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British Efforts Against the Nascent Israeli State

In a British television interview on December 12, 1971, Mr. Richard Crossman, one of Britain's famous left-wing intellectuals, a member of the Labour government between 1964 and 1970 and subsequently editor of the prestigious Socialist weekly The New Statesman, bluntly accused the former Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee and Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, who presided over the destinies of Britain after World War II, of having "tried to destroy the Jews of Palestine." Mr. Crossman recalled that he was intended by Mr. Bevin in 1945 to be one of the instruments of his policy. He thus discovered first hand what that policy was.

His accusation, with its implication of a violent British passion against the Jews of Mandated Palestine, must have startled many well-meaning people who innocently believed that the conflict over Palestine was a straightforward clash "between Jews and Arabs." If they knew of Britain’s role in the Mandate period it was as merely an honest broker caught in the middle. In fact, Mr. Crossman added authoritative support to those who have long known and insisted that Britain was an active participant in the dispute, and was indeed the prime driving force in the resistance to Jewish restoration in Palestine.

In the immediate context of this tells of the motives and the vital part of successive British governments and their agents in the creation and perpetuation of the conflict between Jews and Arabs.

Britain Refused to transfer any functions to Jewish authorities, even after terminating the Mandate.

The key to this question is reflected in the behaviour of the British in 1947. When, in that year, the Arabs rejected the partition of Palestine and refused to set up the projected Arab state, the British administration, then still governing Palestine under the Mandate, refused to carry out the recommendations of the United Nations to implement the partition plan. The British government made it plain that it would do all in its power to prevent the birth of the Jewish state. Britain announced that she would not -- and indeed, she did not -- carry out the orderly transfer of any functions to the Jewish authorities in the interim before the end of the Mandate on May 15, 1948. Everything was left in a state of disorder. This was Britain's first contribution to the burden of the nascent state.

When, immediately after the United Nations Assembly decision, the Palestinian Arabs launched their preliminary onslaught on the Jewish community, the British Army gave them considerable cover and aid. It obstructed Jewish defence on the ground; it blocked the movement of Jewish reinforcements and supplies to outlying settlements; it opened the land frontiers for the entry of Arab soldiers from the neighbouring Arab states; it. maintained a blockade in the Mediterranean and sealed the coast and ports through which alone the outnumbered Jews could expect reinforcements; it handed over arms dumps to the Arabs. When Jaffa was on the point of falling to a Jewish counterattack, it sent in forces from Malta to bomb and shell the Jewish force. Meanwhile, it continued to supply the Arab states preparing to invade across the borders with all the arms they asked for and made no secret of it.

The British government was privy to the Arab plans for invasion;1 and on every diplomatic front, and especially in the United Nations and in the United States, it pursued a vigorous campaign of pressure and obstruction to hinder and prevent help to the embattled Zionists and to achieve the abandonment of the plan to set up a Jewish state. When the state was declared nevertheless, the British government exerted every effort to bring about its defeat by the invading Arab armies. It was not by chance that one of the last operations in the war between Israel and the Arab states in January 1949 was the shooting down on the Sinai front of five British RAF planes that had flown across the battlelines into Israeli-held territory. This was the culmination of a policy developed and pursued by the British throughout their administration of the Mandate -- surely not the least of the great betrayals of the weak by the strong in the twentieth century.

The policy of Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, who was severely criticised, was no more than the logical, if extreme, evolution of the policies of Anthony Eden, who inspired the creation of the Arab League in 1945; of Malcolm MacDonald, the Colonial Secretary who presided over the declaration of death to Zionism in the White Paper of 1939, and of their predecessors who shaped the "Arab Revolt" of 1936, who made possible the "disturbances" of 1929, and who were responsible for the pogrom in Jerusalem in 1920.

Seeds of Arab hostility to Israel & British Policy

It is impossible and, indeed, pointless and misleading to explain, analyse, or trace the development of Arab hostility to Zionism and the origins of Arab claims in Palestine without examining the policy of the British rulers of the country between 1919 and 1948.

One of the great objects of British diplomacy as the conflict in Palestine deepened during the Mandate period was to create the image of Britain as an honest arbiter striving only for the best for all concerned and for justice. In fact, Britain was an active participant in the confrontation. She was indeed more than a party. The Arab "case" in Palestine was a British conception. It took shape and was given direction by the British Military administration after the First World War. The release in recent years of even a part of the confidential official documents of the time has strengthened the long-held suspicion that the Arab attack on Zionism would never have began had it not been for British inspiration, tutelage, and guidance.

In the end, it is true, British sympathy, assistance, and co-operation came to be auxiliary to Arab attitudes and actions. Those attitudes, however, had their beginnings and their original motive power as a function of British imperial ambitions and policy. The two intertwined progressively throughout thirty years, until their open co-operation after 1939. At the last, in 1947- 1949, they consummated an imperfectly concealed alliance for the forcible prevention of the establishment of the Jewish state.

The Sudden Appearance in 1919 of a militant Arab "movement."

That is the background of the sudden appearance in 1919 of a militant Arab "movement." In the circumstances of the time, the British military administration should have invited and ensured the co-operation of the local population, Moslem and Christian, in implementing London's policy. What was required was dissemination of clear and concise information on the vast areas of Arabia and Mesopotamia that had been liberated by the British and their Allies and were to become Arab or predominantly Arab states; on the contribution made by the Jews to the liberation of Palestine, their ancient and unrelinquished homeland; and on the undertaking made to them in the Balfour Declaration and the safeguards in that declaration for the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine. It might have been made clear that the Sherif Hussein had called on the Moslems to welcome the Jews to Palestine; information should have been spread about the cordial meetings between Faisal and Dr. Chaim Weizmann and the agreement they had signed; and last but not least, the determination of the British government to carry out its Zionist policy should have been confirmed. Such a declaration would without a doubt have created the right climate for launching that policy. "The military Administration ruled the country which waited on its very nod," wrote a contemporary observer. "It would consequently have required the maximum of moral courage, enmity or external support, deliberately to go in the teeth of the policy of the Administration -- above all in the Levant where the whole population is so singularly sensitive to every nuance of tyranny and of intrigue."2

The Balfour Declaration in Palestine is to be treated "as extremely confidential and is on no account for any publication"

The popularisation of the Jewish National Home policy was, however, farthest from the minds of the military administration. For more than two years, it neither published nor allowed the publication of the Balfour Declaration in Palestine. This act of omission was backed by a specific prohibition from headquarters in Cairo. The Declaration, wrote the Chief Political Officer to the Chief Administrator in Jerusalem. on October 9, 1919, "is to be treated as extremely confidential and is on no account for any publication."3

The group in power in Jerusalem made no secret of its hostility to Zionism. The whole of its administration, even down to its social occasions, was permeated with an anti-Jewish atmosphere that reminded some Jewish observers of the Tsarist regime in Russia. Indeed, Zeev Jabotinsky, then serving as a lieutenant in the Jewish Legion, which he had founded, and himself a native of Russia, wrote: "Not in Russia nor in Poland had had there been seen such an intense and widespread atmosphere of hatred as prevailed in the British Army in Palestine in 1919 and 1920."4

The measures to prevent Jewish reconstruction slowly tightened

In Palestine, the measures to confine and restrict Jewish reconstruction slowly tightened. The British government was not free to make drastic changes since Britain had no sovereignty in Palestine. She was there constitutionally to fulfil the Mandate and was answerable to the League of Nations for her actions. As long as the League had prestige in the world, it served as a restraining influence on the deepening tendency in London to turn the purpose of the Mandate from the "reconstitution of the Jewish National Home" to the creation of an Arab-dominated dependency of Great Britain. Informed public opinion could not be disregarded, nor that part of the British establishment that fought back, though ever less effectively, against the Arabist erosion of its obligation to the Jewish people.

But while the Colonial Office and the administration in Palestine reduced the essentials of the Mandate, the League of Nations grew progressively less effective; its influence waned gradually in the 1920s, speedily after its show of impotence over the Japanese seizure of Manchuria in 1931. In sum, Zionism was fought on every possible front: economically, in the social services, in the police and public service. The administration was so filled with officials hostile to the purpose of the Mandate that the exceptions became famous. The progress of Jewish restoration was retarded as much as possible.

The central and most effective, weapon in the British armoury was the control of immigration

The central and most effective, weapon in the British armoury was the control of immigration, and this was used with ever increasing severity. In justification, economics were invoked; a principle called "economic absorptive capacity" was the guiding criterion. With the help of "experts" who asserted that there simply was little or no cultivable land left for development, the government's control of Jewish immigration-administered by a system of quotas -- became ever more restrictive. (At that time, there were less than a million people in western Palestine; today there are four million, with still undefined possibilities of growth.) Through the country's back door, in quiet defiance of its Mandate, it also allowed an incessant inflow of Arabs. These came mainly from Syria and Transjordan, attracted by the progress and prosperity the Jews were bringing to Palestine. In a constant atmosphere of Jewish crisis and tragedy, in the twenty-six years of the Mandate period, the British allowed the entry of approximately 400,000 Jews into their national home and hounded and punished and, in the end, drove back or deported Jews who were trying to steal in. In that same period, crossing the Jordan with ease, probably 200,000 Arabs came in to swell the "existing non-Jewish population."5

Yet, though the effort was sustained for a whole generation, from the early 1920s to 1948, neither the British rulers nor Haj Amin el Husseini with the machine he had built for propaganda and indoctrination, ever succeeded in converting the Arab population of Palestine into a nationally conscious entity, moved and animated by a hunger for "liberation," proclaiming and asserting itself as a people with a positive aim. The fundamental reason is that it was -- and is still -- no such thing. A nation cannot be "created" in a generation or even in two, certainly not when essential ingredients are lacking. It was difficult to distinguish an Arab people altogether, not only in Palestine. A sense of fraternal solidarity did exist in the Arab family, in its economics, in its sense of honour. It existed in the clan that might grow out of the individual family. It might exist in the village. Beyond these loyalties, there was only a religious sense, a sense of community in Islam. Even that, with the considerable sectarian fragmentation, never proved itself in modem times as an effective force. There was little sense of belonging to "Arabdom." To the degree that such a feeling ultimately did take root, it was expressed by an affinity to the large Arab people as a whole. Such an affinity could at least refer back to the ancient glory of a vast Arab Empire. This very frame of reference emphasised the absence of a "Palestinian" consciousness -- which had in fact never existed and which could not be conjured up. Whenever, therefore, a reaction was to be provoked in the more militant, or more unruly, section of the Arab population, it was the vaguer generality of Islam or of pan-Arabism that was invoked.

Thus, the disturbances in 1929 were organised on a religious pretext-the alleged designs of the Zionists on the Moslem Holy Places and an Arab assertion of Moslem ownership of the Western Wall (of the Jewish Temple), which abuts the Temple Mount where the Moslems built their mosques. These disturbances, marked by the resolute permissiveness of the British authority, were characterised by outbursts of sheer slaughter. The massacre of the scholarly Jewish community of Hebron remained unreported elsewhere because of the defence provided by the newly effective Jewish Haganah organisation.

The "Arab Revolt" of 1936-1939, developed by British and Arab co-operation into an expression of pan-Arab policy, was far more ambitious. It was intended-and indeed came to be-the herald of Britain's final abrogation of her pact with the Jewish people. For between 1929 and 1936, a drastic and dire change had occurred in the world.

If the Jews could proclaim a state, the Arab population might well make peace with it, and the British presence would come to an end

The Nazis had come to power in Germany. The campaign of the German state against the Jewish people in Germany and throughout the world, the wave of anti-Semitism engulfing the Jews of Eastern Europe and poisoning the wells of the West, had created an unprecedented pressure on the gates of their national home. During the three years after 1933, when the official anti-Jewish terror in Germany began, some 150,000 Jews had entered Palestine by taking advantage of remaining loopholes in the immigration regulations. The plight of the Jews remaining in Germany and of the persecuted, increasingly desperate, five million Jews in Eastern Europe was arousing considerable international attention. Opening the gates of Palestine, though the obvious solution, would have meant the defeat of the Arabists' purpose. A few more years of large-scale Jewish immigration would have placed the Jews in a majority. If the Jews could proclaim a state, the Arab population -- for the most part probably prepared to resign itself to a Jewish regime if it did not interfere with its way of life -- might well make peace with it, and the British presence would come to an end. The pressure of Jewish need and world sympathy could be countered only by a more powerful, irresistible force which would prove that it was impossible to achieve the Mandates original purpose, that Arab resistance was too strong, too determined. The Arab "Revolt" was the result.

It was not a revolt at all but a campaign of violence directed against the Jews. Haj Amin's resources, after fifteen years of organisation, were adequate to give it a countrywide -- though still primitive and improvisational-character. In 1920, the pogroms had been inspired and connived at by the military administration in an effort to nip its home government's Zionist policy in the bud. In 1936, the Arab campaign of violence was a move calculated to further the British home government's intention of finally burying Zionism. The policy laid down in 1939 in the White Paper was the preordained purpose for which the 1936 outbreak was needed.

The permissive attitude of the Palestine government to the campaign of violence was evident from the outset. The outbreak was signalled months in advance. Inciting speeches by Arab political and religious notables and inflammatory articles in the Arab newspapers were the order of the day. It was common talk among both Jews and Arabs that the Arab villages (as in 1920) were "infested with agitators" who were inciting the population to violence against the Jews and that once again the people were being assured that a'dowlah ma’ana. This process was not disturbed by a single overt act, nor by any public statement, nor any warning of preventive or punitive action by the government.6

When, in the face of this astonishing forbearance, warnings were addressed to the High Commissioner and to the Colonial Office in London of the signs of the imminence of Arab violence, the reply was that the situation was under control. Similar reassuring statements were made after the first day's toll of seventeen Jews killed by Arab mobs in the public streets of Jaffa under the nose of the British authority (Katz, pp. 4-5).

British Troops prevented from controlling Arab violence

Had the campaign been in fact a spontaneous Arab outbreak, and had the government been determined to maintain law and order, the outbreak would have lasted no more than a few days and would have made little impact. A completely typical illustration of the administration's solution to the problem of pretending to be putting down the "rebellion" is provided by the description by a British soldier on the spot, given in the London journal New Statesman and Nation, September 20, 193 6: At night, when we are guarding the line against the Arabs who come to blow it up, we often see them at work but are forbidden to fire at them. We may only fire into the air, and they, upon hearing the report, make their escape. But do you think we can give chase? Why, we must go on our hands and knees and find every spent cartridge-case which must be handed in or woe betide us. In a similar spirit, the general strike proclaimed by the Arab Higher Committee (the self-appointed leadership of the Arab community, headed by Haj Amin el Husseini) and imposed on the Arab masses as the central weapon and symbol of the campaign was not resisted by the administration. It refused to declare the strike illegal, in flagrant contrast to its swift crushing of an earlier strike in non-violent protest-by the Jews against Jabotinsky's arrest after the pogrom of 1920.

When, subsequently, the "rebels," mistaking British permissiveness for Arab strength, went beyond attacks on Jewish villages and on Jewish life and property and attacked British personnel, effective measures were and the "rebels" were firmly suppressed.

The revolt, widely publicised, served its purpose. British government proclaimed in its famous White Paper of 1939 its abandonment of the Zionist policy. After the introduction of 75,000 more Jews into Palestine during the ensuing five years, the gates would be closed. The way would thus be open for that ultimate semi-dependent Arab state that would complete the British pan-Arab dream in the Middle East.

The British White Paper was was rejected as inconsistent with the Mandate by the League of Nations, but the League of Nations was dying

This document was rejected as inconsistent with the Mandate by the supervising body of the League of Nations, the Permanent Mandates Commission. But the League of Nations was dying, and Britain treated it with appropriate contempt. Four months later, the Second World War broke out; and the British government executed the White Paper policy as if Palestine had been a British possession and the White Paper an act of Parliament. Unnumbered Jews thus were trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe when, but for the rigid and unrelenting application of the provisions of the White Paper, they could have escaped to Palestine even during the war.

It may be that this grim consequence of British policy is the reason why the British government later wilfully destroyed so 'many of the documents that could have provided direct evidence of the Palestine government's behaviour. After thirty years, the British state archives were, in accordance with custom, opened to the research of writers and historians. The entire correspondence between the Palestine administration and its chiefs at the Colonial Office in London relating to the records of the meetings of the Executive Council (in effect the Cabinet) of the Palestine government had been "destroyed under statute." Another obviously important file so destroyed was that relating to the Haganah organisation, which, if it had not been hamstrung by the government, was itself capable of putting a swift end to the Arab attacks. Yet another file destroyed was on "Propaganda Among the Arabs" -- the incitement against the Jews-which the Palestine government had often been charged with inspiring, sponsoring, or at least facilitating.7

The British Government later destroyed records of it's Palestine Government 

The sanctity of the minutes of the British Cabinet in London has, however, saved one item of direct documentary evidence on the British government's relationship to the "revolt" and to the "rebels." The disturbances were not even mentioned when the Cabinet met soon after they broke out. Nor was the outbreak discussed at the next meeting or the one after that. Indeed, five meetings went by before the Cabinet discussed any aspect of the situation in Palestine. At the meeting of May 11, 1936-three weeks and a day after the Outbreak -- the Secretary of State for the Colonies presented the Cabinet with a memorandum, not indeed proposing or even announcing measures for putting an end to the violence, but reporting that the High Commissioner recommended that the most helpful means now open to His Majesty's Government of preventing the present disorders from spreading and increasing in violence would be for an immediate announcement of a Royal Commission with wide terms of reference, with power to make recommendations for lessening animosities and for establishing a feeling of lasting security in Palestine. [Cab. 23/84] The Secretary of State "did not," the minutes continue, "ask for a decision on the Terms of Reference to, or composition of the proposed Royal Commission which would require careful consideration, but merely for permission to tell the High Commissioner that His Majesty's Government was favourable to the proposal so that he could sound the Arabs and report further" (italics added).

Nevertheless, in spite of this collusion, the development of the "revolt" was made possible and given shape and thrust only by the introduction of help by Arabs from outside Palestine. One of the outstanding features of the "revolt" was the failure of the Arabs of Palestine themselves to act appropriately.

British Collusion and the Arab apathy to the Mufti's Incitement

The Palestinian Arabs were comfortably aware of the existence around them, in addition to their original homeland in Arabia, of six more Arabic-speaking countries, five of them predominantly Moslem, all part of the same sprawling territory which many centuries ago had been won and lost by the invaders from Arabia. Those Arabs who had dealings with the Jews got on well with them, and even if they did not like the idea of Jews, rather than Turks or British, ruling the country, they could not conjure up enough hostility to fight them. In 1929, the Mufti had incited them by distributing postcards which showed the El Aksa Mosque flying the Zionist the flag -- an effective essay in photomontage. In 1936, the bulk of Palestinian Arabs still remained cold to the urgings of Haj Amin. A minority carried out the street knifings, the sniping at Jewish transport, the throwing of bombs in cinemas and marketplaces. The general strike was maintained only by the constant threat of force by the Mufti's organisation; and the threat was made more persuasive by the refusal of the administration to declare the strike illegal.

The effort of the Palestine Arabs was not enough to impress the world. After the first phase of sniping, of attacks by street mobs, of individual bomb throwing, of shooting at transport on the main roads, there came a relaxation even of this effort. "Rebels" were consequently imported. A Syrian, Fawzi Kaukji, led a mixed band of Syrian and Iraqi mercenaries in the extended campaign directed mainly against the Jewish villages.8 The Palestine Arab population on the whole refused to co-operate with these liberators, often even denying them shelter. The outcome was a campaign of murder against the Palestinian Arabs. When Arab villages appealed to the British administration for arms to defend themselves against Kaukji's invading bands, they were refused. In the end, more Arabs than Jews were killed by the rebels.9

The intervention by Arabs from the neighbouring countries was a reflection of the Cairo school's dream. To its members, Palestine was only part of the larger scheme; it was needed only to complete the homogeneity of a large Arab "world" under British tutelage. That dream was not abandoned. Indeed, the British government worked energetically to create a form of unity, or at least a framework of co-operation, among the Arab states. In an Arab world riven with disagreements and jealousies, the Palestine issue was the ideal instrument to bring about such co-operation. To appear, without much effort, as the champions of their brothers in Palestine and at the same time to nourish the hope that the Fertile Crescent might become homogeneously Arab -- this was a prospect that appealed to the Arab states.

As early as 1936, the real or nominal heads of the Arab states or states in embryo were called in by the administration and generously agreed to "secure" from the Mufti and his Arab Higher Committee a temporary cessation of the revolt so as to enable an investigation of grievances. When the Mufti in turn graciously consented, the government permitted the main body of Fawzi Kaukji's terrorists to go back across the Jordan, where they could rest and reorganise. Thereafter, it became a self-understood facet of British policy that the Arab states had acquired a right to intervene in the affairs of Palestine. As though they were parties to the "dispute," with a claim and interests in the country-and in flagrant flaunting of the origin, the concept, the letter and the spirit of Britain's own defined Mandate -- the Arab rulers were invited in 1939 to a so-called Round Table Conference. The predetermined failure of this conference (where the Arab representatives refused to meet the Jews face to face) was enshrined in the White Paper that followed immediately.

The British Creation of the Arab League to serve as the mouthpiece of a British sponsored Pan-Arab dream

Looking ahead, through the storms of the war that followed to the final consummation of the White Paper, the British government took active steps to create A formal instrument of pan-Arabism. Thus, the Arab League was born. After Anthony Eden first mentioned It publicly in 1941, the then British Foreign Secretary presided over the necessary diplomatic exchanges and negotiations that brought about the formal establishment of the League in 1945. The pan-Arab dream had meanwhile also assumed that large economic importance which had been part of its inspiration. The oil-fields of Iraq proved to be but a small portion of a vast potential in Iraq itself and, even more, in Saudi Arabia and the British dependent sheikhdoms on the Persian Gulf. British commercial interests played a large part in their exploitation.

Thus, after thirty years, an Arab entity consisting of seven countries -- Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Transjordan -- formally independent, semi-dependent, or on the way to formal independence and providing substantial dividends to an impoverished British economy, promised to realise the dream, conceived in 1915, of an Arab confederation that would "look to Britain as its patron and protector." Western Palestine was still lacking to complete the picture, but its inclusion seemed imminent. It remained only to give the finishing stroke to Zionism. That should not be difficult after the battering the Jewish people had suffered from the Nazis.

A Jewish Homeland with a Jewish Majority was an obstacle

From the very outset of the new Pan-Arab-British imperial phase, however that prospect was scarred by one intrusion: Zionism striving for the Jewish restoration of Palestine. The member states of the Arab League, which was formed in 1945 to supply the beginnings of co-ordinated modern Arabic power, were led by the British to be believe that the Prospect of a Jewish state in Palestine had been finally erased by the White Paper of 1939. Accordingly, they announced their acceptance of the White Paper-which also recognised the rights of the Jews to minority existence. They were accorded an immediate earnest of British loyalty to the compact: That same year the British, efficiently and unceremoniously, finally forced the French out of Syria. The Arabs looked forward to the equally effective end to snuffing out of the Jewish restoration in Palestine.

The refusal of the Jews to submit to the British dictate, their underground struggle which, to the Arabs' surprise and dismay, resulted in the relinquishment of British Power in Palestine, consequently ruled out the transfer of sovereignty (which the British did not legally possess) to the Arabs. Encouraged, and armed, by the British, the Arabs rejected even the partition compromise of 1947, rejecting Zionist pleas for co-operation. If they were to eliminate the Zionists and to prevent the rebirth of the Jewish state they had now themselves to go to war, under strikingly' favourable circumstances.

Then, precisely at the beginning of the new and so promisingly brilliant era in Arab nationalism, at the very rebirth of the empire, the Arab states suffered one of the greatest shocks, in all Arab history.

In May 1948, they launched the war against the embryonic Jewish state with considerable reason for confidence. The total Jewish population numbered no more than 650,000. Israel's armed force had for the most part had no more than partisan training. She had no air force at all.10 She had just passed through years of strain and tension and a bitter struggle with the British. When the invasion by the Arab states opened, she had been under guerrilla attack for six months by Palestinian Arabs and by advance units from the armies of Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, aided in a hundred ways by the still ubiquitous British. (The British civilian administration evacuated by May 14, 1948. The British Army began to organise its evacuation well after that date, completing the process on August 1.) While the British had opened the land frontiers so that men and arms could pour in from the neighbouring Arab countries,11 they had refused to open a port for the Jews as recommended by the United Nations; and they maintained their blockade in the Mediterranean to prevent any reinforcements from reaching Israel. The United States bad announced an embargo and enforced it strictly, so that the Jews were deprived of that source as well.

In addition to these advantages, the Arabs were given massive material support by the British government, which openly provided arms and ammunition for the war (and turned aside criticism at the United Nations that Britain was aiding aggressive invasion by the claim that the State of Israel did not legally exist and could not therefore be invaded). The Arabs further enjoyed expert British leadership; the Transjordanian Arab Legion was officered by British soldiers.

British co-operated in planning at least some phases of the war against the Jewish State

Unknown to the world at the time, the British co-operated in planning at least some phases of the war. On January 15, 1948-the day a new treaty with Iraq was signed at Portsmouth-the British Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin, reached an agreement with the Iraqi leaders, Prime Minister Saleh Jabr, Foreign Minister Fadil el Jamali, and the elder statesman, then President of the Senate, Nuri el Said. By this agreement, the British undertook to speed up the supply of weapons and ammunition ordered from the British government and to supply automatic weapons sufficient for "50,000 policemen." The purpose was to arm the Palestinian Arab fighters to enable them to participate in the liberation of Palestine.12 A third point in the agreement was that Iraqi forces would enter every area evacuated by British troops in the whole of Palestine, so that a Jewish state would not be formed.13 So much for Iraq. Six weeks later Bevin, at an interview with the Prime Minister of Transjordan attended by General Glubb (the Commander of the Arab Legion), approved the plan of Transjordan to do her share in frustrating the partition plan by invading and occupying the area allotted in the United Nations resolution to the establishment of an Arab state-14 Superiority in numbers, overwhelming superiority in arms and ammunition, the eager and substantial help of a major world power, a strategy based on a converging movement on three fronts against a Jewish force largely untrained, poorly armed and defending a small but densely populated coastal strip-these were surely enough to assure victory and even the slaughter that Arab leaders openly promised.

1. See Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies (London, 1970), pp. 231-233.

2. Horace B. Samuel, Unholy Memories of the Holy Land (London, 1930), p. 51.

3. Pal. Govt. File Pol/2108, in Israel State Archives. Quoted in Kedourie, Chatham House Version, p. 57.

4. The Story of the Jewish Legion (New York, 1945), p. 171. Jabotinsky's book contains (pp. 168-77) a description of the policy and motives of the military administration in 1919 and 1920. More detail still is in Richard Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary 1917-1956 (London, 1959); Horace B. Samuel, Unholy Memories of the Holy Land. See also Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (London, 1949).

5. See the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine (HM. Stationery Office, 1937). Also Y. Shimoni, Arviyei Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv, 1947); the UNRWA Review, inf. Paper No. 6 (September, 1952) on Megal Arab immigration during the Second World War.

6. A description of the developing situation three months before the outbreak began is contained in Samuel Katz, Days of Fire (London, 1968), pp. 3-4.

7. Files CO 793/27/75269; CO 793/27/75402; and CO 793/27/75528/25.

8. Colonial Office files of correspondence on the "Participation an Arabs" in the Disturbances (CO 793/27/75528/48), and "Activities of Fawzi Kauldi" (CO 793/27/75528/82) have been "Destroyed Under Statute."

9. A critical detailed analysis, legal and administrative, of the British measures during the first phase of the 1936 revolt is given in Horace B. Samuel, Revolt by Leave (London, 1937). For a comprehensive picture and summing up, see Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (London, 1949), and Katz, Days of Fire (London, 1968).

10. Four fighter Planes were later scraped together and they brought about a turning point in the war by halting the Egyptian advance at Ashdod.

11. The British themselves announced (in the House of Commons) at the end of February that 5,000 Arabs from the neighbouring countries had entered Palestine in the preceding three months.

12. This was a wildly optimistic estimate. The Iraqis later discovered that the total number of Palestinian Arabs taking part in the fighting was 4,000.

13. See Kedouri, The Chatham House Version, pp. 212-233, quoting Iraqi historian Abd-al-Razzaq al Hosani. The scheme, according to Jamali, was dropped when the Portsmouth Treaty was revoked.

14. J. B. Glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs (London, 1957), pp. 63-66.

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
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Source: "Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine" by Samuel Katz, 
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"Battleground" is one of the best written and most informative histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict. ... I advise everyone to read it. - Congressman Jack Kemp

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Copyright © 1973, 1977, 1978, 1985 by Samuel Katz.
All rights reserved.  Reprinted by Permission.
Portions Copyright © 2001 Joseph Katz