T E Lawrence

In 1916, Thomas Edward Lawrence, at 27 and an Arabic scholar, had been assigned to British military intelligence in Cairo, to sail to Jidda to seek an alliance with Sherif Hussein with the purpose of ending the unpopular pro-German Turkish occupation of the Middle East, while at the same time guarding the sea route to British India. Although Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom became one of the most popular 20th Century works on the Middle East in the English language, his official status was always that of a political intelligence officer, who in the end did deliver the Arabs to Great Britain.

Lawrence thought as an imperialist. He favoured the Balfour Declaration and the Zionist enterprise as a means to keep the French out of Palestine and perhaps out of the rest of Syria. He championed ill-fated negotiations between the Sherif of Mecca's son, the Emir Feisal, and Chaim Weizmann (whom Lawrence genuinely admired). Lawrence's prejudices were imperially motivated. He loathed Turks and Frenchmen, and he respected Jews, 'the sooner the Jews farm it [Palestine] the better,' wrote Lawrence in a letter home. In Severn Pillars of Wisdom, he notes that 'only in... the everlasting miracle of Jewry, had distant Semites kept some of their identity and force' in the greater world.161

'Clientitis' was a necessary fact of Middle Eastern politics in an era when autonomous Arab states did not officially exist and when there was no formal means by which local for tribal chiefs could express their views or aspirations other than through sympathetic British officers whose 'career fortunes rose and fell in direct proportion to those of the particular tribesmen they were attached to.' 162

Prior to 1918, it was the belief of the Colonial Office, and practically all the local expatriate Arabists that when the Turks had been defeated, the direct descendants of Mohammed, the Hashemite family of the Sherif of Mecca were the only tribe with sufficient religious and political prestige to rule with any stability in Arabia.

Lawrence, in particular, was a person overly influenced by setting. Among Arabs in the desert, he became pro-Arab; in Whitehall he was pro-Empire; with Chaim Weizmann he felt himself an avid Zionist. Thus to read the wartime missives of Lawrence, Miss Bell, and others-where, for instance, on one occasion Arab nationalism is proscribed, while on another Iraqi and Syrian self-rule is cheered on-is to find oneself in a muddle. And a muddle is what the British, with assistance from the French, made of the post-Ottoman Middle East.163

On 2nd November, 1917, Lord Balfour, then British Foreign Secretary made public the 'following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet.'

His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done, which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish Communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. 164

What the Balfour Declaration left unclear was the meaning of a 'national home'. Was this synonymous with sovereignty or statehood and if so what were to be the borders? In all of Palestine or just a portion? What was to be the status of Jerusalem? Furthermore, while it stated that 'the civil and religious rights of the existing population' were to be safeguarded and the territory was designated 'Palestine', there was no reference to Palestinians. 'They were an actual, but awkward non-identity'.165 It was Balfour's opinion that 'the present inhabitants' need not be consulted, either before or after.166 That 90% of the population of Palestine were Palestinian Arabs of whom around 20% were Christian seemed irrelevant to the politicians and Zionists who had another agenda.167 So the awkward questions were left unanswered and it is these ambiguities which have plagued Middle East peace negotiations and divided Christians ever since. According to Wagner,

This single declaration gave the Zionist movement its first political legitimacy in history and created a platform for its leaders to accelerate colonization of Palestine.168

In a speech made at the London Opera House celebration of the Balfour Declaration on 2nd December 1917, Lord Robert Cecil claimed that it marked not the birth of a nation but,

...the rebirth of a nation... I believe it will have far-flung influence on the history of the world and consequences than none can foresee on the future history of the human race.169

A week later, on the 9th December 1917, British troops occupied Jerusalem, 'and the Holy City passed into Christian hands for the first time since the rule of Frederick II as King of Jerusalem.' Her future, 'now lay with the Western powers and was to all intents and purposes bound up with the question of harmonising their interests in Palestine as a whole.'170

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