THE BALFOUR DECLARATION &The Role of the British
Zionism originated in Eastern and Central Europe in the late 19th century under the impact of nationalism which engendered Western Christendom’s savagery towards its Jew, culminating in the Holocaust. This aversion is well manifested in Adolf Hitler’s perception of a Jew – the evil incarnate into whom he projected all that he hated and feared.
Hounded everywhere, political Zionism under Theodor Herzl (1860 – 1904) emerged to rescue a downtrodden people. He concluded that assimilation would be impossible and therefore at the World Congress of Zionist in Basel, Switzerland (1897), he committed himself to establishing a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people that called for a mass Jewish settlement in Palestine or the Sinai Peninsula. When Herzl’s initiatives with the Ottomans failed, he was willing to accept Britain’s offer of Uganda but for violent opposition within the Zionist Congress of 1903.
In the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire new developments were unfolding. Arab nationalism was on the rise. The British, ever so vigilant, sought to exploit the situation – keenly aware that devoid of the Hejaz, the Ottoman Empire would be deprived of its legitimacy and hence its survival; to this end, with characteristic cunning, aligned Arab against Turk – Arab dissent, subversion followed.
Largely inspired by the British, Sharif Husayn of Mecca, on the strength of a British pledge, came out in revolt against the Ottomans in 1916.
British diplomacy has never been guileless. The solemn declaration to recognise the independence of Arab regions (including Palestine) as demanded by the sharif of Mecca, was not meant to be honoured, the secret Sykes – Picot Agreement (09 May, 1916) would ensure that, whereby, in an Allied victory, the Arab territories would be divided into French and British spheres of influence, Palestine would be placed under international administration.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to the Arabs that the British had reneged on their pledge, their nationalist aspirations continued to mount.
Moreover, for the Palestinian Arabs, the threat of Zionism had emerged – The Balfour Declaration (Nov. 2, 1917). In a letter to Baron Rothschild, a leader of British Jewry; Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, stated that the British ‘supported the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’ and ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religions rights of existing non Jewish communities in Palestine’.
Embedded in the declaration’s ambiguities was the hand-over of Palestine to the Jews – the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine; indeed its architects themselves were soon to expound on its obscurities.
British policy does not conform to ethics. With the stroke of a colonial pen the woes of the Palestinian people had begun, and indeed those of the Middle East.
At the end of World War I (1918), with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British occupied Palestine; in 1922 the mandate for Palestine, by the newly founded League of Nations, was granted to Great Britain.
Confronted by Zionism’s aggressively exclusive attitude; waves of immigrants; fruitless deputations to London, it needed no astute mind to discern the situation.
Moreover, the Palestinians contended that the objectives of the mandate were to gradually enable the people of Palestine to self-determination. Indeed, but for British intrigue, which allowed for the incorporation of the Balfour Declaration; thus sanctioned the future of Zionism in Palestine. (Was it not Balfour himself who proclaimed: ‘…for Palestinians we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principles of self determination.’)
With all his nationalist yearnings, his own harsh realities, the Palestinian peasant surfaced, armed with nothing more than old weaponry and his conviction, to defend his rights. (By and large it had been the rebellion of the peasants, which had taken the British three years to quell (1936 – 1939)).
British fury had no reservations: of a population of a million Palestinians, 5000 killed, 14 000 wounded; its leadership in exile; the bold, imprisoned; terror campaigns on their villages; above all, left with no weaponry to fight, from this the Palestinian emerged only with his conviction intact.
With Shaikh Qassam’s dying call for liberation still echoing, the struggle had but only begun… .
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