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Volume 25 - Issue 04 :: Feb. 16-29, 2008

Balfour's deceit

A.G. NOORANI

International recognition of Israel as a state cannot wipe out the facts of history.


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Michael Makovsky's study of Churchill's views on Palestine is a work of immense labour. Its documentation reveals a lot. Consistency was not Churchill's strong point. He advocated a Jewish homeland as far back as in 1906. If in 1915 Lloyd George advocated grabbing Palestine "owing to the prestige it would give us", Churchill scribbled to Foreign Secretary Edward Grey "Palestine must be given to Christian, liberal and now noble Belgium".

Makovsky's researches fully establish Balfour's deceit: "The definition of 'national home' was left intentionally ambiguous. The Zionists purposely used the term 'home' in Basle in 1897, so as not to provoke the Gentiles, but had made conflicting statements since then about whether they intended a state or not. Weizmann considered development of a state a slow process, which certainly would have been necessary for the Jews to become a majority in Palestine. (At the time of the Declaration, there were estimated to be 50,000-65,000 Jews out of a total population of 700,000). Balfour told the War Cabinet on October 31, 1917, that 'national home' meant an entity under British or American protectorate which permitted the Jews to 'build up… a real centre of national culture and focus of national life. It did not necessarily involve the early establishment of an independent Jewish State, which was a matter of gradual development in accordance with the ordinary laws of political evolution'. With 'centre', he borrowed the vague term which Herbert Samuel employed in 1915. Balfour did not commit to a definition in public, but privately confided in 1918. 'My personal hope is that the Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a Jewish state.' The British press mostly understood the Declaration as promising a Jewish state." Curzon was right after all. But, as Balfour minuted on August 6, 1919, "I am an ardent Zionist." (Documents, page 330).

The Documents confirm the evidence of deceit. Col. Richard Meinertzhagen, a pro-Zionist political officer in the British military administration in Palestine, warned Curzon on September 26, 1919: "The people of Palestine are not at present in a fit state to be told openly that the establishment of Zionism in Palestine is the policy to which H.M.G., America and France are committed. They certainly do not realise this fact." (Documents, page 472).

Balfour himself was more candid in a talk with Justice Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Felix Frankfurter, who became a judge in the court later. Both were Zionist activists. They met in Paris on June 24, 1919, when Balfour referred to the King-Crane Commission of Inquiry set up by President Woodrow Wilson in order to ascertain what "the people [of the region] really wanted". Frankfurter pressed the view that "Palestine should be the Jewish homeland and not merely that there be a Jewish homeland" there. Balfour replied that he had tried unsuccessfully to exclude Palestine from the Commission's remit, "because the powers had committed themselves to the Zionist programme, which inevitably excluded numerical self-determination. Palestine presented a unique situation. We are dealing not with the wishes of an existing community but are consciously seeking to re-constitute a new community and definitely building for a numerical majority in the future." (Emphasis added, throughout.) That was not what he said in public.

Frankfurter remarked: "No statesman could have been more sympathetic than Mr. Balfour was with the underlying philosophy and aims of Zionism… nor more eager that they should be realised." (Documents, pages 1277-1278).

Short shrift to Zionists


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The King-Crane Commission's Report gave short shrift to Zionist aims after a thorough probe into the people's view: "We recommend, in the fifth place, serious modification of the extreme Zionist programme for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish state.

The Commissioners began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favour, but the actual facts in Palestine, coupled with the force of the general principles proclaimed by the Allies and accepted by the Syrians have driven them to the recommendation here made. …The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conferences with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase [of land]."

It cited Wilson's emphasis on the democratic principle and said: "If that principle is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine's population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine – nearly nine-tenths of the whole – are emphatically against the entire Zionist programme… there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine were more agreed than upon this. To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people's rights, though it kept within the forms of law… the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a 'right' to Palestine, based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago, can hardly be seriously considered."

But Henry King, President of the Oberlin College, and Charles Crane, an industrialist from Chicago, could not weaken the British Cabinet's resolve despite the fact that they were appointed on the Commission by President Wilson. President Wilson's fortunes were already in decline. Significantly, an ardent Zionist, Herbert Samuel, was appointed as the first British High Commissioner for Palestine. When they fell out later, Lloyd George taunted him: "I made him the first Procurator of Judea since Pontius Pilate."

Tom Segev rightly holds that "there is no basis for the frequent assertion that the State [of Israel] was established as a result of the Holocaust… That sympathy helped the Zionists advance their diplomatic campaign and their propaganda". Prof. Peter Clarke agrees. "The escalating crisis for European Jewry under the Nazis had not created the case for Zionist immigration. It simply reinforced it." (The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire, page 86). He recalls Churchill's evidence to the Peel Commission in 1937 – the British government had all along envisaged "a great Jewish state there, numbered by millions, far exceeding the present inhabitants of the country". Labour was as pro-Zionist. "Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews come in," Hugh Dalton wrote.

Imperial concerns were not absent. The Jewish state, alien to its environment, would be the West's outpost in West Asia. A reader of the Documents on British Policy is struck by the Arabs' ardour for unity. The barter of Palestine was of a piece with the disruption of Arab unity. The General Syrian Congress declared on July 2, 1919: "We reject the claims of the Zionists for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in that part of Southern Syria which is known as Palestine, and we are opposed to Jewish immigration into any part of the country… We desire that there should be no dismemberment of Syria, and no separation of Palestine or the coastal regions in the West or the Lebanon from the mother country; and we ask that the unity of the country be maintained under any circumstances." If Nasser moved "the Arab street", it was because he spoke as an Arab, rather than an Egyptian, nationalist. Dismemberment created separate and vested interests.

The sell-out

MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
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The separation wall in Abu Dis, Jerusalem. "The ideology that enabled the depopulation of half of Palestine's native people in 1948 is still alive, and continues to drive the inexorable, sometimes discernable, cleansing of those Palestinians who live there today."

However, the tragic truth is that not only were Arab leaders of the times inept, but they were also corrupt. Sherif Hussein's sons, Abdullah and Feisal, were foremost among them. Abdullah took £5,000 to accept the deal by which he was given Transjordan. Among those who sold lands to the Jews were "leaders of the Arab national movement – patriots on the outside, traitors on the inside", Tom Segev records. Zionist officials prepared a list of their names. Musa Kazim al-Husseini, former mayor of Jerusalem and a recognised leader of the movement, was on the list as were eight other Arab mayors.

"The Arab leaders' willingness to sell land to the Jews heightened the contempt Zionist figures felt for the Arab national movement. After a meeting with Arab dignitaries, Chaim Weizmann concluded, 'They are ready to sell their souls to the highest bidder.' The compact Weizmann reached with Prince Faisal in 1918 had also been based on the assumption that the prince would make money off his peace with the Zionists. One of Faisal's aides had received a down payment of £1,000 and then demanded more. This experience contributed to the Jews' conclusion that the national consciousness of the Palestinian Arabs could be bought. Indeed, politicians and petty thieves, dignitaries as well as hoodlums – all offered the Zionists their services in espionage and sabotage, in rumour-mongering, defamation, extortion, and all kinds of intimidation; the supply often outstripped the demand." The British kept company with the Jewish agency in paying bribes. President Roosevelt told Chaim Weizmann that, in his opinion, the Arabs could be bought. The word "baksheesh" (tip) appears in the minutes of their talks.

Land transfers alone could not have achieved Jewish aims. Recourse to terror was inescapable to drive out the Arabs from their homes. This should not have caused any surprise. The Central Intelligence Agency prepared a paper, "The consequences of the Partition of Palestine", dated November 28, 1947 ("The View from 1947" by Thomas W. Lippman; Middle East Journal; Vol. 61, No. 1; Winter 2007). It predicted the outbreak of war if a Jewish state was created. In 1943, Roosevelt's special envoy Col. Harold Hoskins reported that "only by military force can a Zionist State be imposed upon the Arabs". The CIA's paper noted the Zionists' capacity as well as their ambitions. Their fighting forces would consist of 70,000 to 90,000 members of Hagana, the "Zionist army"; the 6,000 to 8,000 members of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, an underground organisation that "employs sabotage and terrorism" as its preferred tactics in its campaign for independence; and the "extreme fanatics" known as the Stern Gang or Lehi, about 500 men who, the CIA said, "do not hesitate to assassinate government officials and police officers or to obtain funds by acts of violence against Jews as well as others". 

Its prediction of the Arabs' victory was proved wrong. The only army worth the name was the Arab Legion of Transjordan led by Sir John Glubb. But King Abdullah, true to form, had secretly agreed with the Jews that he would not go beyond capturing the West Bank. According to the CIA, Arab fears of Jewish expansionism was justified: "In the long run no Zionists in Palestine will be satisfied with the territorial arrangements of the partition settlement," though it allocated about 50% of Palestine to the Jews and called for Jerusalem to be a neutral, international city."

Prof. Ilan Pappe has rendered high service by documenting the Jews' ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Israel was established on May 14, 1948. Plan Dalet was formulated by "the Consultancy" on March 10, 1948. "That same evening military orders were dispatched to the units on the ground to prepare for the systematic expulsion of the Palestinians from vast areas of the country. The orders came with a detailed description of the methods to be employed to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centres; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition; and, finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning. Each unit was issued with its own list of villages and neighbourhoods as the targets of this master plan. Codenamed Plan D [Dalet in Hebrew], this was the fourth and final version of less substantial plans that outlined the fate the Zionists had in store for Palestine and consequently for its native population. The previous three schemes had articulated only obscurely how the Zionist leadership contemplated dealing with the presence of so many Palestinians living in the land the Jewish national movement coveted as its own. This fourth and last blueprint spelled it out clearly and unambiguously: the Palestinians had to go." He bases his summary on the records of the caucus' meetings. Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon were its members.

Ethnic cleansing is recognised in international law as "a crime against humanity". The International Criminal Court has been created to punish its perpetrators, not to forget the special ICCs for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Plan D of 1948 was a revised version of previous ones, Plan A, B and C. A was drafted in 1937; B in 1946.

They were meshed into C in 1948 which spelt out the actions to be taken. "Killing the Palestinian political leadership. Killing Palestinian inciters and their financial supporters. Killing Palestinians who acted against Jews. Killing senior Palestinian officers and officials (in the Mandatory system). Damaging Palestinian transportation. Damaging the sources of Palestinian livelihoods; water wells, mills, etc. Attacking nearby Palestinian villages likely to assist in future attacks. Attacking Palestinian clubs, coffee houses, meeting places, etc. Plan C added that all data required for the performance of these actions could be found in the village files; lists of leaders, activists, 'potential human targets', the precise layout of villages, and so on."

A passage from Plan D read: "These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their debris) and especially of those population centres which are difficult to control continuously; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the villages, conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state."

Pappe notes that "the ideology that enabled the depopulation of half of Palestine's native people in 1948 is still alive, and continues to drive the inexorable, sometimes discernable, cleansing of those Palestinians who live there today".

ATEF SAFADI/AFP
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A Palestinian family passing through a gap in a concrete "security" wall that divides the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Abu Dis into two parts. A January 2003 picture.

It is to this Israel that, on January 11, 2008, President George W. Bush asked the Arab States to "reach out". He has done nothing to prevent Israel from building new settlements or from violating basic human rights. Israel's policies are inspired by the ideology that led to its creation. "Neither Palestinians nor Jews will be saved, from one another or from themselves, if the ideology that still drives the Israeli policy towards the Palestinians is not correctly identified. The problem with Israel was never its Jewishness – Judaism has many faces and many of them provide a solid basis for peace and cohabitation; it is the ethnic Zionist character. Zionism does not have the same margins of pluralism that Judaism offers, especially not for the Palestinians. They can never be part of the Zionist state and space, and will continue to fight – and hopefully their struggle will be peaceful and successful. If not, it will be desperate and vengeful and, like a whirlwind, will suck all up in a huge perpetual sandstorm that will rage not only through the Arab and Muslim worlds, but also within Britain and the United States, the powers which, each in their turn, feed the tempest that threatens to ruin us all."

Can a state established by deceit and forcible ouster of the people of the land expect them to accept its legitimacy by mere efflux of time? What are 60 years to an ancient people, the Arabs? International recognition of Israel as a state cannot wipe out the facts of history or erase from the memories of the people it has wronged the brutalities it has perpetrated. International law is based on the states quo. For long it legitimised colonial rule. In law the colony was part of the territory of its overlord. It has nothing to do with morality. Israel simply lacks moral legitimacy. Itself a product of terror, it cannot complain if the people under occupation take to arms.

But will that be of any avail to them? Human blood, whether Jewish or Arab, is priceless. Violence has not accomplished and will not accomplish anything. Fortunately, there is growing acceptance within and outside Israel of the facts of history. The Arabs in Palestine can stir the Israelis' and the world's conscience by recourse to a non-violent campaign of revolt till justice is done to them in the light of the realities of today, however painful they are.

More cannot be demanded of the Palestinians. As Thycidides said, "It may be your interest to be our masters, but how can it be ours to be your slaves?"  

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