This chapter focuses on an issue which is documented or at least touched upon in almost every chapter of “From Time Immemorial”: British restriction and at times suspension of Jewish immigration to Palestine, combined with deliberate blindness to massive Arab immigration.
The reality documented by Joan Peters, is the systematic sabotage and undoing of the Balfour promise—embedded in the Mandate for Palestine—and of the obligations undertaken by Britain under the mandate of the League of Nations.
One question that is barely touched upon in the chapter and the book is how to assess Winston Churchill’s attitude in regard to the nefarious activities of the British satraps in Palestine. Answers to this question should be searched principally in Sir Martin Gilbert’s monumental political biography of Churchill with focus on Churchill and the Jews. It appears that a widespread belief exists that Churchill was friendly to the Jews. Yet, as Colonial Secretary, Churchill took the first step in a policy which was to produce tragic consequences for the Jews and the destiny of the future Jewish state. In 1921 he divided Palestine into two parts: Eastern Palestine, where Jewish immigration was forbidden and instead, an Arab state was created, ruled by emir Abdullah and called Transjordan and eventually Jordan. Jewish settlement was restricted to Western Palestine, i.e. the areas west of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. And, as Ms. Peters exposes in this chapter, this was just the beginning of an ongoing injustice to the Jewish People to this day.
British restriction or even suspension of Jewish immigration to Palestine, combined with deliberate blindness, even encouragement to massive Arab immigration particularly when Jewish industry attracted Arabs to an erstwhile barren land. At the same time Jewish immigration into Palestine was curtailed and sometimes halted altogether. Policy was dictated by pervasive antisemitism among British rulers in Palestine combined with the pernicious influence of T.E. Lawrence’s mythologized image of the Arabs, particularly pastoral and nomadic Arabs, as some sort of “noble savages”, whom he hoped to turn into a nation, something they were not at the time.
Even Lawrence privately acknowledged that “…the ideal of a national union was episodic, an organized state, an extended empire, was not so much as beyond their sight but hateful in it. They were fighting to get rid of the [Turkish] Empire, not to win it” and that, “…Arab unity is a madman’s notion”.
The next step was made by the British government of Palestine, which cynically eroded the areas of Jewish settlement in Western Palestine by restricting Jewish immigration and at times suspending it altogether, while allowing Arabs, in-migrants and immigrants, from neighbouring countries to stream into areas developed at the cost of great sacrifices by Jews for the benefit of Jews fleeing Europe.
In 1921 the Haycraft Commission investigated anti-Jewish attacks in Jaffa and at Khedera. Typically, in its discussion it acknowledged the anti-semitism of the Muslim settlements near the Jews’, but in its conclusions it incredibly found the attacks were “grossly exaggerated” and were caused by “Zionist manifestations”; by “new Jews”; and by “Bolsheviks”, all of which naturally piqued “Arab discontent”.
A month later, to assuage Arab “discontent”, then Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill told the Deputation of Arabs that,
Many of the British Officials in Palestine are very, very friendly to the Arabs, more so than to the Jews. The Jews make a continued outcry on that subject, the the British officials and the British military authorities are unduly partial towards the Arabs. No one has harmed you, and no one is harming you…Give the Jews their chance.
But, that was not to be. “Arab leaders, notably Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, backed their insatiable demands with terrorist violence against the Jews; towards the British, the Arabs alternated between the perpetration of violence, notably during the Arab riots of 1936, and cajoling and charm. Their blackmail and wanton violence went unpunished or was treated with “kid gloves”, while Jewish settlements were not permitted to arm themselves. Already in 1921 in response to Arab pogroms the British temporarily suspended Jewish immigration; thousands of Jewish immigrants who had “valid visas” were turned away from Palestinian ports, while no similar restrictions were imposed on illegal Arab immigration. Worse was to come with the White Paper, drafted by Malcolm MacDonald in 1939, which nearly suspended Jewish immigration altogether.” [Verbatum from this chapter—Editor]
Apart from the constant Arab agitation and violence, the British were not disposed kindly towards Jews. This attitude was to keep many a large number of Jews from escaping the Holocaust (Hitler’s first priority was to deport the Jews); if most other countries did not want them, neither did the British Mandate officials in Palestine. Nor, for that matter did the British Government. In 1937, the Palestine Royal Commission recommended partition of Western Palestine, but Anthony Eden, then British Secretary for Foreign Affairs, promoted another plan, “which would not give Jews any territory exclusively for their use”. As Eden wrote to his private secretary, “If we must have preferences, let me murmur in your ear that I prefer Arabs to Jews”. The secretary noted in his diary, “Unfortunately, A.E. is immovable on the subject of Palestine. He loves Arabs and hates Jews”. And later Neville Chamberlain (Prime Minister 1937-1940) told his cabinet, “If we must offend one side, let us offend the Jews rather than the Arabs”.
Early on the Mufti openly allied himself with Hitler and offered to implement the “final solution” in Palestine. Just as the British government sought to appease Hitler in Europe by betraying Czechoslovakia, in the Middle East British authorities never stopped deluding themselves that by a policy of appeasement and concessions at the expense of the Jews they could win the loyalty, if not the support, of neighbouring Arab countries. The tragedy of Jews fleeing the Holocaust in leaky boats (e.g. the “Struma”) and being turned away from the coast of Palestine is well documented. Thus during the war, while Jews rallied to the support of Britain and the Arabs collaborated with the Nazis [More about this in Chapt. 16–Editor], the infamous White Paper was not suspended .