Much has been written about the Balfour Declaration on the centenary of its publication (Nov 2, 1917). But, relatively little has been written about the way in which the British Government abdicated its responsibility under the Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate of 1922, which was based on it, that was given to Britain in order to establish a National Home for the Jewish people in Palestine. This subject was focused on in a video presentation with the same title put out by Hatikvah Film Trust (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In fact, in 1938, just prior to the outbreak of WWII, when the Jews were literally about to be slaughtered in Europe, the British Government published its notorious “White Paper” reversing itself and restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine to a ridiculous 15,000 permits per year. Further, after millions of Jews had been murdered in Europe, it was found that only half of these legal permits had been given to Jewish immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives could have been saved if the British Government had allowed open Jewish immigration from Europe to Palestine as they were bound to do. In effect, the British Government cooperated in the Nazi Final Solution to the “Jewish problem” by denying Jews any way of escape.
They not only closed the doors to Palestine (and allowed only 10,000 Jewish children into England on the so-called “kindertransport”), but brought pressure on other governments not to allow Jews to emigrate to Palestine. An example was the intervention of the British Ambassador with the Turkish Government to refuse entry and provisioning of the ship Patria with nearly 700 Jewish refugees aboard. The Turks towed it out to sea where it was torpedoed by an unknown submarine. Only one person survived.
Not only did the British Government reverse itself, but in 1938, just as they had done with the Jews during WWI, the British decided that it was in their interest to have the cooperation of the Arabs, and so obviously made a deal with them to restrict Jewish immigration into Palestine to keep the Jews as a permanent minority in order in return to have access to oil and Arab cooperation. But, nevertheless, the Arabs sided with the Nazis and the Jews sided with the British, but it did not help them.
After the British Declaration of War on Germany on Sept 3, 1939, it was the Palestinian Jews, some 30,000 of them, who joined the British Army and fought in N. Africa against the forces of Gen. Rommel. They were given a shoulder pad with the name “Palestine” on it, but the few hundred Arabs who had joined the British Army refused to wear it because they said they were not Palestinian, they were Arab! Eventually the Jews were given their own regiment called the Jewish Legion (part of the Royal Fusiliers).
There is no doubt that the British Government (and others) knew by 1942 that the Germans had by then murdered 2 million Jews. But, they refused to bomb the concentration camps and the railway lines, even though they could have done so without significant dislocation to the war effort. As far as they were concerned the Jews were disposable, let Hitler do their dirty work, and then after the War the British intended to retain Palestine as a result of a deal with the Arabs.
The British did not expect the Jews to come back so strongly. They treated the Jews almost as badly as the Nazis, but without the organized killing. Jews who made it to Palestine were considered illegal immigrants, even though before the White Paper they would have been legal. They were either put in the concentration camp at Atlit, where they were enclosed in barbed wire, separated men from women, forced to wear camp clothing and given meager rations (the camp is still there and can be visited today). Or they were shipped to Cyprus, Mauritius or the Seychelles. Although many lived to tell the tale of their up to 5 year incarceration by the British, about 10% of those sent into exile died due to the appalling conditions.
In 1948, the ship “Exodus,” filled with over 4,500 Jewish survivors of the Shoah in Europe, was intercepted and boarded with force by the British Navy, during which 3 Jews were killed. Let me remind you that this was after WWII. But, Ernest Bevin, the British FM, a real thug and openly anti-Semitic, decided to give the Jews a lesson. So he had these Jews shipped back to Europe in metal cages, like animals, and returned to the concentration camps. This so shocked the conscience of the world it resulted in massive loss of prestige for Britain, and with Jewish resistance increased, it led to the eventual end of the sad story of the British occupation of the Jewish land of Eretz Israel.
This period was a stain on the history of Britain, and it explains why there is always a strong element of anti-Semitism in Britain, and why I am here in Israel.