10/03/06 - promises not kept

In today's excerpt - with World War I raging and the outcome very much in doubt, Britain makes expedient promises to both Arabs and Zionists; however, it backtracks and modifies these promises after the war. The repercussions are almost immediate:

"In 1915, Sir Henry McMahon, a senior [British] official in Cairo ... in what has remained a highly controversial correspondence with the sharif [Hussein], promised that, if the Arabs rose against the Turks, they would have British assistance and, more important[ly] their independence. To safeguard French and British interests a few areas were specifically exempted from Arab rule: the area west of a line stretching more or less from Aleppo in the north to Damascus in the south—in other words, the coast of Syria and Lebanon—as well as the old Turkish provinces of Baghdad and Basra. ... The British later argued, in defiance of geography, that Palestine also lay west of the Aleppo-Damascus line. ...

"And there was yet, there was another promise made in those war years that was going to cause trouble to the peacemakers. The Balfour Declaration, telling the Jews of the world that they could have a homeland in Palestine, was issued by the British government and subscribed to by the French and later the Americans ...

"Even in 1919, the British in Palestine were finding themselves caught between Zionists and Arabs. ... [Russian journalist Vladimir] Jabotinsky, from the Jewish Legion, said that the British could deal with   Arabs, 'just the same old 'natives' whom the Englishman has ruled and led for centuries, nothing new, no problems.'

"For the Arabs, 1920 remains the year of disaster: Palestine gone, then Syria, Lebanon, and finally Mesopotamia. In the summer of 1920, rebellions broke out over about a third of Mesopotamia [Iraq], up and down the Euphrates Valley and in the Kurdish areas of Mosul. ...

"Britain and France paid a price for their role in the peace settlements in the Middle East. ... The Arab world as whole never forgot its betrayal and hostility came to focus on the example of Western perfidy nearest at hand, the Zionist presence in Palestine. ... [When] Balfour visited Palestine ... and Syria in 1925 ... his hotel was surrounded by an excited crowd of 6,000 Arabs. As the paving stones started to fly and the French cavalry fired back, Balfour watched bemused. A young Arab attached to his party tried to explain why there was such opposition to Zionism. Balfour merely replied that he found the results of his experiment 'extraordinarily interesting.' "


Margaret McMillan


Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World


Random House




387, 388, 408, 409, 420, 425, 426
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