What is Zionism and How did Great Britain help?

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In 1896, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist living in Austria-Hungary, published Der Judenstaat “The Jewish State”, in which he asserted that the only solution to the “Jewish Question” in Europe, including growing antisemitism, was through the establishment of a Jewish State. Political Zionism had just been born. A year later, Herzl founded the Zionist Organization (ZO), which at its first congress, “called for the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law”. Serviceable means to attain that goal included the promotion of Jewish settlement there, the organisation of Jews in the diaspora, the strengthening of Jewish feeling and consciousness, and preparatory steps to attain those necessary governmental grants. Herzl passed away in 1904 without the political standing that was required to carry out his agenda of a Jewish home in Palestine.

During the first meeting between Chaim Weizmann and Balfour in 1906, Balfour asked what Weizmann’s objections were to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Uganda, (the Uganda Protectorate in East Africa in the British Uganda Programme), rather than in Palestine. According to Weizmann’s memoir, the conversation went as follows: “Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?” He sat up, looked at me, and answered: “But Dr. Weizmann, we have London.” “That is true,” I said, “but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.” He said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: “Are there many Jews who think like you?” I answered: “I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves.” … To this he said: “If that is so you will one day be a force.” Two months after Britain’s declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914, Zionist British cabinet member Herbert Samuel circulated a memorandum entitled The Future of Palestine to his cabinet colleagues. The memorandum stated that “I am assured that the solution of the problem of Palestine which would be much the most welcome to the leaders and supporters of the Zionist movement throughout the world would be the annexation of the country to the British Empire.”

Even if Sykes-Picot had resolved the conflicting interests of the French, British, and Arabs, an additional party soon joined the debate over the future of the Near East the Zionists. Like many 19th century politicians, both British and German leaders overestimated the power of the global Jewish community. The Kaiser had great hopes of winning the Jews over to the Central Powers. He believed that of all the powers, the Jews hated Russia the most. If the Germans could persuade them to join the war and rebel against Russia, it could mean eliminating an entire theater of operations from the war. This was just the kind of conspiracy that the British feared. Mark Sykes and Arthur Balfour were among those British politicians who most feared a global Jewish conspiracy. They believed that winning the Jews over to the Entente would help decide the outcome of the war. This prejudice, coupled with Prime Minister Lloyd George’s religious zeal and his undersecretary Leo Amery’s understanding of the strategic importance of Palestine, led to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. This declaration barely two paragraphs long stated that Great Britain would establish in Palestine “a national homeland for the Jewish people.” Never before in any negotiations with Husayn had the British excluded Palestine from the Arab state. Now suddenly Balfour unilaterally offered Palestine to the Zionists. To this day, no one has successfully resolved this inconsistency of British foreign policy; however, one attempt came close. In January 1919, a little over two months after the last shots of World War I were fired, Arab and Zionist leaders created one of the most unusual documents in the history of the Near Eastern conflict. The delegations at the Paris Peace Conference had the enormous responsibility of shaping the postwar order. It was in the course of these many months of debate that Faisal representing the Arabs on behalf of his father and Chaim Weizmann representing the Zionists met. The two men had much in common they both represented nationalist movements with much at stake in the peace process, and they both had apprehensions about the British. Faisal continued to worry about whether the British would honor their agreement with France over the fate of Syria, which he was determined to keep as part of the Arab state. He feared that they would. He doubted whether they had any intent to fulfill the obligations of the Husayn-McMahon correspondence.

T.E. Lawrence, the notorious British officer of nearly mythical status who served as Faisal’s British liaison officer, penned the final wording of their agreement. The goal was to tie Zionist and Arab nationalist movements together in order to improve the chances of the success of both. The agreement consisted of ten articles. The first article proposed the “one-state” solution. Rather than establishing separate Arab and Jewish states in Palestine or a single Arab or Jewish state, Article One established joint Arab-Jewish cooperation in a national government. This government would be constitutionally established and fully independent of European powers. The treaty guaranteed that there would be no exclusion from representation in the government based on religious creed. It also promised full civil rights to all citizens regardless of their beliefs. In the fall of 1918, British forces continued their advance northward through Palestine into Syria. General Allenby commanded the forces that had previously occupied Jerusalem from Turkish rule and were now on the verge of driving the Turks from Damascus. Allenby, however, was cautious of the effect a European army would have on the local population and, therefore, wanted Faisal’s army to be the first to enter Damascus. After Faisal’s arrival, Allenby’s army would arrive. He would then be responsible for setting up a temporary Arab government under Faisal’s authority in the interior of Syria. French officials, in accordance with Sykes-Picot, would then move in to assist Faisal with the administration of civil law while the British would continue to provide military stability. At some future point, the British would withdraw leaving an Arab state led by Faisal under French protection. That, at least, was the plan. On October 1 the Turks abandoned Damascus. Nothing will be as its now in the Middle East.

A British Statesman Benjamin Disreali said that in his book Coningsby in 1844; “The World is ruled by people who are not behind their scenes.”

In 1917 anothter British Statesman Arthur James Balfour wrote a declaration which is still called today “Balfour Declaration” that is known as the declaration of the Zionist State of Israel.

Moreover on November 2, 1917, a century ago, Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary, conveyed the following pledge in a public letter to a prominent British Zionist, Lord Walter Rothschild:

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

At the time, as World War I raged, British and Australian forces were fighting deep in Palestine against the Ottomans, and were poised to take Jerusalem. The Balfour Declaration, for all its vagaries, constituted the first step toward the objective of political Zionism as outlined by the First Zionist Congress at its meeting in Basle, Switzerland in 1897: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.” Theodor Herzl had failed to land such a commitment, either from the Ottoman sultan or from any of Europe’s potentates. The declaration was the much-awaited opening: narrow, conditional, hedged, but an opening all the same. “There is a British proverb about the camel and the tent,” said the British Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann later that November. “At first the camel sticks one leg in the tent, and eventually it slips into it. This must be our policy.” And so it became.

Since the Balfour Declaration constitutes the beginning of Israel’s legitimation by other nations, the declaration’s own legitimacy has been the subject of unending attacks. This is made easier with each passing year, as the world that produced the declaration draws ever more remote. Few people today are sure why World War I was fought at all, and Britain circa 1917 is best known through PBS costume dramas along the lines of Downton Abbey. The Balfour Declaration? In the mind’s eye, one imagines back-and-forth negotiations in the palaces of Whitehall and the gilded drawing rooms of the Rothschild dynasty, with white-gloved servants delivering urgent sealed missives. Surely the declaration was stirred by similarly antique passions and interests, from safeguarding England’s route to India to satisfying the Christian Restorationist imperative of returning the Jews to the Holy Land. The content of the declaration seems no less distant or downright baffling. The prominent Jewish intellectual Arthur Koestler, repeating a frequent mantra, would call it “one the most improbable political documents of all time,” in which “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.” The fact that it included no explicit rationale for itself has also fueled the suspicion that its authors had dark or disreputable motives. After all, it was issued in the name of the largest empire in history, embracing (or, perhaps, gripping) almost a quarter of the world’s landmass and population. In the guilt-sodden litany of imperialism at its apogee, the Balfour Declaration has enjoyed a certain preeminence as (in the words of the British Arabist Elizabeth Monroe) “one of the greatest mistakes in our imperial history.

Since 1917 wars and conflicts has not finished quite the contrary quarrel has increased.

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