The British and Zionism: The Story Before the Creation of Israel

Under the Sykes Picot agreement, Palestine was called the “brown area.”

It was not meant to be under the control of any particular power, due to the fact that Palestine was home to sacred and holy places. However, as soon as the deal by Sykes and Georges-Picot was completed, the British began thinking of new ways to get around it. The British wondered how they could use Zionism—the political campaign to acquire a Jewish state in Palestine—to their own interest.

In 1916, not too long after the Sykes Picot deal, the British started communicating with the Zionists and promising them a Jewish national home in Palestine, echoing similar promises made to the Arabs in achieving independence after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Taking into consideration Britain’s historical relationship with its Jewish population, it is odd that it became a sponsor of the Zionist initiative. In fact, it was the first European country to expel its Jewish population in 1290 and it did not grant full political freedom to the Jews until 1871. In the beginning of the twentieth century, British evangelicals began supporting the idea of a Jewish homeland because of the “second coming.” According to the Evangelicals, the Second Coming would only occur after the Jews had returned to the Holy Land. The British government began to seriously consider the idea during World War I because of exaggerated ideas about Jewish influence in Western societies, such as the U.S, and the weakening Ottoman territory. The British seizure of Jerusalem on December 9, 1917 strengthened the support.

One of the most vocal supporters of Zionism was the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, an evangelical Christian and Zionist. He had close relationships with Zionist leaders, especially the Russian-Zionist migrant, Chaim Weizmann. Weizmann was one of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement and served as President of the Zionist organization and later as the first president of Israel.

Weizmann developed a new process to produce Acetone, a critical ingredient in manufacturing explosives. Britain was unable to sufficiently and productively manufacture it during WWI. In 1915, the British government began to weaken tremendously as a result of its inability to manufacture enough artillery shells for the war. When David Lloyd George became the minister and was responsible for arms production, he asked Weizmann to use his process for mass production.

When Lloyd George inquired Weizmann about compensating him for his efforts in helping Britain, Weizmann replied that he wanted no money, just the rights over Palestine.

Walter Rothschild 2nd Baron, a Zionist leader and a close friend of Weizmann, was very politically active during his time. He formulated the draft declaration for the Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Motives regarding the public support of Zionism by Lloyd George vary depending on different historical research. Some believe it was a genuine belief in the righteousness of the Zionist cause held strongly by Lloyd George. Others believe that Britain’s leaders hoped to gain the Jewish support for the allies against the Germany and other neutral countries. Another key factor to this public declaration of support was that Lloyd George viewed British Dominance looming over Palestine would be a bridge between the crucial territories of India and Egypt—the ultimate post-WWI goal. The establishment of a Zionist state—under British eye and protection—would ensure Britain’s continuing powerful presence in the Middle East. Lloyd George’s relationship with Zionism is more than religious certainty, but political as well.

In 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to the renowned Jewish British citizen, Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, declaring the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.”

No matter what the view of the creation of Israel in Palestine is, the plight of the Palestinians and the complete disregard to their century’s presence in the land cannot be ignored. Palestine was not only inhabited by Muslim Palestinians. In fact, Palestine was home to Christian Palestinians and Jewish Palestinians as well. The Jewish population in Palestine existed and in great numbers. The forceful takeover of Palestine by European Jewish migrants and the self-proclaimed   establishment of a national Jewish state violates every right of the Palestinian population living there, no matter what religion they belong to, and the principles the League of Nations was founded upon.

The league of Nations was created to establish worldly peace and the acknowledgement and respect of local self-determination and aspiration.

I then ask, “What about Palestine?”

Did the people not have a say in the creation of Israel? What did they think of this new European population that will come in to rule a land they have inhabited for so long and to be then subjected to years of oppression, injustice, and massacres?

Are we to not modify—or at least cloak—the imperialist goals of Britain, mandates that were created by the League of Nations under the Versailles Treaty allowing countries to “authorize” the so called protective power over various parts of the shattered Ottoman Empire until at a time these territories were judged to be run by its own competent rulers.

The British assured that the needs of the Jewish and Arab inhabitants would be considered. However, many Arabs were angered by their failure to receive nationhood and self-governance. Lest we forget the promises the British made to the Arabs in assisting with the war against the Turks, especially the promise of independence and self-rule.

As the Zionist-Jewish population increased in Palestine, so did the tension and violence. The increased instability led Britain to further delay making a decision on the future of Palestinian state and the Palestinians. Following the World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, the international support for Zionism grew dramatically and further pushed the official declaration in 1948 of the State of Israel.

Was one holocaust enough to justify another?


View Sources ∨

Chaim Weizmann, The Making of a Statesman by Jehuda Reinharz, Chapter 2.

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