Even in the original draft wording of the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinian people were an after-thought. Lord Rothschild’s first offering was sent to the British government on 18 July 1917; it proposed that Britain would “accept the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home for the Jewish people.”
The text continued: “His Majesty’s government will use its best endeavours to secure the achievement of this object, and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist organisation.” It said no more than that.
Rothschild’s proposal presumed that Palestine was some empty dustbowl devoid of inhabitants. After sending it to Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour himself, it was amended again to say that the government would be “ready to consider any suggestions on the subject” of establishing Israel. It was then redrafted again by the newly-appointed Secretary of State for War, Alfred Milner, in one of two tragic attempts to soften the statement and acknowledge that there may be some people in Palestine who would be more than a little upset that their land, ruled by the Ottoman Empire before the British, would at the ideal moment for full liberation be handed over to yet more foreigners.
Milner proposed a subtle but hugely important change; that only “a home for the Jewish people in Palestine” be created rather than that it would be “the national home for the Jewish people.” He also changed Britain’s offer of help from “securing” to “facilitating” as he worked on the text with his assistant secretary, the pro-Zionist Conservative MP Leopold Amery. Why, during a major war, would the British Empire offer vital troops to “secure” this new Israel when it could more easily “facilitate” its creation? Facilitating could have meant simply hosting meetings at the headquarters of the British Mandate authorities in later years, Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. It became famous when it was the target of the then largest terrorist attack in history and blown up by Zionist-Jewish terrorists in 1946. The irony was that Amery had encouraged the Zionist militant Ze’ev Jabotinsky to set up the Jewish Legion to serve alongside British troops in the First World War, not considering for a moment that Jabotinsky would eventually turn his guns on the UK, as would numerous future Israeli Prime Ministers. Amery was the first in a long line of British politicians who would “facilitate” violence by European and Israeli Zionists against both Palestinians and British citizens. Jewish terrorists killed British politician Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1944, for example.
To his credit, though, Amery’s draft did include a crucial and now well-known addition to the Balfour Declaration 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 in any other country by such Jews who are fully contented with their existing nationality.” Without Milner and Amery, no heed at all might have been paid in the final wording to the people of Palestine, albeit they were still described by what they weren’t – “non-Jews” – rather than what they were. One can imagine the raised eyebrows of Lord Rothschild as he viewed how his proposal had evolved, filtered through Balfour, Milner and even the pro-Zionist Amery, from a desire that the whole of Palestine should be “the national home for the Jewish people” to a vaguely defined geographical area providing a home for the Jewish people therein. He was probably even more surprised to learn that those “non-Jews” already living in the land that he demanded for his “national home” for Jews (the Zionists’ euphemism for the state that was already their intended outcome) were to be granted full human rights.
A hundred years’ later, of course, all of the above is academic, and the Milner-Amery insertion about the rights of the “non-Jewish” inhabitants of Palestine has been ignored as the implementation of the Balfour Declaration has destabilised the Levant and the wider region. Just as the British right-wing opposes mass immigration on the grounds that it upsets social balance, particularly when immigrants have a different religion, the Zionist interpretation of Balfour has done the same in Palestine (although that hasn’t stopped the right-wing being rock solid behind Israel to this day). Millions of immigrants from parts of the world that have little in common with the local culture and are of a different religion to its native population have poured into historic Palestine. Whereas in Britain immigration puts pressure on the local infrastructure, schools and the health service, in what is now Israel it resulted in mass expulsion (described by one Israeli historian as “ethnic cleansing”) and endless armed conflict.
The Balfour Declaration also offered dictators across the Arab world an easy target to blame for their own shortcomings – the State of Israel – and allowed them to capitalise on anti-Semitic sentiments amongst their citizens by pointing to a genuine example of a “Zionist conspiracy” to distract them from domestic issues. Just as European countries would turn on a Muslim state if it established itself on the continent (Muslim Bosnia was not allowed to materialise, remember), the Arab states tried to remove Israel by force. Their efforts did not work, and displaced Palestinians have virtually been abandoned to their fate.
Now we are told that Britain is to “celebrate” the Balfour Declaration; that’s what Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev wants. He is Benjamin Netanyahu’s main media professional, not a career diplomat. The announcement of such a “celebration” was trailed six months ago by Prime Minister David Cameron; amazingly, Britain will be celebrating with Israel the failure of arguably Westminster’s worst-ever piece of diplomacy. Regev confirmed it last week; in November 2017, major celebrations are being planned for London and Israel. The moral question is why Britain should be asked – indeed, expected -to celebrate a document the terms of which were not only reneged on by the Zionists, but also eventually resulted in British citizens dying at the hands of those same ideologues.
So I have a deal for Regev: next month, ambassador, your country will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the King David Hotel bombing. On the last major anniversary, a decade ago, influential sections of Israeli civil society celebrated the life of Menachim Begin, a former terrorist “Wanted” by Britain until his death as an ex-Israeli prime minister, who was responsible for the murder of numerous British citizens. The tone of that celebration in 2006 was so grotesque that the British ambassador wrote to complain, pointing out that terrorism should never be celebrated. So cancel the King David Hotel “celebration”, ban the glorification of terror – particularly against my fellow British citizens – and you can celebrate Balfour, although what exactly there is to celebrate, I have no idea. David Cameron should think again about whether he wants to follow in the footsteps of Leo Amery, a British MP who was so caught up in the Zionist vision of the day that he agreed to arm – as Cameron’s government allows to this day – people who, in the end, turned against us. Why celebrate Balfour when Israel celebrates the killing of British citizens, Mr Cameron?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.