Last weekend’s online edition of Counterpunch carried an article by Ramzy Baroud, reporting that 99 years after the Balfour Declaration the Palestinians wish to sue Britain for giving away their homeland to the Zionist colonists. Balfour was the British Foreign Secretary, who, in a note given to Walther Rothschild, the leader of Britain’s Jewish community on 2nd November 1917, in which he pledged British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Baroud quotes the letter, which read
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, it being clearly understood 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.
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Baroud puts this agreement in context, as part of a wider movement by the colonial powers to divide up the Middle East and the Arab nations for themselves. This was the geopolitical background to the Picot-Sykes agreement, drawn up a year or so earlier, which settled the boundaries of British and French mandated territories and colonial possessions in the region.
Last July, the Palestinian Authority took the step of asking for wider Arab support in suing Britain for the agreement. Baroud states that at the time the Declaration was made, and the Picot-Sykes Agreement signed – the latter in secret – Britain was not in possession of Palestine or the other territories, which were still part of the Ottoman Empire. This was dismantled after the War. Baroud reproaches the British and the West for their hypocrisy in supporting Zionist emigration and colonisation of Palestine. At the same time, Britain also gave a series of spurious promises to the Palestinians, including offering them independence. The Palestinians finally rebelled when it became obvious that the British were helping the Zionists. Nevertheless, the League of Nations mandated the new Arab territories to Britain. The Balfour Declaration prepared the international stage for the full-scale ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the decades to come, and that the British continued their support of the Jewish colony after it became Israel, while at the same time also promising some small measure of support to the Arabs.
While Balfour cannot be blamed for all the misfortunates that have befallen Palestinians since he communicated his brief, but infamous letter, the notion that his ‘promise’ embodied – that of complete disregard of the aspirations and rights of the Palestinian Arab people – that very letter is handed from one generation of British diplomats to the next, in the same way that Palestinian resistance to colonialism has and continues to spread across generations.
That injustice continues, thus the perpetuation of the conflict. What the British, the early Zionists, the Americans and subsequent Israeli governments failed to understand, and continue to ignore at their own peril, is that there can be no peace without justice and equality in Palestine; and that Palestinians will continue to resist, as long as the reasons that inspired their rebellion nearly a century ago, remain in place.
I think the Palestinians are right to sue Britain. We clearly had no right whatsoever to grant a territory we did not have to the Zionist Federation in complete disregard to the wishes of its indigenous inhabitants. There are also other aspects to the Balfour Declaration, which are not mentioned in Baroud’s article, but which give a different perspective on domestic Jewish support for the embryonic Zionist state. According to Lobster, many, perhaps the majority, of British Jews did not support its creation. Herbert Samuel, the only Jewish member of the Cabinet, opposed it, as did very many Jews, including many leading members of the British Jewish community. I think that Samuel may have presented the government with a list of 72 leading Jewish families, who were against it. Samuel, along with the majority of European Jews of the time, at least in western Europe, wished to be patriotic members of their European homelands, and to be seen and accepted as such by their gentile compatriots. Samuel was afraid, with considerable justification, that the creation of an independent Jewish state would lead to Jews being suspected of having double loyalties, of not really being ‘British’. It’s easy to see why he feared that. This is, after all, the attitude that has led to Jews being persecuted throughout history, and which has survived in stupid conspiracy theories like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and similar fantasies of the Nazis and the Alt Right.
It also needs to be pointed out that the Palestinian population also included indigenous Jews, who have also been exploited and expelled by Israel. About 60,000 Arab Jews, or Jewish Arabs, were forced out of Israel in the 1960s. The Mizrahim, Arab Jews, who were invited to immigrated to Israel to build up the labour force, were given the poorest housing and jobs, and looked down upon as inferior by the European Zionist colonists. As Counterpunch has also pointed out in previous articles, Israel sees itself as a Western state, and has maltreated its indigenous inhabitants according to the manner other western settler states have brutalised and ethnically cleansed theirs.
Balfour’s note states that he wanted the civil and religious rights of the indigenous Palestinians respected, and did not want it to prejudice the rights and the way Jews elsewhere were seen. But this has been what has occurred. And Baroud is absolutely right to say that there can be no real peace without a just settlement of the Palestinians and their right to a homeland of their own.
Tags: 'Counterpunch', 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion', Alt Right, Arthur Balfour, Balfour Declaration, British Mandate, Colonialism, Conspiracy Theories, Ethnic Cleansing, Herbert Samuel, Jews, League of Nations, Lobster, Middle East, Mizrahim, Ottoman Empire, Palestine, Palestinians, Ramzy Baroud, Syke-Picot Agreement, Walther Rothschild, Zionism