By Stuart Littlewood - London
Hamas marked the 92nd anniversary of the infamous Balfour Declaration by recalling the misery of the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) and insisting that European states in general and Britain in particular make amends for the crimes committed against Palestine.
It is worth reminding ourselves from time to time what started the trouble all those years ago. Arabs know the details only too well, but you would be surprised how the British people are kept in ignorance. The history of the Arab-Israeli struggle is seldom taught in schools and our politicians are afraid to talk freely about it.
To all intents and purposes the fuse to the present powder-keg was lit by the British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, on 2 November 1917 in a letter to the most senior Jew in England, Lord Rothschild, pledging assistance for the Zionist cause. It was a moment of madness that showed utter disregard for the likely impact on Islamic sensibilities and the day-to-day lives of those (Muslim and Christian) already living in the Holy Land, and for peace in the region.
This lethal scrap of paper, which called itself a declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, actually said… "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 and non-Jewish communities..."
Was Balfour completely off his head? The Allied Powers, in correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon and Sharif Hussein Ibn Ali of Mecca, had already promised independence to Arab leaders in return for their help in defeating Germany's ally, Turkey.
But Balfour was a Zionist convert, as were many others in the corridors of power in London at that time. Among them were Lloyd George and, to my dismay, Winston Churchill.
In an article in the Illustrated Sunday Herald of 8 February 1920 Churchill is credited with writing: "It has fallen to the British Government, as the result of the conquest of Palestine, to have the opportunity and the responsibility of securing for the Jewish race all over the world a home and centre of national life. The statesmanship and historic sense of Mr. Balfour were prompt to seize this opportunity. Declarations have now been made which have irrevocably decided the policy of Great Britain. The fiery energies of Dr. Weissmann, the leader, for practical purposes, of the Zionist project. backed by many of the most prominent British Jews, and supported by the full authority of Lord Allenby, are all directed to achieving the success of this inspiring movement… If, as may well happen, there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown, which might comprise three or four millions of Jews, an event would have occurred in the history of the world which would, from every point of view, be beneficial, and would be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British Empire."
Poor Winston’s crystal ball was seriously malfunctioning that day.
Balfour, with eye-watering arrogance, said in justification of his lunatic action: "In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now occupy that land."
Not everyone was fooled by the Zionists. Lord Sydenham warned: "The harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country may never be remedied. What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend."
If only more people had listened.
In 1922 Palestine was placed under British mandate. Jewish immigration would be facilitated "under suitable conditions" and a nationality law would allow Jews taking up permanent residence to acquire Palestinian citizenship.
That same year the British government issued a White Paper clarifying the position. The intention was not to turn Palestine as a whole into a Jewish National Home but enable such a Home to be founded within Palestine. The White Paper recorded with satisfaction that, at a meeting of the Zionist Congress at Carlsbad in September 1921, “a resolution was passed expressing as the official statement of Zionist aims the determination of the Jewish people to live with the Arab people on terms of unity and mutual respect, and together with them to make the common home into a flourishing community…”
The White Paper also noted that the Zionist Commission in Palestine, renamed the Palestine Zionist Executive, had no wish to take part in running the country and would not be allowed to share in the government. “Further, it is contemplated that the status of all citizens of Palestine in the eyes of the law shall be Palestinian, and it has never been intended that they, or any section of them, should possess any other juridical status.”
Fine words, but nobody was taking them on board. From that moment onwards the bully-boys of the Western world behaved increasingly badly and so did the Zionists. It all culminated in the messy 1947 Partition Plan, a corrupt and poorly managed piece of work by the fledgling United Nations, with the bullies twisting the arms of smaller nations in order to steamroller their rotten scheme through.
Zionist Jews had legitimately purchased only 6 percent of Palestinian land and by 1947 accounted for about one-third of the population, yet the UN allocated them 57 percent of the territory with access to two seas. They seized the offer with both hands while the Arabs, who hadn’t been consulted, quite rightly rejected it as unfair. As we all know now – and should have known then, since the extent of the Greater Israel project was widely advertised - this exceedingly generous 57 percent gift just wasn't enough for the greedy Zionists. They wanted the lot, and still do. So for 61 years they have kept the fires of the conflict well stoked while ethnically cleansing each territorial gain at gunpoint.
It is only right that Hamas are making such an appeal to those who have so miserably failed the Holy Land. It does no harm to remind the bloated and corrupted West of its Christian duty even though it long ago abandoned any pretence of honour and principle.
Israel’s evil progress could be halted by simply breaking the siege, if necessary landing humanitarian supplies on Gaza’s beach or providing armed escorts for other ships that wish to do so. That, it seems to me, is the very least we could do. The increasingly effective action by ordinary citizens boycotting Israeli goods should then be matched by government measures, and the screw turned until the economic pain persuades Israel to withdraw behind recognized borders and leave the Palestinians alone.
And if our politicians and leaders cannot free themselves from Israeli influence and act with the necessary decency, they should be helped to pack their bags and clear their desks.
- Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.