World War I: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Part 3
World War I
World Zionist Organization Headquarters was located in Berlin at the outbreak of World War I. With different national sections of the movement supporting different sides in the war, Zionist policy was to maintain strict neutrality and “to demonstrate complete loyalty to Turkey”, the German ally controlling Palestine at the time. In January 1915, two months after the British declaration of war against the Ottomans, a detailed memorandum entitled The Future of Palestine (Samuel Memorandum) was presented to the British Cabinet on the benefits of a British protectorate over Palestine to support Jewish immigration.
The most prominent Russian-Zionist migrant in Britain was chemist Chaim Weizmann. He developed a new process to produce Acetone, a critical ingredient in manufacturing explosives that Britain was unable to manufacture in sufficient quantity. In 1915, the British government fell as a result of its inability to manufacture enough artillery shells for the war effort. In the new Government, David Lloyd George became the minister responsible for armaments, and asked Weizmann to develop his process for mass production.
Lloyd George was an evangelical Christian and pro-Zionist. According to Lloyd George, when he asked Weizmann about payment for his efforts to help Britain, Weizmann told him that he wanted no money, just the rights over Palestine. Weizmann became a close associate of Lloyd George (Prime Minister in 1916) and the First Lord of the Admiralty (Foreign Secretary in 1916), Arthur Balfour.
In 1916, Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca (in Arabia), began an “Arab Revolt” hoping to create an Arab state in the Middle East. In the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence, British representatives promised they would allow him to create such a state. They also provided him with large sums of money to fund his revolt.
In June 1917, the British army invaded Palestine with the Jewish Legion participating with valor in the invasion. Arab forces conquered Transjordan (part of the Southern Levant east of the Jordan River, roughly consisting of present-day Jordan) and later took over Damascus.
In August 1917, as the British cabinet discussed the Balfour Declaration, Edwin Samuel Montagu, the only Jew in the British Cabinet and staunch anti-Zionist, stated opposition on the grounds that it was capitulation to anti-Semitic bigotry, with its suggestion that Palestine was the natural destination of the Jews; and that it would be a “grave cause of alarm to the Muslim world”.
So additional references to the future rights of non-Jews in Palestine and the status of Jews worldwide, were thus inserted by the British cabinet, reflecting the opinion of the only Jew within it. As the draft was finalized, the term “state” was replaced with “home”, and comments were sought from Zionists abroad. Louis Brandeis, a member of the US Supreme Court, influenced the style of the text and changed the words “Jewish race” to “Jewish people”.
On November 2, the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, made the Balfour Declaration of 1917, expressing the government’s view in favor of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, and specifically noting that its establishment must not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.
The Balfour Declaration was in direct contradiction to the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 which stated that France and Great Britain were prepared to recognize and protect an independent Arab State, or Confederation of Arab States. This meant contradictory assurances were given to Palestinians about an Arab state at the same time as they were given to Israelis about a Jewish State.
Palestine: Part 4 – Post WWI