Historical whitewash: Great Britain must be held accountable for its role in the Nakba


UK Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the Knesset (Photo: Knesset spokesperson/Times of Israel)

Nothing more exemplifies the historical whitewash of British rule in Palestine between 1917 and 1948 than the response (or lack of) to David Cameron’s speech in the Israeli Kneeset in March 2014. Therein he briefly propounded the much overlooked fact that Britain was the main western supporter of the Zionist colonial experiment in Palestine from the very beginning.

“From the early pioneers,” boasted Cameron, “the men and women of the Palestine Exploration Fund, who saw the Jewish history in this land and the possibilities for the future to the Balfour Declaration – the moment when the State of Israel went from a dream to a plan Britain has played a proud and vital role in helping to secure Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.”

Cameron clearly defined the Balfour declaration as the moment Israel went from “a dream to a plan.” This plan was then ‘secured’ which strongly seems to be euphuism for implemented. More so, he then, somewhat self-incriminatory, said that British imperialism “played a proud and vital role in helping to secure Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.”

Not one commentator in the UK, critical or otherwise, latched on to this crucial point. Presumably, it’s far less taxing on one’s moral conscience to emulate American, Arab and even Israeli commentators on the current Palestinian situation than face up to your own government’s historical criminal culpability – a culpability which Cameron drew attention to at the Knesset of all places?

Obviously, Cameron naturally never outlined how Britain ‘secured’ the homeland for the Jewish people.

However, it was in these years, i.e. 1917-1948, that the “only democracy in the Middle East” as Zionist propagandists lovingly refer to their colonial project was secured by Britain by first, denying Palestinians representative democracy which would have inevitably limited colonial immigration to their country.  Secondly, when the first Palestinian uprising finally exploded in 1936 it was the British that led the repression against the Palestinian resistance and in doing so, also educated the nascent Zionist-settler forces on how to military crush and oppress the indigenous population.[1]

By the time the state of Israel was declared on 14th May 1948, 400,000 Palestinians and 250 villages and towns had already been ethnically cleansed by the Zionist forces under Britain’s secured watch.[2] Further ethnic cleansing took place after the Zionists declared their state. Ghassan Kanafani, the Palestinian revolutionary, was to argue that the Zionists in the late 1940’s were plucking “the fruits of the defeat of the 1936 revolt which the outbreak of the war had prevented it from doing sooner.”[3]

Progressive British activists, writers and politicians rarely acknowledge, if ever, the central role played by their Empire in laying the foundations and facilitating the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Cameron’s and Great Britain’s national hero, Winston Churchill on the other hand, specifically justified the “proud and vital role” of the Empire at the Peel Commission on Palestine in 1937 on this basis:

“I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place. I do not admit it. I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say, ‘The American Continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in here’. They had not the right, nor had they the power.”[4]

As Churchill strongly implies the Zionist project with its attendant occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine, i.e. the Nakba, had nothing to do with Jewish history as discovered by the so-called ‘Palestine Exploration Fund’ and everything to do with racist colonialism backed by the power of the foreign policy of an Empire that has escaped accountability for its role in this ongoing tragedy.


[1] Laleh Khalili, “The Location of Palestine in Global Counterinsurgencies”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 42, Issue 3, pg. 413-433 and Matthew Hughes, The Banality of Brutality: British Armed Forces and the Repression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-1939, English Historical Review, 124 (2009).

[2] Rosemarie M. Esber, “Under the Cover of War”, Aribicus Books and Media, Alexandria (V.A), 2009. This book deals with the ethnic cleansing in final six months

[3] Ghassan Kanafani, ‘The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine’, Tricontinental Society, London, 1980, pg. 30.

[4]Quoted in Angela Clifford, ‘Serfdom Or Ethnic Cleansing?  – Churchill’s Evidence to the Peel Commission (1937)’, Athol Books, Belfast and London, 2003, pg.34

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