Balfour and Britain’s broken promise

Middle East
on 29 Comments

If the British Conservative Government of Teresa May represented the views of the people of Britain rather than the preferences of the state of Israel on the disastrous outcome for the Palestinian Arabs of the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, she would not be planning to celebrate this 100th anniversary with Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister. This will happen at a cosy London dinner party at the home of Lord Rothschild, heir to the recipient of that infamous letter from Arthur J. Balfour, Britain’s then Foreign Secretary.

As it is, her November 2 tete a tete with Mr. Netanyahu, Lord Rothschild and Lord Balfour, a descendant of Arthur J. Balfour who had no direct descendants, and a subsequent November 9, rally organized by Christian Zionists at the cavernous Albert Hall, in London’s Hyde Park, which Britain’s leader and Zionist and Israeli notables will also attend, are being pre-empted and countered by a host of events throughout the British Isles. These are not only highly critical of Britain’s disastrous legacy in its former Mandated Territory, but urge it to recognize Palestine as a state and work practically to grant the Palestinian Arabs their freedom and self-determination.

This was the duty, a “sacred trust”, the League of Nations imposed on Britain when it obtained the mandate to rule Palestine after the First World War—to prepare the people of Palestine for self-government. Where the Arabs were concerned, then 90 per cent of the population, it signally failed to do so, instead encouraging the Zionist movement to create a parallel government alongside the colonial one.

Many British and Irish organizations large, small and tiny have been rallying against this injustice during the past year, reaching a climax of protest as November 2 nears. Although Israel and its many powerful friends and agents in the United Kingdom have worked hard to have these events cancelled or disrupted, and have largely failed, the main point about these cross-Britain and Ireland protests and reconsiderations is that their target is Britain, not Israel. (Not directly.)

The Balfour Project‘s “Britain’s Broken Promise: Time for a New Approach” is one resonant event, on October 31 at Westminster Central Hall, across from the Houses of Parliament. The aim is to seat 1,000 people to hear an array of what might loosely be described as the Great and the Good, Lords and Ladies, legislators from all the major parties (including the Israel-bedazzled Tories), bishops and other clerics from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches, a liberal rabbi, a historian, a former senior British diplomat who recently served in Palestine, and a Palestinian film-maker. This eminent throng will review critically and from different angles Britain’s policies, past and present, on Palestine and Israel and urge positive and redemptive action.

Elsewhere, activists in such organizations as the English, Scottish and Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaigns and Middle East Monitor are organizing rallies and marches and have already held packed seminars and conferences across the three UK and Irish nations. Smaller gatherings are taking place in towns and villages. They reflect a steady surge in interest in the Palestinian tragedy during the past fifteen years or so, most of it sympathetic to the disposessed Arabs, fuelled by the second intifada of 2001-2005, the three Israeli military onslaughts on Gaza during the past nine years, the continuing siege of Gaza and the steady litany of Israel’s oppression and land theft in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  

The Balfour Project signals concerns from a slightly different and perhaps more lofty sector of the British people: what used to be called the Establishment. The Project hopes that it can bend different and more influential ears among Britain’s ruling class. 

The Balfour Project is a combination of revelation, religious inspiration and practicality and experience. Nine years ago Monica and Roger Spooner, a middle-aged couple, he a respected immunologist, she a health practitioner, living in Edinburgh, crossed on a whim , while in Jordan, to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. What they saw in just ten days, the occupation in full, the miseries of East Jerusalem, the lockdown and checkpoint humiliations in the West Bank (they couldn’t get to Gaza) informed, startled and depressed them. Their interlocutors there were as varied as a former colonel in the Israel army, an official of the Church of Scotland, a Palestinian Anglican rector, the Christian activist group Sabeel, and other interested Jews, Arabs and Europeans. 

Monica, a devout Christian, describes the experience as like “a whisper” from God, a calling; Roger was equally convinced…they sped in less than a year from ignorance of Palestine-Israel to a determination to learn and to act, the looming 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration a spur to a series of meetings, conferences and a highly educational website www.balfourproject.org.

The October 31 event in Westminster is one climactic moment in this process ( the Project will go on). One key moment will be a recent British Consul General in East Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, urging that Her Majesty’s Government recognize the Palestinian state as a first step in correcting by action rather than offering empty words the reverberating mistake and broken pledge of the Balfour Declaration…the establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people in Palestine “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities…”.  

Perhaps the Durham University historian and Balfour specialist Peter Shambrook best sums up the animus behind this and most of the British protests against Balfour’s legacy, all of which will aim to drown the expected Zionist triumphalism of November 2 : “Our record [in Palestine] demonstrates that we [British] can be, and have been, as devious as any other people. A nation which only has room for national pride, and no room for honest reflection about its past has little claim to describe itself as either moral or civilized.” Or, as Bishop Michael Doe, said, in a sermon to senior judges at Westminster Abbey, on October 2: “…the administration of the law in the militarily occupied territories is selective and discriminatory, and the growth of illegal settlements continues without challenge. There are moral and legal obligations which…we should not shun.” 

The Project’s Centenary Declaration, its ultimate aim of making “our elected representatives take effective action to promote justice, security and peace” will, earlier on October 31, be launched in a committee room in the precincts of the Houses of Parliament in the presence of Members of Parliament from all four major British political parties.

It is a reflection on Israel’s concept of democracy that the Israel’s many helpers and supporters across Britain havel tried to close down debate on Balfour.

With big events such as that of the Project, Friends of al Aqsa’s Palestine Expo in July this year, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign meetings and rallies, Middle East Monitor’s day-long seminar at the British Library (standing room only) in early October, their attempts failed. In smaller more vulnerable venues they sometimes succeed, inculcating fears of charges of antisemitism or even threats to security. Zionist activists put pressure on universities, meeting venues, church halls. Ominous phone calls are made to the homes of event organizers, people not used to the roughhouse tactics of some of Israel’s dedicated supporters. 

The Balfour Project’s polite but determined exposure of the broken British promises does not take place in a vacuum, as it might have two years ago. Israel and its supporters are well aware that a possible Labour Government, led by a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, Jeremy Corbyn, awaits power. The recent party conference in Brighton echoed to shouts and cheers of support for the Palestinians, and Jewish organizations that support the Palestinians began seriously to edge aside those that are associated with Israel and have traditionally held sway in the party. For the first time in modern history there is a discernible split on the issue between Government and Opposition.

It is a nightmare for Israel.

It is not perhaps a surprise that the greatest number of visits to the Balfour Project’s website comes from Tel Aviv. 

The 100th anniversary of Mr. Balfour’s great deception is not, after all, turning out to be the unalloyed celebration the Zionists and their stooges in Westminster and Whitehall had planned. Rather the reverse: a continuing parade of British self-examination, throughout society, and the intention to put matters right at last for the Palestinian people.

About Tim Llewellyn

Tim Llewellyn is a former BBC Middle East Correspondent and author, and now an associate of the UK-based Balfour Project.

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29 Responses

  1. Philip Weiss
    October 26, 2017, 11:48 am

    a “whisper from God”. How many of us have experienced what Monica and Roger Spooner experienced in Palestine… Good on them for organizing that project. Consciousness is rising everywhere

  2. Keith
    October 26, 2017, 12:10 pm

    FOLKS- Off Topic but worth it. I recently saw the film “Loving Vincent” which I highly recommend. It is an “animated” film about part of the life and controversial suicide of Vincent Van Gogh. I put animated in quotes because the animation is by 100 artists in the Van Gogh style. It is, perhaps, the most visually powerful film I have seen as Van Gogh’s paintings literally come to life. A true “art film.” Currently limited distribution. If you get the opportunity, see it.

    • John O
      October 26, 2017, 12:48 pm

      Seconded. Speaking as one who spent a couple of weeks copying a van Gogh self-portrait that he probably knocked off in a couple of hours, my hat’s off to the artists who did the animation.

  3. Bumblebye
    October 26, 2017, 3:20 pm

    Excellent to see this article by Tim Llewellyn here – so glad he’s shed the shackles of the Beeb! Weird I can ‘hear’ his voice while reading. I recall listening to his program on the restoration of Gaza’s only grand piano – his sympathy was clear despite the restraints of bbc I/P reporting rules.

    I look forward to more. Maybe we can make the calls for justice louder than the orchestrated false shouts of “antisemitism!”.

  4. DaBakr
    October 26, 2017, 8:31 pm

    The Arabs of mandate Palestine received over 70% of the land when the Jordan was spilt off from the West Bank. That the brits handed this majority’palestinian’ land over to the little hashemite monarchy should be a bigger issue for mandate arabs were the arabs not hell bent and tenaciously driven to claim every inch of the former British, Ottoman, Arab Greek Roman colonies despite the indigenous Jewish presence existing for millennia

    • Misterioso
      October 27, 2017, 8:48 am

      @DaBakr

      “The Arabs of mandate Palestine received over 70% of the land when the Jordan was split off from the West Bank.”

      Nonsense.

      Reality:

      Today’s Jordan (referred to as Transjordan by the Allies after WWI) was not part of Palestine. As Ottoman maps attest, it was administered separately from Palestine, the dividing line being the Jordan River. Known to locals as Al Baqa, the area east of the Jordan River, which became the Emirate of Transjordan in 1923 (as partial fulfillment of Britain’s pledge in the July 1915 to March 1916 Hussein/McMahon correspondence to grant the Arabs independence, including Palestine, in exchange for what proved to be their invaluable assistance in defeating the Turks during WWI) was part of the Turkish vilayet (province) of Syria. The area west of the river was governed by the Ottomans as three sanjaks (sub provinces), two of which (Acre and Nablus) formed part of the vilayet of Beirut, while the third was the independent sanjak of Jerusalem.

      Apart from the fact that what became known as Transjordan was not part of historical Palestine, the League of Nations and Britain never considered including it as part of the Palestine Mandate given the fact that its population was very much ethnically different from that of Palestine. Palestinians were primarily a settled people (800 villages and 24 towns) dependent on an agricultural economy. The inhabitants of Southern Syria/Transjordan (largely desert and steppe with a narrow strip of cultivable land and little urban development) were descended from the Arab tribes of the northwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula and were largely nomadic.

      BTW, it was reliably estimated at the time that the number of Jews living permanently in the Ottoman province that became know as Transjordan was three at most.

      In 1921, i.e., before the League of Nations British Class A Palestine Mandate was put in place, Britain agreed to recognize Abdullah ibn Hussein al Hashem as the ruler of Transjordan. Transjordan became an autonomous emirate under Abdullah in 1923

      • DaBakr
        October 27, 2017, 4:16 pm

        @m

        Fantastic alternate history of southern Syria and the trans Jordan vis a vis palestine. The motto that comes to mind is if you can’t be installed by an imperial dynasty as king and you don’t want to lose territory then you’d best not lose your wars.

      • James Canning
        October 27, 2017, 5:33 pm

        Great post, Misterioso.

      • JosephA
        October 27, 2017, 9:15 pm

        I appreciate that you set the record straight there for the insane guy.

  5. JosephA
    October 27, 2017, 1:02 am

    Tim, thanks for sharing such an encouraging article. Racist, militant settler-colonialism can only last for so long.

    • Jack Green
      October 27, 2017, 10:58 pm

      Joseph A

      Racist, militant settler-colonialism of the Western Hemisphere has lasted over 500 years & is still going strong.

      • Mooser
        November 1, 2017, 2:34 pm

        “Racist, militant settler-colonialism of the Western Hemisphere has lasted over 500 years & is still going strong.”

        Weeeelll, “Jack”, there are usually some objective factors which enable that settler-colonialism to become permanent. I don’t think a dwindling number of people associated with a much-factioned religion, which has no coercive power over its adherents is a good basis for it.
        Not every attempt succeeds.

  6. Elizabeth Block
    October 27, 2017, 10:16 am

    Let’s never forget that Balfour, and Britain, were “giving” land they didn’t own.
    A couple of years ago a Zionist asked me if I knew about the San Remo Declaration. I didn’t. I do now. It is an agreement among the victors of WWI divvying up the colonies, especially those of the defeated Ottoman Empire and Germany. It quotes the Balfour Declaration in full. I regard it as having as much legal value as an agreement among thieves about how to divvy up the spoils of their latest robbery.

    • DaBakr
      October 27, 2017, 4:24 pm

      @eb

      So by following,, you should regard the US, Canada and 75% of the Arab /muslim middle east as having no legal legitimacy? what’s the cut off point? Lots here conveniently like to start history at the end of ww2. Your standards for pre 21stC colonialist capitulation start and stop with the Jews and Israel. It is as obvious as the nose on ones face.

      • Mooser
        October 27, 2017, 6:24 pm

        .” Your standards for pre 21stC colonialist capitulation start and stop with the Jews and Israel”

        The standards for a successful colonial exploitation are the same for everybody. I don’t think a grouping (‘the Jews’) which has no compulsory power over people in the group is a good place to start.

      • Citizen
        November 1, 2017, 10:24 am

        @ DaBakr
        “Lots here conveniently like to start history at the end of ww2.”

        The international legal principles laid down ex post facto at Nuremberg Trials & their progeny, Geneva IV, fully apply to Israel. Or do you agree with defendant Goering who characterized said Trials as merely a kangaroo court of victors & might remains right? If so, all 50 million who died from that war died in vain. Are you suggesting that Goering was correct, and Hitler too, who praised survival of the fittest?

      • Mooser
        November 1, 2017, 6:03 pm

        Zionism, the belief that God has promised the Jewish people a small enough pond in which we can be the biggest fish.

  7. James Canning
    October 27, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Would Israel have been created, without the Second World War?

    • DaBakr
      October 27, 2017, 4:21 pm

      @jc

      Oh wow. that is SUCH a clever and legitimate topic worth examining in depth here on the old mondo weisser. original too.

      another good topic is, if Moses didn’t stutter would the Scottish still wear kilts.

      • James Canning
        October 27, 2017, 5:36 pm

        @DeBakr If you think Israel would have been created, absent the Holocaust and the exhaustion of Britain after a lengthy and vastly expensive war, you are in need of some remedial historical reading.

      • DaBakr
        October 28, 2017, 2:49 am

        Well, we’ll never know now will we?

      • John O
        October 28, 2017, 7:39 am

        @DaBakr

        Insofar as you have advanced an argument at all in your sarcastic post, you appear to be saying that the course and outcome of the Second World War had no effect whatsoever on the emergence of the state of Israel.

        Would you care to elaborate on why a discussion about the effect of the war on the history of Palestine/Israel is such an outrageous idea?

      • DaBakr
        October 29, 2017, 1:16 am

        @jc

        Considering the normal discourse on MW and the extreme parsing of the legitimacy of the Jewish Nation of israel I just think the original question is so outrageously rhetorical that it bags for a sarcastic answer.

        However, that said, some could extrapolate from the simple question that had the war never occurred that:

        A) Hitler might have been able to proceed with a ‘peaceful’ but secret plan to exterminate the entire population of euro jews (and& gypsies) It could also be easily assumed that avoiding war would have taken precedence for the ‘allies’ over stopping an industrial strength genocide.

        B) there would be any less legitimacy or success to the jewish /zionists quest to establish a new homeland in israel. It may have taken longer. It may have happened sooner were there no war. we just. dont. know.

        It is easy to put together an already known narrative: ww1 + Inter war years+ ww2/shoah= Israel. Of course it’s logical, because that is what happened. I think one of the biggest mistakes the Arabs have made in avoiding negotiations thru the years is their constant harping on what should have been, what might have been and what could have been had only a, b, or c happened instead. I did not mean the sarcasm as a personal attack but on the postulation itself

      • John O
        October 29, 2017, 9:43 am

        @DaBakr

        A) If the war had never occurred, Hitler could not have done anything to the Jews of Poland, France, Belgium, or any of the other countries would not have invaded.

      • Brewer
        November 1, 2017, 4:02 am

        @DaBakr
        Sorry old mate. From where I sit your post looks like 90% gobbledegook, the balance being the outright falsehood contained in:
        “mistakes the Arabs have made in avoiding negotiations”

      • Mooser
        November 1, 2017, 6:07 pm

        “/zionists quest to establish a new homeland in israel”

        Now, that’s a good trick, to “establish a new homeland”. But if the old homelands weren’t good enough, what else can you do?

    • Citizen
      November 1, 2017, 10:32 am

      @ James Canning
      Ask a Roma?

  8. James Canning
    October 29, 2017, 1:40 pm

    @DaBakr Britain was exhausted by the titanic struggle with Nazi Germany, and thus unable to resist Jewish terrorism in Palestine in the manner that otherwise would have obtained.

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