Perfidious Albion

I really hate the word ‘wonk’, but in recent years I’ve become a history wonk. So my current bedtime reading has been the newly updated Seventh Edition of The Israel-Arab Reader, edited by Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin (Penguin: 2008, ISBN 978-0-14-311379-9).

The book is simply a collection of relevant documents from the Bilu Manifesto of 1882 to President Bush’s statement at the Annapolis conference on November 27, 2007, arranged in strict chronological order. In these days when rewriting history for political purposes is not only common, but apparently is seen by many as a legitimate academic enterprise, I find a dip into the cold water of actual facts refreshing before going to sleep.

For example, take the British White Paper of 1939 (p. 44) which first reaffirms Britain’s commitment under the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate to provide for a Jewish National Home in Palestine, and then continues as follows:

Although it is not difficult to contend that the large number of Jewish immigrants who have been admitted so far have been absorbed economically, the fear of the Arabs that this influx will continue indefinitely until the Jewish population is in a position to dominate them has produced consequences which are extremely grave for Jews and Arabs alike and for the peace and prosperity of Palestine. The lamentable disturbances of the past three years are only the latest and most sustained manifestation of this intense Arab apprehension. The methods employed by Arab terrorists against fellow Arabs and Jews alike must receive unqualified condemnation. But it cannot be denied that fear of indefinite Jewish immigration is widespread amongst the Arab population and that this fear has made possible disturbances which have given a serious setback to economic progress, depleted the Palestine exchequer, rendered life and property insecure, and produced a bitterness between the Arab and Jewish populations which is deplorable between citizens of the same country [my emphasis].

In other words, unhappy Arabs respond with riots, terrorism and violence. Sound familiar? So the British, while ‘deploring’ the violence, decided to solve the problem — by stopping immigration:

For each of the next five years a quota of 10,000 Jewish immigrants will be allowed on the understanding that a shortage one year may be added to the quotas for subsequent years, within the five year period, if economic absorptive capacity permits.

In addition, as a contribution towards the solution of the Jewish refugee problem, 25,000 refugees will be admitted as soon as the High Commissioner is satisfied that adequate provision for their maintenance is ensured, special consideration being given to refugee children and dependents…

After the period of five years, no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it [!].

Like Chamberlain’s famous capitulation to Hitler in the previous year, Britain chose to make a ‘practical’ decision instead of a morally correct one. And people wonder why the phrase “perfidious Albion” is still current!

I highly recommend this book, which may be read at any time of the day.

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