Promises & Betrayals: Britain and the Struggle for the Holy Land (2002) | Transcript

This documentary outlines the ways in which British policies during the First World War have contributed to the instability of the Middle East region today. Through never/before/seen documents and photos, we look at the secret agenda of the British government in WWI and its unfortunate aftermath.
Lord Balfour in Jerusalem in 1925

Year: 2002
Director: Arense Kvaale
Writer: Geoffrey Stern
Duration: 52 minutes

The bitter struggle between Arab and Jew for control of the Holy Land has caused untold suffering in the Middle East for generations. It is often claimed that the crisis originated with Jewish emigration to Palestine and the foundation of the state of Israel. Yet the roots of the conflict are to be found much earlier – in British double-dealing during the First World War. This is a story of intrigue among rival empires; of misguided strategies; and of how conflicting promises to Arab and Jew created a legacy of bloodshed which determined the fate of the Middle East.

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The bitter struggle between Arab and Jew for control of the holy land has caused untold suffering in the Middle East for generations. it is often claimed that the crisis originated with Jewish immigration to Palestine and the foundation of the state of Israel. yet the roots of the conflict are to be found much earlier in British double dealing during the First World War. this is a story of intrigue among rival empires of misguided strategies and of how conflicting promises to Arab and Jew created a legacy of bloodshed which has determined the fate of the Middle East.


During the First World War the British the French and the Russians had these secret plans to carve up the Ottoman empire because they believed that would balance out their imperial ambitions but tough luck for the Turks the Arabs and anyone else who got in the way.

Certainly all the seeds were planted then in the sense that it was the British who promised the Arabs independence on the one hand and a Jewish homeland on the other and you could not simply reconcile one with the other.

The British scattered promises to anyone who might be of some use to them without thinking about the consequences. So British duplicity, British double dealing went a long way to perpetuate the conflict in Palestine.

At the end of the day when you’re fighting a war you are very liberal in what you’re offering in terms of a post-war settlement. When you get down to the conference table when the war has ended and you have to start honoring your agreements you then have to decide what’s in your interest or not and the bush saw the Middle East as a western flank for their power in India and their power in Asia in general.


[Coronation of Edward VII, London 1902]

The story of Britain’s involvement in the Middle East and the ensuing struggle between Arab and Jew begins with her colonial past. At the beginning of the 20th century king Edward VII ruled over a vast empire with interests in every part of the world

India became increasingly important because uh it was the second pillar of British power in the world. Moving the Indian army about was extremely important in extending British interests and British influence across the globe and the Suez Canal was of course the quick way to do. That it’s very important for the British geo-political position to ensure the Suez Canal remains safe and secure.

With this aim in mind Britain had become the only European power to establish a major foothold in the Middle East, in the principalities around the Persian Gulf in aden and in Egypt. Britain had a next Egypt from turkey’s Ottoman empire in 1882 and by the time it was made a protectorate in 1914 Cairo had become the center of British power in the Middle East. the presence of imperial troops in the region was a vital strategic importance for the Ottoman empire under sultan Muhammad was an alliance with Britain’s much feared rival, Germany. Together with the Austro-Hungarian empire these countries made up the central powers and pitted against them with the three allies Britain, France and Russia.

From the Ottoman capital Constantinople in turkey the sultan ruled over the last of the great Islamic empires it had been an almost terminal decline for decades yet the fate of the Ottoman empire was to be sealed by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

In Europe, Germany’s rapid advance was halted by Britain and France along the western front. In the east Russia’s war against Germany and Austria-Hungary also reached deadlock. The powerful weapons of the industrial age were killing thousands of men in the trenches of every army.

All of the leading powers expected the war to be over within a matter of months so in that sense all of them are surprised at the end of 1914 when not merely is the war going on but it shows every sign of being likely to go on for a very long time at that point they began to think about new ways of winning the war.

Britain’s prime minister Asquith felt that with the stalemate in Europe it was essential to widen the conflict. Together with foreign secretary lord gray minister for war lord Kitchener and the first lord of the admiralty Winston Churchill they masterminded a complex strategy to undermine the central powers. This was a global war and the British saw the Middle East very much in a global context.

The traditional British preference for sideshows as people unfavorably call it the indirect strategy the way of uh attacking the soft underbelly Churchill will call it of the enemy and the soft underbelly was seen to be turkey.

Britain’s secret plan involved on the one hand a military diversion and on the other a devious use of diplomacy through bribery, subversion and double dealing. All these devices focused on the enemy’s weakest link: turkey’s Ottoman Empire.

Diplomacy in general has always had a secret dimension to it whether but where discretion ends and conspiracy begins is an open question, but during the period up to and during the First World War there was a particularly intense set of negotiations and discussions between the major imperial powers, between the French the Russians and the British in particular cutting in the Italians as well — about what would they do when the war was over and when the Ottoman empire broke up.

The British government hoped that by striking a deal over the spoils of war it would strengthen the alliance against the central powers. Amongst the allies Russia had long sought access to the Mediterranean. In a secret treaty of march 1915 Britain and France offered what was to the tsar a prize of vital geopolitical importance: Constantinople.

It is that he outlet into the wider world and into the Mediterranean and it is the one thing of course the British and the French have been attempting to prevent the Russians from achieving. So this is a complete volta factory this is this is the British the French and the Russians coming to an agreement over something which was up to this point almost inconceivable.

Italy’s king Vittorio Emanuele was another target for bribery. Britain, France and Russia tried to tempt Italy a pro-German state to join the allies. In April 1915 a secret treaty offered Italy a substantial bit of Ottoman real estate in Anatolia.

Again it’s another power coming into the equation and being offered territorial advancement which in normal circumstances would have been quite inconceivable.

The bribe worked. Italy joined the allies and declared war on the central powers in august 1915. but Britain’s strategy to undermine the enemy via the Ottoman empire also required subversion. By using domestic opposition to weaken maybe even destroy it Britain exploited a new movement sweeping through the empire: nationalism.

Nationalism in the sense of believing that there are peoples with a clear cultural identity and that these people should have independent that idea spread to the Middle East as to other parts of the world in the latter part of the 19th century so you had the beginnings in the Ottoman empire of a Turkish nationalism

this came to a head when the Young Turks took power in a coup in 1908 and started to impose their language and culture on the Arabs of the empire. but this only reawakened an interest amongst Arabs in their own heritage.


A thousand years before, Arabs had brought the technology and literature of the east to the west and their religion, Islam, had encompassed much of Asia north Africa and southwestern Europe. The idea of recovering that historic grandeur had remained in the consciousness of Arab intellectuals. By the start of the First World War the antagonism between Arab and Turk had increased.

the very fact that the Turks were saying we want to have a unified empire the Arabs said wait a minute we’re not part of this so all of this literary and nationalistic revival then took a much more political form and therefore you’ve got the emergence of Arab nationalism.

They had arrived at the conclusion that remaining in the Ottoman empire was becoming hopeless, that they couldn’t actually share power with the Turks, and they began thinking of having their own state.

By the summer of 1915, British intelligence confirmed that the Arab nationalist movement was the breakthrough the government was looking for. Britain and her French ally dispatched officers to sound out Arab leaders. Both the French and the British started you could say seducing various local Arab leaders that if you side with us we’ll give you your independence so why don’t you leave the Ottomans and various people were tempted as a result if they they thought they could actually gain independence why not side with the Europeans against the Ottomans.

The idea was to tempt the Arabs into a revolt against their Ottoman overlords and create a diversion which would tie down the central powers in the Middle East. Ironically the impetus for such a diversion had come not from London but from the Arab world. In the Hejaz in western Arabia Sharif was saying its ruler was set on extending his political and geographical domain he believed he might be able to do it with the help of the British. In turn the British were impressed by Sharif Hussein’s family credentials as custodians of the holy places of Islam.

They call themselves Hashemites they call the family Hashemites because that’s the family or the tribe of the prophet Muhammad they were the bani hashem the sons of hashem so he was Sharif Hussein was the leader of the Hashemites he was the person responsible for Mecca and Medina and although he worked with the Ottomans before the First World War once the First World War happened he saw this was his chance.

A chance too for the British who saw support for Sharif Hussein as a way to threaten the sultan’s hold on the caliphate the political leadership of the Islamic world.

The British because they were fighting the Ottomans and the Ottomans were claiming to be the real representatives of Islam they wanted a counter force and the counter force was represented by Sharif Hussein being a descendant of the prophet but Sharif Hussein was speaking of liberating Arab lands building a new national state he wanted to be king of the Arabs not simply of Arabians in July 1915 Sharif Hussein smuggled a message to the British high commissioner in Cairo Sir Henry McMahon offering to raise a substantial Arab force against the Ottomans in return for British support for Arab independence. In the ensuing secret correspondence between the two men Sharif Hussein was given to understand that he could expect British support in achieving some of his ambitions in the event of an Ottoman defeat. This letter of October the 26th 1915 outlined the main points of the arrangement.

The actual document itself is absolutely riven with ambiguity there’s no doubt about that the question is whether Hussein recognizes that. My sense of Hussein is that he does recognize it in other words there is no will being poured over his eyes because he’s perfectly aware if he’s going to create a modern Arab empire, he’s going to need some logistical, economic development, and that can only come from the outside world.

Taking Britain’s assurances of support at face value, Hussein together with his sons Faisal and Abdullah, amassed a sizable force. The new army was commanded by the young and charismatic Faisal who had captured the imagination of the Arab masses in the quest for Arab independence. Yet even as Hussein and Faisal mobilized their troops, the British were preparing to sell them short.

Back in London in the spring of 1916 Britain was negotiating with France about the future shape of the Middle East. Behind closed doors some Mark Sykes of the British foreign office had been meeting his French opposite number François Georges-Picot. Britain knew it was vital to offer the French a stake in the spoils of the Ottoman empire, should they win the war.

There was an awareness on the British side that they had made such huge sacrifices that one couldn’t just ignore French ambitions and the French were determined to have their historical piece of the Levant.

Pouring over a map of the Levant Sykes and Picot personally drew in the areas they wish to see under their control their secret deal amounted to the virtual carve-up of the Middle East in area a for the French and area b for the British the imperialists intended to exercise power indirectly they would appoint advisors and take charge of the finances in their respective spheres of influence then there was the area colored blue which was to be directly controlled by France this included what was then known as greater Syria where the French traditionally had commercial and religious interests. As for the area colored pink, known as Iraq, with its strategic ports railways and oil this was to be under British rule. The area colored yellow represented Palestine and was envisaged as an international zone except for Haifa.

What the British wanted was the oil of Iraq, and they concentrated on getting Iraq and getting away from Iraq to the Mediterranean in order to transport this oil. So they got Haifa on the Palestinian coast and they got most of Iraq the psych speaker agreement was a pretty shameful document and I wouldn’t attempt to defend it, but it was drawn up by people who were sort of operating under the old kind of balance of power considerations in an imperial frame of mind.

Unaware of these secret dealings behind their backs, Hussein and Faisal proclaimed independence and in June 1916 attacked the Turkish troops the Arab revolt against the Ottomans had begun. The Turkish garrison at mecca was soon overrun and the seaport at jitter seized by 1917 Hussein and Faisal’s forces had pushed north and engaged the Ottoman Turks along the Hijaz railway the British saw the Arab revolt as part of its strategy for creating a military diversion against the central powers in a pincer movement Britain had launched a campaign from the south west to ensure control of the Suez Canal and the Levant and from the south east it was fighting to secure the oil wells of Iraq all this to attack the central powers at their weakest point: the Ottoman empire.

The Arabs hitched their fortunes to the British they considered themselves to be fighting with the allies, but at the same time they were not merged into the British army that they continued to act as an independent army called the northern army.

While the Arab army advanced northwards, Britain’s general Allenby had crossed the Suez Canal and by the spring of 1917 his forces had reached the frontier of Palestine.

The war in Europe, however, was still not going well for Britain the attempted push through the German lines at the psalm had produced little territorial gain and the cost in lives was colossal. In London there had been a change of leadership the new prime minister Lloyd George felt that the allied war effort needed a fresh impetus. Although America had so far been neutral in the war Lloyd George was convinced that could be changed. He believed there was one powerful group which might influence the American government.

Lloyd George thought that the American decision whether to join or not, would depend critically on public opinion and the Jewish support could tilt the scales in one direction or the other.

You’ve got to remember that the British foreign office greatly overestimate the political power of international jewry, particularly the wealthy financial and commercial Jewish elites.

What is extraordinary about this situation is that here you have particularly the British seeing the Jewish world as one collective monolithic entity, and in that sense they start looking at the role of the Jews in the war as being something which might be important, and from the point of view of the allies something else quite remarkable, this monolithic collective entity is pro-German.

Many Jews in the upper echelons of German society did indeed have close connections to the Kaiser’s foreign office. A new Jewish nationalist movement Zionism had also been able to establish its headquarters in Berlin.

Zionism had originated in the 1880s after Theodore Herzl published a book espousing the virtues of a Jewish state this caused a sensation amongst Jewish intellectuals in Germany Austria and Russia who shared Herzl’s outrage at the escalation of anti-Jewish [Music] sentiments.

the end of the 19th century saw the rise of anti-Semitism all over Europe, in Austria in Germany in France but particularly in eastern Europe in Poland and in Russia and the pogrom against the Jews in Russia gave rise to the establishment of jovezion the lovers of Zion societies uh in a number of Russian cities who started to promote and to finance and to sponsor colonization emigration to Palestine. Herzl came to the conclusion that the Jews were not safe anywhere in Europe and the only solution was for the Jews to have a state of their own over which they could exercise sovereignty and where they would not be a minority.


What had also given Zionism its appeal was the way in which it fitted in to historic Jewish aspirations. Scattered throughout the world since the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in the first century A.D., many Jews had cherished the idea of returning one day to what their scriptures had told them was the promised land. In fact there had already been a small community of indigenous Jews in Palestine but even when some European Jews established settlements throughout the late 19th century the whole Jewish community by 1914 constituted barely eight percent of the population.


The Zionist leader in Britain, Chaim Weizmann, had been lobbying the government for a guarantee that in the event of an Ottoman defeat it would support Jewish emigration to Palestine. By early 1917 Lloyd George’s view of Jews as globally influential, convinced him that Zionism was another nationalist movement which should be co-opted to the allied cause. In March Mark Sykes began negotiations with Weizmann.

There is a bee in the bonnet of people like Mark Sykes that actually the Jews do ultimately look to each other and look to their own interest and if that interest as they are being told by Weizmann is what we really want is Palestine, they’re prepared to believe it they’re prepared to go along with it.

As negotiations with Weizmann continued over the following months the war deteriorated rapidly for the allies.


The German submarine campaign was seriously weakening Britain’s merchant fleet, and although America had entered the war on the allied side, president Woodrow Wilson was not yet willing to supply a significant number of troops. Britain’s latest attempt to keep up the pressure on the western front soon became bogged down in the muddy trenches of Passchendaele. As thousands of young men’s lives were wasted in another fruitless campaign, morale amongst the soldiers plummeted. But the most serious threat to the allied war machine came from the east. Russia was on the verge of collapse. After massive defeats at the hands of the Germans the war-weary country was disintegrating with food shortages strikes and demonstrations. When the tsar was deposed in a Revolution Britain and France became greatly aligned.

The point is that once Russia and its war effort begins to collapse essentially the Germans have won the First World War unless they bring the Americans in there’s no way that the British and the French on their own are ever going to defeat Germany.

In October, the British government received an intelligence report suggesting that Jews were a significant influence in the leadership of the Bolshevik party, the new Revolutionary movement emerging as the dominant force in Russia. Lloyd George feared that these communists would take Russia out of the war. With the Americans still refusing to commit sufficient forces he knew it was time to act. He instructed his foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to issue a pledge to capture the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.

His majesty’s government few with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievements of this object the Balfour Declaration was issued on November the 2nd 1917, just as British forces were occupying Palestine.

I would say that the Balfour Declaration has to be understood not as an idealistic gesture but it has to be understood within the framework of British imperial policy and Lloyd George was the main instigator of that declaration, because he believed that it would serve Britain’s interests.

But this was also the first time that any major European power had given official backing for the Zionist goal of making Palestine into a Jewish homeland. Yet Sharif Hussein had understood that Palestine had been promised as part of his deal for Arab independence. Anticipating Arab outrage at the prospect of a Jewish homeland in a largely Arab province, the Balfour Declaration had also stated that

“nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

The Declaration nonetheless appeared to indicate British support for Jewish immigration there were only a mere 80 000 out of some like 700 000 people in Palestine who were Jews. The indigenous inhabitants of Palestine were referred to as non-Jewish inhabitants and that Palestine was being identified, even at that stage, as a Jewish land, and all the others had no defined identity, they were simply non-Jewish.

The Balfour Declaration was what it says the declaration it wasn’t a treaty, it wasn’t a signed agreement, it was a declaration in support of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

In fact, the only treaty Britain had signed in regard to Palestine was with the French, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement.

On November the 7th within a few days of the Balfour Declaration. the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Lloyd George hoped that it would have the desired effect of appeasing the Jews in the communist leadership.

What is it that they supposedly so want as Jews? Palestine. Now the whole argument is it’s totally logical it’s a nonsense argument because these particular people if one were to think of people like Trotsky or Zinoviev some of the key Jewish leaders in the Russian Revolution — the November Revolution — these these people of course are internationalists.

There were 15 to 20 Jews in the higher echelons of the Bolshevik party most of them were anti-Zionist and after they came to power they soon after they came to power they issued a declaration to say that Zionism is a capitalist ploy, a capitalist idea.

The wildly inaccurate intelligence report on which Lloyd George based his strategy was to have major implications for Britain. Within weeks, Russia’s new leaders did exactly the opposite of what he had expected: not only did they pull out of the war they opened up the archives of the tsarist foreign office and published the secret treaties, the very treaties Britain had engineered with her allies to carve up the Ottoman empire and to which Russia had been privy.

That, of course, is a very great embarrassment to the western allies because the allies have been doing all sorts of deals behind the scenes in which they have handed out to each other large sections of the world, meanwhile openly preaching that they are fighting the war in defense of democracy, and of course also telling among others the Arabs that they are supporters of self-determination for the peoples of the Ottoman empire.

Publication of the secret treaties by the Bolsheviks certainly created an enormous suspicion in the Arab world and this meant that the Sharif Hussein and the others said “wait a minute, what’s going on? what hey why are you not giving us independence and secondly why are you dividing us up into zone a and zone b and at that point of course the Arabs realized that not only would the British got their own particular interests for example in the ports of Palestine or in Iraq but that they had promised other things to the French.


Amid Arab confusion and suspicion, general Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot, together with Sykes-Picot and a number of other allied notables. His British-led forces had captured the holy city in December 1917. The leaders of the Arab revolt however were nowhere to be seen.

Fearing that Hussein and Faisal might lose heart the British government forwarded a message to them reiterating British commitment to Arab independence.

“The Arab Reich shall be given full opportunity of once again forming a nation in the world this can only be achieved by the Adams themselves uniting and great Britain and her allies will pursue a policy with this ultimate unity in you.”

Hussein stayed loyal to the allied cause still prepared to accept Britain’s word on Arab independence although he spoke of settling accounts after the war. From Allenby’s point of view he continued to rely on Arab support in the war against the Ottomans but now that Jerusalem had been occupied by the British one party seized the initiative. In April 1918 Chaim Weizmann and the international Zionist commission traveled to Palestine to lay the foundation for a Hebrew university. Their hope was that it would become the intellectual hub of Zionism. Weizmann’s visit however caused widespread alarm and indignation among the Arab population, and when he and the chief rabbi of Jerusalem met general Allenby it looked as if Britain was preparing to honor the Balfour Declaration. Six months later Allenby’s forces entered Damascus with their ally Faisal’s northern army they had pushed the Ottoman troops north through Palestine into Syria.

The Arab revolt did contribute to the victory of the allies. First of all it protected the British flank and Palestine. Second it kept a number of Turkish and German troops preoccupied. And third, the the British could have never legitimized what they were doing, unless they had the blessing of a particular Arab force.

On the 3rd of October, the people of Damascus flocked to Faisal’s victory parade. If he was to seize power he knew it was of great importance to make his presence felt, and to be seen by the Arab people as their liberator. Later the same day, however, Faisal met with general Allenby at the Victoria Hotel in Damascus. Allenby warned him that his rule in Syria would be limited.

The British by that time knew that they were going to hand over Syria to the French, so they couldn’t actually accept Faisal as a legitimate ruler. All they could do is to pay him his salary and the expenses of his army and his administration.

Undaunted by Allenby’s warnings Faisal assumed the title of governor of Damascus. With the support of his father Sharif Hussein he set about creating a power base for their goal of an independent Arab state. On the 31st of October, the Ottomans were finally defeated. And at 11 o’clock on the 11th of November 1918 the guns fell silent in Europe as the war with the central powers came to an end.


The Peace Conference at Versailles began in January 1919. representatives of the victorious allies such as the French prime minister Clemenceau and the American president Woodrow Wilson gathered to sort out what was to be done with the former territories of the defeated empires. Now the liberal use of promises by the British government had to be prioritized.

They did indeed make pledges to the Arabs but they also made pledges to the Jews and they also made pledges to the French and the Russians and everybody else, and these people saw the world as an imperial world, not only did they want to carve out the Middle East, they wanted to carve up Russia. They thought this was the last great moment in which the imperial powers would be able to sit down and grab what was going particularly since there was no one to stop them.

But Britain and her old ally France were up against the American president Woodrow Wilson’s vision of a new world order which promoted national self-determination.

Once independence had seemed to be a possibility that this principle of self-determination uh supported by the Americans was going to be offered to all those who were to be liberated from former empires, like the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, what the Palestinians wanted was an independent state.

In fact Faisal had come from Damascus to plead the Arab cause. But the future of Palestine in the Middle East formed part of Britain’s pledge to France in the Sykes-Picot carver. In the event Woodrow Wilson’s principles about self-determination were forgotten when it came to the people of the Middle East. Britain and France were free to go ahead with their agreement. But what of the promises Britain had made to the Jews regarding Palestine? Foreign secretary Arthur Balfour in a confidential memo during the Versailles Peace Talks with America France and Italy wrote:

“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 a far profound import than the desires and prejudices of the seven hundred thousand Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

That might sound like a warm endorsement of Zionism yet further in the post-war memorandum Balfour hints at a much more cynical agenda:

so far as Palestine is concerned the powers have made no declaration of policy which at least in letter they have not always intended to violate

The Versailles Peace Conference was concluded on June the 28th 1919 with the creation of the League of Nations the first global institution for peace and security its covenant provided that the Arab and other territories ceded by the defeated Ottoman empire should be administered by mandates which meant in effect that Britain and France were given the authority to impose their rule over the Arab territories. On November 21st, 1919, François Georges-Picot, the co-architect of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the French general guru arrived in Beirut, and so began the imposition of the French mandate for Syria and Lebanon.
The British forces who had occupied the region since ousting the Ottoman Turks during the last months of the war, were handing over power to the French, thus fulfilling their wartime pledge.
Faisal, who had been the governor of Damascus now for 16 months, had been consolidating his position when he was proclaimed king by the Syrian national congress the French were incensed and general Gouraud sent in his troops by August the 7th 1920 Faisal had been deposed and had to flee to Palestine. The promises to Sharif Hussein and Faisal of a single independent state were now a distant memory for the Europeans.

The whole issue of spheres of influence meant that what appeared what was at first appeared to be a willingness to accept a single Arab state was in fact seriously diluted and then on top of that of course the very fact of there being at a French area in a British area meant that in effect this was the seed of partition. So you had both independence was denied but also the unity of this area was denied.

The boundaries and governments of the Middle Eastern states that emerged for the unmistakable imprint of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The French half of the previously Ottoman province of greater Syria became the mandate for Lebanon and Syria the other half became the British mandate for Transjordan and Palestine. In the east the Ottoman area of Mesopotamia, which included the oil fields of Mosul, was given to Britain as the mandate for Iraq.

So this was basically the importance of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, to divide what is called the fertile crescent between Iraq and Syria and let Britain get access to the oil of the area and be able to exploit it in the future.

But British rule was initially rejected by the Iraqi people until Faisal was installed as king in July 1921. Britain hoped the limited power it devolved to him would serve to placate the frustrated demands for Arab independence. But Sharif Hussein expected more from the British.

He never gave up the idea that the British had promised him independence not only in Arabia but in Syria and Iraq as well and he wanted the British to fulfill their promises.

Sharif Hussein’s dream of an Arab kingdom ruled by the Hashemites was only partially fulfilled for although his other son Abdullah became king of Transjordan. Their old rival Ibn Saud swept the Hashemites out of Hijaz when he conquered the whole of the Arabian peninsula.
In Jerusalem an administration was established by the British in the spring of 1920. There were no plans for devolving power in Palestine.
Palestine was a land sacred to three religions. Jews were a small minority who had lived harmoniously with Christians and the much larger community of Muslims for hundreds of years.
But the Balfour Declaration, promising Jews a homeland in Palestine had been incorporated into the British mandated Versailles. Palestine was thus to be open for new European Jewish immigration. With celebrations and parades in support of Zionist activities, it seemed as if the British were going to honour their pledges to the Jews and ignore Palestinian hopes of independence.

The Arabs had a strong case but very poor advocates. The Zionists had a case it wasn’t as strong as that of the local Arabs but they had brilliant advocates. Zionism is one of the greatest public relations success stories of the 20th century and Chaim Weizmann exemplified these traditional Jewish skills of advocacy and persuasion.

Some of these skills were clearly in evidence when Weizmann and various Zionist groups helped finance land purchases and the building of settlements for immigrant Jews. At the same time political and security organizations were created to support the emerging Jewish homeland. The Arab community in Palestine was incensed.

The Palestinians couldn’t conceive their country being divided or given away to another community, which had nothing to do with the Middle East in the first place and was almost wholly European at the time, so to them it seemed absurd that 600 to 700 000 should give up their land, their homes their villages their towns and hand them over to a minority which was dispersed throughout Palestine. And Palestine after all is named after its people, who are the Palestinians.

In 1925 Arthur Balfour toured the new Jewish settlements in Palestine although he was fated as a hero of the Zionist cause the immigration of European Jews was to have unforeseen consequences for British rule in Palestine.

I believe that the Balfour Declaration was one of the most serious mistakes in British imperial history. It committed Britain to support of Jewish nationalism in Palestine after the war and it did not produce any immediate benefits for Britain.

Without the Balfour Declaration there could have been no genuine development of a Jewish national home and the follow-through in 1948 where you get the creation of a state of Israel simply would not have happened. It requires the umbrella of the British to be there in effect to support the emerging Jewish national home. Militarily, at the bottom line the very fact that there are British troops British policemen there to protect the Jewish communities is ultimately central to the situation, it could not have been done in any other way.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s the years of Nazi persecution and the holocaust Jewish immigration to Palestine increased rapidly. But what was seen by the Arabs as an alien incursion and the Jews as a fulfillment of historic rights led to polarization and violence. In response to terrorist acts by Arabs Britain restricted the immigration. But the policy only stimulated Jewish terrorism. Against this background Britain relinquished its mandate and the state of Israel was born in 1948. When the first of several wars between the new state and its Arab neighbors began thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled their homeland. Thus the strategies employed by Britain to win the First World War inadvertently left a deep divide between Arab and Jew.

The most serious consequences of British policy during the war was the encouragement of Arab nationalism and Jewish nationalism and in the aftermath of the First World War Britain was left with this legacy of double dealing and of betrayal, which was to haunt her for a long long time.

Clearly it played a role in dividing the Arab world into different states in allowing the establishment of the state of Israel and in frustrating Arab desires, but if what happened in Sykes-Picot and everything else that happened in the First World War is used as an excuse for the problems of the Middle East now I think that would be a mistake. But yes the roots of what we see today certainly arose from the double dealing of the First World War and from the frustrated expectations of that time. 


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