Britain's Legacy in Palestine (Part 2 of 2)
Sat 28th Dec 2013
Britain's interest in Palestine precedes its occupation of Palestine in 1917. It goes back to the Crusades when Britain joined the attempt to take the land for the sake of Christianity and to save it from the Muslim infidel. The ultimate failure of the Crusades at the hands of Salah Al Din (Saladin) turned the dreams of a Christian Palestine into romantic notions that entered British folklore and literature. There were historically two Palestines: one Palestine which was home for the indigenous largely Arab population made up of Muslims, Christians and Jews with the Muslims constituting the majority. This Palestine lived as part of various rulers' provinces culminating in five hundred years under Ottoman rule. There was a second Palestine full of romantic stories about Jews escaping from Egypt to Cana and surrounding areas. Of Sampson pulling down the Temple on the heads of his adversaries. Of Solomon dispensing wise justice. Of Herod doing dastardly deeds. Of great knights fighting for the glory of God and the love of their damsel back home. Of many protagonists in novels and epic poems through the centuries traveling to Palestine only for each person to return from their picaresque adventure a changed and invariably better person.
The very notion of Palestine was romanticised out of all recognition. Added to this were endless travel books beginning in the Middle Ages purporting to give an accurate picture of Palestine when they mostly have fictional accounts of places heard of and reported on rather inaccurately. The most glaring example of such narratives is the work entitled The Book of Margery Kempe who visited Jerusalem in Palestine around 1438 and presented Palestine as a Disneyesque birthplace of Jesus Christ in order to help “synful wrecchys” (sinful wretches) by seeking “solas and comfort” (solace and comfort) from “understondyn the hy and unspeccabyl mercy of ower sovereyn Savyowr Cryst Jhesu” (understanding of the high and unspeakable mercy of our sovereign saviour, Christ Jesus). Such narratives codify a particular Palestine in British culture that enhances the romanticised notion referred to above. It treats Palestine as if it were devoid of a people – as if it were an empty land awaiting the reception of “a people without a land”.
Britain's attitude to Palestine, before, during and after the Mandate essentially springs from these six mind-sets: economic, paternalistic, Christian, cultural, acquisitive and orientalist. Britain did not necessarily see Palestine, as indeed it did not see any other subject race, as an independent entity with individual human beings exhibiting all the attributes of any human being.
Palestinians were somehow like exhibits in any display, interesting to watch, occasionally exciting to interact with, rarely as ordinary men and women just like the British themselves. English literature is full of such characters who rarely speak (e.g. Major Bagstock’s servant The Native in Dombey and Son), who are murderers (Rigaud alias Blandois alias Lagnier in Little Dorrit and Hortense in Bleak House), who are pure evil (Fagin the old Jew in Oliver Twist), who are comic (Cavall etto in Little Dorrit), who riot almost comically (several Jacques in A Tale of Two Cities), whose countries offer refuge to an endless line of British criminals and ‘fallen women’ (Magwitch in Great Expectations, Martha and Emily in David Copperfield)...etc... Indeed, it is still quite rare for most British people to see foreigners as just another group of people. They tend to see them as 'the other' - passably similar but largely different in an inferior, and often rather humorous, sort of way.
When General Allenby dismounted from his horse and walked into Jerusalem in a gesture aimed at mollifying Palestinians, he entered the city through the Jaffa Gate and he is reported to have said, "Today the Crusades have ended" which clearly places the liberation of Palestine as a triumph for Christianity over heathenish Islam.
Allenby also dismounted from his horse and walked because he did not wish to be seen as a warlike conqueror. This was replaced by the Zionist Christian narrative to Allenby not wishing to allow anyone to ride into Jerusalem on a horse because only Christ would do so at the Second Coming. This places the Palestinian narrative within the Biblical story of the rebuilding of the Temple to prepare for Christ's Second Coming - clearly marginalising the indigenous population in order to replace it with the Jews necessary to allow Jesus to sit aloft separating the goats from the sheep. Allenby felt proud to have liberated the country from its enslavement by the Muslim Ottoman savage, as shown by this Zionist narrative:
"Isaiah 31: 5: As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it”. This prophecy was fulfilled during World War One and pertains to the liberation of Jerusalem from Ottoman Turk occupation. World War One and World War Two were supernaturally engineered by God for the benefit of the Jewish people. World War One prepared the land (Palestine) for the Jews by liberating it from Ottoman rule, whilst World War Two prepared the Jews for the land via the Holocaust which caused many Jews to flee back to their homeland. It was the British that brought this prophecy to fulfilment, and more specifically, it was British General Edmund Allenby who caught the revelation as to the meaning of this scripture.
In the process of liberating Palestine, the British Government showed its wonderfully Byzantine political peccadilloes by making three distinctive and contradictory promises. Firstly, Britain promised the Arabs independence in return for helping to defeat Turkey ( The McMahon-Hussein Agreement ). Secondly, Britain promised the Jews a national Jewish homeland in Palestine (The Balfour Declaration).
Thirdly, Britain promised France to carve up the Arab World between the two countries (The Sykes-Picot Agreement).
The McMahon-Hussein Agreement states:
As for those regions lying within these frontiers wherein Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of her ally, France, I am empowered in the name of the government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following reply to your letter.
1) Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs in the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca.
2) Great Britain will recognise the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognise their inviolability.
3) When the situation admits, Great Britain will give to the Arabs her advice and will assist them to establish what may appear to be the most suitable forms of government in those various territories.
4) On the other hand, it is understood that the Arabs have decided to seek the advice and guidance of Great Britain only, and that such European advisors and officials as may be required for the formation of a sound administration will be British.
5) With regards to the vilayets of Baghdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognise that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression to promote the welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.
The Balfour Declaration states:
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.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement states:
It is accordingly understood between the French and British governments: That France and Great Britain are prepared to recognise and protect an independent Arab states or a confederation of Arab states (a) and (b) marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief. That in area (a) France, and in area (b) Great Britain, shall have priority of right of enterprise and local loans. That in area (a) France, and in area (b) Great Britain, shall alone supply advisers or foreign functionaries at the request of the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.
There appears to be no discussion as to whether Britain had any right at all for its largesse in promising another people's country to all and sundry with a complete disregard for the rights of the indigenous population. The very fact that Britain saw fit to ignore the Palestinian people entirely sets the scene for Britain's legacy in P al estine.
Britain's attitude continued to be one of ignoring Palestinian aspirations, of marginalising Palestinians and, most frequently, of doing absolutely nothing to further any justice for the Palestinians. Indeed, Britain's policy of 'doing precisely nothing' met with great success in demolishing Palestine as a nation and replacing it with Israel as a highly successful new colonial settler democratic state on Palestinian lands.
Britain’s response to Palestine is, therefore, based on economic, racist, religious, nationalistic, commercial and orientalist attitudes. Less charitable people might replace these words with the reality of their consequences, greedy, racist, bigoted, jingoistic, acquisitive and hypocritical attitudes. As a result the Palestinians have always been treated within a moral or cultural construct that veers from international norms. For example, when President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and offered to withdraw in return for Israel withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza, Britain’s Prime Minister John Major stood firmly behind US President Bush Senior’s “no linkage” response.
During the Mandate in Palestine the British cruelly crushed what they called the Arab Revolt (refusing to give it its proper name of the ‘Palestinian Revolt’ in an attempt to deny Palestinian identity – a political ruse that was continued in Israel who refers to its Palestinian citizens as Israeli Arabs rather than Israeli Palestinians). Britain consistently looked the other way whenever Jewish Terrorist organisations attempted to arm and when such organisations hit Britain hard, the British Government decided to cut and run leaving Palestinians at the mercy of Jewish groups which proceeded to depopulate the country of its indigenous Palestinian population. The Palestinians were largely defenceless and leaderless after the British had thoroughly crushed and executed a large number of them during the Arab Revolt.
This indifference to Palestinians continued thereafter through the Suez War, the Six Day War, the Yum Kippur War, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Sabra and Shatila massacres and through its silence over sixty five years of Israeli oppression of Palestinians both inside Israel as well as those living in the Occupied Territories. Indeed, Britain’s attitude is not dissimilar to the historian Martin Gilbert claiming that after 1967 Israel accepted to share “its land with another people” (Gilbert, Israel: A History, page xxi) – a statement that is an inaccurate rewriting of history.
In recent weeks, the President of Iran offered talks on his country’s nuclear programme. He added, not unreasonably, that the same should apply to other countries in the region, including Israel. Foreign Secretary William Hague appeared on the BBC and, with his usual smirk of self-congratulation; he told reporters that Iran should first put its house in order before it lays conditions on others. Such pro-Israel responses are a daily occurrence in Britain. During the British outrage at Israeli Mossad agents murdering a Palestinian in Dubai whilst travelling on forged British passports, the British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned such behaviour in the House but only after he had prefaced his condemnation with the rider that he was “a friend of Israel” having said elsewhere “I am a Zionist” to a group of Israel supporters. Indeed, it is a badge of respectability in British politics to declare one’s support for Israel.
Whenever an opportunity arises to pursue peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Britain’s response is at best to make inane encouraging noises and at worst to say absolutely nothing apart from constantly reminding everyone of Israel’s security concerns in any eventual deal. It is almost as if Israel is an arm of British foreign policy and its attendant puppeteer, the United States. Sadly, the insistence by Western powers in marginalising Palestinian suffering and sense of loss feeds into the very threats that the West constantly alleges that it fears in maintaining another silence over the spreading Islamophobia.
It may be argued that perfidious Albion was not as treacherous as all that since McMahon does try to exclude certain areas from the definition “Arab” although what such an exclusion is based on is difficult to fathom: “The two districts of Mesina and Alexandretta and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs and Aleppo cannot be said to be purely Arab, and should be excluded from the limits demanded (by the Arabs). With the above modification, and without prejudice to our existing treaties with Arab chiefs, we accept those limits.” Of course, such an exclusion opened the way for Zionists to claim that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land” – the Jews concerned coming from America, Russia, Poland, Europe and other such non lands!
Britain’s legacy in Palestine would appear to be rather doleful with its predication on such negative qualities as economic, racist, religious, nationalistic, commercial and orientalist attitudes.
However, if such abuse tinged with indifference to the plight of Palestinians was the norm of British politics; this was not the case with individuals or non-governmental organisations. The latter made a huge contribution to Palestinians in the fields of education, humanitarian aid and in speaking up for the Palestinian right to nationhood. Such individuals and organisations bravely went against the mainstream in British politics, media and other outlets and did their very best for Palestine. Alas, their best was a drop in the ocean of indifference and self-engrossed manoeuvrings.