Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Balfour Declaration: a century of colonisation and resistance

Dear friends,
please find below my latest article for Red Flag on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.  The text of this article was also presented as a talk at a forum held by the Melbourne based Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid on the Balfour Declaration.

You can follow the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (Melbourne) facebook page (click here). You can visit the RedFlag website by clicking the title of the article.

in solidarity, Kim


The Balfour Declaration: a century of colonisation and resistance

By Kim Bullimore, 9 November 2017
Red Flag

Palestinians driven from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948 PHOTO: David Boyer

As the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is marked this month, Israel and its supporters – including the British and Australian governments – are celebrating the anniversary, while Palestinians are mourning and protesting it.

The Balfour Declaration was a statement of support by the British government for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. It was exceedingly brief, consisting of a mere 67 words. But its consequences have been catastrophic for the Palestinian people. As Israeli historian Avi Shlaim observed, “Its impact on the subsequent history of the Middle East was nothing less than revolutionary”.

Issued on 2 November 1917, after being approved by the British war cabinet, the letter, signed by foreign secretary Arthur Balfour, stated:

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.”

The Zionist movement gained – for the first time – the imperial backing it had long sought to carry out its settler-colonial project.


Political Zionism was born in reaction to European anti-Semitism and waves of anti-Jewish pogroms that swept across the continent in the late 19th century. A small section of the European Jewish middle classes believed that anti-Semitism was an inevitable response to Jews living among non-Jews, rather than a result of the development of capitalism.

Zionists began a campaign to establish a Jewish “national” homeland, although they were an ethno-cultural religious group rather than a nation.

Abram Leon, a Belgian Jewish Trotskyist who provided the first comprehensive Marxist understanding of Zionism, explained in 1942:

Zionism is essentially a reaction against the situation created for Judaism by the combination of the destruction of feudalism and the decay of capitalism … Zionist ideology, like all ideologies, is only the distorted reflection of the interests of a class”.

Uganda, Argentina or Palestine?

Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, understood that the world was already carved up by competing colonial powers and that, to establish a Jewish state, they would need the backing of an imperial power. Herzl noted that Palestine was one of many possible locations for a national homeland, writing in his 1896 pamphlet The Jewish State: “Shall we choose Palestine or Argentina?”. He said that the Zionists would “take what is given us, and what is selected by the Jewish public opinion”.

From 1895 and until his death in 1904, Herzl sought support for the Zionist project from representatives of numerous European states and representatives of the Ottoman Empire, under whose control Palestine fell. He even wrote to Cecil Rhodes, perhaps the best known British colonialist of the day, inviting him to “help make history” by supporting the aim of the Zionist movement.

In 1903, Herzl accepted a British offer to establish a Jewish state in Uganda. However, two years later the Zionist Congress rejected the plan in favour of establishing it in Palestine. After Herzl’s death, Chaim Weizmann became the leading protagonist in the movement, lobbying the British government to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.

Weizmann sought Balfour’s support even though, during his prime ministership (1902-05), Balfour had pushed for anti-immigration laws to prevent Jews fleeing the pogroms in eastern Europe from entering Britain. The offer of a “tract of fertile land” in Uganda made to Herzl in 1903 by Balfour’s government was, in part, an attempt to prevent them from entering Britain.

Imperialist desire.

Why did Balfour and the British Conservative government decide in 1917 to promise the Zionist movement a tiny country in the Middle East, to which it had no legal claim and which belonged to another people?

In 1908, oil was discovered in Persia, ensuring that the Middle East would become central to the needs of British imperialism. The Admiralty, under the leadership of Winston Churchill, converted the British fleet from coal to oil in 1911. Just weeks before the outbreak of World War One, Britain purchased a controlling share in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later British Petroleum), becoming the only significant oil producer outside of the Americas.

Britain also wanted to guarantee continued access to and control of the Suez Canal, as it offered the most direct route to its colonies in India. Control of Palestine was therefore of vital strategic importance.

As World War One drew to a close, Britain put into action a secret plan it had drawn up with France in 1916 to carve up the Arab provinces of the dying Ottoman Empire. The Sykes-Picot Agreement – which was revealed to the world when Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party made public other secret inter-Allied agreements – handed most of Syria and present day Lebanon to France and Palestine to Britain.

The Balfour Declaration, issued one month before Britain seized control of Jerusalem and militarily occupied all of Palestine, was an important strategic manoeuvre. Britain had been in intense discussion with the Zionists for several months. The declaration provided a stepping stone for the Britain and the Zionists, whose interests coincided temporarily.

According to Swiss Jewish historian Jon Kimche: “This was the basic realism with which Balfour and Weizmann approached their compact; they understood that they would have to go together part of the way, but that a time would come when they would have to part”.

Palestinian reaction

The vast majority of Palestinians did not learn of the Balfour Declaration until early 1920. With the defeat of Germany and its allies, the opposing Allied imperialist powers met in Paris to carve up the spoils of war, establishing the League of Nations and a “mandatory system”, which placed the former colonies and territories belonging to Germany and the Ottoman Empire under the tutelage of more “advanced” nations to prepare them for self-determination and independence.

However, as socialist George Padmore noted in 1937, the League of Nation’s mandatory system was indistinguishable from any other form of colonialism and merely created an illusion that the former German and Ottoman territories were not being annexed by the imperialist victors.

Palestinians eventually became aware of the declaration when it was incorporated into the mandate protocols for Palestine. In response, they took to the streets in mass demonstrations to oppose both British colonial policy and Zionism.

The Allied powers were aware, even before these demonstrations, that Arabs were stridently opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In 1919, the King-Crane Commission, established by US president Woodrow Wilson, spent three months visiting Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan to “elucidate the state of opinion” of those living there.

The commission collected 1,863 petitions in relation to Syria and Palestine alone, with 72 percent expressing strong opposition to the Zionist movement’s claim to Palestine. 
Unsurprisingly, this anti-Zionist sentiment was strongest in Palestine, with 222 of the 260 petitions received opposing the establishment a Jewish state.

Palestinian and Arab opposition, however, was unimportant to the British government. According to Balfour, in a memorandum to the incoming British foreign secretary, “we do not propose to even go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants”. The Allied powers were committed to Zionism – and this was of much “profounder importance than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land”.

This ​ despite Arabs making up 90 percent of Palestine’s population.

Palestinian resistance

Betrayed, the Palestinians railed against both the British imperial policy and Zionist settler colonialism, with riots erupting in 1920 and 1921 demanding the cancellation of the Balfour Declaration. This demand would be the central focus of every Arab Congress held by the Palestinian national movement during the period of the British Mandate. In addition, when Britain attempted to placate the Palestinians by offering to establish a legislative council, they voted to boycott it because the structure of the council only​ reinforced, rather than challenged, British policy.

In 1925, Palestinians launched general strikes in opposition to British rule and Zionist settler colonialism, and in 1929 riots once again broke out, resulting in the deaths of 133 Jews and 116 Palestinians. The riots came primarily in reaction to increased Jewish immigration and land purchases. Between 1922 and 1929, the Jewish population in Palestine increased from 11 percent to 28 percent. More than 20,000 Palestinians were evicted from the land their families had worked for centuries.

Through the early 1930s, Palestinians would continue to agitate against British support for the Zionist project, culminating in one of the longest general strikes in history (lasting more than 170 days) and an anti-colonial revolt that engulfed Palestine for three years between 1936 and 1939. Britain put down the revolt only after it mobilised 20,000 troops and 14,500 members of the Haganah, a Zionist militia. More than 5,000 Palestinians were killed, hundreds being hanged for their role in the insurrection. Hundreds more were deported from their own country, and tens of thousands were locked up in internment camps.

Under emergency laws, Britain instituted harsh acts of collective punishment, such as the destruction of Palestinian homes and the bombing of entire Palestinian villages. Today, the Israeli state continues to replicate many of the harshest acts of collective punishment carried out during the revolt.

The suppression of the 1936-39 uprising laid the ground work for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-48. Having crushed the earlier resistance, Britain abandoned Palestine to the Zionists, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion. By early 1949, the Zionists had seized control of 75 percent of Palestine. Eighteen years later, in 1967, Israel launched the Six Day War to conquer the rest of Palestine, occupying East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.

The Balfour Declaration and Britain’s imperial policy during the mandate period facilitated the building of a Zionist state at the expense of the existing Palestinian Arab population. It laid the groundwork for the mass expulsion of Palestinians and the ongoing dispossession and occupation of Palestinians today.

While Israel and its supporters, including those in today’s British government, are celebrating 100 years of imperialist backing of settler colonialism, the Palestinian people – with their supporters – will be mobilising on the streets to continue the fight for Palestinian self-determination.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Balfour 100: Did the British Mandate pave the Way for Israeli Occupation.

Dear friends,
please find below another of the articles published by Al Jazeera as part of their series on the Balfour Declaration.

As noted, I will be posting a number of article in relation to "Balfour 100" over the next week or so.

in solidarity, Kim


General Edmund Allenby and British forces enters Jerusalem in December 1917, marking the conquest of the city and Palestine by Britain.

Did the British Mandate pave the way for Israel ioccupation?

27 Oct 2017: AL JAZEERA

While the British Mandate in Palestine lasted for 31 years, notorious remnants of its legacy are still felt by the Palestinians on a daily basis at the hands of the Israeli army.

For seven decades, the military occupation of Palestinians has been ongoing, but some of the repressive tactics used by the Israeli army were not necessarily Israeli.

Rather, they were first practised on the Palestinians by the British army during the mandate era.

"Anyone who looks at the methods the British used in Palestine during the 1930s will see strong parallels with what Israel is doing today," said David Cronin, journalist and author of Balfour's Shadow.

One such tactic was punitive house demolitions, carried out as a measure of deterrence.
Another was administrative detention, or the internment of prisoners for an indefinite period of time without subjecting them to trial or charges.

The British used those tactics as a series of reprisals and collective punishments during the Arab Revolt that began in 1936, where a Palestinian nationalistic movement rose to protest British rule and the official support for the increase in Jewish immigration.


British-trained Haganah

The 1930s were marked by a strong collusion between the British and Jewish fighters, mainly from the Haganah paramilitary group, the largest Zionist militia in Palestine at the time, which would later form the central component of the Israeli army.

Cronin said that the British had helped the groundwork for the Nakba. It was after all the Haganah who were responsible for mapping out Plan Dalet, the blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
"Many of the Zionist forces who forced around 750,000 Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine had received British training," he said.

Ahron Bregman, a professor at the department of war studies at King's University, said that the British trained Haganah members in military tactics during the Arab Revolt.

"In fact, the best future Jewish military minds, such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon, were trained by the British to fight against the Arabs of Palestine," he said.

Dayan would go on to lose his eye during a joint British operation against French forces in Lebanon in 1941.
He and Yigal later occupied key positions in the army and government in Israel's early history, serving in various ministerial roles.


British taught counterinsurgency

One infamous British soldier, Orde Wingate, trained and led Jewish armed units in violently quelling Palestinians in the Galilee region during the revolt.

Ahmad Samih Khalidi, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Palestine Studies, described him as "a kind of maverick and a Christian Zionist" who taught the Jewish armed units the very basics of counterinsurgency and "how to deal with the natives in a very brutal and repressive manner."

The Jewish commanders, Khalidi continued, did not just learn about tactics on the ground but also basic doctrinal issues such as pre-emption and collective punishment.

"This had a very important and formative influence, because what it did was for the first time, it took Jewish armed groups in Palestine to what was essentially a defensive position into an offensive position," Khalidi said.


Special night squads

Wingate headed a division of Haganah commanders [Moshe Dayan among them] for just five months from June to October in 1938. He trained them under the cover of darkness, hence the name that they became known for - the special night squads (SNS).

The SNSs quickly gained a reputation for their brutality. Torture and extrajudicial assassinations were commonplace, and villages suspected of withholding information, harbouring rebels or lying in proximity to rebel attacks were not spared.

"Wingate is almost revered by the current Israeli military, probably because he was a very cruel man," Cronin said.

"His troops gained infamy for rounding up men who lived near an oil pipeline connecting Palestine and Iraq, ordering them to strip and whipping their naked torsos."

The SNSs did not have a formal military chain of command, which resulted in their actions against the Palestinian rural population in the north becoming wild and uncontrollable.
One such example, compiled by professor of military history Matthew Hughes, was forcing sand into villagers' mouths until they vomited.

"British SNS brutality prompted Jewish soldiers, taught them how to deal with insurgency and insurgents and set this within a colonial legal framework of collective punishment and punitive action that normalised draconian action," Hughes wrote.


Military experience and emergency laws

The Jewish militias were bolstered by members who had military experience through their individual participation as officers and soldiers in the first world war. However, in the second world war, many Jews fought with the British army and "distinguished themselves there," Bregman said.

Khalidi said that that had proven to be highly significant in the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948, portraying the campaign as a war of independence.

"They had a well-established cadre of trained and efficient soldiers which Palestinians didn't have because by and large, with certain exceptions, the Palestinian Arabs did not join the war in any large numbers on the British side or the other side," he said.

A direct legacy of British rule in Palestine that the Israeli army has replicated is the British emergency laws applied in 1945 - which Bregman said is still in use by the Israelis to "justify their actions in the occupied territories".

The laws were initially devised to deal with the Jewish Irgun and Stern Gang militias that had revolted against the British.

"In 1967 when the Israelis occupied the remaining Palestinian territories, they resorted to many of the old British emergency laws that gave the military occupation the right to impose collective punishment such as demolishing houses," Khalidi said.

House demolitions

At the height of the second Intifada in 2002, the Israeli army demolished 252 homes in the occupied territories, rendering just over 1,400 Palestinians homeless.

A lesser-known fact is that between the years of 1936 and 1939, the British authorities had demolished 5,000 Palestinian homes.

On June 16, 1936, approximately 240 homes were blown up by the British in the Old City of Jaffa, leaving as many as 6,000 Palestinians homeless.

They were informed by air-dropped leaflets the same morning and many became destitute, having lost all their possessions with their homes.

The explanation given by Britain, according to Cronin, was for "urban renewal" purposes, but the main reason was that "its inhabitants were not deemed sufficiently obedient towards their oppressors, so they were made homeless".

Matthew Hughes wrote how the British army had cut wide pathways through the old city with explosives to "allow military access to, and control of, a rebel-held area that had previously eluded military control".

This has been copied verbatim by the Israeli army, most notably during their invasions of the Jenin refugee camp and Nablus's old city in the second Intifada, where their tanks flattened narrow alleyways, houses and other structures in their way.


Military cooperation today

While the US remains the number one country to collaborate with Israel militarily, such as financial aid, weapons procurement and joint training exercises, the relationship Britain and Israel - which had been relatively limited to intelligence sharing - has reached new levels.
One of Israel's top weapons producers, Elbit Systems, has five branches in the UK, and recently announced it wanted to treat the UK as an "actual home market", said Cronin.

In September, Elbit Systems and CAE [Canadian manufacturer of simulation and modelling technologies and training services for civil aviation and defence] signed an agreement to jointly pursue British Ministry of Defence training opportunities.

Furthermore, Cronin said that the British army has commissioned the largest drone programme in Europe, which is based on Israeli-designed weapons.

Israel, the leading seller of drones, invented drones in the 1970s and were the first to use them in 1982 against the PLO in Beirut, Khalidi said.

This means that the next time Britain goes to war, it will most likely be using Israeli-made weapons, which would have undoubtedly first be tested and used against Palestinians - a case where the student has surpassed the master.

100 years on: The Balfour Declaration explained

Dear friends,

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. While it is being celebrated by Israel and its supporters, it is being mourned and protested by the Palestinian people.   The Balfour Declaration is rightly seen as the catalyst, which lead to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and their dispossession from their home land.  It was an exceedingly brief statement, consisting of a mere 67 words, but its consequences have been profound, pervasive and catastrophic for the Palestinian people. As Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has observed “its impact on the subsequent history of the Middle East was nothing less than revolutionary”.

Al Jazeera has given over extensive digital space to the coverage of Balfour anniversary of the last week or so.  You can access their interactive website on the Balfour Declaration by clicking here.  I am posting up two of their articles (one here and another in a separate post), as well as a 48 minute documentary.

I will probably be posting up one or two more blog entries over the next week so in relation to 100th anniversary, as well as the protests in relation to it.

In solidarity, Kim


100 years on: The Balfour Declaration explained

This week, Palestinians around the world are marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2, 1917.

The declaration turned the Zionist aim of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine into a reality when Britain publicly pledged to establish "a national home for the Jewish people" there.

The pledge is generally viewed as one of the main catalysts of the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 - and the conflict that ensued with the Zionist state of Israel.
It is regarded as one of the most controversial and contested documents in the modern history of the Arab world and has puzzled historians for decades.


What is the Balfour Declaration?

The Balfour Declaration ("Balfour's promise" in Arabic) was a public pledge by Britain in 1917 declaring its aim to establish "a national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine.

The statement came in the form of a letter from Britain's then-foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a figurehead of the British Jewish community.

It was made during World War I (1914-1918) and was included in the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

The so-called mandate system, set up by the Allied powers, was a thinly veiled form of colonialism and occupation.

The system transferred rule from the territories that were previously controlled by the powers defeated in the war - Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria - to the victors.

The declared aim of the mandate system was to allow the winners of the war to administer the newly emerging states until they could become independent.

The case of Palestine, however, was unique. Unlike the rest of the post-war mandates, the main goal of the British Mandate there was to create the conditions for the establishment of a Jewish "national home" - where Jews constituted less than 10 percent of the population at the time.

Upon the start of the mandate, the British began to facilitate the immigration of European Jews to Palestine. Between 1922 and 1935, the Jewish population rose from nine percent to nearly 27 percent of the total population.

Though the Balfour Declaration included the caveat that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine", the British mandate was set up in a way to equip Jews with the tools to establish self-rule, at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.


Why was it controversial?

The document was controversial for several reasons.

Firstly, it was, in the words of the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said, "made by a European power … about a non-European territory … in a flat disregard of both the presence and wishes of the native majority resident in that territory".

In essence, the Balfour Declaration promised Jews a land where the natives made up more than 90 percent of the population.

Secondly, the declaration was one of three conflicting wartime promises made by the British.
When it was released, Britain had already promised the Arabs independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1915 Hussein-McMahon correspondence.

The British also promised the French, in a separate treaty known as 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, that the majority of Palestine would be under international administration, while the rest of the region would be split between the two colonial powers after the war.
The declaration, however, meant that Palestine would come under British occupation and that the Palestinian Arabs who lived there would not gain independence.

Finally, the declaration introduced a notion that was reportedly unprecedented in international law - that of a "national home".

The use of the vague term "national home" for the Jewish people, as opposed to "state", left the meaning open to interpretation.

Earlier drafts of the document used the phrase "the reconstitution of Palestine as a Jewish State", but that was later changed.

In a meeting with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in 1922, however, Arthur Balfour and then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George reportedly said the Balfour Declaration "always meant an eventual Jewish state".


Why was it issued?

The question of why the Balfour Declaration was issued has been a subject of debate for decades, with historians using different sources to suggest various explanations.

While some argue that many in the British government at the time were Zionists themselves, others say the declaration was issued out of an anti-Semitic reasoning, that giving Palestine to the Jews would be a solution to the "Jewish problem".

In mainstream academia, however, there are a set of reasons over which there is a general consensus:
  • Control over Palestine was a strategic imperial interest to keep Egypt and the Suez Canal within Britain's sphere of influence 
  • Britain had to side with the Zionists to rally support among Jews in the United States and Russia, hoping they could encourage their governments to stay in the war until victory
  • Intense Zionist lobbying and strong connections between the Zionist community in Britain and the British government; some of the officials in the government were Zionists themselves
  • Jews were being persecuted in Europe and the British government was sympathetic to their suffering


How was it received by Palestinians and Arabs?

In 1919, then-US President Woodrow Wilson appointed a commission to look into public opinion on the mandatory system in Syria and Palestine.

The investigation was known as the King-Crane commission. It found that the majority of Palestinians expressed a strong opposition to Zionism, leading the conductors of the commission to advise a modification of the mandate's goal.

The late Awni Abd al-Hadi, a Palestinian political figure and nationalist, condemned the Balfour Declaration in his memoirs, saying it was made by an English foreigner who had no claim to Palestine, to a foreign Jew who had no right to it.

In 1920, the Third Palestinian Congress in Haifa decried the British government's plans to support the Zionist project and rejected the declaration as a violation of international law and of the rights of the indigenous population.

However, the other important source for insight into Palestinian opinion on the declaration - the press - was closed down by the Ottomans at the start of the war in 1914 and only began to reappear in 1919, but under British military censorship.

In November 1919, when the al-Istiqlal al-Arabi (Arab independence) newspaper, based in Damascus, was reopened, one article said in response to a public speech by Herbert Samuel, a Jewish cabinet minister, in London on the second anniversary of the Balfour Declaration: "Our country is Arab, Palestine is Arab, and Palestine must remain Arab."

Even prior to the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, pan-Arab newspapers warned against the motives of the Zionist movement and its potential outcomes in displacing Palestinians from their land.

Khalil Sakakini, a Jerusalemite writer and teacher, described Palestine in the immediate aftermath of the war as follows: "A nation which has long been in the depths of sleep only awakes if it is rudely shaken by events, and only arises little by little … This was the situation of Palestine, which for many centuries has been in the deepest sleep, until it was shaken by the great war, shocked by the Zionist movement, and violated by the illegal policy [of the British], and it awoke, little by little."

Increased Jewish immigration under the mandate created tensions and violence between the Palestinian Arabs and the European Jews. One of the first popular responses to British actions was the Nebi Musa revolt in 1920 that led to the killing of four Palestinian Arabs and five immigrant Jews.


Who else was behind it?

While Britain is generally held responsible for the Balfour Declaration, it is important to note that the statement would not have been made without prior approval from the other Allied powers during World War I.

In a War Cabinet meeting in September 1917, British ministers decided that "the views of President Wilson should be obtained before any declaration was made". Indeed, according to the cabinet's minutes on October 4, the ministers recalled Arthur Balfour confirming that Wilson was "extremely favourable to the movement".

France was also involved and announced its support prior to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration.

A May 1917 letter from Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, to Nahum Sokolow, a Polish Zionist, expressed the sympathetic views of the French government towards "Jewish colonisation in Palestine".

"[I]t would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago," stated the letter, which was seen as a precursor to the Balfour Declaration.


What impact did it have on Palestinians?

The Balfour Declaration is widely seen as the precursor to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba when Zionist armed groups, who were trained by the British, forcibly expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.

Despite some opposition within the War Cabinet predicting that such an outcome was probable, the British government still chose to issue the declaration.

While it is difficult to imply that the developments in Palestine today can be traced back to the Balfour Declaration, there is no doubt that the British Mandate created the conditions for the Jewish minority to gain superiority in Palestine and build a state for themselves at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.

When the British decided to terminate their mandate in 1947 and transfer the question of Palestine to the United Nations, the Jews already had an army that was formed out of the armed paramilitary groups trained and created to fight side by side with the British in World War II.

More importantly, the British allowed the Jews to establish self-governing institutions, such as the Jewish Agency, to prepare themselves for a state when it came to it, while the Palestinians were forbidden from doing so - paving the way for the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Friday, November 3, 2017

David Pope: Return to Beersheba

Dear friends,
David Pope, in my opinion, is one of the best political cartoonists and satirists in Australia.  Here is his take on the 100 anniversary of Beersheba, Zionist propaganda, the racist erasure of the Palestinian people and the Australian government's celebration of British imperialism and Israeli settler-colonialism.

The cartoon appeared in the Canberra Times.

in solidarity, Kim


The Myths of Beersheba

Dear friends,
please find below an article by my comrade Vashti Kenway on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba and its accompanying myths.

In solidarity, Kim


The myths of Beersheba

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba has been cause for great patriotic celebration among the Australian political elite and the mainstream media.

The Battle, a little-remembered incident in the Middle Eastern theatre of the First World War, featured the Australian Light Horse Brigade in one of its first victories and last charges. Beersheba, a Palestinian and Bedouin town in what is now Israel, was a strategically important site held by the Turks.

The mythology is that the plucky Australian Light Horse Brigade (with some British and Scottish cavalry in tow), thirsty and down on its luck, braved the desert, charged into Beersheba, took the wily Turks by surprise and conquered the town. This laid the basis for the Allies to take Jerusalem, the jewel in the crown of the region.

The Battle of Beersheba is presented as a seminal moment in Australian military history. While Gallipoli is iconic, of bravery in the face of defeat, Beersheba is a success story.
For the Australian ruling class, such narratives are important. They play a key role in constructing an Australian identity and in building support for the military and wars past and present.

Kelvin Crombie, a historian and an organiser of the 100th anniversary celebrations, expressed this clearly when he said that the Battle of Beersheba encapsulates the “spirit of the Australian people … daring, bold and courageous”.

That World War One was an imperial war, and that the Australians were fighting in the British Army in the interests of British colonial domination, is of little interest. Of even less interest is that the Battle of Beersheba laid the basis for the British colonisation of Palestine, the subsequent Balfour Declaration and the expulsion of Indigenous Palestinians from their land.

That Israel was not a state during the Battle of Beersheba and that Australian soldiers had comparatively little to do with Jewish villages in the area, is also immaterial for the Australian ruling class. The narrative being spun is that Australian-Israeli friendship extends into a misty past. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spelled this out in February:

“And you know, and we know, that Australia and Israel are firm friends, a relationship forged in the crucible of history, anchored in shared values, buttressed by strong community ties and given vitality by the optimism and the enterprise of our two young nations – we both know our best years are ahead of us. It is almost 100 years since the charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade captured the town of Beersheba from the Ottoman Turks. That event, [was] one of the foundations of our relationship.”

Facts aside, the Battle provides a good skeleton around which to hang a patriotic story. This is why both Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull flew to Beersheba for the week-long festivities. The ceremonies involved a re-enactment of the Light Horse Brigade charge (accompanied by bush poetry set to music), speeches by Israeli and Australian politicians and a band which played Australian ditties such as “Along the road to Gundagai” and “Click go the shears”. The assembled crowd chanted “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!”

While the mainstream press has published a few pieces critical of the dominant narrative of Beersheba, one story that hasn’t been told is the connections between the Light Horse Brigades and one of Australia’s first significant far right organisations: the Old Guard.

The Old Guard was formed as a paramilitary unit in the lead up to the Depression. It was vehemently conservative, hostile to organised labour and the left and dominated by the very wealthy, who sought to preserve the privileges of their class. Many were still under arms and particularly in NSW organised for what they perceived as the coming civil war against workers and the Communist menace.

Like the highest ranks of the Australian Light Horse brigades, the Old Guard contained a disproportionate number of wealthy graziers. For example, the leader of the Desert Mounted Corps that charged Beersheba, Henry George Chauvel, was from a grazier family and had a long history of hostile activity toward the workers movement.

In 1891 and 1894, Chauvel organised strike breakers against the shearers. After serving in the Boer War and then World War One, Chauvel returned to Australia and became part of the highest echelons of Australian military officialdom. He then organised with many of the most prominent figures of the Old Guard. When the left Labor premier of NSW, Jack Lang, was undemocratically sacked, Chauvel sent a telegram of congratulations to the right wing governor.

The leader of the 6th Light Horse Brigade, Frederic Hinton, was another grazier and top leader of the Old Guard. He oversaw the secret military wing and the public wing of the organisation. The semi-fascist front organisation of the Old Guard was called the All Australian League and had around 130,000 members.

These connections are just one illustration of the extent to which the forces of imperial military domination and the far right have often overlapped.

In Britain recently, five servicemen were arrested for neo-Nazi activity and in the US two of the groups who participated this year in far right mobilisations in Charlottesville, Virginia, were founded by former US Marines.

The ultra-patriotic climate created by the likes of Shorten, Turnbull and Netanyahu contributes to an atmosphere ripe for racism and far right ideas here as well.

The missing Arab piece of Beersheba's centenary events

Dear friends,
my friend Sol Salbe recently had the following piece published in the Fairfax media about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Bedouins by Israel and why Australian and New Zealand politicians should not be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba. 

While I disagree with Sol's commentary about the worthiness of celebrating British imperialism and Australia's role in it at all, I agree very much with his commentary about the racist erasure of Palestinians, in particular Palestinian Bedouins.  Sol is correct to say we should not be celebrating the erasure and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, while also supporting Israel's propaganda antics.

In solidarity, Kim

Don't go there: The missing Arab piece of Beersheba's centenary events

It isn't the first thing most people would think of, but the final outcome of the New Zealand elections reverberated more than 16,000 kilometres away.  Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern appears to be far too busy to travel to Beersheba in Israel.

Her predecessor, Bill English, was meant to join Australia's Malcolm Turnbull and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu there to commemorate the capture of the town by the Anzacs 100 years ago. In the interim it was decided that New Zealand Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy would go.

That the event is worth noting is not in dispute. It took gumption and bravery to overrun the town.  The victory of the Light Horse Brigade on October 31, 1917 caused the collapse of the Ottoman lines and allowed General Sir Edmund Allenby to enter Jerusalem less than two months later. It is no wonder, then, that the leaders of Australia and New Zealand are proud to recall it.

For its part the City of Beersheba is certainly pulling out all the stops to the celebrate the occasion.  There's an exhibition of contemporary Australian art, a staging of Verdi's opera Nabucco, with its theme of a lost Jewish homeland, various official ceremonies and a recreation of the cavalry charge. There is even a memorial ceremony for the Turkish fallen at the city's monument of the Turkish soldiers.

Only one group of people is missing. The city is marking, in its own words, the centenary of the liberation of Beersheba. So where is the mention of the grateful residents of the town in all the razzmatazz?

A perusal of the city's website isn't very enlightening.  It tells you that "the city as we know it today is relatively new and was only established at the beginning of the 20th century under the Ottoman Turkish rule". But it is silent - in English and in Hebrew - as to who was living there to be liberated back in 1917.

And of course there's nothing at all on the website in Arabic, Israel's other official language.  Which is rather incongruous, considering that in 1917 every single resident of the town spoke Arabic. The residents of Beersheba, including its mayor, were Bedouin and other Palestinians.  There had been some Arabic-speaking Jewish community members living in the town, but they had all left during the war.

The Bedouin had an extensive existence in Beersheba and its environs, and despite their live-and-let-live attitude were quite antagonistic towards the Ottoman Empire and its rule.  While there are no records that I could find of them welcoming the Anzacs, they probably thought a new empire couldn't be any worse.

Indeed, the British maintained many of the structures of governance. They kept the same courts and worked with Bedouin elders to resolve issues. The British continued to provide free education to Bedouin boys in Beersheba and even set up a school for girls. Bedouin youngsters travelled to other parts of Palestine and even abroad to study. The town had a small eight-bed hospital to which both Bedouin and British Mandate authorities contributed.

The British recognised the Bedouin land title system, even though the Bedouin had never bothered to register their own holdings under the Ottomans. While the Bedouin paid tax on their flocks and on their land, they refused to deal directly with the authorities as they suspected the registration would lead to them being conscripted into the Ottoman Empire's military. The British saw no point in changing the arrangements and even helped introduce modern agricultural techniques, including the use of tractors for ploughing.

The Bedouin did have some issues with British. Within days of the capture of Beersheba they became aware of the Balfour Declaration which "view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".  They strenuously objected to the sale of land to Jews who wanted to set up agricultural communities in the area. In 1938, at the height of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, Bedouin joined forces with other Palestinian rebels to briefly take Beersheba back from the colonial power.

If Beersheba's inhabitants had had a premonition that Balfour's declaration would have an adverse impact on them, it was finally realised almost 31 years later. On October 22, 1948, their town was captured again, this time by the Israel Defence Forces.  The consequences for the Bedouin were devastating.

Sasson Bar-Zvi, military governor of the Negev from 1963 to 1968, told Ben-Gurion University historian and author Mansour Nasasra: "In the war people were exiled or left to many other places. By the end of the war the main Bedouin city of Beersheba was empty of Bedouin. No Bedouin, no Gaza businessmen, no shopkeepers, and not even any birds remained in the city. After the war had ended some new Jewish immigrants started to come to the city."

Since then, the Negev Bedouins' lot hasn't been a happy one, with many of their villages unrecognised by the Israeli authorities, meaning they are not connected to water or electricity or entitled to protection from rockets that may strike them from neighbouring Gaza or Sinai. In Beersheba itself their main presence was the famous Bedouin Market. Sadly earlier this year the city council decided to close it.

The Israeli government has made several attempts to deal with the issue of unrecognised villages and the lands for which the Bedouin claim the equivalent of Australia's native title. The various versions of the Prawer plan have all failed to recognise what the Bedouin demanded as a right: that the land was theirs and that their possession of it was good enough for the Jewish National Fund to accept and buy some of it before the state of Israel was created.

Even recognised Bedouin townships are at a disadvantage. There is a huge amount of arnona (local government rates) being paid by the Defence Ministry and other entities for their substantial land holdings in the Negev. Invariably these taxes are paid to Jewish municipalities rather than Bedouin ones, even when the Bedouin municipality is far closer.

New Zealand's progressive new PM might well be hesitant about a cornucopia of commemorative events all ignoring a section of the region's citizenry. But her newly installed Foreign Minister Winston Peters, a Maori politician, or even Dame Patsy, long an advocate for diversity, would find similar challenges if they looked hard enough.

Imagine accompanying Turnbull to the launch of a new nippers program on an Israeli beach.  What would happen if, sensitive to issues of diversity, a New Zealand representative asked about nippers belonging to the local Arab minority? After all, according to Israel Hayom, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country, an Arab child was 50 per cent more likely to drown in Israel's latest May-to-October swimming season than a Jewish one.

What might happen if that representative were told that the nippers course so far runs in Hebrew only, making it next to impossible for Arab kids to participate?

Best not to go there.


1. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, left, and Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern shake hands after signing a coalition agreement on October 24. Photo: AP

2. A photograph once believed to depict the charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba on October 31, 1917. It is now believed to have been taken by photographer Frank Hurley in February 1918.  Photo: Australian War Memorial

3. Beersheba, April 1947: the British High Commissioner in Palestine, Sir Alan Cunningham (seated at centre of table), addresses Bedouin elders from Beersheba and Gaza regarding a drought in the area.

4. Bedouin homes sit in front of an Israeli power plant at Wadi al-Naam, near Beersheba.  Photo: AP

5. Rifa al-Oqbi and her sons stand in front of their demolished home in the Bedouin village of al-Qrain in November 2011. Photo: Ruth Pollard

6. Khalil al-Amour with a notice of eviction pinned to the front door of his home in the Negev Desert village of al-Sira in 2011.  Photo: Ruth Pollard

7. Palestinian Bedouin children play before a rally marking the 40th anniversary of Land Day and against a plan to uproot the Negev Desert village of Umm al-Hiran in 2016. Photo: AP