British bad faith leaves legacy of hate: How Balfour failed both Jews and Arabs

BRITAIN'S honeymoon in Palestine was short-lived. It began with Allenby's triumphant entry into Jerusalem in 1917 and ended, in Churchill's own words, in the "hell disaster" of 1948. Both Jew and Arab were betrayed by the empire which was given a League of Nations protectorate in the Holy Land in the aftermath of the First World War.

Britain had promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine - but had also promised the Arabs freedom in all their lands in return for their support in the war against the Ottoman Turks. In reality, we broke our promise to both of them.

The Arabs watched Britain retreat from its obligations in the face of the UN's vote for an Israeli state; the Jews found that they got only half of Palestine - although Balfour had indicated that the whole of the territory might be their homeland. And when 700,000 Arab Palestinians fled their homes in what was to become Israel, we watched and - save for a few shots fired in defence of Haifa - forgot the victims.

Even today, the ruthless war fought out between Jew and Briton - and our failure to honour our promises to the Arabs - antagonise relations between Britain and Israel and between Britain and the Arabs. Neither side can forget what happened 50 years ago. Jews murdered Britons and Britons beat and hanged and sometimes murdered Jews. Arabs and Jews slaughtered each other for the land under Britain's control. When the last British troops packed their kit bags, they symbolised the end of empire and the end of any serious British role in Middle East politics for a generation. Many of them left under fire.

It all seemed simpler when Balfour made his declaration, anxious at the time to persuade world Jewry (especially in the United States) to support the Allied cause against Germany. "His Majesty's Government," he said, "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 ..." Less attention was taken to Balfour's warning that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."

Equally little attention has been paid since to the word "Palestine", for Britain was clearly envisaging all of Palestine - including what is now the West Bank (in antiquity, more Jewish than the Mediterranean coast) - as a Jewish "homeland". Jewish writers, with the brave exception of historians like Benny Morris, have paid equally little attention to Balfour's reference to "non-Jewish communities". And why should they? It was Balfour himself who wrote privately in 1918 that "in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country". For him, Zionism was "of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices [sic] of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land".

And so it turned out. As Arab suspicion and then fury increased against the British, as they allowed European Jews into Palestine, so Jewish frustration increased at the British restrictions on immigration. Throughout the Second World War, Jew and Arab largely declared a ceasefire; many joined the British Army. Their graves lie together at Alamein - though when the then foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind insisted that the Israelis should be allowed to commemorate their dead on the 50th anniversary in 1992, five Israelis flags - but not a single Palestinian flag - fluttered over the battlefield.

Moshe Dayan, future warrior of Israel, lost his eye to a Vichy French sniper liberating Lebanon in 1941.

Even before the war ended, the Palestine conflict resumed with bloodthirsty intent. In 1944, Jewish gunmen assassinated Britain's minister-resident in Cairo, Lord Moyne. The Observer blamed "Jewish fascism". In 1946, Menachem Begin's Jewish militants in Jerusalem blew up the King David Hotel, headquarters of British forces in Palestine - a "terrorist" act if ever there was one, the ninth-most horrific this century, according to the British. It killed 91, including Arabs and Jews. The Jewish Agency denounced the bombing - though few Jews could forget how Britain persuaded the Turks to prevent east European Jews travelling through the Bosphorous to Palestine in their flight from the Nazis. Those Britons who had fought and died to liberate the death camps of Europe were now being attacked by the survivors in Palestine. The British hanged Jews for "terrorism". The historian Martin Gilbert, in his new history of Israel, recalls the names of three: Avshalom Haviv, Yaakov Weiss and Meir Nakar.

In revenge, the Jews hanged two British Army sergeants - whose names, Marvin Paice and Clifford Martin, are not recorded by Mr Gilbert in his new book. Their bodies were booby-trapped after their strangulation.

"Must our Boys Die?" the Daily Mail asked, urging an early British retreat. The Mail got its way. The Times commented with prescience that the violence in Palestine was "a fan to flame the smouldering resentment of the Arabs who campaign already that they are victimised by terrorism and now threaten in their turn to resort to force". The British left behind them a resentful Israel and a cruelly dispossessed community of Palestinians, most of whom held deeds to their land issued by the British mandate authorities as well as the Ottomans. Their brown Palestine passports were identical to those of the British, complete with lion and unicorn and "Dieu et Mon Droit" at the top. But they had no rights. The British, for all their First World War promises of independence for the Arabs, no more protected the Arabs of their mandate than the Jews.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss