Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki has threatened to sue Britain for issuing the 1917 Balfour Declaration because, he claims, it led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine “at the expense of our Palestinian people”.
The Palestinian threat is not as laughable as it sounds. It is not altogether unexpected either, being of a piece with the current Palestinian strategy – exploit any law, abuse any forum, to delegitimise Israel.
The Balfour Declaration, named after then UK Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, pledged Britain’s support for the establishment “in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. It was not intended at the expense of the local Arabs, whose civil rights would not be prejudiced: later, the 1936 Peel Commission proposed to partition western Palestine into an Arab as well as a Jewish state.
“Nearly a century has passed since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917,” Malki was quoted as saying.”And based on this ill-omened promise hundreds of thousands of Jews were moved from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine at the expense of our Palestinian people whose parents and grandparents had lived for thousands of years on the soil of their homeland.”
Almost every world in Malki’s statement is economical with the truth. As soon as the Balfour declaration was made, Britain reneged on its promises to the Zionists. It hived off 70 percent of Palestine to Transjordan in 1921 and drastically curtailed Jewish emigration, sealing the fate of thousands more Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Jews who came to Israel were ‘moved’ from Europe and elsewhere, says Malki. The elsewhere accounts for more than half the Jews of Israel – those who came as destitute refugees or descend from refugees from Arab and Muslim lands. And it was not the British, but the Arabs who were responsible for that exodus.
No Arab states were enjoined to respect the civil rights of their Jewish citizens. These Jews were unceremoniously thrown out of the Arab world without apology and without compensation – and their pre-Islamic communities destroyed.
The Palestinians, it is widely believed, cannot be held responsible for what happened to the Jewish refugees. While Israel could legitimately discuss Palestinian refugees in peace talks, Jewish refugees would have to address their grievances to Arab states.
Arab League states, which instigated the 1948 war against Israel, were indeed responsible for creating both sets of refugees. However, an extremist Palestinian leadership, which collaborated with the Nazis and incited anti-Jewish hatred all over the Arab world in the decades preceding the creation of Israel, played an active part in all Arab-League decision-making and dragged five Arab states into conflict with the new Jewish state – a conflict they lost and whose consequences they must suffer. The Palestinian move to sue is of breathtaking chutzpa: it is as if Germans were to sue the Allies for starting World War 2.
The idea of expelling the Jews of Arab countries after 1948 was adopted by the Palestinians as a policy. According to the well-connected Egyptian-Jewish journalist Victor Nahmias, the Palestinians were a major factor in the Jewish migration to Israel in 1950 – 51.
From the outset, the Palestinian cause was a pan-Arab nationalist cause. It has also a powerful Islamist dimension: From an early stage the campaign for Palestine took on an antisemitic hue. Palestine was a zero-sum game: in Arab eyes, the Jews had no claim to a single inch.
Every anniversary of the Balfour declaration, mobs in the Arab world took to the streets and the demonstrations at times degenerated into full-blown riots, as in Egypt and Libya in 1945, when 130 Jews were murdered.
Not only did the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini instigate deadly disturbances in Palestine in 1920 and 1929, wherever the Mufti went in the Arab world, he used the Balfour Declaration as a rallying cry to incite persecution and mayhem against the local Jews.
The Jerusalem Islamic congress of 1931, called by the Mufti, was followed by violence in Morocco throughout the 1930s. An entente between Tunisian nationalists and the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee sparked violence in Sfax in 1932. There was trouble in Yemen and Aden. All this well before the creation of the state of Israel.
But the worst incitement, with the deadliest consequences of all, took place in Iraq: In 1939, Palestinian teachers expelled by the British to Baghdad together with the Mufti, along with Syrian and Lebanese nationalists, played a key role fanning the flames of Jew-hatred with false propaganda. Seventy-five years ago this year, the Mufti fled to Berlin after being implicated in a failed pro-Nazi coup – but not before he had primed the Arabs of Baghdad to unleash the Farhud of 1941. The pogrom claimed the lives of at least 140 Jews, with many mutilated and raped, and 900 shops looted and wrecked.
This was the first battle in the Palestinian war against the defenceless Jews of the Arab world. Had the Nazis been victorious, the Mufti would have overseen the Jews’ extermination, not just in Palestine but throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
It is these Jews who have been denied justice, the right to compensation for their dispossession of assets and land several times the size of Israel itself, or the human rights abuses they suffered at the hands of Arab governments and mobs. It is these Jews who have every right to sue.