Gillian Mosely

The British in Palestine

How and when did Zionist dreams first gain traction? And can this help us post-October 7th?

Before the Balfour Declaration in 1917 offering British support for a Jewish homeland, Herzl & co’s Zionist dream had seen Zionists travelling as far afield as Africa and the West Coast of the United States in order to find a plot of land. Zion, in its original form, was a distant dream.

The British were so starved for WW1 allies that they first promised Pan-Arab Independence in 1915 in exchange for troops. Despite numerous challenges maintaining that they did not intend to include Palestine in this promise, its wording is clear – it was not excluded. This left the British in the position where when their legally agreed written word was no longer convenient, they could either uphold these words or see their reputation for upholding signed documents suffer.

This notwithstanding, two years later, Chaim Weizmann convinced senior British politicians that he could help their war efforts with specially concocted gunpowder, and, that Zionists could help Britain in other ways, once they’d taken over Palestine. The Balfour Declaration followed.

When the British marched into Jerusalem, flanked by Arabian armies in 1917, the population in Palestine was 90% Muslim and Christian and 10% Jewish. The British Mandate of Palestine ensued and by its end, around thirty years later, the population was 50% Jewish.

It will come as no surprise that the declaration was issued in 1917, not just because the British wished to support the aspirations of European Jews in the land of Zion and get some extra help during WW1.

Although the British Empire is no more, Western aspirations to control oil, maintaining a safe harbor amidst less reliable neighbors, and world trade interests have continued to ensure that Israel stays open for business.

But there’s a paradox here. Clearly flipping a large majority population of non-Jews was not democratic, nor was it from the outset with the Zionist Organization in London stating, “If the arithmetical conception of democracy were to be applied now…the majority that would rule would be the Arab majority and the task of establishing and developing a great Jewish Palestine would be infinitely more difficult.”

The issue of Israel’s democratic credentials has now reached fever pitch, October 7th notwithstanding. With such a progenitor, can Israel call itself a democracy? And how will this question contribute to post war conversations about the future of the country, both from within and without?

About the Author
Multi-award-winning historical and science documentary-maker whose films have been shown by broadcasters in 50+ countries, with several now viral on YouTube. As a freelance journalist I have written for The Sunday Times, The Independent, Time Out, among many others.
Related Topics
Related Posts