As noted in part one of this post, the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced two similar reports – audio and written – concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary, one of which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 1st (from 14:06 here) and the other published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the title “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“.
Both those reports promoted debatable portrayals of history, including a lax representation of the Mandate for Palestine.
Audio: “…his [Balfour’s] declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine.”
Written: “By that time, the area was under British administration. The Balfour Declaration had been formally enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine, which had been endorsed by the League of Nations.”
Knell’s portrayal failed to adequately clarify to listeners that the Mandate for Palestine was drafted and confirmed – rather than “endorsed” – by the League of Nations whereas the British Mandate was the trustee appointed by that body to administer that mandate.
In the written report, readers found the following:
“The [Balfour] declaration by the then foreign secretary was included in a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leading proponent of Zionism, a movement advocating self-determination for the Jewish people in their historical homeland – from the Mediterranean to the eastern flank of the River Jordan, an area which came to be known as Palestine.” [emphasis added]
Whether or not Knell intended to refer to the proposal submitted by the Zionist Organisation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 is unclear but the territory finally assigned to the Jewish Home in 1922 certainly did not include “the eastern flank of the River Jordan”.
“The following provisions of the Mandate for Palestine are not applicable to the territory known as Trans-Jordan, which comprises all territory lying to the east of a line drawn from a point two miles west of the town of Akaba on the Gulf of that name up the centre of the Wady Araba, Dead Sea and River Jordan to its junction with the River Yarmuk; thence up the centre of that river to the Syrian Frontier.”
Knell then went on to refer to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence – but without naming it.
“Palestinians see this as a great betrayal, particularly given a separate promise made to enlist the political and military support of the Arabs – then ruled by the Ottoman Turks – in World War One.
This suggested Britain would back their struggle for independence in most of the lands of the Ottoman Empire, which consisted of much of the Middle East. The Arabs understood this to include Palestine, though it had not been specifically mentioned.”
“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]
In these two reports BBC audiences found some very rare references to the issue of British restrictions on Jewish immigration. However, while told that “Britain allowed” Jewish immigration, they were not informed that the terms of the Mandate it was charged with administering obliged it to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “encourage […] close settlement by Jews on the land”.
Audio: “…Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration during the early mandate times. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, it later forced back many Jews facing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”
Written: “During the first half of the Mandate period, Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration. But amid an Arab backlash and rising violence, Israelis remember how it later blocked many fleeing persecution, particularly during the Holocaust.”
The Mandate for Palestine – with Britain as the administering mandatory – came into effect in September 1923 following ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne. Even before that, the White Paper of 1922 had already expressed the intention to ‘regulate’ immigration and the 1930 Passfield White Paper led to further restrictions being placed on Jewish immigration. Knell’s claim that “Britain allowed waves of Jewish immigration” before the establishment of the quota system severely limiting Jewish immigration by the 1939 MacDonald White Paper is therefore not an entirely accurate and objective portrayal.
In both her reports Knell concluded by suggesting linkage between the Balfour Declaration and the modern-day ‘peace process’.
Audio: “And right now the controversy over the past is only highlighting the continuing friction between Israel and the Palestinians. After many failed peace efforts, there’s deep mutual mistrust and few hopes that today’s leaders will be able to make the bold new declarations needed to end this long-running conflict.”
Written: “The British government has invited him [the Israeli prime minister] to London for events to mark the centenary on Thursday.
That decision, at a time of dimming hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace, has infuriated Palestinians, who plan a day of protests.
They want Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.
“As the time passes, I think British people are forgetting about the lessons of history,” says Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam.
He points out that Palestinians still seek the creation of a state of their own – which alongside Israel would form the basis of the so-called two-state solution to the conflict, a formula supported by the international community.
“The time has come for Palestine to be independent and for that long-due promise to be fulfilled,” he says.”
Knell refrained from pointing out to readers that throughout the last eighty years the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down opportunities to have their own state “alongside” a Jewish state.
While the BBC’s coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary has uniformly and generously amplified related Palestinian messaging and propaganda, it has equally consistently side-stepped the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the century-long Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty in the region.