Journal of Interdisiplinry Studies
in history and Aechaeology
Vol. 1, No.1 (Summer 2004), pp. 101-112
Churchill in the Middle East Department 1920-22
Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education,
Cambridge University, U.K.
This article is on the development of British Policy in the Middle East whilst
Churchill was Colonial Secretary after the First World War. Churchill established the
Middle East Department of the Colonial Office and presided over the important
Cairo Conference in 1921 which made economies in British expenditure in the
Middle East and established the framework for subsequent government in the region.
The article focuses on the development of policy in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and
Palestine and discusses the way civilian government was established in Mesopotamia
and how Churchill dealt with the conflicting demands of Arabs and Jews in Palestine.
Evidence is presented which suggests that Churchill was not a friend to the Arabs and
took a fairly dim view of the achievements of Arab civilisation.
After the First World War, Churchill became Secretary of State for War which
brought him into direct contact with the emerging problems of the Middle East. Here
large numbers of British forces were committed to enforcing a Middle East settlement
after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, whilst domestic pressures called for
demobilisation and economies. Indeed there was considerable pressure to reduce military
expenditure in the Middle East where 175 battalions had been stationed at the end of the
war; this figure was reduced to 99 battalions by April 1919 at a cost to the British tax
payer of 75m, and 70 battalions by 1920-21 at a cost of 40m.
During his time at the War Office, Churchill was inevitably drawn into a
consideration of the problems of the Middle East where the post-war settlement gave the
French a sphere of influence over Syria and Lebanon, and the British control over
Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq. Churchill was determined to have these new
responsibilities on the cheap and on 7 February 1920 argued in a Cabinet memorandum
that the cost of defending Iraq could be reduced from 18.5m to 5.5m by abandoning
Mosul with its Kurdish population and maintaining garrisons at Baghdad and Basra only.
In another Cabinet memorandum dated 1 May 1920, he described the current military
and administrative policy in Iraq as a waste of money and wrote despairingly of the cost
of defending `a score of mud villages, sandwiched in between a swampy river and a
blistering desert, inhabited by a few hundred half naked families...' (Gilbert 1977a:
1079). His aim was to use the Royal Air Force and bombs rather than bayonets to control
the British sphere of influence in the Middle East.
The enormity of the job to be done in the Middle East will have been brought home
to Churchill during the spring and summer of 1920. On 4 April riots against the Jews
broke out in Jerusalem, and the costs of the Middle East policy were worrying Churchill.
As he wrote to Lloyd George on 13 June, `...Palestine is costing us 6 millions a year to
hold. The Zionist movement will cause continued friction with the Arabs.' Furthermore,
on 13 June he warned Lloyd George, `The Palestine venture is the most difficult to
withdraw from & (=19) the one wh (=13) certainly will never yield any profit of a
material kind'1 (Gilbert 1975: 484-5). Feelings were indeed running high as
Meinertzagen mentions in his Middle East Diary: he recorded the words of a notice
being displayed all over Jerusalem which read as follows: `The Government is with us,
Allenby is with us, kill the Jews; there is no punishment for killing Jews' (Meinertzagen
Then on 26 May 1920 an Arab Rebellion broke out in Mesopotamia. It began in the
north near Mosul, but soon spread south to Baghdad and in one incident on 24 July the
Manchester Regiment of 800 was attacked and lost 180 dead and 160 captured.
Churchill, deploring having `to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless
deserts', was forced to order another whole division from India and two more air
squadrons (Gilbert 1975: 496). There followed three and a half months of punitive
expeditions during which villages were burned, fines were collected and arms and
ammunition surrendered to the imperial forces.
Crises in the Middle East forced Churchill to ask for an extra 40m on the army
estimates in December 1920. But by this time his fertile brain had turned to the idea of
creating a Middle East Department within the Colonial Office, and manoeuvring himself
into a position whereby he could become the arbiter of events in the Middle East. On 20
August 1920 he had proposed such a department at the Cabinet Finance Committee
emphasising the possibilities for economies and the need to co-ordinate policy in
Palestine, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Arabia. On 7 December he repeated the suggestion,
and on 21 December he reminded the Finance Committee of the 37m currently being
spent on forces in Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.2 The pressure worked and on 31
December 1920 the full Cabinet agreed to set up a Middle East Department to enable the
co-ordination of policy in that region which had previously been divided between the
War Office, India Office, Colonial Office and Foreign Office. The Colonial Secretary
Lord Milner did not want the additional responsibilities, so Lloyd George offered
Churchill the job of Colonial Secretary with the new brief for the Middle East.
The Development of Policy for Mesopotamia
Once in charge at the Middle East Department, Churchill launched himself into his
crusade to reduce British expenditure in that region. On 8 January he sent a telegram to
Cox (the High Commissioner) and Haldane (the Commander in Chief) saying that the
British taxpayer should not be burdened with the present schemes for governing
Mesopotamia and that unless it could be governed more cheaply, `retirement and
contraction to coastal zone is inevitable' (Gilbert 1975: 511=7). He also suggested that
an Arab Government should be installed with British police, Indian troops and air power
in support. This telegram provoked a threat of resignation from High Commissioner Cox
on 13 January causing Churchill to assure him in a telegram on 16 January that no
decisions on withdrawal had been made and that he should not resign. However
Churchill reiterated that Cox should consider what could be done with smaller higher
quality forces and air power reminding him of the pressing needs for economy: `The
Chancellor of the Exchequer does not know which way to turn for money, and the whole
Churchill in the Middle East Department 1920-22
country is furious at the present rate of expenditure, no part of which is more assailed
than money spent in Mesopotamia' (Gilbert 1977a: 1312=7).
Churchill, realising the urgency of the situation, decided to call the Cairo Conference
to thrash out policy for the newly acquired territories of the Middle East. The conference
opened in Cairo on 12 March 1921. Interestingly Churchill chose to chair the Political
Committee, leaving the Military Committee where much money was to be saved to a
soldier, General Congreve. The discussion focussed on who should be the new ruler of
Mesopotamia. The two sons of the Hashemite Sharif Husain of Mecca, Faisal and
Abdullah, leaders of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World
War, were the favourite candidates since they commanded widespread appeal throughout
the Arab world even though they were not from Mesopotamia. T.E. Lawrence, recruited
by Churchill into the Middle East Department, felt that Abdullah was lazy and
insufficiently dominating to be a successful ruler in Iraq, but most agreed that his brother
Faisal was a stronger candidate. Faisal's war experience gave him the capacity to raise
an army which would be important in a slimmed down Iraqi administration, and T.E.
Lawrence promoted him as the only man who could `pull together the scattered elements
of a backward and half-civilised country' (James 1995: 384). Furthermore his experience
at the Paris Peace Conference had taught him the sophistication and dignity that would
be required of him as King.
There were of course some other candidates who required consideration, but none
stood up to comparison with Faisal and republicanism was barely considered. Ibn Saud
who would eventually lend his name to the Saudi state did not have the war experience
and resulting prestige of Faisal and Abdullah. But there were local candidates in Iraq too.
Sayyid Talib, a Sunni from Basra, who was promoting his candidacy during the Cairo
conference did not have a following in the country as a whole, and the Naqib was by
now an old man. As Churchill put it in a telegram to Lloyd George on 18 March,3 `... if
chosen, Ibn Saud would plunge the whole country into religious pandemonium. Sayyid
Talib, who is acutely intriguing for the job, is a man of bad character and untrustworthy.
Naqib is tottering on the brink of grave. That Shereefian system offers far better
prospects than these, we have no doubt whatever. It is, in fact, only workable policy'
(Gilbert 1977a: 1398=21).
In another telegram to Lloyd George on 21 March, Churchill reaffirmed Faisal as the
best bet but hinted at the need for some form of popular acclamation: `But we have no
doubt whatever that the best guarantee for stability of government and quick reduction of
expense and responsibility would be adoption of Faisal by a substantial preponderance
of public opinion' (Gilbert 1977a: 1406). Lloyd George was ready to go along with this
plan and told Churchill in a telegram of 22 March that Faisal would be asked to leave for
Mecca and told that Britain welcomed the choice of Faisal on `the double condition that
he is prepared to accept terms of mandate as laid before League of Nations, and that he
will not utilise his position to intrigue against or attack the French' (Gilbert 1977a:
1407). Lloyd George was worried here that the French might fear encirclement in Syria
and Abdullah, the `suitable recipient for the booby prize of Transjordan' (Sluglett 1976:
43=7), menacing from the south, and Faisal installed in Iraq seeking revenge for his
treatment by the French in Syria.
The Military Committee held its second and third meetings on 13 March during
which Trenchard outlined his plans for replacing troops with modern weapons systems
including 8 squadrons of aircraft, 6 armoured car companies, 2 armoured trains and 3 or
4 river gunboats. However when on the same day the joint Political and Military
Committees held their first meeting, there was some backtracking from Congreve,
Haldane and Cox who felt that the economies were being imposed too quickly after the
Mesopotamian revolt. But Churchill insisted that economies would have to be found and
he reminded those present that of the 30m being spent on Palestine and Mesopotamia,
only 3.5 was being spent on Palestine.
If there was no final agreement on the economies to be imposed on Iraq, Cairo
wasn't the end of the matter either so far as the choice of a new King for Mesopotamia
was concerned. There was some unfinished business for Cox to attend to when he
returned to Baghdad. While Cox had been in Cairo, Sayyid Talib had been touring
Mesopotamia south of Baghdad promoting his candidacy as a potential King of Iraq.
According to Cox he carried out a strong campaign of propaganda ostensibly in favour of
the Naqib but really in his own interest, and that `In private conversation he had been
perfectly frank as to his ultimate intention of becoming Amir and in many quarters his
ambitions had aroused alarm' (RIA 1923). Furthermore, he was reported to have adopted
the slogan of `Iraq for the Iraqis', and although he tried to emphasise his moderation by
urging co-operation with Britain, reports reached Cairo and London that he was being
accorded `a magnificent reception everywhere' (Klieman 1970: 145-6).
Cox hurried back from Cairo to take charge. Events began to turn against Sayyid
Talib from 13 April, the day he gave a dinner party in honour of Sir Percival Landon, a
special correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Present at the party were the French and
Persian Consuls, Amir er-Rabia and Sheikh Salim el-Khaiyun (tribal leaders), and Mr
Tod (manager of the Mesopotamian-Persian Corporation) and his wife. After dinner,
Sayyid asked Mrs Tod to take the ladies to see his wife and then proceeded to make a
speech which was later reported to Gertrude Bell. The speech was interpreted for the
Daily Telegraph correspondent, and both he and Tod (who knew Arabic) thought it had
been carefully rehearsed (Graves 1941: 288=18). In the speech he was said to have
complained that the British officials were not entirely neutral in regard to the selection of
a King, whereas Iraqis wanted freedom of choice. It was claimed that he then pointed to
the Arab chiefs present and warned that their armed tribesmen would ask about so-called
British impartiality, and suggested that if there was any sign of the British taking sides,
the Naqib was prepared to appeal to the Islamic world for support. The British guests
interpreted this as a serious threat and reported the speech to Gertrude Bell who told
Cox. Cox accepted as accurate this secondary report from Gertrude Bell as related to her
by Mr Tod, who knew Arabic, and Mr Landon who did not.
Cox decided to arrest and deport Sayyid (Sluglett 1976: 67=13). The arrest took
place as Sayyid returned on 16 April from a long-standing tea engagement with Lady
Cox at the Residency, and he was swiftly deported to Ceylon where his family joined
him. This action, apart from confirming to all who cared that the British were not
impartial on the issue, cleared the way for Faisal's arrival in Iraq, and as Shuckburgh,
head of the Middle East section commented at the end of the year, `Sayyid Talib's
removal from Iraq was essential to the success of the Sharifian policy, and his own
intemperate behaviour afforded clear justification for the drastic steps that were taken.'
Churchill was said to have commented that one advantage of the Colonial Office was
that it had `an almost unlimited selection of salubrious spots for the planting out of
Churchill in the Middle East Department 1920-22
objectionable people' (Klieman 1970: 148=13). Furthermore, according to one diarist,
Churchill gave Cabinet an `amusing account of Mesopotamia' including mention of `its
Home Secretary now banished to Ceylon' (Gilbert 1977b: 1483).
For the rest of the Iraqi population, Cox declared an amnesty on 30 May, and on 17
June issued a communique to the people of Iraq which, after praising the Husain family
for raising `the Arab standard on the side of the Allies during the war', promised to
support Faisal's candidacy in a `free' choice for the Iraqis: `...his Majesty's Government
would place no obstacle in the way of his Highness' candidature for the rulership of
Mesopotamia and that should he be chosen by the people, he would have British
support... the people of Iraq should make a free choice' but choosing Faisal `offered the
best prospect of a happy and prosperous future to this country' (Graves 1941: 294-5).
Just to make sure that any doubters had got the message Philby, the Advisor to the
Ministry of the Interior, was sacked for his republicanism and his opposition to Faisal,
whilst Cox was made a Knight Grand Commander of the order of St. Michael and St.
George in the New Year's Honours list.
Once safely installed on the throne, Faisal proved not to be as compliant as Churchill
would have liked. Thus in a note to two of his officials on 24 November 1921, Churchill
I am getting tired of all these lengthy telegrams about Faisal and his state of mind.
There is too much of it. Six months ago we were paying his hotel bill in London, and
now I am forced to read day after day 800-word messages on questions of his status
and his relations with foreign Powers. Has he not got some wives to keep him quite?
He seems to be in a state of constant ferment, and Cox is much too ready to pass it on
(Gilbert 1977b: 1675)
The point at issue was Faisal's desire to replace the mandate with a treaty which
would increase his powers particularly in foreign policy whilst acknowledging a
continuing though lesser role for Britain. Groups of `extremists' supported Faisal in his
attempts to get the best deal possible from the treaty, but this soon turned into anti-treaty
opposition as the extremists wanted far more power handed over to the Iraqi government
than the British were prepared to give. The crisis came to head when Cox and Gertrude
Bell appeared at the palace on the anniversary of the coronation on 23 August (=13?)4
1922 to find the extremists delivering speeches and shouting `Down with the Mandate.'
According to Bell, Faisal seemed nervous and it appeared that the demonstration had
been deliberately arranged to coincide with Cox's audience (Bell 1927; Graves 1941).
The following day Faisal was struck down with appendicitis and he was operated on
the morning of the 25 August. Cox immediately seized control of the government (much
of the Council having already resigned), suppressed two newspapers, and closed the
offices of two `extremist' political parties. Two `extremists' were advised to leave the
country, and the whole episode cured Faisal of his flirtation with political radicalism. On
11 September Faisal wrote to Cox to thank him and express appreciation for the prompt
and necessary measures `to maintain public interests and preserve order and peace in that
sudden coincidence of my sudden illness' (Graves 1941: 319=13). The treaty was signed
and Article 6 included an undertaking by Britain to assist Iraq's entry into the League of
Nations which would automatically bring to an end the British Mandate. According to
the Cabinet minutes of 5 October 1922, Britain agreed to recommend admission to the
League of Nations as soon as stable government had been established, frontiers defined,
and military and financial arrangements agreed. `King Faisal had accepted this solution,
and his acceptance had no doubt been influenced by his recent illness and the energetic
action taken by the High Commissioner in suppressing the extremists' (Gilbert 1977b:
The Development of Policy for Palestine
The Cairo Conference also had the Palestine issue on the agenda and the Palestinian
Arabs used the opportunity to present a petition dated 14 March 1921. The petition
contained 5 central demands as follows:
`1. We refuse the Jewish immigration to Palestine.
2. We energetically protest against the Balfour Declaration to the effect that our
country should be made a Jewish National Home.
3. We request the establishment in our country of a native government similar to
those established in other countries in conformity with Article 22 of the decisions
of League of Nations.
4. We protest against all the contents of the draft for the Mandate of Palestine.
5. We support the Third Palestinian Arab Congress'
(Gilbert 1977a: 1385-6)
These demands struck at the heart of the developing Arab-Jewish conflict in the
Middle East. The Arabs feared that although the Jews were the only tiny minority in
1921, continued immigration would one day turn into a majority, something that one of
Churchill's officials in the Middle East Department well understood: `I firmly believe
that in twenty to thirty years a Jewish Sovereign State shall be established in Palestine.
The Arabs will not like that and on all sides they will be attacked and I can see a big
upheaval in the Middle East with European states taking sides' (Meinertzagen 1959:
The second demand also was a central issue in the developing conflict since most
Jews interpreted the Balfour Declaration of 1917 as promising a National Home for the
Jews in Palestine. There was indeed a proviso that the indigenous population should not
be harmed or deprived in any way, but it was difficult to see how they would not be
disadvantaged by the newcomers backed by Jewish capital. The third demand was also a
key issue: Churchill was not prepared to grant representative institutions to the Arabs
because they would only use their power to halt further Jewish immigration and
development. Finally, the draft mandate was unacceptable to the Arabs because it
enshrined the provisions of the Balfour Declaration and did not provide for majority
The Palestinian Arab Congress also submitted a memorandum to Churchill which
was a wide-ranging critique of Government policy in Palestine as well as being anti-
Semitic. They objected to the appointment of Sir Herbert Samuel as High Commissioner
because he was a Jew and claimed that the Jews did not need a national home in
Palestine since they had their own nationalities as French, English and Germans. They
also accused the Jews of being destructive having caused the disintegration of Russia,
and suggested that they were `clannish and unneighbourly and cannot mix with those
Churchill in the Middle East Department 1920-22
who live about him.' They were said to refuse to purchase goods from Arab stores and
caused Arabs to sell up and migrate. They even accused the Jews of wanting gradually to
`control the world' (Gilbert 1977a: 1387-8).
But the Arabs were to be disappointed in Churchill. He saw the Arab delegation in
Cairo on 22 March, but told them that he could not discuss political questions and would
see them again in Jerusalem on 28 March. There he informed them that he would not
repudiate the Balfour Declaration or veto Jewish immigration saying, `it is not in my
power to do so, nor, if it were in my power, would it be my wish.' Churchill went on to
say, `This declaration of Mr Balfour and of the British Government has been ratified by
the Allied Powers who have been victorious in the Great War; and it was a declaration
made while the war was still in progress, while victory and defeat hung in balance. It
must therefore be regarded as one of the facts definitely established by the triumphant
conclusion of the Great War.' Finally he added, `...We think it will be good for the
world, good for the Jews and good for the British Empire. But we also think that it will
be good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine, and we intend that it shall be good for
them, and that they shall not be sufferers or supplanted in the country in which they
dwell or denied their share in all that makes for its progress and prosperity' (Gilbert
These fine words about protecting the interests of the Arabs did not convince the
Palestinians who decided to send a delegation to Europe to drum up interest in their
cause. Unfortunately for the Arabs, in Churchill they were dealing with a Secretary of
State who possessed immense powers vested in the Middle East Department and who
was able to co-ordinate policy over civil and military affairs. Furthermore, Churchill
remained singularly unimpressed with the Arabs and dazzled by the achievements of the
Jews in Palestine. For example, on 14 June 1921 he told the House of Commons,
I had the opportunity of visiting the colony of Rishon le-Zion about 12 miles from
Jaffa, and there, from the most inhospitable soil, surrounded on every side by
barrenness and the most miserable form of cultivation, I was driven into a fertile and
thriving country estate, where the scanty soil gave place to good crops and good
cultivation, and then to vineyards and finally to the most beautiful, luxurious orange
groves, all created in 20 or 30 years by the exertions of the Jewish community who
(Hansard, Vvol. 143 , c. 286)
By the following year, in another speech to Parliament on 4 July, Churchill is
making even more explicit contrasts between Jewish enterprise and Arab indolence.
Parts of the desert he suggested had been converted into gardens and `On the sides of the
hills there are enormous systems of terraces, and they are now the above of an active
cultivating population; whereas before, under centuries of Turkish and Arab rule, they
had relapsed into wilderness.' Furthermore, to ram home his point, Churchill contrasted
the Arabs with the energy and enterprise of the Rutenberg scheme to bring light and
power to the people of Palestine:
Left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken
effective steps towards the irrigation and electrification of Palestine. They would
have been quite content to dwell - a handful of philosophic people - in the wasted
sun-scorched plains, letting the waters of the Jordan continue to flow unbridled and
unharnessed into the Dead Sea.
(Hansard, vol. 156 , c. 335)
Years later, when giving evidence to the Peel Commission set up to investigate the
causes of the 1936 Arab Rebellion, Churchill's views had not moderated. Indeed his
comments were so extreme that he had to ask the commission not to print them even in a
confidential index. He told the commission that there was no injustice in the Jews
colonising all of Palestine and that `The injustice is when those who lived in the country
leave it to be desert for thousands of years.' He said that the Jews had been the first race
to occupy Palestine and that it was the `great hordes of Islam' who `smashed Palestine
up.' When it was suggested to him that it was the Turks who had kept Palestine
backward he replied that `where the Arab goes it is often desert' (Cohen 1985: 79).
Given Churchill's views, it is little wonder that when he was Secretary of State for
the Colonies, little progress was made towards the granting of representative institutions
in Palestine. Furthermore, after the Jaffa riots of May 1921, Churchill was determined
not to make concessions under duress but rather on their merits. On 12 May, the Muslim
committee of Jaffa sent the Colonial Office resolutions asking for representative elected
government, the annulling of the Balfour Declaration, and prohibition of Jewish
immigration. But on 31 May Churchill told the British Cabinet that `The development of
representative institutions in Palestine was at present suspended owing to the fact that
any elected body would undoubtedly prohibit further immigration of Jews' (Gilbert
1975: 588=21). On Samuel's suggestion, Churchill agreed to limit Jewish immigration to
the economic capacity of the country to absorb further migrants, and when Cabinet
discussed the future of the Palestine Mandate on 17 August, it was decided to uphold the
Balfour Declaration since to overturn it would be to `reduce the prestige of this country
in the eyes of Jews throughout the world.' The Cabinet minutes also recorded that `the
Arabs had no prescriptive right to a country which they had failed to develop to the best
advantage' (Gilbert 1975: 628).
Sir John Shuckburgh, head of the Middle East section, in a note to Churchill on 10
June 1921, neatly summed up the problem facing Cabinet. He suggested that the British
Government had to find a way of reconciling their two obligations: `(1) to give effect to
our pledges about setting up a National Home for the Jews; and (2) to carry out the
traditional British policy of introducing a representative element into the administration
as quickly as circumstances permit.' He then astutely summed up the Zionist answer to
Your first business is to set up a Jewish state, and in order to do so you must
disregard local opinion which is notoriously opposed to the project. You must, in
fact, impose us upon Palestine by autocratic methods and abandon all talk of popular
representation until we are in a majority in the country.
(Gilbert 1977b: 1499)
Shuckburgh pointed out that he did not think that this was the right answer to the
dilemma, but he was right to draw attention to the logic of British policy which was
resisting the implementation of representative institutions which would have satisfied the
Faced with this dilemma, Churchill is uncreative and allows policy in this crucial
part of the Middle East to drift. On 10 June 1921 he warned Cabinet in a memorandum:
`I do not think things are going to get better in this part of the world, but rather worse'
Churchill in the Middle East Department 1920-22
(Gilbert 1977b: 1500). In a further memorandum on 11 August he was even more
candid: `The situation in Palestine causes me perplexity and anxiety. The whole country
is in a ferment. The Zionist policy is profoundly unpopular with all except the Zionists.
Both Arabs and Jews are armed and arming, ready to spring at each other's throats'
(Gilbert 1977b: 1585-6).
However, although such remarks might appear candid to his colleagues, Churchill's
real sympathies lay with the Zionists. For example, when Weizemann in conversation
with Churchill and others at Balfour's house in July 1921 mentioned that the Jews had
resorted to gun running, Churchill interrupted him to say, `We don't mind, but don't
speak of it' (Gilbert 1977: 1559). Furthermore, despite Samuel's opposition, Churchill
pressed ahead with the recruitment of men from the disbanded Black and Tans for a new
Gendarmerie for Palestine, one of Churchill's cost cutting measures. These men,
notorious for their alleged atrocities whilst serving in Ireland, were likely to be just as
partisan in Palestine. Churchill continued also to patronise the Arab delegations and
avoided presenting them with any proposals they were likely to accept. Thus Churchill
wrote to his wife on 4 February 1922:
The Palestinian Arabs came to see me this morning and received a draft constitution
which they have taken off to mumble over; we have taken a leaf out of Lenin's book
and introduced the principle of `indirect election,' i.e. all the voters in the country
elect 400 secondary electors, and these electors again elect 12 members of the
(Gilbert 1977b: 1753-4)
Not surprisingly, Churchill was unresponsive to the liberal suggestions of his
officials. Thus when on 7 November 1921 Shuckburgh proposed in a memorandum to
Churchill that the Arabs should be offered a statement saying that the government's
`object is not to establish a state in which Jews will enjoy a position of political
ascendancy, but a commonwealth built upon a democratic foundation and framed in the
best interests of all sections of the population,' Churchill would not let this statement be
put (Wasserstein 1991: 117). Meanwhile the Arabs objected to the constitutional
frameworks proposed because they were insufficiently representative and were provided
with too narrow powers: on 21 February 1922 the Arab Delegation in London had
written to Churchill saying that `no constitution which would fall short of giving the
people of Palestine full control of their own affairs could be acceptable' (Cmd. 1700,
1922: 2). The Arabs were buoyed up by the support of a good section of the House of
Lords who voted by 60 to 29 against the inclusion of the Balfour Declaration in the
Palestine Mandate on 21 June 1922, and also by the support of the press for their cause.
Apart from the Morning Post, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, and Daily Mail, who all
declared their outright support for the Arabs, even the Times adopted an anti-Zionist
position after Lord Northcliffe's visit to Palestine in February 1922 (Wasserstein 1991:
117, note 47). Lord Sydenham said in the House of Lords debate that the Jews `have no
more valid claim to Palestine than the descendants of the ancient Romans have to this
country' (Hansard, vol. 50, c. 1021).
Given the support for the Arab position, Churchill White Paper on the future of
Palestine, drawn up by Samuel and Shuckburgh, needed to be written with care and
sophistication. Interestingly, it was not published as a stand alone paper, but as part of
the Correspondence with the Palestine Arab Delegation and the Zionist Organisation
(Cmd. 1700, 1922). This meant that much that was controversial in this paper was able
to be published on page 185 since most of the previous pages are occupied with some
earlier correspondence on constitutional development. Thus it was stated that the British
Government had never wanted a `wholly Jewish Palestine' and that there had been no
attempt to create a state `as Jewish as England is English' (Cmd. 1700, 1922: 18).
Furthermore, there would be no attempt to engineer `the disappearance or the
subordination of the Arabic population, language or culture in Palestine' and that `...the
terms of the Declaration referred to (the Balfour Declaration) do not contemplate that
Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a
home should be founded in Palestine' (Cmd. 1700, 1922: 18). The White Paper also
quoted the Zionist Congress' Carlsbad resolution which expressed the `determination of
the Jewish people to live with the Arab people on terms of unity and mutual respect'
(Cmd. 1700, 1922: 18). Interestingly, the immigration issue is dealt with on page 196
where it is stated that immigration will continue up to `the economic capacity of the
country at the time to absorb new arrivals.'
The Arab Delegation was not taken in by the White Paper which they firmly rejected
on the grounds that the immigration policy would lead to their `extinction sooner or
later' and that they believed that the real intention was to engineer the `disappearance or
subordination of the Arabic population, language, and culture in Palestine' (Cmd. 1700,
1922: 28). But as far as Churchill and the Middle East Department was concerned there
was nothing else left to debate. The White Paper was approved by the House of
Commons on 6 July (=13) 1922, and the League of Nations Council Meeting in London
passed the mandate for Palestine on 24 July (=13). The League of Nations Mandate
enshrined the Balfour Declaration in its clauses, thus prompting Weizemann to write to
thank Churchill for his efforts in steering the mandate through and winning American
approval. The letter is notable for the warmth of his regard for Churchill's `resolute and
resourceful efforts' in securing the approval and thanks him for the `happy termination
of the protracted period of suspense.' And to make their alliance absolutely clear he
wrote, `Zionists throughout the world deeply appreciate the unfailing sympathy you have
consistently shown towards their legitimate aspirations...' (Gilbert 1977b: 1753-4).
Some recent biographers have tended to pass over Churchill's contribution to Middle
Eastern policy in the early 1920. Jenkins (2001) for example consigns the Middle East
Department to a two page discussion in his one thousand and one page biography, and
Churchill's attitude to the Balfour Declaration is relegated to a footnote on page 108.
Best (2001) on the other hand, devotes three and a half pages in his three hundred and
seventy page biography to these issues, but comes to some fairly generous conclusions
concerning Churchill's attitudes to the Zionists. Best sees Churchill as `Being generally
ready to believe the best of people, and having no time for religious dogmas,' though he
does admit that Churchill `had long been a supporter of the Zionist movement and
sincerely believed that the Jewish presence in Palestine would improve the land' (Best
However, the evidence presented in this article would suggest that Best's
conclusions failed to take account of some highly opinionated comments made and
attitudes held by Churchill when dealing with the Arabs. The history of `regime change'