Between Balfour and Gaza, the 200 year-old paradigm

By Qassam Muaddi

When The US, Germany and the UK simultaneously condemn the Palestinian rockets launched from the Gaza Strip on the Israeli colonies near the Gaza Strip, without even mentioning the Israeli assassination of a Palestinian leader, which provoked the hostilities in the first place, it is a very old colonialist paradigm is at display. And when the US vice president tweets his support of Israel’s “right to defend itself”, when over 20 Palestinians, including children, have been killed by Israeli weaponry and no Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets, the same paradigm reveals itself again. In fact, the official reactions from Western leaders in the past days are manifestations of a distorted logic, two-hundred-and-two years old.

Dr. Witzeman, It’s a boy!

In late October 1917, in London, the Zionist leader and lecturer in chemistry, Chaim Witzeman arrived in the British cabinet offices on 10 Downing Sreet. He walked through a long corridor and reached a waiting hall outside an office, where high-ranking figures of the British government were concluding their meeting. Before Witzeman took off his coat, the door of the office opened and an Englishman in a military suit emerged. He was Sir Mark Sykes. The man who knew the least about the Middle East in the British cabinet and whose only experience in the Arab world had only been as a tourist. He was also the man shaping all the British policy towards the region in the final stages of World War I. He walked towards Witzeman with a big smile, his arms extended forward in celebration and exclaimed with a cheering voice: “Doctor Witzeman, it’s a boy!”

Over a year of Zionist lobbying had just given fruit. The British cabinet had just approved the final draft of a 67-words-long letter, later to be known as the “Balfour Declaration”. In it, the British government expressed its policy of supporting the Zionist colonization of Palestine, without explicitly supporting the creation of a Jewish state. The declaration rather mentioned a “national home for the Jewish people”. However, the letter revealed a deeply distorted understanding of Palestine as a country. The British did not necessarily sympathize with the Zionist cause. In the midst of World War I, they were seeking to win over the support of what they imagined to be the influence of a world Jewry, to help them win the war and outmaneuver the French, the competing emerging force in the region. Exploiting the classic anti-Semitic stereotypes that dominated the minds of British policy-makers, the Zionist leaders managed to convince them that they, the Zionist movement, represented this supposed influential world Jewry. At the very same time, the British top decision makers ignored completely the existence of a people in Palestine with national aspirations.

The text of the declaration, which was reviewed and edited tens of times before its submission to the British cabinet, with the participation of Zionist leaders like Witzeman, Gester and Sokolaw, reads, “ His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people … “ recognizing the Jews, who represented around 8 percent of Palestine’s population, with no common origin or cultural background, as a people in the full political sense of the word. Whereas it referred to the Palestinian people as follows, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…” Thus, the Balfour declaration turned the native people of Palestine, representing more than 92 percent of the population and centuries of culture and history, into mere “communities”, whose only characteristic was the fact of not being Jewish. Furthermore, these “existing” communities only had, according to the declaration, civil and religious rights, and not political ones.

Nevertheless, one person in the British cabinet saw the mistake and prophetically foretold its consequences. Lord George Curzon, member of the cabinet as Privy Seal, former British Viceroy of India and later to become Britain’s secretary of foreign affairs, passed a memorandum in opposition to the Balfour declaration, on October 26th, only a few days before the declaration was made public. In it. Curzon pulled the alarm on an important question, which no one else seemed to have thought of, “What is to become of the people of the country [Palestine]?” he asked, “There are over half a million Syrian Arabs. A mixed community with Arab, Hebrew, Canaanite, Greek, Egyptian and possibly crusaders’ blood. They and their ancestors have occupied the country for the best part of 1500 years. They own the soil, which belongs either to individual landowners or to village communities (…) they will not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigrants or to act merely as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the latter”.

Paving the way for the Nakba

In fact, the Palestinians were much more ahead in their national aspirations than even Curzon had described them. In 1919, only two years after the British had taken over Palestine from the Turks, and three years before the League of Nations decreed the British mandate over the country, Palestinians were already organizing. In that year, the mayor of Jerusalem, Mousa Kazem Husseini, presided the first “Arab National Congress of Palestine”. The congress ended with several decisions, which included forming a delegation that would travel to London, in order to meet the British government and officially, in the name of the Arab Palestinians, oppose the Balfour declaration. Nine other congresses followed until the year 1929. In that year, Palestinians took to the streets in protest to the British support of the Zionist colonization of their country. More Palestinian revolts followed, where Palestinians demonstrated, went into general strikes, fought with arms and voiced out their existence in every way possible.

This made the Zionist leaders understand, for good, that Palestinians were not going to accept to be an exotic decoration in a Jewish state and that they were a real people, with national aspirations and, thus, had to be removed; physically removed. The contradiction between two opposed national projects was self-evident. However, to the British, there was only one people and one national project. Therefore, they carried on with the violent crushing of the Palestinian national movement until it could no longer put up a fight, paving the way for the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, the Nakba.

A continuous mindset

For decades to follow, Palestinians had to struggle for the recognition of their very existence that had been since 1917 by the colonial mindset of the Western powers. A mindset that manifested itself for the first time when Mark Sykes, on behalf of the British empire and the Western world, congratulated Chaim Witzeman for the “birth” of a boy, not even noticing he was actually announcing the murder of another. That same mindset that reveals itself today every time a Western leader condemns the resistance of two-million people besieged for over a decade, tweets in support Israel’s “right to defend itself”.

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