‘Balfour’ – Summarized

My one sentence summary of Balfour’s letter (the ‘Declaration’), what led up to it and its impact:

“The Balfour Declaration of 2nd November 1917 was the toxic product of imperialist colonialist opportunism allied to philo-semitism, antisemitism, poor history and worse theology, whose effect corrupted and in some cases destroyed the Christian witness to Jews, Muslims and the world.”

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‘Judea for the Jews’

According to Chaim Weizmann (Evidence to the ‘Peel Commission’, recorded in ‘Trial and Error’. Hamish Hamilton, 1949. page 473; ), concerning the meaning of the ‘Balfour Declaration’, Lord Robert Cecil said, “Arabia for the Arabs, Judea for the Jews, Armenia for the Armenians”.

If Cecil (who was a cousin of Arthur Balfour) actually said this it shows a remarkable failure to understand both the geography and the political nature of the region. It is matched by Weizmann’s own twisting of history in that same evidence. The history lesson he delivered to the members of that commission is the kind of historical reinvention that gives history a bad name. Among other interesting notions is that the events – either of AD 70 or AD 135 – were a ‘destruction of Palestine as a Jewish political entity’. Strangely, in his evidence he hints that Jews remained in Palestine, they did, although in vastly reduced numbers and for some period without access to Jerusalem. He then claims that in every century Jews attempted to come back. Three important things to note here.

There is no evidence anywhere for a concerted political or national or communal plan or programme to ‘return’ to Palestine in any part of Jewry until well into the second millennium. Second, nothing prevented Jews from visiting and remaining in the land until very late into that second millennium. Third, by the time of the first Jewish war a significant proportion of the Jewish population had become followers of ‘The Way’, Christians. As many as one-fifth of the population of Jerusalem (see the early chapters of Acts) were Christian and Jewish, they continued to attend synagogue and temple. These Jewish Christians did not participate in either of the Jewish rebellions, taking Jesus words and escaping to the hills.

To return to Lord Robert Cecil: If he really meant Judea, and if Weizmann wanted a ‘political’ entity then the Judea of the Maccabees was really quite tiny, the immediate area around Jerusalem. Which begs the question, what is meant by ‘Arabia’ and the further question, which Arabs; those of the Nejd, those of the Hejaz, the Syrians, Yemenis, or…?  And, if Armenia is brought into the equation, what of the Assyrians, (the Iraqis), of Turkey and Kurdistan, not to mention Persia (Chaldea/Iran).  Decisions of such import should not be based on such ignorance and hubris.

Partition – the Problem

This post is in part a response to comments on a FB thread.

The primary reference here is to what is known as ‘The Peel Commission’,  more formally ‘Palestine: Report of the Roayl Commission, 1936’ submitted to the British Cabinet on 22nd June 1937.

First, to clear out of the way a few inaccuracies. There was indeed a preconceived plan, admitted in private correspondence by Ben Gurion, to force the Arabs off the land, see e.g. Ilan Pappe. Second, there are, indeed, some settlers on Palestinian land who seek reconciliation, but sadly, they are in a minority compared with those who seek confrontation. Third, Palestinians were not offered any kind of comprehensible ‘political autonomy in 1922, nor 1937’ and what was ‘offered’ in 1947 in the partition proposed by the UN, was an insult which would only have been accepted initially by Zionism as a first step to conquest of the whole land. (Chaim Weizmann had rejected the idea of a legislative council, proposed as early as 1022 and repeated in 1931 on the ground that, ‘to talk of elected Arabs represnting their people was to contradict the democratic principle which it was supposed to further’ (Trial and Error. Hamish Hamilton, 1949. page 467. The proposed council would have over-represented the Jews (14:7 + 7 others)). Isn’t it rather arrogant to believe that Arabs who had had no experience of democracy would revert to feudalism whilst Jews mainly from Eastern Poland and Russia would easily embrace it?

I’ve dealt with criticism of Husseini elsewhere. Was he a saint, of course not; but then, neither were those he was contending against, both British and Zionist. The ‘Jewish virtual Library’ provides a copy of the suggested ‘partition’ map, based on the ‘Peel Commission’ report. Let us assume that 20:80 is approximately correct, giving the Arabs 80% of their historic land. That sounds generous? Take a moment to think about it.

Suppose you come and stay with me as an uninvited ‘guest’. And suppose you invite friends to stay with you so that in a few weeks or months my family of 20 (it’s a large house) finds itself ‘hosting’ 4 ‘guests’. Then suppose I say to you that you and your friends should all leave my house and go somewhere else: you refuse. Instead, you involve a ‘mediator’ who suggests we split the house: you are to get 20% of it including the front door and most of the best parts of the garden. If I reject that proposal, am I being unfair?

Here are a few quotes from the ‘Peel Commsssion’ report: ‘ The following sentence deserves special attention. ” A National Home for the Jews, in the sense in which it was widely understood, was inconsistent with the demands of Arab nationalists while the claims of Arab nationalism, if admitted, would have rendered impossible the fulfilment of the pledge to the Jews.”‘ (Chapter III sect.52).

‘But we have tried to make it clear on previous pages of this Report that in our view the root of the trouble lay deeper. The overriding desire of the Arab leaders in 1931 was precisely what it had been in 1920-national independence: and the overriding cause of their antagonism to the National Home in 1931, as in 1920, was the conviction that it barred the way to the realization of that desire.’   and  ‘In that stark contradiction between Arab aspirations and British obligations lay and had always lain the one insurmountable crux.’ (Chapter III sect. 64 & 65).

The following from Chapter XX states the origin of ‘the problem’; ‘ Under the stress of the World War the British Government
made promises to Arabs and Jews in order to obtain their support. On the strength of those promises both parties formed certain expectations.’
(S.2). and from section 12, ‘Thus, for internal and external reasons, it seems probable that the situation, bad as it now is, will grow worse. The conflict will go on, the gulf between Arabs and Jews will widen.’ The Commission, noted the possibility of renouncing the Mandate, but believed Britain had a responsibility to ‘solve the problem’. Acknowledging, reasonably, I think, that they were going beyond the precise terms of the Commission, they suggested the partition. The Arabs rejected it; it is widely assumed that the Zionists accepted it. This is mistaken. (I have noted elsewhere that by any reasonable reading of the McMahon correspondence, Hussayn was justified in his belief that he had been promised an independent Arab state to include Palestine).

Chaim Weizmann notes (Trial and Error. page 473), that the subject of partition was mentioned to him on January 8th 1937. He writes (p.474), ‘I believed that a small Jewish state, well-organised, living in peace with its neighbours …  would be a great credit to us and an equally great contribution to civilization.’ Weizmann may have been willing to consider partition, but it is clear that many of his co-religionist, if such they could be called, didn’t agree. The resolution of the Zionist Organization declared that: ‘the scheme of partition put forward by the Royal Commission is unacceptable’. (op cit. 474). The only possible conclusion is that they wanted more. Later, in a letter to Ormsby-Gore, Weizmann wrote ‘the present situation has not been brought about by any inherent defect in the Mandate …’ (p.479 acknowledging that it may have had its weaknesses!). It seems strange that so intelligent a man could not (would not?) see that the Mandate was fatally flawed, based as it was on contradictory promises and equally contradictory expectations.

It is possible that had the American King-Crane Report been made public following its submission in 1919 rather than in 1922 by which time the Mandatory process was already in full swing, events might have taken a different course. Possible but not certain. Britain still saw itself as the pre-eminent world power, France would have been suspicious of American imperialism, and America was withdrawing from international engagement. Instead, the contradictory promises, the tendency to ‘divide and rule’ and the rising forces of nationalism all contributed to a situation where, once again, the weakest went to the wall.

 

A ‘Puritan’ background

the following is taken from Jane Hamilton’s, ‘God, Guns, and Israel’.

‘Out of all the places of thy dispersion, East West, North and South, His purpose is to bring thee home again and to marry thee to Himself by faith for evermore‘, (from the above).  As Hamilton points out the expectation was of Jewish conversion to Christian faith. I’ve not read Finch’s book so I have no means of knowing whether his expectation was similar to that of the prophets, where penitance and faith preceded restoration, a restoration rooted in justice and righteousness. Finch may have used King James’ version, which doesn’t actually feature the word ‘perpetuity’.  The NRSV features the word just three times, twice in Leviticus 25.  Here, verse 23-30, the emphasis is on protection of the community, for ‘the land is mine’ (said the Lord).  The 3rd reference, in Numbers 18:8 is not of land but the priestly portion, and, since we are trying to take scripture seriously, what does God say later, to one of Aaron’s descendants; “Far be it from me; for those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt. See, a time is coming … “  (1 Sam.2:27-36). ‘In order that’  from Genesis, ‘if only’ in Chronicles; how much evidence is needed before we take God at his word? As for ‘forever’, I’ve dealt with that elsewhere.

What else a Lord said:-

LORD SHEFFIELD

My Lords, I feel that a great deal of mischief was done by using ambiguous words at the start such as “National Home.” “National Home” might be interpreted in a harmless way, but it has also been interpreted as giving priority to a small minority of Jews over the mass of people in Palestine. It is idle to propose that preference should be given to one-tenth who have gone to the country only lately over the nine-tenths who have been there, from father to son, for generations.

The noble Earl is, perhaps, too busy to read a publication which I have been reading for two years and which throws a light on the view of Zionists. I refer to their official organ called Palestine. That publication is not written by Bolshevists; it is written in England for English people and, therefore, intended to be as moderate as possible. All I can say is that if some subordinate of the noble Earl in the Foreign Office makes it his business to see that organ he will perceive the very wide claims that have been systematically put forward for two years on behalf of the Zionists, claims which are entirely inconsistent with a mere “place in the sun”—claims for priority and preference. If Jews go back in reasonable numbers and show by their ability, industry and character that they can take the lead, they will take the lead and no one will object; but it is the duty of the Government to hold an absolutely fair balance and not to consider that there should be a balance of equality between one-tenth and nine-tenths. Claims have been put forward by the Jews that the Jewish language should be put on an equality with the national language of the country. I have seen claims put forward also by them that the Sabbath should be observed as a day of obligation, whereas it is only such a day for a small section of the people. I remember what happened when it was proposel to send a number of workmen from Malta to make a pier at Haifa. The claim put forward was that any immigration to Palestine must be pre-erupted and demanded for the Jews.

The Government are under suspicion by many people of trying to smooth the way so that when things ripen the Jews can step in and take possession of their “Promised Land.” That would be a thoroughly vicious principle. The Government should administer Palestine under the mandate for the benefit of all the people there. The Jews comprise only one-tenth of the inhabitants. They are not an important part of the people. They have raked up an ancient name with which the present-day Jews have nothing whatever to do. The noble Earl said they would not allow Palestine to be the dumping ground for all the rowdies of Europe. Respectable Jews should come in as other people, but there should be no attempt to prevent others from coming in. There ought to be perfectly fair play. No doubt Sir Herbert Samuel will try to be perfectly fair, but there is no doubt that the people of the country, when you select a man of the religion and race of only one-tenth of the inhabitants and send him to rule the whole country, must feel suspicious. I hope that Sir Herbert Samuel will disappoint the hopes of his co-nationalists and co-religionists. When the noble Earl talked of Jewish energy and enterprise coming, he seemed to thing, to develop this country, part passu, (sic) on equality with the Arabs and the other people there, I thought he, wanted to give too much of a push to the Zionist movement. I trust that the Government will take care that nothing will be done against the wishes of the mass of the people of that country to pamper the expectations of people spread all over the world who are being pushed forward to intrude themselves where they are not wanted.  (More Here )

What the Lords said:

The House of Lords is a British institution; the upper house, a ‘revising chamber’ for the House of Commons: these constitute the legislature of the British Parliament. So it may be of interest, (especially since Earl Kedleston, Lord Curzon, was British Foreign Secretary) what was aid there on 29th June 1920.

First, from Lord Sydenham we have this:

LORD SYDENHAM rose to ask His Majesty’s Government (1) By what means, under the mandate which has been accepted for the government of Palestine, it is proposed to safeguard the rights of the immense, non-Jewish majority of the population, while setting up a “National Home” for the Jewish race; (2) Whether the term “National Home” implies the exercise of governmental authority over the whole or part of the population of Palestine; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, every one of us must thoroughly sympathise with those Jews who wish to make their home in Palestine. Although their rights are based upon a particularly ruthless conquest we respect, and wish to take into full account, their strong sentiment inherited from the five hundred years during which they were a ruling people. We cannot, however, go back three thousand years, and we must consider the equal rights of the present inhabitants of Palestine.

In November, 1917, Mr. Balfour expressed the sympathy of the Government with the aspirations of the Zionists, but he stated that it must be “clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” It is because it seems that this just and necessary reservation has been forgotten that I venture to raise this Question in your Lordships’ House to-day. For reasons which can easily be understood it is only in your Lordships’ House that a strong plea can be raised for justice to the immense non-Jewish majority of the population of Palestine.

We went into the country to end the Turko-German menace against the Suez Canal and Egypt, and to rescue the people from the centuries of oppression by the Turks. After General Allenby’s brilliant campaign we were regarded by the people as their saviours, and the British prestige—using the word in its best sense—never stood so high among Syrian Moslems as it did then. Numbers of those Moslems served in our Armies, while others deserted from the Turkish cause and joined us. We then had a clean slate on which we could write, and I have no hesitation in saying that the problem of Palestine was, perhaps, the easiest of solution of those which had been left to us as the aftermath of the war. But now the situation has completely changed. Moslems, Christians, and many of the old Jewish ‘inhabitants distrust and dislike us, and would welcome almost any other Mandatory Power to rake our place. The Moslems say openly that they would prefer to return to Turkish rule, which was at least roughly impartial, and under which the various elements lived in general harmony.

I hope, my Lords, to be able to explain the cause of this great change. But I want first to draw attention to the conditions of Palestine at the time of the Armistice. The population consisted, roughly speaking, of 515,000 Moslems, 62,500 Christians, 65,300 Jews, and 5,050 others. But the percentage of each of the communities employed in agriculture was— Moslems, 69; Christians, 46; and Jews, 19. Thus, the Jews in Palestine about the end of the war were playing an infinitesimal part in what is the only industry of that country. The recent Jewish colonies are prospering in viticulture and in citrons fruits, but some are not yet on an economic basis because they are supported by outside capitalists. No one could object to the setting up of more of such colonies. The Jews, as a rule, do not cultivate cereals, and many of them are employers of Arab labour or the labour of a particularly depressed class of Jews who come from the Yemen. Then there are a large number of Jews in Palestine who do no useful work but live on mendicancy or on remittances from their wealthy co-religionists.

(and there is more …  Here)