In 2008, historian, Meir Abelson was asked by a radio station in Miami to give a telephone interview lasting an hour to mark Israel's 60th birthday. He was given 12 questions to which he had to give concise answers. Question 1 was a very short answer on the Balfour Declaration, so here, we are including questions (and concise answers) 2 – 12.
Question 2: What was the initial reaction of the Arabs to the possibility that a Jewish State could be re-established?
The reaction of most Arabs was positive. The absentee landlords did not object to selling their land at highly inflated prices; most of the tenant farmers living in hovels did not object to receiving compensation for land they did not own, and on which most of them were fairly recent newcomers. The current Mufti was openly friendly, even taking a prominent part in the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in 1918. There was considerable commercial intercourse between Arab and Jew, and I myself know several families who told me that before the incitements that the British brought with them, there was much social and friendly intercourse. There was a puny Arab National Movement, but it was not interested in Palestine itself, which was regarded by both the Arabs and the Turks as southern Syria.
QUESTION 3: After World War 1 the British received a mandate over the Middle East. What were the provisions for that mandate?
The objective of the League of Nations Mandate system was to administer parts of the defeated Ottoman Turkish Empire, which had been in control of the Middle East since the 16th century, until such time as they could stand alone.
The 1922 final form of the Charter included the Balfour Declaration, but a significant addition was made in Article 6, which read as follows: “The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 6, close settlement by Jews on the lands, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”
Question 4: What were the reasons that the world recognized the Jews’ right to return to their homeland?
The entire history of the Jews is bound up with the right – and the yearning – of return. In 1891, Dr W.E. Blackstone, quoting the foremost authorities on international law, pointed out that since the Jews never gave up their title to Palestine, the general “law of dereliction” did not apply in their case; “for they never abandoned the land. They made no treaty; they did not even surrender. They simply succumbed, after the most desperate conflict, to the overwhelming power of the Romans...”
World interest in the return of the Jews to Palestine started in Britain, under the influence of the leaders of the Reformation – John Knox and William Tyndale – in the 16th century. This interest was religious; but a political component was added with the rise of imperialism in the 19th century, and with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, that opened a short route to India, then a colony in the British Empire. Finally, there was the idealist element; and in this connection it is interesting to know that the well-known Zionist slogan – “a land without a people for a people without a land” did NOT originate with the Zionists – or with the Jews. It was contained in a letter written in July 1853 by Lord Shaftesbury to the then Prime Minister, Lord Derby. He wrote that Greater Syria – which included Palestine, was “a country without a nation” in need of “a nation without a country.” So by the end of the 19th century there was a powerful philosophical, religious and idealistic movement for the restoration of the Jews to Palestine that became deeply rooted in British culture.
Apart from Lord Shaftesbury there was a host of well-known people; a short list reveals George Eliot, Sir Charles Warren, Holman Hunt, Hall Caine, Sir George Gawler, hero of the Battle of Waterloo, Laurence Oliphant, Lords Palmerston, Disraeli, Lindsay, Manchester, the Duke of Kent, Bishop Manning, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Walter Scott, Robert Browning, and others.
While the interest in the fate of the Jews was most spectacular and deep-seated in Britain, manifestations of it were evident elsewhere in the world. Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, Joseph Salvador in France, the second President of the United States, John Adams, General Smuts of South Africa, Jules Cambon,a noted French statesman, Lloyd George, one of Britain’s most memorable Prime Ministers, Lord Robert Cecil, – even the Chinese Foreign Minister a Mr.Wang.
Question 5: What went wrong? Why did an initial agreement amongst all the parties turn sour? Who advocated the abandonment of the Jewish Home?
What went wrong? In a few words, I would say that it was a triumph of politics over idealism. It was difficult if not impossible to separate the political aspects of the 19th century British foreign policy towards Palestine from the idealism of some of its leaders. One could hardly expect the British Army of Occupation to be idealistic; nor were many in the political echelon.
Britain’s military interest in the Middle East, therefore, derived from what they considered essential to the British imperial interests – to guard the route to India from French and Russian intentions.
To the British military, this concern was paramount; and it explains their determination to sabotage the Home government’s intentions regarding a Jewish National Home.
TIMELY WORDS 6: The Occupation that Changed the World
The British Army under General Allenby occupied Palestine from 1917-1920. From start to finish, it laboured unceasingly to undermine the policy of the Government it was supposed to serve, and virtually refused to carry out London’s orders.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917, adopted by the international community, promised political sovereignty to the Jewish people over a land that was sparsely populated and poorly cultivated – a widely-neglected expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial swamps. Sherif Hussein, guardian of the Islamic Holy Places in Arabia, commented: “The return of these exiles (i.e., the Jews) to their homeland will prove materially and spiritually an experimental school for their brethren who are with them…”
In April 1917 the British War Office issued a statement on “War Aims in the Middle East” which proclaimed that “Palestine was to be recognized as the Jewish National Home…The Jewish population present and future throughout Palestine is to possess and enjoy full national, political and civic rights….The Suzerain Government shall grant full and free rights of immigration into Palestine to Jews of all countries….” The official “British Handbook on Zionism” read that, under British tutelage, “…its administration should be largely entrusted to Jews of the colonial type….Zionists of this way of thinking believe that, under such conditions, the Jewish population would rapidly increase until the Jew became the predominant partner of the combination.”
But hardly had the Turks been driven out when it became apparent to Jew and Arab alike that the entire Military Administration was utterly opposed to both the letter and spirit of the Balfour Declaration. General Allenby ordered drastic legislation prohibiting land sales as well as immigration. With conscious design the Administration fostered hostility between Arab and Jew. It advised the Arabs to abstain from any concessions to the Jews. It formed the Muslim-Christian Association and used it as a weapon against the Zionists on the slightest pretext. It instructed Arab youth in the technique of modern nationalism in order to resist Zionism. And in London it contacted anti-Jewish elements to form a liaison which has endured ever since. The Arabs were not only instigated and advised, but supplied with funds; and their arguments ghost-written by Englishmen in high places.
In 1920 matters came to a head. The Governor of Jerusalem was General Louis Bols; described as “an out –and-out anti-Semite.” His Chief of Staff was Colonel Waters Taylor, whose ideal policy was a military government in perpetuity, and who later became an anti-Zionist organizer in London. As Muslim crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Nebi Moussa festival, wild propaganda drove them into emotional delirium. Agitators urged them forward against the Jews, with the significant cry: “The Government is with us!” The defenceless Jews were subjected for three days to slaughter, rape torture and sack before the authorities raised a hand to interfere. Jewish notables were refused an audience, while cars were placed at the disposal of the Arab leaders for the purpose of granting them an interview with the Chief Administrator .Sixty innocents lay dead, and innumerable victims were injured.
A tremendous wave of protest swept the world. Bols and the Generals were dumped overboard and the Military Administration was replaced by a Civil Administration under a High Commissioner. But Colonel Patterson commented grimly in his memoirs: “Bols went, but the system he implanted remained. The anti-Semitic officials that he brought with him into the country remained…” Subsequent history proves his point; later Arab riots in 1929 and 1936 were more deadly and more barbaric. In the 1929 Hebron riots 133 Jews were killed and 399 wounded. They were accompanied by a cry that echoes throughout the entire 20th century up to this day: “Allah Akhbar!” Allah is great.
The bibliography recording all these events is so exhaustive that I am willing to supply a reading list to anyone who desires it. But the conclusion to be drawn from the mountain of evidence is this: Britain’s three-year military occupation of Palestine sowed the seeds of world terror, and today’s Muslim threat to world peace. It ignited Muslim Arab hostility to Zionism that did not previously exist; it sparked a revival of the Arab/Muslim dream of world domination, which was thwarted by Napoleon’s easy conquest of Egypt in 1798; and it fathered the inspiration of myths such as Israel’s intention to destroy the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem; her “occupation” of “Palestinian land,” and of a “Palestinian people”, and the myth of her responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem.
The British occupation of Palestine ninety years ago, and British anti-Semitism, have led to today’s threat to world peace.
“There is nothing makes a man suspect much, than to know a little.” (Francis Bacon)
“Reason, uncorrected by instinct, is as bad as instinct uncorrected by reason.” (Samuel Butler)
Question 7: What was the role of the Haj el Amin Husseini in the riots and the incitement against the Jews? And what was his fate?
Husseini was a political agitator.
His attitude to Zionism was expressed as follows to a Jew named Abbady, a native of Palestine who worked with him Jerusalem.
“Remember, Abbady, this is and will remain an Arab land. We do not mind you natives of the country, but those alien invaders, the Zionists, will be massacred to the last man. We want no progress, no prosperity. Nothing but the sword will decide the fate of this country.”
Prior to his rise to power, there were active Arab factions supporting cooperative development of Palestine involving Arabs and Jews. But Husseini would have none of that; he was devoted to driving Jews out of Palestine, without compromise, even if it set the Arabs back 1,000 years. He began a campaign of terror and intimidation against anyone opposed to his rule and policies. He killed Jews at every opportunity, but also murdered Arabs who did not support his campaign of violence.
Now in 1919, General Bols’ Chief of Staff was Col. Waters-Taylor, whose ideal was a military government in perpetuity, and who later became an anti-Zionist organizer in London. He told el-Husseini that “he had a great opportunity at Easter to show the world that the Arabs of Palestine would not tolerate Jewish domination in Palestine; that Zionism was not only unpopular with the Palestine Administration but in Whitehall; and if disturbances of sufficient violence occurred, both General Bols and General Allenby would advocate the abandonment of the Jewish Home.”
Husseini took the Colonel’s advice. Agitators harangued the Muslim crowds, urging them forward against the Jews, who had been disarmed by the government. The riot started with cries of “Kill the Jews!” “We shall drink the blood of the Jews!” “Don’t be afraid – the Government is on our side!” The mob rushed into Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, brandishing knives and clubs. The Government surrounded the Old City with a cordon of police and troops, preventing outside help. The Jews were given over to slaughter, rape, torture and looting for three days before the authorities raised a hand to interfere. A thoroughly upset English lady who witness the carnage, felt compelled to write that “for the first time, yesterday I felt ashamed of being born an Englishwoman.” Three weeks later, riots in Jaffa and elsewhere left 43 Jews dead.
Husseini was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for his part in the 1920 riots, but he escaped under strange circumstances to Syria. A year later Sir Herbert Samuel, the first civil Governor after the Military were given the sack, pardoned him and, apparently hoping that responsibility would tame him, created a new post for him – the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem – for life!
In 1929 Husseini again instigated anti-Jewish riots by falsely accusing Jews of defiling and endangering local mosques, including al-Aqsa. The call went out to the Arab masses: “Itbah Al-Yahud!” — “Slaughter the Jews!” After the killing of Jews in Hebron, the Mufti disseminated photographs of slaughtered Jews with the claim that the dead were Arabs killed by Jews.
In April, 1936 riots broke out in Jaffa commencing, a three-year period of violence and civil strife in Palestine that is known as the Arab Revolt. The Arab Higher Committee led the campaign of terrorism against Jewish and British targets. Husseini consolidated his control over the Palestinian Arabs with a campaign of murder against Jews and non-compliant Arabs, the recruitment of armed militias, and the raising of funds from around the Muslim world using anti-Jewish propaganda. He expressed his solidarity with Germany, asking the Nazi Third Reich to oppose establishment of a Jewish state, stop Jewish immigration to Palestine, and provide arms to the Arab population. Following the murder of Jews and moderate Arabs, the Arab Higher Committee was declared illegal by the British. The Grand Mufti lost his office of President of the Supreme Muslim Council, his membership on the Waqf committee, and was forced into exile in Syria in 1937.
According to documentation from the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the Nazi Germany SS helped finance Husseini's efforts in the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine.
In 1940, now in Berlin as Hitler’s guest, Husseini requested the Axis powers to “settle the Jewish question in Palestine and elsewhere as the Nazis had done in Germany.”
At the Nuremberg Trials, Eichmann's deputy Dieter Wisliceny (subsequently executed as a war criminal) testified:
The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan. ... He was one of Eichmann's best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures. I heard him say, accompanied by Eichmann, he had visited incognito the gas chamber of Auschwitz.
With the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945, Husseini moved to Egypt where he was received as a national hero. After the war he was indicted by Yugoslavia for war crimes, but escaped prosecution. He was never tried because the Allies were afraid of the storm in the Arab world if the hero of Arab nationalism was treated as a war criminal. He eventually died in exile in 1974.
Question 8: By 1936 there were six Arab riots since the British Mandate; what were the Arab grievances, how were their riots organized and what did the British Mandate authorities do during those riots? Where did the Arabs get their ammunition from? How well protected was the Jewish community?
There’s a short answer – and a long one. The short answer is that there were no Arab grievances – they were fed with rumours that were untrue, as we shall see. The riots were not organized, except that for the fact that inciters roamed the country spreading these false rumours. The Arabs didn’t need ammunition – they used clubs, knives, swords, and any other lethal object that came to hand.
Now Noemi – you use the word “riots.” This is a colourless word to describe what took place! Here are a few examples;
I have given details of these riots in the previous question. In this case, the rumour was put about that the Jews planned to tear down the Al Aksar Mosque on the Temple Mount, and rebuild the Temple.
The local sheikh issued a special festive proclamation announcing that the religious leadership permitted Muslims to take the women and property of the Jews – “just rise up and take it.” The march to the Jewish quarter began, with the mob led by the sheikh and some of the town notables. The rioters went from house to house, raping and slaughtering with no one to stop them, committing atrocities in every house they attacked. In one of the Jewish homes a girl was raped by 15 Arabs while her parents were forced to watch. Another daughter whose clothes were stripped off pleaded that they just kill her. The rioters had mercy on her and satisfied themselves by splitting open her stomach. All of these atrocities were witnessed by the youngest daughter, hiding under the bed and unnoticed by the rioters.
Not far from there Arabs broke into the house of the pharmacist and with great merriment they cut off his leg and his two hands, then gouged out his eyes and raped his eldest daughter. His wife and other children were also seriously wounded. I have an album of horrifying photographs taken in hospital after the pogrom; they show the hacked bodies of the survivors, and amputated hands and fingers laid out on tables.
In Safed, Jaffa and Motza, the victims - men, women and children – were beaten, stabbed, their limbs amputated, stomachs were ripped open, and women were raped. I have met survivors, who – if they can bring themselves to speak of what happened – remember recognizing among their assailants Arab “friends” who had been regular guests in their homes.
This an eye-witness report from Safed: “The pogrom began on the afternoon of Thursday, August 29, and was carried out by Arabs from Safed and from the nearby villages, armed with weapons and tins of kerosene., they looted and set fire to houses, urging each other on to continue with the killing. They slaughtered the schoolteacher, Aphriat, together with his wife and mother, and cut the lawyer, Toledano, to pieces with their knives. Bursting into the orphanages, they smashed the children's heads and cut off their hands. I myself saw the victims. Yitzhak Mammon, a native of Safed who lived with an Arab family, was murdered with indescribable brutality: he was stabbed again and again, until his body became a bloody sieve, and then he was trampled to death. Throughout the whole pogrom the police did not fire a single shot. The British police commander, walked up and down the main street of the town, where everything was quiet, and did not go down to the scene of the massacre...”
Question 9: The partitions – what was supposed to be the original size of Israel and what did the British do with it and why?
First – let’s get straight what we’re dealing with. The original Mandated area included Israel, the West Bank (that is, Judea and Samaria), the Negev, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, the Negev AND the Golan Heights – that is 1/19 the size of California, and 70% the size of Florida.
The first partition was carried out by Britain even before the Mandate was formally ratified. In 1921 they made Abdullah, a sheikh from what is now Saudi Arabia, emir of Transjordan, thereby cutting off four-fifths of the land allocated in the Mandate for a Jewish National Home. This was mainly for British imperial reasons.
In 1947 the United Nations General Assembly voted for a partition of Palestine into a small Jewish state in the area around Tel Aviv, part of Galilee in the north, and the large arid Negev desert in the south. The remainder was to form an Arab state. However, the Arabs rejected this.
What is now being discussed is for Israel to give up all the land east of the “Green Line” i.e., the 1949 Armistice lines established between Israel and its neighbours after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. This means that Israel would give up the territories that have been used several times by her neighbours to attack her, including Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip, to a newly created “Palestinian people” an entity invented in 1968 by Yasser Arafat as an additional weapon against Israel – a fact admitted by a late member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Zuheir Mohsein, in a Press interview.
This arrangement would leave Israel with about 20,000 square kilometres. The size of the original Mandate area was 118,000, so Israel would comprise 17% of this – about 20,000 square kilometres, i.e., a little smaller than the State of New Jersey, with borders that would be virtually indefensible.
Question No. 10: What was the White Paper? Who was the author of this paper and who agreed and disagreed with it? What were its ramifications?
The British response to Jewish immigration set a precedent of appeasing the Arabs which was followed during the entire period of the Mandate. They published three White Papers that illustrate this response.
1. 1922 – Churchill White Paper
Seeking to placate the Arabs, the British partitioned the Palestine Mandate area: Jews were prohibited from settling in 77 percent of Palestine—all the territory east of the Jordan River. They were allowed to settle anywhere in western Palestine (including what is called Israel proper, the West Bank and Gaza). Thus, Eastern Palestine, renamed Transjordan, was removed from the area that was set aside for the Jewish National Home in the Balfour Declaration and handed over to the Emir Abdullah, who had marched up from what is now Saudi Arabia with a small army and parked himself on the border of Trans-Jordan.
2. 1930 – Passfield White Paper
This was issued by the colonel secretary Lord Passfield; it was a formal statement of British policy in Palestine made after the 1929 riots. The paper was issued in October, 1930, and was considered very favourable to the Arabs. It did state that the British would continue their support for a Jewish National Home in Palestine. The paper's tone, however, was decidedly anti-Jewish.
It devoted some attention to the issue of agricultural development. According to the paper, there was simply not enough cultivable land to support new immigrants. Jews who had purchased considerable tracts of land would be allowed to develop them, but would thereafter need to obtain permission of the British authorities before acquiring additional land. When determining whether or not to grant a particular request for land, the British would look at unemployment levels of both Arabs and Jews.
As a result of the Passfield White Paper, Jewish immigration was severely limited. There were vigorous protests on the part of Jewish organizations worldwide, and British opponents of the paper. One M.P., Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, declared in the House of Commons: “I hope the Hon. Members will believe me when I say that I am not pro-Jew; I am pro-English. I set a higher value on the reputation of England all over the world for justice than I do for anything else….but when I see this sort of thing going on, with the Government unable to put any argument on the other side, it makes me perhaps bitterer than even a Jew can be against the Government of Palestine today.” As a result, the Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald wrote a letter to Chaim Weizmann that he would encourage further settlement while at the same time safeguard the interests of other groups in Palestine. In practice, nothing much changed.
3. 1939 – White Paper
With the outbreak of World War II looming, the British sought Arab support in the strategically sensitive Middle East at all costs. The result was the 1939 White Paper, which capitulated to Palestinian Arab demands. It permanently reduced Jewish immigration to a trickle just when Jews were fleeing from Nazi Germany and other parts of Europe. It also specifically called for establishment of an Arab state in Palestine (i.e., not a Palestinian state) within ten years. Jewish immigration was to be restricted to no more than 75,000 over the following five years and none thereafter, without the consent of the Arab population. Arab Response: Rejection!
Question 11: What was the League of Nations’ reaction in Palestine in those days and during the Second World War?
The League of Nations’ instrument for monitoring Britain’s handling of the Mandate was called the Permanent Mandates Commission. They gave the British a rough ride. When in 1927 the Jewish National Assembly appealed to them against the British unwillingness to delegate taxation powers to the Assembly, the High Commissioner Lord Plumer relented.
In 1930 the Commission rejected the British contention that Arab rights could best be protected by limiting Jewish immigration and for protecting the Arab population.
In 1935 the High Commissioner Sir Arthur Wauchope tried to establish a legislative council with both Arab and Jewish members. Neither the Arabs nor the Jews liked it; the Jews naturally foresaw the possibility of an Arab veto over the National Home. The Mandates Commission upheld the Jewish view.
In 1937, when the Peel Commission proposed partition, Herbert Samuel, now Lord Samuel, anticipated that the proposed states, within their “jigsawed frontiers” would be “entwined in an inimical embrace like two fighting serpents.” The Mandates Commission was even less enthusiastic…
When, in 1939, the British published their White Paper, the Mandates Commission did not accept the British arguments and reported to the League that “the policy set forth in the White Paper was not in accordance with the interpretation which, in agreement with the Mandatory Power and the Council, the Commission had placed on the Palestine Mandate.” However, the British Government was not greatly concerned at the reaction of the Mandates Commission, especially as six out of the seven members were “foreigners.” However, four out of the seven registered their view that the White Paper was not in accordance with the Mandate. Thus the White Paper was not ratified, and it did not, strictly speaking, acquire international sanction. But after September 1 1939, two days before the outbreak of World War 2, no one bothered any longer about legal niceties.
Question 12: Do you believe the British merely fuelled the fire of hostility of the Arab world or do you believe they caused it? Could a different behaviour on their part have created a different reality in the Middle East?
It is possible that a different behaviour on the part of the British would have created a different reality. For example, Lord Plumer, who was appointed High Commissioner after Lord Samuel, was the only High Commissioner who held his Jew-baiting subordinates within reasonable check. Under his rule there were no pogroms. When a delegation of Arabs, persisting in the same tactics that were so successful under Samuel, warned him that if a planned procession of Jewish veterans of World War 1 were held, they “would not be responsible for the peace of Jerusalem”, Plumer replied witheringly: “No one asked you to be responsible. I am the High Commissioner and I will be responsible.” The Arabs never tried that trick again as long as Plumer remained in Palestine.
Nevertheless, I do not believe the British fuelled the fire of Arab hostility. What I DO believe is that they lit the fuse to combustible material. What do I mean by ‘combustible material’? Let Arabs themselves describe it.
Professor Sania Hamady, an Arab professor of Human Relations, wrote in her 1960 book “Temperament & Character of the Arabs”:
“The Arabs..need…a liberation in the psychological, social and ideological spheres. And this will be the hardest, since it involves ‘liberation from the self,’ and necessitates a cleansing from within, giving up stale ideals, obsolete ideas, illusions about reality (themselves, their milieu and the universe,) certain disagreeable patterns of behaviour, and some unjust modes of social relations.”
This is very similar to what the ex-terrorist Walid Shoebat wrote in his book “Why I Left Jihad.” He also says that “The two cultures (i.e., Arab and Jewish) are different in that they share no universal language of ethics or morality to allow for any true détente.” Similar to what Prof. Hamady wrote 50 years earlier, he declares: “I choose to speak out because I know what is wrong. And what is wrong has nothing to do with Israel’s ‘occupation of the land’; it is Islam’s occupation of the mind.”
Similarly, Ibn Warraq in his recent scholarly work “Defending the West,” writes:
“A hatred of Jews is widespread in the Islamic world, often encouraged by the state…This Jew hatred has nothing to do with the Israeli-Arab conflict, and,… is deeply engrained in Islamic culture, sanctioned by the Koran, and encouraged by the example of Mohammed in his frequent attacks and massacres of Jewish tribes, families and individuals.” This is the testimony of Arabs and\or Muslims.
I believe that so long as we allow our leaders to persist in their illusion that we share with the Arabs common characteristics, psychology and aspirations, there will never be peace – not in the Middle East, nor in the entire world. ■