The Arab cause was severely handicapped because it had no voice at the heart of the Secret Elite and no champion in Parliament. Financial and industrial powers wanted control of the resources under the sands and cared little for the indigenous population. In fact the Arabs were mere pawns in a larger game of international chess. Even at the lesser levels of power, they had no influential advocate. They were disadvantaged at every turn. T.E. Lawrence, who fought side by side with Faisal and the Husseins, knew that he was merely part of a conspiracy.

Lawrence had personally endorsed the promises made by the British cabinet, assuring the Arabs that their reward would be self-government. He wrote of ‘our essential insincerity’, of his conviction that ‘it was better we win and break our word, than lose’ the war in Arabia. His much heralded relationship with the Arabs was underpinned by fraud and he knew it. [1] Lawrence’s comments were made in relation to the Sykes-Picot agreement of which he had been fully informed. He was not party to the Balfour Declaration, but his Zionist sympathies later became apparent.

The Machiavellian intrigues which took place in London and Washington added a deeper level to this deceit. It had been argued that the British government, and A.J. Balfour in particular, did not fully realise what they were doing when they approved the fateful decision to support a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was patently untrue. Two of the most experienced politicians in the British Empire, Lord George Curzon, former viceroy and Governor-General of India and Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, both lobbied the War Cabinet against entering into an agreement with the Zionists without a much fuller analysis of what that would mean. Their Cabinet papers on The Future of Palestine [2] and Zionism [3] should have been taken seriously, but were ignored. Indeed their views were presented to the War Cabinet so late in the day that it had the feel of a cosmetic device to imply some kind of balanced judgement. Mere dressing.

Curzon agonised about conditions in Palestine where the Turks had broken up or dislocated Jewish colonies and warned that after the ravages of war and centuries of neglect and misrule, any revival would depend on a colossal investment. He warned that Palestine had no natural wealth. The land contained no mineral wealth, no coal, no iron ore, no copper gold or silver. Crucially Curzon alluded to a more immediate problem. What would happen to the non-Jewish inhabitants? He estimated that there were ‘over half a million Syrian Arabs – a mixed community with Arab, Hebrew, Canaanite, Greek Egyptian and possibly Crusader blood. They and their forefathers have occupied the country for the best part of 1,500 years. They own the soil…they profess the Mohammedan faith. They will not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigrants or to act merely as hewers of wood and drawers of water to the latter.’ [4]

Antique Map of Arabia

He also informed Cabinet that anyone who glibly dreamt of a Jewish Capital in Jerusalem did not appreciate the complexity of the ‘holy places.’ Too many people and too many religions had such a passionate and permanent interest that any such outcome was not even ‘dimly possible.’ His final warning was profoundly clear: ‘In my judgement, it [Zionism] is a policy very widely removed from the romantic and idealistic aspirations of many Zionist leaders whose literature I have studied, and whatever it does, it will not in my judgement provide either a national, a material or even a spiritual home for any more than a very small section of the Jewish people.’ [5] His analysis was superb. His words were left to gather dust on the cabinet shelves and have been ignored because they destroyed the illusion which Zionists repeated about a land without people waiting for a people without land.

Edwin Montagu’s Cabinet paper on Zionism was distributed at the same meeting. It included a highly perceptive report from Miss Gertrude Lowthian Bell, the acting Political Officer in Baghdad. The Oxford educated writer and sometimes British Intelligence operative pointed out that: ‘Jewish immigration has been artificially fostered by doles and subventions from millionaire co-religionists in Europe; [The most prolific giver of doles and subventions was Edmund de Rothschild] …The pious hope that an independent Jewish state may some day be established in Palestine no doubt exists though it must be questioned whether among local Jews there is any acute desire to see it realised, except as a means to escape from Turkish oppression; it is perhaps more lively in the breasts of those who live far from the rocky Palestine hills and have no intention of changing their domicile.’ Lord Cromer took pleasure in relating a conversation he held on the subject with one of the best known English Jews who observed: ‘If a Jewish kingdom were to be established in Jerusalem, I should lose no time in applying for the post of Ambassador in London.’ [6] Tantalisingly, Cromer was not prepared to name the alleged wit.

Gertrude Bell was often referred to as Queen of the Desert. Her knowledge and experience was unsurpassed.

Gertrude Bell’s acutely accurate observation held the key to understanding what was happening. The clarion call to a Jewish homeland in Palestine came not from the small Jewish communities which had been established there or the few more recent immigrant settlers. Naturally those Jews who, together with their Arab and Muslim neighbours, had suffered under the harsh Turkish yoke, welcomed change. What she questioned was the validity of those who canvassed for a ‘homeland’ to which they had no intention to return. How many of those Britons or Americans who supported the idea of a Jewish homeland, actively considered packing their bags and moving to a community in Palestine? This was not the message that the Secret Elite wished to consider.

Edwin Montagu was the second British Jew to hold a cabinet post and held the office of secretary of state for India. He had a keen interest in Muslim affairs and his concerns reflected an awareness of such sensitivities. Montagu made an observation about Chaim Weizmann which resonated with the evidence which we have already presented. In recognising Weizmann’s services to the Allied cause and his reputation as an exceptional chemist, he reminded the Cabinet that Weizmann was a religious fanatic, a zealot for whom Zionism had been the guiding principle for a large part of his life. He saw in Weizmann’s over-whelming enthusiasm, an inability to take into account the feelings of those from his own religion who differed from his view or, and herein lay a critical point, those of other religions whom Weizmann’s activities, if successful, would dispossess. [7]

In an attempt to dispel the assumption that Weizmann’s brand of Zionism was widely supported within the Jewish community in Britain, Montagu added a list of prominent British Jews active in public life whom he termed Anti-Zionist. It included Professors, Rabbis, Jewish members of the Government (Sir Alfred Mond and Lord Reading) three Rothschilds, Sir Marcus Samuel (of Royal Dutch/Shell) and many more British Jews. [8] He begged the war cabinet to pause and think before it ignored the British voice of the many Jews who had ‘lived for generations in this country, and who feel themselves to be Englishmen.’ [9] He countered claims that American Jews were in favour of Zionism by quoting from the Convention of the Central Conference of Jewish Rabbis held in June 1917: ‘The religious Israel, having the sanctions of history, must not be sacrificed to the purely racial Israel of modern times.’ Note how the term Israel was used. Jacob Schiff’s views were included with specific emphasis on his belief that ‘no effort should be made to re-establish a Jewish nation…’ Similar sentiments from leading French and Italian Jews were included.

George Curzon

These were very deep-felt pleas. Curzon’s warning ought to have alerted the experienced politicians in the war Cabinet. Milner had gone to war with the Boers to protect the Empire and its gold-mines, but General Smuts knew how easily native populations resented incomers who laid claim to their land. Sir Edward Carson had brought Ireland to the brink of civil war in 1914 over the rights of different communities in the North and South of that island. Surely he was aware of the tensions caused by any threat to introduce different values to old cultures. In truth, the Secret Elite had come to its conclusion, and no other view was welcomed. Their concern was the future of the British Empire which had to be of paramount importance in every circumstance. Advice from Curzon and Montagu was ignored. Curzon ought to have had the courage to resign, but acquiesced in silence when the vote was taken. [10]

1. T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars, pp. 5-6.
2. National Archives, Cabinet Papers:CAB 24/30.
3. National Archives, Cabinet Papers:CAB 24/28.
4. National Archives, Cabinet Papers: CAB 24/30 p. 2.
5. Ibid., p. 3.
6. Ibid., p.4.
7. National Archives, Cabinet Papers:GT- 2263 p. 1.
8. National Archives, Cabinet Papers:CAB 24/28, GT 2263.
9. Ibid., p. 2.
10. Ibid., p. 3.