Britain and Palestine (letter)by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
, June 19, 2004
Dr Partington's letter (News Weekly
, June 5, 2004) concerning a piece I wrote on Lawrence of Arabia and the post-1918 settlement gives me a chance to provide a few extra facts.
I'll start with Palestine, which I didn't really discuss, although in reviews of various Jewish writers here and in the Adelaide Review
, I did discuss the issues - at length.
I don't remember any dissonant notes from readers then.
I won't repeat all of it here - although I suspect a few people might think Palestine is and was the most important issue.
It wasn't then, it has become far more stressful, but so have many other areas. Indeed, we may be facing one coalescing conflict region.
The Zionists could hardly be criticised at that time. They had said they wanted a National Home: they lobbied the British, successfully; and then started building enclaves by buying Arab land. The sheikhs, the rich landowners, sold them that land, abandoned the people on it and pocketed the money. One gets the feeling they would have sold it to anyone
. People like Chaim Weizmann were shocked, saying that these Arab leaders looked like Arab nationalists on the outside but were traitors to their people on the inside.
The British had the responsibility of looking after both communities, but failed.
From that time on, rank-and-file Arabs distrusted leaders who had any
dealings with the Jews or the West.
That legacy of suspicion has fed Arab extremism and encouraged radical Arab clerics. But ... I don't see the Zionists had a duty
to go in deputation to Whitehall to ask the British to help the Arabs more and them less.
As to the remainder of Mr Partington's concerns: no, no one proposed a single state containing the various peoples in the whole area. But at any level, honest negotiations with the locals - at a time when hope and trust remained - might have worked wonders. But ...the deals were cut by the Anglo-French, the inhabitants presented with faits accomplis.
When they got rulers, these were by grace and favour of the West. This undermined the rulers' chances of legitimacy from the beginning and still remains a problem for Arab rulers. Hence a certain preference for wild cards who will say they hate the West and, nowadays, the Jews, and they will do things their way: Nasser, Gaddafi, Khomeini, Arafat.
Yes some Arabs did revolt in the 1920s, e.g. Iraq and the Kurds. Colonial Secretary Churchill strongly advocated the use of poison gas; whole-heartedly supported by Henry Wilson, the military's Chief-of Staff, who said, "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes."
Sir Henry was assassinated in 1922 by Sinn Feiners.
Young Bomber Harris asked for the chance to show the potency of the new air power by selecting, and destroying, whole villages. His wish was granted. The Kurds were ... pacified.
Although I found copious evidence in Chums
and the Boys' Own Annual
- I must confess I found very little signs of British "fair play" here; but perhaps we should hail a passing Irishman and ask his opinion.Max Teichmann,