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  Vol. 1  /  2003                             A JOURNAL OF POLITICS AND THE ARTS      


Palestine: The Original Sin

Meir Abelson


A lot of the problems that we are having to deal with now – I have to deal with now – are a consequence of our colonial past...the odd lines for Iraq’s borders were drawn by Brits. The British involvement in the birth of the Arab-Israeli dispute was "not entirely an honorable one".

    Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary, New Statesman, Nov. 2002

I hope that Hon. Members will believe me when I say that I am not pro-Jew; I am pro-English. I set a higher value on the reputation of England all over the world for justice than I do on anything else...but when I see this sort of thing going on, with the Government unable to put any argument on the other side, it makes me perhaps bitterer than even a Jew can be against the (British) Government of Palestine today.

    Colonel Josiah C. Wedgwood, M.P., to the House of Commons, May 29, 1934

On the wall of my study hangs a black-and-white photograph – at least 80 years old. To me, however, it is timeless. The view across green fields of England, framed by trees bare of leaves, brings back happy memories of my youth in the 1930s. The original hung on the wall of the estate agent’s office where I worked as an office boy until I joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. I dreamed of becoming a pilot, and was so impatient that after a few weeks, I returned to the recruitment office to enquire why I hadn’t yet been called.

I recall the idealism, which imbued all of us in that battle against another “Axis of Evil”, and the conviction that the shameful years of appeasement were only a blip in the proud record of British “fair play”.

Today, nothing can erase the bond with my youth; and when I set down here what I have unearthed about Britain’s handling of Palestine since 1917, I have not the heart to excoriate; but merely to record the facts as they are evidenced in written records of the time – minutes of the Permanent Mandates Commission, speeches in Parliament, books and papers which have either been out of print for maybe 40 years, or gathering dust in forgotten corners, and testimony by active participants in a terrible tale which could have been avoided if Prime Minister Gladstone’s guideline had been adhered to: “What is morally wrong cannot be politically right.”

I have written much over the years; but nothing as painful as these words; nevertheless, I do so, not because I love Britain less, but because I love justice more...

There is a fable that at the end of World War II, after the Allies conquered Berlin, a visitor from outer space landed there and stood aghast at the destruction, at the rotting bodies littering the streets, and the sight of survivors begging for bread. He asked a passerby: “Who did this terrible thing?” The reply was: “The Allied airmen.” But of course – he didn’t know what happened before...

I recall this story whenever I hear or read of the plight of the Palestinians, and the universal condemnation of Israel – by a world that does not know how it all began.

Those Were the Days

Today, the word Zionism is anathema to the Muslim Arabs, but it was not always so. Zionism did not begin with Theodore Herzl in 1897; the whole history of the Jews is a yearning for a reborn Jewish state. Throughout the entire 19th century, the return of the Jews to the Holy Land was so widely supported in Britain, the United States and France that such eminent persons as Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, John Adams, the second President of the United States, General Smuts of South Africa, President Masaryk of Czechoslovakia, British Prime Ministers Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour, President Woodrow Wilson, Benedetto Croce, Italian philosopher and historian, Henri Durant, founder of the Red Cross and author of the Geneva Conventions, Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian scientist and humanitarian, were among its enthusiastic proponents. The French government through Minister M. Cambon formally committed itself to “the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago". Even in faraway China, Wang, Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that “the Nationalist government is in full sympathy with the Jewish people in their desire to establish a country for themselves.”

In fact, there is a list of over 50 eminent people from more than 20 countries who appear in the gallery of non-Jewish Zionists. Representing the political, intellectual elite of many nations, many of them had traveled widely throughout the Land; but all – even those who had not – could hardly have been unaware of the written evidence – report after report – of travelers who testified as to the barren and desolate state of Palestine. The most famous was Mark Twain, who recorded after his visit in 1867: “Stirring scenes occur in the valley (Jezreel) no more. There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent – not for thirty miles in either direction. ...One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings.” Of the Galilee, he wrote of “...these unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness...” Nazareth he described as “forlorn”, Jericho as “a moldering ruin”.

Thirty years later, in 1898, German Kaiser Wilhelm II also visited Palestine. He was appalled at the condition of the country. The Ottomans had stripped the forests for lumber and firewood. The Palestinian Arabs had let an old Roman aqueduct fall into ruin. The ultimate ecological curse was the ubiquitous herds of black goats. For nearly 2,000 years after the dispersion of the Jews, Arabs had allowed their goats to graze unfenced across Palestine. They had eaten the grass down to its roots, and the topsoil had eroded and blown away. The biblical land of milk and honey had become a dust bowl.

In 1891, Dr. W.E. Blackstone, quoting the foremost authorities on international law, pointed out that since the Jews never gave up their title to Palestine, the general “law of dereliction” did not apply in their case; “for they never abandoned the land. They made no treaty; they did not even surrender. They simply succumbed, after the most desperate conflict, to the overwhelming power of the Romans...” Blackstone quoted the leading legal authorities of his day, who agreed that the Jewish claim is legally sound – and this remains so to this day.

Arabs Welcome Jews Home

And what of “Arab nationalism”? At that time, no one had heard of a “Palestine Arab people”; the term was not invented until after 1964, entirely for political reasons. The British Peace Handbook No. 60, published in 1918, declared that “the people west of the Jordan are not Arabs, but only Arab speaking... In the Gaza district they are mostly of Egyptian origin; elsewhere they are of the most mixed race...they (the Arabs of Palestine) have little if any national sentiment...they hide their weapons at the call of patriotism.” The idea that Palestine should be Arab was never even contemplated. On the contrary, the attitude of the Arabs to the Jewish National Movement was one of almost unanimous approval. In 1906, Farid Kassab, a famous Syrian author, expressed the view uniformly held by the Arabs: “The Jews of the Orient are at home. This land is their only fatherland. They don’t know any other.” A year later, Dr. Moses Gaster reported that he had “held conversations with some of the leading sheiks, and they all expressed pleasure at the advent of the Jews, for they considered that with them had come ‘barakat’ – blessing, since the rain came in due season.”

Throughout Arabia, the chiefs were for the most part, distinctly pro-Zionist, as were the Palestinian peasantry, who were delighted at the benefits that Jewish immigration was bringing them. The Muslim religious leader, the Mufti, was openly friendly, even taking a prominent part in the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Emir Hussein of the Hejaz replied “with an expression of goodwill towards a kindred Semitic race”, when the Balfour Declaration was communicated to him in 1918, and his son Feisal, acting officially for the Arab movement, wrote on March 3, 1919:

We Arabs look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organization to the Peace Conference and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best, insofar as we are concerned, to help them through. We will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.

There had indeed been many attacks on Jewish settlements by Bedouin long before then, reflecting the age-old clash between agriculturalists and shepherds; and it has been said that not a single settlement was created without some loss of life. Nevertheless, this was a feature of the lawless state of the country, in which Jews were not the only victims.

As late as 1920, three years after the Balfour Declaration, the British government issued a Peace Handbook No. 162 on Zionism for the instruction and information of British officials and representatives throughout the world. It stated unequivocally that Jewish nationalism has been continuous, and refers to the fact that it is “the oldest nationalist movement in history”. No more explicit statement of Jewish aspirations has ever been penned than this official British publication, which is now buried somewhere in the dusty files of Whitehall.

The Rot Begins

So what happened? How was it possible that in just three years – from 1917 to 1920, (when the first pogrom occurred) Arab goodwill was transmuted into hatred and enmity? In March 1921, Winston Churchill visited Palestine, and met with a formal body calling itself the “ Executive Committee of the Haifa Congress of Palestinian Arabs”. They presented him with a memorandum protesting Zionist activity in Palestine, arguing that Jews were not a nationality but a religion; that they had destroyed Russia, Germany and Austria, and that they took but never gave. They wanted Britain to stop the effort for a Jewish National Home, to stop all Jewish immigration, annul all relevant British laws, and make Palestine part of Syria.

It is important to note that this document – which Churchill rejected – emerged from a population that was mostly given over to lawlessness and banditry, and of which 85% of the men and 93% of the women were illiterate, while the remainder were Muslim landlords – a parasitic upper-class known as effendis. The ideas of democracy and nationalism were utterly alien to them; from where did they learn of these essentially Western concepts – as well as the jargon of European anti-Semitism, which they expressed so succinctly?

War Against the Jews

In December 9, 1917, General Allenby made his historic entry into Jerusalem. Hardly had the Turks been driven out when it became clear to Jew and Arab alike that the entire British Military Administration was uncompromisingly opposed both to the letter and the spirit of the Balfour Declaration. In his solemn proclamation after taking Jerusalem, Allenby spoke as if the Declaration had never been issued. In fact, no mention was made of the Jewish National Home in any official announcement in Palestine until May 1, 1920.

The generals who succeeded him looked on Britain’s pro-Zionist commitment as little less than criminal lunacy, and virtually refused to carry out London’s orders. They considered the Jews to be dangerous Bolsheviks who were conspiring to upset the Empire. Their aim was to promote a federation of Arab states, to include the Hejaz, Syria, Iraq and Palestine, which was to lie, as Egypt had lain, in the political and economic sphere of Britain. Their attitude towards the Jews was contemptuous and hostile. Despite the Jewish majority in Jerusalem, two-thirds of the Army-appointed Jerusalem Corporation were Arab and only one-third Jewish.

General Money, who succeeded Allenby, asserted: “I have asked many people in position – in England and elsewhere – why England has capitulated to the Zionists, but none of them have been able to give me a straight answer.” He decided that all tax forms and receipts should be printed in English and Arabic only; and the Military Governor of Jaffa declared that he was going to address Jewish delegations in Arabic.

Subordinates swiftly responded to the cue supplied by their superior officers. Horace Samuel, late Judicial Officer in Palestine, wrote of a medical officer “who quite frankly and with barely concealed relish announced that Jew-baiting had been the sport of kings for centuries and centuries.” “All told”, Samuel concluded, the British officers “regarded the Balfour Declaration as damn nonsense, the Jews as a damn nuisance, and the Arabs as damn good fellows.”

In London, a Jewish Commission had been appointed, ostensibly to take over the business of developing the country under the protective arm of the Military. Headed by Dr. Weizmann, it arrived on July 24, 1918, with the authority of the British Government, to advise the Palestine Administration on Jewish affairs. The generals, who had been treating the Jewish population as if it were non-existent, simply ignored the Commission altogether.

With a pointed demonstration of contempt, when the Jewish national anthem was played at a concert in a Jewish school, General Money and his staff deliberately kept their seats. Incident followed upon incident. Most of the Zionist leaders still carried with them the weakness under attack that had characterized life in the Russian Pale of Settlement. The only time they opened their mouths was when the notorious anti-Semite Colonel Scott (acting head of the Judiciary) publicly insulted the Jews and the Jewish religion in the corridor of the Law Courts. The howl that went up, led by Orthodox institutions, compelled him to resign.

In January 1919, the British Civic Adviser in Jerusalem, C.R. Ashbee, wrote in his diary: “...the Jew is unthinkable without a bargain, he bears the brand of that mean fellow Jacob on his brow...” On January 1, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Henry Wilson, described Chaim Weizmann as “a clever rogue but a bad face.” On February 3, a Foreign Office senior official, J.D. Gregory, commenting on anti-Jewish riots in the Ukraine, noted: “The Jews deserve all they get”; and when Weizmann went again to see Sir Henry Wilson and protested that the British officers in Palestine were pro-Arab and anti-Zionist, Wilson noted in his diary that this was “very likely and quite right!”

In June 1919, General Louis Bols was appointed Military Governor of Jerusalem. When Colonel Patterson, a staunch Zionist friend, heard that Bols had been appointed, he was shocked, and wrote: “I knew Bols well, having worked with him for two years. I knew him as an out and out anti-Semite, who would leave no stone unturned to destroy the Jewish National Home root and branch.” Bols’ Chief of Staff was Colonel Waters Taylor, whose idea was a military government in perpetuity, and who later became an anti-Zionist organizer in London.

With conscious design, the Administration fostered hostility between Arab and Jew. It directly advised the Arabs of Palestine and Egypt to abstain from any concessions to the Jews. It formed the Muslim-Christian Association and used it against the Zionists on the slightest pretext. It established the Muslim Supreme Council as a counterpart to the Zionist Executive. It instructed Arab youths in the technique and tenets of modern nationalism, in order to resist Jewish “pretenses”. The Arabs were supplied with funds, and their arguments ghost-written by Englishmen in high places.

From February-June 1919, the Paris Peace Conference took place, and was concluded with the Treaty of Versailles on June 29. The view taken throughout by the British delegation – which did not include the Military – was that, if there were to be a Jewish nationality, it could only be by giving the Jews local habitation, and enabling them to found in Palestine a Jewish state. The official recommendation of the United States government was for the setting up of a Jewish state. A Commission of prominent Americans had been sent by President Wilson to investigate, and their recommendations, adopted by the President and other American delegates without dissent, stated bluntly that “it is right that Palestine should become a Jewish state.”

In 1920, General Bols issued a proclamation – it is nor clear why – that the British intended to carry out the provisions of the Mandate. A few weeks later, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen recorded that Colonel Waters Taylor met with Haj Amin – a violent anti-Jewish agitator – and told him that “he had a great opportunity at Easter to show the world that Zionism was unpopular not only with the Palestine Administration but in Whitehall; and if disturbances of sufficient violence occurred at Easter, both General Bols and General Allenby would advocate the abandonment of the Jewish Home.”

The First British-Inspired Pogrom

Haj Amin took the Colonel’s advice and instigated a riot. Agitators addressed the Muslim crowds, urging them forward against the Jews, who had been disarmed on the orders of the Administration. All Jewish policemen had been relieved from duty in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The riot started with cries of “We shall drink the blood of the Jews” – “Don’t be afraid, the Government is with us!” The mob rushed in, brandishing knives and clubs. The Government surrounded the Old City with a cordon of police and troops, preventing outside help. The Jews were given over to slaughter, rape, torture and looting for three days before the authorities raised a hand to interfere. Three weeks later, riots in Jaffa and elsewhere left 43 Jews dead.

Because of Haj Amin’s overt role in instigating the pogrom, the British arrested him. However, he escaped (in circumstances that are not clear) and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in absentia. However, a year later some British Arabists persuaded Samuel to pardon him.

After a second pogrom in May 1921 in which looting and murder of Jews spread throughout the country, the British appointed the Haycraft Commission to investigate the cause of the violence. Although the panel concluded that the Arabs had been the aggressors, it rationalized the cause of the attack: “The fundamental cause of the riots was a feeling among the Arabs of discontent with, and hostility to, the Jews, due to political and economic causes, and with their conception of Zionist policy...”

A tremendous wave of protest swept the world like a typhoon. The British, their hands full with India and Ireland, were in a tight spot. They removed the top Administrator in Palestine, together with his Chief of Staff. The Military Administration, which had worked indefatigably for three years to foment the Arabs, was disbanded; and its powers transferred to – of all places – the Colonial Office, a bureau maintained almost entirely for the control of uncivilized tropical or sub-tropical races, and which, by its very nature and interests, could not fail to be opposed to the Mandate. And as Colonel Patterson remarked grimly: “Bols went, but the system he planted remained. The anti-Semitic officials he brought with him into the country remained.”

So matters stood, when in April 1920, the Supreme Council of the principal Allied Powers met at San Remo to go through the motions of ratifying the Mandate. A few months later, the Treaty of Sevres was signed between Turkey and the Western Powers. It reiterated the decisions of the nations, ceding Palestine with the proviso that the “Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the Declaration originally made on November 2, 1917 by the British Government and adopted by the other Allied Powers in favor of the establishment in Palestine of the National Home of the Jewish people.” It is important to remember that “Palestine” was not known as a country but as an administrative district; and that it included both East and West Banks of the river Jordan, Gaza and the Golan.

The First Partition

In spite of world indignation at the pogrom that had just taken place, the Jews, led by Chaim Weizmann, still believed implicitly in British honesty and good faith. They demanded that Britain be confirmed as the trustee to carry out the Mandate. In July 1922, the League of Nations approved the appointment of Britain as the Mandatory Power.

Britain did not, however, wait for this formality. In the spring of 1920, she began to make territorial concessions to the French in Syria at the expense of the Mandated Territory. She transferred territory in the north, and directly south of Mount Hermon. Also lopped off were the lands of Naphtali, Dan and Manasseh, east of the Jordan River, in addition to the Hauran, an ancient granary of Israel, and most of the fertile, well-watered Galilee. Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, a prominent Member of Parliament, wrote that this first partition of the mandated territory had been actuated by a desire to annoy the Jews. President Wilson rose from his sick bed and cabled the following protest to the British Cabinet:

The Zionist cause depends on rational northern and eastern boundaries for a self-maintaining, economic development of the country. This means, on the north, Palestine must include the Litany River and the watersheds of the Hermon, and on the east it must include the plains of the Jaulon and the Hauran. Narrower than this is a mutilation...I need not remind you that neither in this country nor in Paris has there been any opposition to the Zionist program, and to its realization the boundaries I have named are indispensable.

The protests moved the British to recover a few square miles, and to ignore further protests.

The Second Partition

In the following year, 1921, when Britain was still the occupying power, and before she had even been granted the Mandate to establish the Jewish National Home, she lopped off Trans-Jordan – three-quarters of the mandated territory – and handed it over to the Emir Abdullah of the Hejaz who had marched up with 1,200 nomads and squatted there. So was created the Emirate of Trans-Jordan – later the Kingdom of Jordan – the first area on the earth’s surface hermetically sealed to Jews. What now remained out of the original 60,000 square miles of mandated Palestine was about 11,000 square miles. The Mandates Commission was sharply critical, but like the League of Nations itself, it had no teeth. It was not until the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923 that the Mandate was finally placed in British hands. Meanwhile, in Palestine, the British had appointed a Civil Administration to replace the Military Government; local responsibility was vested in a civilian High Commissioner. The first was Sir Herbert Samuel; shortly after his arrival, he held a reception for the members of his staff. The reaction, blurted out of the mouth of one of them was: “And there I was at Government House, and there was the Union Jack flying as large as life, and a bloody Jew sitting under it.”

The Court Jew

Throughout his whole tenure of office, Samuel suffered acutely from his consciousness of being a Jew, causing him to pivot right round to an actual pro-Arab attitude. At the Fifth Session of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, Samuel declared that it was “the fundamental intention of the Government” to deal with the Arabs “as if there had never been a Balfour Declaration.” He even recalled and appointed Haj Amin to the powerful position of Mufti of Jerusalem, in the belief that giving him more responsibility would encourage him to moderate his anti-Jewish incitement. It didn’t. Husseini guided and stirred up the Arabs for almost 30 years, and spent his last years in Berlin during World War II advising Hitler on his plans to “eliminate the Jewish problem”. His baneful influence lasted until his dying day.

In 1925, Field-Marshal Lord Plumer, under whose rule the old policies remained unchanged, replaced Samuel. Typical of his rule was the loan of 20,000 pounds to the Sheba Bedouin in 1928 to quiet their grumbling against the indirect Government refusal to allow land sales to Jews.

The Second British-Inspired Pogrom

Lord Plumer was relieved in 1928, and was succeeded by Sir John Chancellor, who retired after three years and became an anti-Zionist spokesman in London. It was during his term of office that the second bloody massacre of Jews by the Arabs took place, in 1929. The story put about that the Jews planned to tear down the Mosque of Omar, and to rebuild the Temple on the site – a tactic that has been used to arouse the Arabs to this day. In the Arab press an anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish campaign was going full blast; the Russian forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was widely circulated – as it is also until today. The High Commissioner was absent from his post for the first time, on a visit to London. The acting High Commissioner was Harry Luke, known to be unfriendly to the Jews. Arab agitators toured the country, bringing word from the Mufti to await orders the following Friday.

In this threatening atmosphere, the Government disarmed the Jewish villagers, leaving them defenseless. Once again, the cry went up: “The Government is with us!” The police watched as hundreds of screaming fellaheen and Bedouin armed with clubs, knives and guns swarmed through Jerusalem. Whole families were slaughtered, while the police and British officials, standing on the balcony of Government House, heard the screaming and the shots – and did nothing. For eight days the country was given over to an orgy of slaughter, rape, castration and unspeakable mutilation. The worst barbarisms took place at Hebron, Safed, Jaffa and Motza. The victims – men, women and children – were beaten, stabbed, their limbs amputated, stomachs were ripped open, and women were raped. I have met survivors, who – if they can bring themselves to speak of what happened – remember recognizing among their assailants Arab “friends” who had been regular guests in their homes. I have an album of horrifying photographs taken in hospital after the pogrom; they show the hacked bodies of the survivors, and amputated hands and fingers laid out on tables.

Voices of Decency

Since the days of the Crusaders, no such massacre of Jews had occurred in Palestine. There were worldwide protests; Lawrence of Arabia, supposed to know the Arabs better than any living Englishman, declared: “If you had 400 decent British policemen in Palestine, there would have been no trouble for the Jews there.” The Frankfurter Zeitung accused London of trying to “prove through recurrent struggles between Jews and Arabs that England must stay forever in Palestine.” The venerable Hindu poet, Rabindranath Tagore, charged Britain with “seeking to perpetuate a state of war between the Arabs and the Jews”. Adding its voice to the uproar, the Permanent Mandates Commission, which since 1924 had not spared criticism of Britain’s handling of the Mandate, lashed out at the British Government, virtually accusing it of sabotaging the Jewish National Home.

“Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue”

The Government reacted by appointing more Commissions. Incredibly, after long delays, they produced pro-Arab reports. Practically everyone accused of having a hand in the riots was promoted. The highest term of imprisonment imposed for any of the Hebron murders was 18 months. Typical was the case of a peasant who had killed the two young sons of a woman named Fruma Charkel by smashing their brains out. He had known the family for years, and had only laughed at the mother’s plea for mercy while the little boys were being battered to death. With her surviving son she appeared against him, as did the invalid father and other eyewitnesses to the attack. The court freed the Arab, finding “insufficient evidence”.

In 1930, a Labor Government was in power. The Prime Minister was J. Ramsey MacDonald, who had asserted after a visit to the Middle East in 1922: “The Arab population do not or cannot use or develop the resources of Palestine...the country is undeveloped and under populated.” Arthur Henderson, the Foreign Secretary, was the man who had drawn up a resolution in 1917 approving the Zionists’ right “to form a Free State under International Agreement, where the Jewish people may return and work out their own salvation without interference by those of alien faith and religion.”

“Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness”

However, if it is true that power corrupts, the first casualties of that process seem to be truth and principle. In Spring 1930, the Shaw Commission was the first to report on the 1929 violence. It concluded that, among the immediate causes of the disturbances was the “enlargement of the Jewish Agency”. In fact, it is doubtful if any of the murderers had ever heard of the Jewish Agency or its enlargement. It held the primary cause to be in essence the crafty way in which the Zionists had taken advantage of the innocent Arabs, who were being deprived of soil and substance. Thus was created the “landless Arab” fiction which was to serve the Government of Palestine as a convenient symbol for many years. It found that Palestine was overcrowded, and there was not enough land to go round. (This was two short years after the Government of Palestine had published the fact that “the country suffers from a lack of population – it is under-cultivated and needs capital.”) It recommended the curtailment of Jewish immigration and land purchase, and a Government subsidy to buy up vacant land which was to be handed over free to the “landless Arabs” – wherever they might be found.

Lord Snell, a member of the Commission, turned in a minority report. He accused the Administration of encouraging the Arabs “to believe that they have suffered a great wrong and that the immigrant Jew constitutes a permanent menace to their livelihood and future,” despite the fact that Jewish activities have increased the prosperity of Palestine and raised the standard of life of the Arab worker.” Far from finding the country overcrowded, he noted that “large tracts are lying waste that should be made available to the Jews.”

Lloyd George condemned the Commissioners’ Report as “mischievous nonsense”. He declared:

The report made for the Government of which I was the head in 1919, by competent and experienced engineers, stated that by well-planned schemes of irrigation one million acres could be added to the cultivable area of Palestine, and that by this plan, sixteen persons could be maintained for every one there now.

However, Whitehall had another rabbit to pull out of the hat, in the form of yet another Commission. The Hope-Simpson Report was published in November 1930 – simultaneously with a Cabinet decision to act on it. It consisted of a symposium of oblique attacks against the Jews and included all the anti-Semitic conceptions of its day, including the inability of native races to compete with superior Jewish cunning and ability, and the omnivorous greed of the “rich” Jew for further gain. It suggested that the Jews be prohibited by law from buying more land. It charged that the Jews were introducing Bolshevism into the land, and it demanded that irrigation work of any kind be virtually prohibited. Thus Hope-Simpson, who had been sent to Palestine under instructions to investigate the slaughter, looting and raping perpetrated on the Jews, left his terms of reference – like his predecessors and successors – far behind and nowhere to be seen.

Evaporation of the National Home

In October 1930, Lord Passfield, the Colonial Secretary, issued a White Paper based on the findings of the two Commissions. It was decidedly pro-Arab and anti-Zionist. It repeated the claim that there was not enough land for newcomers, and recommended limiting Jewish immigration and Jewish ownership of land. This resulted in wide protests from leaders of public opinion in France, Germany and America, while in the House of Commons, David Lloyd George observed: “They dare not try to kill Zionism directly, but they try to put it in a refrigerator.” Such prominent elder statesmen as Lord Hailsham, Mr. Baldwin, Sir John Simon, Sir Austen Chamberlain and Leo Amery complained that the White Paper would create a feeling of distrust in British good faith; the major Press added their intense criticism to the storm. As a result, MacDonald produced a letter modifying somewhat the offending provisions; but it later turned out to be meaningless.

At the subsequent sessions of the Permanent Mandate, the Mandatory Power was unmercifully cross-examined. The British representative suavely asked in reply whether, in view of the fact that Dr. Weizmann had approved the letter, he needed to make any further comments on the controversy.

In July 1931, Lieutenant-General Arthur Wauchope was appointed High Commissioner. He was hardly an improvement on his predecessors. During his term of office the baleful French Report was issued, and the disastrous Arab rebellion of 1936-38 took place. Mr. French recommended completely prohibiting land purchase by Jews, and his collaborator, T.C. Kipching, appended an auxiliary report asserting that it was necessary for the Jews to give up what land they already possessed and migrate from Palestine. The Jewish leaders were fuming; months of parleying took place, and an amended French Report was published in July 1933. It placed land transfers completely under Government control; it stated that the hill Arabs required special protection against Jews, elaborated on the “landless Arab” problem, and piously referred to the “displaced” Arab as “a son of the soil to be replaced on the land of his country”.

Hitlerism in Palestine

There is little question that by this time the British officials in Palestine regarded themselves as under some kind of duty to sabotage the very policy they were appointed to carry out. The American minister, John Haines Holmes, visiting Palestine in 1929, related that the Crown officials he met “talked of the Zionist movement with impatience, frequently with contempt, and always with the suggestion that they would be ineffably relieved, if not actually pleased, if the whole thing would only blow up and disappear.” The English writer Beverley Nichols, said: “I had not been in Jerusalem for a week before I realized very clearly in which direction lay the sympathies of the English community. They were pro-Arab.” Dr. Holmes summed up the matter when he wrote: “It may well be discovered, before the tale is done, that the English conquest of Palestine, and the English Government of Palestine under the Mandate, constitute together the greatest tragedy that ever befell the Zionist movement.”

On October 10, 1934, a nationalist demonstration was attended by prominent Government functionaries in their official capacity, where “Arab civilization” was praised, and their “coming independence and unification of the Arab countries” (including Palestine) was enthusiastically hailed. Riots were openly rehearsed, and the Government allowed the Arab press to keep up a daily barrage, systematically branding the Jews as “the human sexual disease”, “a gang of swindlers” and “a menace to all mankind”. Terrorist organizations paraded, without the slightest attempt at secrecy. All over Palestine groups of brown-clad storm troops were marching, shouting “Heil Hitler”.

Descent into Chaos

In 1936 armed revolt broke out again all over Palestine – for the sixth time since British occupation. There was hardly one of the Arab ringleaders who was not on the Government payroll. “If one thing stands out from the record of the Mandatory administration,” conceded the Peel Report, “it is the leniency with which Arab political agitation, even when carried out to the point of violence and murder, has been treated.” An Arab delegation was invited to London to present its grievances officially in London – but no Jewish delegation was asked. Three American Senators – Austin, Copeland and Hastings – who visited the country, wrote that

there are really two strikes going on in Palestine. One is conducted by Arab terrorists, who throw bombs and snipe at passers-by in the streets and highways. The other is conducted silently by the Mandatory Government of Palestine against the proper administration of justice. The prolongation of the terror in the Holy Land is a manifest sympathy for the vandals and assassins displayed by many officers who are sworn to uphold the law...creating a condition which could not but shock any American observer.

“Thou Shalt Not Murder”

For months, 15,000 soldiers had apparently been unable to make safe a few miles of road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There had been innumerable hold-ups by armed gangs, in which Jewish passengers had been hauled out of cars and butchered. The Arab press hailed these killers and boasted of further horrors to come. On April 16, 1936, the funeral of a murdered Jew was made the occasion of a protest demonstration. The police fired into the crowd, wounding 30. Immediately afterwards, steel-helmeted officers entered Tel Aviv, dragging out householders on suspicion of being connected with the protest. Bearers of black-bordered flags were beaten into unconsciousness. The air was charged with tension, and three days later, the fuse was lit.

A story was circulated in Jaffa that four Arab men and women had been beheaded by Jews in Tel Aviv. Jaffa resounded with the familiar cry “The Government is with us!”

By midday the streets were running with Jewish blood; many were slaughtered and mutilated beyond recognition, right under the eyes of the police, who made no effort to interfere. The contagion spread to other parts of the country. The Arab press called for murder and revolt. Nazi flags and pictures of Hitler were prominently displayed in shop windows, and on May 21, the Arab Higher Committee called a general strike. Violent men from Syria, Egypt and Mesopotamia slipped over the border as if it did not exist. The most important was Fawzy Bey el Kaougji, a Syrian adventurer who had been sentenced to death by the French. He was greeted as a hero, hailed as “Commander-in-Chief of the Arab Armies in Southern Syria” (which was the Arab name for Palestine); his photographs were displayed and sold in bookstalls all over the country.

The rioters appeared to possess an inexhaustible supply of weapons and ammunition – most of them brand-new, manufactured in Britain. Gangs threatened Arab shopkeepers and beat up Arab peasants who came into town with their vegetables. “For an Arab to be suspected of a lukewarm adherence to the nationalist cause,” said Lord Peel, “is to invite a visit from a body of gunmen.” When the mayor of Beisan displayed unwillingness to swell the terrorists’ funds, his young son’s throat was slit in reprisal; hundreds of wealthy Arabs fled the country in fear.

Shootings, bombings, and every conceivable form of violent outrage were daily routine. Bombs were thrown at homes, railway stations and public buildings. Kindergartens and playgrounds were dynamited, tearing little children to pieces. Nurses were slain by snipers as they went on duty. Trains were fired on and wrecked, cinemas blown up, crops burned, trees whose planting represented a lifetime’s work were uprooted.

One midnight, a gang invaded the home of a Safed rabbi. They found his three young children on the veranda and butchered them in their sleep. Their mother, startled by the commotion, ran out and flung herself on her brood; the Arabs shot her without mercy. Her husband, coming on the terrible scene, had barely time to see his family dying before his eyes before a bomb hurled by the retreating intruders decapitated him.

 Self-Defense Denied

As in previous riots, the Jews were rendered impotent by being forcibly disarmed. Drivers of vehicles could not even carry a club to defend themselves. The police regularly searched Jewish buses and cars, while Arab vehicles passed them, neither examined nor even stopped. Despite the fact that vandals were systematically uprooting groves and torching them, Senator Copeland found that owners were flatly refused permission to have armed guards on their properties. Possession of weapons by Jews was punished by imprisonment. Fifty thousand Jews, some of them World War I veterans, were ready to undertake police duty; the offer was refused. Despite wholesale murders through 1936, the Government did not take the matter seriously enough to offer a reward. Although in every case the Jews were the victims, the authorities invariably referred to “Arab-Jewish clashes”.

The general tone of the courts can be attested by many. Two examples here must suffice. Two Arabs positively identified by seven eyewitnesses as having dynamited a cinema in Tel Aviv, murdering three and mangling many others, were given seven days’ jail; the murder charges were not even brought up. In another case, some 200 Arabs armed with knives and iron bars fell on the Jewish quarter of Tiberias. When the military and police eventually arrived, they “escorted” the assailants out of the vicinity. On the way, the latter broke shop windows and stoned passersby. The next day the police returned and arrested 15 Jews.

After the bloodbath had continued for 175 days the Government decided that enough was enough. They promised that if the strike were halted, a Royal Commission would immediately come and “give the Arabs justice”. The strike ended, and Fawzy Bey and his followers were allowed passage into Trans-Jordan “with honor” – according to the London Times.

 The Third Partition?

In October 1936, yet another Commission arrived this time under the leadership of Lord Robert Peel. It held 66 meetings and issued its Report in July 1937, recommending partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. The British Government expressed general agreement with these findings, but in practice it faced three options: to enforce partition, to pull out and leave the Jews and Arabs to fight it out, or to stay and improvise. In the face of strong opposition from all the Palestinian Arabs to the whole idea of partition, the Government decided to stay and improvise. The improvisation took the form of crushing the Arab rebellion, combined with promising them an independent state in the future.

For once, the British action against violence was resolute. Stung by the Peel Commission’s severe criticism of its leniency with Arab political agitation, the Government gave the Military the necessary political backing to repress the revolt. When in September 1937, the District Commissioner of Galilee was assassinated, all the members of the Higher Arab Committee were arrested, and Haj Amin was removed from his post as head of the Supreme Muslim Council. He escaped, dressed as a Bedouin, and made his way to Lebanon, where the French gave him asylum.

The next month, widespread rioting broke out again all over the country, and it developed into a full-scale revolt, which lasted until the end of 1938. Against it the British Government applied severe military repression. The High Commissioner himself was retired, and his place was taken by Sir Harold MacMichael who arrived on March 3, 1938. One of his first acts was to return control of the city government of Jerusalem to the Arabs, dismissing the acting mayor, Daniel Auster, and appointing an Arab majority in the Municipal Council. In the official announcement it was made perfectly clear that if Auster had been a Muslim, he could have continued as mayor.

 The First Hanging

In April, yet another Commission set out for Palestine. As it arrived, Arab terrorism again stalked the country, with the police and military seemingly powerless to stop it. Peaceful Arabs as well as Jews were slaughtered daily, Jewish villages attacked, and houses, schools and other buildings blown to bits. Arson, stoning and sniping became part of the regular routine. Determined to characterize these events as “Arab-Jewish clashes”, the Government ordered mass arrests of Jewish workmen and students. Among them was a young boy named Shlomo Ben-Yosef who was sentenced to hang for allegedly possessing arms. The Government did not assert that he had killed or injured anyone.

A general strike shut all Jewish shops in Jerusalem, while over the entire country, widespread demonstrations took place. They were ignored, and Ben-Yosef was put to death – on a Jewish holiday. In Parliament, John McGovern, MP referred to the execution as “perfectly outrageous”. Meanwhile, terror expanded to unprecedented proportions; and in this turbulent setting, the Commission completed its labors. Their plan was to reduce the Jewish area to a token “home” of some 400 square miles in the Sharon Valley. Galilee, Acre and Haifa were to be added to the permanently mandated British area. The British would also take over southern Palestine to protect the Suez Canal and the remainder of the country was to be added to Trans-Jordan as an Arab state under Abdullah.

Encouraged by the Commission’s recommendations, the British Government toyed with the idea of even abrogating the Jewish “token home”, altogether repudiating the Balfour Declaration, and setting up an Arab government permanently allied to Great Britain. Tewfik es-Suwaidi, Foreign Minister of Iraq, was invited to London for this purpose, under the sponsorship of the Foreign Office, and he demanded this solution in the name of an "aroused Arab world". Simultaneously, an imposing Arab Congress gathered in Cairo and threatened Britain with the eternal enmity of all Arabia unless their minimum demands were met. Likewise simultaneously, the Arab rebels in Palestine announced the formation of a “provisional Arab government” to take over the responsibility for “law and order, life and limb” in the whole of Palestine. They set up their own courts, issued laws and decrees, and collected taxes. The British looked on passively, while shocking acts of violence were committed, as when 21 Jews were butchered in cold blood on October 22 in Tiberias, including ten little children who were roasted alive.

 League of Nations – A Dying Protest

As it became apparent that Britain was about to repudiate its obligations under the Mandate, indignation and anger were voiced, particularly in the United States. In its dying moments, the League of Nations accused Britain of a flagrant breach of its Mandate, calling attention to her “virtual suspension” of Jewish immigration. In the face of these reactions, and at a time of an international crisis in Europe, the British cabinet met on October 19 and announced that no drastic action would be taken against the Jews. The plans for a reorganized Arab Palestine were shelved, and it was announced that military action would be taken at once to put down the Arab rebels.

In November 1938, the British Government convened the London Conference on the future of Palestine. It was attended by the representatives of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen and Trans-Jordan – as well as a Palestinian Arab delegation (which was split between followers of the Mufti and people who were frightened of him), the Zionist Executive, and the British hosts. The Conference broke up in deadlock on March 17, 1939, two days after Hitler’s occupation of Prague. It paved the way for a unilateral statement from the British Government, which would be much more favorable to the Arabs than any official statement since the beginning of the Mandate. This was the famous White Paper of May 1939, of which the main provisions were: no partition; no Jewish state; an independent Arab state within 10 years; Jewish immigration, after five years, would not be allowed “unless the Arabs of Palestine were prepared to acquiesce in it”.

The legality of the White Paper, in terms of the Mandate, was not only contested by the Jews. The Permanent Mandates Commission, reporting to the Council of the League, found unanimously “that the policy set out in the White Paper was not in accordance with the interpretation which, in agreement with the Mandatory Power and the Council, the Commission had placed upon the Palestine Mandate.”

However, the outbreak of war put an end to the League’s life, and the Council never met to consider the matter.

In spite of everything, almost the entire Jewish population – known as the Yishuv (from the root “to return”) - was wholeheartedly in support of the British. However, restrictions on immigration were maintained, and as the war went on, and the horrifying details of Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish Problem became known, the inhumanity of barring the gates of Palestine to those pitiful remnants trying to escape the Holocaust tore at the hearts of the Yishuv – especially the youth. The resulting clash between them and Britain in the immediate post-war years, resulting in Britain, at last, relinquishing the Mandate, is too well recorded – and indeed too painful – to recall here.

 I have another photograph hanging on the wall of my study. It, too, is well known. In the foreground stands a scared Jewish boy, about 12 years old, wearing a cap, and holding his hands above his head in surrender. To his left are a few women and children, who have just emerged from the sewers of the Warsaw ghetto under the watchful eyes of Nazi soldiers, standing around with guns.

To me, this photo speaks volumes. I wonder how many of the six million Jews who were horribly done to death in Nazi concentration camps would have found a haven in the Jewish National Home. I wonder what the Middle East would be like today if Britain had faithfully and resolutely carried out the Mandate for Palestine entrusted her by the League of Nations.

The late General Wavell of World War II fame wrote of “...1919-1939, years that are better forgotten in the history of our people, when the spirit grew tired and disillusioned, and the body slack and soft.” It was not only the body and the spirit that drooped, but the values, the decency, and the British reputation for fair play which – had they been upheld in those years – might have avoided not only the tragedy of Palestine and the Jews, but World War II itself.

Today, many of the old pretexts for Britain’s dereliction have been demolished: “the absorptive capacity of Palestine”, “the landless Arab”, “the twice-promised Land”. But there is one which not only remains to this day, but has grown into a reincarnation of the monstrous demon which stalked the world in the Middle Ages: anti-Semitism. And – painful though it may be to admit – the fact is that the seed was sown by the British in Palestine under the Mandate, with a resolution which, had it been more honest and constructive in attitude, would have avoided over 80 years of bloodshed and pain.

In fairness to the British, it must be pointed out that the dissension they sowed did not fall on barren soil. There were attacks on Jewish settlements by Bedouin for 40 years before the British came; but as I have already pointed out, these reflected the age-old quarrel between the agriculturalist and the nomad, the homesteader and the shepherd. But more important was the history of traditional Muslim-Arab hostility and violence towards Jews as “dhimmis” – viz., Jews and Christians living under Muslim rule and subject to discriminatory restrictions. The British, however, added a political dimension to this age-old religious prejudice, and the two together, fertilized with European anti-Semitism, became the poisonous weed that has strangled the Middle East ever since.

If an individual were to behave in a manner dictated by racial prejudice, by the desire to maintain or extend his influence – to lie, malign, deceive, distort, manipulate, incite and conspire, in such a manner as to inspire hatred, murder and mayhem –there are few who would defend him. One of the main reasons why the world is tortured is because states can and do behave in this manner; and neither they nor anyone else considers it deplorable.

But I am not talking about “states” in general; I am talking about the land of my birth, which I once admired, and which I volunteered to help defend against evil. I am repeating what a large number of decent, honorable Englishmen said and wrote during those terrible inter-war years, of whom I have quoted here only a few. Their memoirs, their speeches, their protests, their denunciations, all breathed the spirit of fair play that was once regarded as synonymous with the word “British”. Nothing they said, wrote or did had any effect on those who committed the most terrible perfidy in world history.

I still live in the hope that Britain will return to her true self. The signs today are gloomy; we hear the old mantra of “the cycle of violence” in the Middle East, echoing the words, “Arab-Jewish clashes” used to express moral equivalence between perpetrators and victims. When attention is drawn – and rightly so – to the appalling suffering of the Palestinian Arabs, the present British Government never alludes to the overwhelming evidence – mostly from Arab leaders – that Arab leaders themselves were entirely responsible for the origin and continuation of their people’s suffering, and should be held responsible to this day. We hear from the Arabs the daily litany of lies so palpable, so obvious, and at times so ridiculous; and we marvel that no one in Britain stands up and declares – “Stop! Enough! If you want our help, change your mindset!” Assad of Syria, now the strongest supporter of terrorist organizations in the Middle East and a fanatical anti-Semite – is given a royal welcome in London. We witness the eager sponsorship by Britain of a third partition of Palestine by carving out a “Palestinian” state, occupied by a people, invented – on their own admission – some 40 years ago, and who never cease to proclaim that their aim is still to destroy Israel. We recall that a large proportion of these Arabs who deny the right of Jews to return to their homeland immigrated to enjoy a better economic life after the Jews had revitalized the land. We are told that the Arabs must be assured of “even-handedness” – something which the Jews have lacked at Britain’s hands ever since 1917; and this from the country which created the Arab-Jewish conflict, and which therefore might be expected to display less presumption and more humility. However, as the prophet Zephaniah wrote: “The unjust knows no shame.”

The story is told that when Field Marshal Lord Plumer was High Commissioner of Palestine, the Arabs, persisting naively in the same tactics which were so successful under his predecessor, Lord Samuel, approached him in delegation, warning that if a planned procession of Jewish war veterans were held, they “would not be responsible for the peace of Jerusalem” Plumer withered them with the reply: “No one asked you to be responsible. I am the High Commissioner, and I will be responsible.” The Arabs never tried that trick again as long as the Field Marshal remained in Palestine; nor were there any pogroms under his rule.

This is a lesson for today.

Select Bibliography

Bard, Mitchell G.: Myths and Facts – A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2001).

Bennett, Ramon: Philistine (1995).

Dawood, N.J.: The Koran (translation) (1999).

Denton, Clifford: Islam and Israel (No. 9 in the series The Challenge of Islam) (1989).

Duff, Douglas V.: Galilee Galloper (1939).

Gilbert, Martin: Exile and Return, (1978).

Hamady, Sania: Temperament and Character of the Arabs (1960).

Laffin, John: The Arab Mind (1987).

Loftus, John and Mark Aarons: The Secret War Against the Jews (1994).

Peters, Joan: From Time Immemorial (1948).

Samuel, Horace B.: Unholy Memories of the Holy Land (1936).

Trifkovic, Serge: The Sword of the Prophet: Islam History, Theology, Impact on the World (2002).

Van Paassen, Pierre: Forgotten Ally (1943).

Ye’or, Bat: The Dhimmi (1985).