British Plans against France, and against
the Jews in 1915
France had to give up claim to Lebanon and
Syria by the Arab Revolt's "right of conquest," & on her claim to Palestine
by the Jews "right to a homeland" - both ruses to enhance British control
British policy in the Middle East was not
confined to Palestine. Its purpose, though now a defeated anachronism,
informs British attitudes even today. It had its genesis in a historic
misrepresentation: the inflation, out of all relation to the reality, of
the so-called Arab Revolt during the First World War. This hoax was part
of the intricate manoeuvres of the great powers at the end of that war.
It was at first directed against France.
Early in the First World War, after the
defeat at Gallipoli, a group of senior British officials serving in the
countries on the fringe of the Ottoman Empire -- in Egypt and the Sudan
-- conceived the idea of bringing the vast Arab-speaking areas of the Ottoman
Empire under British control after the war. In the words of the then Governor
General of the Sudan, Sir Reginald Wingate, they envisaged "a federation
of semi-independent Arab States under European guidance and supervision
. . . owing spiritual allegiance to a single Arab primate, and looking
to Great Britain as its patron and protector."1
The early disaster to British arms in the
Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 provided the impulse. The British government
called on its agents with contacts in the Arab-speaking countries to make
an effort to detach the Arabs from the Turks. The men on the spot in Cairo
and Khartoum decided that Hussein ibn-Ali, Sherif of Mecca, Guardian of
the Moslem Holy Places, a semi-autonomous chieftain in Hejaz (Arabia proper),
was the suitable candidate for levering all the Arabs out of the Turkish
war machine. While London was interested in immediate military relief,
the Arabists in Cairo and Khartoum contrived to, steer and manipulate the
relations with Hussein toward their own more grandiose schemes. Hussein
asked a high price for his participation in liberating his people from
Turkish rule, even at one stage threatening to fight on the side of the
Turks. He demanded all the territory in Asia that had ever been in the
Moslem Empire. He was, of course, employing the accepted Oriental gambit
in a bout of bargaining: he asked for much more than he expected to get.
Moreover the negotiators were warned from London that the British government
had made other commitments in the area, concerning Palestine, Lebanon,
and the Mosul area in Mesopotamia (Iraq). In return for the promise of
liberation in his own territory and the gift of part of the other Arabic-speaking
areas, together with vast sums of money (in gold) and considerable quantities
of arms, Hussein launched his revolt, led in the field by his son Faisal.
British officer named Thomas Edward Lawrence
Toward the end of the First World War, and
increasingly after the war, it became common knowledge and part of the
popular literature of the age that in the defeat of the Turks a specific
and notable part was played by the Arab revolt and that its leaders had
enjoyed the indispensable co-operation and advice of a brilliant young
British officer named Thomas Edward Lawrence. This revolt, according to
the account, began in Arabia, displacing the Turks, spread over into Syria,
and reached a climax in the capture of Damascus. In the end, so the story
ran, the promises to the Arabs were broken. The Arabs based their later
vociferous propaganda -- and their claim to vast additions of territory,
including Palestine -- on this account.
The major part of this story of the revolt
was a fabrication, largely created in Lawrence's imagination. It grew and
grew and was not exposed for many years. It suited the makers of British
policy at the time so well that Lawrence, who was a yam-spinner of quite
extraordinary proportions2 was able to impose
himself, and to be imposed, on the British public and on the world, as
one of the great heroes and as one of the most brilliant brains of the
First World War. Lawrence's monumental book on the subject, The Seven Pillars
of Wisdom (of which Revolt in the Desert was an abridged popular edition),
was published and publicised and widely accepted as authentic history.
In fact, it was largely a work of fiction. On the basis of this fiction,
however, the British government was able to initiate and pursue its predominant
policy in the Middle East and fight for it in the international arena.
Directed at first primarily against France, much of its momentum and later
fury was concentrated against the Jewish restoration in Palestine. It was
the Lawrence fiction that for many years provided the main propaganda ammunition
for the Arabs.
The Lawrence legend was finally demolished
in 1955 in a remarkable "biographical enquiry" by the British writer Richard
Aldington. His findings on the political and military facts were based
on an exhaustive study of all the available sources, especially Lawrence’s
own copious writings and those he inspired and encouraged. They have been
amplified and deepened by the research since made possible by the release
of secret British documents of the period. It has consequently become fashionable
in Britain today to write with contempt and denigration of Lawrence and
to speculate in psychoanalytical overtones on the reasons for his aberrations.
Though the myth has been exploded, the
exposure has not yet brought any recognition of the implications, historical
and political, of the myth as a central pillar of British policy. The admission
in Britain of the Lawrence myth is a confession of the tricking of the
French after the First World War and of the falsehoods and fabrications
employed to promote the betrayal of the British trust in Palestine and
of Britain's undertakings to the Jewish people. That betrayal had far-reaching
consequences in fostering and reinforcing the pan-Arab attack on the Jewish
restoration, with all the resultant suffering and bloodshed that continue
to this day.
The aid given to the Allied campaign against
the Turks by the Arab Revolt was minor and negligible
The aid given to the Allied campaign against
the Turks by the Arab Revolt was minor and negligible; Lawrence himself,
in one of his outbursts of near-penitence, once described it as "a sideshow
of a sideshow." Though the Sherif Hussein did send out his call for an
Arab rising throughout the Ottoman Empire, in fact no such rising took
place. Nor was there a mutiny by Arabs anywhere in the Turkish Army; on
the contrary, the Arabs fought enthusiastically in the cause of their Turkish
The operations of the "Arab Army" can be
summed up in Aldington's words: "To claim that these spasmodic and comparatively
trifling efforts had any serious bearing on the war with Turkey, let alone
on the greater war beyond is ... absurd" (p. 209).
Aldington further explains that the revolt
was limited to the distant Hejaz, an area that was relatively unimportant
to the Turks, and to "desert areas close to the British army, from which
small raids could be made with comparative immunity. Beyond those areas,
where there was real danger to be found and real damage to be done, the
Arabs did nothing but talk and conspire" (p. 210). The operations in the
Hejaz itself were not conclusive. A few weakly held Turkish positions were
taken, but the Turks were not driven out; they held out in Medina for two
years. In consequence, "much of the effort of the Arab forces- say 20,000
to 25,000 tribesmen plus the little regular army of 600 ... was diverted
to hanging around on the outskirts of Medina and to attacks on that part
of the Damascus-Medina railway which was of least importance strategically"
These demolition raids on the Hejaz Railway
became the most famous operation of the Arab Revolt. Their avowed object
was to eliminate the Turkish supply line to Medina, but in fact they did
nothing of the sort. Any damage they caused was quickly repaired; its extent
was no greater than the damage inflicted on the same railway by the same
Bedouin tribesmen in peacetime as part of their customary marauding activities.
When General Allenby decided really to put the railway out of commission,
he sent British General Dawnay, with a British force, for the purpose;
Dawnay demolished it beyond repair.
During the final phase of the war, the
British conquered southern Palestine. The prospect of victory over the
Turks appeared over the horizon. Soon there would be an accounting of what
had and what had not been achieved, and by whom. Now, therefore, came the
last fantastic phase of the "Revolt."
Allenby's great breakthrough in September
1918 provided [the Arabs] with sitting targets which nobody could miss,
and the chance to race hysterically into towns which they claimed to have
captured after the British had done the real fighting. [Aldington, p. 178]
An agreement between the makers of British
policy and their Arab collaborators for British - not French - control
There was calculated purpose in this behaviour.
It was part of an agreement between the makers of British policy and their
Arab collaborators. The Arab Revolt had obviously failed as a major or
even a significant enterprise. Outside of Hussein's own area of Arabia,
it had not attracted any significant assistance from Arabs. In spite of
efforts at persuasion by Faisal and Lawrence, the tribes of Syria had refused
to join the war effort. No Arab had risen even in the rear of the advancing
British troops in southern Palestine. The Hejaz regular force was numerically
insignificant, and the Bedouin tribesmen, traditionally well versed in
the primitive techniques of looting forays, could contribute nothing to
Allenby's offensive through Palestine and Syria. The discussion on the
future of the area thus threatened to remain a dialogue between Britain
and France, who had reached agreement earlier on the division of the spoils.
Herein lay the British dilemma. French
control of part of the area, to which London had previously agreed, ruled
out the later plan by Cairo and Khartoum for British control of the whole
area. Thus the objective of British policy now became to find a way to
"biff the French out of all hope of Syria" (in Lawrence's words) or, in
the blunter terms used -- disapprovingly -- in the British Cabinet by Lord
Milner, "to diddle the French out of Syria."3
This could only be done, if at all, by establishing a plausible Arab claim.
In June 1918, an ingenious solution was
accepted by the British government. Osmond Walrond, an intelligence officer
attached to the Arab Bureau in Cairo, read out to "seven Syrians" living
in that city a statement in which the British government officially pledged
itself to recognise in the areas not yet conquered the "complete and sovereign
independence of any Arab area emancipated from Turkish control by the
action of the Arabs themselves."4
On this principle Lawrence and the Sherifians
now hastened to operate in order to establish the "facts" they required.
As an Arab historian has summed it up: "Wherever the British Army captured
a town or reduced a fortress which was to be given to the Arabs it would
halt until the Arabs could enter, and the capture would be credited to
them."5 Hence the wild chase that followed
to raise the Arab flag in towns from which the Turks had already been driven
by the British. Dera’a and Aleppo were two such easy conquests. At Damascus,
there was a serious difficulty, and the manoeuvre did not succeed.
The capture of Damascus & installing Faisal
as the indigenous king of Syria before the French could object
The capture of Damascus, the ancient seventh-century
capital of the Arab Umayyad dynasty, was to have been the climax of the
revolt, installing Faisal as the indigenous king of Syria before the French
could object. General Allenby, the British Commander-in-Chief, ordered
the officers in command of the combined British, Australian, and French
forces advancing on Damascus not to enter the city. It was assumed that
the retreat of the Turks could be completely cut off north of the city.
Only the Sherifian troops were to be allowed to pass into the city to announce
its capture and set up an administration. All this was worked out in advance
between the British War Office, Allenby, and Lawrence. Because Faisal's
600 soldiers were not adequate for the required pomp of his entry, one
of his Syrian supporters was sent to recruit Druze and Hauranians to march
in with what was now called the Northern Arab Army (it was, in fact, the
southern contingent gone north).
Two unforeseen circumstances upset the
plan. The Australian Commander, Brigadier Wilson, finding that he could
not cut off the Turks' retreat without entering the city, therefore went
in, and so it was to the Australians that Damascus was in fact surrendered.6
Later, a British force under Colonel Bourchier also went in to quell a
rising against the British and against the planned installation of Faisal.
It was put down only by the application of considerable force.
Nevertheless, a Sherifian administration
was installed, and the fiction was then promoted that the Arabs had captured
France had to give up Lebanon and Syria by
the Arab Revolt's "right of conquest"
From this scramble to claim territory by "right
of conquest," Palestine was excluded. No such effort was made by the Sherifian
forces on either side of the Jordan. Coming as it did a year after the
publication of the Balfour Declaration on the Jewish National Home in Palestine,
this restriction underlines the fact that the Arab leaders felt no urge
to oppose or obstruct the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine.
In Syria, the clash between French claims,
accepted by the British in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1915, and Arab
claims, conceived and fostered by the British after 1916, was not finally
resolved until 1945. In Palestine, the French effectively gave up their
claims as early as 1918.
France had to give up on her claim to Palestine
by the Jews "right to a homeland", overseen by Britain of course
The Sykes-Picot Agreement, providing for an
international administration in Palestine (see Map No. 6), was the original
reason for the exclusion of Palestine from the promises made to Hussein.
But in 1917, the British government published the Balfour Declaration for
the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine. To achieve
this promise of support in the restoration of their ancient homeland, issued
after much negotiation and deep consideration, the Jews made a significant
contribution to the British war effort. Whatever fantastic interpretations
were later put on it, the British intention was clear and was understood
clearly at the time. A Jewish state was to be established, not at once,
but as soon as the Jewish people by immigration and development became
a majority in the still largely derelict and nearly empty country with
its then half-million Arabs and 90,000 Jews.
This plan would require the tutelage of
a major power. The Mandate system of the then infant League of Nations
seemed to apply perfectly to the situation. British overall control could
be achieved by granting a Mandate to Britain. With a group of Arab states
in Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia -- "semi-independent," with British mentors
and advisers in Jedda, Damascus, and Baghdad (not to mention the British-
controlled administration in Cairo and Khartoum) -- and with, now, a British
Mandatory Administration in Palestine, Britain would have unhampered control
of the whole Middle East, from the Mediterranean clear to the borders of
India. Zionist diplomacy was now exploited by the British to achieve the
consent of France to, in effect, her own elimination from any direct influence
in Palestine. This was not an easy matter, especially in view of obvious
British efforts to "biff" her out of Syria as well. The French, however,
were also sensitive during the war to American opinion and had already
acquiesced in the Balfour Declaration. In order to ensure the establishment
of the Jewish National Home, the French agreed, in the end (and not without
some mining and sapping), to waive their claims in Palestine by acceding
to the grant of the Mandate over Palestine to Britain. Considerable pressure
had to be exerted on France over the question of the borders: in the north
she did hold out successfully for the inclusion in "her" zone of the area
enclosing the main water sources of Palestine (which remained largely unexploited).
North-western Galilee was included in Lebanon, and Mount Hermon and the
Golan Heights in Syria.
Britain first claimed Jordan would be part
of the Jewish Homeland, only to wrest it away from France
The claim to eastern Palestine -- Transjordan
-- on the other hand was, after a struggle, relinquished by France. Characteristic
of the argument brought to bear by the British to persuade her was a leading
article in the London Times, in those days an authentic spokesman for the
British government. The paper called for the inclusion of eastern Palestine
as essential to the Jewish state and urged a "good military frontier" for
Palestine to the east of the Jordan River "as near as may be to the edge
of the desert." The Jordan, noted the Times on September 19, 1919, "will
not do as Palestine's eastern boundary. Our duty as Mandatory is to make
Jewish Palestine not a struggling State but one that is capable of a vigorous
and independent national life." France consented; eastern Palestine remained
part of the area designed for the Jewish National Home and thus passed
into British control. A dovetailed Middle East, with Arab client states
and a Jewish client state coexisting and co-operating under a completely
British umbrella, provided the motive power of official British policy
in the period 1917-1920. On December 2, 1917, Lord Robert Cecil had said
at a large public meeting in London: "The keynote of our meeting this afternoon
is liberation. Our wish is that the Arabian countries shall be for the
Arabs, Armenia for the Armenians and Judea for the Jews."7
France's claims to Syria and Lebanon upheld
by Paris Peace Conference - Faisal, Britain's proxy, ousted from Syria
The Zionists, moreover, helped the Arabs and
the British in the great diplomatic campaign that went on around the Paris
Peace Conference and used their influence in Washington to urge the Arab
claims. The Emir Faisal was not overstating when he wrote on March 3, 1919,
to Felix Frankfurter: "Dr. Weizmann has been a great helper of our cause,
and I hope the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return
for their kindness."
France, pressing her claim to Syria and
Lebanon, was granted control over them by the Peace Conference. In defiance
of this decision, a so-called General Syrian Congress offered the throne
of Syria to Faisal; he was subsequently installed in Damascus, where he
set up an administration. The Supreme Allied Council in Paris retorted
by formally granting the Mandate over Syria and Lebanon to France. This
duality could not last. In July 1920, the French ordered Faisal out of
Faisal wanted Syria, got Iraq, and his brother
Abdullah wanted Iraq and got Jordan
Faisal, bereft of the Syrian crown for which
Lawrence and the Arab Bureau had laboured so hard, was instead offered
the throne of Iraq by the British, though it had previously been earmarked
for Faisal's younger brother Abdullah ibn-Hussein, who was thus left without
At the end of October 1920, Abdullah therefore
collected some 1,500 Turkish ex-soldiers and Hejaz tribesmen, seized a
train on the Hejaz Railway, and entered eastern Palestine. Here he announced
that he was on his way to drive the French out of Syria and called on the
Syrians to join him. There was no response, nor was Abdullah given any
encouragement by the handful of inhabitants of Transjordan itself.
His continued encampment in eastern Palestine
created a dilemma for the British. They had not yet set up any administrative
machinery in what was largely empty territory -- its 90,000 square kilometres
were estimated to hold at most 300,000, inhabitants, most of them nomads.
The British feared, or were induced to fear, that the French, angered by
Abdullah's threats, would invade eastern Palestine. They therefore casually
suggested to Abdullah that he forget about Syria and instead become a representative
of Britain in administering eastern Palestine on behalf of the Mandatory
authority. Whereupon Abdullah generously resigned himself to the French
presence in Syria and took up office in Transjordan, and in time accepted
it as a substitute.
Britain altered the Palestine Mandate to suite
its [Arab] needs
The British government then recalled that
eastern Palestine was part of the area pledged to the Jewish people. They
thereupon inserted an alteration in the draft text of the Mandate (then
not yet ratified by the League of Nations), which gave Britain the right
to "postpone or withhold" the provisions of the Mandate relating to the
Jewish National Home "in the territories lying between the Jordan and the
eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined." The Zionist leaders
were stunned by this threatened lopping off of three quarters of the area
of the projected Jewish National Home; its establishment had, after all,
been Britain's warrant for being granted the Mandate. But the British government
countered with the proposal that, if the Zionists did not accept the situation,
Britain would decline the Mandate altogether and thus withdraw her protection
from the Jewish restoration. The Zionist leaders-struggling with the material
problem of building a country out of a desert and restoring a people, largely
impoverished, from the four corners of the world-were moreover inadequately
equipped with political experience to judge the emptiness of the British
threat. They did not feel strong enough to resist this blow to the integrity
and security of the state-in-building and to their faith in the sanctity
Thus, as a purely British manufacture,
filched from the Jewish National Home, torn out of Palestine of which it
had always been an integral part, there was brought into being, from the
empty waste what subsequently became a spearhead in the "Arab" onslaught
on the Jewish state, the Emirate of Transiordan, later expanded across
the river and renamed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (see Map No. 7).
The elimination of eastern Palestine in
1921-1923 was only the first act-though stark, dramatic, and momentous-in
a developing effort by the British to frustrate and emasculate the Jewish
restoration that began in Palestine immediately after the British occupation.
At first British policy was confined to the military administration in
In colonial politics, nothing seems to
succeed like repeated error and miscalculation and failure. The Cairo-Khartoum
school of British officials in 1916 had grossly overestimated the influence
of the Sherif Hussein of Hejaz on the Arabs outside his own area. His "revolt"
proved a damp squib and had to be retrieved and embellished by a large
fraud. But these officials did not give up their dream of a large Arab
state or federation of states, extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean
and from the borders of Turkey to the southern seaboard of Arabia and supervised
by Britain. It was the men of this school who continued from Cairo to direct
overall British policy for the occupied territory and who came into Palestine
with Allenby or, in the wake of his victory in 1918, to form the military
administration in Palestine. They were stricken to the heart by their government's
deviation from what they had conceived as the correct policy to be followed
in the Fertile Crescent.
Just as the British continued trying to "biff
the French out of Syria," they applied themselves to biffing the Zionists
out of Palestine
But the Balfour Declaration, the promise of
Jewish restoration, even if shorn of its historical sweep, was seen by
London as a clear quid pro quo to the Jews for their contribution to Allied
victory and as a great moral reason for France's renunciation of her claim.
The policy it embodied became the indispensable (or unavoidable) condition
for the Mandate being granted to Britain. To the ruling group in Jerusalem
-- almost wholly composed of leaders or disciples of the Cairo school --
the Balfour Declaration guaranteeing Jewish restoration represented an
intolerable interference in their plans. They set out to undermine it.
Just as they continued trying to "biff the French out of Syria," they applied
themselves to biffing the Zionists out of Palestine. While their government
was still canvassing international support to grant Britain the Mandate
in order to implement the Zionist policy, and while the Zionists were urging
Britain's claims, the first British administration in Palestine was busily
engaged in open defiance of its government’s declared policy.
It was this group, all-powerful on the
spot, that inspired and mobilised and established organised Arab resistance
to the Jewish restoration. It used its power and authority as a military
regime to establish facts, to create events, and to control them. It was
this group whose views progressively pervaded the subsequent Mandate regime.
1. In a letter
to Lord Hardinge, August 26, 1915. Wingate Papers, School of Oriental Studies,
Durham University; quoted by Kedourie~ p. 17.
2. The Truth
about Lawrence -- the phrase is almost a contradiction in terms," notes
the British pro-Arab writer Christopher Sykes. Introduction in Richard
Aldington, Lawrence of Arabia, 2nd ed. (London, 1969).
of T. E. Lawrence (London, 1938), P. 196; Milner cited in David Lloyd George,
The Truth about the Peace Treaties (London, 1936), P. 1047.
4. This document
was never published officially but was presumably to be held "available"
in case of French reactions. It is quoted by George Antonius, The Arab
Awakening (London, 1938), p. 271. (italics added)
Kurd Ali, Kh1tab el Sham, Vol. III (Damascus, 1925), p. 154, quoted in
& Kedourie, England and the Middle East (London, 1956), P. 21.
6. See Kedourie,
Chatham House Version, p. 51; Muhammed Xurd Ali, quoted in Chatham House
Version, p. 40; W. T. Massey, Allenby's Final Triumph (London, 1920), P.
was indeed close diplomatic co-operation between Armenians and Zionists,
especially between Weizmann and Aaron Aaronson on the Zionist side and
the Armenians Nubar Pasha and James Malcolm. The efforts failed; the Armenians
did not gain their independence.
8. The claim
to eastern Palestine was unanimously reiterated by the Zionist Congress
in 1923 and remained part of the program of the Revisionist Party under
Vladimi (Zeev) Jabotinsky and of the Socialist Achdut Avodah Party.
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