In Memory of Private James Rance of the British Army Cycle Corps (1896-1981)
The announcement by President Trump that the USA is to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has caused quite predictable deaths, violence and diplomatic chaos. It is what used to be called ‘repercussions’ and is now called ‘blowback’. Sadly, the United States is only repeating the gaffes of Imperial Great Britain 100 years ago, though it now no longer uses gunboats and the British Army cycle corps, but drones and Tomahawk missiles. However, the disastrous long-term consequences are the same.
For this present tragedy began not last week, but 100 years ago, in that year of tragedies, 1917. Then there was not only the palace revolt in Saint Petersburg that has killed tens of millions and destabilized all the territories of the Russian Empire ever since, the slaughter in the trenches in France, where ‘lions were led by donkeys’, the entry into the War of the USA, the bankruptcy of the Allies and the transfer of power to trans-national bankers in New York, but also the conquest of the Ottoman Empire, with Baghdad being taken in March 1917 and Jerusalem on 11 December 1917, exactly 100 years ago today. (My own grandfather was present, with thousands of others, at both events).
Then General Sir Edmund Allenby, later Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe, walked into Jerusalem with British and Imperial troops, ending 401 years of Ottoman occupation. By the Old Testament-minded Baptist Prime Minister of Great Britain, Lloyd George, later a great admirer of Hitler,it was seen as a victorious Crusade.
Without this event, it is probable that the nations of Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq would not exist today. The Anglo-French carve-up of the Middle East brought them and other nations, like Saudi Arabia, into being. That of course has had disastrous consequences as the recent and present turmoil and bloody wars in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Yemen prove. Behind it all stood the semi-secret, pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration. What was this?
‘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’.
This statement by the British Establishment was the fruit of negotiations between it and Zionists at a conference on 7 February 1917. Subsequent discussions led to Balfour’s request, on 19 June, that Rothschild and Chaim Weizmann submit a draft of a public declaration. Further drafts were discussed by the British Cabinet, with input from Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, but with no representation from the local people of Palestine.
The declaration was contained in a letter dated 2 November 1917 from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The text of the declaration was published in the press on 9 November 1917.
The declaration had a consequence – a chronic state of conflict between Arabs and Jews throughout the Middle East. It has been described as the ‘original sin’ with respect to both Britain’s failure in Palestine and wider events in Palestine. The only senior figure in the British government who foresaw the catastrophic consequences (‘blowback’) was, ironically, the arch-Imperialist Lord Curzon.
Too late, the British government acknowledged in 1939 that the local population’s views should have been taken into account, and finally recognized in 2017 that the declaration should have called for protection of the Palestinian Arabs’ political rights. Britain’s involvement in this has damaged its reputation in the Middle East for ever. According to historian Elizabeth Monroe: ‘Measured by British interests alone, [the declaration was] one of the greatest mistakes in [its] imperial history’.