Once, Britain’s Prime Minister, then the Foreign Secretary from late 1916, Balfour had pledged Palestinian homeland to another people. That promise was made on November 2, 1917, on behalf of the British government in the form of a letter sent to the leader of the Jewish community in Britain, Walter Rothschild.
At the time, Britain was not even in control of Palestine, which was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Either way, Palestine was never Balfour’s to so casually transfer to anyone else. His letter read:
“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
He concluded, “I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
Ironically, members of the British parliament have declared that the use of the term “Zionist” is both anti-Semitic and abusive.
The British government remains unrepentant after all these years. It has yet to take any measure of moral responsibility, however symbolic, for what it has done to the Palestinians. Worse, it is now busy attempting to control the very language used by Palestinians to identify those who have deprived them of their land and freedom.
But the truth is, not only was Rothschild a Zionist, Balfour was, too. Zionism, then, before it deservedly became a swearword, was a political notion that Europeans prided themselves to be associated with.
In fact, just before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron declared, before the Conservative Friends of Israel meeting, that he, too, was a ZionistTo some extent, being a Zionist remains a rite of passage for some Western leaders.
Balfour was hardly acting on his own. True, the Declaration bears his name, yet, in reality, he was a loyal agent of an empire with massive geopolitical designs, not only concerning Palestine alone, but with Palestine as part of a larger Arab landscape.
Just a year earlier, another sinister document was introduced, albeit secretly. It was endorsed by another top British diplomat, Mark Sykes and, on behalf of France, by François Georges-Picot. The Russians were informed of the agreement, as they too had received a piece of the Ottoman cake.
The document indicated that, once the Ottomans were soundly defeated, their territories, including Palestine, would be split among the prospective victorious parties.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement, also known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was signed in secret 100 years ago, two years into World War I. It signified the brutal nature of colonial powers that rarely associated land and resources with people that lived upon the land and owned those resources.
The centrepiece of the agreement was a map that was marked with straight lines by a china graph pencil. The map largely determined the fate of the Arabs, dividing them in accordance with various haphazard assumptions of tribal and sectarian lines.
Once the war was over, the loot was to be divided into spheres of influence:
– France would receive areas marked (a), which included: the region of south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq – including Mosel, most of Syria and Lebanon.
– British-controlled areas were marked with the letter (b), which included: Jordan, southern Iraq, Haifa and Acre in Palestine and a coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan.
– Russia would be granted Istanbul, Armenia and the strategic Turkish Straits.
The improvised map consisted not only of lines but also colours, along with language that attested to the fact that the two countries viewed the Arab region purely on materialistic terms, without paying the slightest attention to the possible repercussions of slicing up entire civilizations with a multifarious history of co-operation and conflict.
The agreement read, partly:
“… in the blue area France, and in the red area Great Britain, shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.”
The brown area, however, was designated as an international administration, the nature of which was to be decided upon after further consultation among Britain, France and Russia. The Sykes-Picot negotiations finished in March 1916 and were official, although secretly signed on May 19, 1916. World War I concluded on November 11, 1918, after which the division of the Ottoman Empire began in earnest.
British and French mandates were extended over divided Arab entities, while Palestine was granted to the Zionist movement a year later, when Balfour conveyed the British government’s promise, sealing the fate of Palestine to live in perpetual war and turmoil.