On the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, our columnists express their viewpoints on colonial overreach and Palestinian dispossession.

Zionism : 100, Palestine : 0, at Half time



To this day, the images remain with me, speaking to me, about me, from me, defining my inward preoccupations as a human being


How Britain became an obstacle to peace


Without Britain, six million Palestinian refugees, now scattered around the world, would have remained in their own homeland


Balfour’s legacy continues to horrify


Palestinians have made it clear that they will no longer accept Israel’s military rule


Britain adds insult to Balfour’s injury


The Balfour Declaration cannot be considered as one of the British Imperialist Empire’s finest moments


Balfour Declaration Marks the Long Path of broken Promises


The Arabs have become ever since, or at least for the greater part of last century, victims of a great betrayal


From Balfour to Truman, how a pledge became reality


The dangerous patterns that Truman established in the late 40s have dominated the American-Israeli relationship for decades


A 100 years of misery


Nothing so blunt, cold, calculated, judgemental, arrogant, colonial and imperialistic had ever been achieved before


Zionism : 100, Palestine : 0, at Half time


To this day, the images remain with me, speaking to me, about me, from me, defining my inward preoccupations as a human being


First came the Balfour Declaration, issued exactly a century ago in the United Kingdom, then came its end result, exactly 30 years later at the United Nations.


One might expect that the resonance of that aging, infamous document would have faded away a hundred years after the fact. Yet it shows no sign of doing so. It remains to this day a ghostly presence in our daily lives (how could you, say, go through the humiliation of checkpoints in the West Bank without thinking of it?) and a spooky marker in our history books.


It’s not easy to find a new way to write about a subject as well-reconnoitered as the Balfour Declaration, so copiously written about by professional historians, effectively a diktat (yes, I think that’s the honest word to use here) whose consequences are so keenly experienced by Palestinians as “felt” history. The release of this 67-word document – even at a time when Britain was still in its colonial heyday, when it felt free to determine the political destiny of its “subjugated peoples”, often literally with the stroke of a pen, behind their backs and against their pleas – was seen, and not just by Arabs, as no less than an act of imperialist, moral depravity. The end result of that the sleight of hand by Britain in November 1917 came exactly 30 years later at the UN in November 1947, when the General Assembly voted to partition Palestine between the Arab majority and the Jewish minority, giving away 52 per cent of it to the latter.


And if you think America’s advocacy of Zionism then was less fervent or less zealously pursued than it is in our time, then read this from that most popular book, O Jerusalem, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, made iconic since its publication by Simon & Schuster in 1971, on how the US worked so hard to see to it that Palestine was dismembered that year.


“By direct orders of the White House, the United States had exerted every form of pressure available to it on those nations in the UN opposed to partition or hesitant in their support of it”, wrote the authors. “President Truman had personally warned the United States delegate to the UN, Herschel Johnson, to ‘damn well deliver the partition vote or there will be hell to pay’.”


And the human toll on Palestinian, as Israelis the following year scrambled to conquer, by force of arms, an additional 26 per cent of the land?


Consider, for one thing, the ethnic cleansing by Zionist troops that took place in the east of the country, including in the twin cities of Lydda and Ramleh, where tens of thousands of Palestinians were expelled en masse. Again Collins and Lapierre: “Under a boiling sun clutching what few possessions they had had time to gather, an occasional Israeli bullet fired over their heads to keep them moving, the miserable column of human beings stumbled over the rock- and thorn-strewn hillside toward Ramallah. An unknown number of the aged and the young died during the trek.” In the south, hundreds of villages and towns were emptied and tens of thousands of people, who had lived in them for generations, arrived in Gaza, harrowed, beaten, and bled.


As for the refugee exodus in the north, along the coast road leading to the Lebanese border, I need not refer here to outside sources, given the fact that I am one such. I am a man approaching 80 now, and as as an eight-year-old at the time, I can attest to what I saw: Old men hobbling along the road with help from their canes, appealing to the God the munificent, the merciful, to help them in their ordeal; children walking alone, with no hands to hold; a pregnant woman by the wayside, screaming with labour pain; whole families, exhausted from the heat and parched by dehydration, rested under whatever tree they could find. And so it went.


And in the refugee camps later, came the misery, the destitution, the cold and the knee-deep mud. And later still came the men, erstwhile proud Palestinians who had been self-sufficient bread winners in their homeland, now standing in line to pick up their families’ rations at UN food depots, with some, like my own father, willing themselves to death – and often succeeding.


To this day, these images remain with me, speaking to me, about me, from me, defining my inward preoccupations as a human being, and resounding around every corner of my being as a Palestinian. Over the years, I passed the images on to my kids – now adults – as often as I could, lest they forget their archetypal roots, and they in turn are passing them on to their own kids, in order that the images become a part of their habits of reference, a part of their teleological spirit of history.


In May, 1953, John Foster Dulles, then America’s secretary of state, while on an official visit to Lebanon, gave a speech at the Alumni Club of the American University of Beirut, where he declared, with facile ease (or was it facile contempt?) that “the Palestinian problem will solved in time, only when a new generation of Palestinians grew up with no attachment to the land”.


Sure, sure, Johnny.


Yes, Arthur Balfour, have no fear, the Palestinians are here, continuing to be propelled by their Nakba’s prodigious drive for remembrance. And, Gosh, Art, it’s only been a hundred years. It’s still half time. The wrongs you have inflicted on the little, unsuspecting people of Palestine will be corrected, and corrected with due diligence and in due course. That’s a promise. Trust me on this one, fellow.


Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.


How Britain became an obstacle to peace


Without Britain, six million Palestinian refugees, now scattered around the world, would have remained in their own homeland


Arthur James Balfour’s wrote 84 words that sealed the fate of the Palestinian people by ultimately displacing most of them from their historical homeland to live in permanent exile.


“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.”


That was it. The letter was sent to one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Britain, Walter Rothschild, who needed the British assurance to rally the leaders of the Jewish community behind Britain in the First World War.


Balfour was anti-Semitic. But that was beside the point. At the time, the man was the Foreign Secretary of His Majesty’s government. He later became a Prime Minister. His clout, and the powerful interests he represented, made his statement the first and most serious commitment made by any government to build a ‘home’ for Jews in Palestine, at the expense of the land’s native inhabitants.


Speaking recently in New York University, Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi described the British commitment then as an event that “marked the beginning of a century-long colonial war in Palestine supported by an array of outside powers which continues to this day”.


The fact that the British government remains committed to Israel after all of these years is irrefutable proof of that country’s complicity in Israeli crimes. It should not take a century for a country to reexamine and apologise for its immoral past. But for Britain, it has, and no apology seems to be coming any time soon.


Starting with the Balfour statement, coupled with the aiding of Israel in the ethnic cleaning of Palestinians in the 1940s, to the sale of heavy water, which Israel required to build its nuclear reactor in the late 1950s, Britain was on Israel’s side from the very beginning. The blind support provided to Israel by former prime minister Tony Blair, or present leader Theresa May are by no means an exception to the norm.


The inescapable fact is this: without Britain, six million Palestinian refugees, now scattered around the world, would have remained in their own homeland.


The Balfour Declaration tried and failed to mask its colonial intentions behind contradictory terms, as in “the establishment in Palestine” – the Palestinian homeland – a “Jewish homeland”, without prejudicing “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.


“The national home it promised to the Jews was never clearly defined and there was no precedent for it in international law,” wrote Avi Shlaim, in Wm. Roger Louis’ book Yet More Adventures with Britannia.


Shlaim, an Israeli professor, described the declaration as “arrogant, dismissive, and even racist ... and the worse kind of imperial double standard, implying that there was one law for the Jews, and one law for everybody else”.


This arrogance and racism continue unabated.


In a recent statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed his November visit to Britain with the intention of ‘celebrating’ the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.


How could the vanquishing of a nation, the destruction of every path leading to a possible peaceful and just resolution of a bloody conflict, the incessant violations of human rights be an event worthy of celebration?


In a visit to occupied Jerusalem last March, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson proved a worthy descendant of Arthur James Balfour as he declared his government to be “rock-like supporters” of Israel.


And like Balfour he spoke with a forked tongue, and followed the same contradiction of terms.


“I should remind you the policy of our government is for a two-state solution and we hope to help bring it about in a modest and humble way. Obviously, we want to remove the obstacles to that,” he told Netanyahu.


But Netanyahu and his rightwing government are the main “obstacle to that”. The British blind support, as a representation of the wider, equally blind support of Israel by western governments, led by the United States, is another “obstacle”.


The Arabs were never the obstacle for they neither invited British colonialism, armed and funded Israeli occupation, supported and defended the illegal colonies or empowered notorious Israeli leaders to flout international law.


It was Britain under Balfour that acted outside the rule of law, and Britain, and other western countries that continue to support Israel in violation of international law.


It is this mindset that had rendered international law mere ink on paper, and relegated the UN into a platform for inconsequential speeches and reports, rarely read or implemented.


One such report was issued last September. Published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the report described Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land as the “longest occupation in recent history”.


“For the Palestinian people, these were five decades of de-development, suppressed human potential, and denial of the basic human right to development, with no end in sight,” the report said.


Sustained by unconditional British, US and western support, which remain committed to the Balfour legacy of 100 years ago, Israel is no rush to end the suffering of Palestinians.


Meanwhile, Netanyahu is gearing up for his upcoming celebration in London, while Israel’s friends continue to speak of the ‘miracle’ of Israel. Conveniently, they overlook the fact that millions of Palestinians and other Arabs paid a heavy price to sustain that supposed miracle; that the entire Middle East has been in a perpetual state of war ever since; that the future looks bleak and unpromising.


It is as if nothing has changed and that no lessons were ever learned in the 100 years since Balfour made his promise to establish a Jewish state.


But this also rings true for Palestinians. Their commitment to fight for freedom, also remains unchanged, and neither Balfour, nor Johnson and all the British Foreign Secretaries in between managed to break the will of the Palestinian nation.


That too is worth pondering.


Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net


Balfour’s legacy continues to horrify


Palestinians have made it clear that they will no longer accept Israel’s military rule


This year, 2017, marks the year of Palestinian anniversaries — many of them awful and arrogant — but some them courageous and exemplifying the strength of our people. One hundred years ago, this year, the colonial arrogance of Balfour — who, through the stroke of a pen, declared Palestine the “homeland” to others, began the start of Zionism’s colonial onslaught in Palestine. We have now entered into the 70th year of our dispossession; 70 years since the first massacres against us; 70 years of transforming Palestine from a Palestinian Arab nation by stealing 78 per cent of our homeland and 70 years of turning us into refugees or into strangers in our own homes. This year, sadly, also marks 50 years since the start of Israel’s phase two of colonisation of our land when Israel completely took over the remaining 22 per cent of our homeland.


As a Palestinian living in Palestine, I find myself having to explain to many what life is like living under military rule, for most people cannot fathom what it is like to live without freedom. Simply put, it is a life of being terrorised daily; of living in fear and uncertainty and of enduring oppression at the hands of another human being.


Our days are marked with uncertainty as to whether we will live to see the next day for Israel routinely and randomly kills Palestinians. This year alone Israel has killed more than 97 Palestinians and injured 800, including children. Our days are marked with uncertainty as to whether we, or our loved ones, will be imprisoned by Israel: an estimated 6,300 Palestinian political prisoners, including 500 who have been held without charge or trial, 21 Parliamentarians and 300 children. Our days are marked with uncertainty as to whether our homes will remain standing: this year alone, Israel destroyed 173 homes and an additional 875 last year. Daily, we watch as our land gets eaten to make way for more Jewish colonies, more Israeli-only roads, and more military bases. I often wonder, “What do the Israeli soldiers, operating the bulldozers and the assault weapons think? Do they sleep soundly at night or do the sounds of children’s tears, as they rummage through the rubble, looking for a toy, keep them up at night?”


In the West Bank, we live behind walls, behind checkpoints and roadblocks, unable to get from one place to the next with any certainty. Israel’s checkpoints — the majority of which are inside the West Bank — look like prisons, with people crammed in like animals waiting at the mercy of a 19 year-old Israeli soldier who is more interested in his Facebook feed than in seeing that the elderly, the sick, mothers, children and workers are treated humanely.


All of this, however, pales in comparison to live under military occupation and blockade in Gaza. There, Palestinians are now living on less than 4 hours of electricity per day, caged in an open air prison unable to leave. Goods entering into the occupied Gaza Strip are strictly controlled by Israel, as is the airspace and even the sea. Gaza’s water supply is so contaminated that 95 per cent of it is unfit for human consumption.


Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dream of simple acts: of being able to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem (a few short kilometres from Ramallah and Bethlehem), or Nazareth, or to access the sea in Yaffa or Haifa, for all of these places require special “permits” issued by Israel. And yet, through this all, Palestinians have survived — no thanks to world powers that continue to pander to Israel and continue to demand that Palestinians living under a brutal military regime remain quiet as Israel continues its brutality.


But this year also marks 30 years since the start of the first Palestinian uprising, in which Palestinians made it clear that we will no longer accept Israel’s military rule but rather that we want to be free in our homeland.


As Israel celebrates, yes celebrates, 50 years of the denial of Palestinian freedom, 50 years of stealing another’s land, 50 years of home demolitions, 50 years of imprisonment, 50 years of trying to turn a Palestinian Arab nation into a “Jewish state” we can and must send Israel a message: we hope that this is your last birthday and by pushing to hold Israel accountable will ensure that this happens.


Diana Buttu is a lawyer and a former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.


Britain adds insult to Balfour’s injury


The Balfour Declaration cannot be considered as one of the British Imperialist Empire’s finest moments


A letter penned by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to the country’s Jewish community leader Baron Walter Rothschild on November 2, 1917 asserting that Her Majesty’s Government viewed the creation of a national home for the Jewish people paved the way for a land grab eliciting decades of misery and a conflict deemed “intractable”. That was the pebble that created huge waves of blood that still engulf the Palestinian sons of the soil.


Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May looks forward to celebrating the declaration’s centenary with “pride” notwithstanding that her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson once referred to it as a “bizarre”, “tragicomically incoherent” missive. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the proposed celebration instead calling upon the UK to issue an apology for all the suffering that declaration has triggered.


A petition launched by the Palestinian Return Center on the website of Britain’s Parliament also demanded an apology.

“We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel,” was the government’s response. Is the government also proud of its role in creating refugees, wars, apartheid walls, child prisoners, torched orchards and olive groves, illegal colonies, demolished homes, I wonder.


The irony is this. Balfour’s decision was not prompted by any personal affinity for the Zionist movement. It was made purely to serve British interests. Like many of his establishment peers, Lord Balfour was an anti-Semite who resented Jews living in Christian Europe.


As Middle East analyst Lamis Andoni has underscored Balfour sought to solve what he termed as “the European problem” as evidenced by his introduction to Nahum Sokolow’s book History of Zionism.


It is “a serious endeavour to mitigate the age-long miseries created for Western civilisation for the presence in its midst of a body which it too long regarded as alien and even hostile, but which it was equally unable to expel or absorb. Surely, for this if for no other reason it [Zionism] should receive our support,” he wrote.


Another of Balfour’s objectives was focused on inveigling prominent US Jews to pressure their government to intervene in World War II. Some historians believe the letter was meant to bribe the Zionist Movement’s leader Chaim Weizmann, an accomplished biotechnologist, to develop a synthetic cordite gun powder when imports of cordite’s crucial ingredient acetone dried up, which he succeeded in doing.


For all kinds of reasons, the Balfour Declaration cannot be considered as one of the British Imperialist Empire’s finest moments. It not only blessed the giving away of land that was not Britain’s to give, it was also a betrayal of a promise London made to Arab leaders who fought alongside British troops to oust the Ottomans from the region. They were assured of independence “in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sherif of Mecca”.


Zionists have a very different take. They believe the land they call Eretz Israel, encompassing Judea and Samaria (West Bank), was promised by God as though the Creator is a real estate broker. To this day they maintain the deceit that Palestine was a land without a people when this lie is easily disproved thanks to the existence of black-and-white films as well as newsreels showing the cities of Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem and others throbbing with life. Entire villages and farming communities have since been erased from the earth and from history books.


That said I cannot blame Jews who suffered centuries of persecution in Europe and Russia for seeking a place of safety and security they could call home and the fact that so many sought sanctuary in Palestine during the Nazi Holocaust when all other doors were shut fast, is understandable. If we are honest, all of us would have done the same thing in those circumstances.

When the newcomers first began arriving they were welcomed by Palestinians known for their hospitable nature. Little did they know that they would be subjected to a campaign of terror waged by Jewish terrorist groups including the Irgun and Lehi gangs which massacred up to 150 inhabitants of Deir Yassin, among them women and children.


Palestinian families fled for their lives in the belief they would soon return. Their grandchildren eking out a living in camps today maintain that hope. Most of those who stayed face daily hardships and humiliation at the hands of the occupiers or have been packed into the world’s largest open prison Gaza at the mercy of Israeli missiles.


The idea of creating a Jewish state was worthy but not at the cost of the indigenous population. There were several other alternatives in various parts of the world which were virtually unpopulated, but those floated were refused by the Zionist Organization.


Weizmann wrote how he had fought for Palestine in his memoir. “Mr. Balfour, supposed I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it? He sat up, looked at me, and answered: ‘But Dr. Weizmann, we have London. ‘That is true,’ I said, ‘but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh’.” That same arguments stands for the Palestinians who are expected to accept any crumbs Israel cares to throw their way.


Britain’s pride is nothing but arrogance. Theresa May wants to dance upon Palestinian graves and gloat over their agony. She and her government should be ashamed of their heartless, insensitive stance.


Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.


Balfour Declaration Marks the Long Path of broken Promises


The Arabs have become ever since, or at least for the greater part of last century, victims of a great betrayal


My Dad, bless his soul, a survival of the two Great Wars, the ‘Nakba’ (creation of the State of Israel in Palestine) in May 1948, Suez tripartite aggression against Egypt in 1956 and The Arab great defeat of 1967, always maintained till his death in late 1970s that Imperial Britain was behind Arab plights in the region. Whenever there was a political discussion he would specifically referred to what was commonly known in Arabic as Wa’id Belfour Al Mash’oum (Balfour pessimistic promise), or simply ‘Balfour Declaration’, as the “bomb shell that disintegrated the Arab World ever since”.


Soon after the First World War ended with the almost total collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the misery began when the then Britain’s foreign secretary in the coalition government of David Lloyd George, Lord Arther James Balfour, sent a letter in 1917 to a leading British Zionist leader, Lord Walter Rothschild, promising “a Jewish home in Palestine”. The letter was sent to Rothschild for transmission to the “Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland”.


The president of the Zionist Federation was at the time, no other than Chaim Weizmann. The content of that letter became widely known as the ‘Balfour Declaraion’, which specifically committed Imperial Britain to establishing Jewish homeland in Palestine. The declaration immediately caused an upheaval in the newly born Arab states after more than 460 years of Ottoman rule, particularly when it was included in the so-called British Mandate over Palestine in 1920. My late old man and his generation rightly believe that Balfour Declaration paved the way to the Nakba of 1948 and they called it as “Ightisab Felasteen”, (the rape of Palestine).


The second huge blow the Arabs received just twenty-two days after the revelation of Balfour Declaration was the unveiling of a secret agreement that was signed a year earlier in 1916 between the victorious imperial powers, Britain and France. The agreement, commonly known as Sykes-Picot Agreement, was signed by two senior diplomats, Mark Sykes representing United Kingdom and France’s Francois Georges-Picot. The agreement defined what they described “their mutually agreed sphere of influence and control in South Western Asia”, i.e. the Levants and neighbouring areas. The Russian Tsars Empire assented to the agreement when it was signed and was handsomely rewarded. But when the Russian Tsars were toppled by the Bolshevik socialist revolution, the deal was immediately exposed to the public in the Soviet newspapers Izvestia and Pravda on November 1917, and in Britain’s Guardian three days later.


Both historic developments deeply devastated the young Arab Nations and heavily shattered the Arabs’ dream and hope of independence after many centuries of Ottoman dominance. But it was the Balfour intervention that eventually led to the creation of Israel in the heart of Arab land that have created lasting havoc that Palestinian and Arabs at large are suffering from till this very moment. What did Balfour’s letter say?


“Dear Lord Rothschild,


I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.


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 bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”


It is bluntly clear, what Imperial Britain had deliberately done in Palestine of which the Arabs were the clear majority, was practically carving away two thirds of a land that it does not own and filled it in collaboration with the powerful Zionist organisations in Europe, with Jewish immigrants. This process gradually began in 1920 and was unlawfully authorised by the league of Nations in 1922, and was culminated in 1940s, before the ‘Nakba’ of May 1948. By then, according to United Nations records, an estimated 800,000 to a million Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes and deported outside Palestine, only to be replaced by newly imported Jewish colonialists.


The 1922 League of Nations was effectively led by British Empire and France. The US stayed out of it because the American administration of Woodrow Wilson opted to withdraw from foreign politics following the great losses in the First World War. The new Soviet Union viewed the Declaration as an Anglo-Franco “expansionist policy”, even though Moscow was among the first world’s capitals to recognise the state of Israel when it was created in 1948.


Furthermore, coming hot on the heel of Balfour Declaration, Sykes-Picot agreement was the breaking point with colonial Europe as Arabs in general felt that there was an unforgivably act of betrayal committed by Western powers, particularly, the British. The agreement had basically negated the UK’s promises to the Arab leaders at the time made through Colonel T.E. Lawrence, better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ for a national Arab homeland in ‘Greater Syria’ that comprised Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Trans-Jordan, in exchange for supporting the British against the Ottoman Empire. The Arabs have become ever since, or at least for the greater part of last century, victims of betrayal and broken promises.


Mustapha Karkouti is a columnist and former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. You can follow him on Twitter at @mustaphatache.


From Balfour to Truman, how a pledge became reality


The dangerous patterns that Truman established in the late 40s have dominated the American-Israeli relationship for decades


Enlisting the support of Great Britain, the world’s leading power, to the cause of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine was the Zionist World Organisation’s biggest achievement since its establishment in 1897. On 2 November 1917, while a new world order was being forged in the cauldron of World War I, two Zionist leaders, Haichim Weizman and Nahum Sokolow, secured a pledge from the British government through its foreign minister Lord Balfour to “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish race.”


Even though the Balfour Declaration was integrated into the political texts of the post-war Franco-British reordering of the Middle East, the establishment of a Jewish entity in Palestine was far from guaranteed. In 1929, Haichim Weizman created the Jewish Agency, which was able to make diplomatic and financial inroads around the world (even in Arab countries), serving the ultimate objective of establishing a Jewish state. Yet many upheavals ensued in the decades that followed, and resistance from Palestinian Arabs to Jewish immigration escalated. The British, seeking to preserve order in a region vital to their interests, were more or less dragging their feet on implementing their promise.


In 1939, another global conflict erupted. Six years later, the United States emerged as the world’s pre-eminent power after crushing Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, seconded only by the Soviet Union. The horrors of World War II, especially the Holocaust, brought the Jewish question to the forefront of American domestic and foreign policies. The White House was flooded with letters and telegrams from Americans, both Jews and gentiles, demanding the administration to support giving the Jews who fled Europe after years of suffering a national homeland. Many American Jews who were reluctant to support the Zionist agenda before the outbreak of war, now became active supporters of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.


The Jewish Agency exploited this shift in American national sentiment and the dramatic change in the international balance of power, and was able to secure American support for its quest to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. In May 1942, David Ben-Gurion represented the Jewish Agency at a Zionist conference held in New York City’s Biltmore Hotel. The conference lend support to an unprecedented program, later termed the Biltmore Resolution, demanding unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, the creation of a Jewish army, and the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish commonwealth.


In that period, the relationship between the Zionist movement and the US Department of State was one of mutual distrust. Contrary to Zionist accusations, evidence shows that the state department did not favour the Arabs, but tried to maintain a policy of neutrality and non-entanglement in Palestine, fearing that US support for Zionist schemes would agitate Arab countries and could harm American oil interests in Saudi Arabia. The Zionists, nonetheless, bypassed the state department and successfully got the White House on their side by injecting the Jewish question into the American electoral game.


Whenever President Harry Truman (1945-1953), a Democrat, drifted into a neutral position on Palestine, Republicans would seize the opportunity and jump on the Zionist bandwagon. Truman was concerned about the Jewish vote in the upcoming 1948 US presidential elections, which could swing major states such as New York, California, and Florida, in addition to his home state of Missouri. In Truman’s words: “I am sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”


In the White House, Truman was flanked by two avid lobbyists for the Zionist cause. Clark Clifford and David Niles, both councils to the president, successfully steered Truman’s decision making in favour of the Zionist project and against any objections coming from the state department or any other voice of opposition. The tug of war between the White House and State reached its apex when Truman, following Niles’s suggestion, appointed John Hilldring, a state department official close to American Jewish leaders, as an adviser on Palestine to the American delegation at the United Nations, just days before the fateful debate on the partition of Palestine at the General Assembly. Hilldring reported directly to Niles and did not communicate a single piece of information to the state department.


On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly voted in favour of establishing a Jewish State on 56% of Palestine’s territory, even though Jews made up only one third of the population. Palestinian Arabs were told to establish a state on the remaining territory. Nonetheless, there was no workable plan to implement Resolution 181. US Secretary of State George C. Marshall suggested a United Nations trusteeship over Palestine. Zionists vehemently opposed Marshall’s suggestion. Clark Clifford argued that “the American people” reject any act of appeasement towards the Arabs, asserting that Arabs have to either sell their oil to the United States or go broke. The US Department of Defence inadvertently reinforced the Zionist position by asserting that a US military deployment to enforce any UN mandate is unfeasible.


The British mandate for Palestine was to be terminated by 14 May 1948. Three days before the decisive date, Marshall went to the White House to argue for a UN trusteeship. When Clifford and Niles turned down his proposals, he threatened to resign, all to no avail. David Ben Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel on 14 May, and Truman was the first world leader to extend de facto recognition to the new state. Stalin followed shortly after. The Arab countries immediately declared war on Israel.


As the conflict escalated, the state department pleaded Truman to approve the Bernadotte peace plan, but again Niles and Clifford blocked all efforts for a compromise. Weeks before the 1948 US presidential elections, Truman could not risk losing the Jewish vote by accepting what Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey had already refused. Acting on Clifford’s advice, Truman instructed the American delegation at the UN to avoid any action on Palestine without the President’s personal authorisation. UN debate, he said, must be deferred until after the elections. By thwarting the possibility of a negotiated settlement, Truman gave the Israelis enough time to capture as much land as possible before the armistice negotiations with the Arabs. As a result, thousands of Arabs were massacred, and hundreds of thousands fled their homes.


The historical legacy of Arthur Balfour must not overshadow that of Harry Truman. Balfour gave a pledge in 1917 to establish a Jewish state on the land of Palestine, but it was Truman’s deliberate policies that made this pledge a reality in 1948. Furthermore, the dangerous patterns Truman had established continued to dominate the American-Israeli relationship for decades, all to the detriment of peace in the Middle East.


Fadi Esber is a founding associate at the Damascus History Foundation and the editor of Dimashq Journal.


A 100 years of misery


Nothing so blunt, cold, calculated, judgemental, arrogant, colonial and imperialistic had ever been achieved before


A 100 years of misery. This is what the infamous Balfour Declaration created and because of it. the Palestinians were forced out of the lands and made into hundreds of thousands of stateless refugees, strung out and stuttered across the Arab region and the world into abject dispossession and beguiling poverty. Literally overnight, up to 750,000 and maybe more, Palestinians were driven out of their land through Zionists and Jewish terrorism on those bleak days of 1948 while the world helplessly looked on or more to the point, turned its back, on one of the major catastrophes of mankind.


It was British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour who finally made the evil dead through his 67-word letter to Lord Rothschild about British commitment to a Jewish national home as if the British government “owned” Palestine back in 1917, and to do what it would like with the country. It was an incredible commitment to give something that you don’t “own” but you think you “own” as if it was à la carte menu. I don’t think anything quite on this scale has been done before that is so blunt, cold, calculated, judgemental, arrogant, colonial and imperialistic.


In the age of empires and great powers, one can just maybe, understand, the “give away” mentality, if the area, colony, dominated-piece of land had been under the tutelage of someone else, although this is despicable in itself. Palestine had not been directly under rule Britannia, regardless of the meddling, the spheres of influence and the carving up of the Arab world between Britain and France underlined by the Sykes-Picot secret agreement and all the rest of it. Palestine was still part of the Ottoman Empire and had been so for under hundreds of years with 90 per cent of its population Arabs and Muslims with few Christians and only 10 per cent Jews.


Balfour and the David Lloyd George government wanted to change all that, paying blatant disregard to the people there, as they, themselves admitted on numerous occasions, and stating the people who lived there don’t really matter, as if they were not part of the equation and that “Zionism … is … of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices [sic] of 700,000 Arabs who inhabit that ancient land.”


This was ethnic cleansing par excellence. The Jewish paramilitary gangs and terror groups may have orchestrated the final bloodbath and the massacres of the Palestine of the 1940s, but it was surely done with British connivance that go back to the Balfour Declaration and the implementation of the British Mandate over Palestine it received a couple of years later from the League of Nations.


Much has been echoed on the Balfour Declaration and there is much narrative today on that particular historical area with that “letter” written on 2 November, 1917 continues to be dissected and munched over to see whether there are new understandings that can be had from it. But the fact of the matter is that the tone of the letter continues to be deluding and deceitful with an element of hoodwinking showing the true face of British diplomacy at the time that sought to double-deal foreign policy while being on the side of Zionists and paying lip-service to the Arabs. There is no doubt about it, there was a clear attempt to change the wheels of history by an imperial British power that wanted to back a clear Jewish-Zionists horse because it believed — by the majority and most effective policymakers in London — that the power lay with the Jews and not with the Arabs.


Keeping aside the “mayhem” that had been done to the Palestinians and to the Arabs with the British High Commissioner Sir John Chancellor in December 1928 calling the Balfour Declaration as a “colossal blunder”, analysts then and now, still contemplate on why the British did it. The favourite view though by no means the major one, is the fact that it was great power rivalry. The British wanted to maintain the upper hand versus other great powers such as France and Russia. It was beginning to experience “fatigue” and could no longer dictate the outcome of World War I. It believed the Jews, who had great influence in Russia, Germany and America were in a position to influence their governments to come with an amicable agreement that would satisfy all parties.


Other writers of the time and people that are in-the-know go even further and suggest it was the Zionists who manipulated the British and not the other way round with talks and speeches given on the subject notably by an American called Benjamin Freedman, who is himself a Jew but converted to Christianity. He stated numerous times in the early 1960s, and his speeches can be heard on the social media, that the Zionists had gone to the British government and told it, it can pressure the Americans and US, president Woodrow Wilson, to came out of their “isolationist” foreign policy stand and help Britain win World War I.


Incredible as it may seem, Freedman said this is what happened. Through Jewish influence in the economy and the media, much of the Jews came from Germany, who had also strangle-control over there, persuaded the US, government and Wilson to enter the war, reshuffled the cards and made sure Britain defeated the Germans, a country that was winning and expected to come out as victorious as France was already defeated and Russia was pulling back its troops who were in disarray.


Freedman said while this was happening. Having secured American entry into the war, the Zionists, including Chaim Weizmann, originally from Russia, reared in London, and became Israel’s first president in 1949 on the throes of the Palestinian black days of Nakba, set about demanding their “pound of flesh” from the British. This was translated into the Balfour Declaration, a “guarantee” of the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.


While many fudged the issue and suggested a “national homeland” meant just that, emphasising the vagueness of the term, there was no doubt in the minds of those concerned, including Balfour and Lloyd George that a national homeland meant a Jewish state, with all the baggage of Palestinian misery it subsequently it created.


Marwan Asmar is a commentator based in Amman. He has long worked in journalism and has a PhD in Political Science from Leeds University in the UK.


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