18th October 2023


A recent review in the Church Times of Peter Shambrook’s Policy of Deceit: Britain and Palestine 1914–39 worryingly, but convincingly, argues that ‘today’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict was made in Britain.’ During the First World War British negotiators tried too hard to please both sides, promising Arabs the establishment of an independent state in Palestine if they revolted against Ottoman rule, and Zionist leaders the creation of a Jewish homeland in the same location. Clearly the two promises, set out again in the Balfour declaration in 1917 – the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, whilst ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ – were incompatible.

At the time of the Balfour Declaration, the Jewish population in Palestine stood at around 50,000 or less than 10% of the population of the region, but with Hitler’s rise to power in Germany there was a dramatic change. The less than 70,000 Jews in Palestine in 1922, most of whom were escaping persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe, had, following the holocaust, risen to almost nine times that figure by 1948. At the same time Jewish genocide and the suffering of Hitler’s concentration camps had created widespread sympathy for the Jewish people and not a little proper guilt at anti-Semitic sentiment. Today there are around 7,200,000 Jews living in the state of Israel. In the context of these figures, the United Nations Partition Proposals, set out in 1947, appear arguably rather mean, and have been radically amended by a combination of military success against invading armies and ever increasing number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Whilst this population increase may explain Israel’s land grabbing it cannot justify Hamas’ indefensible violence in Southern Israel. Thus it needs to be said that whilst Anger may be justified, Rage and Revenge never. And the Christian response? First ‘Father forgive us’, but also always accompanied by seeking the grace to ‘forgive those who sin against us’.

John Briggs