BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

The second item (see the first here) relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary aired on the November 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ was described in the synopsis thus:

“The Balfour Declaration – signed 100 years ago – is reviled by those who campaign for the rights of the Palestinian people and celebrated by supporters of Israel. Nick Robinson reports on the events which led to the declaration and its consequences.”

The item was introduced by co-presenter Nick Robinson (from 01:17:28 here) as follows:

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “Tonight Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli prime minister will join Theresa may at a dinner in London to celebrate the centenary of a letter sent by Lloyd George’s foreign secretary in 1917. His name: Arthur Balfour. Now it may be just 67 words long but the Balfour Declaration as it’s known is not of mere historical interest. To this day it is reviled by many of those who campaign for the rights of the Palestinian people but celebrated by supporters of Israel.”

After listeners had heard a recording from an unidentified event celebrating the Balfour Declaration, Robinson went on to inaccurately paraphrase the document – airbrushing the words “civil and religious” from his portrayal as has been seen on multiple occasions in additional BBC coverage of this story.

Robinson: “One paragraph in one letter written a hundred years ago, here in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, continues to divide people now as much as it did then. That promise of a national home for the Jewish people alongside another – to protect the rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine: was it a masterpiece of ambiguity by Foreign Office mandarins schooled in the art? Or was it a calculated deceit by a colonial power from which the Middle East has yet to recover?”

Robinson’s first interviewee was the current Lord Rothschild whose great-uncle was, as pointed out, “the recipient of that letter”.

Rothschild: “It had been the yearning of the Jewish community for two thousand years to get back to Jerusalem and Palestine and therefore the moral authority of Great Britain at that time was so great that even though this letter is somewhat ambiguous, I think the Jewish community and my forebear believed that this would lead to a national home for the Jews and many Jews would therefore go there.”

Robinson: “You say the document was ambiguous. Some argue that it was deceptive.”

Rothschild: “I mean I don’t think it’s deceptive, no. I think you know that the Jews took over a land, as Mark Twain said, had been a dreary, desolate place in 1867 and through dint of hard work and labour, they made a huge success of it. But they did feel, the Arabs, that they were being dispossessed.”

Robinson then in effect told listeners – inaccurately – that the land on which Israel was later established was in fact Arab/Palestinian.

Robinson: “You say they did feel that they were dispossessed. The truth is they were dispossessed.”

He subsequently introduced the totally irrelevant and materially misleading theme of ‘colonialism’.

Robinson: “So what do you say to those who say that the British government should apologise for it; that this was an act in effect of colonialism?”

Robinson went on to showcase another event relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary organised by a group set up to specifically campaign on the topic.

Robinson: “…something Britain can be proud of. Not the views of those gathered this week in Westminster’s Central Hall to mark what they call Britain’s broken promise.”

Listeners then heard yet another BBC misrepresentation of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.

Robinson: “His Royal Highness Prince el Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. Like Lord Rothschild he’s the descendent of someone who received a letter from a British diplomat a century ago. He’s the great-grandson of the Sherif of Mecca who was told back in 1915 that Britain would support Arab independence in return for their support in the fight against the Ottoman Empire.”

Bin Talal: “While one set of promises was being made to the Arabs, another was obviously being made correspondingly to the international Jewish movement. The Emir Faisal recognised the importance of a pluralist Arab state provided – and here’s the caveat – the Arabs obtained their independence as demanded in earlier memorandum. Sadly, the influence from outside to try and create some semblance of a state and a Jewish home; the desire from those within the region, both Jews and Arabs, to live together was confounded by the pressures of demography from Russia on the one side and from Europe.”

At no point did Robinson explain to listeners that – as clarified in the 1922 White Paper and by Sir Henry McMahon himself – “[t]he whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was […] excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge”.

Neither were audiences told anything of the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement or that bin Talal’s own country – and with it Arab self-determination – was established on 77% of the land originally assigned to the creation of a Jewish national home, after Britain activated Article 25 of the Mandate for Palestine.

Bin Talal went on to claim that the two World Wars “resulted in the importance of making space for others without consulting the main issue of how those others could live side-by-side with the indigenous inhabitants”.

Robinson then asked:

Robinson: “Is it right for the Balfour Declaration to be celebrated as many Jews want it to be, to be marked as the British government says, or is it something that Britain should be ashamed of?”

With apparently no sense of irony – considering that his own country (with considerable British help) attacked the nascent Israeli state the day after its creation and subsequently occupied areas assigned to the Jewish national home by the League of Nations – bin Talal replied:

Bin Talal: “I would rather suggest with all due respect that celebrating is – against the background of the bloodshed in this region on an almost daily basis – rather a strong word.”

Robinson’s next interviewee was the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran who was introduced as someone who “says it’s time the British government recognised Palestine”.

Moran: “I think rather than say apology I’d rather see recognition for the part that Britain played and I think the first step in reparation to that would be recognition of the second state in the two-state solution which is Palestine. The idea that we can achieve real peace without equal players sitting at that negotiation table are…are ridiculous.”

Once again no effort was made to inform listeners of the fact that the Palestinians have turned down repeated opportunities to have their own state alongside the Jewish state.

Listeners next heard from the former Guardian journalist Ian Black who promoted the notion of Jews as a “religious group” rather than an ethnicity or a people.

Black: “The Zionist movement used the language of modern nationalism to say we are one people and we need a land of our own. It had of course the religious and the biblical, the spiritual link to the Holy Land and the tragedy of the story is that that land was claimed and occupied by another people which did not accept that claim. It saw it as an incursion by foreigners who had no right to be there. And those fundamentals remain at the heart of the conflict today.”

Robinson returned briefly to his Jordanian interviewee before closing with messaging implying that the Balfour Declaration has not been implemented.

Robinson: “When Arthur Balfour the foreign secretary wrote his letter – the letter that became the Balfour Declaration – he knew it was controversial. After all, it had been through draft after draft. What he couldn’t know is that a hundred years later the diplomats and the ministers that work in these offices here at the Foreign Office would still be trying to make a reality of his promises.”

And so in this item listeners heard a majority of views from one side of the debate, with Robinson’s own opinions made amply clear. They also again heard inaccurate representation of the Balfour Declaration’s specific reference to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities, misleading references to Palestinian ‘dispossession’ and an inaccurate portrayal of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, while all mention of the Jordanian part of the story of the Mandate for Palestine was erased from view.

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BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

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More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

 

 

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More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

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.”

She did not, however, bother to inform readers that the territory concerned was – as clarified in the 1922 White Paper and by Sir Henry McMahon himself – excluded from that pledge.

“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.

Related Articles:

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More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

 

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales has a Sunday morning programme called “All Things Considered” which is described as a “religious affairs programme tackling the thornier issues of the day in a thought-provoking manner”. The October 8th edition of that programme, however, was devoted to a political topic. Titled “The Balfour Declaration at 100“, the programme’s synopsis includes the following:

“One hundred years on, how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration.”

That strange question (do the Welsh people specifically need to hold a “view” of that century old historic event?) was repeated in the introduction by presenter Sarah Rowland-Jones.

Rowland-Jones: “A century ago, in November 1917, the British Government, under Welsh prime minister Lloyd George, gave its support to the establishment of Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was contained in a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour, to leaders of the British Jewish Community. The Balfour Declaration, as it came to be known, expressed the government’s intention to support a Jewish national home and to do so without undermining the rights of the people already living in Palestine. The declaration was controversial at the time and has remained so ever since. Celebrated and vilified in near equal measure, it sits behind the lasting conflict in the region. While it kindled international support for a Jewish homeland, even the British government has since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians. So – 100 years on – how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration?” [emphasis added]

As we see, that introduction promotes the facile notion that the Balfour Declaration is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that theme was repeated throughout the half-hour programme. The reference to the British government having “since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians” apparently refers to a statement issued by the FCO that included the following:

“We recognise that the Declaration should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination.” 

Nowhere in this programme, however, did the listeners invited to form a “view” of the Balfour Declaration hear that precisely such self-determination was, from 1937 onward, repeatedly rejected by the Arab side.

The programme’s three studio guests were then introduced:

“Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, professor emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales and author of many books on the subject of Palestine and Israel, Dr Jasmine Donahaye of Swansea University, author of “Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine” and “Losing Israel” and the reverend Mones Farah; Church in Wales rector of Aberystwyth who is himself Palestinian.”

The first half of this programme related to the Balfour Declaration itself and the circumstances under which it was issued. After Sarah Rowland-Jones had read out the text of the declaration and asked “is this something to be celebrated or regretted?” listeners heard Mones Farah (who has lived in the UK since 1983) create false linkage between it and his family story. [emphasis added]

Farah: “For me, looking at this declaration it causes a lot of problems and difficulties for me personally because as a direct result of this we…my family and my community were made refugees. So for me it will have always that tinge of sadness and lack of celebration about it.”

Listeners then heard another negative opinion from Jasmine Donahaye, who erased the real “foundation” of Israel – the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine – from the story.

Donahaye: “Well I think it’s difficult not to understand that for many Jews at the time and since it was a matter for great celebration and continues to be because it’s the foundation upon which Israel is based and that is a question of national self-determination. But it’s not one-sided. There are two elements to it and the second element unfortunately has been betrayed. And therefore it’s something to treat with a great deal of care and critical analysis I think. So celebration – maybe not. But investigation – certainly.”

Rowland-Jones: “When you say the second element you mean the promise that it should not prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities?”

Donahaye: “That’s exactly what I mean. Of course there is the subsequent element that it shouldn’t prejudice the status of Jews elsewhere as well and that’s a slightly different issue but that might be something we’ll discuss later.”

That discussion did not come about and so BBC Wales audiences heard nothing about issues such as the persecution and negation of rights of the Jews in Arab lands.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok presented a more realistic view of the significance of the Balfour Declaration, even while absolving the Palestinians of all agency or responsibility.

Cohn-Sherbok: “Well I do want to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, as I think Jews would around the world. It was 100 years ago, it was the beginning of the creation of the Jewish state, so for the Jewish people it was a fundamental step forward – which is not to ignore the problems that this has led for the Palestinians. With my colleagues I do take into account the difficulties that the Palestinians have faced and are facing now. Nonetheless, I think it is a time for celebration and with Jews throughout the world, I want to celebrate what happened in 1917.”

In the next section of the programme Cohn-Sherbok gave a brief overview of the history behind the story (that included the inaccurate claim that at the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 CE the region was called Palestine) and the advent of political Zionism.

Cohn-Sherbok: “But at the end of the nineteenth century the Jews were suffering in eastern Europe […] and the Zionists – secular Zionists – believed it was time for the Jews to return. It was the only way that they could protect themselves from onslaught, from antisemitism. It was their only refuge, they believed, and they did everything that they could to persuade those in power to allow Jews to settle in what was then Palestine. And the Balfour Declaration was an essential first step.”

However, Cohn-Sherbok’s account included the inaccurate claim that the early Zionists were exclusively secular Jews.  Rowland-Jones then raised another topic.

Rowland-Jones: “So what was going on there in the holy land – Palestine – in 1917? Mones, can you tell us something about the people who were living there then?”

Farah: “The people of the land were mainly the Arab indigenous population – the Palestinian population – in the land. By 1914 there were only 7% of the population that were of the new Jewish immigrants or Jewish communities that existed for longer times.”

While Farah mentioned the Ottoman policy of “restricting […] the migration of Jews”, he debatably claimed that the reason for that was “because it created tension with the local population” and made no mention of the expulsion of thousands of Jews already living in the region during the First World War. Ignoring events that pre-dated even the First Aliyah such as the pogroms in Tsfat in 1834, he continued:

Farah: “…I think that the communities felt by the new immigration that was opened up by the turn of the 20th century to the land, they begin to feel the tension and the stress in the land even though they themselves mostly were arable farmers. They were small communities. They were not politicized. But a young intellectual small groups and heads of clans began to agitate and they began to actually resist the new migrations coming into the land until the Balfour Declaration. So there was an increasing tension developing. But there was a population living in the land.”

Farah then went on to promote a myth popular in anti-Israel circles:

Farah: “…I take on what Dan said about the Zionist secularist movement of the late 19th century and its declaration of a need for a Jewish state. One thing I will hold against some of those statements is that they wanted a state for a people without land for a land without people. And I think that is one of the things that actually had such an influence in the public opinion or of the people of power at the time which wasn’t true at all because there was a population living in the land…”

The phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land” – not “a land without people”, as Farah claimed – was in fact not widely employed by early Zionists but mainly by British religious and political figures.

Following discussion of the Welsh aspect of the story of the Balfour Declaration, listeners heard another myth that frequently crops up in BBC content.

Rowland-Jones: “So why did the Lloyd George government issue the declaration at this time? Was it just about seeking allies at a difficult juncture in the First World War?”

Cohn-Sherbok: “It was a very complicated situation. The Balfour Declaration though I wish to celebrate it, was in a sense not straightforward. The British government had previously made promises to the Arabs. The British government had said if you help us in the First World War – if you attack the Ottoman Empire – then we’re gonna give you an Arab independent homeland or Arab independence. That was a promise that was in fact betrayed. They never did. And there was also a meeting between the British and the French prior to the 1917 Balfour Declaration where they essentially divided up the entire world – that Arab world. So I think the Arabs quite rightly feel somewhat betrayed or very betrayed by the British government. The Jews welcomed the Balfour Declaration. It was something they desperately, deeply wanted. But the seeds were sown from the very beginning in the Balfour Declaration of the difficulties that we are currently feeling.”

Those “promises” are of course the McMahon correspondence which – despite the inaccurate claims from Cohn-Sherbok and Farah – did not promise the area of land concerned to the Arabs, as was clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“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]

The second part of this programme included some personal stories which will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

 

 

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

On May 18th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the fourth part in Jeremy Bowen’s series of programmes ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.

Titled ‘Jerusalem’, the programme is both rambling and predictable, with Bowen’s portrayal of the city focusing on blood, violence, religion, power and nationalism at the expense of any mention of its diversity and eclectic coexistence.

From his opening sentences onward, Bowen places the spotlight firmly and exclusively on ‘the conflict’:

“The first thing to understand about the struggle for Jerusalem is that they’re fighting over a tiny piece of land. Down there in that walled compound around the golden dome is the single most contested piece of land in the Middle East; probably the most contested piece of ground in the world.”

Following reminiscences of a poorly explained incident during the first Intifada, Bowen tells audiences that:

“The incident in Azariya was a soft introduction to the hard reality of the city of peace – which is the Hebrew translation of Jerusalem. In real life I can’t think of a city with a more blood-stained history. Tension, hatred and violence simmer alongside piety. Sometimes they’re part of it.”

Seeing as the name Jerusalem in English and other European languages derives from Latin and Greek translations of Hebrew texts, it would clearly have been more accurate for Bowen to refer to the Hebrew meaning of Jerusalem rather than “translation”.

Recalling his first trip to Jerusalem, Bowen downplays Palestinian terrorism – including international aircraft hijackings – by making a generalised and falsely equivalent reference to “violence in the Middle East”.

“When I changed planes in Zurich I saw flights to Israel had their own separate terminal [sic]. A small armoured car lumbered behind the bus to the aircraft. Violence in the Middle East had leaked into the rest of the world.”

Following archive recordings of news reports of events including the Munich Olympics massacre and the Entebbe operation, Bowen indulges himself with the claim that mere reporting from the region – rather than inaccurate or biased reporting – sparks objection.

“The tectonic plates of religion and culture come together in Jerusalem. When they move, we all feel it. Reporting the conflict between Arabs and Jews is a great way to make enemies. Many people feel connected to it even if they’ve never been to the Middle East.”

The man who once invented a new quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem goes on to provide a context-free account of “access restrictions” which again erases Palestinian terrorism and violence from the picture.

“Jerusalem is one of the most complicated issues and you can get a good idea just by walking around the walled Old City, which is what I’m going to do. I’m going in through Damascus Gate which is the main entrance for Palestinians more or less. It’s early evening so the shops are starting to close up. There’s a boy there who’s shouting out; selling bread to the Palestinians going home. There used to be more people selling things outside Damascus Gate: women who’d wear embroidered village dresses selling herbs. Now you see fewer of them these days and the reason for that is that they simply can’t get into Jerusalem and that’s because of the access restrictions that Israel has put in.”

In a section about “European imperial powers”, Bowen once again promotes his misrepresentation of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence to BBC audiences.

“In fact the British were without any humility at all, carving up the Middle East, making contradictory promises to Arabs and Jews and setting them up for conflict.”

Bowen goes on to give an inaccurate description of the Western Wall.

“So it’s dark now and the moon’s out and I’m at the place really that is the hub of it all. This is the Western Wall Plaza; the big open space going down to the…what was known for many hundreds of years as the Wailing Wall; the holiest place in the world for Jews to pray.”

The Western Wall is of course the holiest site at which Jews can currently pray but Bowen refrains from informing his listeners that Jews are not allowed to pray at the holier site of Temple Mount due to objection by the Waqf.

Delaying the start of the Muslim siege of Jerusalem by two years, Bowen tells listeners that:

“Then in 638 Arab followers of the new religion of Islam besieged the city. It was by Jerusalem’s blood-soaked standards a peaceful conquest.”

Later he recycles a visit he made to an archaeological site in 2014, telling listeners that:

“East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and it’s claimed by the Palestinians as capital of their future state.”

No further context is provided and as was the case in his original report, audiences are not told of Jordan’s belligerent occupation of part of the city in the 19 years prior to the Six Day War or that those nineteen years were the only time that the city was divided.

Quoting writers Amos Elon (whom he calls Amos Alon), Amos Oz and Mahmoud Darwish, Bowen closes the item while reinforcing his main message:

“It’s impossible in Jerusalem to disentangle religion from power.”

In summary, Radio 4 listeners heard nothing new: the same jaded themes that Bowen has promoted over the last 25 years have simply been recycled and condensed into this latest item. Deliberately short on context, downplaying Palestinian terrorism and misrepresenting history, Bowen’s report tells BBC audiences nothing of real life in a city which is much more than just part of the much wider conflict.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen invents new quarter in Jerusalem

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

 

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

The first episode in Jeremy Bowen’s new BBC Radio 4 series of programmes about the Middle East was aired on May 15th.

The programme – titled “The Giant Awakens” – is ostensibly about the build-up to the First Gulf War in 1991. However, around a third of the episode is actually devoted to other topics and a transcript of most of that section of the programme was also uploaded to the programme’s webpage under the title “The three most significant foreign interventions in the Middle East“.

Bowen tells Radio 4 listeners and website visitors that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

“Big powers have intervened in the Middle East to reshape it to their requirements since ancient times.

It’s strategically placed, connecting Europe with Asia and Africa. It’s the home of the world’s three great monotheistic religions. And for the last 100 years or so, great powers have needed its oil reserves – the biggest in the world.

Two imperial grandees created – and some say cursed – the modern Middle East when they carved up the Ottoman Empire at the height of the First World War. One was a French diplomat, Charles Francois Georges Picot; the other, Sir Mark Sykes, was British.

The Sykes-Picot agreement was designed to win the peace for Britain and France. It defined zones of influence in the Middle East for the two imperial powers. Borders of new states came later.

But to win the war, the British had already made promises to the Arabs.

The Sharif of Mecca, Hussein Ibn Ali, led an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. In return, he believed the British had promised him an independent Arab kingdom across much of present day Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Hussein kept his word. The duplicitous British did not.

The requirements of Empire came first. The promise of Arab self-determination was part of the collateral damage.”

Bowen is of course referring to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence. However, as has been previously noted here on several occasions, Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937 that the claim that Hussein was promised all of the territory described by Bowen is incorrect.

That point had earlier been clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“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]

Nevertheless, the BBC – and the man whose job it is to “make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” – continues to promote that politically motivated myth.

Bowen continues:

“Within 20 years, a Palestinian scholar called Sykes-Picot a shocking document – the product of greed, stupidity and double-dealing.”

That “Palestinian scholar” was George Antonius and he was actually born in 1891 in Lebanon to an Eastern Orthodox Christian family. Having graduated from Cambridge, Antonius became a civil servant in the British Mandate administration in Palestine. The phrase quoted by Bowen appears in Antonius’ 1938 book ‘The Arab Awakening’ and it was refuted by Efraim Karsh in his book ‘Rethinking the Middle East’ (from page 58).

Bowen continues:

“Another vision of the future cut across Hussein Ibn Ali’s hopes: Zionists lobbied Britain, successfully, to support the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.

In November 1917, Britain’s foreign secretary Arthur Balfour declared that Britain would “view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people”. Britain also promised “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Making promises to both sides built a deadly contradiction into the Balfour Declaration. By the early 1920s, Arabs and Jews in Palestine were killing each other. They are responsible for what they’ve done. But Britain started the fire.

For Palestinians the Balfour Declaration was a milestone on the road to catastrophe. For Israelis it led to statehood.

A century on it’s still politically resonant – triumphant or toxic, depending on your view of history.”

Bowen’s promotion of the notion that the Balfour Declaration includes “a deadly contradiction” is of course the product of his own chosen political narrative. Notably, he fails to inform BBC audiences that the principle expressed in the Balfour Declaration was given the unanimous stamp of approval by the League of Nations in 1922 and that in the same year, 77% of the territory originally designated to the Jewish homeland was given over to the Hashemites when Transjordan was created.

In the audio version listeners next hear Bowen say:

“Earlier this year Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, showed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu round his grand corner office overlooking St James’ Park.”

A recording of the British Foreign Secretary showing Arthur Balfour’s desk is then heard before the report goes on:

“The deals made in World War One were designed to strengthen the British and French empires. The Ottoman Empire was breaking up after nearly 500 years and the European imperial powers were creating a new order in the Middle East.”

Jeremy Bowen’s presentation of this topic is far from accurate and impartial and it is clearly motivated by the political narrative he has chosen to adopt and advertise. Unfortunately, there is nothing new about that: the politicised misrepresentation of this subject by the gatekeeper of the BBC’s Middle East content goes back many years. However, that misrepresentation is all the more egregious at a time when political campaigns concerning the Balfour Declaration are in the news

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

Reviewing BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration

The BBC and the myth of the ‘twice promised land’

Resources:

How to complain to the BBC

More Balfour Declaration resources

This post is part our series providing resources relating to the Balfour Declaration and it will be permanently available in the Library section on the menu bar above. 

The following lecture was given by the British historian Sir Martin Gilbert – Winston Churchill’s official biographer – at the Foreign Office in London in October 2007.balfour-declaration

On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. In the early months of the war, as the fighting at sea intensified, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, faced a growing shortage of acetone, the solvent used in making cordite: the essential naval explosive. Through the head of the powder department at the Admiralty, Sir Frederic Nathan, a Jewish chemical engineer, Churchill approached Chaim Weizmann, who for the past decade had been working at Manchester University (he and Churchill had shared a platform in 1905 to protest against the most recent Russian pogroms).

Weizmann later recalled their meeting at the Admiralty: ‘Almost his first words were: “Well, Dr. Weizmann, we need thirty thousand tons of acetone. Can you make it?” I was so terrified by this lordly request that I almost turned tail.”’ But Weizmann did answer, telling Churchill: ‘So far I have succeeded in making a few hundred cubic centimetres of acetone at a time by the fermentation process. … if I were somehow able to produce a ton of acetone, I would be able to multiply that by any factor you chose … I was given carte blanche by Mr Churchill and the department, and I took upon myself a task which was to tax all my energies for the next two years, and which was to have consequences which I did not foresee’.

Those consequences were the support shown by Churchill’s successor at the Admiralty, Arthur Balfour, whom Weizmann won over to the prospect of British support for a Jewish National Home in Palestine once Turkey had been defeated.

In July 1917 the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, appointed Churchill to be Minister of Munitions. Among the senior civil servants on Churchill’s Munitions Council was Sir Frederic Nathan, then Director of Propellant Supplies, under whom Weizmann was working. In early 1917, Weizmann concluded his work on acetone, successfully, with the result that Britain had all the cordite explosive propellant needed for the British war effort.

Within a year, on 2 November 1917, A.J. Balfour, Foreign Secretary in Lloyd George’s government, sent his epoch-making letter to Lord Rothschild, for the attention of the Zionist Federation, stating: ‘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 War Cabinet hoped that, inspired by the promise of a national home in Palestine, Russian Jews would encourage Russia, then in the throws of an anti-war revolution, to stay in the war; and at the same time, that American Jewry would be stimulated to accelerate the military participation of the United States – already at war, but not yet active on the battlefield. On 24 October 1917, Balfour had told the War Cabinet: ‘The vast majority of Jews in Russia and America, as, indeed, all over the world, now appeared to be favourable to Zionism. If we could make a declaration favourable to such an ideal, we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.’ On November 1, Ronald Graham, a senior Foreign Office official – writing a few rooms away from where we are sitting tonight – urged the immediate publication of the Balfour Declaration in order to influence the Jews of Russia and America to support the Allied war effort. The Zionist leaders, he pointed out, were prepared to send ‘agents’ to Russia and America ‘to work up a pro-ally and especially pro-British campaign of propaganda among the Jews.’

The Declaration was issued the next day. To secure the results hoped for by the Foreign Office, Weizmann agreed to go first to Paris, then to the United States and then to Russia, to lead the campaign to rouse the pro-war elements among the Jewish masses in both countries. Vladimir Jabotinsky would go at once to Russia. ‘There is no question,’ Graham wrote to Balfour, ‘of the intense gratitude of the Zionists for the Declaration now made to them…. I believe that with their wholehearted cooperation with us may achieve valuable results.’ But on November 7, before Weizmann or Jabotinsky could set off, the Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and withdrew Russia from the war.

Publication of the Balfour Declaration had been delayed a week so that it could first be published in the weekly Jewish Chronicle on November 9. It was thus issued too late to affect the Bolshevik triumph. It did, however, encourage American Jews, especially those who had been born in Russia, to volunteer to fight in Palestine against the Turks as part of the British Army. Yitzhak Rabin’s father was one of them.

Churchill always regarded as a positive and immutable fact that the British government’s pledge to the Jews had been issued as a result of the urgent needs of the war. The fact that the Zionist Jews had been prepared to try to prevent Russia pulling out of the war meant much to him. As Minister of Munitions, he knew as well as anyone the dangerous situation to Britain, France and the United States on the Western Front as a result of Russia’s withdrawal from the war.

Following the Armistice, Lloyd George appointed Churchill Secretary of State for War. His new responsibilities included Palestine, then under British military administration. On 8 February 1920, as Soviet tyranny was being imposed throughout Russia, Churchill appealed to the Jews of Russia, and beyond, to choose between Zionism and Bolshevism. He did so in an article for a popular British Sunday newspaper. Of Zionism, he wrote: ‘In violent contrast to international communism, it presents to the Jew a national idea of a commanding character.’ It had fallen to the British Government, he explained, as the result of the conquest of Palestine, ‘to have the opportunity and the responsibility of securing for the Jewish race all over the world a home and a centre of national life. The statesmanship and historic sense of Mr. Balfour were prompt to seize this opportunity. Declarations have been made which have irrevocably decided the policy of Great Britain.’

The ‘fiery energies’ of Dr. Weizmann, Churchill added, ‘are all directed to achieving the success of this inspiring movement,’ and he went on to give his own Churchillian vision: ‘… if, as may well happen,’ Churchill wrote, ‘there should be created in our own lifetime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection of the British Crown, which might comprise three or four millions of Jews, an event would have occurred in the history of the world which would, from every point of view, be beneficial….’ A ‘negative resistance’ to Bolshevism was not enough, Churchill stressed. ‘Positive and practicable alternatives are needed in the moral as well as in the social sphere; and in building up with the utmost possible rapidity a Jewish national centre in Palestine which may become not only a refuge to the oppressed from the unhappy lands of Central Europe, but which will also be a symbol of Jewish unity and the temple of Jewish glory, a task is presented on which many blessings rest.’

In this article, Churchill also expressed his profound regard for an aspect of Judaism that had impressed itself upon him through his familiarity with the Old Testament. ‘We owe to the Jews in the Christian revelation,’ he wrote, ‘a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together. On that system and by that faith there has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilisation.’

In January 1921 Lloyd George appointed Churchill as Secretary of State for the Colonies, with special responsibility for the Palestine Mandate, which Britain had been awarded by the San Remo Conference in April 1920. To help Churchill in his task, a Middle East Department was set up in the Colonial Office, with Colonel T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as Arab affairs adviser. Two years earlier, Lawrence had brought Weizmann to a conference at Akaba with Emir Feisal (son of Hussein, Sharif of Mecca), to ensure what Lawrence called ‘the lines of Arab and Zionist policy converging in the not distant future.’ Lawrence had also secured a pledge from Feisal that ‘all necessary measures’ would be taken ‘to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible upon the land through close settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil.’ In November 1918, on the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Lawrence had told a British Jewish newspaper: ‘Speaking entirely as a non-Jew, I look on the Jews as the natural importers of western leaven so necessary for countries of the Near East.’

As Churchill began his work at the Colonial Office, Lawrence informed him that he had already concluded an agreement with Feisal whereby, in return for Arab sovereignty in Baghdad, Amman and Damascus, Feisal ‘agreed to abandon all claims of his father to Palestine.’ The Lawrence-Feisal agreement, with its Arab acceptance of the Jewish position in Palestine, was welcome news for Churchill. Since the French were installed in Damascus, and were not to be dislodged, Churchill favoured a scheme whereby Feisal would accept the throne of Iraq, and his younger brother Abdullah the throne of the largely desert Eastern Palestine – Transjordan – in return for Western Palestine – the whole area from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan (today’s Israel and the West Bank) – becoming the location of the Jewish National Home.

To secure this outcome, Churchill prepared to set off from London for conferences in Cairo and Jerusalem. Before he left London, his senior Middle East Department adviser, John Shuckburgh, informed him that there was no conflict between Britain’s wartime pledges to the Arabs and to the Jews.

In 1915, in an exchange of letters between Sharif Hussein of Mecca and Sir Henry McMahon, the Arabs had been promised ‘British recognition and support for their independence’ in the Turkish districts of Damascus, Hama, Homs and Aleppo, each of which was mentioned in the promise, but which did not include Palestine. Two years later Britain had promised a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. If therefore, the land east of the Jordan became an Arab State, and the land west of the Jordan, up to the Mediterranean Sea, became the area of the Jewish National Home, Britain’s two pledges would be fulfilled.

To confirm that Britain had not promised the same area to both the Jews and the Arabs, the Middle East Department asked Sir Henry McMahon why, in his letters to Sharif Hussein in 1915, neither Palestine nor Jerusalem had been specifically mentioned as part of the future Arab sovereignty. McMahon replied that his reasons for ‘restricting myself’ to specific mention of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo were ‘(1) that these were places to which the Arabs attached vital importance and (2) that there was no place I could think of at the time of sufficient importance for purposes of definition further south of the above.’ McMahon added: ‘It was as fully my intention to exclude Palestine as it was to exclude the more northern coastal tracts of Syria.’ Western Palestine, from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan, had never been promised to the Arabs. There had been no double promise of the same land.

The Cairo Conference, with Churchill in the chair, began on 12 March 1921. The first decision made on Palestine was that Transjordan should be separated from Western Palestine, and that the Jews would be able to settle the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. In addition, Churchill explained, the presence of an Arab ruler under British overall control east of the Jordan would enable Britain to prevent anti-Zionist agitation from the Arab side of the river. Lawrence shared this view, pointing out that pressure could be brought on the proposed ruler in Amman, Emir Abdullah, ‘to check anti-Zionism’.

On 23 March 1921, Churchill travelled by train from Egypt to Palestine. At that time 83,000 Jews and 660,000 Arabs lived between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, in what was known as Western Palestine. No Jews lived east of the river. Churchill’s principal object in going to Jerusalem was to explain to Emir Abdullah that Britain would support him as ruler of the area east of the River Jordan provided that Abdullah accepted a Jewish National Home within Western Palestine, and did his utmost to prevent anti-Zionist agitation among his people east of the Jordan.

James de Rothschild, a leading British Jew and Member of the first Zionist Commission to Palestine, understood that by removing Abdullah from any control over Western Palestine, and giving him the area east of the Jordan, Churchill had ensured the survival of the Jewish National Home. Thirty-four years later he wrote to Churchill, thanking him, as he wrote, for the fact that in Jerusalem in 1921 ‘you laid the foundation of the Jewish State by separating Abdullah’s Kingdom from the rest of Palestine. Without this much opposed prophetic foresight there would not have been an Israel today.’

While in Jerusalem, Churchill visited the building site on Mount Scopus of the future Hebrew University, which opened four years later. ‘Personally, my heart is full of sympathy for Zionism,’ Churchill told the large Jewish gathering. ‘I believe that the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine will be a blessing to the whole world, a blessing to the Jewish race scattered all over the world, and a blessing to Great Britain. I firmly believe that it will be a blessing also to all the inhabitants of this country without distinction of race and religion. This last blessing depends greatly upon you.’ ‘You Jews of Palestine,’ Churchill said, ‘have a very great responsibility; you are the representatives of the Jewish nation all over the world, and your conduct should provide an example for, and do honour to, Jews in all countries…. The hope of your race for so many centuries will be gradually realised here, not only for your own good, but for the good of all the world.’

On the morning of March 30 a delegation of senior Palestinian Arabs went to see Churchill at Government House in Jerusalem. They had sent him earlier a thirty-five page protest against Zionist activity in Palestine. In their memorandum, the Arabs sought to prove ‘that Palestine belongs to the Arabs, and that the Balfour Declaration is a gross injustice’. As for the Jewish National Home, and the very concept of Jewish nationalism, they informed Churchill: ‘For thousands of years Jews have been scattered over the earth, and have become nationals of the various nations amongst whom they settled. They have no separate political or lingual existence. In Germany they are Germans, in France Frenchmen, and in England Englishmen. Religion and language are their only tie. But Hebrew is a dead language and might be discarded’

The Arab memorandum continued: ‘Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of destruction in many lands, especially where their influential positions have enabled them to do more harm. It is well known that the disintegration of Russia was wholly or in great part brought about by the Jews, and a large proportion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put at their door. When the star of the Central Powers was in the ascendant Jews flattered them, but the moment the scale turned in favour of the Allies Jews withdrew their support from Germany, opened their coffers to the Allies, and received in return that most uncommon promise’, the Balfour Declaration. ‘The Jew, moreover,’ Churchill was told, ‘is clannish and unneighbourly, and cannot mix with those who live about him. He will enjoy the privileges and benefits of a country, but will give nothing in return. The Jew is a Jew all the world over. He amasses the wealth of a country and then leads its people, whom he has already impoverished, where he chooses. He encourages wars when self-interest dictates, and thus uses the armies of the nations to do his bidding.’

The Arab memorandum concluded by asking Churchill that: ‘The principle of a National Home for the Jews be abolished.’ Churchill replied to the Palestinian Arab protests: ‘You have asked me in the first place to repudiate the Balfour Declaration and to veto immigration of Jews into Palestine. It is not in my power to do so nor, if it were in my power, would it be my wish. The British Government have passed their word, by the mouth of Mr Balfour, that they will view with favour the establishment of a National Home for Jews in Palestine, and that inevitably involves the immigration of Jews into the country. This declaration of Mr Balfour and of the British Government has been ratified by the Allied Powers who have been victorious in the Great War; and it was a declaration made while the war was still in progress, while victory and defeat hung in the balance. It must therefore be regarded as one of the facts definitely established by the triumphant conclusion of the Great War.’

‘Moreover,’ Churchill told the Palestinian Arab delegation, ‘it is manifestly right that the Jews, who are scattered all over the world, should have a national centre and a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?’

The Arab deputation withdrew, its appeal rejected, its arguments rebutted. A Jewish deputation followed in its place. Churchill told them: ‘I earnestly hope that your cause may be carried to success. I know how great the energy is and how serious are the difficulties at every stage and you have my warmest sympathy in the efforts you are making to overcome them. If I did not believe that you were animated by the very highest spirit of justice and idealism, and that your work would in fact confer blessings upon the whole country, I should not have the high hopes which I have that eventually your work will be accomplished.’

On his way back to Britain, Churchill visited Rishon Le-Zion. On approaching Rishon, he told the House of Commons a few weeks later, ‘we were surrounded by fifty or sixty young Jews, galloping on their horses, and with farmers from the estate who took part in the work.’ When they reached the centre of the town, ‘there were drawn up three hundred or four hundred of the most admirable children, of all sizes and sexes, and about an equal number of white-clothed damsels. We were invited to sample the excellent wines which the establishment produced, and to inspect the many beauties of the groves.’ Churchill then declared: ‘I defy anybody, after seeing work of this kind, achieved by so much labour, effort and skill, to say that the British Government, having taken up the position it has, could cast it all aside and leave it to be rudely and brutally overturned by the incursion of a fanatical attack by the Arab population from outside.’ It would be ‘disgraceful if we allowed anything of the kind to take place.’

What did Churchill see as the eventual evolution of the Jewish National Home? The answer came during a meeting in London on 22 June 1921, with all four Dominion Prime Ministers, from Canada, Newfoundland, Australia and New Zealand. At the meeting, the Canadian Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen, questioned Churchill about the meaning of the words ‘National Home’. Did they mean, he asked, giving the Jews ‘control of the Government’? To which Churchill replied: ‘If, in the course of many, many years, they become a majority in the country, they naturally would take it over.’

A Palestinian Arab delegation had arrived in Britain in July 1921, and taken up residence in London to lobby against any further Jewish immigration. To reassure Weizmann that British policy had not changed, Churchill, Lloyd George, and Balfour met Weizmann at Balfour’s house in London. According to the minutes of the meeting, Lloyd George and Balfour both agreed ‘that by the Declaration they had always meant an eventual Jewish State’. On the eve of his declaration, Balfour had told the War Cabinet, on 24 October 1917, that the declaration ‘did not necessarily involve the early establishment of an independent Jewish State, which was a matter for gradual development in accordance with the ordinary laws of political evolution.’ It was these ‘laws’ that Churchill was in the process of putting in place.

At the beginning of 1922, with the Balfour Declaration as their starting point, Churchill’s officials drafted a constitution for Palestine that would ensure that no Arab majority could stand in the way of continued Jewish immigration and investment. On 3 March 1922 the Arab Delegation, still active in London, held a meeting of its supporters at the Hyde Park Hotel in London to denounce Britain’s ‘Zionist policy’. Churchill was later sent a report of how the secretary to the delegation used language ‘about the necessity of killing Jews if the Arabs did not get their way’. In Cabinet, Churchill explained that he had decided to suspend the development of representative institutions in Palestine ‘owing to the fact that any elected body would undoubtedly prohibit further immigration of Jews.’

As Colonial Secretary, Churchill had one more battle to fight to preserve the Balfour Declaration and the continuance of Zionist activity in Palestine. His final task was to have the Mandate (with its pledge to continued Jewish immigration and an eventual Jewish majority) approved by the League of Nations. But the Balfour Declaration and its consequences were challenged in the House of Lords, and with them the crucial electrical and water power monopoly granted by Churchill to the Zionists in his first weeks as Colonial Secretary: the Rutenberg concession.

During the Lords debate, Lord Islington declared: ‘Zionism runs counter to the whole human psychology of the age.’ It involved bringing into Palestine ‘extraneous and alien Jews from other parts of the world’, in order to ensure a Jewish predominance. ‘The Zionist Home must, and does mean, the predominance of political power on the part of the Jewish community in a country where the population is predominantly non-Jewish.’

Another Peer, Lord Sydenham, insisted that the Mandate as being presented by Churchill to the League of Nations, ‘will undoubtedly, in time, transfer the control of the Holy Land to New York, Berlin, London, Frankfurt and other places. The strings will not be pulled from Palestine; they will be pulled from foreign capitals; and for everything that happens during this transference of power, we shall be responsible.’ When the vote was taken, the anti-Zionist Lords prevailed, with sixty voting against the Balfour Declaration, and only twenty-nine for it. Balfour’s promise to the Jews was in danger of not being fulfilled.

It fell to Churchill to attempt to reverse the House of Lords vote in the House of Commons, and to ensure, by a vote in the House of Commons, that the Zionist enterprise could go ahead under British stewardship. Before the debate, Churchill made enquiries that would free the Zionists from a particularly damaging Palestinian Arab complaint, that the Jewish Colonization Association had evicted Arabs from their lands in order to settle Jewish immigrants in their place. On July 3 the Colonial Office informed Churchill’s Private Secretary that ‘Mr Churchill may like to know, for the purposes of tomorrow’s debate, that this lie has been nailed to the counter.’ The land in question was ‘mainly swamps and sand dunes.’

The House of Commons debate on the Palestine Mandate took place on the evening of 4 July 1922. For the future of the Jewish National Home, and the emergence of Israel twenty-six years later, it was the testing time. For Churchill, it was one of the greatest parliamentary challenges of his career. His speech was a sustained defence of Britain’s pledge to Jewish national aspirations.

Dealing first with the Balfour Declaration, Churchill pointed out that: ‘Pledges and promises were made during the War, and they were made, not only on the merits, though I think the merits are considerable. They were made because it was considered they would be of value to us in our struggle to win the War. It was considered that the support which the Jews could give us all over the world, and particularly in the United States, and also in Russia, would be a definite palpable advantage.’

In defending Britain’s Palestine responsibilities, Churchill told the House: ‘We cannot after what we have said and done leave the Jews in Palestine to be maltreated by the Arabs who have been inflamed against them.’ Arab fears of being pushed off the land were ‘illusory’. No Jew would be brought in ‘beyond the number who can be provided for by the expanding wealth and development of the resources of the country. There is no doubt whatever that at the present time the country is greatly under-populated.’

In his first weeks as Colonial Secretary, Churchill had granted the Zionists control of the electrical power development of Palestine, the Rutenberg Concession. The House of Lords had specifically rejected this. In his speech, Churchill defended the concession, and Jewish economic involvement, which, he explained, would safeguard the Arabs against being dispossessed, for it enabled the Jews ‘by their industry, by their brains and by their money’ to create ‘new sources of wealth on which they could live without detriment to or subtraction from the well-being of the Arab population’.

Jewish investment, Churchill believed, would enrich the whole country, all classes and all races: ‘Anyone who has visited Palestine recently must have seen how parts of the desert have been converted into gardens, and how material improvement has been effected in every respect by the Arab population dwelling around’.

There was ‘no doubt whatever,’ Churchill insisted, that there was in Palestine ‘room for still further energy and development if capital and other forces be allowed to play their part.’ There was no doubt that there was room ‘for a far larger number of people, and this far larger number of people will be able to lead far more decent and prosperous lives.’ Apart from this agricultural work, this ‘reclamation work’ he called it, ‘there are services which science, assisted by outside capital, can render, and of all the enterprises of importance which would have the effect of greatly enriching the land, none was greater than the scientific storage and regulation of the waters of the Jordan for the provision of cheap power and light needed for the industry of Palestine, as well as water for the irrigation of new lands now desolate.’

Churchill then asked the House of Commons: ‘Was not this a good gift which the Zionists could bring with them, the consequences of which spreading as years went by in general easement and amelioration? Was not this a good gift which would impress more than anything else on the Arab population that the Zionists were their friends and helpers, not their expellers and expropriators, and that the earth was a generous mother, that Palestine had before it a bright future, and that there was enough for all? Were we wrong in … fixing upon this development of the waterways and the water power of Palestine as the main and principal means by which we could fulfil our undertaking?’

Before Churchill spoke, almost every speaker had been critical of granting so important an economic benefit to a Russian Jew. In response, Churchill told the House of Commons about Rutenberg and his financial backing: ‘He is a man of exceptional ability and personal force. He is a Zionist. His application was supported by the influence of Zionist organisations …. He produced plans, diagrams, estimates, all worked out in the utmost detail. He asserted, and his assertion has been justified, that he had behind him all the principal Zionist societies in Europe and America, who would support his plans on a non-commercial basis.’

It was the non-commercial aspect of the Rutenberg concession that Churchill stressed: ‘I have no doubt whatever, and, after all, do not let us be too ready to doubt people’s ideals, that profit-making, in the ordinary sense, has played no part at all in the driving force on which we must rely to carry through this irrigation scheme in Palestine. I do not believe it has been so with Mr Rutenberg, nor do I believe that this concession would secure the necessary funds were it not supported by sentimental and quasi-religious emotions.’

Churchill continued his speech with a defence of Rutenberg himself: ‘He is a Jew. I cannot deny that. I do not see why that should be a cause of reproach.’ It was imperative, Churchill told the Commons, that if the Balfour Declaration ‘pledges to the Zionists’ were to be carried out, the Commons must reverse the vote of the Lords. Churchill’s appeal was successful. Only 35 votes were cast against the Government’s Palestine policy, Balfour and Rutenberg, and 292 in favour. Churchill’s speech was a personal triumph: ‘one of your very best’ Lloyd George told him.

Following the Rutenberg Debate, Churchill submitted the terms of Britain’s Palestine Mandate to Parliament as a White Paper, known as the Churchill White Paper. ‘When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine,’ the White Paper declared, ‘it may be answered that it is not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride. But in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.’

The Churchill White Paper was approved by the League of Nations in Geneva on July 22. Four days later, Weizmann wrote to him: ‘To you personally as well as to those who have been associated with you at the Colonial Office, we tender our most grateful thanks. Zionists throughout the world deeply appreciate the unfailing sympathy you have consistently shown towards their legitimate aspirations and the great part you have played in securing for the Jewish people the opportunity of rebuilding its national home…’

On hearing of the League of Nations’ approval of Churchill’s White Paper, one of the leading Zionist thinkers, Ahad Ha’am, then living in the Jerusalem garden suburb of Talpiot, told those who were with him when the news arrived: ‘Akhshav anachnu be’artzenu’: ‘Now we are in our own land.’

The Balfour Declaration and the Jewish National Home provisions of the Mandate were intact. As a result of Churchill’s commitments, 400,000 Jews entered Palestine between 1922 and 1940, bringing the population to almost half a million within twenty years. Two future British governments, Ramsay Macdonald’s in 1929 and Neville Chamberlain’s ten years later, were to make grave inroads into the Balfour Declaration and Churchill White Paper commitments to the Jews. But, thanks first to Balfour and then, predominantly, to Churchill – to both his practical and his emotional commitment to the Zionists and his 1922 White Paper – the Jewish National Home continued to be built, and was strong enough, numerically, economically and institutionally, to emerge into statehood in 1948. 

Balfour Declaration resources at your fingertips

As has already been demonstrated the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, which commenced last week, is set to be the focus of anti-Israel activity by various parties and that – together with events marking the centenary itself – will no doubt be accompanied by media coverage.PA Balfour Decl art

We have already reviewed the BBC’s portrayal of the Balfour Declaration and noted the corporation’s promotion of the notion that the Balfour Declaration conflicted with earlier pledges given by the British government in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.

In order to help readers locate material relating to those topics easily, we have added a section to the menu bar above titled ‘Library‘ (top right) where relevant links and documents can be found and we will be adding additional resources such as those below to the page.

In his book titled ‘The Balfour Declaration’ published in 1961, Leonard Stein wrote the following in relation to the Hussein-McMahon correspondence.

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In “The Question of Palestine: British-Jewish-Arab Relations, 1914-1918” (1992) Isaiah Friedman wrote about the same topic.

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The BBC and the myth of the ‘twice promised land’

 

The BBC and the myth of the ‘twice promised land’

h/t SF

In our recent review of BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration we noted that one of the backgrounders available online states that:balfour-in-timeline-1917

“During this period of change, three key pledges were made.

In 1916 the British Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, had promised the Arab leadership post-war independence for former Ottoman Arab provinces.

However, at the same time, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between war victors, Britain and France, divided the region under their joint control.

Then in 1917, the British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour committed Britain to work towards “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, in a letter to leading Zionist Lord Rothschild. It became known as the Balfour Declaration.”

Similarly partial portrayals of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence are found in additional material produced by the BBC – for example in an article from May 2016 by Jim Muir on the topic of the Sykes-Picot agreement and in an article by Kevin Connolly from July 2015. In May 2015 listeners to BBC World Service radio were told by historian-cum-political activist Avi Shlaim that:

“…Britain’s behavior during the First World War is a prime example of pure opportunism because in the course of fighting the First World War, Britain was desperate to gain allies and it made three major promises that were contradictory and couldn’t be reconciled and this should have been clear during the war. The first promise was to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca – to support an independent Arab kingdom under his rule in return for mounting an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. The second promise […] is the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. This was a secret agreement between Britain and France to carve up the Middle East between themselves at the expense of the Arabs. And the third and most famous promise was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which Britain undertook to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. So Palestine was the twice-promised land – first it was promised to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca and then it was promised to the Zionists.” [emphasis added]

In an ‘educational’ feature about the First World War produced in September 2014 and presented by BBC News diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall, BBC audiences are told (in section 5) that “British diplomats made a series of seemingly contradictory promises to potential allies” before being presented with portrayals of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration.

mcmahon-corr-on-iwonder

As has been previously noted here on several occasions, Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937 that the claim according to which “Palestine was the twice-promised land” is incorrect.

McMahon letter Times

That point had earlier been clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“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]

One must therefore ask why the BBC – committed as it is to accurate and impartial journalism – continues to enable promotion of the politically motivated myth of ‘contradictory promises’ relating to the area later assigned to the Mandate for Palestine.

Weekend long read

On May 16th an article by the BBC’s Beirut-based correspondent Jim Muir appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Sykes-Picot: The map that spawned a century of resentment“.Muir Sykes Picot

In his opening lines, Muir tells readers that:

“Reaching its centenary amidst a general chorus of vilification around the region, the legacy of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 has never looked more under assault.”

However, just four paragraphs later he acknowledges that:

“In fact, virtually none of the Middle East’s present-day frontiers were actually delineated in the document concluded on 16 May 1916 by British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.”

Muir’s overall messaging is clear:

“But the spirit of Sykes-Picot, dominated by the interests and ruthless ambitions of the two main competing colonial powers, prevailed during that process and through the coming decades, to the Suez crisis of 1956 and even beyond.

Because it inaugurated that era, and epitomised the concept of clandestine colonial carve-ups, Sykes-Picot has become the label for the whole era in which outside powers imposed their will, drew borders and installed client local leaderships, playing divide-and-rule with the “natives”, and beggar-my-neighbour with their colonial rivals.”

And his closing lines reveal a typically simplistic take on the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, a no less quintessential attempt to portray the Arab-Israeli conflict as being at the centre of all regional conflicts and the implication that the Balfour Declaration is disconnected from the topic of self-determination for peoples indigenous to the Middle East.

“The Sykes-Picot agreement conflicted directly with pledges of freedom given by the British to the Arabs in exchange for their support against the collapsing Ottomans.

It also collided with the vision of the US President Woodrow Wilson, who preached self-determination for the peoples subjugated by the Ottoman Empire.

His foreign policy adviser Edward House was later informed of the agreement by UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, who 18 months on was to put his name to a declaration which was to have an even more fateful impact on the region.

House wrote: “It is all bad and I told Balfour so. They are making it a breeding place for future war.””

Some rather less predictable commentary on the Sykes-Picot Agreement has also appeared in the media this week, including an interesting column from the Financial Times’ foreign editor Roula Khalaf titled “An inconvenient truth for the Middle East and a line in the sand“.

“This week it is a century since Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot drew that “line in the sand”. It is, therefore, an opportune time for more fervent debate.

It is an enduring and unfortunate habit in the Arab world to blame outsiders for the ruinous state of the region and to see in every act the sinister hand of foreign conspirators. The alternative — the idea that maybe the Middle East has been ruined by its own people and its leaders — is an inconvenient truth. […]

When Arab youth rose up in revolt in 2011, their slogan was not “the people want the fall of Sykes-Picot”; it was “the people want the fall of the regime”. If ethnic and religious identity now trumps national attachment in many parts of the Middle East, that is the result of collective disenchantment and insecurity, not a harking back to some fictitious past.”

At the American Interest, Adam Garfinkle takes a historical look at the topic.

“Today, May 16, is the 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot, and inanities and assorted stupidities about it are pouring out of the media woodwork faster than I can keep up with them. Let me get right to the point: Sykes-Picot did not—repeat, did not—establish the borders of the modern Middle East. That ought to make it hard to blame Sykes-Picot for anything, since it never came into effect. And what is falling apart today is not the Sykes-Picot interstate system but increasingly the units themselves; the bloody interstate clatter we see is not the source of the core problem in the region but a symptom of it. This is a lot to get wrong, and certainly it is foul fare to pass around to the uneducated like so many weird-tasting cocktail hour hors-d’oeuvres.”

Tim Marshall offers a typically realistic view:

“However, even if Sykes-Picot is useful shorthand for the problems bequeathed to the peoples in the region, it is far too broad a brush stroke to explain subsequent events.

Turkish history neither ended nor began with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey has never stopped being a player in the Middle East.

The various Ottoman vilayets, in what was known in geographical terms as ‘Natural Syria’, stretched from Aqaba in the south up to the Taurus mountains in the north, and from the Mediterranean in the west, across to the desert heading towards Mesopotamia. They divided it many ways. Even within the area we now know as Syria there were several geographic, linguistic, and cultural divisions. The idea that with the end of Turkish colonialism, but without Sykes-Picot, they would all have naturally formed into states with agreed borders, and an equitable division of natural resources, is fanciful.”

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BBC’s Kevin Connolly erases Iranian patronage of terror, distorts history

 

BBC’s Kevin Connolly erases Iranian patronage of terror, distorts history

On July 19th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Winds of change blow through Middle East“.Connolly Iran

Connolly’s basic premise is that the JCPOA signed by the P5+1 and Iran last week heralds a new era.

“This was a week of change though.

Once the US and Iran glared at each other across a chasm of values: where the Iranians saw themselves as champions of Shia communities and exporters of revolution the Americans saw only sponsorship of terrorism.

That may now begin to change although we don’t know how far or how fast that change will go.

Through the gloom of the current desert storms it is hard to know for sure what sort of Middle East will eventually emerge – but it is already clear that one of the strongest winds blowing in the region blows from Iran.”

On the way to that conclusion Connolly takes readers for a stroll through the last century of Middle East history, managing to make some significant omissions along the way. Going back to the end of the First World War, he states:

“With the Turks defeated in Jerusalem and Damascus and Sinai and Gaza there was a new world to be made.

Britain, mandated by the League of Nations to govern the Holy Land, could set about honouring its commitment to the Jews of the world to build a national home for them in Palestine – probably not guessing that the issues surrounding the promise would remain a potent source of violence and discord a century later.”

Yes, the British government had produced the Balfour Declaration in 1917 but Connolly misleads readers by failing to clarify that the establishment of the Jewish national home was not merely based on a pre-existing British commitment but in fact had its foundations in the legally binding unanimous decision of the fifty-one member countries of the League of Nations in 1922, which Great Britain was charged with administering and which the United Nations reaffirmed in 1946.

In relation to the Sykes-Picot agreement Connolly makes the following vague statement and links to an article from December 2013:

“Some historians have pointed out that the agreement conflicted with pledges already given by the British to the Hashemite leader Husayn ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, who was about to lead an Arab revolt in the Hejaz against the Ottoman rulers on the understanding that the Arabs would eventually receive a much more important share of the territory won.”

Connolly omits any mention of the fact that the Hussein-McMahon correspondence did not include Palestine, as Sir Henry McMahon himself pointed out in a letter to the Times in 1937.

McMahon letter Times

Later on in his article Connolly presents the following hypothesis:

“But we got a feel for some of the forces that will shape the new order in Vienna this week when the world’s great powers – the UN Security Council plus Germany – struck a deal with Iran.

The talks were convened of course to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions – and so they did.

But they were a kind of acknowledgement too of Iran’s status as a regional power – a sense that in effect nothing can be settled in the modern Middle East without the Iranians.”

Avoiding discussion of the obviously vital question of whether or not Iranian policy is really designed to ‘settle’ Middle East disputes and conflicts, he goes on to present the following attenuated portrayal of Iran’s fingers in the regional pie:

“Iran after all is the main force propping up the faltering Syria regime of Bashar al-Assad, and it is using Hezbollah, the militia it founded and funded in neighbouring Lebanon to bear the brunt of the fighting.

Iranian-backed Shia militias have been fighting in Iraq against Sunni extremists – often filling vacuums left by the country’s armed forces.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen too are part of this Iranian regional movement.”

Hizballah, of course, is not merely an Iranian proxy “militia” as Connolly leads readers to believe: it is an organization with a long history of terrorist and criminal activity both in the Middle East and much further afield. But Connolly’s whitewashing of Iranian patronage of terrorist organisations does not end there: he fails to make any mention of the theocratic regime’s material and ideological support for other terror groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Moreover, the extremist religious ideologies which are the foundations of the Iranian regime itself and the reason behind its patronage of Shia and Sunni terrorist organisations are portrayed by Connolly in markedly muted terms.

“Iran is the great power in the world of Shia Islam, just as Saudi Arabia would see itself as the leader of those who follow the Sunni tradition.

There are plenty of small wars in which their proxy armies fight each other in what sometimes feels like a looming regional confessional conflict.”

In other words, a BBC Middle East correspondent who has been located in the region for over four and a half years would have audiences believe that hostilities rooted in religious doctrines may be (perhaps; he’s not quite decided) just around the corner.

As long as Connolly and his colleagues continue to downplay Iranian sponsorship of terrorist groups motivated by religious ideology BBC audiences will obviously be unable to fully comprehend the reservations voiced by many in the Middle East concerning the “winds of change” bolstered by the terms of the JCPOA agreement or to fully understand the “international issues” likely to develop as a result.

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