Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Meeting to Note Anniversary of Balfour Declaration Marked by Denunciation of Britain’s Policy

November 5, 1982
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, usually an occasion for warm fraternization by Britain and Israel, was marked here Tuesday by a scalding Israel riposte to the way Britain has treated Israel over recent events in Lebanon.

A distinguished audience, including several former British Ambassadors and colonial officials sat in stunned silence while David Kimche, the British-born Director General of the Foreign Ministry of Israel, described a forgotten series of anti-Jewish atrocities which had been carried out 40 years ago in Arab countries ruled by Britain and in some of which British forces had taken part.

Kimche, addressing the Royal Institute of International Affairs, made only a passing reference to Lord Balfour’s famous promise in 1917 of a Jewish national home in Palestine. Instead, he concentrated on Britain’s subsequent colonial presence in the Middle East to highlight the “double standards” which a post-colonial Britain and its media were applying to the State of Israel.

While emphasizing Israel’s horror over the Beirut refugee camps massacres and her commission of inquiry into them, he noted that no such inquiries had been made, and there had been no wave of outrage, when Jews had been massacred four decades earlier in British-ruled Arab countries.

The impact of his remarks was reinforced by the scholarly and mild manner in which they were delivered–Kimche is co-author of one of the best accounts of the 1948 Israeli War of independence. His older brother Jon Kimche, former editor of the London Jewish observer and Middle East Review, was in the audience, which also included Sir Harold Beeley, former British Ambassador to Egypt and one-time adviser to Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, as well as Lord Marcus Sieff, present head of Anglo-Jewry’s leading Zionist family.


Kimche subsequently went on to Justify Israel’s operations in Lebanon saying that by restoring that country’s sovereignty and breaking the military power of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel had strengthened the prospects for a Middle East settlement.

Reaffirming Israel’s commitment to peace, he said the only condition was that the next stage of talks should be within the framework of the Camp David accords, and that Israel would welcome the inclusion of the Jordanians within that framework.

“Once the negotiations for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon come to an end, the test will come for the future of the peace process. We shall call for a resumption of the autonomy talks, we shall extend a hand to Jordan to join them with no preconditions,” he said.

The warm applause which greeted the end of this tense and uncomfortable lecture seemed to signify not merely the presence of several sympathetic Jewish listeners but that the speaker had scored on important point with the audience as a whole.

Kimche prefaced his reminders about some British moments in the Middle East by deploring the “cascade of venom” which had been directed towards Israel after the Sabra and Shatila camps massacres, regardless of Israel’s own horror of them and the judicial inquiry which she established. He then went on:

“Let me recall to you some comparatively recent incidents which were received not only without such feelings of outrage (in Britain) but were not considered to be worthy (except in one case) of even a cursory investigation while the press barely noted them…”

The first example, he said, “deals with the British army in Iraq. In 1941 two British columns advanced on Baghdad from the south and from the north. They entered Basra on May 14 when Arab youths and members of the Gurkha regiment embarked on a two-day rampage of looting and sacking Jewish shops and homes. Five days later, Assyrian Christian levies attached to the British force did likewise in Falluja. “Meanwhile the northern force under General Clark had reached the outskirts of Baghdad. The pro-German leader fled and an armistice was concluded with the Iraqi mayor of the city. The regent returned on June 1, and the British force remained encamped on the outskirts despite warnings of troubles about to happen.

“Geoffrey Warner, the most recent historian of that campaign, noted that instructions from the Foreign Office had halted the troops on the outskirts while Iraqi troops and police helped in the three-day massacre which left some 500 Jewish men, women and children dead, over a thousand injured and some 1,300 Jewish shops and homes ransacked and destroyed.

“The killing was going on within earshot of the British. We have evidence that the Oriental secretary at the Embassy begged the Ambassador to intervene, but he refused. Indeed, the full facts were not reported by the British Embassy to the Foreign Office until seven weeks after the event. There was no sense of outrage in any non-Jewish quarter and there were no demands for an inquiry or for punishment of those responsible.


The pattern was repeated in Aden in December 1947 when, some 70 Jews were slaughtered and their homes and shops looted, Kimche continued. “A one-man inquiry appointed by the Colonial Office evinced the somewhat embarrassing evidence that local levies attached to the British forces had directed their fire almost exclusively on the Jews who were under attack.

“Needless to say, no one suggested that any responsibility rested with any British official, let alone the Labor government which was the ultimate authority that had sanctioned the use of the levies. The matter was hardly reported, and there was no sign of more than formalized distress that Jews should have allowed themselves to be killed.”


Furthermore, Kimche said, a similar attack had taken place two years previously, in November 1945, in Tripolitania which was under British military administration.

“For four days– from November 5 to 8 –Arab mobs, often assisted by local police and unhampered by British troops rampaged through the streets of the Tripoli ghetto and in many smaller cities, killing, burning Jews alive in the streets, looting and smashing homes,” Kimche related. “One hundred and thirty Jews were known to be killed, many more died unrecorded; many hundreds were injured and raped.”

The head of the British military administration was in London at the time, Kimche said. “His deputy explained that he had no instruction from British military headquarters in Cairo for the army to intervene. When they did after three days of rioting, it took only a few hours for a few British trucks to halt them. But after it was all over, there was no inquiry, hardly any reporting, no questions of responsibility. There was no compensation for the ruined community and the promised small loans for shopkeepers never materialized.”

Concluding, Kimche stated: “I am sure you don’t want me to belabor this point further. Israel is doing something about what happened in (the Shatila and Sabra camps) in Beirut which no other country in similar circumstances — and they are legion — has done … I need hardly remind you that the massacre was committed by Lebanese and not by Israelis, and that no Israeli soldiers took part in the horrible episode, and that as soon as we realized what was happening we put a stop to it.”

Recommended from JTA