Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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On British colonialism, antisemitism, and Palestinian rights

Avi Shlaim writes:

In December 2016, then British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism. It was the first government in the world to do so, marking yet another milestone in the 100-year history of British support for Zionism and callous disregard for Palestinian rights.

The “original sin” was the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised to support the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people”, provided that nothing was done to “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. In 1917, Arabs constituted 90 percent of the population of Palestine; Jews made up less than 10 percent.

The declaration was thus a classic colonial document: it granted the right to national self-determination to a small minority, while denying it to the majority. To add insult to injury, the declaration referred to 90 percent of the country’s inhabitants as “non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, relegating them to an inferior status. Although grotesquely imbalanced in favour of Jews, the declaration at least included a promise to protect the civil and religious rights of Palestinians – but even this promise was never kept.

Palestine was not lost in the late 1940s, as is commonly believed; it was lost in the late 1930s, as a result of Britain’s savage smashing of Palestinian resistance

The British mandate for Palestine lasted from 1920 until midnight on 14 May 1948, the date the State of Israel was proclaimed. The first high commissioner for Palestine, Herbert Samuel, was a Jew and an ardent Zionist. Partiality towards Jews was evident from day one; the cornerstone of the mandate was to deny representative institutions as long as Arabs were the majority in Palestine.

In the end, Britain over-fulfilled its promise to Zionists by helping the “national home” evolve into a Jewish state, while betraying its pledge to Palestinians. Britain’s betrayal gave rise to the Palestinian Great Revolt of 1936-39. This was a nationalist uprising, demanding Arab independence and an end to the policy of open-ended Jewish immigration and land purchases.

The revolt was suppressed with utter ruthlessness and brutality by the British army and police. Britain resorted to the entire panoply of colonial measures, including martial law, military courts, detention without trial, caning, flogging, torture, extra-judicial killings, collective punishment and aerial bombardment. Nearly 20,000 Palestinians were killed or wounded during the revolt, and villages were reduced to rubble.

In the process of crushing the uprising, Britain broke the backbone of the Palestinian national movement. British actions gravely weakened Palestinians and strengthened Zionists, as the two national movements moved inexorably towards a final showdown. Palestine was not lost in the late 1940s, as is commonly believed; it was lost in the late 1930s, as a result of Britain’s savage smashing of Palestinian resistance and support for Jewish paramilitary forces. [Continue reading…]

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