1900-1919 | Palestine | Racism

Palestinians marginalised as their land is declared a future ‘national home for the Jewish people’

Lord Balfour and his declaration – via Wikimedia.

9 November 1917

On 9 November 1917, The Times published a letter, now remembered as the Balfour Declaration, which Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour had written a week earlier to Lord Rothschild. In it, he promised to back, ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’  Although it also stated that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities,’ the government knew that its Jewish homeland policy would be opposed by the overwhelming majority of the population of Palestine.1

During the two years which followed the publication, one of the key architects of the British Palestine Mandate was a Cairo based political officer, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen. He shared many of the anti-Semtic beliefs of other officials, and, like others in government, his disdain for Arabs was even stronger.2 In a memorandum requested by Prime Minister Lloyd George during the 1919 Versailles Peace negotiations, Meinhertzhagen expressed the typical racist thinking which motivated the British to support the handing over of Palestinian land to the ‘Chosen People.’

‘We are very wise,’ Meinertzhagen reasoned, ‘in allowing the Jews to establish their national home in Palestine.’ He then added that the Versailles Treaty had ‘laid two eggs. Jewish nationalism and Arab nationalism,’ which were going to ‘grow into two troublesome chickens. The Jew virile, brave, determined and intelligent. The Arab decadent, stupid, dishonest and producing little beyond eccentrics influenced by the romance and silence of the desert… We cannot befriend both Jew and Arab. My proposal is based on befriending the people who are more likely to be the loyal friends – the Jews; they owe us a great deal and gratitude is a marked characteristic of that race. Though we have done much for the Arabs, they do not know the meaning of gratitude; moreover they would be a liability… (While) the Jews have… proved their fighting qualities since the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, the Arab is a poor fighter though adept at looting, sabotage and murder.’3


  1. ‘Palestine for the Jews: Official Sympathy,’ The Times, 9 November 1917, p. 7.
  2. Michael J. Cohen, Britain’s Moment in Palestine: Retrospect and Perspectives, 1917-48, RoutledgeLondon and New York, p. 88
  3. Meinertzhagen’s Middle East Diaries, 25 March 1919, accessed online at https://archive.org/stream/MeinertzhagenMiddleEastDiary19171958/Meinertzhagen%20-%20Middle%20East%20Diary%201917-1958_djvu.txt

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2019 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *