Why and How the UK and US Shaped Israel to Create Endless Conflict

Even though the land could not yet absorb sixteen million, nor even eight, enough could return… to prove that the enterprise was one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took by forming for England a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.” — Ronald Storrs, Military Governor […]

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Even though the land could not yet absorb sixteen million, nor even eight, enough could return… to prove that the enterprise was one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took by forming for England a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”

— Ronald Storrs, Military Governor of Jerusalem 1917-20, commenting in 1937 on the rationale of the 1917 Balfour Declaration

Zionism is the continual attempt to fit a square into a circle.

— Lowkey, interviewed by Danny Haiphong 25 March 2024

But the state of Israel was not created for the salvation of the Jews; it was created for the salvation of Western interests. This is what is becoming clear (I must say it was always clear to me). The Palestinians have been paying for the British colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’ and for Europe’s guilty Christian conscience for more than thirty years.

— James Baldwin, 1979

Israel was always meant to be a bleeding sore, an unending source of conflict and hence an unending source of suffering. In creating Israel the British were following a policy of divide-and-rule to create an outpost as a way of projecting power into the Arab world and its oilfields. In practical terms British power could only be projected through the maintenance of immanent or actual armed hostility. The success of this strategy, as the baton was passed to the US empire, has caused the region to suffer 100 years of instability and strife while the Palestinians have suffered a long slow genocide of everyday brutality punctuated by massacres and outbreaks of resistance.

The British Empire did not create Israel in gratitude for Chaim Weizmann’s invention and development of synthetic acetone (a component of cordite) during World War I. The British Empire did not create Israel in gratitude for the financial assistance provided by the British branch of the Rothschild clan. I could go into detail on each case but it is unnecessary. We only need to remember one thing: the British Empire would never do anything out of gratitude. Nor, as I will illustrate in the course of this article, did it deign to honour promises it made in order to achieve its own gains. There are romantic notions of a British sense of honour in the official sphere but these are false – products of a robust cultural hegemony and propaganda system. The historical record instead shows that British foreign policy, and before that English foreign policy, has been unusually ruthless, callous, and dishonest.

In respectable discourse it is only possible to refer to British perfidy and US aggression when talking in the abstract or about matters of the distant past, but when talking of current events one must always assume a foundation of benevolence and criticise these countries for straying or being diverted from their true nature. As a rule, all aspects of British and US imperialism are treated as if they exist in an historical vacuum. Comparing British and US interventions with empires of the past is not the done thing. Comparing British and US interventions to their own past interventions is not the done thing. In the case of Palestine, even comparing British actions to their own simultaneous actions in other parts of the Middle East is not the done thing. This is exponential exceptionalism. Just because we are doing this thing it doesn’t mean that we do this sort of thing, and please don’t look at all the other times we have done this thing because it is just not who we are. Luckily it is acceptable at all times to claim that the tail wags the dog of empire, whatever that tail might be. In the case of Israel, existing anti-Semitic tropes about the influence of The Jews makes this all the easier.

Normally, instead of entertaining the possibility that the British and US empires have deliberately created and sustained a situation of endless conflict because it serves an obvious purpose, people are more inclined to blame the Israel Lobby in ways that seem to reflect an intellectual descent from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The power of the Israel lobby is real, but it exists at the sufferance of the Empire Complex. It is a tool for imperial elites to exert control over political representatives and civil society in order to constrain “democratic distemper”, that is why it came to exist (not because of the mysterious control Jews are imagined to exert over the noble but hapless Anglo-Saxons who have traditionally run the world). 

Even when people seek to avoid this anti-Semitism they find other ways to avoid suggesting that any Western wrongdoing is intentional. An interesting example is “Balfour: The Seeds of Discord” (the latest in the seemingly infinite series of Al Jazeera English documentaries about the Balfour Declaration). Avoiding the traditional discourse which suggests that Jews exert a seemingly mystical power that allows them to dictate to Great Powers, the documentary employs a more fashionable way of preserving exactly the same explanation of motive. Instead of Magical Jew Power being at fault, it all happened because people like Balfour and British PM David Lloyd George believed in Magical Jew Power (MJP) due to their yucky anti-Semitism. This is very convenient because you can keep the exact same explanation for the creation of Israel while not having to rely directly on anti-Semitic tropes.

Lloyd George, Balfour and others are said to have thought that the promise of a homeland would unite all Jews to unleash their MJP in aid of the Entente in the Great War. How do we know? Because they said so, and people like that don’t lie, do they? There is a bit of a problem though in that World War I was over before the British could do anything towards creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. According to this reasoning, then, the British incorporated the Balfour Declaration into the Mandate for Palestine because they had an irrational belief in monolithic Jewish power and conveniently ignored the fact that most Jews were not Zionists and many found the idea abhorrent and dangerous. At the same time it seems to have slipped their minds that they had already won the War that this was meant to help them win. 

I will have more to say about the Mandate later, but it is worth noting that a prominent expert on “Balfour: The Seeds of Discord” claims that the British were committed to Zionism because it was central to the legitimacy of the Palestine Mandate. This is wrong because the Mandate does not and cannot dispense with the rights of the Palestinian people, even though it is written tendentiously in order to give that impression. Moreover, it seems a little strange to choose a specific exceptional legitimating purpose for the Palestine Mandate when the British operated Mandates in Jordan and Iraq with no need for any such rationale. Yemenis might also raise an eyebrow at the suggestion that the British cared about such niceties given that South Yemen did not gain independence until 1967. 

Balfour: The Seeds of Discord” mostly suggests that the British do not act, but only react. As is so often true, the British Empire, like the US Empire, is portrayed as unwitting. The moral failures are always those of ignorance and arrogance but never those of immoral intent. In 1883 John Seeley wrote, “we seem, as it were, to have conquered half the world in a fit of absence of mind.” Outside interests are used as pretexts by the imperialist parts of the establishment, led by the intelligence and military inside government in close intermingled accord with the arms, finance, and extractive industries. In this sense Zionists like Chaim Weizmann and the Rothschilds served the same purpose as US puppets during the Cold War who somehow caused the US to act in ways it did not want to. People such as Syngman Rhee, Ngo Dinh Diem, Jose Napoleon Duarte, Shah Reza Pahlavi, Ferdinand Marcos, Suharto, and many more have been cited as forcing or constraining US DoD or State Department actions, notwithstanding that they were dependent on the US and in many cases owed their power entirely to US intervention. The utility of the tactic is self-evident, even when it becomes ridiculous. Ahmed Chalabi, whose power and legitimacy were never more than a US fiction, had his supposed desires used as justifications for US policy. This was an effective distraction because it provided a focus of contention. Journalists and academics lap that stuff up and seem somehow incapable of looking beyond it at possible real causes for an empire’s behaviour, such as… I don’t know, say, the desire to control the most important strategic asset in human history (oil).

In a sane world it would be considered ridiculous to discuss 20th Century Middle Eastern history without reference to petroleum. In our world the near inverse is true. Right-wing people can make pithy aphorisms about oil to show their tough realism, but to actually connect that to an analysis of decision-making is considered heretical. Thus, for example, Paul Wolfowitz can explain the need for the Iraq invasion using the phrase “the country swims on a sea of oil”, but one cannot suggest that decisions were made on that basis. Almost everything else is on the table: humanitarianism, greed, stupidity, security concerns, racism, anti-racism, and, of course, the MJP of the Israel Lobby. One can say that things occurred because George W. Bush was a venal idiot, but it is unacceptable to base a detailed analysis on the notion that this lifelong oil man invaded and occupied Iraq to maintain US control of the global oil trade. Dubya Bush was the 4th generation product of a politically engaged dynasty of energy and finance aristocrats, his cabinet was also full of oil executives, and his own father had begun a genocidal assault and siege on Iraq. Despite these facts in orthodox analysis he cannot be said to have been rationally and intelligently motivated in his actions. This would lead one to conclude that he successfully carried out an intentionally genocidal strategy that increased US power in the world, and that is not allowed.   

Petroleum is equally central in relation to the birth of Israel – and equally unspeakable. To understand why the British wanted to create a permanent open wound of violence in the midst of the Arab world it is necessary to go back to 1895. John Fisher (who would go on to become an admiral, a peer of the realm, and the first person on record to use the abbreviation OMG) became convinced that the Royal Navy must transition its fleet away from coal and into petroleum as a fuel. This was a very hard sell as Britain had ready sources of coal but no oil. It took Fisher 10 years to make his case, but once he did the British were uniquely well positioned to lay claim to the oil they knew rightfully belonged to them (but which non-British people had the temerity to live on top of). At the time, you see, there were no known sources of oil on the extensive soil of the Empire. No problem, though – the British “sphere of influence” was as large as its acknowledged empire, and it turned its baleful eye upon Persia.

The British knew a thing or two about exerting extra-territorial control over other people’s countries. They also knew a thing or two about strategic resources. Their naval power had been built on spreading coaling stations that facilitated its own movement and gave it a way of controlling or denying the same ease of movement for others. The art of strategic denial, which would become crucial to the bloody history of the Middle East, was also honed on its dominance of major sources of gold in South Africa.

(Always bear in mind that these territories, these resources and even this “influence” were acquired with mass violence and retained with mass violence. The British Empire killed people for this. They tortured for this. They beat and robbed for this. All of it.)

Desiring the oil of Persia they set about acquiring it in a quintessentially imperialist style. They did not seek to create stable access to the oil by creating a sustainable transaction of mutual benefit. In zero sum imperialist thinking that would be disastrous. If, for example, they wanted to send gunboats to shell the ports and workers of another country that was not being obedient they would have to ensure that Persia did not object enough to break the deal. That would be an intolerable imposition on the sovereign right of the British to protect its own “interests”. Instead they cut the sort of deal that you would expect from a violent crew of mobsters. Their method of ensuring stability relies on ensuring that the lesser, weaker party does not profit enough that they become less weak and might therefore be in a position to ask for a better deal.

For an empire the ideal relations of informal imperialism separate the interests of a small ruling group from the masses and from the national entity itself. As a good imperialist, you structure deals so that any profit tends to accrue to that small group, creating a beneficial enmity between these rulers and their own subjects who remain impoverished and are displaced, poisoned and often worked to death in the production or extraction of the desired resource. You ensure that much of the money that you do pay is returned immediately to buy arms from your own arms industry for use against the unhappy people. You make the rulers as hated as possible in their own countries, apart from a narrow client base and/or a minority ethnic or religious group. This is highly unstable and a source of continual violence and oppression, but the rulers become dependent on you and they are forced to keep the desired outpouring of national riches flowing. Should the local oppression fail for any reason, such as a popular revolution, you can declare a “national interest” and send in the marines, the gunboats, the spooks, or any combination thereof. The nature of the deal itself is such that it has created military dependency and underdevelopment that ensures that the people of the country have the minimum possible ability to resist your own use of force.

That model is sustained on blood and oppression, and we charmingly name it the “resource curse”. The received wisdom in Western boardrooms, lecture halls, and think-tanks is that somehow the possession of natural wealth creates bad governance. In most cases, this is simply a poor cover for foetid racism. For believers in Western values it is considered common sense that the peoples of the developing world are morally and intellectually inferior to Westerners and this known fact is only suppressed due to wokeness. The agency of Western imperialist power is effaced: deleted from history and deleted from current affairs. 

The massive military expenditures of the US and its constant covert and overt interventions; its bombings; its wars; its threats; its overt and covert control, co-optation and subversion of international institutions is well documented and indisputable. What you are not allowed to say is that they are doing all of this for any cogent purpose. The continual flow of wealth and resources from the developing world to the developed world is meant to be viewed as a simple product of the natural order of things that is totally unrelated to massive arms expenditures, invasions, coups, espionage, economic warfare and so forth. To suggest otherwise is a conspiracy theory or some form of cultish dogmatic Marxism.

I am using contemporary US examples a little ahead of time here, but the British Empire provided the precursors to these structures of power and extraction. The British never had the level of military hegemony that the US possesses; therefore, they became extremely expert at exercising asymmetric power over vast populations using any and every tool available.

Once the British establishment had come to accept the inevitability of the need for the Royal Navy to make the change from coal to petroleum, they sought to intervene in a deal cut between mineral prospector William D’Arcy and the Shah of Persia (now Iran). By some accounts they even sent Sidney Reilly the “Ace of Spies” to deal with what was known as the “D’Arcy Affair” in 1905. This led to the establishment in 1909 of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which would later become the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and later British Petroleum, or BP. In 1913 the APOC negotiated a sale of shares to the British Government. The Crown wanted a government-controlled source of oil. The man in charge of the negotiations was one Winston Churchill. Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and was engaged in continuing the modernising work of John Fisher by switching the fleet wholly from coal to oil as fuel. 

It would be in a letter to Churchill that Fisher first used the fateful letters OMG. More consequentially, though, Fisher would resign as First Sea Lord in 1915 in disgust over Churchill’s disastrous Dardanelles (Gallipoli) campaign, famous for its horrific and pointless loss of life. This precipitated Churchill’s own resignation. He was replaced by Arthur Balfour – yes that Arthur Balfour.

Balfour and Churchill had five things in common: They believed in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race, they were ardent imperialists, they were scions of families elevated to elite status through imperialist exploitation, they were enthusiastic Zionists, and they were anti-Semitic. I have to acknowledge that it is “controversial” to call Churchill an anti-Semite despite the fact that he often wrote and said anti-Semitic things that he never retracted. To be fair Churchill was by no means outstandingly anti-Semitic by the standards of the time and would in later life express an opposition to anti-Semitism, but that does not change the bald facts. His official biographer Martin Gilbert, a Jewish Zionist, counters claims of his anti-Semitism in part by saying that he was an ardent Zionist. This is a laughable claim because non-Jewish Zionists – from Balfour through to today’s Christian Zionists – are frequently explicitly anti-Semitic. Moreover, the link between their anti-Semitism and their Zionism is not hard to explain – whether through racial animus or through religious zeal they want all the Jews to migrate to Palestine. To put it mildly, being a Zionist is by no means proof that one is not an anti-Semite.

Arthur Balfour was the Prime Minister of Britain who supported and approved Fisher’s naval modernisation programme. He was also politically associated with Winston Churchill and Churchill’s father before him. Both were also linked to imperialists like Cecil Rhodes, Lord Rothschild, Lord Esher and Lord Milner. This group were racists who believed in Anglo-Saxon superiority. It is common to suggest that they were “cultural racists” rather than outright racists, but I have seen no compelling reason to believe that this is a lesser form of racism. To illustrate: in Aotearoa some British “cultural racists” told 19th century Māori that they could become British, but those Māori that chose to do so soon discovered that a racial hierarchy based on skin colour was part of being British. This proves rather neatly that Anglo-Saxon “cultural racism” is the embrace of a culture of biological racism. Moreover this “cultural racism” leads to the same horrific conclusions as direct biological racism. Churchill, for example, said, “I do not admit…  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 these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”  These people believed in an Anglo-Saxon racial empire and believed in using violence and subjugation to create that empire. 

The Anglo-Saxon empire envisioned was to be a transatlantic one. Fittingly it would later be the alignment of British, US and Dutch oil interests between 1928 and 1954 that would provide the strategic underpinnings of such an empire, but Britain would be a decidedly junior partner by 1954. 

There is some controversy over whether the British may have deliberately pushed the Ottoman Empire into joining World War I on the side of the Central Powers. On one hand, Germany was clearly the best European friend that the Ottomans had, probably because they wanted to secure access to oil. Germany was constructing the Berlin to Baghdad railway, aiming at further establishing a port in the Persian Gulf and they had invested much into modernising the Ottoman military. On the other hand, the Ottomans could see a greater potential for security in aligning with the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia) so their choice of sides in WWI was by no means set in stone. Supposedly, the British were meant to be courting the Ottomans, but they made the interesting decision to confiscate a newly constructed dreadnought battleship along with an unfinished dreadnought, two cruisers, and four destroyers. This made the Ottoman choice to go to war inevitable. It was Winston Churchill who ordered British crews to take the dreadnoughts, an unambiguously illegal act. Given subsequent events, it is hard to believe that Churchill was not either intentionally pushing the Ottomans into the arms of the Central Powers or had convinced himself that the matter was already decided.

Churchill then launched the first oil war in the Middle East. This war was enormous by any standards other than that of the slaughter occurring simultaneously in Europe. It started with the Dardanelles campaign. This was ostensibly to draw Ottoman forces away from the distant Caucasus where they were fighting the Russians. It is unlikely to have achieved much towards that end. Instead after the first couple of weeks it was quite evident that British, French and ANZAC forces were trapped on the rugged shoreline. Despite this they stayed for eight months of futile slaughter. The campaign cost the Ottomans in blood and materiel, but it was more of a setback for the British, and more still of a human tragedy where lives were spent for no real gain.

Having failed to penetrate the Dardanelles, the British kept fighting a war in the Middle East, notably in Iraq and Palestine. They committed over 1.4 million troops to this theatre when the situation in Europe was clearly desperate. The French made their alarm about this known. Given that the later German effort to “bleed France white” led to serious mutinies and came close to forcing France out of the war, it can be said that the British were truly risking a defeat in the Great War itself by pouring so much into their sideshow oil war. 

Along the way the British displayed the perfidy for which they have such renown. First they betrayed their Arab allies by signing the Sykes-Picot Agreement under which Britain and France would carve up the Middle East. Then they signed an armistice with Turkey (formerly Ottomans) which they immediately broke in order to invade and conquer Mosul. In doing so they also betrayed the French who had been given the area under Sykes-Picot. At the end of the war the British had occupied everywhere in the Middle East known to have oil apart from the Persian oil fields that it already controlled. After the war nearly a million imperial military personnel remained to occupy and pacify the region.

Given the cavalier approach that the British had to the agreements it made to induce others to serve its ends, it is striking that the vague Balfour Declaration is still talked about at all, let alone held up as some form of legitimation of the Zionist project. In contrast to promising to “look with favour upon the creation of a Jewish state” the British had explicitly promised the Sharif of Mecca, Hussain bin Ali, an independent Arab state that stretched from the Mediterranean and Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, from the Indian Ocean to the border of Turkey. (The only exception was a small strip roughly corresponding to Syria’s current coastal area.) 

I won’t dwell long on the partition and distribution of Arab lands that occurred. The British attempted to install puppet monarchies, but this provoked resistance. In particular Iraq was combative. Formed from the “3 Provinces” of “al-Iraq” in the Ottoman Empire, Iraq had been the greatest source of fighters in the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule. Though divided ethnically and by sect, the population of Iraq soon found themselves united by the common hatred of the British presence, British exactions and British violence. Intended puppet leaders have been hard to control in Iraq because of its natural wealth and because its surface divisions are outweighed by a long sense of shared identity and history. It is the Cradle of Civilisation and its peoples have a far longer record of working together as one polity than do, for example, the peoples of Wales, England, Scotland and the northern bit of Ireland.

Winston Churchill directed the repression of the Iraqi Revolt in 1920, going so far as to advocate using mustard gas against villages. Aeroplanes dropped bombs on villages many years before the German bombing of Guernica would spark international outrage. Arthur “Bomber” Harris (who would later work closely with Churchill to conduct the deadly and controversial British “strategic bombing” during WWII) said that Arabs and Kurd “now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within forty-five minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.” After Iraq was granted “independence” British forces stayed and some sense of how independent Iraq truly was could be measured by the fact that the ostensible monarch of the country, King Ghazi, installed a radio station in his palace to broadcast anti-British political material. He soon died in a car crash that is often attributed to the British or to the pro-British politician Nuri al-Said.

It was in this context that the decisions over the fate of Palestine were taking place: the British needing Middle Eastern oil and finding it difficult to ensure that the Arabs, Kurds, Persians and others living atop the oil would remain compliant. The process of deciding the fate of mandatory Palestine was clearly contested within the British establishment. It may seem like a “conspiracy theory” to state that a clique of oil-loving imperialist Zionists fought for and achieved the establishment of the state of Israel, but that is what the evidence lends itself to. Further, to suggest otherwise is to state that the British state is a monolith where foreign policy is not open to such contestation. The record of disagreements is clear and we can choose to believe that those promoting the establishment of a Jewish homeland were irrational weirdos who had no cogent reason for clinging on to their stance in the face of clear irresolvable difficulties, or we can believe that they kept their own counsel about their motives. They chose to present a face of a sentimental but unreasonable attachment to Zionism because they knew the world at large would not agree that their aims served the greater good. What they intended was unethical and immoral, and its execution would be necessarily criminal, but it was anything but irrational.

The period from 1919 to 1947 was absolutely crucial. The institutional processes show a struggle between different forces pulling in what amounted to opposite directions. Through multiple commissions, enquiries, and three white papers the British foreign affairs establishment repeatedly returned to the conclusion that no Jewish state could be established without clear violations of the rights of Palestinians and a violation of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. There was simply no legitimate way to honour the vague promise of the Balfour declaration which, after all, included the phrase “…nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Rashid Khalidi thinks that there is a trick in the Balfour Declaration in that it mentions a national identity for Jewish people but not for Palestinians. I think that is according too much credence to the document. Similarly one of the experts on “Balfour: Seeds of Discord” states that the declaration accorded “civil” but not “political” rights but this is not a real division. It is a convention to divide political from civil rights, but the principle of equality before the law inevitably leads to equal political rights. In normal usage the term “civil” refers to political participation. Voting rights, for example, were intrinsic to civil rights struggles in the USA and Northern Ireland. 

Even in discussing semantics we are missing the point. The fact that such microscopic focus is given to the 67 words of the Balfour Declaration is a testament to the pressure to find non-realist explanations for British behaviour. In reality the Balfour Declaration is a meaningless piece of paper and, as I will discuss, Israel could never have been established as a Jewish state in anything like the form that exists today if it did not ethnically cleanse the non-Jewish community and steal their property. To say that this prejudiced “the civil rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine” is a massive understatement.

Ignoring the pointless Balfour Declaration (as we all should) the recognised power that the British had over the land of Palestine came from a League of Nations Mandate. The League’s charter provides for Mandates for League members to exercise power over nations that were no longer under the sovereignty of the defeated empires of Germany, Turkey and Austria-Hungary but were deemed unready for self-rule. The pertinent section for Palestine states: “Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone.” Note the use of the term “independent nations”.

The Balfour Declaration was incorporated in the Mandate, but I must restate here that Zionists were never intending to create a “Jewish Homeland” that could be created without massively violating the civil rights of non-Jewish Palestinians. The Balfour Declaration was not just a dead letter, it was a stillborn letter that never drew a single metaphorical breath. 

The Mandate mentions Jews many times but doggedly refuses to accord any character to any other inhabitant of Palestine. This is quite striking given that nearly 90% of the population were non-Jewish Palestinians and that the League charter states that the Mandate is based on there being a provisionally recognised independent nation. Striking or not, though, it is an exercise in propaganda rather than legally significant. As absent as the Muslims, Christians, Druze and other non-Jewish people’s may be from the text in specificity, they are still there in every legal sense. Universal and general terms (such as the oft-appearing word “communities”) clearly cannot exclude non-Jewish peoples. The imperialists might have wished to create an openly discriminatory Mandate but were forced to affirm that no “discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language.”

An honest process would have recognised the intractability of the problem as soon as it was identified. An honest process would have acknowledged that the rights accorded to the Palestinian people in the League of Nations Charter, which is where the Mandate derives its claims to legitimacy, and in the Mandate itself make the creation of a Jewish state as such impossible. The conclusions reached by the 1939 White Paper should have been reached far earlier and should have been accepted and implemented. The 1939 White Paper rejected partition and proposed limiting Jewish immigration while transitioning to a sovereign state of Palestine that would be binational in nature. The problem was that, over the years, the abrogation of the rights of Palestinians in order to establish a Jewish state had been rejected many times and no case had been made, nor could be, that provided a path that would in any way satisfy Zionist desires while honouring the rights of the “non-Jewish communities”. With each such finding, though, the British would pointedly revert to the promise of a Jewish homeland in the mandate in order to reject these findings. These are repeated arguments from consequence, which is to say that they are fallacious. They do not deal with presented evidence and reasoning but instead attack the conclusions. It is a legalistic rhetorical trick undertaken in bad faith, and it happened repeatedly.

And what, we might ask, was the pressing need to keep perverting the course of the bureaucracy like that? Once again the conventional historiography would have us believe that it is the work of MJP. Worse still, given that most Jews were not Zionists it seems that the Magic Jew Power was controlled by a Zionist conspiracy. That would be industrial-grade anti-Semitism, and while it is tempting to believe Balfour et al. capable of such twisted thinking, it is not believable. One of their own colleagues, Edwin Montagu who was Secretary of State for India at the time, was an anti-Zionist Jew who made it amply clear that he thought the project anti-Semitic and a source of danger for Jewish people.

We are left with no declared motive on the part of British imperialists that holds up to scrutiny. Therefore we must search for an undeclared motive among at least some of the decision-makers. We might not be able to draw the straight line of an overt declaration that shows a concern for oil directly. As far as I know there is no document to that effect that would satisfy the vulgar empiricists that shamble through the history departments of the world seeking archival proof in the manner of zombies seeking brains. The straight line does not exist, but there are three dots labelled “1”, “2”, and “3” that just happen to lie in a straight line for anyone to join with minimal effort.

The final acts leading to the Nakba also fit the picture of a divided British establishment with some doing everything possible to establish a Jewish state and refusing to accept defeat simply because it could not be done in a legally or morally acceptable manner. The horrors of the Shoah had created a sense of urgency and exception in sentiment, but when the details were taken into account it is very clear that establishing a Jewish state would require a large scale genocide by historical standards. I will explain why this was necessary shortly, but I do want to acknowledge that this large-scale genocide was dwarfed in people’s minds by the scale of death during the recent War and that this will have blunted sensibilities. That said, more sensitive and engaged individuals like Folke Bernadotte, were not inclined to ignore some people’s rights because others had suffered such extremities. Bernadotte, famous for having rescued many Jews and others from Nazi camps, was supportive of “the aspirations of the Jews” but was even-handed enough that members of Lehi, a Zionist paramilitary group often known as the Stern Gang, assassinated him. (One of the three planners of the murder, Yitzhak Shamir, would become the Prime Minister of Israel in 1983). It is reasonable to think that Bernadotte was genuinely sympathetic to Zionism in the abstract but Lehi, like Ze’ev Jabotinski before them, knew that an Israeli state could not be created without genocidal violence. Bernadotte’s condemnation of violence against Palestinians, given his stature, could have harmed the Zionist cause greatly.

I won’t repeat here what I have already written elsewhere on the subject of the genocidal nature of the occupation of Palestine, but a recounting of events with a focus on the practical needs of a “Jewish state” will show anew that genocide was always a pre-requisite even if the word itself was unspeakable.

The British were never able to square the circle of allowing the creation of a Jewish state without clearly violating the rights of the indigenous inhabitants, moreover the gap was far greater than we might suspect now that the establishment of Israel is a fait accompli. Having first rejected its own 1937 partition plan and then rejected its own rejection, the British took to playing the victim. They fobbed the problem off on the UN. Eventually this led in late 1947 to UNGA Resolution 181 laying out a partition plan. The UK abstained from the vote, but we now know that they lobbied vigorously for others to vote in favour of partition.

Two things are worth noting about UNGAR 181. The first is that General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding. Israel, a country that is second only to the USA in violating General Assembly resolutions, should be the first to admit that. The second is that if everyone had agreed to abide by the provisions of UNGAR 181 and there had been a peaceful implementation of the partition plan it would have simply resulted in a temporary and unsustainable partition of a single Palestinian state. Without genocidal violence and ethnic cleansing there could never have been a “Jewish state”. Perhaps even more crucially a Jewish state could not exist without mass theft of Palestinian property.

As things stood the Jewish partition designated in UNGAR 181 would not even have had a Jewish majority without ethnic cleansing. Moreover, Jews owned only about 20% of the land in the partition and something like 10% of the commercial property and small enterprises. Even if they had not instituted a democracy in which they were outnumbered from the outset, respect of the civil rights of Palestinians would have left them totally economically dependent on Palestinians and without the resources they needed to allow the mass Jewish migration that later occurred. The property of refugees was taken and nationalised under the rationale that the owners had chosen to abandon it and were designated “absentees” while being denied the right to return. This created a massive national estate. Much of this was administered by the Jewish National Fund which by its own constitution served only Jews.

After the Nakba Israel established itself on 72% of the land of Mandatory Palestine which in 1945 was only 30% Jewish by population. Despite this the ethnic cleansing they had carried out created a territory with a clear Jewish majority. Israel passed a law of “Return” which referred not to the expelled indigenous inhabitants but to all Jews who were given the right to “return” to Israel from wherever in the world they happened to be. When they got there it was absolutely necessary that they be leased residential, horticultural, agricultural and commercial property or land on which to develop these things. Due to the role of the Jewish National Fund these instant citizens immediately had greater access to these resources than the remnant Palestinians who had gained Israeli citizenship.

It is not hard to imagine what would have happened if the Partition Plan had been implemented. The “Jewish State” could not have survived. There could be no “democratic” elections. Palestinian property ownership and tenure would have needed to be violated or property owning Palestinians would have become increasingly wealthy and empowered by the influx of Jewish immigrants which would have made it difficult to suppress their political participation. The Jewish state needed the violent dispossession of Palestinians in order to be born, but without the credible excuse of conflict it could not have done so and then claimed to be lawful and democratic. The 1947-48 War was crucial to them.

Let me be clear here, I am not saying that Palestinians and the Arab countries should have embraced the Partition Plan. They had no reason to and it would not have stopped the war anyway. UNGAR 181, like the Balfour Declaration, did not show a path towards the legitimate establishment of a Jewish state. It was a piece of theatre. It was an act of public diplomacy designed to give a pretext of legitimacy to an enterprise that simply could not be justified on closer examination.

Genocide is almost invariably carried out under the cover of military conflict. It was true in 1947 and it is true today. Revisionist Zionists knew from the outset that acts of mass violence against the Palestinian people were necessary in order to establish a state of Israel. The first violence that occurred after the Partition Plan was an attack on a Jewish bus, but the perpetrators of these murders were retaliating for murders carried out 10 days before by Lehi. After UNGAR 181 violence escalated and the British largely allowed it to happen. Bearing in mind that UNGAR 181 was not legally binding it did not absolve the British of any responsibilities at all.

The British Government rejected the Partition Plan (even though their officials had lobbied other countries to pass it) which shouldn’t surprise anyone because it would have violated their Mandate and if they could have justified it they would have done it themselves much earlier. They decided to end their mandate in May 1948, but instead of doing what they were clearly obliged to do – create an orderly transition to a sovereign state for the people of Palestine – they allowed violence to spiral out of control. They refused to cooperate with the UN, the non-Jewish Palestinians, or the Jews to work towards a transition. Then in February of 1948, once facts on the ground had made their responsibilities seem impossible to fulfil, they switched to supporting partition and the annexation of non-Jewish parts of Palestine to Transjordan (today’s Jordan). In March Zionist forces began executing the infamous Plan Dalet.

Some Zionist historians claim that Plan Dalet was defensive. It sought to clear threats from around pockets of Jewish population including those that lay outside of the area designated for Jews in the Partition Plan. According to this reasoning the ethnic cleansing was a by-product of a legitimate military exercise. The context to that claim was that, as I have already stated, there could never have been a Jewish state if they had not ethnically cleansed that part of Palestine. Furthermore, they did not give back the land beyond that delineated in the UN Partition Plan. Also, they did not allow these supposedly accidental refugees to return, instead they passed a law to prevent their re-entry, confiscate their property and to strip citizenship from any Palestinian citizen of Israel who married one of them. Moreover, they systematically lied for 40 years about why Palestinians fled and if anyone challenged these lies that accused them of being anti-Semitic.

Given the foregoing, my contention is that British imperialists knew that establishing a Jewish state as such was never going to be possible without the violent dispossession of the existing Palestinian people. They could have insisted to Zionists from the outset that a Jewish state was not on the table and worked towards the peaceful establishment of a “Jewish homeland” in a sovereign Palestine that would accord guarantees of freedom from persecution underwritten by the international community. The Palestinian government would control immigration but would be encouraged to accept Jewish immigrants who would bring funding raised overseas into the country to help development. The British had 30 years to do this yet they chose to keep the dream of a Jewish state alive for their own purposes.

The British wanted a “loyal little Ulster” but they needed it to be in actual or immanent conflict with the Arab world for it to be of use. When the US replaced the UK in the patron role they referred to Israel as one of their “cops on the beat”. This was the term used by Nixon’s Defense Secretary Melvin Laird to refer to Iran, Turkey and Israel. These three non-Arab countries form a triangle around the richest oil fields in the world and it is pretty striking that they would be considered as policing the region when most of the Arab regimes in the area were also US clients at the time. The threat of Arab and pan-Arab nationalism to the ability to control global energy supplies was intense and it is still significant today. This is only aggravated by Islamic solidarity.

Of course the British had no crystal ball to see the future, but it is worth thinking about the nature of the state of Israel now. Both in actions during the mandate period and actions afterwards the US and UK have created a state that can never know peace. The US in particular has exercised its international power, most notably in UN Security Council vetoes, to create an impunity that fuels Israeli delusions of peace through total victory. Israel is still seeking to square the circle that the British could never square.

George Orwell wrote that those who control the present control the past, and those who control the past control the future. He meant that those who shape our understanding of history also shape our beliefs about the present and our reactions to events. The proof of his insight is all around us, but as with all such concepts there are limitations, and those can be very important. There are gross facts that cannot be twisted or suppressed by shared indoctrination. The Nazis, for example, despite having a very strong grip on the communications and ideology of the German people, could not have declared that they had achieved victory in the siege of Stalingrad (though I suspect in early 1943 they would have loved to do so). Some things are resistant to distortion. Words are not simply arbitrary signifiers, they exist within webs of meaning. Israel has laboured tirelessly in arguing that Palestinians have no human rights on the grounds that they are stateless and that there is no such thing as a Palestinian. Rhetorical racism aside, though, they cannot claim that Palestinians are not human beings. 

Zionists cannot simply declare Palestinians to be non-humans, though many can be brainwashed into an emotional state in which Palestinians are inhuman or far less human than Israelis. The Orwellianism succeeds in that many people in the world have accepted Israel’s right to defend itself by killing Palestinians without thinking for a second that the Palestinians have the same right only more so because they are by far the greater victims of violence. The problem for Israel is that in formal and juridical contexts it is impossible to dehumanise people in that way.

If the Nakba had happened in 1910 Israel might have been able to establish a Jewish-state-accompli, but after World War II people were writing a new rulebook of international law and human rights. Obviously we have not reached a point where those rules stop powerful state actors from committing crimes, but they do create an historical record in which those crimes are illegitimate. As long as they still stand and hold sway over officialdom, they limit the rewriting of history.

The key problem that Israel has is that it cannot undo the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to return. Due to timing Palestinian refugees come under the mandate of UNRWA instead of the UN High Commission for Refugees, and UNRWA doesn’t have the same mandate to seek durable resolution through voluntary repatriation, but that does not mean that Palestinians don’t have the right to return. Rather like the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, the failure to name a specific right for Palestinians does not mean that it does not exist. The right of displaced persons to return to their homeland is a human right derived from Articles 13-15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Palestinians are humans, ergo they have that right.

Israel’s admittance to the United Nations was conditioned on its compliance with UNGAR 194 which, among other things, “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” Most Palestinians are refugees, including half of those in the occupied territories. Clearly Israel did not comply with that resolution. Clearly UN members did not expect it to, but they could not simply pretend that Palestinian refugees did not exist. Their humanity was, and is, a gross fact that cannot simply be ignored for political expediency.

Though under immense pressure Yasser Arafat and the PLO did not renounce the Palestinian right of return in 2000, but if they had it would not have extinguished that right. It is typical of the delusory thinking that Israel is falling into that the leadership thought that Arafat had some magic power to abrogate the rights of Palestinians on the basis that he is a Leader. The whole point of human rights is that political leaders cannot arbitrarily cancel them. They wouldn’t be much use otherwise would they?

I am sure that there have been times in its history when Israel might have found a way to resolve issues peacefully in a way that had enough legitimacy to be lasting. It would have been painful and imperfect and it would have left some injustices unredeemed, but it could have ended the violence and unremitting oppression and crushing injustice that Palestinians have endured for generations. Instead the US gave Israel unconditional aid and assistance that was a poison. They have controlled the occupied territories for 67 years, meaning that they have made subjects of half of the world’s Palestinians without granting them rights while grotesquely claiming to be the “only democracy in the Middle East”. Drunk on the impunity gifted by the Western world and Israel’s own immense military power, they refuse to even say where their borders are, sponsoring a colonisation and ethnic cleansing programme in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Our political leaders, in obedience to Orwellian principles of power, act as if this is not happening. It is happening, though, and the gross fact is that its victims are human beings.

Palestinians are not transitory phenomena. They are not simply a colour on a demographic map that can be changed with a paintbrush. They are human and their lives, their existences, their very breaths are gross facts that doom the state of Israel to fall. In its mania for a “final status” and in its awareness of the “demographic threat” Israel becomes ever more overtly genocidal. They act as if they can win by inflicting enough pain that the enemy will bend to their will, but they can only get what they seek by the non-existence of all Palestinians. It will not happen and the further they go down that path the worse it will be for both peoples. They cannot kill all Palestinians and the more they do kill the more they are repudiated internationally. The death they have unleashed on Gaza, which sadly will continue to rise even after the direct violence has ended, will never be forgotten, and what can they achieve from it? Seizing the northern third of the strip? It gets them no closer to their goal. Their goal recedes with every step they take towards it.

In the end, whose purposes does this serve? It serves an Empire Complex with military, intelligence, arms, financial, and energy interests at the core, but Israelis only have a fool’s paradise. Zionists could only ever have achieved their desires by making immense compromises in order that they could have a place of Jewish belonging and safety. Perhaps that was never possible, but if it was it could never be made as an exclusive Jewish ethno-state. Fed on the narcotic of impunity and the hallucinogen of exceptionalism they have for generations made it seem natural that the plucky Jewish state should continue – an oasis of [insert Western value here] in a desert of barbarism: 

Enlightenment? Of course.

Modernism? Naturally. 

Socialism? Absolutely. 

Not too much socialism? Heaven forfend! 

Secularism? Well we are a Jewish state, so… just kidding of course we are secular. 

Whatever you want, that is what we are. We are the Athenian Sparta. We shoot. We cry. We write the history and law textbooks to teach everyone that we had no choice.

It all seemed so real, but it was never real because Palestinians exist. Palestine exists.

The loyal little Ulster has served its purpose well, but its time is coming to an end. The UK and US will jettison Israel when it suits them. Israel has been a tool of empire but it never suited the empire to create a stable peaceful Jewish state or homeland. Israelis will someday have to choose to live in a democratic state of Palestine, or to emigrate. There is no point in continuing to kill to chase a dream that can never be.

The post Why and How the UK and US Shaped Israel to Create Endless Conflict first appeared on Dissident Voice.


This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Kieran Kelly.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.


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