Palestine: In Search of Change

‘Shambrook’s deft handling of the primary sources brilliantly brings to life how British imperial officials and politicians contrived to determine then defend an increasingly problematic policy in Palestine.’

1 min read
File Photo of British forces in Palestine around 1922

Following experts adapted from the author’s recent book, Policy of Deceit Britain and Palestine, 1914-1939, published by OneWorld Publications

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again ~ Maya Angelou

Since 1939, no British government has examined its predecessors’ contradictory promises, including the ‘broken promise’ of the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence, which led inexorably to a hundred years of warfare in Palestine. Instead, governments of all parties have consistently favoured policies on Palestine which have been politically convenient domestically, which have not reflected reality on the ground, and which acknowledge not one iota of responsibility for the destruction of Palestinian society in 1948.

Since then, pogroms, dispossession and exile have been the Palestinians’ lot. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the indigenous peoples of North America had little, if any, power to resist the European settler government in Washington D.C. So far, the indigenous Palestinians have endured a not dissimilar history. The myth of two peoples in an equal fight, engaged in a ‘conflict’ of ‘right against right’, still lingers in Western corridors of power, as well as in the media, and prevents the possibility of constructive negotiations.

According to Mearsheimer and Walt, ‘In addition to Israel’s commitment to maintaining its Jewish identity and its refusal to grant de jure equality for non-Jews, Israel’s 1.36 million Arabs are de facto treated as second-class citizens.’

At the time of writing in summer 2022, a state of constant suffering and simmering resistance inevitably prevails in the West Bank and Gaza, where five million men, women and children are deliberately deprived of their rights – both political and economic. Nevertheless, since 1967, a succession of governments in London, their eyes firmly fixed on trade, oil and regional security, have shown no desire to hold their ally, a self-proclaimed liberal democracy, to account for its un-Jewish, colonising, oppressive policies, which therefore remain consequence-free.

All the parties involved endeavour to hug the moral high ground. Is it unduly naive to hope that if the British government gave a lead, all might inch forward cautiously towards a settlement on the basis of ‘acknowledgement’ of their own past and present mistakes, rather than constantly proclaiming, from the summits of their self-made moral mountains, the sins of the ‘Other’?

The moral and political imperative for change is clear. Some examples in recent history demonstrate that what is unthinkable today can become reality tomorrow, when the high priests of scepticism and realpolitik are confounded, and a new political dispensation emerges. South Africa and Northern Ireland come to mind, whose present political arrangements are considerably better than they were previously. Could ‘acknowledgement’, unimaginable at present, be one of the initial stepping stones towards a potential new dispensation for the region, or must the war for Palestine continue for a further century?

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Peter Shambrook

Peter Shambrook is an independent scholar and historical consultant to the Balfour Project, which works to advance equal rights for all in Palestine/Israel. He holds a PhD in modern Middle Eastern history from the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Cambridge, and over the course of his career he has held a number of research positions, including at Durham University and at the Centre for Lebanese Studies in Oxford. He is the author of French Imperialism in Syria, 1927–1936. He lives in Durham.

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