With all the Balfour centenary kerfuffle and Palestinian demands for an apology for the Balfour declaration I don’t think anyone has discussed whether Perfidious Albion should issue an apology to Israel.
Seventy-five percent of Palestinians polled, last October, said that they supported the call from President Mahmoud Abbas on Britain to accept the historical, legal, political, material and moral responsibilities for the consequences of Balfour Declaration including offering an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes and injustice committed against them.
Yes, 100 years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. That declaration paved the road for the Nakba of the Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land.
Give the Palestine propaganda apparatus credit for reinforcing their victim status, a century after the event, at a time when the Palestinian claim has taken 2nd, 3rd or even 4th place to more pressing problems.
So what does Britain have to apologise for? Plenty.
The first apology… to the Turks
Odd as it may seem, I agree with Abbas on the point that the land was not British to give away. Balfour made his declaration in the middle of a war with the sovereign power in the Holy Land.
In other words the Ottoman Turkish Empire were the recognised owners of the Holy Land, and had been for hundreds of years – not and never Palestine Arabs.
Many or even most of the Arabs. who now call themselves Palestinian and laughably claim indigenous status, arrived between 1922 to 1848, after WWI, to take advantage of improved economic conditions and so were not even there at the time of the declaration.
Although if one actually reads the Declaration text they didn’t ‘give’ away anything, only a much revised and public message of support.
The second apology… for deceiving multiple parties
The Balfour Declaration was not the only deal the Brits made. In 1916 they made a secret agreement with the French, Italians and Russians to divide up the Middle East. This only became public because a pissed-off Leon Trotsky discovered the document in British Embassy papers.
This became known as the Sykes-Picot agreement even though Edward Grey (UK) and Paul Cambon (Fr) actually signed it.
Were they too embarrassed to accept credit?
Under this agreement the Galilee went to France; Haifa and Acre went to Britain and Jerusalem and Jaffa were to be under International control. Arabs could have the much less valuable Negev Desert as a British protectorate.
Sykes by the way designed the red, green, white and black flag of the Arab Revolt. You can seen it echoed in the flags of Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Kuwait, Yemen, The United Arab Emirates and, of course, Palestine.
Yet Sykes-Picot wasn’t the only other agreement. In 1915 and 1916 , Hussein ibn Ali al-Hashimi, Sharif of Mecca, and Sir Arthur Henry McMahon exchanged a series of letters. These documents were made public in a series of leaks, unofficial excerpts, Arabic language press accounts and ultimately officially, in 1939, more than two decades later an official version. It took until 1964 for everything to be declassified.
There is a dispute between the Brits and the Arabs about whether coastal Palestine was part of the deal. Hussein certainly believed it was. My interpretation agrees with Hussein.
So, if the British had honoured the Arab interpretation of the correspondence would the Palestinians have had an independent state? Not really. The al-Hashimis (as in Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) were not Levantine Arab Palestinians but Bedouin from the Arabian Peninsula – culturally and linguistically distinct groups.
The Arab state had it arisen would have been ruled by foreigners as part of a larger state across all Arab land. Then again the existing non-Jewish communities didn’t consider themselves Palestinian (that was a label reserved for the Jews) and would rather have been part of Syria.
The United Kingdom intentionally and quite deviously sold the Brooklyn Bridge three times to different buyers. (Sorry Anglos, I don’t know of a U.K. equivalent expression). The Balfour Declaration was written even though the authors were well aware they were breaking earlier promises.
The third apology… for
Emirate of Transjordan Jordan
Churchill unilaterally stripped off two-thirds of the Mandate for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and created what could easily be considered already a Palestinian State. Today the overwhelming majority of its population are Levantine Arabs (the Jordanians refuse to admit what percentage). Some are UNRWA defined Palestine refugees but others were living there before 1948. Theoretically even the ethnically different ruling Bedouin are Palestinian by virtue of being part of the British Mandate for Palestine.
Transjordan had been a no man’s land after the July 1920 Battle of Maysalun. Abdullah bin Hussein, son of the already mentioned Hussein, born in Mecca, moved his small army and captured the area without resistance from either the local population or the British.
The British in neighbouring Mandatory Palestine chose to avoid “any definite connection between it and Palestine” until a March 1921 conference at which it was agreed that Abdullah would administer the territory under the auspices of the British Mandate for Palestine with a fully autonomous governing system.
The fourth apology… doing bugger all to realise the mandate
The text of the Palestine Mandate makes interesting reading. In 1920 the United Kingdom was all for creating a homeland for the Jewish people and the words of the Balfour Declaration found their way into the San Remo Convention and the League of Nations Palestine Mandate. Afterwards British interest faded away. By the 1930s it was actively opposing immigration of Jews and their settlement, at a time when Hitler’s persecution was clear.
I wonder why all the participants at San Remo, which provided the legal basis for Israel are not asked to apologise? In addition to Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan(!) – with the United States as a neutral observer attended and divided the Ottoman Empire like a roast chicken.
The San Remo Convention was confirmed by the League of Nations, predecessor of the United Nations.
The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.
The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine.
How many Jews died because the United Kingdom decided that the Balfour Declaration was just words?
The fifth apology… Saddam Hussein and the Assad family </SARC>
It occurred to me that if Britain is expected to apologise, thirty-plus years later, for indirect historical, legal, political, material and moral responsibilities relating to the consequences of Balfour Declaration, as if the Arabs had no agency in their condition, then it should also have to apologise for creating Iraq and Syria at the same time.
Balfour made a simple declaration of support without any legal obligation to the Government of the United Kingdom. However, the creation of internationally accepted mandates for Syria and Iraq were Britain’s direct responsibility. Consider the coups, assassinations, massacres and displaced persons in Syria and Iraq from 1922 to today. They far swamp that from the Israel-Arab conflict.
London – apologise now!
The sixth apology… we’re waiting
When are the Palestinians going to apologise for their part in Nazi genocide?
- Balfour Line-Up has Disintegrated, Raymond Apple, Jerusalem Post, 28 October 2017
- The Palestine Mandate, Council of the League of Nations, The Avalon Project of Yale Law School, 24 July 1922
Special HT to my friend Barry Shaw from the Israel Institute of Strategic Studies. His recent book 1917: From Palestine to the Land of Israel was the inspiration for this post. Originally I planned it as a book review. Any historical detail can be credited to this much recommended introduction to the history of this region.
If you haven’t already ready it, please check out Five Minutes for Israel’s Balfouria on the threat to take the UK to court.
The photograph of Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan was scanned and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence. The work was created by Cecil Beaton during his service for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War as an official photographer of the Home Front. In the UK, photographs taken in military service, or works of art created as part of military service, became controlled under the Crown Copyright provisions and so faithful reproductions may be reused under that licence, which is considered expired after 50 years.