On 2 November 2017 we celebrated the Balfour Declaration centenary. On the 29th November, we celebrate seventy years since UN resolution 181 – the United Nations ‘partition plan’. Looking at much of the discussion over Balfour, there is still clearly misunderstanding over the process that led to the creation of Israel.
The Balfour Declaration was a stepping stone, an important point of recognition. Yet the United Nations went on to divide the land, something Balfour never proposed. So – what changed?
There are twenty-eight days from the start of one anniversary to the end of the other, so here I have listed twenty eight stepping stones, twenty eight events, that took Balfour through to partition, and into the civil war that was to bring about the creation of the State of Israel.
Day one – November 2nd 1917. The starting point of this story – the Balfour Declaration. A crucial stepping stone for the Jewish people as their right to self-determination, and a return to their homeland, was recognised in a letter written by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild. A letter that is often misunderstood, as Balfour did not create the divide between the Jews and Arabs and did not create Israel. The paradigm of Balfour was a one-state solution (something those shamefully seeking an apology never seem to understand).
Day two – Saturday 18th January 1919. The Paris Peace Conference begins. The Versailles Peace Conference, was the meeting of the Allied victors, following World War One. The Conference was to decide on the creation of the League of Nations, and adopt a policy of awarding German and Ottoman overseas possessions as ‘mandates’. At the British National Archives in Kew is a large file on the conference, containing hundreds of documents discussing the future of Palestine. This is a petition from the ‘inhabitants of Nablus’:
A fascinating document on so many levels. Note the insistence that the area is part of ‘Syria’, and not seen as a national entity by its own inhabitants. But the main sentiment is the underlying racism, and anti-Jewish feel of the document. An open admission of a ‘dislike of Jews’, referenced again within the commentator’s notes. This antisemitism is a vital part of understanding the road to partition.
Day three – Sunday 4th April 1920. An outbreak of violence at the annual Nebu Musa festival in Jerusalem. This occurred a few weeks after the Battle of Tel Hai, and like that Arab attack on the Jewish village, was also tied into the struggles of Syrian and pan-Arab nationalism. Five Jews died and over two hundred were injured. Following these events, and with a growing understanding the British could not be relied on to defend Jewish towns and villages, the Jews set up the ‘Haganah‘, or ‘defence’ units.
Day four – Monday 19th April 1920. The San Remo Conference opens. Following in the footsteps of the 1919 Peace Conference. Resolutions passed at this conference included the allocation of the mandates. Crucially the San Remo Resolution adopted on 25 April 1920 incorporated the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and along with Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, underpinned the construction of the British Mandate of Palestine.
Day five – Sunday 1st May 1921. Outbreak of violent riots in Jaffa. What began as a local fight between Jewish communists and Jewish socialists celebrating ‘May Day’, developed into week long anti-Jewish riots that spread to other cities and saw brutal Arab violence against Jews. Arabs attacked ‘Jewish pedestrians and destroyed Jewish homes and stores’. They ‘killed Jews in their homes, including children, and in some cases split open the victims’ skulls’. Forty-seven Jews died and another nearly one hundred and fifty more were injured. An important note when viewing casualty figures from the Mandate period: Records often mislead by recording that a similar number of Jews and Arabs died at these violent events. Jews were murdered by Arabs, and for the most part, Arabs died at the hands of the British, who were trying to control the violence.
Day six – Sunday May 8th 1921. The British High Commissioner Samuel appoints Amin al-Husseini as the Mufti of Jerusalem. A member of a powerful regional clan, al-Husseini was in Damascus following World War I as a supporter of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. When Syria fell, he returned to Jerusalem and was seen as a leader of the 1920 riots. The British pardoned and then promoted al-Husseini to the position of Mufti, as a way of balancing out the influence of the rival Nashashibi clan. During the mandate period, al-Husseini periodically played a major role in clandestine anti-British and anti-Zionist activities, helping to poison Jewish / Arab / British relations. He fled Palestine in 1937 as the British sought to arrest him for his part in the uprising. al-Husseini often abused his power to kill political adversaries. He provides a prime example of how the Arab leadership placed their own factional power interests first and failed to work for the well being of their own people. He went on to play a role in Iraq between 1939 and 1941 as the situation for Jews there deteriorated. He was a key promoter of the group that led the Farhud Pogrom. In October of 1941 he was in Europe, and by November, was meeting with the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (20 November) and Adolf Hitler (28 November). This appointment is an early sign of the mistaken British strategy of appeasing rejectionist Arab violence and ‘hugging’ those behind it. It also underlines Arab disunity (a tale of competing clan power struggles that internally crippled Arab political power) and a brutal anti-Jewish position.
Day seven – Monday July 11th (approx) 1921. As a group of Arabs went to London to protest Balfour, the Mayor of Haifa and President of the Muslim National Associations, sent a telegram in support of the Zionists.
‘We strongly protest against the attitude of the said delegation concerning the Zionist question. We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy whose wish is to crush us. On the contrary. We consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country’
Shukri survived several assassination attempts, but the co-founder of the organization, Sheikh Musa Hadeib, was murdered in 1929. To highlight the complexity, some of these efforts were paid for by Zionist movements, just as some of the anti-Zionist Arab actions were promoted by British officials who opposed the Balfour Declaration. Some golden opportunities were missed in the formative years, as the Bedouin of the South, many Arab Christians, and some Muslim groups opposed to the powerful clans, were not as opposed to Zionism as Arab propaganda would have everyone believe. Some Pro-Arab British officials opposed to Zionism worked against the Mandate, throughout the whole time it existed and provide a crucial element of the deteriorating situation.
Day eight – Monday 24th July 1922. The draft of the Mandate for Palestine was formally confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on 24 July 1922. Based on the principles contained in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations and of the San Remo Resolution of 25 April 1920. However, as this was taking place, the British were already ceding part of the proposed Mandate land to create Trans-Jordan. On Saturday 16th September 1922 a British memorandum passed by the Council of the League of Nations described how the British planned to implement an article of the Mandate which allowed exclusion of Trans-Jordan from the provisions regarding Jewish settlement. From the perspective of Balfour – the British cut Palestine in half.
Day nine – Tuesday 22nd August 1922. The fifth Arab congress opened in Nablus. Whilst the first congress in 1919, had stressed Palestine was part of Syria, and the third in 1920 had argued Palestine was part of the ‘Greater Arab Nation’, by 1922, the focus was on galvanising opposition to the growing Jewish presence within the reality of a British controlled mandate. These seeds see the creation of the ‘Palestinian Arab’ identity. Resolutions included a banning of all land sales to Jews, ‘forbidding’, Jewish immigration, and a boycott of Jewish goods. This the first of many such boycotts. There were calls for boycott throughout the mandate period, most clearly in 1933, 1934 & 1936. The wider ‘Arab League’ boycott, against the Jewish community of Palestine (before Israel existed) – ‘Products of Palestinian Jews are to be considered undesirable in Arab countries.‘ – came into force on Tuesday January 1 1946. During later periods, this became more sophisticated, with the 1950’s adoption of the secondary boycott (against companies that trade with Israel). For decades, everyday items such as Pepsi, could not be found in Israel because of compliance to the boycott. Today, the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement is an example of how these anti-Jewish boycotts still operate. During the mandate, Arabs who failed to adhere to the boycott, by purchasing goods, selling land or employing / trading with Jews, faced assassination.
Day ten – Friday August 23 1929. Arguments over Jewish access to the Western Wall, turn into a week-long brutal anti-Jewish rampage. In total 133 Jews were killed by Arabs and 339 others were injured. There were massacres in Jewish communities in Jerusalem (17+ Jews massacred), in Hebron (67+ Jews massacred), Tzfat (18+ Jews massacred). Additional killings took place in Motza, Kfar Uria and Tel Aviv. There were also many isolated attacks, and in six cases, entire villages were burnt and destroyed. In Jerusalem, the police chose *not to fire* on the rioters, for fear the rioters would turn on the police.
Day eleven – April 10th 1931. Following the violence of 1929, there was a growing feeling that the Haganah were not strong enough in protecting Jewish interests. Some Jews felt the British were backtracking on their Balfour commitments, and viewed Jewish cooperation with an increasingly hostile mandate government as being based on a mistaken policy of trust. At the time, there were limited weapons, and these were moved from place to place as needs dictated. On April 10th 1931, several Commanders refused to hand back the weapons they had been allocated. One of these commanders was Avraham Tehomi. Although these weapons were returned, the commanders resigned their positions and set up an independent movement. This group would later become the Irgun.
Day twelve – November 13th 1931. Police discover the bodies of two young Jews, who had been missing for over four months. Jochanan Stahl and Salvia Zohar went missing in July of 1931. It took months for the murder to be solved. Importantly, the ‘discovery’ was down to a private Jewish initiative and not police activity. In the end the bodies were found in sand dunes near Herzliya and five Bedouins were arrested. The Jewish couple had been stabbed. This day represents hundreds of others. Over time, 1929 has become the focal point for representation of Arab violence against Jews, in reality, the Haganah was set up because sporadic attacks were a regular occurrence. The Irgun followed because of the perceived failures of the Haganah. Both created as a response to a persistent threat to the Jewish community.
Day thirteen – Monday 30th January 1933. Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany. For those who have bought into the disgraceful anti-Zionist ‘collusion’ argument and think Hitler ‘supported’ Zionism ‘before he went mad‘, this is what Hitler had to say about Palestine in ‘Mein Kampf’:
“They have no thought of building up a Jewish State in Palestine, so that they might perhaps inhabit it, but they only want a central organization of their international world cheating, endowed with prerogatives, withdrawn from the seizure of others: a refuge for convicted rascals and a high school for future rogues.”
Hitler’s rise to power and the laws he began to set in place against Jews, created a panic amongst German Jews and in wider Europe. From1933 onward we enter a new era: more Jews needed to go to Palestine, than the British were prepared to let in.
Day fourteen – Saturday 28th October 1933. Violence erupts again as the Palestine riots begin. Riots that were initiated by the Arab Executive Committee. As Jewish immigration increased, Arab opposition became more violent. These immigrants were mainly Jewish refugees fleeing persecution. In opposition, stood those claiming the refugees were stealing their homes and their jobs. It isn’t difficult to place this opposition to immigration, specifically refugee immigration, on the far right of the political spectrum.
Day fifteen – Saturday 25th August 1934. A ship called ‘the Vallos‘, arrives off the coast of Palestine carrying about 350 Jews. The ship was the first major attempt to bring a large number of Jews into Palestine behind the backs of the British. It travelled without the permission of Jewish Agency, who feared ‘illegal’ immigration would cause the British to restrict legal immigration. ‘Aliyah Bet‘, had begun. The Irgun was a major player in this immigration and tens of thousands of Jews were to arrive via this method into Palestine. Most of these attempts took place after 1938. Jabotinsky called it the “National Sport”. It wasn’t always successful. Many of the boats were captured and the refugees refused entry. Sometimes the British towed the boats out of Palestine’s waters. On more than one occasion, this resulted in the deaths of those on board.
Day sixteen – Wednesday November 20th 1935. Izz ad-Din al-Qassam is killed by British forces in Nazlet Zeid. al-Qassam was born in Syria and like al-Husseini had been part of the Syrian Kingdom struggle. He arrived in Palestine in the 1920’s. In the early 1930’s he began to organise small groups of fighters, keeping each band a secret from the other. The organisation was called the ‘Black Hand‘. In an example of one attack, on 11 April 1931 they killed three members of kibbutz Yagur. al-Qassam’s fight was a religious, not a nationalist struggle. By 1935 there were several hundred fighters with bombs and firearms, which they used to raid Jewish settlements. He was cornered and killed by the British in November of the same year. Five months after this, on 15th April 1936, a few of his followers called ‘Qassamiyun’, murdered Jews who were travelling on a bus. This triggered the Arab revolt. On the 19th April, ‘the bloody day in Jaffa‘, saw violent attacks on Jews. This spread into a widespread uprising by Arabs in Mandatory Palestine against the British administration. The uprising was violent, it continued (on and off) for three years, and the British response was brutal, as 1000’s of Arabs were killed. Today, the military wing of the Hamas is named after al-Qassam.
Day seventeen – Thursday April 16th 1936. Until 1936, the Irgun had focused on immigration and defending Jewish communities. At the time there was little difference in actions between them and the Haganah, and indeed in April 1936, against the backdrop of an expected call for partition from the British, the organisation almost folded. However, instead the group split, Jabotinsky took command and from April they ended the policy of restraint. A day after the bus shooting on the 15th April, Irgun members killed two Arabs near Petach Tikva. This was a sign of things to come. The Arabs attacked a school in Tel Aviv, the Irgun responded with an attack on an Arab neighborhood. Arabs attacked Jews on a train, the Irgun attacked Arabs on the same train. By late 1937, as attacks on Jews increased, so too, did the violence of the Irgun reprisals. The policy sought to extract a price for each attack, to create a deterrent and to remove the ‘enemy’ ability and motivation to strike. It was referred to as ‘active defence‘. It is here Arab propaganda normally begins its tale, using examples of Irgun activity as evidence that the Jews were the terrorists.
Day eighteen – Wednesday July 7th 1937. Following an investigation into the violence, the British publish the report that publicly stated that the League of Nations Mandate had become unworkable and recommended partition. A call to split the land into separate Jewish and Arab areas. There are files on partition in the National Archives at Kew that date back to 1935, so it appears the report consolidates a growing understanding of the British belief that separation was inevitable. The Peel Commission, findings provide evidence that partition came about as a result of Arab rejectionism and violence, but more importantly they entirely reject the argument that the war, and the Holocaust, brought about the State of Israel – the inevitability of partition pre-dated both.
Day nineteen – Sunday October 2, 1938. Arab rioters infiltrated the Kiryat Shmuel neighbourhood and massacred 19 Jews in Tiberias, 11 of whom were children. During the massacre, 70 armed Arabs set fire to Jewish homes and the local synagogue. In one house a mother and her five children were killed. At the time of the attack there were only 15 Jewish guards in a neighborhood of over 2,000 people.
Day twenty – Saturday May 13th 1939. The MS St Louis leaves Hamburg on its way to Cuba. The ship was carrying 937 passengers, most of them Jewish refugees. Although they had visas, Cuba refused to accept them. The ship then left for the United States, where the ship was refused permission to approach the shore. The Canadians also refused to accept the refugees. Eventually the ship was turned around and headed back to Europe. Two hundred and fifty-four of the passengers, were to be slaughtered in the Holocaust.
Day twenty one – Monday May 22. 1939. The total betrayal of the British of their commitment to Balfour and the Mandate. The British Government passes a White Paper in an act of appeasement to Arab violence of the 1930’s. Through this policy adoption, Britain issued a permanent limit to Jewish immigration, restricting it to just 75,000 in five years, with Arab agreement needed before any more could come. At the same time as Hitler was taking control of more of Europe’s Jews, the British slammed the door of the ‘Jewish Home’ shut.
Day twenty two – Friday 14th June 1940. The first inmates of Auschwitz and Theresienstadt concentration camp arrived. A reminder of the millions of Jews who were never to see the creation of the state of Israel. Israel did not come about because of the Holocaust and the Peel Commission clearly shows that Israel was already a state in waiting by 1936. This date is placed into this list because the Holocaust closed all mainstream Jewish discussion over Zionism. Before the Holocaust there were some Jewish communities in Europe (like the Bundists) that still believed Jews did not need a national home of their own, Auschwitz ended the argument. The Bundist community, that for decades had been arguing Europe could provide a safe haven, was almost wiped out.
Day twenty three – Sunday June 1 1941. The start of a pogrom carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq. Called ‘the Farhud‘, over 180 Jews were killed and 1,000 injured in the violence. The Farhud took place during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Even though this occurred in a vacuum of power created by the British victory in Iraq, it is a sign of growing anti-Jewish activity that accompanied rising Arab national identity. Although there had been minor acts of anti-Jewish violence before this, the Farhud, marks the beginning of the end of the Jewish community in Iraq. In 1941 there were 150,000 Jews in Iraq, within 15 years they had almost all left.
Day twenty four – Monday November 5 1945. More evidence of the anti-Jewish undercurrents within rising Arab Nationalism. The fascist Italian regime that had been in control before the British had also fermented antisemitism with several anti-Jewish laws in the 1930’s. In 1941, 25% of Tripoli was still Jewish. The 1945 anti-Jewish riots in Tripolitania was the most violent rioting against Jews in North Africa in modern times. 140 Jews were killed and many more injured in a pogrom. The event caused the beginning of the Libyan Jewish exodus. Thus, Jews began leaving Libya three years before the establishment of Israel and seven years before Libya gained independence.
Day twenty five – Tuesday August 13, 1946. The British internment camps on Cyprus received its first batch of Holocaust survivors. The British taking the remnants of Hitler’s Holocaust, and locking them up in camps, because the White Paper numbers didn’t permit entry for them to Palestine. 52,000 Jews passed through these camps. At the peak, there were nine functioning camps in Cyprus. With partition now the only realistic option, it was simply now a matter of when, not if.
Day twenty six – Friday July 11th 1947. The SS Exodus sets sail from the port of Sete. With DP’s camps full and with pogrom’s chasing returning Jewish refugees out of Eastern Europe, there was nowhere for the Jews to go but Palestine. The Exodus was carrying 4,515 passengers including 1,600 men, 1,282 women, and 1,672 children and teenagers. Most of the passengers were Holocaust survivors. The British Royal Navy seized the ship and deported all its passengers back to Europe. Upon arrival in France, the French said they would not permit forced disembarkation on their soil. In the end, the British took the Holocaust survivors back to Germany.
Day twenty seven – Thursday 15th May 1947. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created on 15 May 1947 to make recommendations concerning the future government of Palestine”. They had been in Haifa to watch the British confrontation with the SS Exodus. UNSCOP was made up of representatives of 11 nations. The Report of the Committee recommended termination of the mandate and proposed partition into two independent states with economic union. The Arab Higher Committee boycotted the Commission, and unlike the Zionists, did not officially meet with the committee. This strand of Arab rejection of cooperation ran throughout the mandate period. The Arab leaders frequently chose personal political ambitions, and strategic factional power-plays over what was best for those they were meant to represent. Because of their refusal to cooperate, they were often not present when matters of importance were debated.
Day twenty eight- November 29th 1947. And so we arrive on the day the United Nations gather to vote on the partition plan. UN Resolution 181. It passes with thirty-three votes for, thirteen against and ten abstentions. Yet the fight for Israel is still to come. The Jews rejoice and accept the plan, the Arabs do not. The constant self-defeating rejectionism of the Arab side. Within hours, Jews are being attacked on buses and a bloody civil war breaks out. In December at the Cairo summit, the Arabs decided to support an irregular army, and within weeks 1000’s of fighters were crossing into Palestine to wreak havoc on the Jewish supply lines. As tension mounts, the Arab aristocracy flees, leaving the near leaderless local Arabs caught between the Jewish fight for survival, Arab irregular forces and countless internal clans, some hostile to the Jews, some not. With nowhere to go, the Jews fight, but the Arabs? Whole villages flee, as they do in civil war, with the situation exacerbated by Jewish forces clearing areas where irregular forces have made the Jewish security situation untenable. After six months the British leave, the Jews declare their state, and the Arab nations invade, but still fail to dislodge the Jewish grip on the land. In the end, Israel survives, with more land than partition had allotted to it.
From Balfour to partition. It is all here. The persistent Arab rejectionism, the Arab clan wars, the self-interest of their leaders, the divisive boycotts, the ever-present anti-Jewish racism, some British anti-Zionist officials working against the policies of their own government, the brutal anti-Jewish violence, the unfolding horrors in Europe, the rising Arab nationalism across Middle East, the Arab opposition to Jewish refugees, and underneath it all, Arab opposition to the idea that the Jews should be allowed any land, however small, on which to raise their flag.
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