In one of his papers C.H. Douglas wrote of written history as being five percent fact and ninety five percent opinion. I was reminded of this observation whilst reading of the reports about the Balfour Declaration, the Battle of Beersheba, the establishment of the state of Israel and the on-going plight of the Palestinians.
The Balfour Declaration
A public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
On November 2, 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour writes a letter to Britain’s most illustrious Jewish citizen, Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Britain’s public acknowledgement and support of the Zionist movement emerged from its growing concern surrounding the direction of the First World War. By mid-1917, Britain and France were mired in a virtual stalemate with Germany on the Western Front, while efforts to defeat Turkey on the Gallipoli Peninsula had failed spectacularly. On the Eastern Front, the fate of one Ally, Russia, was uncertain: revolution in March had toppled Czar Nicholas II, and the provisional government was struggling against widespread opposition to maintain the country’s disintegrating war effort against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although the United States had just entered the war on the Allied side, a sizeable infusion of American troops was not scheduled to arrive on the continent until the following year.
Against this backdrop, the government of Prime Minister David Lloyd George—elected in December 1916—made the decision to publicly support Zionism, a movement led in Britain by Chaim Weizmann, a Russian Jewish chemist who had settled in Manchester. The motives behind this decision were various: aside from a genuine belief in the righteousness of the Zionist cause, held by Lloyd George among others, Britain’s leaders hoped that a formal declaration in favour of Zionism would help gain Jewish support for the Allies in neutral countries, in the United States and especially in Russia, where the powerfully anti-Semitic czarist government had just been overthrown with the help of Russia’s significant Jewish population. Finally, despite Britain’s earlier agreement with France dividing influence in the region after the presumed defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Lloyd George had come to see British dominance in Palestine—a land bridge between the crucial territories of India and Egypt—as an essential post-war goal. The establishment of a Zionist state there—under British protection—would accomplish this, while seemingly following the stated Allied aim of self-determination for smaller nations.
Australian Light Horsemen and Battle of Beersheba
Late on the afternoon of 31 October, 1917, 800 Australian Light Horsemen, men of the 4th and 12th regiments, launched an attack on Beersheba aimed at breaking the stalemate of the Middle East Campaign. To get within striking distance of the town, the Australian Light Horsemen had already endured an arduous ride across scorching desert sand. Their horses had not had water for 36 hours.
“It was a do or die thing. They basically had to get those wells or they had no water,” said Peter Haydon, who has pored over the diaries and letters left to him by his great uncle.
The charge was the last daring act of a day-long fight by British forces. The Light Horsemen, brandishing bayonets, galloped across an open plain into machinegun, rifle and artillery fire, surprising the enemy who expected them to stop and lay siege to the town.
“The Turks just couldn’t believe that these Australians would be mad enough to do it,” Mr Haydon said. Famously, they charged so quickly that the Turkish gunners had no time to lower their rifle sights. The Australians swept into the town. In hand-to-hand fighting, they routed the enemy and gained a stunning victory.
Establishing State of Israel
“From a solemn ceremony to a dusty desert re-enactment, it was a day of commemoration in southern Israel to mark 100 years since the Battle of Beersheba.
Malcolm Turnbull had this to say:
“The leaders of our three nations (Australia, New Zealand and Israel… ed) are here assembled because we are honouring an extraordinary battle, an extraordinary campaign, which made history, which fulfilled history,” Mr Turnbull said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watched on as descendants of the original ANZACS paraded on horseback and performed a scaled down re-enactment of the legendary charge…
The battle was a crucial, if largely forgotten, victory in the Middle East campaign that enabled the Allies to break the Turkish line in what is now southern Israel and capture Jerusalem weeks later. The victorious campaign redrew the map of the Middle East.
AND NOW TO BALANCE THE ‘ACCEPTED’ WRITTEN HISTORY
How Palestine became Jewish, By George P. Smith,
Missouri Daily Tribune, 5 November 2017
On Nov 2, 1917, as British forces were about to capture Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued a declaration:
“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 non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Thus began Britain’s patronage of the Zionist project, without which, as journalist Charles Glass wrote in 2001, “there would not have been an Israel for [Jews], or a catastrophe — nakba in Arabic — for Palestine’s Arab majority.”
The Balfour Declaration reflected in some part the sincere Christian Zionism of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and of Balfour himself. Far more important, however, was the considerable political influence of British Zionists under the able leadership of Chaim Weizmann, and of American Zionists led by Louis Brandeis, a close advisor to President Woodrow Wilson. The last half of 1916 had been a perilous low-point in Britain’s fortunes in World War I; Britain was desperate for allies. Zionists exploited this situation by linking British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine to the belated U.S. decision to enter the war on Britain’s side in April 1917 — a decision Brandeis had argued for. Alison Weir’s study of U.S. engagement with Zionism, Against Our Better Judgment, includes a chapter on this little-known aspect of World War I history.
Britain’s promise to Zionist Jews in 1917 conflicted with its promise to the region’s Arabs in 1915. In a series of letters between British representative Henry McMahon and Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, Britain agreed to support an independent Arab kingdom under Hussein in the Arab Middle East, including Palestine. In return, Hussein undertook to mount a revolt against the Ottoman Empire, a German ally in World War I. The Arab Revolt was launched in June 1916, significantly contributing to Britain’s victory in the region. As Israeli historian Avi Shlaim explains in the new documentary film Independent Jewish Voices: 100 Years After Balfour, “If Britain had lost the war, then she wouldn’t be called on to fulfill any of the promises. And if Britain won the war, then, as Richard Nixon used to say, when we get to this bridge we will double-cross it.”
More than 90 percent of Palestine’s population in 1917 were Arabs (including local Sephardi Jews), but they did not figure in Britain’s policy. As Balfour famously remarked in 1919, the aspirations of Zionist settlers were “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” The Balfour Declaration was incorporated into Britain’s League of Nations mandate for Palestine, in violation of a mandatory power’s “sacred trust of civilization,” under Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant, to promote “the well-being and development” of the native people in its charge. In his study of the mandate period, One Palestine, Complete, Israeli historian Tom Segev details the countless ways in which Britain fostered the Zionist project. Ultimately, in what they call the “War of Independence” of 1947–1949, Zionists expelled 750,000 Palestinians to make way for a Jewish state with an overwhelming Jewish majority on 78 percent of Palestine’s land.
Neither Britain nor Zionists had the right to dictate the fate of Palestine. Even at the time, many Britons denounced the double dealing and contempt for indigenous people that underlay the Balfour Declaration — most prominently J.M.N. Jeffries in 25 dispatches in the London Daily Mail in January and February, 1923. Pointing to a clause in the Declaration, he wrote, “The people of Palestine are referred to as ‘non-Jewish communities.’ ...Does Lord Balfour call the British people ‘the non-foreign community in England?’” Today there can be no excuse for celebrating this sordid chapter in settler-colonialist injustice, especially in light of the ongoing nakba: the catastrophe that Palestine’s “non-Jewish communities” continue to suffer in consequence.
George P. Smith is professor emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, and a member of Mid-Missourians for Justice in Palestine.