Palestine as a unitary republic with equal rights for all

Analysis and proposals by the democratic minority in the UN General Assembly of 1947
against the colonial partition plan voted on November 29, 1947

Editor's 2nd supplement to the
Report of Sub-Committee 2
to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian question
of the UN General Assembly 1947

(in the printed document)
Introduction 270
Chapter I: Legal issues connected with the Palestine problem 272
Chapter II: Relief of Jewish refugees and displaced persons 283
Chapter III: Proposals for the constitution and future government of Palestine 288
Chapter IV: Conclusions 299
Appendices 304

In this 2nd editor's supplement: Looking back on the 1st World War

Kaiser, Balfour, McMahon: Duping Jews for the war in Europe, the Arabs for the conquest of the "Land Bridge to India"

  1. Maxime Rodinson on the Balfour Declaration
  2. "To the Jews in Poland" - Yiddish leaflet of the Austro-German military on the Eastern Front of the 1st World War
  3. The 1937 Peel Commission on the Balfour Declaration
  4. The 1937 Peel Commission on the 'McMahon Pledge'
  1. Map of the Battle of Caporetto or 12th Battle of the Isonzo in October 1917.
  2. Land route to India.
  3. Map of the Entente's plan to divide the Osman Empire up between Russia, France, Italy and Britain
  4. Map from 1937 Peel Report showing the Ottoman adminstrative divisions mentioned in the "McMahon-Pledge"
  5. Enhanced version of the map showing the McMahon districts
  6. Official map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement with their signatures
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Maxime Rodinson on the Balfour Declaration

This is quoted from "Israel, a Colonial Settler State" by Maxime Rodinson, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1973. Translated by David Thorstad from the French original published 1967 in a special issue of "Les Temps Modernes".

The great motives behind the declaration lie in the desired propagandistic impact on the Jews of the Central Empires and Russia, and the hope of developing a claim in the future liquidation of the Ottoman Empire. The Jews of Germany (where the offices of the Zionist Organization were located until 1914) and of Austria-Hungary had been won to the war effort largely because it involved fighting Czarist Russia, persecutor of the Jews. In conquered Russian territory, the Germans had given the appearance of being protectors of the oppressed Jews and their liberators "from the Muscovite yoke." [see document below, Ed.]

The Russian Revolution reinforced defeatist tendencies inside Russia. An important role in the Russian revolutionary movement was attributed to Jews. It was crucial to give them reasons to support the allied cause. It is by no means coincidental that the Balfour Declaration preceded by five days the fateful date of November 7 (October 25 on the Julian calendar) when the Bolsheviks took power. One of the aims of the declaration was to support Kerensky.

Thought was also given to the weight of the Jews in the United States, a country that had just joined forces with the Allies. A maximum effort on its part was needed at a time when it was more inclined toward pacifism.

The German and Austrian Zionists, who were carrying on negotiations with their governments to obtain a kind of "Balfour Declaration" from the Turkish government, had to be brought along.

As far as Palestine was concerned, it was not a bad prospect for England to have at its disposal in the Near East a population tied to it both by recognition and need at a time when the agreement of the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein, to mount a revolt against the Turks had been obtained by promising him a large Arab kingdom; when the secret Sykes-Picot agreement (at the beginning of 1916) had divided up this same region into zones of influence between England and France; and when the latter was using its Lebanese contacts especially to lay plans for a greater Syria (including Palestine) under French influence.

To make a special question out of Palestine, and to grant Great Britain a particular responsibility for it, was to provide itself with a solid basis for making demands during the partition that would follow the war. Weizmann insists that it was he and his staff who first asked the reticent English to assume a protectorate role over the future Jewish state. Perhaps. But, the suggestion ended up being very favorably received. And the big obstacle was France, which, through Georges Picot, was laying claim to this protectorate over Palestine if a Jewish state were created.

The Balfour Declaration, which was a British political act, could only be applied in the wake of a successful military undertaking attributable essentially to Great Britain, backed up by France and the United States: victory over the Ottoman Empire in Palestine and Syria at the end of 1917 and in 1918. At that point, the most concrete political problems were raised. Until then, as Weizmann says, the Arab question had not been in the foreground and the Zionists had in fact ignored it. Now it became crucial. All of a sudden, the Arabs became an important element in the political game.

German and Austro-Hungarian armies try to recruit Polish Jews to their war against Russia

This is the text of the leaflet mentioned above by Maxime Rodinson, which was distributed by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies on their advance thru the Russian ruled part of Poland.

This leaflet is a typical example for the treatment of Jews as "good Jews" on the one hand, and "bad Jews" on the other, as layed out by Winston Churchill in his February 8, 1920 article "Zionism versus Bolshevism" and Lenin's 1916 article on "German and Non-German Chauvinism" (in this archive in German language). While they tried to win Jews for the German war effort, the Polish born "bad Jew" Rosa Luxemburg was put in jail.

To counter this propaganda by the Central Powers was one of the aims of the Balfour Declaration.

We reproduce the text in both the Hebrew and Yiddish original, and the transscripton to latin script of the Yiddish version of this leaflet as found in Jüdisch-deutsche Texte, Lesebuch zur Einführung in Denken, Leben und Sprache der osteuropäischen Juden by Hermann L. Strack. Leipzig, Hinrichs, 1917, p.9. Strack found the Yiddish text in No. 1, vol. 1 of the short lived magazine Qôl mevaśśēr, published in Berlin in August 1914. Many thanks to the „Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz‟ for providing scans of the relevant pages and allowing to use those text from this magazine which is kept there with shelf-mark 4" Krieg 1914/25798.

Transscription of the yiddish text in latin script

Ʒu di iden in pȏlen.

di heldiše armiës fun di grȏße mitteleiropeïše regirungen, deitšland un estreich-ungarn, zeinen arein in pȏlen. der mechtiger marš fun unzere armiës hot geʒwungen di despotiše russiše regirung ʒu antlaufen. unzere fåhnen brengen eich recht un freiheit: gleiche birgerrecht, freiheit far’n glauben, freiheit ʒu arbeiten umgeštērt in alle ʒweigen fun ekonomišen un kulturellen leben in eier geist.

Ʒu lang hot ihr zich geplågt unter dem eizernem moskowitišen joch. wi freind kummen mir ʒu eich. di barbariše fremde regirung iz aus! di gleiche recht far iden zoll werin gebaut auf feste fundamenten. låzt eich ništ wi a sak mål friher obnarren durch ḥanūfāhdige feršprechungen! ʒu hot ništ auch in 1905 der ʒar ʒugezågt di gleiche recht far iden, un ʒu hot er ništ darauf gegeben dem hechsten manifest? wi hot men eich obgeʒåhlt dem dåzigen ḥōb, wos men hot auf zich genummen far der ganʒer welt? gedenkt dos araustreiben, wos men treibt tågteglich di idiše massen fun zeiere eingezessene mᵉḳōmōth! gedenkt kišinew, homel, bialistok, siedleʒ un fiel hunderter andere blutige pogromes! gedenkt dem beilis-proʒess un di arbeit fun di barbariše regirung ʒu ferbreiten dem šrekklichen ligen fun blutgebrauch bei di iden!

azȏ hot der ʒar gehalten zein monarchiš wort, wos er hot gegeben zeiendig in di klemm! er iz iʒt wider in di klemm. ot dos iz di sibbāh fun zeine feršprechungen.

eier heiliger ḥōb iz iʒt ʒusammenʒunehmen alle kreften, mitʒuarbeiten bei di befreiung. alle folkskreften: eier junger dōr, eiere ḳᵉhillōth, eiere ḥebrōth muzen zich stellen wie ein mann, mitʒuhelfen ʒu di heilige zach. mir erwarten, az ihr wett beweizen durch fakten eier ferstand un eier ibergegebenheit.

wendet zich mit dem grēßten biṭṭāḥōn ʒu di kommandanten fun unzer militēr in' di erter, wos zeinen nåhent ʒu eich, alle sorten liferungen wellen weren bald un gut beʒåhlt. bahnt dem weg ʒu beʒwingen in ganʒen dem śōne un zu brengen dem niʒʒāḥōn fun freiheit un gerechtigkeit!

di obere leitung fun di ferbindete deitše un estreich-ungariše armiës

To the Jews in Poland

Translation by Lüko Willms for

The valiant armies of the great central European governments, Germany and Austria-Hungary, have entered Poland. The powerful march of our armies has forced the despotic Russian government to flee. Our flags bring you freedom and justice: equal civil rights, freedom of religion, freedom to freely work in all branches of the economic and cultural life in your spirit [eier geist].

Too long you have suffered under the iron Moscovite yoke. We come as friends to you. The barbaric foreign government is over! Equal rights for Jews shall be established on solid foundations. Don't let yourself as so often in the past be fooled by flattering promises!

Hasn't the Czar in 1905 pledged equal rights for Jews, and hasn't he discarded his highest manifest?

How have they discharged the great pledge which they had given before the whole world?

Remember the expulsions, how day after day Jewish masses are being driven out of their ancestral places? Remember Kishinev, Hommel, Bialystok, Sidlce and hundreds of other bloody pogroms! Remember the Beilis trial and the effort of the barbaric government to spread the blood libel!

So the Czar has kept his word which he had given when he was in a tight spot. And that is the reason for his promises.

Your holy duty is now to gather all forces to collaborate in the liberation (deliverance). Muster all popular forces: your young generation, your communities, your associations as one man to help in the holy task. We expect that you will prove by your deeds your understanding and your dedication.

Turn with your trust to our local military commanders near to your places. All kinds of supplies will be payed soon and well.

Pave the way to the total defeat of the enemy for the victory for freedom and justice!

The supreme command of the allied German and Austro-Hungarian armies.

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This is the Hebrew version from "Kol Mebasser"

אל היהודים בפולין

מחנות הצבא נאדרי־הנצהון אשר לממלכות ברית אירופה התיכונה, גרמניה ואופטריה־אונגריה, באו בגבול פולין.

העריצות הרוסית מהרה לנום ולהמלט על נפשה מפני השתערות היילותינו, אשר איש לא יתיצב לפניהם.

דגלינו נושאים אליכם משפט וחופש: שווי־זכיות־אזרה גמור, חופש הדת והמסורת, חירות ודרור של יצירה ועבודה בכל מקצעות הכלכלה והתרבות, ברוחכם.

והנה אנו באים אליכם כידידים. תקופה חדשה תפתה לפולין. בכל כחנו נשים מבטה, והיינו למעוז לגאולת כל יושבי הארץ, שווי־זכיות היהודים עומד להוםד על יסודות הזקים.

אל התנו להשלות את נפשכם על ידי הבטחות רמיה, כאשר קו־כם זה פעמים רבות! גם בשנת 1905 הבטיחכם הממשלה לתת לכם שווי זכיות.

איך הקימה את דברה, אשר פרסמה בכל תקף בתור פתגם מלכות 1 זכרו את הגירושים הנוראים ואת הגליות של המוני אחיכם י זכרו את קישינוב, את הומיל, את ביליפטוק, את שדלץ, ועוד פוגרומי־דמים למאות!

זכרו את משפט ביילים ואת היגיעות החוזרות ובאות מטעם הממשלה להחזיק בקרב העם את עלילת הדם הנתעבה!

ככה שמרה הממשלה את הבטחתה בכל תקף, שהבטיחה בשעת דחקה.

גם הפעם הגיע לה שעת הדחק!

בשעת דחקה הוציאה דבה על מעשה שעשו האשכנזים בקאליש. אמת הדבר הוא שהרוסים שלהו את האסירים מבית הכלא ומסרו בידם כלי מלהמה לירות באשכנזים והמה הכרחו להשתמש בכליהם כד להציל את נפשם ולהשיב המשפט והסדר על מכונם.

חובתכם הקדושה היא עתה, להתאמץ בכל כחכם להזק את דבר השהרור.

פנו, בלב מלא בטהון, אל מצביאי חילנו הקרובים אל־כם.! *

בעד כל סחורה שתופפק, ישולם טבין ותקילין.

פלו סלו את הדרך, להכריע כלה את האויב, ולהביא את ההופש ואת הצדק לנצהון גמור!

ההנהגה העליונה של צבאות גרמניה ואוסטריה־אונגריה המאוחרים.

This is the Yiddish version in Hebrew script from "Kol Mebasser"

אל היהודים בפולין

מחנות הצבא נאדרי־הנצהון אשר לממלכות ברית אירופה התיכונה, גרמניה ואופטריה־אונגריה, באו בגבול פולין.

העריצות הרוסית מהרה לנום ולהמלט על נפשה מפני השתערות היילותינו, אשר איש לא יתיצב לפניהם.

דגלינו נושאים אליכם משפט וחופש: שווי־זכיות־אזרה גמור, חופש הדת והמסורת, חירות ודרור של יצירה ועבודה בכל מקצעות הכלכלה והתרבות, ברוחכם.

והנה אנו באים אליכם כידידים. תקופה חדשה תפתה לפולין. בכל כחנו נשים מבטה, והיינו למעוז לגאולת כל יושבי הארץ, שווי־זכיות היהודים עומד להוםד על יסודות הזקים.

אל התנו להשלות את נפשכם על ידי הבטחות רמיה, כאשר קו־כם זה פעמים רבות! גם בשנת 1905 הבטיחכם הממשלה לתת לכם שווי זכיות.

איך הקימה את דברה, אשר פרסמה בכל תקף בתור פתגם מלכות 1 זכרו את הגירושים הנוראים ואת הגליות של המוני אחיכם י זכרו את קישינוב, את הומיל, את ביליפטוק, את שדלץ, ועוד פוגרומי־דמים למאות!

זכרו את משפט ביילים ואת היגיעות החוזרות ובאות מטעם הממשלה להחזיק בקרב העם את עלילת הדם הנתעבה!

ככה שמרה הממשלה את הבטחתה בכל תקף, שהבטיחה בשעת דחקה.

גם הפעם הגיע לה שעת הדחק!

בשעת דחקה הוציאה דבה על מעשה שעשו האשכנזים בקאליש. אמת הדבר הוא שהרוסים שלהו את האסירים מבית הכלא ומסרו בידם כלי מלהמה לירות באשכנזים והמה הכרחו להשתמש בכליהם כד להציל את נפשם ולהשיב המשפט והסדר על מכונם.

חובתכם הקדושה היא עתה, להתאמץ בכל כחכם להזק את דבר השהרור.

פנו, בלב מלא בטהון, אל מצביאי חילנו הקרובים אל־כם.! *

בעד כל סחורה שתופפק, ישולם טבין ותקילין.

פלו סלו את הדרך, להכריע כלה את האויב, ולהביא את ההופש ואת הצדק לנצהון גמור!

ההנהגה העליונה של צבאות גרמניה ואוסטריה־אונגריה המאוחרים.

The 1937 Peel Commission on the Balfour Declaration

The British Peel Commission was formed in Summer 1936 during the Arab revolts in all of historic Syria, and to find out what happened, why, and what to do about it. Actually called "Palestine Royal Commission", it is usually called the "Peel Commission" after its chairperson "William Robert Wellesley, Earl Peel, Knight Grand Commander of Our Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, Knight Grand Cross of Our Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" as Edward 8th's "Royal Warrant" of 7 August 1936 identified him. The text is reproduced from: Palestine Royal Commission: Report. Presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Parliament by Command of His Majesty; July, 1937. His Majesties Stationary Office, London, 1937 (Cmd. 5479), pages 22-28

This commission was the first to propose a partition of Palestine into a "Jewish" state and an "Arab" state. Illustrations in this and the next section have been added by the editor, except the Map No. 1 from the Peel Commission Report.

The 1937 Peel Commission Report, Chapter II. 2: The Balfour Declaration

13.The entry of the Turkish Empire into the War excited the hopes of Jewish as well as Arab nationalism, An Allied victory, it seemed, would open the way to a Jewish return to Palestine on a far larger scale than had hitherto been regarded as practicable. The Zionist leaders, therefore, incorporated their ideas in a definite scheme to be submitted to the Allied Governments at the first favourable moment. One serious obstacle in their path, the opposition of the Czarist Russian Government, was losing its force by the end of 1916; and in February, 1917, when the British advance on Palestine was imminent, formal negotiations were opened between the Zionists and the British Government. Similar negotiations ensued with the French and Italian Governments. In Paris and Rome as in London the Zionist project was officially approved. The publication of this approval was delayed till at the end of October 1917, the success of General Allenby’s invasion of Palestine seemed certain. On the 2nd November the British Government published a statement of policy, afterwards known as the “Balfour Declaration”, which took the form of a letter from Mr. Balfour, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to Lord Rothschild: -

“I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet:

‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and 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.’

 “I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”

14. The text of the Declaration had been submitted to President Wilson and had been approved by him before its publication. On the 14th February and the 9th May, 1918, the French and Italian Governments publicly endorsed it.

15. Like the McMahon Pledge, the Balfour Declaration was not an expression of a wholly new sentiment. Just as British public opinion had sympathized before the War with the victims of the old Ottoman regime, so it had sympathized with the victims of anti-Semitic persecution. But in both cases the time and manner in which these sympathies were translated into action were determined by the exigencies of the War. In the evidence he gave before us Mr. Lloyd George, who was Prime Minister at the time, stated that, while the Zionist cause had been widely supported in Britain and America before November, 1917, the launching of the Balfour Declaration at that time was “due to propagandist reasons”; and he outlined the serious position in which the Allied and Associated Powers then were. The Roumanians had been crushed. The Russian Army was demoralized. The French Army was unable at the moment to take the offensive on a large scale. The Italians had sustained a great defeat at Caporetto. Millions of tons of British shipping had been sunk by German submarines. No American divisions were yet available in the trenches. In this critical situation it was believed that Jewish sympathy or the reverse would make a substantial difference one way or the other to the Allied cause. In particular Jewish sympathy would confirm the support of American Jewry, and would make it more difficult for Germany to reduce her military commitments and improve her economic position on the eastern front.

16. Those were the circumstances in which the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration.

“The Zionist leaders [Mr. Lloyd George informed us] gave us a definite promise that, if the Allies committed themselves to giving facilities for the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause. They kept their word.”

Map shows advances of Austro-German troops in the 12th Battle of the Isonzo, also called Battle of Caporetto. Klick for opening the page in commons.Wikimedia
Map shows advances of Austro-German troops in the Battle of Caporetto (German: Karfreit; Slovenian: Kobarid). Source Wikipedia. This battle, also called the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, which was still waging when the Balfour Declaration was published.

17. To inform World Jewry of the Declaration millions of leaflets were circulated throughout the Jewish communities. They were dropped from the air on German and Austrian towns, and widely distributed through the Jewish belt from Poland to the Black Sea.

18. The Central Powers, meantime, had also recognized the war-value of Jewish sympathy, At the time of the Balfour Declaration the German Government was doing all it could to win the Zionist Movement over to its side; and after the Declaration it hastened, in conjunction with its Turkish allies, to formu­late a rival proposition. A kind of chartered company was to be created for German Zionists. It would have a limited form of local self-government and a right of immigration into Palestine. By the end of 1917 it was known that the Turks were willing to accept a scheme on those lines; but, before the concessions were finally confirmed in Constantinople, Palestine was in General Allenby’s hands.

19. The fact that the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 in order to enlist Jewish support for the Allies and the fact that this support was forthcoming are not sufficiently appreciated in Palestine. The Arabs do not appear to realize in the first place that the present position of the Arab world as a whole is mainly due to the great sacrifices made by the Allied and Associated Powers in the War and, secondly, that, in so far as the Balfour Declaration helped to bring about the Allies’ victory, it helped to bring about the emancipation of all the Arab countries from Turkish rule. If the Turks and their German allies had won the War, it is improbable that all the Arab countries, except Palestine, would now have become or be about to become independent States.

20. We must now consider what the Balfour Declaration meant. We have been permitted to examine the records which bear upon the question and it is clear to us that the words “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home” were the outcome of a compromise between those Ministers who contemplated the ultimate establishment of a Jewish State and those who did not. It is obvious in any case that His Majesty’s Government could not commit itself to the establishment of a Jewish State. It couId only undertake to facilitate the growth of a Home. It would depend mainly on the zeal and enterprise of the Jews whether the Home would grow big enough to become a State. Mr. Lloyd George, who was Prime Minister at the time, informed us in evidence that: -

“The idea was, and this was the interpretation put upon it at the time, that a Jewish State was not to be set up immediately by the Peace Treaty without reference to the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants. On the other hand, it was contemplated that when the time arrived for according representative institutions to Palestine, if the Jews had meanwhile responded to the opportunity afforded them by the idea of a national home and had become a definite majority of the inhabitants, then Palestine would thus become a Jewish Commonwealth.”

21. Thus His Majesty’s Government evidently realized that a Jewish State might in course of time be established, but it was not in a position to say that this would happen, still less to bring it about of its own motion. The Zionist leaders, for their part, recognised that an ultimate Jewish State was not precluded by the terms of the Declaration, and so it was understood elsewhere. “I am persuaded”, said President Wilson on the 3rd March, 1919, “the Allied nations, with the fullest concurrence of our own Government and people, are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth”. General SmutsEd2, who had been a member of the Imperial War Cabinet when the Declaration was published, speaking at Johannesburg on the 3rd November, 1919, foretold an increasing stream of Jewish immigration into Palestine and “in generations to come a great Jewish State rising there once more”. Lord Robert Cecil in 1917, Sir Herbert Samuel in 1919, and Mr. Winston Churchill in 1920 spoke or wrote in terms that could only mean that they contemplated the eventual establishment of a Jewish State. Leading British newspapers were equally explicit in their comments on the Declaration.

22.It remains to describe the reaction of the Balfour Declaration on Arab opinion.

Most of the Arab parts of the Turkish Empire, including ‘Iraq, Syria and Palestine were in British military occupation when fighting with the Turks was ended by the Armistice of the 30th October, 1918; and the Arabs had been encouraged to hope that victory would mean the full realization of their independence. Already, in the previous January, one of the “fourteen points” laid down by President Wilson as the basis of peace, and one which the Allied Powers had accepted without reservation, included the following words: -

“The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.”

23. On the 7th November the British and French Governments issued a joint Declaration of which the essential passages were as follows : -

“The object aimed at by France and Great Britain in prosecuting in the East the war let loose by German ambition is the complete and definite emancipation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks, and the establishment of National Governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the indigenous populations.

“In order to carry out these intentions France and Great Britain are at one in encouraging and assisting the establishment of indigenous Governments and administrations in Syria and Mesopotamia, now liberated by the Allies, and in territories the liberation of which they are engaged in securing, and in recognizing these as soon as they are established. Far from wishing to impose on the populations of these regions any particular institutions, they are only concerned to secure by their support and by adequate assistance the regular working of Governments and administrations freely chosen by the populations themselves”.

Since the Arabs had always regarded Palestine as included in Syria, this announcement seemed to promise all they wanted; and their disappointment was the greater when they learned that the victorious Powers proposed not only to separate Palestine from Syria but to place it under a special form of government in order to implement the policy of the Balfour Declaration. By the Sherif Hussein and his son, the Emir Feisal, who had led the Arabs of the Hedjaz in the War, this policy was regarded as a breach of the “McMahon Pledge”, the only compact of which they had hitherto known. And, even if they had interpreted the Pledge as meaning that Palestine would not be independent but reserved for French or British or international control, they could not have foreseen that such control might cover the establishment of a Jewish National Home.

24.Palestine, however, was a relatively small, slice of territory and, as matters stood at the end of 1918, the Sherif and his family had gone far to realize their ambitions. The whole of the Arab world had been freed from Turkish despotism. The prestige of the Ottoman Caliph had been dimmed, while the Sherif of Mecca had been proclaimed King of the Hedjaz, which was recognized as a Sovereign State and was about to take part, with the Emir Feisal as its chief representative, in the Peace Conference at Paris. Northwards the future might be still uncertain, but the Arab position at the moment was de facto a strong one. The Emir Feisal had ridden into Damascus at the head of the Arab horsemen in the first week of October and, with General Allenby’s permission, had hoisted the Arab flag.

25. When, therefore, the Emir Feisal came to London and Paris he was persuaded not merely to accept but to welcome the policy of the Balfour Declaration. At his camp east of the Jordan in the previous summer he had met Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who had done great service by his chemical discoveries to the Allied cause in the War and had taken a leading part in the Zionist movement and the discussion of the Balfour Declaration. He had been able to convince the Emir of the benefits which the Jewish National Home would bring to Palestine as a whole; and a memorandum which the Emir presented at the Paris Conference was highly conciliatory: -

“In Palestine the enormous majority of the people are Arabs. The Jews are very close to the Arabs in blood, and there is no conflict of character between the two races. In principles we are absolutely at one. Nevertheless, the Arabs cannot risk assuming the responsibility of holding level the scales in the clash of races and religions that have, in this one province, so often involved the world in difficulties. They would wish for the effective super-position of a great trustee, so long as a representative local administration commended itself by actively promoting the material prosperity of the country.”

Still weightier evidence of good understanding was the agreement which was signed on the 3rd January, 1919, by the Emir Feisal, “representing and acting on behalf of the Arab Kingdom of Hedjaz”, and Dr. Weizmann, “representing and acting on behalf of the Zionist Organisation”. It pledged the parties to cordial co-operation between “the Arab State and Palestine”, to the acceptance of the Balfour Declaration, and to the encouragement of the immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale and their rapid settlement on the land. The Emir added a note of reservation to this Agreement to the effect that its execution was dependent on the fulfilment of the claims for Arab independence which he submitted to the Peace Conference.

“If changes are made, I cannot be answerable for failing to carry out this agreement”.

26.The Emir Feisal, in concluding this agreement in his father’s name, was not, it is true, directly representing the Arabs of Palestine; but the Arabs, as has just been pointed out, regarded Syria as one country, and in Syria the Emir’s leadership had been accepted. If his hopes, indeed, had been fulfilled, the development of the situation in Palestine might have been far more peaceful than it has been. As it was, the Agreement marks the one brief moment in the whole story at which a genuine harmony was established between Arab and Jewish statesmanship. If King Hussein and the Emir Feisal secured their big Arab State, they would concede little Palestine to the Jews.

27.Eighteen months later, on the 12th July, 1920, Lord Balfour in an often-quoted speech reiterated the idea of a compromise on that sort of basis. Referring to the difficulties in the path of Zionism, he said: -

“these difficulties I am not sure that I do not rate highest, or at all events first, the inevitable difficulty of dealing with the Arab question as it presents itself within the limits of Palestine. It will require tact, it will require judgment, it will require above all sympathetic good will on the part both of Jew and Arab. So far as the Arabs are concerned – a great, an interesting and an attractive race – I hope they will remember that . . . the Great Powers, and among all the Great Powers most especially Great Britain, has freed them, the Arab race, from the tyranny of their brutal conqueror, who had kept them under his heel for these many centuries. I hope they will remember that it is we who have established the independent Arab sovereignty of the Hedjaz. I hope they will remember that it is we who desire in Mesopotamia to prepare the way for the future of a self-governing, autonomous Arab State. And I hope that, remembering all that, they will not grudge that small notch – for it is no more geographically, whatever it may be historically – that small notch in what are now Arab territories being given to the people who for all these hundreds of years have been separated from it.”

28. Lord Balfour did not mention Syria. At the time of his speech the chance of an agreed settlement based on the co-operation of King Hussein and the Emir Feisal was being nullified by the policy of the French Government, which had never been bound by the “McMahon Pledge”, and was vehemently opposed to the establishment of an Arab State under the Emir Feisal’s control at Damascus. The Emir for his part, backed by strong popular feeling in Syria, had determined to resist the claims of France. In March 1920, he had been proclaimed King of Syria and Palestine by a congress of Syrian notables. By the end of August Damascus had been occupied by a French army, and the Emir expelled from Syria. A year later he was made King of 'Iraq, and in the meantime his brother, Abdullah, had become Emir of the part of historic Palestine east of the Jordan which was allotted under the name of Trans-Jordan to the area of Arab independence, in accordance with the “McMahon Pledge”. Thus, in the end, the royal family of the Hedjaz had not fared ill; but such hope as there had been of settling the problem of Palestine by consent was dead. The Feisal-Weizmann Agreement could not operate: the condition attached to it had not been fulfilled. So the old hostility of the Syrian Arabs to the division of the country and the execution of the Balfour Declaration flared up again. In 1920 and again in 1921, as will be recorded in the next chapter, violent Arab outbreaks against the Jews occurred in Palestine. The conflict between Arab and Jewish nationalism had begun.

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The 1937 Peel Commission on the 'McMahon Pledge'

Land route to India. Drawn in 1822 showing a journey from the British colony India over land to Great Britain. Source Wikipedia
Land route to India. Drawn in 1822 showing a journey from the India over land to Great Britain. Source Wikipedia

This sections shows, how the British promises to the Arabs varied according to the tide of British fortune in the war to conquer "The Land Bridge to India" in the area "East of Suez", and how the Arabs were duped in the end.

The Peel Commission Report, 1937, Chapter II "The War and the Mandate". page 16
1. The Arab Revolt.

1. For many years before the War the Arab Provinces of the Turkish Empire had been restive under the rule of the Sultan at Constantinople, and the Turkish Army had often been engaged in repressing the outbreaks of the free-spirited tribes-men in the Arabian Peninsula. No less dangerous to Ottoman ascendancy was the growth of a nationalist movement among the young intelligenzia of Syria. Its origin may be traced to the awakening, about 1860, of a new interest in Arab history and culture. Societies were established for the study of the Arab golden age and the revival of Arabic literature.

The movement gained impetus from the foundation in 1866 under American auspices of the Syrian Protestant College, soon to be famous throughout the Near East as Roberts College. It did admirable work in acquainting the youth of Syria with the ideas of the Western world; but among them were the ideas of self-government and nationality; and nationalism was as inevitably stimulated by American education in Syria as it was by British education in India.

For a generation and more the cause made little headway under the despotic rule of Abdul Hamid, but the coup d’état of the Young Turks in 1908 seemed for a moment to have opened a new age of freedom throughout the Empire. A constitution was wrested from the Sultan, based on the representation of all the provinces. In the first Parliament, however, the Syrian Arabs were greatly under-represented in the Lower House and they only had three out of forty seats in the Upper House; and it was soon plain that the hopes of autonomous Arab provinces, free to develop Arab life and culture to the full, were to be disappointed.

The efficient Committee of Union and ProgressPeelCUP stood for centralization, not local ”home-rule“, for ”Turcification” rather than an Arab renaissance. Arab nationalism was thus driven under-ground. From 1909 onwards secret societies were founded in Paris, Constantinople, Cairo, Damascus, and Beirut: an Arab Congress was held in Paris in 1913; and the idea gained currency of a general Arab rising, if a favourable opportunity should occur, and the creation of a free and united Arab State with its capital at Damascus. The Turkish Government was not without all knowledge of this seditious propaganda and did what it could to suppress it. The trial of Aziz Ali in 1914 excited considerable attention in Western Europe.

2. Such was the position when on the 31st October, 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered the War.

Two dangers were at once apparent to the Allied Powers. Syria and Palestine might be made the base for a Turco-German attack on the Suez Canal; and the prestige of the Caliphate might be used in an attempt to raise all Islam against the Allies in a Jihad or Holy War. To meet the first danger troops were concentrated in Egypt. To meet the second, negotiations were opened with Hussein, Sherif and Emir of Mecca and hereditary guardian of the Moslem Holy Places of Mecca and Medina. Hussein and his people had long cherished similar ideas of throwing off the Turkish yoke to those of the Syrian nationalists, and it was intimated to him that his participation in the War on the Allies’ side might lead to that result. When the Sultan-Caliph proclaimed the Jihad at Constantinople in November, Hussein refused to allow it to be preached in the mosques of the Holy Cities. But he took no further action, and the next move came from the British side. In June, 1915, British policy as to the future of Arabia Proper was made clear by the issue of a proclamation in Egypt, the the Sudan, and Arabia, announcing that at the conclusion of peace the independence of the Arabian Peninsula would be assured.

3. But there were other Arab provinces in the Turkish Empire and other than British interests involved in its possible dis­ruption. In March, 1915, the French Government explained that in that event France would claim control of Syria, including (as the term had long included) Palestine. This proposition was discussed by a [British] governmental committee which reported in June, 1915, that the French claim to northern Syria should be conceded but that, owing to the world-wide importance of the Holy Land, Jerusalem and part of Palestine should be reserved for international administration.

4. Meanwhile the fortunes of the Allies in this field of the War had prospered. In February, 1915, the Turco-German attack on the Suez Canal was decisively repulsed. In April the Allied occupation of Gallipoli began; and so hopeful seemed its propects for the first few months that by July rumours of the approaching fall of Constantinople were spreading through the East.

Arab opinion reacted quickly. In the first place the secret Nationalist Committee in Syria decided to reject the promises of independence offered them by the Turkish and German Governments and to make common cause with the Sherif of Mecca.PeelDamascusP

Secondly, in a letter dated the 14th July, 1915, Hussein informed Sir Henry McMahon, then [British] High Commissioner in Egypt, as to the terms on which he was prepared to co-operate with Great Britain against the Turks. The essential passage of the letter was as follows: -

”England to acknowledge the independence of the Arab countries, bounded on the north by Mersina and Adana up to 37° of latitude, on which degree falls Birijik, Urfa, Mardin, Midiat, Amadia Island (Jezireh), up to the border of Persia; on the east by the borders of Persia up to the Gulf of Basra; on the south, by the Indian Ocean, with the exception of the position of Aden to remain as it is; on the west, by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea up to Mersina.”

This claim, of course, went far beyond the already promised independence of the Arabian Peninsula. It embraced almost the whole Arab world in Asia. It was clearly inspired to no slight extent by the ideas of Syrian nationalism. Sir Henry McMahon, in a friendly and encouraging reply, declared that the discussion of boundaries was premature.

5. A few weeks earlier the Allied cause had received a serious set-back. On 10th August the British attack on Sari Bair from Suvla Bay[FN Gallipoli] broke down. The fall of Constantinople seemed indefinitely postponed. The risks to which the Arabs would be exposed if they openly revolted were obviously increased. There was consequently a change of tone in the Sherif’s second letter to Sir Henry McMahon, written on the 9th September.

”Your Excellency will pardon me and permit me to say clearly that the coolness and hesitation displayed in the question of the limits and boundaries ... might be taken to infer an estrangement or something of that sort.”

About the same time as Sir Henry McMahon received this letter he was also informed of conversations which had been carried on with a representative of the Syrian Nationalist Committee, who made it clear that the Arabs’ choice between the Central Powers and the Allies would be determined by the nature of British assurances as to their future independence. He asserted that, while the Arabs wanted all the Arab countries to be free, they admitted the existence of British interests in ‘Iraq and French interests on the Syrian coast. They would insist, however, on the independence of the Syrian interior — the districts of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, and Homs. Sir Henry McMahon communicated this information, together with the Sherif’s letters to Sir Edward Grey at the Foreign Office, and he was authorized to reply to the Sherif on the lines he [Sir Henry McMahon] had himself suggested. On the 24th October, accordingly, he wrote the following letter to the Sherif :-

Map No. 1 of the Peel Report showing the administrative divisions of the Ottoman empire in Syria
Map No. 1 of the Peel Report showing the administrative divisions of the Ottoman empire in Syria

”I have received your letter [of 9th September] with much pleasure; and your expressions of sincerity and friendliness have given me the greatest satisfaction.

“ I regret that you should have received from my last letter the impression that I regarded the question of the boundaries with coldness and hesitation; such was not the case, but it appear[ed to] me the moment had not arrived when they could be profitably discussed.

“ I have realized, however, from your last letter, that you regard this question as one of vital and urgent importance. I have therefore lost no time in informing the Government of Great Britain of the contents of your letter; and it is with great pleasure that I communicate to you on their behalf the following statement which, I am confident, you will receive with satisfaction :-

” The districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and the portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo cannot be said to be purely Arab, and should, be excluded from the proposed limits and boundaries. With the above modification, and without prejudice to our existing treaties with Arab chiefs we accept these limits and boundaries, and in regard to those portions of the territories therein in which Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of our ally, France, I am empowered in the name of the Government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following reply to your letter:-

” Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories included in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sherif of Mecca. Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognize their inviolability.

“ When the situation admits, Great Britain will give to the Arabs her advice and will assist them to establish what may appear to be the most suitable forms of government in those various territories.

” On the other hand, it is understood that the Arabs have decided to seek the advice and guidance of Great Britain only, and that such European Advisers and officials as may be required for the formation of a sound form of administration will be British.

” With regard to the vilayets of Bagdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognize that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special measures of administrative control in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of the local population and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.

“ I am convinced that this declaration will assure you beyond all possible doubts of the sympathy of Great Britain towards the aspirations of her traditional friends, the Arabs, and will result in a firm and lasting alliance, the immediate results of which will be the expulsion of the Turks from the Arab countries and the freeing of the Arab peoples from the Turkish yoke which, for so many years, has pressed heveily upon them...

Of the passages we have italicized, the second is significant in relation to the claim which had been made by the French Government in March, 1915 to the ultimate control of all Syria including Palestine. But it is the first passage on which the subsequent controversy has centered.

6. The map inserted at this page shows that under Turkish rule the territory under discussion was divided into three administrative areas, the Vialyets of Aleppo, Syria, and Beirut. The Vilayet of Syria extended southwards to include the area now called Trans-Jordan. The Vilayet of Beirut extended southwards to within a short distance of Jaffa. The rest of Palestine, including Jerusalem, was not included in any of the Vilayets: it was an "independent Sanjak".PeelSancak

7. The Arab case, which was fully stated in the evidence submitted to us by the Arab Higher Committee, has always been that Palestine was included in the area in which Sir Henry McMahon promised that Arab independence would be recognized. The two main points are (1) that, since the part of the Western boundary of the independent area proposed by the Sherif was the Mediterranean, the exclusion of the whole of the Mediterranean coast from that area could not have been intended and (2) that Damascus was the most southerly point mentioned and that Palestine could not be regarded as lying to the west of it.

8. We have not considered that our terms of reference required us to undertake the detailed and lengthy research among the documents of 20 years ago which would be needed for a full re-examination of this issue. We think it sufficient for the purposes of this Report to state that the British Government have never accepted the Arab case. When it was first formally presented by the Arab Delegation in London in 1922, the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Churchill) replied as follows : -

” That letter [Sir H. McMahon’s letter of the 24th October, 1915] is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among, other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the district of Damascus.PeelChurchill

This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir H. McMahon’s pledge.”

9. It was in the highest degree unfortunate that, in the exigencies of war, the British Government was unable to make their intention clear to the Sherif.PeelSherif

Palestine, it will have been noticed, was not expressly mentioned in Sir Henry McMahon’s letter of the 24th October, 1915. Nor was any later reference made to it. In the further correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon and the Sherif the only areas relevant to the present discussion which were mentioned were the Vilayets of Aleppo and Beirut. The Sherif asserted that these Vilayets were pure1y Arab; and, when Sir Henry McMahon pointed out that French interests were involved, he replied that, while he did not recede from his full claims in the north, he did not wish to injure the alliance between Britain and France and would not ask “for what we now leave to France in Beirut and its coasts” till after the War. There was no more bargaining over boundaries. It only remained for the British Government to supply the Sherif with the monthly subsidy in gold and the rifles, ammunition and foodstuffs he required for launching and sustaining the revolt.

10. Meantime the French interest in Syria had been re affirmed. In November, 1915, shortly after Sir Henry McMahon had given his ”pledge” to the Sherif, Sir Edward Grey gave instructions that negotiations should be opened in London with M. Georges Picot, representing the French Government, with a view to reconciling British, French and Arab claims in tht Syrian area. M. Picot insisted at the outset that the whole Syria down the the Egyptian frontier must be assigned to France. After consultation with his Government he agreed to the Syrian interior being administered by Arabs under French influence. Further negotiations were carried on by M. Picot and Sir Mark Sykes, who consulted the Russian Government. Finally, in May, 1916, an agreement was concluded, commonly known as the Sykes-Pioot Agreement, which divided the Arab area north of the Arabian Peninsula in the following manner :-

Map accompanying the Sykes-Picot Agreement signed by the two in the bottom right corner
The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement signed by the two in the bottom right corner (from British goverment archive via Wikipedia)

(1) A coastal belt from a little north of Haifa to a little West of Mersina was to be controlled by France.

(2) Southern 'Iraq, from the Persion Gulf to a little north of Baghdad, together with a small enclave around Haifa, was to be controlled by Britain.

(3) "With a view to securing the religious interests of the Entente Powers, Palestine, with the Holy Places, is to be separated from Turkish territory and subjected to a special regime to be determined by agreement between Russia, France and Great Britain."

(4) The rest of the territory under discussion was left to ”the Arab State or Confederation of States“. In the Syrian interior such advice and administrative assistance as were wanted by the Arabs would be supplied by France, in northern ‘Iraq and the country east of the Jordan by Britain.

11. This agreement was kept secret till in November, 1917, the Russian Bolshevik Government published a copy of it, found in the archives of the Foreign Office at Petrograd. It was thus in ignorance of any other compact than the "McMahon Pledge" that in June, 1916, the Sherif declared war against the Turks. The story of the Arab Revolt is too familiar from the fame and writings of T. E. Lawrence to need re-telling. Its main features may be summarized as follows. By the end of 1916 the Arabs of the Hedjaz had easily overcome the isolated Turkish posts in the south of their country, but they were unable to dislodge the garrison at Medina, which was linked by the Hedjaz railway with the main Turkish forces in the North.

During 19I7 the Turkish posts along the line were continually raided and stretches of the railway repeatedly destroyed.

When the British army invaded Palestine in the autumn of 1917, the Arabs, a few thousand of whom had been trained as a regular force, operated beyond the Jordan on the outer flank of the advance.

Their co-operation was unquestionably a factor in the success of the campaign which culminated in the capture of Jerusalem on the 9th December, 1917, and in the final expulsion of the Turkish forces from Palestine in the following autumn.

The open revolt of the Sherif, moreover, had a marked effect on the wavering sympathies of other Arab tribes than those of the Hedjaz.

12. It was the Sherif’s own people, however, who bore the brunt of the actual fighting. The Arabs of Palestine did not rise against the Turks, and, while some Palestinian conscripts deserted, others continued fighting in the Turkish army. But it must be remembered that to revolt in the desert was far easier than to revolt in a country still in Turkish hands and subject as the British invasion proceeded to increasingly rigorous treatment. As it was, the Turks were seriously embarrassed by their inability to count on the loyalty of the population; and within their lines the Syrian nationalists were engaged in active sedition for which some of them paid the price on the gallows.

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PeelCUP  The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) (Turkish: İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti) began as a secret society established as the "Committee of Ottoman Union" (Turkish: İttihad-ı Osmanî Cemiyeti) in Istanbul in February 6, 1889 by 11 medical students. The Committee of Union and Progress was an umbrella name for different underground factions, some of which were generally referred to as the "Young Turks". Members of this committe played central roles in leading the Ottoman Empire during the 1st World War. Start reading about this committee at Wikipedia

Ed2  General Jan Smuts (24 May 1870 – 11 September 1950), one of the architects of the South African Apartheid system. He was prime minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948. Smuts was miliary commander of the Boer side in the 1899-1902 Boer war. Smuts was deputy prime minister when the Hertzog government in 1937 passed the Aliens Act that was aimed at preventing Jewish immigration to South Africa. Under his premiership, Apartheid South Africa was one of the fist countries to grant formal recognition to the new State of Israel.

PeelDamascusP  This corresponds to the demand in the so-called "Damascus Protocol", which has handed to Faisal bin Hussein on transit via Damascus by two secret Arab societies.See

PeelSancak  turkish 'sancak' - an osmanic government district under a mutasarrif or sancak beyi, part of an eyalet = province or Vilayet also = province. The map adjoined by the Peel Commission shows the Vilayets (Aleppo, Beirut, Syria) subdivided into Sandjaks.

PeelChurchill  But the McMahon letter did not mention the "Vilayet of Syria", but "the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo", which are not Vilayets, but Sandjaks i.e. subdivisions of the Vilayet of Syria, and he mentioned not the Sandjaks of Hauran and of Ma'an which actually do lie to the east of what the Westerners called and call Palestine. Churchill is ... Churchill, i.e. cheating.

PeelSherif  Of course not. They had to be as complaisant as the "exigencies of the war", i.e. the defeat on Gallipoli required, while being as vague as possible and hide the real intentions.