Nothing learnt: Balfour and Britain's generosity with other people's lands

By | | comments |
The Balfour Declaration help set the Middle East on a path of bloodshed and war (Image via

On November 2, the UK will unapologetically celebrate 100 years since the Balfour Declaration — in which it began the process of stealing away the Palestinian homeland. Bilal Cleland reports.

THIS YEAR, on 2 November, the world commemorates the centenary of the Balfour Declaration — the granting by the British Government of a homeland for the Zionist movement in a land already occupied by Muslim and Christian Palestinians, in a territory still part of the centuries old Ottoman Empire. It was in the midst of the most terrible slaughter the world had ever witnessed.

Such generosity with the lands of other peoples was a mark of European imperialism. That is how the lands of the First Nations people of Australia became British territory. It was how West Africa, North Africa, Indo-China and several islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific became “French.”

In his 2015 book One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds, Raymond Baker summarises this culture of violence of Christendom (pp.28-29):

'The Twentieth Century opened with the empires of Britain, France, and Russia using overwhelming force to consolidate their occupation of Islamic lands. Imperial powers came to the Islamic world as the carriers of a racist culture of violence. Murderous European civil wars, fueled by the blood and soil nationalism on which the West prided itself, had bred the terrible virus. Imperialism acted as its disseminating agent. European armies, whether from western or eastern Europe, waged wars of casual extermination in their quest for global domination.' 

Lying to subject peoples was – and is – all part of exercising imperial control. In October 1915, in order to get Arab support against the German Empire and the Khalif of Islam, the British High Commissioner to Egypt sent the Governor of Mecca a note which declared Britain's willingness to recognise the independence of the Arabs, both in the Levant and the Hejaz.

The areas "reserved" under the McMahon-Hussein correspondence (Image via

What the naïve Arab leadership did not know was that negotiations commenced in November 1915 between France and Britain for a mutual carve-up of the Ottoman territories. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement was exposed before the end of the conflict.

It is within this pattern of imperial slaughter and betrayal that the Balfour Declaration was born.

According to historian Avi Shlaim, it was both a betrayal of the Arabs and a betrayal of the French: 

'Under the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, the two countries divided up the Middle East into zones of influence but compromised on an international administration for Palestine. By helping the Zionists to take over Palestine, the British hoped to secure a dominant presence in the area and to exclude the French.'

Arthur Balfour himself was an anti-Semite. As British Prime Minister (1902-05), he brought into law the Aliens Act of 1905, which was aimed at reducing the influx of Jews, 100,000 of whom had entered Britain between 1881 and 1905. But Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1916-22), the real motivator of the Declaration, saw this latter initiative as a means to rally Jewish support for the British war effort.

The Balfour Declaration, sent to influential British Zionist and former Tory MP Lord Walter Rothschild, promised British Government support for a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine provided nothing was done

'... to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.'

This was obviously predicated upon the defeat and destruction of the Ottoman Empire.

It was not fully implemented. It laid the ground for a centuries long colonial war in Palestine, where 'the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities' were not respected.

That the British Tory Government intends to celebrate the centenary of this tragic event says volumes.

Its response to a petition calling for it to apologise, began with a clear position:  

'The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG does not intend to apologise. We are proud of our role in creating the state of Israel.'

The future will reveal how proud it should be, as it has obviously learnt nothing from the past.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

This article was first published in Al Wasat (October 2017).

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


Don't forget. Subscribe to IA today.

Recent articles by Bilal Cleland
Islamophobia: Asia's ugly growth industry

With the development of social media helping to spread far-Right messaging from the ...  
The Seven Mountains of control — a threat to democracy

The Pentecostal Church's Seven Mountains Mandate is an affront to democracy and a ...  
Siberia's mineral wealth: Russia has it — China wants it

As a strategy, "divide and rule" has been most effective in the Middle East and ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate