Sykes-Picot and the Zionists

Clearing up some misconceptions about Sykes-Picot on its centenary.

Palestinian Authority to Sue British Government Over Balfour Declaration

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Malki, on behalf of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that the PLO was making plans to sue the British over the issuance of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. For almost 100 years, the Declaration has represented, for the Palestinians, the political beginning of Palestine falling out of their influence and into the control of the budding Zionist movement. Al-Malki made his announcement about possible legal action at the end of the July 2016 Arab League summit meeting in Mauritania.

The possible law suit is one more in a series of multiple efforts by anti-Israel or anti-Zionist forces who have since Israel’s inception sought to delegitimize Israel diplomatically: at the UN, from Eastern European Soviet Bloc countries, at the International Court at The Hague, through certain Christian Church groups, at the 2001 Durban Conference against racism, and in the contemporary Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

By intentionally focusing on the Balfour Declaration, the PA seek to reinvigorate the claims of its original 1964 PLO Charter which said, that “The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.” The PLO Charter continued that “claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”

The contents of the Declaration spoke specifically about “the establishing of a national home for the Jewish people and protecting the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities.” These phrases were included in the 1922 Articles of the Mandate, sanctioned by the League of Nations, and earlier in the 1920 San Remo Agreement of the victorious Allies of World War I, which established the status of the former Ottoman territories in the Middle East as Mandates.

SEE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION »

Beyond Balfour

Lord Arthur James Balfour is best remembered for the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 that bears his name.

This letter, signed by the cabinet of British prime minister David Lloyd George and delivered to Baron Walter Rothschild as a representative of the Zionist movement, affirmed that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…”

But Lord Balfour’s legacy of concern for the Jewish people and their restoration in Eretz Israel found other notable expressions beyond his time of service as foreign secretary under Lloyd George and as a prime minister himself.

His niece Blanche Dugdale wrote about her famous uncle in a twovolume biography published in 1936.

“Balfour’s interest in the Jews and their history was lifelong,” she recalled. It originated in the Old Testament training that Balfour had received from his mother and in his Scottish upbringing.

“As he grew up, his intellectual admiration and sympathy for certain aspects of Jewish philosophy and culture grew also, and the problem of the Jews in the modern world seemed to him of immense importance,” wrote Dugdale. “He always talked eagerly on this, and I remember in childhood imbibing from him the idea that Christian religion and civilization owe to Judaism an immeasurable debt, shamefully ill repaid.”

Last April, I was in Scotland and England doing historical research and thought it would be appropriate to find where Balfour “rested” and place a small stone of respect on his gravesite, in the time-honored Jewish tradition. The simple gesture opened another door of understanding and appreciation for this unique Christian friend of the Jewish people.

Lord Balfour died on March 19, 1930. He was buried on his family’s estate at Whittingehame Tower, not far from Edinburgh, Scotland. The estate is isolated, difficult to find, but beautifully located a few miles from the sea, amidst sweeping dales dotted with sheep.

The family moved from the estate long ago. Whittingehame House, the family home, is stark in its cold, concrete-gray color, angular in its construction and impressive in its original approach down a broad treelined lane. Today, Whittingehame House has been converted, ignominiously, into a series of apartments. There is not so much as a historic marker to indicate the meaning of the site. They do not want the culturally curious.

Lord Balfour is buried nearby at a 15th-century military tower believed to have been the site of conspiratorial events contributing to the tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots. The gravesite is worn and partly lichen covered. I placed my little stone and said a Kaddish prayer.

Whittingehame has another history – a history of saving lives of Jewish children from the Holocaust. That story is not very well known. The greatest irony is that Lord Balfour, who had strived so valiantly for so long to have the British government help create a national homeland for the Jewish people, did not live to see the fruits of his efforts.

British governments that came after him tried to thwart his pro-Zionist policies in the hope that a Jewish state would not arise. The tragic results were that, when a home in Palestine was most desperately needed to save Jewish lives from the Nazi genocide, the British authorities barred most Jews from entering its safe haven. Balfour was unable to save Jewish lives in their promised homeland, but he did save Jewish lives in his own home.

As the darkening clouds of Nazi Germany descended over Europe, many Jews in Germany and Austria feared for their lives. Where could they go? If they could not save themselves, could they save their children? Rescue efforts were being considered, but few were enacted.

The terrifying events of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” in which Jews were attacked and their properties destroyed across Germany and Austria on November 9-10, 1938, pushed the British Jewish Refugee Committee to appeal to Members of Parliament. Shortly before, the British government had refused to allow 10,000 Jewish children entry into Palestine. The events of Kristallnacht reopened the issue.

The appeal was championed by such leading British Christian figures as Lord Baldwin, Sir Wyndham Deeds, Bertha Bracey and Jean Hoare. Assessing that “Here is a chance of mitigating to some extent the terrible suffering of their parents and their friends,” British foreign minister Samuel Hoare proposed admitting 10,000 Jewish refugee children into Britain. The British government agreed to admit the children, provided a fiftypound bond was paid for each children to guarantee that they would be sent back to their parents in Europe after the conflict was over. The government further stipulated that only children under the age of 17 could go, and none of their parents were allowed entry.

The first of the Kindertransport trains left in sealed cars for Britain on December 1, 1938. The last left for England on May 14, 1940, the very day Holland fell to the Nazis. The final ship was strafed by Luftwaffe planes but arrived safely in Britain. In all, approximately 10,000 children were saved.

A similar effort to save 20,000 Jewish children was co-sponsored in the United States by Sen. Robert F. Wagner (D-NY) and Rep. Edith Rogers (R-MA) in early 1939. But the legislation failed to get Congressional approval. American isolationist sentiment, combined with latent anti-Semitism, grounded the measure. The American Jewish community thought it best not to protest.

In Britain, citizens were appealed to by radio to open their homes to the arriving children. Many of the children were taken in by Jewish and non-Jewish families. Some did not find homes.

Robert Arthur Lytton Balfour, Lord Balfour’s nephew, discussed the problem with his father: What can be done to help? They resolved to open Whittingehame House to the children. Some 180 of the young Jewish refugees were brought to Scotland. A school program was set up, called the Whittingehame Farm School. Its purpose was to teach the young refugee children how to be farmers, not in Britain but some future day in Palestine. The children were given instruction in Hebrew, Jewish songs and culture. A synagogue was established in the late Lord Arthur Balfour’s private rooms.

Jewish refugee children arrived at Whittingehame in 1939. A period of darkness and panic covered Britain in early 1940 when the European war turned hot. Britain feared invasion and the potential of a fifth column inside the country. The newly elected government of Winston Churchill responded to popular pressure to intern all citizens of enemy nations. Suddenly, any German or Austrian Jewish refugee over the age of 16 was arrested.

Whittingehame was no exception. Police arrived, and 37 refugees were taken away.

Most of the Whittingehame refugees returned after the national hysteria subsided. But some of the Jewish refugees in Britain were deported as enemy aliens to Canada and Australia. Two infamous transport ships from that period remain a blemish on Britain. One ship, the Dunera, became a hell hole of abuse as it carried Jews, Italians and some German POWs to Australia.

Another ship, the Andorra Star, carrying a large number of Italians and German Jews, as well as some captured German sailors, was sent to Canada. It was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland on July 1, 1940, taking down 600 passengers with it.

The Whittingehame Farm School remained open until 1941. The children were relocated into the local community. The young men of Whittingehame enlisted in the British armed forces, eager do what they could to end Nazi tyranny forever.

The Palestinian Distortion of the Balfour Declaration

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki has threatened to sue Britain for issuing the 1917 Balfour Declaration because, he claims, that it led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine “at the expense of our Palestinian people.”

The Palestinian threat is not as laughable as it sounds. It’s not unexpected either, as part of the current Palestinian strategy to exploit any law and abuse any forum to delegitimise Israel.

The Balfour Declaration, named after then-UK Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, pledged Britain’s support for the establishment “in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This was not intended to be at the expense of the local Arabs, whose civil rights would not be prejudiced: later, the 1936 Peel Commission proposed to partition western Palestine into an Arab, as well as a Jewish state.

“Nearly a century has passed since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917,” Malki was quoted as recently saying,”And based on this ill-omened promise hundreds of thousands of Jews were moved from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine at the expense of our Palestinian people whose parents and grandparents had lived for thousands of years on the soil of their homeland.”

Almost every word in Malki’s statement is a lie. Britain reneged on its promises to the Zionists. It gave 70 percent of Palestine to Transjordan in 1921 and curtailed Jewish emigration,  sealing the fate of countless Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe.

No Arab states were enjoined to respect the civil rights of their Jewish citizens. These Jews were unceremoniously thrown out of the Arab world without apology and without compensation — and their pre-Islamic communities were destroyed.

The Palestinians say they cannot be held responsible for what happened to the Jewish refugees. While Israel can legitimately discuss Palestinian refugees in peace talks, Jewish refugees would have to address their grievances with the Arab states.

Arab League states, which instigated the 1948 war against Israel, did indeed create both sets of refugees. However, an extremist Palestinian leadership, which collaborated with the Nazis and incited anti-Jewish hatred all over the Arab world, dragged five Arab states into conflict with the new Jewish state — a conflict they lost and whose consequences they must suffer.  The Palestinian move to sue is as if Germans sued the Allies for starting World War II.

From the outset, the Palestinian cause was a pan-Arab nationalist cause. It has also a powerful Islamist, antisemitic dimension. In Arab eyes, the Jews have no claim to a single inch of “Palestine.”

Every Balfour Declaration anniversary, Arab mobs took to the streets, and the demonstrations often degenerated into full-blown riots, as in Egypt and Libya in 1945, when 130 Jews were murdered.

Not only did the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, instigate deadly disturbances in Palestine in 1920 and 1929, but he used the Balfour Declaration as a rallying cry to incite persecution against the Jews of the Arab world.

The Jerusalem Islamic Congress of 1931, called by the Mufti, was followed by violence in Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and Aden. All this well before the creation of the state of Israel.

But the worst incitement, with the deadliest consequences, took place in Iraq: the Mufti  fled to Berlin after being implicated in a failed pro-Nazi coup, but not before he had primed the Arabs of Baghdad to unleash the Farhud of 1941. The pogrom claimed the lives of at least 179 Jews.

This was the first battle in the Palestinian war against the defenseless Jews of the Arab world. Had the Nazis been victorious, the Mufti wanted to oversee the Jews’ extermination, not just in Palestine but throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

It is these Jews who have been denied justice, the right to compensation for their loss of assets and land several times the size of Israel itself, and the human rights abuses they suffered. It is these Jews who have every right to sue those who wronged them.

SEE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION »

Prepare for war over the Balfour Declaration

As the centenary of the pivotal “Balfour Declaration” looms in 2017, a new group wants Britain to apologise for making it

November 2017 marks 100 years since the famous “Balfour Declaration” was made in a letter to the British Jewish community, including the famous words, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”.

The letter started a chain of events that led, by no means smoothly, to the eventual formation of the modern state of Israel. With the advent in recent years of campaigns such as BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions), an essentially anti-Israel movement, Sabeel (Palestinian “Liberation Theology”), and a plethora of other anti-Israel organisations and groups, attempts to attribute the blame for today’s conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs have delved back into history long before 1948.

Now has arisen a group that wants Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration ever having been made. The Balfour Project claims that Britain deceived both Jews and Arabs in making the 1917 declaration in favour of a “Jewish national home” in what was then Palestine.

The Project attempts to dissect the convolutions of behind-the-scenes talks that went on during World War One, as Britain sought to undermine Turkish rule in the Middle East. By negotiating with both Jews and Arabs over the destiny of vast swathes of Ottoman territory, Britain hoped to create a friendly “bridge” between her African and Indian territories that would enable profitable trade (and Middle Eastern oil) to be cheaper through overland channels instead of the existing laborious sea routes.

So far so normal in imperial diplomacy. In attempts, however, to ensure Britain and France got the best deals from everyone involved, three sets of agreements made with interested parties collided in confusion at the close of the war. In simple terms, the McMahon/Hussein correspondence (1915) sought to buy the allegiance of the powerful Sharif of Mecca and his clan with offers of territory and power; the Sykes-Picot agreement (1917) sought to carve up part of the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France; and the Balfour Declaration (1917) sought to create a pro-British bloc in Palestine. Unfortunately, the Sykes-Picot agreement carved up territory that had already been promised to the Arabs under the McMahon correspondence.

Contrary to the claims of The Balfour Project, the area that is now Israel was under some dispute. Britain wanted to keep a coastal strip on the Mediterranean under her control, while Sharif Hussein wanted control over much of the same area. At no point was the area around Jerusalem and southwards promised to the Arabs.

It is therefore deceptive to accuse Britain of breaking a promise over an area that it had not promised at all. In fact, Hussein’s son Faisal agreed to abandon his father’s claims on Palestine when he was given Iraq to rule. Under the Sykes-Picot agreement also, most of today’s Israel was to be an international zone – again, not promised to the Arabs.

The eventual compromise gave Iraq to the Sharif’s son Faisal, Trans-Jordan to his other son Abdullah, and Lebanon and Syria to the French. The Zionists were left with the slip of land west of the Jordan River that we know today as Israel. Lebanon and Syria became the French Mandate and Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) became the British Mandate. It is vital to recognise that the promises made to both Jews and Arabs were at least partly, if not mostly, fulfilled through the compromise arrangements.

The Balfour Project makes use of several revisionist articles to claim that Britain needs to apologise to both Jews and Arabs for its historical “balagan” (Arab for a proper foul-up), but betrays itself as another attempt at delegitimisation by its own strap-line: “Contributing to justice, peace and reconciliation in the Middle East”. As soon as you see the words “justice”, “peace”, “reconciliation” and “Middle East” in the same sentence, you know you are facing another attempt to denigrate and delegitimise the state of Israel.

The Balfour Project has already started holding meetings around the UK and while, to their credit, their meeting in Winchester included speakers opposed to the aims of the Project, most of the speakers and writers involved are also heavily connected to the BDS and delegitimisation movements, including Rev Stephen Sizer, Prof Ilan Pappe and others.

The Balfour Project aims to make sufficient impact in Britain that the Government will be forced into an apology for the Balfour Declaration on its centenary in 2017. This apology is not needed, will not contribute to peace or justice, and will not diminish the depth of feelings for and against Israel.

The Balfour Project claims it does not deny the right of Israel to exist, but Rabbi Dan Cohen-Sherbok threw a spanner in the works in his speech at the Project’s meeting in Winchester by pointing out that if the Balfour Declaration should not have been made then does that mean that the Jews should not have been offered a homeland and that Israel should not exist today?

Oops, back to the drawing board!

SEE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION »

Balfour Declaration Anniversary Erases Jewish Connection to Holy Land

November 2, 2015 was the 98th anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the letter that committed the British government of the time to the idea of establishing a Jewish home in Palestine / Eretz Yisrael.

That Palestinians in Gaza marked the anniversary by burning British, Israeli and U.S. flags is not surprising but was covered by the Daily Mail.

The history of the Middle East can be baffling to the uninformed reader, particularly if the subject matter dates back to the early 1900’s and still resonates even today. That’s why the Daily Mail has a responsibility to ensure that the historical background is presented in context.

Instead, we read this:

The Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration

In a letter dated November 2, 1917, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote to Walter Rothschild, the second Baron Rothschild and a leader of the British Jewish community.

 

Balfour promised Rothschild ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ in the heart of Palestine.

 

He further promised that ‘His Majesty’s government…will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object’.

 

He made the agreement on the condition that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country’.

 

But Balfour gave no further instructions as to how the contradictory instructions – to establish a Jewish state in Palestine without prejudicing the Palestinian communities already there – were to be carried out, in the surprisingly brief document.

 

The Palestinians are furious that their land has technically been promised to the Jewish people, causing increased tension in the religious city of Jerusalem – revered in both religions.

It’s hardly surprising that the myth of an existing historical Palestinian state that was ‘colonized’ by European Jews continues to circulate if this is the sort of lazy historical background being fed to media consumers.

  • Nowhere in the article does it mention that Palestine, as it was known as then, was a part of the Ottoman Empire and there had never existed an independent Palestinian state.
  • Nowhere in the article does it mention that indigenous Jewish communities had lived in the Land of Israel going back over 3,000 years and there existed a continuous and uninterrupted Jewish religious and national connection to that land.
  • The article mistakenly writes that the Balfour Declaration gave instructions “to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.” In fact, the Declaration supported a Jewish homeland, and not necessarily a state. The Balfour Declaration was but one step on the way to the fulfillment of the Zionist program of restoring Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland.
  • Indeed, to talk of Palestinians in those days referred to both Jewish and Arab residents of the land. When the Daily Mail refers to “without prejudicing the Palestinian communities already there,” it is not clearly stating just who those communities are, instead working on the presumption that Palestinian communities were Palestinian Arabs.
  • This is compounded by the statement that “The Palestinians are furious that their land has technically been promised to the Jewish people.” In 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration, there was no national Palestinian identity – the non-Jewish residents of the land considered themselves to be part of the wider Arab nation and Arab nationalists sought an independent Arab state not in Palestine per se but as part of the Ottoman Arab Middle East as a whole.
  • So it was not at that time “their land” that the Palestinians are allegedly furious that it had been promised to the Jewish people.

By missing out any historical context, the Daily Mail has erased legitimate Jewish rights that existed even before the Balfour Declaration and has constructed a Palestinian national identity that did not exist in 1917. (Note: this does not mean that a Palestinian identity did not emerge in later years.)

Read more about Pre-State Israel, particularly during the World War One period, in the Jewish Virtual Library and the Balfour Declaration itself, here.

SEE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION »

WWI Balfour Declaration: British Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy. The term Christian Zionism was popularized in the mid-twentieth century, following the coining of the term “Zionism” in 1890. Prior to that time the common term was Restorationism.

Some Christian Zionists believe that the “ingathering” of Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. This belief is primarily, though not exclusively, associated with Christian Dispensationalism. The idea that Christians should actively support a Jewish return to the Land of Israel, along with the parallel idea that the Jews ought to be encouraged to become Christian, as a means fulfilling a Biblical prophecy has been common in Protestant circles since the Reformation”

Still bickering over Balfour

Dore Gold

Last year, on the 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the former Palestinian minister, Nabil Shaath, wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph attacking Britain for issuing its famous statement of support for the establishment in Eretz Yisrael of a national home for the Jewish people. Shaath called the Balfour Declaration, which was issued by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour on November 2, 1917, the beginning of “British imperialism” in Palestine.

At the heart of what he called Britain’s “sins in Palestine” was the promise of this territory to the Jewish people, who, in the words of Shaath, “did not even live there.” For him there was no Jewish history in Palestine, that needed to be acknowledged but only “colonial conspiracies” against the Arab residents living there. The rise of the Jewish national home, in short, was the product of external manipulations by outside powers, like Britain, and not the result of any authentic yearning of the Jews themselves. With the anniversary of the declaration again upon us, it is important to understand how Balfour’s act still confounds Palestinian leaders who are prepared to distort its significance.

What Shaath and other Palestinian spokesmen found so objectionable about the Balfour Declaration was that it constituted the first step in a long effort to get the historical rights of the Jewish people to their homeland acknowledged by the international community. That recognition actually required a tough diplomatic struggle by the leaders of the Zionist movement during the First World War and in the years that followed.

Britain was not the only state involved. For example on June 4, 1917, they received a letter from the French foreign minister, Jules Cambon, who wrote: “…it would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago.”

It turned out to be much more difficult to extract language that strong in the British cabinet at that time. What became the Balfour Declaration went through a number of drafts during the summer and fall of 1917. The original language of the declaration that was approved by the British foreign office and Prime Minister Lloyd George on September 19, 1917 specifically stated that Britain accepted the principle that “Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.”

Use of the term “reconstitute” meant that the land was once their homeland before and should now be restored to them. It meant that the Jews had historical rights. For that reason, this language had been sought by the Zionist leadership led by Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow who wanted it indicated that the Jewish people had a historical connection to their land. This original formula had been approved by President Woodrow Wilson, to whom the text was submitted in advance.

It was not such a far-fetched goal to seek formal acknowledgement of Jewish historical rights. A little over two decades earlier a well-connected Protestant clergyman from Chicago, Reverend William Blackstone, received broad backing for a petition for a Jewish homeland signed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the speaker of the House of Representatives, university presidents and the editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Top industrialists, like John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, also lent their support. In short, the idea of the Jewish people re-establishing their country had become acceptable in the elite sectors of the American establishment.

Blackstone’s petition specifically characterized the connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Israel as “an inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force.” In other words, the Jewish people had not willingly given up their claim to their land. Indeed, there was no act in which they relinquished title to the Romans or their successors; in fact from the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 C.E. until the Muslim conquests, there were Jewish resistance movements that tried to recover Jerusalem, and afterwards a constant stream of Jewish immigrants followed.

Blackstone may have not known all this but he touched upon the idea that there were historical rights of the Jewish people, which were recognized at the time he sought signatories to his petition. The petition was submitted to President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 and in another version to President Wilson in 1917, with the aim of influencing his attitude to the Balfour Declaration.

Despite the growing popularity of the idea in the West, there were British opponents to making any commitment to a Jewish national home. This group sought to water down the language of what was to become the Balfour Declaration. Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India and the only Jewish member of the British cabinet ironically lead the internal fight against what Balfour was doing.

Montagu feared that acknowledging Jewish rights in Eretz Israel would lead to the denial of Jewish rights to live in Britain or elsewhere in the Diaspora. He was also ideologically committed to Jewish assimilation. So under his influence all references to the Jewish people “reconstituting” their homeland were dropped. He announced at the time: “I assert that there is not a Jewish nation.” He moreover insisted: “I deny that Palestine today is associated with the Jews.” Montagu could not stop the Balfour Declaration, so he tried to weaken its contents. It is not surprising that Shaath makes Montagu the hero of his analysis.

In any case, the Balfour Declaration was basically a statement of British policy; it did not establish legal rights. This first occurred with the meeting of the victorious allied powers at San Remo, Italy in 1920, where they adopted the Balfour Declaration in an international agreement. Then in 1922, 51 members of the League of Nations approved the document for the Palestine Mandate.

The Mandate document restored important elements that had been taken out of the Balfour Declaration as a result of the debate in the British cabinet, for it stated: “…recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” The British Government issued a White Paper in 1922 that further clarified this point by saying that the Jewish national home “should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.”

Nabil Shaath wanted his British readers last year to believe that the process that began with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and ending up with the British Mandate in 1922 created the Jewish claim to a homeland. For him the Jewish homeland was entirely invented by British imperial interests and had no historical roots. In short, it was an illegitimate claim.

But that is a distortion of what happened for what was involved at the time was a British recognition of a pre-existing right. Moreover that British recognition was fully accepted by the international community by 1922, through the League of Nations. Finally, it must be added, that those rights were not suspended when the League of Nations was disbanded, but rather they were transferred to the United Nations, which replaced it.

In summary, Shaath refuses to acknowledge the steady buildup of the Jewish national home over the centuries; the Ottoman census already showed a Jewish majority in Safed in the 16th century. European consular reports in the 19th century showed that by the 1860s the Jews re-established their majority in Jerusalem — decades before British armies took over the Middle East. The Balfour Declaration reflected a historical trend that was already underway, but it did not launch the Jewish return to Eretz Israel. This return was a product of the national will of a people which Shaath and his colleagues still refuse to recognize, thereby perpetuating the conflict with Israel to this day.


SEE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION >>

“An Overwhelmingly Jewish State” – From the Balfour Declaration to the Palestine Mandate

By Sir Martin Gilbert

On 22 July 1922, when the League of Nations announced the terms of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine, it gave
prominence to the Balfour Declaration. ‘The Mandatory should be responsible,’ the preamble stated, ‘for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty…in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’1 The preamble of the Mandate included the precise wording of the Balfour Declaration.

Nothing in the Balfour Declaration dealt with Jewish statehood, immigration, land purchase or the boundaries of Palestine. This essay examines how British policy with regard to the ‘national home for the Jewish people’ evolved between November 1917 and July 1922, and the stages by which the Mandate commitments were reached.

In the discussions on the eve of the Balfour Declaration, the British War Cabinet, desperate to persuade the Jews of Russia to urge their government to renew Russia’s war effort, saw Palestine as a Jewish rallying cry. To this end, those advising the War Cabinet, and the Foreign Secretary himself, A.J. Balfour, encouraged at least the possibility of an eventual Jewish majority, even if it might – with the settled population of Palestine then being some 600,000 Arabs and 60,000 Jews – be many years before such a majority emerged. On 31 October 1917, Balfour had told the War Cabinet that while the words ‘national home…did not necessarily involve the early establishment of an independent Jewish State,’ such a State ‘was a matter for gradual development in accordance with the ordinary laws of political evolution.’2

How these laws were to be regarded was explained in a Foreign Office memorandum of 19 December 1917 by Arnold Toynbee and Lewis Namier, the latter a Galician-born Jew, who wrote jointly: ‘The objection raised against the Jews being given exclusive political rights in Palestine on a basis that would be undemocratic with regard to the local Christian and Mohammedan population,’ they wrote, ‘is certainly the most important which the anti-Zionists have hitherto raised, but the difficulty is imaginary. Palestine might be held in trust by Great Britain or America until there was a sufficient population in the country fit to govern it on European lines. Then no undemocratic restrictions of the kind indicated in the memorandum would be required any longer.’3

On 3 January 1919 agreement was reached between the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and the Arab leader Emir Feisal. Article Four of this agreement declared that all ‘necessary measures’ should be taken ‘to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil.’ In taking such measures, the agreement went on, ‘the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights, and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.’4

The Weizmann-Feisal agreement did not refer to Jewish statehood. Indeed, on 19 January 1919, Balfour wrote to his fellow Cabinet Minister Lord Curzon: ‘As far as I know, Weizmann has never put forward a claim for the Jewish Government of Palestine. Such a claim is, in my opinion, certainly inadmissible and personally I do not think we should go further than the original declaration which I made to Lord Rothschild.’5

Scarcely six weeks later, on February 27, in Balfour’s presence, Weizmann presented the essence of the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement to the Allied Supreme Council in Paris, telling them that the nation that was to receive Palestine as a League of Nations Mandate must first of all ‘Promote Jewish immigration and closer settlement on the land,’ while at the same time ensuring that ‘the established rights’ of the non-Jewish population be ‘equitably safe-guarded.’

During the discussion, Robert Lansing, the American Secretary of State, asked Weizmann for clarification ‘as to the meaning of the words “Jewish National Home.” Did that mean an autonomous Jewish Government?’ Weizmann replied, as the minutes of the discussion record, ‘in the negative.’ The Zionist Organisation, he told Lansing – reiterating what Balfour had told Curzon – ‘did not want an autonomous Jewish Government, but merely to establish in Palestine, under a Mandatory Power, an administration, not necessarily Jewish, which would render it possible to send into Palestine 70,000 to 80,000 Jews annually.’ The Zionist Organisation wanted permission ‘to build Jewish schools where Hebrew would be taught, and to develop institutions of every kind. Thus it would build up gradually a nationality, and so make Palestine as Jewish as America is American or England English.’

The Supreme Council wanted to know if such a ‘nationality’ would involve eventual statehood? Weizmann told them: ‘Later on, when the Jews formed the large majority, they would be ripe to establish such a Government as would answer to the state of the development of the country and to their ideals.’6

British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, 1917 (Israel National Photo Collection)

The British Government supported the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement with regard to both Jewish immigration and land purchase. On June 19 the senior British military officer in Palestine, General Clayton, telegraphed to the Foreign Office for approval of a Palestine ordinance to re-open land purchase ‘under official control.’ Zionist interests, Clayton stated, ‘will be fully safeguarded.’7

Clayton’s telegram was forwarded to Balfour, who replied on July 5 that land purchase could indeed be continued ‘provided that, as far as possible, preferential treatment is given to Zionist interests.’8

The Zionist plans were thus endorsed by both Feisal and Balfour. But on 28 August 1919 a United States commission, the King-Crane Commission, appointed by President Woodrow Wilson, published its report criticising Zionist ambitions and recommending ‘serious modification of the extremist Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State.’9

The King-Crane Commission went on to state that the Zionists with whom it had spoken looked forward ‘to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.’ In their conclusion, the Commissioners felt ‘bound to recommend that only a greatly reduced Zionist programme be attempted’; a reduction that would ‘have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine a distinctly Jewish commonwealth should be given up.’10

The United States was in a minority at the Supreme Council. On September 19 the Zionists received unexpected support from The Times, which declared: ‘Our duty as the Mandatory power will be to make Jewish Palestine not a struggling State, but one that is capable of vigorous and independent national life.’11

Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, and with ministerial responsibility for Palestine, took a more cynical view of Zionist ambitions. On October 25, in a memorandum for the Cabinet, he wrote of ‘the Jews, whom we are pledged to introduce into Palestine and who take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.’12

Churchill’s critical attitude did not last long. Fearful of the rise of Communism in the East, and conscious of the part played by individual Jews in helping to impose Bolshevik rule on Russia, he soon set his cynicism aside. In an article entitled ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism: the Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People,’ he wrote in the Illustrated Sunday Herald on 8 February 1920 that Zionism offered the Jews ‘a national idea of a commanding character.’ Palestine would provide ‘the Jewish race all over the world’ with, as Churchill put it, ‘a home and a centre of national life.’ Although Palestine could only accommodate ‘a fraction of the Jewish race,’ but ‘if, as may well happen, there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown which might comprise three or four millions of Jews, an event will have occurred in the history of the world which would from every point of view be beneficial, and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.’

Churchill’s article ended with an appeal for the building up ‘with the utmost rapidity’ of a ‘Jewish national centre’ in Palestine; a centre, he asserted, which might become ‘not only a refuge to the oppressed from the unhappy lands of Central Europe,’ but also ‘a symbol of Jewish unity and the temple of Jewish glory.’ On such a task, he added, ‘many blessings rest.’13

Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, January 16, 1943 (AP Photo)

On 24 April 1920, at the San Remo Conference, the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George accepted a British Mandate for Palestine, and that Britain, as the Mandatory Power, would be responsible for giving effect to the Balfour Declaration. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, noted in his diary that there had been a ‘two-hour battle’ among the British and French delegates, ‘about acknowledging and establishing Zionism as a separate State in Palestine under British protection.’14

In January 1921, Lloyd George appointed Churchill to be Secretary of State for the Colonies, charged with drawing up the terms of the Mandate and presenting them to the League of Nations. In March 1921, at the Cairo Conference, Churchill agreed to the establishment of a Jewish gendarmerie in Palestine to ward off local Arab attacks (Churchill preferred a Jewish Army). He also agreed that Transjordan, while part of the original Mandated Territory of Palestine, would be separate from it, and under an Arab ruler. This fitted in with what Britain had in mind as the wider settlement of Arab claims. On 17 January 1921, T.E. Lawrence had reported to Churchill that Emir Feisal ‘agreed to abandon all claims of his father to Palestine’ in return for Mesopotamia (Iraq) – where Churchill agreed at the Cairo Conference to install him as King – and Transjordan, where Feisal ‘hopes to have a recognised Arab State with British advice.’15

From Cairo, Churchill went to Jerusalem, where he was given a petition from the Haifa Congress of Palestinian Arabs, dated 14 March 1921, which began: ‘1. We refuse the Jewish Immigration to Palestine. 2. We energetically protest against the Balfour Declaration to the effect that our Country should be made the Jewish National Home.’16 Churchill rejected the Arab arguments. ‘It is manifestly right,’ he announced publicly on March 28, ‘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 the land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it would be good for the world, good for the Jews, and good for the British Empire.’17

After Churchill’s visit, Arab violence in Jaffa led the British High Commissioner in Palestine, a British Jew, Sir Herbert Samuel, to order an immediate temporary suspension of Jewish immigration. This did not find favour in the Colonial Office. A telegram drafted for Churchill by one of his senior advisers, Major Hubert Young, who during the war had played his part in the Arab Revolt, was dispatched to Samuel on May 14. ‘The present agitation,’ the telegram read, ‘is doubtless engineered in the hope of frightening us out of our Zionist policy….We must firmly maintain law and order and make concessions on their merits and not under duress.’

On June 22 Churchill explained the British position on Zionism at a meeting of the Imperial Cabinet. The Canadian Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen, questioned Churchill about the meaning of a Jewish ‘National Home.’ Did it mean, Meighen asked, giving the Jews ‘control of the Government’? To this Churchill replied: ‘If, in the course of many years, they become a majority in the country, they naturally would take it over.’18


Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, arrives at the White House in Washington on March 11, 1946. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)

Churchill was asked about this sixteen years later by the Palestine Royal Commission. ‘What is the conception you have formed yourself,’ he was asked, ‘of the Jewish National Home?’ Churchill replied: ‘The conception undoubtedly was that, if the absorptive capacity over a number of years and the breeding over a number of years, all guided by the British Government, gave an increasing Jewish population, that population should not in any way be restricted from reaching a majority position.’ Churchill went on to tell the Commission: ‘As to what arrangement would be made to safeguard the rights of the new minority’ – the Arab minority – ‘that obviously remains open, but certainly we committed ourselves to the idea that some day, somehow, far off in the future, subject to justice and economic convenience, there might well be a great Jewish State there, numbered by millions, far exceeding the present inhabitants of the country and to cut them off from that would be a wrong.’ Churchill added: ‘We said there should be a Jewish Home in Palestine, but if more and more Jews gather to that Home and all is worked from age to age, from generation to generation, with justice and fair consideration to those displaced and so forth, certainly it was contemplated and intended that they might in the course of time become an overwhelmingly Jewish State.’19

Whether the Jews could form a majority – the sine qua non of statehood – was challenged publicly by Herbert Samuel on 3 June 1921, when he said that ‘the conditions of Palestine are such as not to permit anything in the nature of mass immigration.’20 But at a meeting in Balfour’s house in London on July 22, Lloyd George and Balfour had both agreed ‘that by the Declaration they had always meant an eventual Jewish State.’21

Churchill’s adviser, Major Young, likewise favoured a policy that, he wrote to Churchill on August 1, involved ‘the gradual immigration of Jews into Palestine until that country becomes a predominantly Jewish State.’ Young went on to argue that the phrase ‘National Home’ as used in the Balfour Declaration implied no less than full statehood for the Jews of Palestine. There could be ‘no half-way house,’ he wrote, between a Jewish State and ‘total abandonment of the Zionist programme.’22

When the Cabinet met on August 17 there was talk of handing the Palestine Mandate to the United States, but Lloyd George rejected this. The official minutes noted: ‘stress was laid on the following consideration, the honour of the government was involved in the Declaration made by Mr Balfour, and to go back on our pledge would seriously reduce the prestige of this country in the eyes of the Jews throughout the world.’

On 3 June 1922 the British Government issued a White Paper, known as the Churchill White Paper, which stated: ‘So far as the Jewish population of Palestine are concerned it appears that some among them are apprehensive that His Majesty’s Government may depart from the policy embodied in the Declaration of 1917. It is necessary, therefore, once more to affirm that these fears are unfounded, and that that Declaration, re-affirmed by the Conference of the Principal Allied Powers at San Remo and again in the Treaty of Sטvres, is not susceptible of change.’

The White Paper also noted: ‘During the last two or three generations the Jews have recreated in Palestine a community, now numbering 80,000…it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on the sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.’23

To reinforce this concept of ‘right,’ Churchill had granted the Zionists a monopoly on the development of electrical power in Palestine, authorising a scheme drawn up by the Russian-born Jewish engineer, Pinhas Rutenberg, to harness the waters of the Jordan River. To stop what critics were calling the ‘beginning of Jewish domination,’ a debate was held in the House of Lords demanding representative institutions that would enable the Arabs to halt Jewish immigration. In the debate, held on June 21, sixty Peers voted against the Mandate as envisaged by the White Paper, and against the Balfour Declaration. Only twenty-nine Peers voted for it.

On July 4 it fell to Churchill to persuade the House of Commons to reverse this vote. He staunchly defended the Zionists. Anyone who had visited Palestine recently, he said, ‘must have seen how part of the desert have been converted into gardens, and how material improvement has been effected in every respect by the Arab population dwelling around.’ Apart from ‘this agricultural work – this reclamation work – there are services which science, assisted by outside capital, can render, and of all the enterprises of importance which would have the effect of greatly enriching the land none was greater than the scientific storage and regulation of the waters of the Jordan for the provision of cheap power and light needed for the industry of Palestine, as well as water for the irrigation of new lands now desolate.’ The Rutenberg concession offered to all the inhabitants of Palestine ‘the assurance of a greater prosperity and the means of a higher economic and social life.’

Churchill asked that the Government be allowed ‘to use Jews, and use Jews freely, within limits that are proper, to develop new sources of wealth in Palestine.’ It was also imperative, he said, if the Balfour Declaration’s ‘pledges to the Zionists’ were to be carried out, for the House of Commons to reverse the vote of the House of Lords. Churchill’s appeal was successful. Only thirty-five votes were cast against the Government’s Palestine policy, 292 in favour.24

The way was clear for presenting the terms of the Mandate to the League of Nations. On July 5, Churchill telegraphed Sir Wyndham Deedes, who was administering the Government of Palestine in Samuel’s absence, that ‘every effort will be made to get terms of Mandate approved by Council of League of Nations at forthcoming session and policy will be vigorously pursued.’25

On 22 July 1922 the League of Nations approved the Palestine Mandate (it came into force on 29 September 1923). One particular article, Article 25, relating to Transjordan, disappointed the Zionists, who had hoped to settle on both sides of the Jordan River. ‘In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined,’ Article 25 stated, ‘the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, provided that no action shall be taken which is inconsistent with the provisions of Articles 15, 16 and 18.’

The Zionists pointed out that Article 15 was clearly inconsistent with not allowing a Jewish presence in Transjordan, for it stated clearly, with regard to the whole area of Mandatory Palestine, west and east of the Jordan, that ‘The Mandatory shall see that complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, are ensured to all. No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief. The right of each community to maintain its own schools for the education of its own members in its own language, while conforming to such educational requirements of a general nature as the Administration may impose, shall not be denied or impaired.’

The rest of the Mandate was strongly in support of Zionist aspirations. Article 2, while making no reference to the previous four and a half years’ debate on statehood, instructed the Mandatory to secure ‘the development of self-governing institutions.’ In a note to the United States Government five months later, the Foreign Office pointed out that ‘so far as Palestine is concerned’ Article 2 of the Mandate ‘expressly provides that the administration may arrange with the Jewish Agency to develop any of the natural resources of the country, in so far as these matters are not directly undertaken by the Administration.’ The reason for this, the Foreign Office explained, ‘is that in order that the policy of establishing in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people could be successfully carried out, it is impractical to guarantee that equal facilities for developing the natural resources of the country should be granted to persons or bodies who may be motivated by other motives.’26 It was on this basis that the Rutenberg electrical concession had been granted as a monopoly to the Zionists, and on which representative institutions had been withheld for as long as the Arabs were in a majority.

Article 4 recognised the Zionist Organization as the ‘appropriate Jewish Agency,’ to work with the British Government ‘to secure the co-operation of all Jews who are willing to assist in the establishment of a Jewish national home.’ Article 6 instructed the Palestine Administration both to ‘facilitate’ Jewish immigration, and to ‘encourage’ close settlement by Jews on the land, ‘including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.’27

On the evening of 22 July 1922, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the pioneer of modern spoken Hebrew, went to see his friend Arthur Ruppin. It was more than forty years since Ben Yehuda had come to live in Palestine. He had just seen a telegram announcing that the League of Nations had just confirmed Britain’s Palestine Mandate. ‘The Ben Yehudas were elated,’ Ruppin recorded in his diary, with Ben Yehuda telling Ruppin, in Hebrew, ‘now we are in our own country.’ Ruppin himself was hesitant. ‘I could not share their enthusiasm,’ he wrote. ‘One is not allocated a fatherland by means of diplomatic resolutions.’ Ruppin added: ‘If we do not acquire Palestine economically by means of work and if we do not win the friendship of the Arabs, our position under the Mandate will be no better than it was before.’28

* * *

Notes

1. Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, 22 July 1922: League of Nations – Official Journal.

2. War Cabinet minutes, 30 October 1917; Cabinet Papers, 23/4.

3. Foreign Office papers, 371/3054.

4. The text of the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement was quoted in The Times, 10 June 1936.

5. Curzon papers, India Office Library.

6. Supreme Council minutes: Event 4651: Zionist presentation to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference.

7. Foreign Office papers, 371/4171.

8. Ibid.

9. Henry C. King was a theologian and President of Oberlin College, Ohio. Charles R. Crane was a prominent Democratic Party contributor who had been a member of the United States delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.

10. Report of American Section of Inter-Allied Commission of Mandates in Turkey: An official United States Government report by the Inter-allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. American Section. First printed as ‘King-Crane Report on the Near East,’ New York, 1922, volume 55.

11. The Times, London, 9 September 1919.

12. Churchill papers, 16/18.

13. Illustrated Sunday Herald, 8 February 1920.

14. Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, diary (unpublished).

15. Churchill papers, 17/20.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Minutes of the Imperial Cabinet: Lloyd George papers.

19. Palestine Royal Commission, notes of evidence, 12 March 1937: Churchill papers: 2/317.

20. Samuel papers.

21. Weizmann papers.

22. Colonial Office papers, 733/10.

23. Statement of British Policy in Palestine, Command Paper 1700 of 1922, 3 June 1922.

24. Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 4 July 1922.

25. Colonial Office papers, 733/35.

26. Communication dated 29 December 1921, Command Paper 2559 of 1926.

27. Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, 22 July 1922: League of Nations – Official Journal.

28. Arthur Ruppin diary, Ruppin papers.


SEE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION >>

“An Overwhelmingly Jewish State” – From the Balfour Declaration to the Palestine Mandate

By Sir Martin Gilbert

On 22 July 1922, when the League of Nations announced the terms of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine, it gave prominence to the Balfour Declaration. ‘The Mandatory should be responsible,’ the preamble stated, ‘for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty…in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’ The preamble of the Mandate included the precise wording of the Balfour Declaration.

Nothing in the Balfour Declaration dealt with Jewish statehood, immigration, land purchase or the boundaries of Palestine. This essay examines how British policy with regard to the ‘national home for the Jewish people’ evolved between November 1917 and July 1922, and the stages by which the Mandate commitments were reached.

In the discussions on the eve of the Balfour Declaration, the British War Cabinet, desperate to persuade the Jews of Russia to urge their government to renew Russia’s war effort, saw Palestine as a Jewish rallying cry. To this end, those advising the War Cabinet, and the Foreign Secretary himself, A.J. Balfour, encouraged at least the possibility of an eventual Jewish majority, even if it might – with the settled population of Palestine then being some 600,000 Arabs and 60,000 Jews – be many years before such a majority emerged. On 31 October 1917, Balfour had told the War Cabinet that while the words ‘national home…did not necessarily involve the early establishment of an independent Jewish State,’ such a State ‘was a matter for gradual development in accordance with the ordinary laws of political evolution.’2

How these laws were to be regarded was explained in a Foreign Office memorandum of 19 December 1917 by Arnold Toynbee and Lewis Namier, the latter a Galician-born Jew, who wrote jointly: ‘The objection raised against the Jews being given exclusive political rights in Palestine on a basis that would be undemocratic with regard to the local Christian and Mohammedan population,’ they wrote, ‘is certainly the most important which the anti-Zionists have hitherto raised, but the difficulty is imaginary. Palestine might be held in trust by Great Britain or America until there was a sufficient population in the country fit to govern it on European lines. Then no undemocratic restrictions of the kind indicated in the memorandum would be required any longer.’3

On 3 January 1919 agreement was reached between the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and the Arab leader Emir Feisal. Article Four of this agreement declared that all ‘necessary measures’ should be taken ‘to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil.’ In taking such measures, the agreement went on, ‘the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights, and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.’4

The Weizmann-Feisal agreement did not refer to Jewish statehood. Indeed, on 19 January 1919, Balfour wrote to his fellow Cabinet Minister Lord Curzon: ‘As far as I know, Weizmann has never put forward a claim for the Jewish Government of Palestine. Such a claim is, in my opinion, certainly inadmissible and personally I do not think we should go further than the original declaration which I made to Lord Rothschild.’5

Scarcely six weeks later, on February 27, in Balfour’s presence, Weizmann presented the essence of the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement to the Allied Supreme Council in Paris, telling them that the nation that was to receive Palestine as a League of Nations Mandate must first of all ‘Promote Jewish immigration and closer settlement on the land,’ while at the same time ensuring that ‘the established rights’ of the non-Jewish population be ‘equitably safe-guarded.’

During the discussion, Robert Lansing, the American Secretary of State, asked Weizmann for clarification ‘as to the meaning of the words “Jewish National Home.” Did that mean an autonomous Jewish Government?’ Weizmann replied, as the minutes of the discussion record, ‘in the negative.’ The Zionist Organisation, he told Lansing – reiterating what Balfour had told Curzon – ‘did not want an autonomous Jewish Government, but merely to establish in Palestine, under a Mandatory Power, an administration, not necessarily Jewish, which would render it possible to send into Palestine 70,000 to 80,000 Jews annually.’ The Zionist Organisation wanted permission ‘to build Jewish schools where Hebrew would be taught, and to develop institutions of every kind. Thus it would build up gradually a nationality, and so make Palestine as Jewish as America is American or England English.’

The Supreme Council wanted to know if such a ‘nationality’ would involve eventual statehood? Weizmann told them: ‘Later on, when the Jews formed the large majority, they would be ripe to establish such a Government as would answer to the state of the development of the country and to their ideals.’6

British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, 1917 (Israel National Photo Collection)

The British Government supported the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement with regard to both Jewish immigration and land purchase. On June 19 the senior British military officer in Palestine, General Clayton, telegraphed to the Foreign Office for approval of a Palestine ordinance to re-open land purchase ‘under official control.’ Zionist interests, Clayton stated, ‘will be fully safeguarded.’7

Clayton’s telegram was forwarded to Balfour, who replied on July 5 that land purchase could indeed be continued ‘provided that, as far as possible, preferential treatment is given to Zionist interests.’8

The Zionist plans were thus endorsed by both Feisal and Balfour. But on 28 August 1919 a United States commission, the King-Crane Commission, appointed by President Woodrow Wilson, published its report criticising Zionist ambitions and recommending ‘serious modification of the extremist Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State.’9

The King-Crane Commission went on to state that the Zionists with whom it had spoken looked forward ‘to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.’ In their conclusion, the Commissioners felt ‘bound to recommend that only a greatly reduced Zionist programme be attempted’; a reduction that would ‘have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine a distinctly Jewish commonwealth should be given up.’10

The United States was in a minority at the Supreme Council. On September 19 the Zionists received unexpected support from The Times, which declared: ‘Our duty as the Mandatory power will be to make Jewish Palestine not a struggling State, but one that is capable of vigorous and independent national life.’11

Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, and with ministerial responsibility for Palestine, took a more cynical view of Zionist ambitions. On October 25, in a memorandum for the Cabinet, he wrote of ‘the Jews, whom we are pledged to introduce into Palestine and who take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.’12

Churchill’s critical attitude did not last long. Fearful of the rise of Communism in the East, and conscious of the part played by individual Jews in helping to impose Bolshevik rule on Russia, he soon set his cynicism aside. In an article entitled ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism: the Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People,’ he wrote in the Illustrated Sunday Herald on 8 February 1920 that Zionism offered the Jews ‘a national idea of a commanding character.’ Palestine would provide ‘the Jewish race all over the world’ with, as Churchill put it, ‘a home and a centre of national life.’ Although Palestine could only accommodate ‘a fraction of the Jewish race,’ but ‘if, as may well happen, there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown which might comprise three or four millions of Jews, an event will have occurred in the history of the world which would from every point of view be beneficial, and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire.’

Churchill’s article ended with an appeal for the building up ‘with the utmost rapidity’ of a ‘Jewish national centre’ in Palestine; a centre, he asserted, which might become ‘not only a refuge to the oppressed from the unhappy lands of Central Europe,’ but also ‘a symbol of Jewish unity and the temple of Jewish glory.’ On such a task, he added, ‘many blessings rest.’13

Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, January 16, 1943 (AP Photo)

On 24 April 1920, at the San Remo Conference, the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George accepted a British Mandate for Palestine, and that Britain, as the Mandatory Power, would be responsible for giving effect to the Balfour Declaration. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, noted in his diary that there had been a ‘two-hour battle’ among the British and French delegates, ‘about acknowledging and establishing Zionism as a separate State in Palestine under British protection.’14

In January 1921, Lloyd George appointed Churchill to be Secretary of State for the Colonies, charged with drawing up the terms of the Mandate and presenting them to the League of Nations. In March 1921, at the Cairo Conference, Churchill agreed to the establishment of a Jewish gendarmerie in Palestine to ward off local Arab attacks (Churchill preferred a Jewish Army). He also agreed that Transjordan, while part of the original Mandated Territory of Palestine, would be separate from it, and under an Arab ruler. This fitted in with what Britain had in mind as the wider settlement of Arab claims. On 17 January 1921, T.E. Lawrence had reported to Churchill that Emir Feisal ‘agreed to abandon all claims of his father to Palestine’ in return for Mesopotamia (Iraq) – where Churchill agreed at the Cairo Conference to install him as King – and Transjordan, where Feisal ‘hopes to have a recognised Arab State with British advice.’15

From Cairo, Churchill went to Jerusalem, where he was given a petition from the Haifa Congress of Palestinian Arabs, dated 14 March 1921, which began: ‘1. We refuse the Jewish Immigration to Palestine. 2. We energetically protest against the Balfour Declaration to the effect that our Country should be made the Jewish National Home.’16 Churchill rejected the Arab arguments. ‘It is manifestly right,’ he announced publicly on March 28, ‘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 the land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it would be good for the world, good for the Jews, and good for the British Empire.’17

After Churchill’s visit, Arab violence in Jaffa led the British High Commissioner in Palestine, a British Jew, Sir Herbert Samuel, to order an immediate temporary suspension of Jewish immigration. This did not find favour in the Colonial Office. A telegram drafted for Churchill by one of his senior advisers, Major Hubert Young, who during the war had played his part in the Arab Revolt, was dispatched to Samuel on May 14. ‘The present agitation,’ the telegram read, ‘is doubtless engineered in the hope of frightening us out of our Zionist policy….We must firmly maintain law and order and make concessions on their merits and not under duress.’

On June 22 Churchill explained the British position on Zionism at a meeting of the Imperial Cabinet. The Canadian Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen, questioned Churchill about the meaning of a Jewish ‘National Home.’ Did it mean, Meighen asked, giving the Jews ‘control of the Government’? To this Churchill replied: ‘If, in the course of many years, they become a majority in the country, they naturally would take it over.’18


Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, arrives at the White House in Washington on March 11, 1946. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)

Churchill was asked about this sixteen years later by the Palestine Royal Commission. ‘What is the conception you have formed yourself,’ he was asked, ‘of the Jewish National Home?’ Churchill replied: ‘The conception undoubtedly was that, if the absorptive capacity over a number of years and the breeding over a number of years, all guided by the British Government, gave an increasing Jewish population, that population should not in any way be restricted from reaching a majority position.’ Churchill went on to tell the Commission: ‘As to what arrangement would be made to safeguard the rights of the new minority’ – the Arab minority – ‘that obviously remains open, but certainly we committed ourselves to the idea that some day, somehow, far off in the future, subject to justice and economic convenience, there might well be a great Jewish State there, numbered by millions, far exceeding the present inhabitants of the country and to cut them off from that would be a wrong.’ Churchill added: ‘We said there should be a Jewish Home in Palestine, but if more and more Jews gather to that Home and all is worked from age to age, from generation to generation, with justice and fair consideration to those displaced and so forth, certainly it was contemplated and intended that they might in the course of time become an overwhelmingly Jewish State.’19

Whether the Jews could form a majority – the sine qua non of statehood – was challenged publicly by Herbert Samuel on 3 June 1921, when he said that ‘the conditions of Palestine are such as not to permit anything in the nature of mass immigration.’20 But at a meeting in Balfour’s house in London on July 22, Lloyd George and Balfour had both agreed ‘that by the Declaration they had always meant an eventual Jewish State.’21

Churchill’s adviser, Major Young, likewise favoured a policy that, he wrote to Churchill on August 1, involved ‘the gradual immigration of Jews into Palestine until that country becomes a predominantly Jewish State.’ Young went on to argue that the phrase ‘National Home’ as used in the Balfour Declaration implied no less than full statehood for the Jews of Palestine. There could be ‘no half-way house,’ he wrote, between a Jewish State and ‘total abandonment of the Zionist programme.’22

When the Cabinet met on August 17 there was talk of handing the Palestine Mandate to the United States, but Lloyd George rejected this. The official minutes noted: ‘stress was laid on the following consideration, the honour of the government was involved in the Declaration made by Mr Balfour, and to go back on our pledge would seriously reduce the prestige of this country in the eyes of the Jews throughout the world.’

On 3 June 1922 the British Government issued a White Paper, known as the Churchill White Paper, which stated: ‘So far as the Jewish population of Palestine are concerned it appears that some among them are apprehensive that His Majesty’s Government may depart from the policy embodied in the Declaration of 1917. It is necessary, therefore, once more to affirm that these fears are unfounded, and that that Declaration, re-affirmed by the Conference of the Principal Allied Powers at San Remo and again in the Treaty of Sטvres, is not susceptible of change.’

The White Paper also noted: ‘During the last two or three generations the Jews have recreated in Palestine a community, now numbering 80,000…it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on the sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.’23

To reinforce this concept of ‘right,’ Churchill had granted the Zionists a monopoly on the development of electrical power in Palestine, authorising a scheme drawn up by the Russian-born Jewish engineer, Pinhas Rutenberg, to harness the waters of the Jordan River. To stop what critics were calling the ‘beginning of Jewish domination,’ a debate was held in the House of Lords demanding representative institutions that would enable the Arabs to halt Jewish immigration. In the debate, held on June 21, sixty Peers voted against the Mandate as envisaged by the White Paper, and against the Balfour Declaration. Only twenty-nine Peers voted for it.

On July 4 it fell to Churchill to persuade the House of Commons to reverse this vote. He staunchly defended the Zionists. Anyone who had visited Palestine recently, he said, ‘must have seen how part of the desert have been converted into gardens, and how material improvement has been effected in every respect by the Arab population dwelling around.’ Apart from ‘this agricultural work – this reclamation work – there are services which science, assisted by outside capital, can render, and of all the enterprises of importance which would have the effect of greatly enriching the land none was greater than the scientific storage and regulation of the waters of the Jordan for the provision of cheap power and light needed for the industry of Palestine, as well as water for the irrigation of new lands now desolate.’ The Rutenberg concession offered to all the inhabitants of Palestine ‘the assurance of a greater prosperity and the means of a higher economic and social life.’

Churchill asked that the Government be allowed ‘to use Jews, and use Jews freely, within limits that are proper, to develop new sources of wealth in Palestine.’ It was also imperative, he said, if the Balfour Declaration’s ‘pledges to the Zionists’ were to be carried out, for the House of Commons to reverse the vote of the House of Lords. Churchill’s appeal was successful. Only thirty-five votes were cast against the Government’s Palestine policy, 292 in favour.24

The way was clear for presenting the terms of the Mandate to the League of Nations. On July 5, Churchill telegraphed Sir Wyndham Deedes, who was administering the Government of Palestine in Samuel’s absence, that ‘every effort will be made to get terms of Mandate approved by Council of League of Nations at forthcoming session and policy will be vigorously pursued.’25

On 22 July 1922 the League of Nations approved the Palestine Mandate (it came into force on 29 September 1923). One particular article, Article 25, relating to Transjordan, disappointed the Zionists, who had hoped to settle on both sides of the Jordan River. ‘In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined,’ Article 25 stated, ‘the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, provided that no action shall be taken which is inconsistent with the provisions of Articles 15, 16 and 18.’

The Zionists pointed out that Article 15 was clearly inconsistent with not allowing a Jewish presence in Transjordan, for it stated clearly, with regard to the whole area of Mandatory Palestine, west and east of the Jordan, that ‘The Mandatory shall see that complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals, are ensured to all. No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief. The right of each community to maintain its own schools for the education of its own members in its own language, while conforming to such educational requirements of a general nature as the Administration may impose, shall not be denied or impaired.’

The rest of the Mandate was strongly in support of Zionist aspirations. Article 2, while making no reference to the previous four and a half years’ debate on statehood, instructed the Mandatory to secure ‘the development of self-governing institutions.’ In a note to the United States Government five months later, the Foreign Office pointed out that ‘so far as Palestine is concerned’ Article 2 of the Mandate ‘expressly provides that the administration may arrange with the Jewish Agency to develop any of the natural resources of the country, in so far as these matters are not directly undertaken by the Administration.’ The reason for this, the Foreign Office explained, ‘is that in order that the policy of establishing in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people could be successfully carried out, it is impractical to guarantee that equal facilities for developing the natural resources of the country should be granted to persons or bodies who may be motivated by other motives.’26 It was on this basis that the Rutenberg electrical concession had been granted as a monopoly to the Zionists, and on which representative institutions had been withheld for as long as the Arabs were in a majority.

Article 4 recognised the Zionist Organization as the ‘appropriate Jewish Agency,’ to work with the British Government ‘to secure the co-operation of all Jews who are willing to assist in the establishment of a Jewish national home.’ Article 6 instructed the Palestine Administration both to ‘facilitate’ Jewish immigration, and to ‘encourage’ close settlement by Jews on the land, ‘including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.’27

On the evening of 22 July 1922, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the pioneer of modern spoken Hebrew, went to see his friend Arthur Ruppin. It was more than forty years since Ben Yehuda had come to live in Palestine. He had just seen a telegram announcing that the League of Nations had just confirmed Britain’s Palestine Mandate. ‘The Ben Yehudas were elated,’ Ruppin recorded in his diary, with Ben Yehuda telling Ruppin, in Hebrew, ‘now we are in our own country.’ Ruppin himself was hesitant. ‘I could not share their enthusiasm,’ he wrote. ‘One is not allocated a fatherland by means of diplomatic resolutions.’ Ruppin added: ‘If we do not acquire Palestine economically by means of work and if we do not win the friendship of the Arabs, our position under the Mandate will be no better than it was before.’28

* * *

Notes

1. Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, 22 July 1922: League of Nations – Official Journal.

2. War Cabinet minutes, 30 October 1917; Cabinet Papers, 23/4.

3. Foreign Office papers, 371/3054.

4. The text of the Weizmann-Feisal Agreement was quoted in The Times, 10 June 1936.

5. Curzon papers, India Office Library.

6. Supreme Council minutes: Event 4651: Zionist presentation to the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference.

7. Foreign Office papers, 371/4171.

8. Ibid.

9. Henry C. King was a theologian and President of Oberlin College, Ohio. Charles R. Crane was a prominent Democratic Party contributor who had been a member of the United States delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.

10. Report of American Section of Inter-Allied Commission of Mandates in Turkey: An official United States Government report by the Inter-allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. American Section. First printed as ‘King-Crane Report on the Near East,’ New York, 1922, volume 55.

11. The Times, London, 9 September 1919.

12. Churchill papers, 16/18.

13. Illustrated Sunday Herald, 8 February 1920.

14. Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, diary (unpublished).

15. Churchill papers, 17/20.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Minutes of the Imperial Cabinet: Lloyd George papers.

19. Palestine Royal Commission, notes of evidence, 12 March 1937: Churchill papers: 2/317.

20. Samuel papers.

21. Weizmann papers.

22. Colonial Office papers, 733/10.

23. Statement of British Policy in Palestine, Command Paper 1700 of 1922, 3 June 1922.

24. Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 4 July 1922.

25. Colonial Office papers, 733/35.

26. Communication dated 29 December 1921, Command Paper 2559 of 1926.

27. Council of the League of Nations, League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission, 22 July 1922: League of Nations – Official Journal.

28. Arthur Ruppin diary, Ruppin papers.


SEE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION >>