Do you want to experience your blood boiling?
I have had a long-time loathing for Winston Churchill, ever since I read about his being the motivator behind the fruitless slaughter of the Gallipoli campaign – a slaughter which was continued far longer than it should have been, because Churchill didn’t want it to be a stain on his political legacy. Basically, he knew he was a great man and by god he was willing to fight to the last drop of some stupid Australian’s blood to prove it. But, I stumbled on this the other day, and it immediately caught my eye because she appeared to be reading a quote by Churchill:
The quote is:
I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.
That’s probably enough from Churchill. But, such a disgusting and inflammatory statement has to have had a context, and perhaps the context was different than it appears to be. No, it was just Churchill briefly saying – in his inimitable way – what the British Empire (embodied as himself) thought of the Arab revolt in Palestine.
But, there is more, of course. There was the Peel Commission (AKA: the Palestine Royal Commission) of 1937, which basically was tasked with figuring out
“what the fuck is wrong with those people?” why the arabs revolted. Note the date: 1937 – well before the situation deteriorated past the point of no return and, I argue, plenty of time for the British Empire to do its imperial best to resurrect the situation. Of course, the British Empire wasn’t in the situation resurrecting business; literally every time it encountered a bad situation it tried to ruthlessly suppress it, or (failing that) it left. There probably was, unsaid, a bit of the old “they’re lucky they’re not getting what we did for the Indians after the Sepoy Mutiny” when redcoats strapped trouble-makers alive across the muzzles of artillery pieces which were then fired with a blank charge. It seems to me that the British reaction to the Arab Revolt was relatively mild. But, the important part to me is that their reaction was predicated on not looking too bad and holding the situation together long enough for the locals to sort it out so long as the ageing lion didn’t need to unsheath its claws.
Notes on the Peel Commission from [wik]
The Peel Commission, formally known as the Palestine Royal Commission, was a British Royal Commission of Inquiry, headed by Lord Peel, appointed in 1936 to investigate the causes of unrest in Mandatory Palestine, which was administered by Great Britain, following a six-month-long Arab general strike.
On 7 July 1937, the commission published a report that, for the first time, stated that the League of Nations Mandate had become unworkable and recommended partition. The British cabinet endorsed the Partition plan in principle, but requested more information. Following the publication, in 1938 the Woodhead Commission was appointed to examine it in detail and recommend an actual partition plan.
“unworkable” is such a genteel way of saying “the situation is fucked up.” Remember: the British asked for this – the British took Palestine as essentially their legal spoils after the war, and, honestly, history does not appear to record what they expected to do with it. Presumably, just add it to the empire as another check-box: “Jerusalem? Oh, yes: ours.” The baffling illogic of imperialism; we just want to be able to fly our flag over cool places and gloat. [Yes, cue the Eddie Izzard “do you have a flag?” skit]
The Arabs opposed the partition plan and condemned it unanimously. The Arab Higher Committee opposed the idea of a Jewish state and called for an independent state of Palestine, “with protection of all legitimate Jewish and other minority rights and safeguarding of reasonable British interests”. They also demanded cessation of all Jewish immigration and land purchase. They argued that the creation of a Jewish state and lack of independent Palestine was a betrayal of the word given by Britain.
They were correct in that it was a betrayal of the word given by Britain. But you can’t expect the British to remember such things, they’re too honorable or something.
The Zionist leadership was bitterly divided over the plan. In a resolution adopted at the 1937 Zionist Congress, the delegates rejected the specific partition plan. Yet the principle of partition is generally thought to have been “accepted” or “not rejected outright” by any major faction: the delegates empowered the leadership to pursue future negotiations. The Jewish Agency Council later attached a request that a conference be convened to explore a peaceful settlement in terms of an undivided Palestine. According to Benny Morris, Ben-Gurion and Weizmann saw it “as a stepping stone to some further expansion and the eventual takeover of the whole of Palestine”
The reason I dug into all of this is because I was curious about the question “why is it that people are comfortable saying things like ‘Palestine was never a state’ or ‘The Palestinians were never a people.'” It seems to me that it was and they were, it’s simply that the British never gave them the nod. That’s all. Note that they never gave Israel the nod, either: they left in disgust and the Israelis declared themselves to be a nation, and thus resumed the long process of making sure that Palestine never existed as such.
The Peel Commission partition map (left) actually looks moderately sensible, to me. It created an international zone from Jaffa to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, neatly gerrymandering all of the bits of geography that are particularly sacred to one party or the other. The international zone was imagined as some kind of religious disneyland where everyone could put on their bronze-age costumes and go dance around, or whatever. The Jewish homeland would be the area delimited in red, and the rest would become Arab Palestine.
On 20 August 1937, the Twentieth Zionist Congress expressed that, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, it was understood that the Jewish National Home was to be established in the whole of historic Palestine, including Trans-Jordan, and that inherent in the Declaration was the possibility of the evolution of Palestine into a Jewish State.
While some factions at the Congress supported the Peel Report, arguing that later the borders could be adjusted, others opposed the proposal because the Jewish State would be too small. The Congress decided to reject the specific borders recommended by the Peel Commission, but empowered its executive to negotiate a more favorable plan for a Jewish State in Palestine. In the wake of the Peel Commission the Jewish Agency set up committees to begin planning for the state. At the time, it had already created a complete administrative apparatus amounting to “a Government existing side by side with the Mandatory Government.”
That maps pretty accurately to the history as I understand it to have happened (based mostly on O Jerusalem!) and the zionist reaction is as described. Every history I have read on the partition and the creation of Israel is pretty clear that the zionist plan was always to take over the whole area. And there never was a plan for the Palestinians.
As Churchill said:
I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.
That’s the iron fist, with the glove removed. As we’d say nowadays, Churchill said the quiet part out loud.
I am warming myself briefly by the thought of what Churchill, a racist and classist, would have thought of Donald Trump. Trump, of course, would have loved him, while Churchill would have been thinking that the fellow was unsuitable as a dog-walker.