THE FORSAKEN PROMISE.
This section is a painful one to write. It is painful because, for people like me - and there are still many - the British Empire was not just a period one reads about in boring history books. It is still a large part of what we are. It is still in our bones.
Our family, for example, was heavily involved in the British Empire for generations. To mention just a few family members- my Father’s Father served with the Indian cavalry and my Grandmother used to tell us stories about India as we grew up. My Mother's Father was one of the pioneers, who brought electricity to India and who - among other things- wired up the Palace at Udaipur. One of my uncles was a district commissioner in the Sudan. An Aunt was a nurse in India. Her husband was an officer in the Gurkhas. My Godfather served with the King’s African Rifles. My mother was brought up in India and became an army nurse in Burma- which is where she met my father, who was serving as an officer with the British army and, together, they stayed on after Burmese independence to advise and train the new Burmese army. I was born in Burma during this period and, years later, I attended a college where one in every ten, of those who had been there, had been killed in action, while fighting for the Empire. At that time, it also had the second highest proportion of Victoria Crosses per head in the country (Eton having the highest)
For me, and for many others, the British Empire was - is - a very personal thing and this is a painful section to write.
In the last few sections we have seen how the British government promised the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine. We have seen how the Arabs wanted them to come back and settle because they understood very clearly that it would be an advantage to everyone. The Jews would bring their money and their scientists. The Jewish scientists were the best in the world and they would turn their area green and the Arabs would borrow the Jewish scientists to turn the Arab areas green as well. And so, during the Paris peace talks in 1919, the Arabs on Faisal’s team were happy about the idea of a Jewish homeland. They felt that it would be good for the Arabs as well as good for the Jews. They all smiled and shook hands. Chaim Weizmann went home and told the Jews they had a homeland and King Faisal and his team went back to Mecca.
And that is where it all went pear-shaped….
There were several problems. The first problem was that the Emir Faisal did not represent all the Arabs. He represented the Kingdom of Hedjaz, around Mecca and he did not have a large power base. The Arabs as a whole, had no real concept of Arab unity. Their loyalties were to their tribes and to their tribal leaders. If you have ever watched the film “Lawrence of Arabia” starring Peter O'Toole, you might recall one scene in which Lawrence is talking about Arab independence. One of the tribesmen with him says, “I know the X tribe and I know the Y tribe and the Z tribe...but who are these Arabs?”
That pretty well summed up the situation. Just because the Emir Faisal signed an agreement did not necessarily mean that every Arab from every tribe in every area considered himself bound by that agreement. (That was one of the reasons for the British Mandate. The Mandate was not only to prepare the Jews to take over their independent homeland but to train and prepare the Arabs to take over their independent homeland and to govern it responsibly.)
So Faisal did not represent many of the Arabs and he did not have a large power base. He only got away with it at the time because it was so much in Britain’s interests to put him forward as the main spokesman for the Arab people.
Then there was another problem. In order to fulfil her promises to both Arabs and Jews, Britain had to take all the land in question. Britain did take all the land and, while she had control of it, she was able to do what she liked with it. Unfortunately the French decided to butt in. They rightly pointed out that they had fought too and had suffered at least as much as the British. Why shouldn’t they be rewarded for their help? So the British said, fair enough, we’ll give the French something too.
“Mesopotamia….yes…oil….irrigation….we must have Mesopotamia; Palestine…yes…the Holy Land…Zionism…We must have Palestine; Syria…Hm…What is there in Syria? Let the French have that…” David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Britain, overheard thinking aloud by Arnold Toynbee adviser to the British Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
Shortening the story considerably, the British gave Syria and Lebanon to the French. This became the French Mandate and the British could not fulfill their promise to the Arabs in French territory, where the British had no jurisdiction- although the people in that area did eventually gain their independence too.
All these problems were huge but there was also a far more serious problem: up to this point the Jews had been dealing with the Arabs as human beings looking after their own interests. Now they faced the Arabs as Moslems. From that point on, the problems in the Middle East became spiritual and have remained so to this day. King Faisal and his team smiled, shook hands with the Jewish team and returned to Arabia from Versailles, where they were met by the Moslem religious authorities from Mecca, who were not at all happy. “You bunch of morons!” they yelled. “What are you doing? You’re giving away Moslem land!”
The problem was (is) that in Islam the world is divided into two camps. Dar al-Islam (The House of Submission) is the area controlled by Islam. (this is sometimes known as Dar as Salaam- The house of peace)
The Rest of the world is referred to as Dar al-Harb (The House of the Sword). In other words, Dar al-Harb is the area not yet under the domination of Islam because one day they intend to get the lot.
"Oh beloved, look to the East of the earth, find Japan and the ocean; look to the West of the earth, find [some] country and the ocean. Be assured that these will be owned by the Muslim nation, as the Hadith says… 'from the ocean to the ocean…'"
Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi at the Sheikh 'Ijlin Mosque in Gaza City, broadcast live on April 12, 2002 by Palestinian Authority television:
The land that King Faisal had agreed would be given to the Jews as their homeland was part of Dar al-Islam and, because of this, it was absolutely forbidden for Moslems to give that land to the Jews, or to anyone else. As Palestine had once been conquered by Islam, in Moslem eyes it had to remain under Moslem control until judgment day. Because of this, any promises made by Faisal to the Jews were null and void.
For several centuries Moslem land hadn’t really been an issue as Islam had been comatose. It was almost a non-religion. People would say, “I am a Moslem” in the same way that the average nominal Christian today- the sort that might go to church once a year at Christmas- might say, “I am a Christian.”
It was at this time in history, however, after centuries asleep, that Islam woke up.
Now we ask the question- why did Islam wake up at this point. Why, when the Jewish leadership and the Arab leadership seemed to be in full agreement and when things seemed to be going so well, did Islam choose to wake up and start to assert its rights?
There is a basic, all-encompassing- answer to this question, which will be tackled in a later section, IT COULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT. but, for now, we will concentrate on just one major reason:
The ultimate goal of Islam is take over control of the world. When it sees weakness it will exploit that weakness and will advance. When it meets force and determination it will back down- even for years- until conditions are more in its favour. When the West shows integrity and courage, Islam is not a threat. When the West shows lack of integrity, weakness and indecision, Islam marches. In the present conflict, when the Israeli government shows resolve and strength, there is comparative peace and even Hamas asks for a ceasefire. When the Israeli government shows weakness, there is chaos and bloodshed and even ordinary Palestinians join in. Islam respects strength and courage but will exploit weakness and cowardice. That is the way it works.
At this point I would like to share a short section from a book my father put together on the history of his regiment during the War. For most of 1943 and for the early part of 1944 the regiment were in the Middle East. From Palestine they sailed to Italy, where they served for almost a year. A few days before they were ordered to leave their camp in Gedera to embark for Italy, however, there was bad news from Egypt...
On April 23rd (1944) the CO was ordered to HQ for 3rd Corps for verbal orders regarding internal security in Egypt.
The full story of political unrest in Egypt, and its military repercussions, both as regards the Egyptian army and the Allied war effort, will probably never be told, certainly there is no place for it in a regimental history, except to fill in a very broad background.
During the Second World War there was a strong, anti-Allied feeling amongst powerful Egyptian circles. Peace and security in Egypt, a vital base for communications and a bottle-neck for Far Eastern convoys, was never more important. In early 1944 Greek armed forces, Naval and Military, in the Middle East, mutinied on a considerable scale. This incident was seized upon by the Egyptian politicians as a chance for organising force against the comparatively small Allied forces in the Nile delta.
On Sunday, April 23rd (1944) a call came into RHQ at 2000 Hours, from Headquarters, ordering the immediate departure of a force, consisting of columns from 3rd Medium, 83rd Anti Tank and 1st Survey Regiments, organised into mobile columns for internal security in Egypt...
The main body left Gedera camp on Monday, April 24th.
Orders were received by Major Dalby to recce certain areas of road and railway as part of a large plan under which the 7 AGRA columns, on their way down, would fit into a defensive scheme with considerable bodies of troops rapidly concentrating in Egypt. The Air Force was also active. However, prompt action, organisation, law and order prevailed and the British Army won a bloodless victory. The Egyptian government climbed down, our reasonable requirements were met and Thomas Atkins (the British soldier) once again demonstrated that a smart and soldier-like answer to any problem dealing with eastern races, is the effective one.
At the end of the First World the British Empire was very powerful and their armies were quite capable of thinking up a smart and soldier-like answer to any unrest among the Arabs- or anybody else. By all the normal rules, the Moslems should have bowed down- at least for the time being- to overwhelming force and accepted the new ground rules- an independent Arab state living peacefully alongside the Jewish state in Palestine. History shows that they didn't do this. Why didn't they?
One reason was this: while His Majesty's Government did officially look with favour on the establishment in Palestine of a homeland for the Jewish people, some of those in the British colonial service, and who had served in Arab areas, not only showed a natural affection and bias for the Arabs whom they had administered (which would have been very human and natural) but they were openly anti-semitic and did all they could to thwart the idea of a Jewish homeland in the area. One even encouraged Haj Amin Al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, to organise riots to show the depths of Arab feeling on a Jewish state. When the Mufti did organise those riots, the cry went up, “The Government is with us! Don't be afraid!”
Some in the British administration showed treachery and- naturally- the Moslems took advantage of this. If those men had shown integrity and firmness, most of the local Moslems would have quietly gone along with the idea of the Jewish state- even if they had grumbled about it.
About two years ago I was with a large group of mainly British Christians, who toured the old internment camp at Atlit, not far from Haifa, the camp where the British interned the Jews, who had escaped the holocaust in Europe and had managed to enter Palestine “illegally”. We were also shown a film, just released, called “The Forsaken Promise”. For those of you, who would like more information on that film, there is a website you can visit. www.theforsakenpromise.org.uk That film changed my attitude completely. Up until I saw “The Forsaken Promise” I had always regretted the way that the British government had handled the whole situation but had always reasoned something like this:
In any country or empire, hard decisions have to be made. Most of those decisions, hopefully, will be the correct ones but some are likely to be wrong and those wrong decisions mean that people end up getting harmed and offended. The bigger the country or empire, the more decisions have to be made and the more decisions that are made, the more of them are likely to be wrong and the more people will be harmed and offended as a result.
The British Empire at the end of the Great War was the largest in history. The world was in ruins. About 10 million soldiers had died and a total of 30 million had died as a result of the war. Germany was in chaos. The Austro-Hungarian empire no longer existed. The Turkish Ottoman empire was no more. A mind-boggling number of different peoples and ethnic groups- many with wildly conflicting interests- had to be accommodated, which meant that an equally mind-boggling number of very hard, painful decisions had to be taken by the British authorities and some of those decisions turned out to be wrong. That didn't necessarily mean that those British authorities were corrupt and dishonest; it just meant that they were fallible human beings. I often thank God that I was not one of those who had to make those heart-rending decisions.
Coming up to the Second World War- and, indeed, during the war itself- the task of the British government was to protect British interests. In the Empire in India, many of our finest troops were Moslem and it would have been a very bad move to offend them. It would have split the Indian army and might have left our Empire open to attack from Japan- or from Russia, or anywhere. Not only that, but our oil came from the Middle east, which is predominantly Moslem so it was vital that we did not offend them. The Empire needed oil to fuel her ships, aircraft and vehicles.Without oil we could not have survived the war and a troubled Middle East would havedamaged our oil supplies and might have cost us the war. As the Middle East was peopled by multiple millions of Moslems, as opposed to only a few hundred thousand Jews, it was almost inevitable that the British would choose to keep the Moslems happy- at the expense of the Jews.
So, to sum up, I deeply regretted the way the British handled the Middle East but always maintained that most of the bad decisions were not made by evil men but by basically decent men, crushed by intolerable pressure and circumstances. They knuckled under to enormous pressure from the Moslem world and, against their finer instincts, they gave way to it. None of this makes it right but it does make it understandable. How well would most of us have done? How well would I have done?
Before I saw that film I maintained that, for the most part, the British Empire was run by dedicated men and women of integrity, who did their level best to serve the people they were administering and that the Empire, as a whole, benefitted her subjects more than it exploited them. I still believe that in most cases this was the case but “The Forsaken Promise” changed my perspective on the Mandate in Palestine. If that handful of influential men high up in the Palestine administration had obeyed their orders and acted with integrity- despite their feelings- there would have been no weakness for the Moslems to exploit. Instead of showing integrity, those men treacherously encouraged the locals to riot and those acts of treachery led, ultimately, to all the heartbreak and bloodshed that has plagued the Middle East since the very early 1920's up to this present day.
I would urge everyone to watch that film, which is on DVD. It is painful to watch for many of us, but provides valuable insight into an important era in history.
I would also urge you to read “Palestine: The Original Sin” by Meir Abelson. You will find it on the internet.
THE AGREEMENT WITH THE EMIR HUSAYN 1915
The exchange of letters between the British and the Emir Husayn 1915.
The Sykes-Picot agreement 1915.
HOW MANY ARABS FOUGHT WITH THE BRITISH?
HOW MANY JEWS FOUGHT WITH THE BRITISH?
THE BALFOUR DECLARATION 1917.
The fall of Jerusalem 1917
Is Jordan Palestine?
ZIONIST PROPOSALS 1919
THE WEIZMANN/FAISAL AGREEMENT 1919
Lawrence’s Middle East peace plan
The League of Nations 1920
The San Remo agreement 1920
The White Paper 1922
The White Paper 1930
The Hope-Simpson report 1936
The British in Palestine 1936
The White Paper 1939
Winston Churchill on the Jews
THE FORSAKEN PROMISE