Lines in the Sand: Britain, America and the Formation of the State of Israel

 A slightly revised and corrected version of an article that first appeared in New View magazine issue 110 Jan.-March 2024

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, read out Israel’s Declaration of Independence in the Tel Aviv Museum Hall on 14 May 1948; it included the following words:

“In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country. This right was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of the 2nd November, 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home. [.…]

On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel [the Land of Israel]; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. Accordingly, we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish Community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist Movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”1

The phrase above  - “national rebirth in its own country”  - is strange because before 1917 few would have denied that the Jews were a nation or a people. They clearly already existed as such and so hardly needed to be ‘reborn’; what was being referred to here was rather, a nation state. The Balfour Declaration issued in the name of the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on behalf of the government of the UK (following no parliamentary discussion or public debate) in 1917 said nothing about a “national rebirth”. It referred to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”; it did not say “the establishment in Palestine of the national home for the Jewish people”. There was no precedent for the term “national home” in international law; it was unclear from the text whether a Jewish state was intended. However, the phrase “in its own country” in the Independence Declaration of 1948 implied that all of Palestine belonged to the Jews. By then, there were some 650,000 Jews in Palestine, far more than in 1917, and most had arrived since the late 1920s. On 3 February 1919 the World Zionist Organisation submitted a statement to the Paris Peace Conference which referred not to “a national home” but “the national home”. The Zionist Statement made much of the Jews’ “historic title” to the land of Palestine, claiming that “Palestine can be made now as it was in ancient times…”, but in ancient times the Jews constituted a kingdom in the land for several periods i.e. an autonomous Jewish State, and this was indeed what the Zionists were always aiming for but which, from the period before the Balfour Declaration on 1917 to the establishment of the Palestine Mandate in 1922, they could not officially mention.  The Zionist Statement also claimed that “by violence they were driven from Palestine”, no doubt referring to an expulsion by the Roman Empire, but such an expulsion did not happen; Palestine was by no means devoid of Jews between 136 AD and the arrival of the Muslim conquerors in the 7th century, despite the Romans’ cruel treatment of the Jews after the suppression of the Jewish revolt led by Simon Bar Kokhba  in 132-136 AD.2 Galilee was the main Jewish religious centre after 136 AD. And even for centuries before the two disastrous Jewish revolts against the Romans in 66-70 and 132-136 AD, far more Jews had chosen to live outside the Jewish homeland than inside it: “Perhaps three to five million Jews dwelled outside Palestine in the roughly four centuries that stretched from Alexander to Titus… through most of [this] era, a Jewish regime existed in Palestine. The Jews of the diaspora, from Italy to Iran, far outnumbered those in the homeland. Although Jerusalem [and the Temple] loomed large in their self-perception as a nation, few of them had seen it, and few were likely to.”3

     The Declaration of Independence in 1948 acknowledged that the new State of Israel was brought into being by: a) acts of will by Theodore Herzl until his death in 1905 and by the Zionist movement from 1897 until 1948 b) the Balfour Declaration by the UK Cabinet in 1917; c) the Mandate of the League of Nations (1922) d) an “irrevocable” vote by the UN General Assembly in November 1947. It should be noted that, apart from the first of these four factors, the other three all resulted from the actions of the elites of the UK and the USA, which issued the Balfour Declaration, and created both the League of Nations and the United Nations; indeed, the result of the UN vote itself in 1947 was largely due to American pressure on other countries, notably France (see below).

     The sentence in the 1948 Declaration of Independence “This right”  - of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country – “…was re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Eretz-Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home”  is problematic, because the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) report of 1947 (Article 160, Chapter II: The Elements of the Conflict) stated that:

The Arabs have persistently adhered to the position that the Mandate for Palestine, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration, is illegal. The Arab States have refused to recognize it as having any validity. (emphasis – TB)

(a) They allege that the terms of the Palestine Mandate are inconsistent with the letter and spirit of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations for the following reasons:

(1) Although paragraph 4 of Article 22 stipulated that certain communities had reached a stage of development where their existence as “independent nations” could be provisionally recognised, subject only to a limited period of tutelage under a mandatory Power in the form of administrative advice and assistance until such time as these communities would be able to stand alone, the Palestine Mandate violated this stipulation by deliberately omitting immediate provisional recognition of the independence of the territory and by granting to the mandatory Power in article 1 of the Mandate “full powers of legislation and administration”.

(2) The wishes of the Palestine community had not been “a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory Power”, as provided for in Article 22, paragraph 4 of the Covenant.

(b) The principle and right of national self-determination were violated.

(c) The Arab States were not Members of the League of Nations when the Palestine Mandate was approved, and are not, therefore, bound by it.4

“International law”

In the aftermath of the bizarre events of 7 October 2023, when one of the world’s most technologically advanced states, widely regarded as having the world’s most sophisticated intelligence and security system, supposedly ‘failed’ for over seven hours (!) to foil a serious cross-border incursion involving genocidal attacks by terrorists on foot, on motorbikes, in trucks and on paragliders – a circumstance that has largely been overlooked by media and governments around the world but which certainly bears comparison with the equally bizarre events of 11th September 2001 in the USA – many western governments have since frequently stated that “Israel has the right to defend itself under international law” and also that “Israel must abide by international law with regard to the treatment of civilians in wartime”.

      In democratic societies “law” is supposed to be decided by the majority votes of the democratically elected representatives of the populations of those societies. But when it comes to “international law” and international treaties between governments or between governments and international organisations such as the UN, then the populations of those “democratic societies” and their representatives are often suddenly left out. It seems to be accepted, even in democratic societies, that proposals and decisions in these areas are made by the foreign policy and legal ‘experts’ in the countries in question, i.e. by small circles of individuals, and not by the populations or their representatives, most of whom have neither much interest in nor knowledge of international affairs. The consequent result, however, of these completely undemocratic procedures that result in new “international laws” is that the populations of democratic societies can find themselves bound for decades afterwards by “international laws” that they themselves were neither consulted upon nor played any part in deciding or voting on. Furthermore, extra-parliamentary private lobby groups can have considerable impact on governments’ behaviour and decisions with regard to international law.

     How, for example, did the State of Israel actually come about in 1948? It was due to decisions made under “international law”, namely the UN Partition Plan for (Mandatory) Palestine, which was passed by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947 by 33 votes to 13 with 10 abstentions. The UK, which was one of the abstaining countries, had been granted a mandate in 1922 to administer Palestine by the League of Nations, a body which had not existed before 1919. With regard to these League of Nations ‘Mandates’, it should be noted that on 17 May 1922, Lord Balfour informed the Council of the League of Nations that his government’s understanding of the role of the League in the creation of mandates was that:

“[the] Mandates were not the creation of the League, and they could not in substance be altered by the League. The League’s duties were confined to seeing that the specific and detailed terms of the mandates were in accordance with the decisions taken by the Allied and Associated Powers, and that in carrying out these mandates the Mandatory Powers should be under the supervision—not under the control—of the League. A mandate was a self-imposed limitation by the conquerors on the sovereignty which they exercised over the conquered territory.”5

These League of Nations “mandates” were in effect acts of ‘legalised theft’ by the victorious Powers (Britain, France, USA, Japan) after the First World War. Certainly, such acts of theft had not been unusual after wars between colonial Powers over the preceding 250 years, but theft it was nevertheless. Britain and France, as colonial Powers now (in 1919) severely indebted to the USA, proposed to help themselves to colonies and territories governed before 1914 by Germany and Ottoman Turkey, the defeated Powers in 1918, and to do so in accord with their national self-interest. However, the USA, which during the war had become the world’s creditor nation, and under the supposed influence of its ‘idealistic’ and ‘anti-colonialist’ President Woodrow Wilson, insisted that, in accordance with the largely American creation of the League of Nations, the defeated Powers’ former colonies should not be simply transferred to the British and French colonial empires but the peoples in those colonies should be prepared for self-government by those imperial states’ administrations. Such was the League of Nations’ understanding of the “Mandates”.

     On Wilson’s leaving office in March 1921, the new US administration declined to participate in either the League of Nations or the Permanent Court of International Justice, both of which the USA under Wilson had foisted on the world in 1919 and 1920 respectively. Thus, acts of veiled theft6 by Britain and France in the Middle East (Britain got Palestine; France got Syria) were followed by American irresponsibility in ‘legitimising’ those acts of theft, determining their nature and then declining to take any further responsibility for those ‘international’ actions. British foreign policy mandarins – since all this of course had nothing to do with British voters, who were not allowed to be involved with any of these processes  - having in effect ‘stolen’ the Turks’ colony in Palestine, were thus saddled by this American-devised institution of the League of Nations with the burden of ‘administering’ the former colonial territory of Palestine for unspecified decades into the future.

A “National Home”?

The British mandarins had, however, earlier imposed further burdens upon themselves, during the world war, when they had given contradictory promises to both Jews and Arabs in order to gain their support against Britain’s wartime enemies. To prompt the Arabs to rise in revolt against the Turks, in 1916 the British elite had promised the Arabs that they would have independent states after the war, which would be ruled by Arab princes. Also, to obtain the support of wealthy Jews both in America and Russia as well as elsewhere, in the war effort against Germany7, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour had in November 1917 given a written promise on behalf of the government –  later known as the ‘Balfour Declaration’, which was personally addressed to Lord Walter Rothschild, whom Balfour evidently regarded as the leader of the Jewish Zionist movement in Britain (he was not formally that but was widely regarded by Jews and non-Jews alike as the ‘prince’ of the Jews in the British Empire, one might say)  - that the British government would

“favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and [would] 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.”

     There would soon be much controversy over the phrase “a national home for the Jewish people” – did it mean ‘a Jewish State’? The evidence seems to be that most of the mandarins involved felt that sooner or later it would indeed mean that, even if in the early years they claimed to deny this.  For instance, the Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill would later meet with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann at Balfour’s home in London on 21 July 1921, where

Lloyd George and Balfour assured Weizmann “that by the Declaration they had always meant an eventual Jewish State”, according to Weizmann’s minutes of that meeting. Lloyd George stated in 1937 that it was intended that Palestine would become a Jewish Commonwealth if and when Jews “had become a definite majority of the inhabitants”, and [former Colonial Secretary] Leo Amery echoed the same position in 1946.8

The final draft of the ‘Balfour Declaration’ was made in Balfour’s name, but he had actually had little to do with the text; it was written by Leo Amery, Jewish himself, who had been the secretary and righthand man of the figure who was arguably the most powerful man in that War Cabinet – Alfred, Lord Milner, Minister without Portfolio (1916-1918)9. But Amery later

“testified under oath to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in January 1946: ‘The phrase “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people” was intended and understood by all concerned to mean at the time of the Balfour Declaration that Palestine would ultimately become a “Jewish Commonwealth” or a “Jewish State”, if only Jews came and settled there in sufficient numbers.” 10

Over the following 30 years they did just that. Nor, until 1939, did the UK government seek to prevent them.

How had it come to this? That a people who supposedly had lost their homeland in ancient times were able to regain it some 1900 years later and create a State there? That countless peoples and cultures throughout the world had lost control of or had been driven from their homelands over that same long period, never to return or to regain control of them, whereas the Jewish people had managed to convince ‘the world’  - i.e. the elites of Britain and America, who at that time controlled the destinies of the world and also controlled the UN – that they, the Jews, should be allowed to return to and rule that ancient homeland, but other peoples should not be allowed to return to their ancestral lands? For obviously, if the same principle were applied across the historical board, so to speak, then the world map would look very different: England would have to be returned to the Welsh, for example, and the USA to its native American tribes.

The Age of Gabriel, Arabs and Jews

The answer to the above questions, from an anthroposophical perspective, drawing on the spiritual research of Rudolf Steiner, is this: from the early 16th century, guidance of human history passed from one mighty spiritual being to another – from the Mars Archangel Samael (1190-1510) to the Moon Archangel Gabriel (1510-1879). There are seven such Archangels active in rotation, each ‘responsible’ for an approximately 350-400 year period of history. During the phases of the Moon Archangel Gabriel, humanity turns its attention under Gabriel’s impress, very much to the material world and the demands of physical life, that is, to everything that is bound up with the word ‘incarnation’. This was the period of natural science, of western colonialism and empire, of world trade, capitalism, industrialism and nationalism. It was also the period when the English-speaking people rose to world power and when the influence of Semitic culture – that of the Arab and Jewish peoples – rose to particular power within western culture but especially within English-speaking culture e.g. Britain and, later, the USA. In the 17th and 18th centuries, natural science, often based on translations from the Arab texts, began its march of triumph over the Church. (Interestingly, coffee, imported from Muslim Turkey, accompanied this expansion of the intellect). Deism, a peculiarly English form of philosophical religion, transcendental, abstract, and not a little redolent of Islam and Judaism, became the preferred faith of many ‘enlightened’ Englishmen, not least among the Freemasons, whose occultism and ritual owed much to the Temple of Solomon and to the writings of Jewish Cabalists.  Expelled by King Edward I in 1290 in the Age of the Mars Archangel Samael, the Jews had been readmitted to Britain by Oliver Cromwell in 1655, in the Age of the Moon Archangel Gabriel. By the later decades of the Age of Gabriel, the name of Rothschild was known the world over. Indeed, British imperial power in the Victorian age was unthinkable without it. In the decades after 1810, Rothschild money financed British military campaigns, built British railways, gave financial advice and extended loans to the Royal Family, bought the Suez Canal, steadied the economy and buttressed other British banks. The Rothschilds were also among the first to fund Jewish immigrant settlements in Palestine.

     The success of the Rothschilds in Britain was but a symbol of the rising profile of Jewish culture in British life. Take for example, the 17th century English Puritans; in their religious life they based themselves on the people of ancient Israel and especially on the Old Testament and its strictures. They wore black and white, like the Jews, they covered their heads at all times, they opposed religious imagery, they honoured only the text of Holy Writ and its interpreters, they saw themselves as exiles, fleeing sinful ‘Egypt’ for the God-given Promised Land of America, where they took their fundamentalist values and transplanted them. Their successors in England, the Dissenters, banned from political life, turned to business and industry and became successful capitalists.  These Puritans and Dissenters, later followed by the Methodists and Evangelicals in the 18th century, saw themselves as ‘Israel’, looked to the model of ancient Israel and to the prophets of ancient Israel to read the future and discern God’s Will. They came to believe not only that now they were the new ‘Chosen People’ but that the Messiah would not come again until His ‘ancient Chosen People’, the Jews, had been gathered back in the Holy Land and converted to Christ. Many of the English-speaking Puritans believed that it was the task of the Lord’s (new) Chosen People to enable the Jews to return to the Holy Land. Such notions and interpretations of the Bible took firm root in English-speaking culture during the period 1600-1850 across broad sections of Bible-reading Protestant society, from Low Church Evangelicals and Baptists to High Church Anglicans. Politicians such as David Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour were well aware of such interpretations.

     The Age of Gabriel ended in 1879 but its impulse did not stop then; such archangelic impulses are always strongest at the end of their period and continue for several decades until they begin to fade out as the new archangelic wave comes in. Nationalism was thus at a peak in the years 1870-1970, and especially during the time of the two world wars. Jewish influence in the West also rose to a peak in this period, notably in America. It was hardly surprising then that the Zionist movement, the Balfour Declaration, and the effort to found a political State of Israel should also have occurred in this time. It was, strictly speaking, the early period of the Age of the Sun Archangel Michael, but his impulse was only beginning to grow at that time. His is a truly Christian impulse, and the impulse of Christ is the creation of a kingdom that is not of this world.


National motivations

The League of Nations was a typical manifestation of the outgoing Gabrielic and the incoming Michaelic principles. It was founded by the English-speaking elites to serve their own cultures’ national interests and yet it also had a supranational impulse to it. It was a contradiction in terms – an intended supranational institution that was based on the principle of national self-determination! The Arabs protested already in 1919 that the Wilsonian principle of ‘national self-determination’, the supposed cornerstone of the new League of Nations, meant that it was not right that European Powers should presume to encourage Jews to migrate to Palestine which, as ‘southern Syria’ under Turkish rule in the mid-19th century, had had a Jewish population of only some 5-7% as against 80% Muslims and 10% Christian Arabs.11 By the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the population of Palestine was 10% Jewish and 90 % Muslim. ‘National self-determination’ was widely interpreted to mean that Palestine would belong to the majority Muslim Arab population. But the British and American elites had ‘determined’ otherwise, in accordance with their own British imperial or American pseudo-imperial interests. The Arabs were too backward, they felt, to serve those interests in the region, and those interests above all were the security of the Suez Canal and the safe transport of Mesopotamian oil across the region to ports in Palestine, such as Haifa, on the Mediterranean. For the British, the Suez Canal meant the safeguarding of their imperial interests in India and the rest of Asia and southeast towards Australasia. Mesopotamian oil guaranteed the future of the Royal Navy, without which there would simply be no British Empire; this had been the reality since oil had begun to replace coal as the fuel of the Royal Navy shortly before the world war. Britain had plenty of coal but no oil; it therefore needed to ensure control of those regions which possessed plentiful supplies of oil. The Americans would have the same motivation when their native supplies of oil began to diminish in the 20th century. The Jewish emigrants to Palestine were comparatively modern, educated and culturally European, many of them predominantly secular. Their Zionist champions and leaders in Britain, such as Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) and Herbert Samuel (1870-1963), emphasised this fact that the emigrants would render effective service to the British Empire if they were allowed to become the controlling element in the region.

Balfour and his Declaration

A further factor was repeatedly stated by Balfour and the circle around Milner during the First World War and it continued to be of great importance in the interwar period: namely, that Zionism – the cause that since 1897 (the first Zionist Congress, in Basel, Switzerland) had sought a nation state for the Jewish people and later specifically a state in Palestine, the ancient ‘Land of Israel’ as the Zionists called it (Eretz Israel) – was of interest to many influential and wealthy Jews  in the USA, Jews whose support Britain could not afford to lose: on 3 September 1917 Balfour

pointed out that this was a question on which the Foreign Office had been very strongly pressed for a long time past. There was a very strong and enthusiastic organisation, more particularly in the United States, who were zealous in this matter, and his [Balfour’s] belief was that it would be of most substantial assistance to the Allies to have the earnestness and enthusiasm of these people enlisted on our side. To do nothing was to risk a direct breach with them, and it was necessary to face this situation.12

     In April 1917 Balfour visited the US and amongst others, met with Louis Brandeis, president of the Zionist Organisation of America and one of US President Wilson’s closest advisors. Balfour gained from Brandeis the impression that American Jews, especially the wealthier ones, supported Zionism.

“According to an account written in 1923 by the British Foreign Office, it was during Balfour’s visit to America that the idea solidified of issuing a statement of support for Zionism: ‘[D]uring this visit the policy of the declaration as a war measure seems to have taken more definite shape. It was supposed that American opinion might be favourably influenced if His Majesty’s Government gave an assurance that the return of the Jews to Palestine had become a purpose of British policy’.”13

Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader in Britain, tried to persuade the British government that the Germans, who were allied to Ottoman Turkey, might seek to use the Zionist tactic to persuade wealthy Jews in America to favour pacifism and thus undermine US support for the war which America had only just joined (April 1917). In the autumn of 1917, evidence appeared which seemed to substantiate Weizmann’s claims.

     The only member of the five-man War Cabinet who spoke against a declaration in favour of supporting a Jewish national homeland in Palestine was Lord Curzon, who argued that:

“….important as may be the political reasons … for adopting such a line of action, we ought at least to consider whether we are encouraging a practical ideal, or preparing the way for disappointment and failure….” Curzon claimed that “most of the Jewish agricultural colonies [in Palestine] had not been successful. And that ‘the Arabs have occupied the country for the best part of 1,500 years. . . . They will not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigrants, or to act merely as hewers of wood and drawers of water to the latter.’”14

This would turn out to be prescient on both counts.

 But in the War Cabinet meeting on 31 October 1917, Curzon’s objections were overruled. Balfour

“chose to rest the case for the declaration mainly on its value as propaganda.” He related that “the vast majority of Jews in Russia and America” favoured Zionism. ‘If we could make a declaration favourable to such an ideal,’ he said, ‘we should be able to carry on extremely useful propaganda both in Russia and America.’ The war cabinet then and there authorised Balfour, in his capacity as foreign secretary, to issue a declaration…[It] was issued two days later, with only minor clerical corrections.”15

The British government’s formal promise of “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people”  - the Balfour Declaration – was made for the sake of a temporary tactic to gain advantage in time of war. A confidential memorandum in 1924 by the Colonial Office, also showed that the Balfour Declaration was a war tactic. The Declaration, it said:

had a definite war object. It was designed to enlist on behalf of the Allies the sympathy of influential Jews and Jewish organizations all over the world. The Declaration was published at a time when the military situation was exceedingly critical. Russia had dropped out of the Alliance. Italy appeared to be at her last gasp; and the Germans, freed from anxiety in the East, were massing hugh (sic) forces on the Western front in preparation for the great offensive of 1918. The promise to the Jews was in fact made at a time of acute national danger.16

     Once the Declaration had been made public, however, the British government was stuck with it and felt it could not go back on it. It soon realised after the war was over that it was hoisted on its own petard, although the original reason for the Declaration – its use as a war propaganda tactic – no longer applied. Despite opposition to the Declaration, to the appointment of Herbert Samuel as High Commissioner and to the government’s general pro-Zionist stance from many within the military in Palestine and within the echelons of the Civil Service, the government stubbornly clung to the Declaration, claiming to try to satisfy the demands of both the Zionist and Arab communities.

     The British and French governments issued a hypocritical statement in Syria on 9 November 1918:

“The object aimed at by France and Great Britain in prosecuting in the East the War let loose by the ambition of Germany is the complete and definite emancipation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks and the establishment of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the indigenous populations.”17 (emphasis – TB)

But in December 1918 the British and French agreed that Britain alone would rule in Palestine, thus changing their secret agreement finalised with the Russians in January 1916 – for which negotiations had commenced in 1915, the Sykes-Picot Agreement – according to which, after the war, Palestine would be administered internationally.

     Other statements by Balfour show the extent of his cynical appraisal of Britain’s self-interest: in an August 1919 memo discussing the Covenant of the League of Nations, he explained:

What I have never been able to understand is how [our policy] can be harmonised with the [Anglo-French] declaration, the Covenant [of the League of Nations], or the instructions to the Commission of Enquiry … I do not think that Zionism will hurt the Arabs; but they will never say they want it. Whatever be the future of Palestine, it is not now an ‘independent nation,’ nor is it yet on the way to become one. Whatever deference should be paid to the views of those who live there, the Powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate,” and: “The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.18 (emphasis – TB)

     Two things, it seems, may have come together here in Balfour’s mind: although as an offshoot of the powerful aristocratic Cecil family with its strong traditionalist High Church Anglican convictions, he came from a very different branch of Christianity than the Welsh Baptist David Lloyd George, the two men, like so many of their contemporaries, had been brought up on the Bible and knew it very well, Lloyd George famously saying he knew the kings and placenames of ancient Israel better than those of England. Both men being romantics at heart, they had a certain penchant for the ancient fate of the Jewish people and both had been seduced by the charm of Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and his appeals to their sense of history and religion with regard to the fate of the Jewish people.

     But both men were also well aware of the power of Jewish finance in Britain, especially since the days of Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), who had financed Wellington’s victorious Waterloo campaign against Napoleon and much British railway development in subsequent decades. As leading politicians, Balfour and Lloyd George were also aware that Britain’s first Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) had used his connections with the Rothschild family in 1875 to secure a Rothschild loan that gained for the British government the controlling share in the Suez Canal. Both men too had bent an ear to the practical and strategic arguments advanced by Britain’s first Jewish Cabinet Minister Herbert Samuel, a committed Zionist, who soon after war broke out between Britain and Turkey in November 1914, said that

by supporting the creation of a Jewish colony east of Suez, Britain could deny that territory to rival foreign powers who might then threaten its control of the Suez Canal…Samuel argued in March 1915 that ‘help given now towards the attainment of the idea which great numbers of Jews have never ceased to cherish through so many centuries of suffering cannot fail to secure, into a far-distant future, the gratitude of a whole race, whose goodwill, in time to come, may not be without its value.’”19 (emphasis – TB)

The British government would later make Samuel its first High Commissioner for Palestine (see photo below: Samuel right with Balfour centre and Gen. Allenby left.) Serving from 1920 until 1925, he was the first Jew to govern there for 2000 years. Samuel’s appointment was not popular with the Arabs, but he tried to appear impartial and was reasonably successful in his role. However, Jewish historian Bernard Wasserstein wrote that his policy was “subtly designed to reconcile Arabs to the… pro-Zionist policy” of the British20, and Sahar Huneidi, in A Broken Trust – Herbert Samuel, Zionism and the Palestinians (2001), wrote that most of Samuel’s policies in Palestine actually went beyond the notion of  the “Jewish national home” promised in the Balfour Declaration and were aimed at the realisation of a Jewish state. (left), Balfour (centre), Herbert Samuel (right)

     Riots broke out a number of times due to Arab feelings of betrayal by the western Allies and against rising Zionist immigration. On 18 August 1921, as the inter-communal situation worsened, although there was no Arab violence directed against British troops in Palestine, the British Cabinet met to discuss the situation, but only the last of the four main points discussed related directly to Palestine:

1) “The honour of the government was involved in the Declaration made by Mr Balfour, and to go back on our pledge would seriously reduce the prestige of this country in the eyes of Jews throughout the world. 2)  The Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa had recently stated that our Zionist policy had proved helpful in those Dominions. 3) It was not expected that the problem could be easily or quickly solved,

especially in view of the growing power of the Arabs in the territories bordering on Palestine. 4) it was urged that peace was impossible on the lines of the Balfour Declaration, which involved setting up a National Home for the Jews and respecting the rights of the Arab population. The result of this inconsistency must be to estrange both Arabs and Jews, while involving us in futile military expenditure. Against this position it was argued that the Arabs had no prescriptive right to a country which they had failed to develop to the best advantage.”21

So, the Declaration had to be adhered to for the sake of Zionist interests in Canada and South Africa and for the sake of the “honour” of the UK government – this after nearly a million Britons had died fighting in the war for that government, often in appalling circumstances  – even though it was recognised that “peace was impossible on the lines of the Balfour Declaration”!

In July 1922, the League of Nations approved the Palestine Mandate, Britain as the mandatory power, and Britain’s implementation of the Balfour Declaration. In August, the Palestine Arab Congress rejected the Palestine Mandate, calling it a violation of Arab rights.


The secret Cavendish report of 1923

Less than a year later, in February 1923 the new Colonial Secretary, Victor Cavendish, the 9th Duke of Devonshire (one of England’s pre-eminent aristocrats), had a secret 10-man committee carry out a comprehensive re-assessment of British policy with regard to Palestine,    including the question of whether to retain the Balfour Declaration and even the Mandate. Cavendish concluded in his report to Cabinet after the committee’s findings that despite the difficulties with the project that he admitted was unpopular with Press and public, Britain should continue with both Declaration and Mandate essentially for the sake of the country’s, i.e. the Establishment’s ‘honour’: “repudiating the Declaration”, “breaking a promise made to the Jews in the face of the whole world”, and “returning the Mandate” to the League of Nations would mean that

“We should, indeed, stand convicted of an act of perfidy, from which it is hardly too much to say that our good name would never recover…. We shall stand for all time as the Christian Power which having rescued the Holy Land from the Turk, lacked the strength or the courage to guard what it had won.”22

Concerns of honour typical of a 13th century aristocrat. No matter that the Declaration no longer corresponds to reality and makes no sense, it had to be continued with – such was Cavendish’s reasoning in effect.

However, Cavendish also came up with two distinctly dishonourable reasons for continuing with the Mandate.  In 1922 Britain had been negotiating a withdrawal from Egypt. In those circumstances, it would suit Britain, indeed it would be vital he said, to retain forces in Palestine, east of the Suez Canal in order to keep a military presence close to the Canal. This self-interested motive went right against the principle of Mandates, which were supposed to benefit the people of the mandated territory not the mandatory Power, but the League of Nations never got to know, because “the Cavendish memorandum… was made public only well after Britain had withdrawn from Palestine”23 (i.e. after 1948).

     The second dishonourable motive was that Cavendish claimed that the Jews were bringing much investment into the territory and benefiting the economy: “It may well be argued that, by giving them the opportunity of doing so, we are serving the interests of civilization as a whole, quite apart from any sentimental considerations about restoring a scattered people to its ancient fatherland.” But this was untrue, as Jewish investment benefited only the Jewish economy in Palestine, not the Arab. Jewish capital was employed to buy Arab-owned land, and only Jewish labour was allowed on land owned by the Jewish National Fund. A 1921 report for the Zionist Executive noted that:

“the situation might have been less acute had Zionist activity brought the Arabs the material advantages they had been invited to expect from it.”24

      The Cabinet in 1923 therefore concluded that a Jewish national home could not be realised together with the protection of the interests of the Arab population and their eventual independence. Nevertheless, despite this continuing contradiction the Cabinet decided, for reasons of imperial self-interest once again (i.e. the loss of ‘face’ that would result), to go on with the Declaration’s promise of a Jewish national home. The consequence was inevitable conflict between Arabs and Jews, with which Britain, in its straitened economic circumstances after 1945, would not ultimately be able to cope and which finally led to its ignominious departure from Palestine in 1948, the besmirching of its ‘honour’ and ‘name’ notwithstanding, and leaving behind a situation of terrible conflict that is still ongoing a hundred years after the secret Cavendish report of 1923.

The American historian J.B. Quigley commented:

The Cabinet approved the committee’s report, with minor amendments, on 31 July 1923. The report was nothing short of remarkable. Had it been made public at the time, one can only speculate at the furor it would have caused. The British government was admitting that its support for Zionism had been prompted by considerations having nothing to do with the merits of Zionism, or its consequences for Palestine. The government, for reasons unrelated to Palestine, was willing to relegate Palestine to a posture in which inter-communal conflict was all but inevitable.”25

          The Cavendish committee proposed setting up an Arab Agency in Palestine to serve Arab interests and which would operate alongside the already existing Jewish Agency  – but only if the Zionists agreed and if the Arabs agreed to cease all further agitations. News of this proposal was made public, but the Cavendish committee report stayed secret. The public did not know therefore that the Cabinet actually regarded the Mandate as unworkable.

The statement that was made public read, disingenuously, that the Government had endeavoured so to conduct the administration of Palestine as to do equal justice to the interests of both the parties concerned. …This public statement was directly at odds with the conclusion the Cabinet reached in private. It did not become known that Britain was more concerned about keeping the Mandate than about the advisability of promoting a Jewish national home. It did not become known that Britain had no plans for implementing the Balfour Declaration in a way that was anticipated to yield an acceptable outcome.26

The British government was telling the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations in the 1920s that the interests of both communities in Palestine were being served appropriately, but as early as July 1923 its own real assessment was that this was far from the case and was in fact virtually impossible.

     Meanwhile, Jewish immigration continued to rise steadily. The population of Tel Aviv increased from 2,500 in 1920 to 25,000 in 1924, and the overall Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine rose from 90,000 in 1923 to 450,000 in 1940, most arriving after 1929 with the rise of Nazism in Germany; the Arab population was about a million. At the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish population was 650,000. The greatly increased numbers in the 1930s led to major Arab protests, rioting and violence, culminating in the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-39, during which irregular Jewish armed forces collaborated with British troops in fighting the Arabs and after which the British government finally imposed considerable restrictions on Jewish immigration and announced that it would end the Palestine Mandate within 10 years i.e. withdraw. In 1937 the British had announced a plan to partition the territory three ways: an Arab state, a Jewish state and a continuing British Mandate over Jerusalem and the port of Haifa; the British obviously still wanted to control Jerusalem and their oil port at Haifa. These British plans of 1937 and 1939 led to illegal immigration and terrorist violence against the British authorities by the Jewish Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) and Irgun (National Military Organisation) movements in the 1940s. The British had finally succeeded in turning both Arabs and Jews against them. Jewish violence culminated in the bombing atrocity at the British HQ at the Hotel King David in 1946 where 91 people were killed and 45 injured.


The Americans and the UN vote in November 1947

After the Second World War, the Labour government, under great economic duress, and considerable US pressure, resolved to quit India and Palestine as soon as practically possible. Meanwhile, the Anglo-American-devised League of Nations had given way in 1946 to the Anglo-American-devised United Nations. How did this body give its blessing to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948?  After the death of President Roosevelt in April 1945, Jewish lobby groups sought to put pressure on the new and inexperienced President to force the British to increase immigration quotas to Palestine. One of them, the American League for a Free Palestine (ALFP), was a front for the Jewish terrorist group, the Irgun, and was led by Hillel Kook, a senior member in the Irgun.27 In 1946, with the ghastly film footage from concentration camps in Germany in people’s minds, and many Jews still waiting in miserable conditions in Europe, American Jews were in no mood for compromise. Their lobby pressure was relentless and much money was raised, from Hollywood celebrities and even from the Mafia for the militant Jewish groups fighting the British in Palestine. Kook and others represented those groups’ armed struggle as the struggle of the American revolutionaries for freedom from the British in the 1770s, and as in the 1770s, Kook and his allies did not hesitate to involve the French, setting up a French branch of the ALFP and gaining the support of such luminaries as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Under political pressure from the significant Jewish lobby in New York City, President Harry Truman called for “a viable Jewish state”, and the Republican governor Thomas Dewey urged that “hundreds of thousands” of emigrants be allowed into Palestine. Truman expressed his exasperation at forceful Jewish lobbying, but felt he had to bend towards it, not least because of the number of Bible Belt American Protestant voters who felt they had to help “the Hebrews” regain the Promised Land. A factor here was the very influential Scofield Reference Bible of American fundamentalist minister Cyrus I. Scofield28 (published in Britain by Oxford University Press) that since 1909 had become popular in the USA with its extensive notes to the King James Version. By the end of the Second World War the Scofield Bible had sold more than two million copies. The Scofield Bible’s notes, amongst other things, promoted eschatological dispensationalism  – the notion that God intervenes in human history in discrete historical phases.29