Q&A Friday #15: Why Did The Brits Allow The Israelis To Create A State?

Question: “The subject of animosity between the Palestinians and Israel is something that has been weighing on my mind for some time now. The land that was given to the Jews in 1948 had been promised to the Palestinians twice before by the British, who they fought beside. Why should the land have been given to the Jews instead when the Palestinians already had claim to it?” — Kinneary

Answer: It’s all very messy, confusing, and controversial, but let me give the short & sweet answer to that question:

During the dark days of WW1, the Brits made murky and competing promises to two different groups of Arabs as well as to the Jews in the Palestinian region in order to try to obtain their help. One of those promises took the form of the Balfour Declaration which was issued in 1917 and essentially promised the Jews a homeland in the region. Then after WW1, the Brits took over that slice of the Middle-East from the Ottoman Empire.

There were already Jews living there and naturally more of them emigrated to the area over time because they anticipated a Jewish state being there one day. Unfortunately the Arabs who lived in the area, who were referred to as Palestinians, didn’t like the idea, didn’t agree to it, and became progressively more angry about it.

Things were ugly in the region for a long time, but the tension ratcheted up enormously because of the fall-out from WW2. As Jews were persecuted & murdered in Europe, more of them came to Israel. This infuriated the Palestinians and the Brits did their best to try to keep the European Jews out. This in turn enraged the Israelis who felt that the Brits were deliberately allowing Jews to die in Europe. Terrorist attacks against the Brits by Jewish groups (and, yes, that’s what they were although some people will deny it) followed and things progressively spiraled out of control.

After WW2, the British public soured on British involvement and the government looked for a way to wash their hands of the whole affair. So, they went to the United Nations and starting talking about the idea of a Jewish and Palestinian state. The surrounding region, Palestinians included, were adamantly against having any sort of Jewish state and the Brits at least claimed that they didn’t want to go forward without the approval of the Palestinians and the surrounding region. However, there was more support for a Jewish State at the UN than the Brits anticipated (The US & USSR both thought it was a grand idea) and the political pressure at home became enormous.

So, the Brits basically just said, “To Hell with it,” and washed their hands of the whole thing. Even as they pulled out, troops from the surrounding region prepared to slaughter the Jews and there was a war in 1948. Surprisingly, the Jews, who were outmanned and outgunned, managed to hold out, defeat the armies aligned against them, and Israel was born.

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