Arabia”) witnessing, Abdullah was installed as the Emir of Transjordan (east of the Jordan River), with the British Mandate controlling the west side of the river.