British Mandate Palestine policy created today’s inequitable Israel-Palestine conflict.
Two days before British Palestine became Israel, on 12 May 1948 my uncle’s Palmach brigade conquered and cleared Bureir and neighbouring Najd, Sumsum, Huleiqat and Kaukaba. All available brigade fighters (many of them Holocaust survivors like my uncle) occupied Bureir. Brigade fighters killed villagers, executed dozens of army-age males, raped and murdered a teenage girl. The Jewish-controlled road to Gaza filled with fleeing Palestinians. Soon Beit Tima and Huj were conquered, twenty villagers killed, survivors expelled to Gaza.Sources: Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 258; Palmach website – https://palmach.org.il/en/history/database/ From Kaukaba in the north to Huj in the south, Palestinian expulsion was complete – under British rule.
Google Maps shows Bureir now: scrub surrounded by the fields of kibbutz Bror Hayil, founded just before Bureir’s destruction.
Today the expellees and their descendants live in Gaza, where recent Israeli bombing killed at least sixty-seven children.The New York Times front page on 28 May 2021 featured images of these children, under the headline ‘They Were Just Children’. New York City has the world’s largest urban Jewish population.
Well-meaning British voices ask how Jews, who suffered so much, could afflict new victims? Perhaps it’s easier than admitting Britain’s complicity in this disaster.
In April 1945, Welsh sculptor Jonah Jones was an army medic with troops liberating Belsen, suffering ‘an ineradicable mental scar’.Wales Arts Review, review of Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life by Peter Jones https://www.walesartsreview.org/books-jonah-jones-an-artists-life-by-peter-jones/ He was then posted to British Mandate Palestine, where he met and clandestinely married Judith Grossman (later the Welsh writer Judith Maro).Judith Maro was author of Hen Wlad Newydd, named in tribute to Herzl’s utopian novel of Zionism, Altneuland (Old New Land). Like Herzl, Maro hardly mentions Palestinians. He explained that she –
was recently demobilised from our own ATS [and] reverted at once to the hostile native Jewish population, since we were implementing our League of Nations Mandate, standing neutral between Arab and Jew … The British stood in the middle and it was an unenviable task. [Upon withdrawal] there was immense relief in Britain.Jonah Jones, The Gallipoli Diary (Seren Books/Poetry Wales Press Ltd, 1989).
Thirty years earlier in 1917, facing dire wartime prospects, our government issued the Balfour Declaration, favouring ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’ while ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine‘.
The British ruling class in general, and the Foreign Office in particular, were rife with antisemitism. A Declaration supporting Jewish nationalism demands explanation: An outburst of Christian millennial Zionism? Propaganda to redirect American and Russian Jews from sympathy for Germany, or for Bolshevism, towards supporting the Allies? To secure Jewish cover while the Empire colonised Palestine to protect the Suez Canal from Ottoman attack?For insights into Britain, Balfour and Israel-Palestine today, see The Balfour Project: https://balfourproject.org/
Irrespective, the British Empire wanted Palestine for its own interests. The League of Nations wrote the Declaration into international law, legitimising Britain’s Palestine rule. The Foreign Office, acknowledging that granting the Jewish minority exclusive political rights was undemocratic for the non-Jewish majority, asserted:
… the difficulty is imaginary. Palestine might be held in trust by Great Britain … until there was a sufficient population in the country fit to govern it on European lines. Then no undemocratic restrictions … would be required any longer.Note by A.J. Toynbee and Lewis B. Namier, 19 Dec. 1917, BNA FO 371/3054/237630, quoted by Martin Gilbert, see below.
Martin Gilbert, renowned historian and Zionist confirmed this became:
… the centrepiece of British policy, that Britain would withhold representative institutions, to Palestine for as long as there was an Arab majority.Martin Gilbert, Sowing the Seeds of Jewish Statehood: Britain and Palestine, 1909-1922; delivered at the Irene and Hyman Kreitman Annual Memorial Lecture on 30 May, 2011, Ben-Gurion University of the … Continue reading
Under Mandate terms, Jews were represented by the Jewish Agency which in 1948 became the Israeli Government. In the other middle-eastern Mandates, by 1932 Iraq was independent and Syria, Lebanon and Transjordan had parliaments. Only Palestinian Arabs remained unrepresented – a British policy.
Far from ‘standing neutral between Arab and Jew’, Britain established a race-based regime, granted political primacy to Jews, and bequeathed Israel its policy of postponing democracy indefinitely while facts on the ground remained unfavourable.
Holocaust-driven immigration and the Jewish uprising of 1944-48 undid the British Mandate. Having learnt from Britain, Zionism outgrew its need for British protection, and overthrew its colonial master.
Seventy-three years later, Britain should admit and redeem its shameful legacy.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN PLANET, the Welsh Internationalist, August 2021
|↑1||Sources: Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestine Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 258; Palmach website – https://palmach.org.il/en/history/database/|
|↑2||The New York Times front page on 28 May 2021 featured images of these children, under the headline ‘They Were Just Children’. New York City has the world’s largest urban Jewish population.|
|↑3||Wales Arts Review, review of Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life by Peter Jones https://www.walesartsreview.org/books-jonah-jones-an-artists-life-by-peter-jones/|
|↑4||Judith Maro was author of Hen Wlad Newydd, named in tribute to Herzl’s utopian novel of Zionism, Altneuland (Old New Land). Like Herzl, Maro hardly mentions Palestinians.|
|↑5||Jonah Jones, The Gallipoli Diary (Seren Books/Poetry Wales Press Ltd, 1989).|
|↑6||For insights into Britain, Balfour and Israel-Palestine today, see The Balfour Project: https://balfourproject.org/|
|↑7||Note by A.J. Toynbee and Lewis B. Namier, 19 Dec. 1917, BNA FO 371/3054/237630, quoted by Martin Gilbert, see below.|
|↑8||Martin Gilbert, Sowing the Seeds of Jewish Statehood: Britain and Palestine, 1909-1922; delivered at the Irene and Hyman Kreitman Annual Memorial Lecture on 30 May, 2011, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&t=908&v=-kub6d-ik6w&feature=youtu.be|