Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Morning After

Feeling a bit queasy this morning?

Now you know how a Palestinian Arab must have felt as he opened his newspaper of November 4, 1917 and read the following: "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..."

That, of course, is the (black) heart of Lord Balfour's infamous Declaration of November 2, 1917.

In fact, the Balfour Declaration was kept secret from those "existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" - that is, the Palestinian Arabs who comprised around 93% of Palestine's population at the time - for the duration of General Allenby's campaign against the Turks. The context and circumstances of its suppression (although copies were showered by British planes over those cities in Eastern Europe and Russia with large Jewish populations) are worth recalling:

"A plan had been drawn up between Allenby and Lawrence, who had already discussed it with Feisal, by which the Arabs were to advance from Akaba when railway communications had advanced enough to ensure supplies and if possible to arrive at the Jordan before the end of March [1918]. In a raid they burned the lighters and launches of the Turks and stopped water-traffic on the Dead Sea before January was over... But as the spring advanced the possibility of carrying out the advance into northern Palestine and to Damascus faded away. Troops were taken from Allenby... for the Western Front, then endangered by a German offensive. On the 5th of May Allenby told Lawrence the Arabs would just have to hold on for the present.

"He softened this blow by allotting to them two thousand riding camels which the dissolution of a Sinai force had put at his disposal. This was the chief of a number of allocations of personnel, material and stores to his Arab right, to which he now gave considerable trust. To the Arab political cause Allenby made a species of gift too, a negative one perhaps but having its value. He would not have the Balfour Declaration published in Palestine.

"Arabs in official positions, those who read British newspapers, and others such got to know of it, of course, and as far as they could, began at once to attack it. But from the mass of the people it was kept hid, though there was Zionist complaint of this. 'No official instruction seems to have been given by Whitehall in London to General Headquarters in Cairo as to bringing their action into accord with the new idealist character which the Palestine offensive, in view of the Balfour Declaration, had acquired.' (Zionist Official Report.) The new idealist character! A pleasant concept, this, of Allenby and his mundane army being regenerated by the Balfour Declaration.

"Mr. Graves* suggests that the Declaration was not published (it was only proclaimed in Palestine after two years had passed) because 'when the result of the War was in grave doubt it was not a fitting moment to make any official proclamation of our intentions as regards hostile territory.' What of the Balfour Declaration then? For whom too was a proclamation not fitting? For the enemy? The enemy had spread it about the world as widely as the enemy's wireless-service permitted. For the nations of Europe? For India? For the American continent? They all knew it from universal publication in the Press.

"The only people who could be, and were ignorant of the Declaration were the inhabitants of Palestine and the adjacent war-zones, who probably had not ten wireless-sets between them nor any access to newspapers. So that Mr. Graves unintentionally leads us to the chief reason why the Declaration was not published, which, as it happens, the Zionists themselves have confessed. As they put it, 'There can be no doubt but that General Allenby knew by the time that such a Declaration had been issued. But the military authorities obviously thought that any official mention of that fact in the newly conquered territory might mar the jubilation of certain sections of the population. Naturally anxious to avoid any friction which might hinder the freedom of further military operations, they preferred to abstain from any mention of the fact that the British Government had promised to support Zionist aspirations.' (Zionist Official Report.)

"There is one part of the truth expressed with some marvellous phraseology. In plain English, the Government had issued a Declaration so high-handed, so improper that it would have been a danger to the progress of the army. It had to be suppressed.

"The general evidence points to Allenby having suppressed it himself. There is reason to believe too that while he felt that publication of it would have injured his campaign, there was a stronger reason still for his action. He did not think it was legitimate for him to publish it, because it contravened the Hague Convention to which Great Britain had subscribed. Under the Hague Convention an occupying power must not introduce a new political regime.

"However that be, the non-publication of the Declaration introduces an inescapable dilemma. If Allenby suppressed it himself, the Government had to be censored by its own forces in the field. If it was suppressed by order or agreement of the Government then the Government knew the Declaration was a betrayal of the Arabs, and preferred to conceal it from them till their country was in the Government's control." (Palestine: The Reality, JMN Jeffries, 1939, pp 217-219)

Hm... I wonder what high-handed, improper declarations Abbott's been sitting on until now.

[*Philip Graves: Palestine, the land of three faiths (1923)]

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