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Why should Britain apologise for the Balfour Declaration?

November 2, 2017 at 12:55 pm

[Middle East Monitor]

Until now, the British government does not seem inclined to review its colonial behavior in Palestine, which led to the establishment of the Zionist state “Israel” there, and caused a catastrophe for the Palestinian people. They were dislodged from most of their land, and their social fabric was ripped apart, while most Palestinians became refugees. The statement by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in which she showed pride in the Balfour Declaration and the foundation of Israel, is only proof of that.

British policy has for decades claimed that during its occupation of Palestine in 1917–1948, it sought not to inflict harm on the Palestinian people…, and that the context of events is responsible for their tragic situation.

Following are ten pieces of evidence and indicators of the British political and colonial mentality, which was not least interested in the will of the Palestinian people. We will also prove that the British policy wilfully committed deception and lying, repudiating its covenants with the Palestinians and Arabs, practicing on the ground procedures that it had known would lead to disastrous consequences for the Palestinians, and deliberately supressing the Palestinian people and depriving them of their aspirations for freedom and independence:

1. In addition to the Hussein–McMahon Correspondence, which took place during 1915–1916, and from which Sharif Hussein and the Arabs assumed that Palestine would be under Arab rule after the withdrawal of the Ottomans from it; Britain made three other declarations which were all issued after the Balfour Declaration. Consequently, The Arabs believed that those declarations cancelled out the Balfour Declaration and were reassured about the future of Palestine:First, the Hogarth Assurance to Sharif Husain in January 1918; second, the British Declaration to the Seven Syrian leaders in June 1918; and the third the Anglo-French Declaration on 7/11/1918, right after the end of the WWI and the occupation of Palestine. All these declarations followed the Balfour Declaration, and the general understanding of them committed the British to the uncompromised political and economic rights of Palestinians and other Arabs, and that nothing would harm them. Britain repudiated all these covenants.

Read: Why the Balfour Declaration did not promise a Jewish state

2.The British policy chose to comply with the part related to Balfour’s Declaration that dealt with the “Jewish National Home.” It ignored its commitment not to prejudice the rights of the Palestinians, who—according to British estimates—represented 92% of the inhabitants at the beginning of the occupation in 1918.

3. Britain ignored the essence of its role as a mandatory power, and gave itself an international cover with the League of Nations Resolution (dated 24/7/1922), which granted it a Mandate over Palestine. The notion of the Mandate, according to the League of Nations, was based on supporting the people, who were under such a Mandate regime, in developing the political, economic and social institutions, and preparing them to obtain their independence. A matter that was completely disregarded by the British Government. And despite the fact that Britain included the Balfour Declaration in the Mandate documents, that doesn’t absolves it of its responsibilities to the Palestinian people.

4. Britain deliberately adopted unjust policies towards Palestinians. Despite the British publicity, the wishes and the legitimate aspirations of self-determination and political rights of the Palestinians were not of much significance to the British government of that day. For example, on 11/8/1919, Balfour wrote to Lord Curzon (who later became the Foreign Minister): “In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… The Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is… of far profounder importance than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”1

Read: Why the Balfour Declaration did not promise a Jewish state

As for Winston Churchill, Secretary of Colonies, he stated on 9/3/1922, in the House of Commons that “our policy was one of moderation, endeavouring to persuade one side [Arabs] to concede and the other [Zionist Jews] to forbear.”2 In other words, what British politicians called moderation was a process of systematic subjugation of the Palestinians, but it was a careful and gradual process, which needed patience and caution on the part of the Zionist Jews.

What was desired was the establishment of a “Jewish homeland” in a smart and gradual manner in order to avoid, to the greatest possible extent, revolutions by Palestinians and Arabs, which might disrupt this project and increase the expenses of the British occupation of Palestine. Therefore, when the British Prime Minister R. MacDonald consulted, in 1931, H. Weizmann (President of World Zionist Organization) on appointing a new High Commissioner for Palestine, MacDonald said, “I would like to appoint a General, but one who does it with his head, not his feet.”!!3

Such a conduct complies with the British Government insistence, in 1919, on ignoring the American King–Crane investigation committee recommendations, which found that “…the erection of such a Jewish state cannot be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

The British Government also ignored the House of Lords vote, on 21/6/1922, which rejected the British policy in Palestine 60 to 29. It found that the Mandate for Palestine in it’s the then present form is inacceptable to the House, because “it directly violates the pledges made by His Majesty’s Government to the people of Palestine.”

5. Senior British officials were selected from amongst pro-Zionists loyalists to the “Jewish National Home” policy, or at least, committed to the British policies in Palestine. This is what Ronald Storrs, the governor of Jerusalem 1917–1926 mentioned, adding that those few who were showing pro-Arab sentiments were “eliminated.”4 It was confirmed also by Norman Bentwich, the Jewish Zionist who served as attorney-general of Mandatory Palestine during the 1920s.5

Lord Arthur James Balfour, former Prime Minister of the UK [al whit/Twitter]

6. Direct Colonization: The general tendency of the British imperialism was to apply indirect colonization through treaties, puppet government …etc., leaving the daily life matters to the local people. However, in Palestine it applied strictly direct colonization controlling all aspects of life. Despite the fact that the capacities, qualifications, and expertise of the Palestinian people were far greater than those in other countries whose citizens assumed administration and leadership. the High Commissioner was the sole “Master” and an “uncrowned King” of Palestine.

At the same time, Britain never accepted the establishment of a Palestinian Government, even under its supervision. It refused to conduct a real freely elected representative council, and controlled all administrative, political, economic, educational, security and legal institutions in Palestine. They were run by British officials, while the Palestinians were denied the right to develop their institutions and prepare themselves for the post-British withdrawal and independence. In this regard, the Palestinians were denied the right to establish a military force which could protect them and their country after the withdrawal of Britain. In contrast, the Jews were allowed (tacit approval) to develop large military structures in preparation for the implementation of their crucial plan.

7. High Commissioners with distinguished military records: Palestine was put under military rule during the period December 1917 – June 1920, where the Generals Mony, Watson and Bols, were consecutively the Chief Administrators of the country. When the civil administration was established, the British Government had reserved the position of High Commissioner mostly to officers with distinguished military career.


Lord Blumer (1925–1928) was a retired Field Marshal in the British army; Sir John Chancellor (1928–1931), was a captain in the intelligence department in the War office; Sir Arthur Wauchope (1931–1938) was a retired full General in the British army, and so were Lord John Gort (1944–1945) and Sir Alan Gordon Cunningham (1945–1948). The only exceptions of this long chain of military commanders were two: Herbert Samuel (1920–1925) who was a staunch Zionist Jew and a former British foreign minister; and Harold Mac Michael (1938–1944) who was a well known orientalist. Shortly after his appointment, much of the authorities of the High Commissioner were delegated to the General Officer Commander of the British forces in Palestine, who was busy crushing the Palestinian Revolt, and dealing with the situation in the WWII.

8. Reshaping and restructuring the legal and Judicial System in accordance with the British policy in Palestine. Thus giving the “legal” cover to crush Palestinian uprisings and revolts, denying Palestinians of their rights, facilitating Jews immigration and settlement, converting land ownership, and granting the Palestinian citizenship to all Jew immigrants.

Attorney–General, Zionist Jew: Norman Bentwich took over the task of passing a huge number, more than 350, of ordinances in the 1920s. Palestinians used to always complain his injustices at a time he was asked to safeguard “Justice” in Palestine!!

British authorities approved “Collective Punishment Laws,” administrative arrest without trial, military court laws, and forced labor laws, etc. Thus, the suppression of the Palestinian people and their aspirations was an act protected by the “law”!

9.  Despite the fact the Britain was “officially” committed to the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people,” the sentence itself was vague and it didn’t really mean the establishment of a state. However, it was actually seeking to establish one. For instance, when Balfour himself was asked on 7 February 1918 about this matter, he said, “My personal hopes is that the Jews will make good of Palestine and eventually found a Jewish State. It is up to them now; we have given them their great opportunity.”6

“Tacit approval” was given to many illegal Jewish activities, especially in security and military matters, in addition to founding institutions, while the Palestinians were forbidden to do any of these. Many of the policies on the ground, which favored the Zionist program, were not, necessarily, written or declared policies. The Zionists established the Jewish Agency, which was in charge of Jewish affairs in Palestine, and became the equivalent of a state within a state due to the broad powers it enjoyed. The Zionists established huge economic, social, and educational institutions that constituted a strong infrastructure for their future state.

The British authorities sought to disarm the Palestinians, and even crushed all Palestinian Revolts and uprisings, especially those in 1920, 1921, 1929, 933, and the Palestinian Revolt 1936–1939. However, these authorities either supported, allowed or turned a blind eye to the formation of military or quasi-military Jewish Zionist militias, such as the Haganah who had 64 thousand fighters in 1948. In addition, it should be noted that there were five thousand Irgun and two thousand Stern recruits (about three times the Arab armies that entered Palestine in May 1948; about 24 thousand troops).

There were evidences that in 1941, the British Military Intelligence MI4 and another British Intelligence Institution called special operations EX., SOE, played an important role in organizing and training the Palmach.

The British Government allowed, in 1944, the Zionists to establish their own Jewish separate military units, in support of the military drive of the British and the Americans in WWII. The Zionists made full use of this golden opportunity and, by the end of the war, 32 thousand Jewish soldiers were trained by the British army.

Consequently, the number of Jews in Palestine—under the British supervision—multiplied 12 times, from 55 thousand (8% of inhabitants) in 1918 to 650 thousand (31.7% of inhabitants) in 1948, while their land ownership in Palestine increased from 1.8% to 6%.

Read: We will take UK to international courts over Balfour says PA

10. Ignoring or abolishing White Papers recommendations: Ignoring the recommendations of Sir John Hope Simpson, concerning the land and immigration control, and the White Paper issued in October 1930. Instead, the British government issued what Palestinians called “The Black Paper” in February 1932, which affirmed Britain’s commitment to the Zionist project and cancelled any hopes for the Palestinians.

The British government issued the White Paper in May 1939, in which it announced that it seeks to establish a Palestinian state within ten years. It stated that immigration of the Jews in the following five years would not exceed 75 thousand Jews and “no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it.” It also stated that there is “in certain areas no room for further transfers of Arab land, whilst in some other areas such transfers of land must be restricted.” However, on 13/11/1945, the White Paper was officially abandoned in a statement issued by Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.

The previous ten points are evidence that the British government played a deliberate, intentional, and premeditated role in making Palestine go through such conditions that could only lead to catastrophic damage to the Palestinian people. When the British government decided to end its occupation of Palestine and brought the matter up to the United Nations in 1947, Palestinians, who were physically and economically exhausted, militarily crushed, and deprived for 30 years of any preparation for the self-administration of their country’s institutions, were facing a Zionist project whose political, economic, military, and educational institutions had taken firm root.

Read: Palestinian PM demands British apology for Balfour

Palestinians stage a protest during the 100th anniversary of Balfour Declaration in West Bank town of Ramallah on 2 November 2017 [İssam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

The project had the capacity to win the battle against Palestinians, having a supportive international environment, which refused to give the people of Palestine the right to self-determination, in violation of the United Nations charters, and decided to divide Palestine without consulting its people. The British influence over Egypt and Jordan at the time reflected negatively on the situation and ruled out the possibility of providing real support to the people of Palestine in order to alter the balance of power in their favour.

Therefore, the Zionists were able, with international assistance, to end the 1948 Palestine War in their favour, taking over 77% of Palestinian territory and displacing more than 800 thousand Palestinians out of a total of 1.4 million, the total population of Palestine, i.e., around 57%. Disregarding the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people, they established what became the “state of Israel.”

Britain has played a major role in the tragedy, which befell the Palestinian people, whose land is still under occupation, and the majority of them are still displaced or taking refuge outside Palestine or living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The question of Palestine has been occupying the region and the world for the past 70 years.

The British measures in Palestine has led to a series of wars and conflicts, as well as bloodshed and suffering. This is a historical responsibility that cannot be evaded, and Britain, as a first step, should apologize to the people of Palestine for the disasters they have caused for them.

In theory, a British apology for the Balfour Declaration seems possible since Britain had apologized for its role in the slave trade in colonial times and for causing the Irish famine during the 19th century.

However, this seems unattainable in contemporary reality for many reasons, most notably because the ruling political class (Conservatives, Labour and Liberals) is not inclined to issue such an apology to the Palestinian people on political, religious, cultural, or interest backgrounds, among other things.

Large British sectors still believe in the so-called “historic right of the Jews to Palestine” and sympathize with the Israeli narrative and with the historical injustices suffered by the Jews (mostly at the hands of the Europeans themselves).

Zionist influence is ever more present and stronger in the literature of British politics. Despite the increasing presence of the Palestinian right narrative within British circles, it still has a long way to go to reach and convince the wider sectors of the British public.

Read: 100 Years After Balfour we should reflect, not celebrate

There is also great fear that a British apology to the Palestinian people will open the door to huge financial claims, which would weigh on the British budget, in compensation to the Palestinian people. The current strong situation of Israel, and the weakness and fragmentation of Arabs also contribute toward relieving pressure on Britain.

A British apology would also open the door to extremely crucial issues in Western mentality, such as the legitimacy of the existence of Israel itself and the international community’s obligations to restore the rights of the Palestinian people. This leads to the fact that a British apology does not only concern Britain, as the idea also angers its American allies, as well as global Zionist lobbies, Israel, and many Western powers.

The Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization do not seem to be seriously preoccupied with a British apology for the Balfour Declaration, especially since they had signed the Oslo Accords, which recognize the Israel and its “legitimacy” on most of the historic land of Palestine. They now have international obligations under this agreement.

Therefore, what the Palestinian Authority is doing is no more than an expression of feelings or a media response to the Palestinian popular arena, while massive, organized, and systematic efforts are needed at the Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and international levels to create an unprecedented level of pressure to at least corner the British political elite.

Thus, a British apology should not be anticipated in the near or medium term. However, any effort that is now made in this regard by individuals, experts, politicians, media professionals, civil society organizations and others… deserves recognition, as it may eventually oblige Britain to apologize to the Palestinian people.

Published on Alzaytouna, 2 November 2017

1- Memo, Balfour to Lord Curzon, 11 August 1919, Public Record Office (P.R.O.), Foreign Office, F. O. 371/4183

2- PD Commons, 9 March 1922, vol. 151, col. 1548. (my emphasis).

3- Chaim Weizman, Trial and Error (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1950), p. 415 (my emphasis).

4-Ronald Storrs, Orientations (London: Ivor Nicholson & Wats 1937), p. 425.

5- Norman & Helen Bentwich, Mandate Memories: 1918–1948 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1965), p.22.

6- R. Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary 1917–1956 (London: The Cresset Press, 1959), p. 8. (my emphasis).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.