Informational Items for Further Reseach
The British in Palestine
Arab-Israel Conflict: What role did the British play in the land of Israel?
by Alex Brodie (Answered Jun 1, 2013)
... Officially, British policy in Palestine was the Balfour declaration of 1917, and this was written as a vague promise of intent to create a Jewish Home Land. While vague it was nevertheless used as a framework for the Middle East Department and set the terms of the Mandate. More realistically, Britain's interest in Palestine was mostly related to its interest in protecting the Suez canal. Britain after Word war I could see that the canal was a weak point in its links to its empire, notably India. Technically they were not interested in the local population other than seeing themselves as superior, the local inhabitants as backward, and themselves as being a force for good educating and enlightening them. They saw the local population as needing to be ruled by Britain as they were incapable of ruling themselves. ...
Palestine was first governed from 1917, by the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. Basically the British military. This army in Palestine became 'openly anti-Zionist,' (Huneidi, pp 23) and felt that the Arabs were victims of an unjust British policy imposed on them. The Army considered that the Balfour declaration was a legitimate wartime tactic, ... The military began to consider Jewish colonisation as inflaming an already unstable situation and making the region virtually ungovernable.
... In 1921 Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's Colonial Secretary, created The Middle East Department. This department was to have a direct influence on policy in Palestine (and bypass the military). Churchill was a keen pro Zionist, and the role of the Middle East Department can be seen as maintaining a British pro-Zionist policy, a least to a point. Churchill's choice for Under Secretary of the Colonial Office was Sir John Evelyn Shuckburgh . .... Also in 1921, Churchill transferred the task of command of the army in Palestinian to the Air Ministry, where Air Vice Marshal Salmond was 'very anxious that his officers should not interfere unduly in political matters'. ..Churchill was side-lining Lord Curzon and this can be seen as a political manoeuvre. Lord Curzon was the sole member of Lloyd George's cabinet who disagreed about the policy of a Jewish national home.
With the arrival of the Conservatives British parliament in 1922... Churchill noted that 'in both Houses of Parliament there is growing movement of hostility, against Zionist policy in Palestine'. (Huneidi pp. 31) The British press initially viewed the creating of a national home for Jews positively, but by the 1920's this support had become more and more sceptical. However matters came to a close in September 1923 given that the Mandate for Palestine, which enshrined the Balfour Declaration, was passed by the League of Nations and matters were officially beyond the British Houses of Parliament. Churchill, however, continued to maintain his pro-Zionist credentials; asked in the Peel Commission of 1936-37 if it was not a 'harsh injustice' to have the 'indigenous population' suffer the invasion of a 'foreign race,' Churchill replied that the Jews were there first and planting orange groves where the foreign 'hordes of Islam' had turned the region into a barren desert. (Atran, pp 737 note 1) Although we can dismiss the bigotry in this statement, it is nevertheless revealing that the comparison of Jews and Arabs is made in connection to land improvement.
Land development can be seen as the most visible part of Palestinian policy by Britain. ...Palestine was divided up into either large estates or what was termed mush , a sort of traditional communal land. The British perceived mush to be an outdated system that prevented rural development. ... Mush land was unsuitable for Jewish acquisition as there were too many complications involved with acquiring a one hundred percent share needed to create a Jewish settlement.... British legislation allowed this complication to be eased by allowing the purchaser of a share of mush land to force partition on the rest through the courts. A note from the Director of Lands indicated that "a proper land settlement was also the only way to make lands available for the Jews without political complications". (Atran pp. 725) As the Jewish community managed to purchase more and more land, ideas began to surface of partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab zones.
The idea of Partitioning Palestine is generally traced to the Peel Report of 1937, yet prior to this the British had considered a limited form of division and the Zionists had gone as far as to consider complete partition. (Sinanoglou, pp 137) The idea of dividing Palestine up first surfaced in 1929 as a result of Arab revolt and the continual failure to institute a legislature council. The right wing Jewish revisionist movement was the most vocal voice against this, believing that it would 'wreck' any chance of a Jewish home land. In public, both Arab and Jews were opposed to division of any kind, yet in private they were interested in discussing the matter further as a possible solution. The head of the Zionist Organisation, Chaim Wiezmann, from 1933 onwards was discussing the idea of partition with members of the League of Nations and with Benito Mussolini, the Italian head of state, who was favourable to a partition. Britain, however, felt that such decisions were beyond the League's purview, and opposed any interference by Italy.... The mandate set Palestine as the Jewish national home while at the same time as the land of a group of unnamed religious communities.
... The fundamental problem the British had with the Arabs was summed up by T. E. Laurence, they were perceived to be inherently 'feckless and colour blind,' (Atran, pp 720) i.e. they were incapable of a lasting allegiance (to Britain).
The Palestinian Strike of 1946 marks and interesting exception in the usual politics of mutual distrust between Arabs and Jews under British rule. The 1942 in British set about controlling unions and banning strikes in 1942 to keep the situation as 'peaceful as possible,' and this policy was modeled on British war time anti strike policies. (Vries, pp 614) The 1946 strike was not limited to Arabs, and both the Arab and Jewish the press came together in a rare act of union. The Arab and Jewish workers were effectively united against the British.
British policy in Palestine was primarily an imperial venture. With the strategical implications of the Suez Canal, the world tensions and global wars, Britain would not have been in a hurry to resolve the Palestinian situation. What was probably forcing the issue was Britain's growing war debts and financial inability to continue to hold on to its empire rather than any desire to help one side or the other. Yet underlying the policy the Balfour declaration seems to act as a blueprint. The contradictions in the Balfour declaration probably suited Britain's interests. Having a clear agenda would have forced the issue, yet the contradictions allowed time. Colonial attitudes are either against 'seedy Jews' or fearful of Arabs barbaric 'hordes,' this discrimination only indicates the British incapacity to properly evaluate the situation. In this situation of out of touch distant government interference, it seems of little surprise that the Balfour declaration became so important; there seemed little else to go on. Britain may have raised its hands in defense that it was bound by mandate, yet it was Britain who dictated the words of this mandate. It seems probable that the intention of the Mandate was not to help one side or the other but to remove Palestine from parliamentary scrutiny and run it a sort of private country of the Middle East department. The arguments that Britain was using the Jews to colonise and annex a region for its empire are a complex narrative that implies too much planning and more forethought than the British Empire seemed capable of. One is left wondering who was controlling who. The same arguments can see Britain becoming a pawn in Zionist ambitions. British policy was very much set to create a national home for the Jews, yet the policy was designed to be impossible to fulfill, forever building a Jewish National Home, yet never creating an Israel.