Yesterday Counterpunch published a powerful piece by Robert Fisk, ‘Who Could Ever Feel Pride in the Balfour Declaration?’ attacking Theresa May’s plans to celebrate the centenary of the British Prime Minister’s declaration during the First World War to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Fisk is a journalist with the Independent, where the piece was originally published, and a veteran critic of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the country’s indigenous, Arab population. He begins the article
Theresa May told us that Britain will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration this summer with “pride”. This was predictable. A British prime minister who would fawn to the head-chopping Arab autocrats of the Gulf in the hope of selling them more missiles – and then hold the hand of the insane new anti-Muslim president of the United States – was bound, I suppose, to feel “pride” in the most mendacious, deceitful and hypocritical document in modern British history.
As a woman who has set her heart against immigrants, it was also inevitable that May would display her most venal characteristics to foreigners – to wealthy Arab potentates, and to an American president whose momentary love of Britain might produce a life-saving post-Brexit trade agreement. It was to an audience of British lobbyists for Israel a couple of months ago that she expressed her “pride” in a century-old declaration which created millions of refugees. But to burnish the 1917 document which promised Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine but which would ultimately create that very refugee population – refugees being the target of her own anti-immigration policies – is little short of iniquitous.
The Balfour Declaration’s intrinsic lie – that while Britain supported a Jewish homeland, nothing would be done “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – is matched today by the equally dishonest response of Balfour’s lamentable successor at the Foreign Office. Boris Johnson wrote quite accurately two years ago that the Balfour Declaration was “bizarre”, a “tragicomically incoherent” document, “an exquisite piece of Foreign Office fudgerama”. But in a subsequent visit to Israel, the profit-hunting Mayor of London suddenly discovered that the Balfour Declaration was “a great thing” that “reflected a great tide of history”. No doubt we shall hear more of this same nonsense from Boris Johnson later this year.
He states that Balfour issued the Declaration in order to convince American and Russian Jews to continue to press for continuing the war against Germany, after Russia was forced to sue for peace the same year in 1917. He points out that Britain should, by rights, apologise to the millions of Arab refugees created by the Declaration, as Britain has done for the Slave Trade and the Irish Potato Famine. But he predicts that Britain won’t, because Theresa May needs Israel far more than she needs the support of the Arabs. Much of the article is really a discussion of David Cronin’s book Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel. Cronin’s an Irish journalist living Brussels, who very definitely despises anti-Semitism and Holocaust-deniers, and who faces up to the issue of the support of Mufti of Jerusalem for the Nazis and the Holocaust. The book details the British use of violence and repression against the Arabs, including the use of ‘extra-judicial execution’. Fisk also shows in his article how British prime ministers since Balfour, of both the Left and Right, have supported Israel at the expense of its Arab population. PMs who have supported Israel and its ethnic cleansing include Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and, of course, Tony Blair. Fisk also details British complicity in supplying arms to the Israelis and that they gave no protection to Arab civilians when they were being massacred, such as at Haifa. Fisk states
Cronin’s investigation of Colonial Office files show that the British military lied about the “cleansing” of Haifa, offering no protection to the Arabs, a policy largely followed across Palestine save for the courage of Major Derek Cooper and his soldiers, whose defence of Arab civilians in Jaffa won him the Military Cross (although David Cronin does not mention this). Cooper, whom I got to know when he was caring for wounded Palestinians in Beirut in 1982, never forgave his own government for its dishonesty at the end of the Palestine Mandate.
But Britain’s support for Israel hasn’t always been reciprocated. When the PLO opposed the Falkland’s War, they were told very clearly by the British ambassador that it was no concern of theirs. At the same time the Israelis were selling Skyhawk jets to the Argentinians to shoot down our flyboys.
Fisk concludes the article
From the day that Herbert Samuel, deputy leader of the Liberal Party and former (Jewish) High Commissioner for Palestine, said in the House of Commons in 1930 that Arabs “do migrate easily”, it seems that Britain has faithfully followed Balfour’s policies. More than 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted in their catastrophe, Cronin writes. Generations of dispossessed would grow up in the camps. Today, there are around five million registered Palestinian refugees. Britain was the midwife of that expulsion.
And this summer, we shall again be exhorted by Theresa May to remember the Balfour Declaration with “pride”.