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Balfour celebrations a reminder that the colonial past is not past

Lord Arthur James Balfour, former Prime Minister of the UK [George Grantham Bain/Wikipedia]

The 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is many things, but it should not pass without observing how, in 2017, Israel’s friends are still justifying the Zionist project with the same lexicon of colonialism as they were 100 years ago.

Last week, a debate was held in Parliament on the “Centenary of the Balfour Declaration”, moved by Matthew Offord, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hendon.

During the discussion, fellow Tory MP Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) marvelled that the State of Israel “rose out of the desert”; Offord enthusiastically replied that Israel’s scientific achievements are indeed “happening in a place that, not long ago, was simply desert, as my hon. Friend says”.

(Credit to SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who specifically rebutted Offord’s comments: “The Palestinian people…made up nearly 90 per cent of the population in Palestine in 1917. The land was not, as the hon. Member for Hendon said, desert. It was towns and villages…”).

There is a long tradition of describing Palestine as “empty”, a tradition maintained in Parliament as much as anywhere else (and perhaps more so). The Zionists “turned the desert into orchards”, said Lord Mitchell in a 2014 debate; they “made the desert bloom”, as Baroness Deech put it in 2015.

Read: 100 years after the signing of the Balfour Declaration… What to do now?

Such remarks would not have been out of place a century ago, in the early years of the British occupation. In 1922, Winston Churchill told Parliament that “anyone who has visited Palestine recently must have seen how parts of the desert have been converted into gardens”.

He added: “Left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken effective steps towards the irrigation and electrification of Palestine”, but rather “would have been quite content to dwell…in the wasted sun-scorched plains”.

On 25 January 1937, the second reading of the “Empire Settlement Bill” took place, addressing support for emigration to Britain’s “dominions” – Canada, Australia, South Africa and others.

The debate is a worthwhile diversion in and of itself: one MP urged “a resumption of migration to Australia”, whose settlers “know that…between them and us are the teeming millions of Asia”.

He continued: “They have adopted a ‘White Australia’ policy because they realise that if they once opened the door to coloured immigration…they would be completely swamped. They have recognised that the ‘White Australia’ policy is the only alternative, to racial extinction.”

Read: ‘Britain should work to correct the errors of Balfour’

But back to Palestine, which one MP suggested was an example worth remembering.

“There was a country which was absolutely depopulated,” he said. “At any rate, there were few members of the Jewish race there, but as a result of the Balfour Declaration, and of making that a new home for the Jews, Palestine has flourished in the last few years.”

The precise significance of the famous slogan “A land without a people for a people without a land” can be forgotten. Zionist activist Israel Zangwill, for example, acknowledged that it was “literally inexact” to describe “Palestine as a country without a people”.

Palestinians hold banners during a protest against the Balfour Declaration on its 100th anniversary, in front of the British Cultural Center in Ramallah, West Bank on 18 October 2017 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

However, he continued, to do so was “essentially correct, for there is no Arab people living in intimate fusion with the country, utilising its resources and stamping it with a characteristic impress: there is at best an Arab encampment”.

Such views were commonplace amongst both Zionists and British officials. Aaron David Gordon, co-founder of Hapoel Hatzair (“The Young Worker”), wrote in 1918:

“Our land, which in days gone by was ‘flowing with milk and honey’…has become more poor, desolate, and abandoned than any other civilised country, and it is almost uninhabitable. This is a sort of confirmation of our right to the land, a suggestion that the land awaits us.”

Edward Said placed such views in the context of European colonial settlement. “Among the supposed juridical distinctions between civilised and non­civilised peoples,” he wrote, “was an attitude toward land, almost a doxology about land, which non-civilised people supposedly lacked.”

“A civilised man, it was believed, could cultivate the land because it meant something to him; on it, accordingly, he bred useful arts and crafts, he created, he accomplished, he built. For an uncivilised people, land was either farmed badly (i.e., inefficiently by Western standards) or it was left to rot.”


From this “string of ideas”, Said continued, “whole native societies who lived on American, African, and Asian territories for centuries were suddenly denied their right to live on that land.”

Churchill’s testimony to the 1937 Peel Commission instructively ties this all together. Zionism was a force for good, he said, since Palestine “never will be cultivated by the Arabs”.

He continued: “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race…has come in and taken their place.”

Read: UK bans anti-Balfour ad campaign

In a recent interview, the current Earl of Balfour provided us with a remarkably explicit expression of the colonial worldview that shaped his ancestor’s declaration, and its contemporary justifications.

“You have to look at Palestine as it was then,” he told an Israeli journalist. “It was a desert, a mosquito-infested swamp. The Palestinians on the whole were looking after their goats and sheep.”

After a brief, awkward acknowledgement that “there was obviously a bit of resistance by the indigenous Palestinians”, the Earl returned to more comfortable ground: “But when you look at it, there was just a huge uninhabited land basically.”

For Palestinians, the celebrations of Matthew Offord and Earl Balfour are a reminder – not that they need one – of how, to adapt William Faulkner’s famous line, the colonial past is not past.

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  • Fasdunkle

    During the 100s of years of islamic colonial rule in the area it was pretty much entirely neglected, it wasn’t considered as important at all.

    • Meifumado

      Indeed it was those early Jewish settlers who drained the swamps and made the land futile after centuries of Muslim neglect.

      After the Jews fixed the place up the Arabs wanted it of course.

      • Blake

        Rubbish. Drained the Wadi swamp and realised it was a environmental catastrophe decades later so started filling it up again. Just like those pine trees are an environmental failure and kill off the indigenous fauna and are tinderboxes just waiting to ignite. Dont even get me started on how you are ruining the Palestinian countryside with those ugly monstrosities you build; the settler sewage and and rubbish left.

        • Meifumado

          You can deny facts and history all you like but it will not change the facts and truth.

          Tell what your nomadic Arabs did for the land back then?

          That’s right nomadic,they did not hold land.

          • Blake

            Hebrew is from ‘Habiru’ which means ‘nomad’ a small fraction of the Palestinian population are the bedouins who are the nomads whereas the oldest inhabited city in the world is Jericho in Palestine and the oldest stone homes are as well (both 10000 yrs old). Proves they were the first to dwell in towns. The oldest human remains found on Palestine date back 600000 yrs.

            Now here are the facts to what you claimed: It is not only in dubious ancient mythology that Israel is founded. A state so founded had to create its own modern mythology from the start. One such piece of modern mythology which has become well rooted in western perceptions is that Jewish pioneers “made the desert bloom” , that by their know how and hard work, they transformed an uncultivable, mountainous, swampy and arid land into fertile and productive fields. Dr Moishe Saltiel, a highly qualified and experienced engineer,agronomist and water engineer, who emigrated from Greece to Palestine in 1932,has shown the facts tell a different story. Dr Saltiel’s researches show that in 1945, according to British Mandatory statistics, the cultivated area of Palestine was 920,000 hectares while, according to a survey in 1946, there were 60,000 cultivable hectares in the Golan Heights. By the 1980’s, the total cultivated area of the same land – Israel, West Bank, the Gaza strip and Golan– was 650,000 hectares – a third less than at the time of the establishment of Israel.

            Exactly contrary to the mythology, cultivated land in the Negev [desert] has actually been turned into desert. Before the establishment of Israel, the Bedouin had for centuries cultivated land wherever water was to be found, in even the most arid areas of the Negev desert. Forty years after the establishment of Israel,less than half the previously fertile land in the Negev was under cultivation.The Bedouin had been displaced and the area became a major base for the Israeli army, for large industrial zones, including the site of the huge complex where Israeli nuclear arms are manufactured, and a dumping ground for toxic waste.

            Habitat destruction: “Colonialism is not just people that are targeted nature is targeted too so for example first major project ‘israel’ did was drying up the Hula wetlands where migrating birds used to settle on their annual migration to Africa. 119 species disappeared. 37 became locally extinct. A second major project that ‘israel’ did was diversion of water from Jordan Valley to the western coastal areas. This had huge devastating impact. The shrinking of the Dead Sea is involved in this. Now to fix the ‘problem’ that they created ‘israel’ has been pushing for a canal which they finally got approved and got Jordan to approve it under pressure from USA that will connect the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and not bring water from the Red Sea by the way it will bring sludge from desalination plants along the way and dump that sludge into the Dead sea.” – Mazin Qumsiyeh, Palestine Centre, 30 June 2017

          • Eric11210

            Yeah, you can come up with whatever crazy lies you like but it’s complete fiction. Archeology proves that the Jewish people existed here for eons. Your people left nothing.

          • Helen4Yemen

            Didn’t the “Jewish people” mate with European women and produced today’s Ashkenazi?
            How much “Jewish” is left in the Ashkenazi after centuries of mating with Europeans?
            10%? 20? 50% or 0%? Is the Ashkenazi then “Jewish” or more likely 99% European?

          • Eric11210

            “Didn’t the “Jewish people” mate with European women and produced today’s Ashkenazi?”


          • TecumsehUnfaced

            Oh my! More ZioNazi-Talmudist inversion of facts. Never ends. Facts are toxic to ZioNazis.

          • Eric11210

            Still trying to show everyone how incredibly stupid you are I see.

          • TecumsehUnfaced

            Thanks for demonstrating that only a slobbering imbecile would say something like that.

            Please continue and try to figure out why are you are ignored.

          • TecumsehUnfaced

            Thank you! Excellent post!

          • David Marley

            And the hundreds of towns and villages cleared and destroyed since the Nakba, the orange orchards and farms, the olive trees that have neen cultivated for centuries now being drowned by sewage from the crusader castles of the settlers in the hills? As Shlomo Sand and Ilam Pappe have noted, Israelis are educated with the mythology of Zionism, that perpetuates the myth of a land without people for a people without land. The excuse for a police state and endless warfare that can only end badly for everyone.

          • Jacintho Leite Aquino Rego

            no deutsche marks after wwii, no american dollars, no israel…

    • Helen4Yemen

      why is the Ashkenazi on that land? Are you telling me the Ashkenazi
      likes to go to neglected areas and take over by force?

      Alan Dershoitz…. 98.5% Ashkenazi … 99% European
      Bernie Sanders…… 97.7% Ashkenazi … 99% European
      Larry David……. 97.8% Ashkenazi … 99% European
      Neil Gaiman……… 99.6% Ashkenazi … 99% European
      Carol Kline……….. 96.0% Ashkenazi … 99% European
      Tony Kushner…….. 97.5% Ashkenazi … 99% European
      Alex Feinberg……. 93.6% Ashkenazi … 99% European

    • Derek

      Palestine is where civilisation began where they went from hunter gatherers to living in agricultural communities. By the sounds of things you European settler colonialists who identify as a certain persuasion and who have a sense of entitlement to what is not yours havent evolved yet

      • Fasdunkle


  • Helen4Yemen

    There is no doubt that these cries of “holocaust” began decades before WW2. These exaggeration of the plight of European Jewry was a way to grab Palestine.

    1) 1900-06-11 The New York Times …

    2) 1918-10-18 The New York Times …
    6,000,000 Jews Need Help http://query.nytimes.COM/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B0CE5DB1539E13ABC4052DFB6678383609EDE

    3) 1919-09-08 The New York Times …
    6,000,000 Jews in Ukraine and Poland to be exterminated

    4) 1919-11-12 The New York Times …

    5) 1936-05-31 The New York Times …

    • TecumsehUnfaced

      It really took them a lot of practice to get that hoax to work, didn’t it?

      • Eric11210

        Classic. The idiots are now trying to deny the Holocaust. How unsurprising.

        • TecumsehUnfaced

          Classic! The imbeciles are still trying to push the Holohoax without any evidence. I bet it can’t come up with any. Even imbeciles know better than to expose themselves like that.

          • Eric11210

            Yeah. No evidence. Too funny.

          • TecumsehUnfaced

            See? It dodges. It can’t provide any.

          • Eric11210

            Dodge? Because you are a stupid jihadist who thinks that the pictures, records and mounds of clothes at Auschwitz are all fake? Because you are an ignoramus who thinks tens of thousands of testimonies about the Holocaust are all, every one of them grand lies? Because you are a moronically stupid person who doesn’t even know about the court case where it was shown that Holocaust denial is dumb?

          • TecumsehUnfaced

            Look! The unartful dodger can’t come up with anything it dares offer for inspection. It can only burble furiously. I wonder if it’s a jabberwocky.

          • Eric11210

            You are too stupid for words.

          • TecumsehUnfaced

            Dodging the fact that you have nothing again, eh? What a loser!

    • Eric11210

      As always, the moronically stupid Madame Jihad thinks people can’t figure out how to read and expose her dumb lies. Zionists’ Mass Meetings, the first article talks about 5 million, not 6. But of course the stupid Madame Jihad simply lied to make it sound like the Holocaust was a fiction. Classic idiocy from this incredibly stupid jihadist.

  • Helen4Yemen

    Rep. Hank Johnson (D., Ga.)

    EUROPEAN TERMITES arriving on Arab land.

    ♦ There has been a steady [stream],
    almost like termites can get into a residence and
    eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up
    and you fall in on yourself, there has been settlement
    activity that has marched forward with impunity and
    at an ever increasing rate to the point where it has
    become alarming,

    ♦ It has come to the point that occupation,
    with highways that cut through Palestinian land, with
    walls that go up, with the inability or the restriction,
    with the illegality of Palestinians being able to travel
    on those roads and those roads cutting off Palestinian
    neighborhoods from each other, and then with the
    building of walls and the building of check points that
    restrict movement of Palestinians. We’ve gotten to
    the point where the thought of a Palestinian
    homeland gets further and further removed from

    ♦ You see one home after another being
    appropriated by Jewish people who come in to claim
    that land just because somebody did not spend the
    night there. The home their [Palestinian] ancestors
    lived in for generations becomes an Israeli home and
    a flag goes up, the Palestinians are barred from flying
    flags in their own neighborhoods.

  • Jacintho Leite Aquino Rego

    deutsche marks and american dollars irrigation = “rose out of the desert”

  • kirby1

    An Islamic terrorist killed 8 people in NY city today and as anticipated their apologist remain silent. Don’t admit that there are evil people in the world who want to kill you, then exhort God’s greatness. Don’t use that ugly word — war – to describe our conflict with radical Islam. Don’t offend. And don’t defend. It might upset someone.

  • No offense, but weren’t the Turks (or the Ottomans) already occupying “Palestine” long before either the British or the Jewish immigrants came along?