Churchill’s 1921 visit to Palestine from Churchill and the Jews

Photo: Britain and the Jewish National Home:  Pledges and Border Changes, 1917-1923, from Sir Martin’s Atlas of the Arab-Israel Conflict

510 words / 2 ½ minute read

Negotiations with the Arab leaders beyond Palestine were being carried out by T. E. Lawrence, who informed Churchill on 17 January that he had concluded an agreement with Hussein’s eldest son, Emir Feisal, under which, in return for Arab sovereignty in Baghdad, Amman and Damascus, Feisal “agreed to abandon all claims of his father to Palestine.”

The Lawrence-Feisal agreement, with its Arab acceptance of the Jewish position in Palestine, was welcome news for Churchill.  Since the French were installed in Damascus and were not to be dislodged, Churchill favoured a scheme whereby Feisal would accept the throne of Iraq, and his brother Abdullah the throne of Transjordan, in return for Western Palestine – from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan – becoming the location of the Jewish National Home, under British control.

At midnight on 23 March 1921, Churchill left Egypt for Palestine by overnight train.  Sir Herbert Samuel and T. E. Lawrence accompanied him.  At that time 83,000 Jews and 600,000 Arabs lived between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, in what was known as Western Palestine.  No Jews lived east of the river.  Churchill’s principal objective in going to Jerusalem was to explain to Emir Abdullah the decision of the Cairo Conference, and of the British Government, that Britain would support him as ruler of the area of the Mandate lying east of the River Jordan – hence its name, Transjordan – provided that Abdullah would accept a Jewish National Home within Western Palestine, and do his utmost to prevent anti-Zionist agitation among his people east of the Jordan.

Lawrence had already secured a pledge from Feisal, Abdullah’s brother, that “all necessary measures” would be taken “to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible upon the land through close settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil.”

On the morning of 24 March, Churchill’s train reached Gaza, the first large town within the southwestern boundaries of the Palestine Mandate.  Gaza had a population of more than 15,000 Arabs and fewer than a hundred Jews.  A British police guard of honour met him at the railway crossing, and a mounted escort took him to the town.  Captain Maxwell Coote, a Royal Air Force officer who had served as Churchill’s Orderly Officer in Cairo, later recalled that there was “a tremendous reception by a howling mob, all shouting in Arabic:  ‘Cheers for the Minister’ and also for Great Britain, but their chief cry over which they waxed quite frenzied was ‘Down with the Jews’, ‘Cut their throats’.  Mr Churchill and Sir Herbert were delighted with the enthusiasm of their reception, being not in the least aware of what was being shouted.  Lawrence, of course, understood it all and told me, but we kept very quiet.  He was obviously gravely anxious about the whole situation.  We toured the town surrounded by this almost fanatical mob which was becoming more and more worked up by its shouting.  No one appeared to have bargained for this, but all went off without incident.”

Read: The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Read: Churchill and the Jews

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