Britain in Palestine

If you have seen the news recently, chances are you have seen the horrific scenes ongoing in Palestine, in which Israeli forces are terrorising Palestinians. The intention of this article is not to further add to the wave of information, history and infographics about the conflict itself that have been published online. Rather, it is to highlight Britain’s involvement in the conflict, to explain why Britain especially cannot and should not remain silent whilst the atrocities continue.

Besides a brief period of Egyptian rule, Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1516. The Ottoman Empire was a religiously diverse land, home to a number of Christians, Muslims and Jews living in relative harmony. In the early 20th century, a number of European Jews looked to establish a Jewish homeland under Zionism. These Jews took on the baton from Theodor Herzl who, in his 1896 pamphlet Der Judenstaat, envisioned a future Jewish independent state located in the Holy Land - in the region of Palestine. Around the same time, Arab Nationalism was on the rise, with Palestinians campaigning for independence.

During World War I, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry McMahon agreed on behalf of Great Britain to recognise Arab independence after the war in exchange for the Sharif of Mecca. This is known as the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, and also enabled British forces to counteract the threat of the Ottoman jihad (Holy War) against the allies, whilst maintaining the support of British India. However, on 2nd November, 1917, UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, announcing support for the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine. The one-paragraph declaration read as follows:

Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
"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."
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

So, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the Legue of Nations gave administrative control of Palestine to Britain. Britain had a dual mandate to satisfy the wishes of both the Palestinians who wanted independence and to the Jews who wanted to establish a homeland. Britain drew up arbitrary borders, and the Jewish population in Palestine swelled from 60,000 to over 600,000 between1918 and 1947. Conflicts broke out between Jews and Palestinians, who saw the mass immigration as a colonial movement. Between 1936 and 1939, the 'Great Palestinian Revolt' saw a general strike turn to Palestinian armed insurrection, driven by resentment towards British rule and Zionist settlement. The British deployed over 100,000 troops and over 120 Palestinians were sentenced to death, with between 2,000 and 5,000 Palestinians killed in the conflict. In 1937, a British commission named the Peel commission concluded that Palestine must be divided into two distinct states, as Palestinians and Zionist settlers could not be reconciled. The Arab Higher Committee rejected the commission, claiming they owned all of Palestine. Britain then banned the Arab Higher Committee. The White Paper of 1939 saw Britain declare Palestine as a bi-national state.

Though Jewish immigration was restricted, Jews continued to settle in Palestine which led to further conflict. In 1948, Britain handed Palestine back to the UN, which decided to partition Palestine. The 1949 armistice border declared the State of Palestine as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Israel as the rest of the region of Palestine. However, conflicts continue to this day.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a modern-day example of the British superiority complex and complete lack of accountability. The British promising land to other people has led to decades of bloodshed, and we as a country remain relatively silent to this day.

What can you do?

  • Recognise British history, warts and all, and acknowledge British complicity.

  • Educate yourself. There are so many resources out there and I have linked some accessible videos below.

  • Write to your MP. Just follow the link, and there is a ready-made document for you to send to your local MP.

  • Attend marches, we have strength in numbers.

  • Talk to people. Yes, these conversations might be difficult, but the reason for so much misunderstanding in the world is because of our reluctance to talk.

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